Diversity has been an increasingly hot topic in the news lately, especially in the military. Because of its often-political undertones, some people cringe when they hear the word. But diversity brings very real benefits to teams that should not be ignored.
Diversity at its very core is courage; It is courage to lead when no one looks like you, courage to speak up when people around outrank you, and courage to listen to opinions that may differ from yours. In my experience as a junior officer on a submarine, and as a woman on a submarine, I have seen the positive effects of diversity in its many forms.
To be frank, not everyone was excited about women on submarines. One of the biggest fears people have with diversity is that it will be forced upon a situation where it “does not matter” and will negatively impact performance. What I found was that action and results spoke much louder than the dull murmur of discontent. After just a few months on board the submarine, we had a casualty in the middle of the night. I threw on my uniform and ran to the scene to help. I was amazed and encouraged by how quickly every member of the crew jumped at the call to save the ship; I have observed this to be a crucial tenet of the submarine force.
I call this my “hair story” because once the casualty subsided, everyone jokingly commented on how crazy my hair was. The truth of the matter was that I ran to the scene in the middle of the night; who cares how my hair looks? I can laugh about it now but at the time I felt a dichotomy. When it came to fighting the ship in a casualty, it did not matter if I was an officer or enlisted, male or female. As soon as the smoke cleared, however, it was back to how I looked.
In an environment where you have to rely, sometimes with your life, on the person standing watch next to you, it only makes sense that we should strive to have the best operators. To achieve this goal, we need to include everyone regardless of gender, race, religion, or opinion. Countless times underway, a Fireman has saved the day by speaking up and making sound recommendations without fear of being unheard. This is one of the very positive impacts of diversity: the courage to speak up and the courage to listen to differing opinions. This is what has made our nation great in the past and it will continue to make us elite in the future.
Colonel John Boyd (USAF) developed a decision cycle concept called the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) Loop. He applied the concept at the strategic level in military operations, but it can also be applied to our current and future warfighting efforts, what we design, build, budget for, and use in pursuit of our national objectives – today and in the future. If we consider Col. Boyd’s concept in relation to those warfighting efforts, then today we must begrudgingly admit that our adversary’s decision cycle operates more quickly than our own OODA Loop. Technology, particularly use of information technology systems (including the internet), has moved so quickly the past few decades that our enemies can design, steal or borrow new ideas for weapons or equipment, share information and quickly move out well in advance of our ability to counter those ideas. Yet we remain mired in the same processes used to design, build, budget and produce those items our military needs, more or less unchanged, since the 1960s.
Today to provide the warfighter a new weapon, ship, or airplane, we begin inside a bureaucratic process that requires an analysis of the gaps, alternatives, various capability documents, review upon review by a number of well-meaning organizations, etc… That is just to come to an agreement on what must go out to industry for their ideas, proposals and estimates. Items must be competed – sometimes even when it is already known what company can build to the need quickest and at the best price. And then there’s the funding question.
Creating a finished budget literally takes two years or more. Once the decision is made that we need to buy item X at price Y, it has to be put into the Department’s Budget. It takes almost a year for a service to build a budget, allow senior leaders the opportunity to review, debate and determine priority, and ultimately, decide if an item should be funded or not. Then begins the process of defending the service’s priorities starting inside the Pentagon and ending on Capitol Hill a year (or so) later. If approved inside the National Defense Authorization, and Defense Appropriation Acts (it is worth noting that today, a non-decisional Continuing Resolution is the norm), then we can finally spend money on a contract for a new warfighting capability. In summary, if we decide we need to produce a new, non-complex weapon, it takes a minimum of three or four years to actually deliver that weapon to the field.
We have begun to change – small but necessary steps, are being made. There is an Urgent Operational Needs process that allows the warfighter to quickly request a new capability, if the request meets certain policy criteria. A group of senior decision makers meets every two weeks to ensure urgent warfighter needs are being met as quickly as possible. They work together to push through the bureaucracy, even working outside the Department of Defense – with the Department of State and leadership on Capitol Hill. There have been successes. However, at the same time we make these small but important steps towards flexibility, we continue to struggle with new policy constraints or modifications to current requirements in existing systems.
