Twelve pages into Samuel Eliot Morison’s The Two-Ocean War and I’ve already found myself setting the work aside and getting lost in thought regarding the stark similarities between the interwar Navy of 1917-’41 and the Navy I serve in today. I feel compelled to quote from it at some length. The Author received a letter from VADM Deyo while he was still writing the work.

The surface Navy, despite lack of funds from Congress or interest by its civilian heads, produced a reasonable semblance of a balanced fleet and operated effectively as one in its training. The spur of officer selection and ship competition was most noticeable. But gradually the means became the end. Thus, while everyone worked hard, we began going in circles. The Fleet became more and more tied to bases, operating out of Long Beach–San Diego on a tight fuel budget, chained to the increasingly artificial, detailed mandates of the Office of Fleet Training whose word was law. The pencil became sharper than the sword, everyone tried to beat the target practice rules and too many forgot there was a war getting closer. There was a waiting line for top commands, and tenure of office was so short–often only a year or less–that high commanders came and went, leaving little impression. Paper work wrapped its deadly tentacles around cabin and wardroom. Smart ship handling, smart crews, eager initiative received little attention, as did the reverse. Glaring defects in guns, ammunition, torpedoes, battle tactics, went unnoticed for so long as the competition rules made due allowances and gave everyone similar conditions.

The Competition the Admiral is speaking of is the Battle Efficiency Competition instituted by President T. Roosevelt in 1902 as a solution for the Navy’s poor gunnery in the Spanish-American War. The competition worked Morison says, for the first seven years. After which time however, the competition became institutionalized and the effort became more about the process itself than it was about increasing our efficiency in battle.

Looking at where we are today, we find ourselves in a very similar situation. The Commands charged with the training of the Fleet have changed, the methods by which we choose to train have changed. But, the same basic problem with ‘process worship’ or ‘churn’ exists today.

One issue that seems to be a constant undercurrent is the amount of time, resources, focus and energy we spent on establishing, refining, and participating in various processes instead of on the actual output of the process. This worship of process over product (“churn”) results in people going through the motions, with little to no understanding of its original purpose, resulting in very little output.

Admiral Harvey said that at his place last April. The solution to churn in ’35 was that CNO Admiral Standley ended the battle efficiency competition and had his Fleet train in more realistic and less idealized conditions. What ADM Standley did was not exactly innovative, rather it was new for the time. I am sure that the salty old Chiefs at that time were telling their Sailors that ‘this is how we used to train’ or ‘we’re getting brilliant on the basics’. From what I have read, he didn’t institute a replacement program–as large and complex as the original–for the Battle Efficiency Competition program. Rather, he just removed what was not necessary and counterproductive, adding only small substantive changes.

Any process over time will accumulate churn, or become bloated. We should assume this to be unavoidable and accept that we must eliminate major portions of programs and start anew with the same basic goal we had with the initial program, so that that this cycle can start over again, as those who’ve gone before us have had to do.

Posted by CTR1(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III in History, Navy
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  • Eagle1

    Well read.

    Well said.

    The Navy needs its warriors to kick the “chum” aside and focus on getting the force ready for the real world.

  • BJ Armstrong

    YN2, you are wise to notice the similarities. When ADM Harvey spoke at the Joint Warighter Conference a couple months ago he talked about the interwar period and was almost chaneling CDR John Kuehn (ret, PhD). If your looking to stay on theme the next book on your list should be “Agents of Innovation” (published by the USNI Press, by the way). Other parallels include the “austere budgetary environment” and the limitations of the fleet size that it (and the naval treaties) engendered. The role of the General Board is something that we are missing today.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    I am beginning to sense that with the [buzzword alert] new meme that we as a nation are experiencing “Carter II” taking hold, we will sometime in the next 24+ months hear one of our most senior military leaders state that the Navy and most of the non-combat engaged armed forces in general have become, once again, a “hollow force.” When we once again actually suspend real world ops for the last 3 days of the FY because there is no money for flying that’s not optionally funded (VQ, etc) we will really know how badly we’ve run aground. We reap what we sow, and war is not a business.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    Perhaps I came across a little