If we are to remain the preeminent military force in the world we must continue to change. We must build a process that results in capability fielded quickly, vice capability fielded much slower – with minimal risk. Rather than have a series of consecutive leadership reviews on proposals (and the capability and/or funding required), each of which takes many months and can only move forward to the next step sequentially after each leader approves, we need to have single meetings of the right leaders to take in information, ask questions and make decisions – in a timely manner. We need the ability to spend money on new efforts today – not two years from now after we’ve built a budget, reviewed and defended it against any one of hundreds of reviewers who might disagree. We need flexibility to change programs as they move forward – when they hit a snag we must be able to quickly modify our plans, or if required – terminate our efforts and re-allocate the monies towards other needs. Naysayers will say a new process with speed in mind will lead to waste. The reality is that without a new process with speed in mind, we will fall further behind our growing number of challengers.
Do not misunderstand this to be a criticism of those that run or are involved in these current processes. Everyday there are tens of thousands of great Americans that work towards building the best and most capable Navy of the future. They toil under policies and laws currently in place and they do outstanding work. But we have to change the way we are doing the Navy’s business if we hope to continue to be the best. We have to tighten our own OODA Loop to decide and act far more quickly so that the enemy can’t get inside it, cannot work around it – or use our own process against us. Bottom line – we must change.
Letters transcend generations. Some of my family’s most sentimental possessions are my grandfather’s letters home during World War II while he was stationed in India. Growing up, I’d often heard the story of how he began writing to a woman his Aunt worked with, and after years of exchanging letters, he proposed to her the first time he met her as she picked him up from the airport upon his arrival in the States (that woman later became my grandmother).
But despite the fact that one of my cousins transcribed Grandpa’s letters to his own mother a few years back, I never got the chance to read them before I left on my own deployment. It wasn’t until I returned home that I read through them in their entirety, and was struck by the similarity between the multitude he had penned home, and my own numerous emails home to friends and family. His letters contain sections that have been cut out, and apparently his mother once received a scrawled note, “Ma’am, your son is fine…he just talks too much!” Clearly, he didn’t have a mandatory NKO OPSEC course…
Of course, Grandpa didn’t write using “hashtags” or about “missing WiFi” or even of women in the service. But he wrote of flying, the heat, his concern regarding things at home, silly things he and his friends did to pass the often boring times that happen on deployment and how much he missed his family. And so did I. What follows is a short compilation of letters written by my Grandfather, along with a few emails I sent to families and friends along similar topic lines.
17 July 1943
I hope, by this time, you will have my first letter. I am finally at what appears to be my base – doing what I expected and trained for, although the camp isn’t exactly as I had hoped it would be.
It isn’t bad though and the stories are as interesting as amazing to the gullible – pythons, cobras and stampeding elephants. I haven’t seen any in the raw yet, except, on the way thru, in a city street, when a native lad would run up to us and throw a bag down at our feet whereupon an indifferent and defanged cobra would coil up and stare at us icily- the boy would want 4 annos (8c)…
…At [section cut from page] the streets were narrow, dusty and dirty, but the surrounding parks and residential districts were nice. The Taj Mahal was beautiful at night and looked just like it does in pictures. Send all your mail – air mail – as it will probably take from 15 days to a month anyway – you might get some of this stationary – air mail. I want to know about everybody and hope you have written – My regard to anybody you feel like giving them to – hope you are all well.
16 April 2014
Important people of my life,
Hello to all of you! I am currently deployed and we are 2 months into what is sure to be an awesome nine-month deployment…yes, I’m saying that without a hint of sarcasm…none whatsoever. While I may not quite be bursting with enthusiasm for the coming months, I will say that so far, it has certainly been an adventure! After crossing the Atlantic, we ended up having a bit of an extended stay in the Med due to the current events in Ukraine. While our port visits to Athens, Greece and Antalya, Turkey were unaffected (you could probably hear the sigh of relief from all 5,000 people on the ship from across the Atlantic), the flight operations in the area were decidedly more interesting. Despite being on high alert for a few tense days, we managed to find some humor in the situation, as sailors (and especially aviators!), are wont to do. Chat rooms became the basis of many a laugh, as evidenced by the “Is love a Crimea? No, but you shouldn’t Russian to it” – subject line of one such room.
Dork humor aside, there is plenty of room for laughs on the boat. Sidenote: it’s “the boat” for aviators, and SWO’s (surface warfare officers) refer to the carrier and all naval vessels as “ships.” Aviators have a long history of being impertinent towards SWOs…and we take gleeful pride in maintaining this relationship. A recent email was forwarded to the entire airwing with the choice sentence “Reaction Officer complained that the airwing LT was not contrite when confronted. It strikes me that Naval Aviation’s characteristic irreverence and slight rebellious streak still generates surprised consternation and SWO-ish indignation.”…
…Well, this email has been in the works for about 5 weeks…hopefully the next one won’t be so delayed! I would love to tell you all more about the boat, the groups of people, flying, cat shots, call-signs and the awesome group of people I work with every day! I hope you all are doing well-Happy Easter to you and your families!
27 October 1943
I was glad to get your letter and snapshots – they’re great. To answer some of your questions the 301st has just moved into its own area – which means that we now have our own mess hall – good food, comfortable bunkers – they are sprayed daily and of course we have our own mosquito net – shower rooms and day room.
I’m still flying a lot, but am now in charge of special services in the squadron – which means that on days off I’m in the library, day room, or working on the volleyball court etc. We are laying out a baseball field, football field and horseshoe pits and planning on a boxing ring. The red-cross has donated full equipment for all this – even checkers, chess, and playing cards for the day room. Now if we could get some blondes!
I’ll write tomorrow
Women in Writing Week: From 18 October 2013, part of the stellar series “A History of the Navy in 100 Objects” by LTJG Chris O’Keefe.
Women in the military today is the norm, but this was not always the case. Today’s object, a non-descript woman’s naval officer uniform, helps tell the story of the thousands of women who blazed the trail for the women serving today. This podcast is the first of several episodes that will address the broader narrative of women in the Navy. And since these objects all are located at the Academy, today’s episode focuses on the first women to enter the Academy in 1976. This is the first of a two part episode. The second half is an interview with Sharon Disher, member of the first class of women at the Academy and author of the book First Class.
Today is also the start of “Women in Writing” Week at the Blog. Many of the authors that follow, from now until September 2nd, are either first-time writers, new to the blogging world, or writing on issues they are passionate about.
The idea to have this week came after I culled through all of the blog posts here one day, to get a sense of where we were, where we are, and where we’re going. What Mary Ripley began inauspiciously nearly 7 years ago has blossomed into an online forum that continues the proud traditions of the Naval Institute.
Yet as I read post after post, one thing was missing: the voice of female authors. In more than 500 posts, fewer than 10 were written by active duty or reserve female officers, and none were written by enlisted females. According to CDR Salamander recently, perhaps this is because “they do not feel that their point of view…would be ‘politically acceptable,’ and from their perspective, the cost/benefit ratio just [does] not make it worth it.”
If this is so, let us make this place one where all can come and constructively contribute without retribution. And let us stand up for one another when that retribution attempts to rear its ugly head. As the same CDR wrote at USNI Blog’s humble beginning, “Creative friction is good. A questioning mindset is good. Diversity of thought is good….and a little moxie doesn’t hurt.”
The timing of this “Week” is fortuitous, too, as major “firsts” throughout the military have brought the issue of patriotic women serving their country to the forefront. The first enlisted women submariners are beginning their training, and will report to their boats next year. And of course, the first two women graduated from the Army’s prestigious Ranger School last week.
But as we move past these firsts, we must ask ourselves an important question: “When is ‘celebrating’ women not all that good for women?”
In an article published last week at the Washington Post, Gina Glanz remarks that, “Something tagged exclusively for or about women is all too often a revenue generating strategy alongside a way to deflect criticism about the lack of attention to women and an opportunity for the powers-that-be to say, ‘look what we do for women.’ Unfortunately, often, what they ‘do’ is not much.”
Glanz goes on to recommend that when women are asked to be singled out—or “siloed”—for being women, they should just say no.
And that was a strong sentiment as we stumped for articles for this week. Women’s issues are Navy issues; pay, benefits, uniforms, deployment schedules, meeting—and defining—standards, doing more with less – these are issues that we all grapple with. Knee-jerk categorization of some issues as “female” and some as “male” cheapens the contributions of all Sailors and Marines.
What will follow during this week is writing by both women and men on daily life in the Navy, role models and mentors, uniform policy, retention and leadership, command, innovation, and hope for the future. These are not male issues nor are they female issues. They are Navy issues.
Will this be USNI Blog’s only “Women in Writing” Week? Should it be? Perhaps.
Someone once spoke of a dream, where we consider all human beings equally based on the content of their hearts. Today, we must similarly strive to be a service where all who are willing are considered equally on the content of their performance and their character. This space exists for us to write about it, and to come together as both “writers” and “doers.”
CDR Salamander asks, “Do we want writers, or only writing that is within certain defined boundaries?” The legacy of the Naval Institute has been constructive writing and debate on any topic. Let the existence of this week—anathema to some—be a signal that we welcome all voices and we will, as a community, stand up for all those willing to speak. We welcome all women and men to contribute equally—and often!—to the Naval Institute Blog.
We’ve got a great week shaping up, with both new and old authors alike–add your voice as a contributor! Please send your articles or ideas in by Wednesday, or contact the week’s editor if you would like more time.
Beginning on Women’s Equality Day (26 August), the Naval Institute Blog will be running a “Women in Writing Week,” highlighting the writing of female commissioned officers and enlisted personnel in the sea services.
Women comprise more than half of the US population and 18% of naval officers between O-1 and O-4, yet they make up fewer than 1% of writers at the Naval Institute Blog.
We invite ALL females–active, reserve, retired, civilian–to write for the Naval Institute Blog on any topic of their choice. We also invite all writers of any gender to write about their favorite female writers in the military, and those role models who have paved the way for others to follow.
Blogging is not a gender-specific sport. We invite all men and all women to participate, to share in their equal voice and contribute to our great naval debate.
Interested authors may submit their writing (whether it is a final product or simply a draft with which you would like a little help) to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Thanks for writing!
Recently, partnering with CSIS and USNI, Naval Aviation leadership hit the streets to talk about the future of manned and unmanned aviation. With Tailhook on the horizon, and fundamental debates happening throughout the Fleet, we need constructive writing on the course of both people and platforms in Naval Aviation.
From 14-18 September (after you’re rested from either participating in or following the Twitter feeds of Tailhook attendees), the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) will be hosting a “Future of Naval Aviation” Week. Below are the particulars, cross-posted from their NextWar blog:
Week Dates: 14-18 Sept 15
Articles Due: 9 Sept 15
Article Length: 500-1500 Words
Submit to: nextwar(at)cimsec(dot)org
Back in January, CAPT Jerry Hendrix (USN, Ret) and CDR Bryan McGrath (USN, Ret) had a stirring debate on the future of Aircraft Carriers. However, the debate quickly shifted from the carrier itself to the nature of the airwing it carried. Indeed, the carrier is nothing more than a host for the platforms provided by naval aviation – and only one of many ships that can carry aviation assets.
That discussion, driving into the world of the carrier air wing, was the inspiration for this week of discussion on naval aviation in general. From the maritime patrol aircraft deployed from the reclaimed Chinese reefs in the South China Sea, to US Army Apaches operating from amphibious assault ships, to 3-D printed drones flown off a Royal Navy offshore patrol vessel, to manned and unmanned ideas for the carrier air wing as carriers proliferate around the Pacific -we want your ideas and observations on where global naval aviation will and can go next.
How will the littoral navies of the world change with new, lower-cost unmanned aviation assets? Are carriers armed with legions of long-range unmanned drones the future for global powers – will these technologies exponentially increase the importance of smaller carriers – or is unmanned technology a limited path that may be resisted (rightfully?) by pilots and their communities? Will surface fleets embrace the potential from easily produced drone swarms deployed from ships of the line… should they? What is the future of land-based naval aviation? What innovations will be ignored, what will be embraced, and what will the air assets of future fleets around the world look like? What will the institutions, the leadership, and C2 structures that support all these assets of their varied nations look like? The topic is purposefully broad to bring forward a myriad of topics and inspire future topic weeks on more specific subjects.
Contributions should be between 500 and 1500 words in length and submitted no later than 9 September 2015. Publication reviews will also be accepted. This project will be co-edited by LT Wick Hobson (USN) and, as always, Sally DeBoer from our editorial pool.
We are part of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, a group of junior personnel charged to bring rapid prototypes and emerging technology to the fleet. Part of the job is acting as agents for innovation, and as a result, we meet with organizations in the civilian world and government who are pushing boundaries, building new tools, and making the tech of tomorrow a reality today. When we visit new companies and organizations, we try to capture the principles and characteristics that make them effective.
On our most recent trip we visited Scaled Composites, a small aerospace engineering company based in Mojave, California that produces custom aircraft from concept to flight. Our key takeaway was that the company’s value proposition is built on a passion for aviation, and using bold materials and groundbreaking design engineering to overcome technical challenges. This has been the company’s passion since the beginning, resulting in a number of innovative projects, including winning the $10 million Ansari X-Prize in 2004 for a suborbital space flight in SpaceShipOne, the first privately built manned spacecraft. We liked that they do not limit themselves to traditional aircraft designs and construction techniques, as shown by one of their ongoing projects, the StratoLauncher. Designed to launch a payload into low earth orbit with more flexibility than traditional launch systems StratoLauncher will be the biggest airplane ever built.
From the beginning, it was clear that we were dealing with something different. We met the President of the company, Kevin Mickey, early on a workday, and most of us didn’t realize who we were talking to, until he passed out his business card and showed us a company overview slideshow with his title on it. The contrast to our own naval culture was readily apparent. There was no entourage, no aide or executive assistant hovering around to serve his every need, and he insisted on talking on a first name basis, making us feel completely at home.
After an hour-long discussion on the company, its mission and culture, and how they are pushing the limits of aircraft material and design, we toured the factory floor and saw their unique corporate culture in action. The company’s corporate values showed through, from Kevin knowing his employees by first name and greeting every one we passed, to the close working relationships and collaboration we saw between the shop workers and engineers. This was clearly a company that places its people first, in pursuit of solving big technical challenges.
Walking the floor and observing the manufacturing process, the group asked whether given the name, the company and its employees had a special passion for building with composites. Surprisingly, the answer was no. The materials used by Scaled Composites are actually conventional in the world of composite engineering. The company uses composites for the simple reason that building with them is the quickest pathway from design to flight, and allows rapid progress in short timelines.
Mojave is a desolate place. The town is dry, windswept, and has a population of fewer than 4,000. Scaled Composites attracts employees by giving them interesting problems to solve, and keeps them by continuing to challenge them with rewarding projects. Of the 550 employees in the company, over 60% are pilots themselves, and work on aircraft as a hobby. After building and fling aircraft all day, it is very common for employees to then go home and continue building and flying their own personal projects. Project teams are purpose-built around customer problems, and deliberately small and collaborative. There is a large amount of latitude for individual employees, based on a trust that they are trying their best to work for the company and to deliver a high quality product for the customer.
The company’s management exists to keep barriers away from the employees on the factory floor doing the actual work of the company, and serving the needs of its people, in order to put out a better product, more quickly. An interesting concept we discussed was the idea of the company being successful because of all the things it is not doing. This includes eliminating unnecessary process and oversight, preventing too much of an employee’s time from being spent in meetings, and undue reporting requirements to the corporate management. They quickly get rid of anything that gets in the way of employees designing and building aircraft.
In discussing oversight, questions of risk tolerance and failure came up. Kevin related that in building inventive aircraft and in providing latitude to engineers and floor workers, failure does occur. But what differentiates them from traditional development processes in, say, the government, is that they focus not on elimination of failure, but rather on ensuring they fail early in a project, and for the right reasons. An honest mistake is not punished, with the idea that an employee who makes a mistake for the right reasons is actually very unlikely to fail that way again. Negligence can’t be tolerated, but whole-scale risk aversion is toxic for a group. A key reminder for us was that if progress is going to be made, a healthy culture of risk tolerance is critical. At Scaled Composites, the atmosphere is anything but “zero defect.”
Overall, what lessons did we learn, and how can we in the Navy and Marine Corps apply them? This is an interesting question, since Scaled Composites is a for-profit company, with a mission of financial gain through deliverance of the best product it can. Meanwhile the military exists to win our nation’s wars, without a commercial profit motive. But there is one overriding commonality we observed: in both of these seemingly disparate missions, the people should come first. If you encourage a culture that questions boundaries, provides an intellectual challenge, is willing to reward boldness and even encourages failure in the pursuit of overcoming challenges, you attract and develop the kinds of people who dare to fail and drive outsized success when they win. This culture develops boldness, creativity and audacity that lead to considering more and bigger ideas, and cultivates people willing to try these ideas. As a result of this focus on people, Scaled Composites has been able to deliver a consistently high level of quality and breadth of products. For a military organization, a focus on people will result in enlisted and officers who aren’t afraid to act boldly and accept risk in accomplishing a mission. This will enable the capability and capacity to ensure we are building combat-ready forces in peacetime in order to win decisively in times of conflict.
In the military, we put our people first. Said another way, our people are the most important tool for winning wars, ideas are next, and the technology we use serves both. This is an oft-repeated paradigm, and while we aren’t perfect in following it, it has been proven true time and time again, throughout history. We must ensure we keep this focus. Wars are won by commanders with the vision and boldness to make hard decisions, and by Sailors, Airmen, Soldiers and Marines with the courage to carry those actions out. This paradigm is hardly unique to the military however, and we can learn much from people and organizations outside the DoD who share this commitment. In Scaled Composites, we saw just that. The company’s bold vision, failure tolerant and risk accepting culture attracts, and more importantly, develops and retains the type of employees who are comfortable with risk. Inculcated in a “dream big” culture, employees are encouraged to think boldly and pursue radical ideas. From this milieu of people and ideas, new technologies and airplanes are born, with many failures, but with enough successes that the company remains on the leading edge of the aeronautical field. The big successes that have put the company on the map, such as introducing manned spaceflight to the private market, are a testament to the philosophy of supporting and challenging their people. Scaled Composites is a model that is hard to ignore, and a valuable example to the Navy.
We all know the old phrase, “nations don’t have friends or enemies…nations only have interests.” As a rather young and insular nation, we can often forget about the interests and history of other nations, especially ones that don’t show up on a regular basis in the news cycle.
There are some nations who are geographically exceptionally important, but politically stable inside the last couple of decades. Stability, like civilization in general, is never a given and can fall apart in the blink of an eye to either internal or external conflict. What do you do then?
When reading up on some of the possible second and third order effects of Iran’s recent diplomatic victory over the West, I came across a great article from Amir Taheri on Oman. Anyone involved in maritime or national security over the last two decades do not need a refresher on how important that nation has been to us.
Taheri’s article brings to light some important points to consider because, if a stable Oman and reliable access to her facilities are one of your Planning Assumptions, then I sure hope you have a Branch Plan.
Let’s set the stage.
Determined to press its claim as “the regional superpower”, the Islamic Republic has decided to develop its maritime units into a full-fledged blue-water navy.
Three events have spurred the Iranian program for projection of power. The first is US President Barack Obama’s declared intention to drawdown and eventually conclude American military presence in the Middle East. If Obama’s policies are continued by his successor, the US would leave a huge gap to be filled in the region. The Islamic Republic hopes to fill it.
The second event was the “deal” made with the so-called P5+1 group over Iran’s nuclear project. If implemented, the deal would unfreeze Iranian financial assets estimated at between 120 billion US dollars and 150 billion US dollars, providing enough resources for a massive upgrading of the navy. The new Iranian budget has, in fact, raised defense expenditure by almost 23 percent, part of it devoted to the projection of naval power.
Another foreign power signals withdraw, so what are the small nations left behind to do as their foreign friends leave? They need to come to terms with their powerful neighbors. It is only natural that they go back to habits of the past and historical connections. Regression to the mean, if you will.
The third event was the speedy signing by Oman, with which Iran had its longest maritime border, over 248 miles (400 kilometers), of a treaty demarcating the limits of the two neighbors’ territorial waters. Prepared by the Iranian Defense Ministry, the treaty was sent to the foreign ministry in Tehran last spring with a demand that it be negotiated and finalized with Oman over a three-year period. As it turned out, however, the Omanis did not need such lengthy negotiations and quickly ratified the treaty which was signed by Sultan Qaboos Bin Sa’id Al Sa’id in July.
How does this change things from a maritime security point of view?
… Iranian media have reported that the new treaty would systematize a series of arrangements that Iran had made with Oman in the early 1970s. At that time the Shah had sent an expeditionary force to crush a Communist rebellion backed by South Yemen in the Omani province of Dhofar.
For years, Iran has used the threat of closing the Strait of Hormuz in its game of chicken with adversaries. The strait is 54-kilomtere long body of water that connects the Arabian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and thus the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Hormuz is, in fact, cut into two channels by the 110-kilometre long Iranian island of Qeshm.
… the part to the south of Qeshm, touching on the Omani enclave of Ras Mussandam that is of strategic importance because of massive international traffic including the passage of tankers carrying more than 30 percent of global oil trade.
Two islands are of strategic importance as far as commanding the southern part of the strait is concerned. To the north of the waterway is the Iranian island of Hangam, a satellite of Qeshm, which is already highly militarized. To the south is the Omani island of Beit Al-Ghanam.
“By having a presence in both islands, Iran would control the two halves of the gate,” says Hamid Zomorrodi, a former captain of the Iranian navy. “That island and the neighboring Ras Mussandam have been important in Iranian naval planning since the time of Nader Shah in the 18th century when Iran decided, for the first time, to build a navy in its southern waters.”
There you go. Is that connection made by Zomorrodi a stretch?
In the early 18th century, Iran returned to the region in a big way. Nader Shah bought four warships from the European powers and hired the British seafarer Captain Cook as naval adviser. His admiral, Latif Khan, launched a series of naval raids that ended with the capture of Bahrain, the crushing of pirate tribes, and a brief conquest of Muscat. However Nader Shah’s naval adventure didn’t last long. His assassination replunged Iran into civil war and chaos, deviating attention from tis southern waters. It took almost two centuries for Iran to return to its southern waters under Reza Shah who built a navy with help from Germany and Italy in the 1930s. In 1941, the British sunk the Shah’s navy when they, together with the Russians, invaded and occupied Iran in the name of the Allies fighting the German-led Axis.
In a sense, Oman is like an island because, with the exception of a link to a thinly inhabited fringe of southern Yemen, it is sealed off from the interior of the Arabian Peninsula by the uplands of the Batinah and the Rub Al-Khali, and surrounded by water on the remaining three sides. In geopolitical terms, Oman is a top prize for anyone who wishes to project naval power in the Indian Ocean.
It is not surprising that Oman features prominently in Iran’s long-term planning for naval projection of power. Omanis think they owe Iran a debt of gratitude for having helped them crush the Communist challenge launched from South Yemen in the 1970s.
In a gesture of friendship to the Sultan of Oman, in 1970s Iran rejected a demand by the sheikhs of Khassab and Diba, in the Mussandam Peninsula where the Shihuh and Kamzari tribes, speaking an Iranian language, once ruled, to secede from Oman and set up independent mini-states.
Oman has always tried to project a distinct political profile. In the 1971 celebration of the foundation of the Persian Empire, Sultan Qaboos was the only Arab head of state present.
There is more than just Oman in play if you run this scenario out.
Courting Oman is part of a broader policy of the Islamic Republic to Finlandize the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, by persuading and/or threatening them not to take sides in any conflict between Iran and tis regional or extra-regional rivals.
So far, Oman has managed to pursue a “zero problems” foreign policy. But how long that could last depends on how far Tehran wishes to push its regional ambitions.
A friendly Oman is a big asset for Iran’s national security let alone its regional ambitions. A hostile Oman could force Tehran strategists to think twice before they bite more than they can chew.
Wargame that. Throw in a successful Shia uprising in Bahrain and an ongoing one in eastern Saudi Arabia. Well. Interesting times.
At lunch yesterday, I had the pleasure of being involved in a scintillating conversation among “millennial” peers. Shockingly, we didn’t spend the better part of two hours adhering to our generational stereotype and discussing important issues like how to work “only the bare minimum number of hours required,” (apologies, but CDR Cunningham’s article is the gift that keeps on giving).
In 2014, the DoD Retention Survey gave us a valuable look at junior officer viewpoints, so I dusted off the data set. The following statistics jumped out:
“One of the most pointed and straightforward questions in the survey was whether or not Sailors aspire to have their boss’s job. 49.4% of Sailors overall report they do not want their bosses job, a significantly negative response when compared to the 38.8% who say they do. A plurality of enlisted Sailors (46.5%) desire their boss’s job, while a majority of officers indicate they do not want their boss’s job (52.6%).”
While having your boss’s job doesn’t necessarily equate with aspiring to command, when not even 50% of junior officers seek said job, it’s probably time to have a discussion on what that means.
But what the JOs in our lunchtime discourse yesterday really wanted to know is, does our generation aspire to command, because as CAPT Sean Heritage points out, we are told that we ought to; but the DoD retention survey indicated otherwise. This engendered a broader discussion about aspiration to command versus a desire to lead.
And as discussion of this important distinction and resulting question progressed, we enjoyed and were informed by it so much that we wished that we could put a broader group of our peers in a room in order to have this same conversation with viewpoints from across the fleet. So we put our millennial, tech-savvy heads together and figured out how we could do so.
The result was the following brief survey that we are circulating (unofficially and informally) to our peers regarding junior officer command aspirations (and yes we understand that the chosen survey domain name is ironically synonymous with a specific archetype of naval service.)
If you are an actively-serving junior officer, to take the survey, click here:
We will leave the survey available through Thursday and publish the results whether we have two entries or two thousand. It will be interesting to see what we find out.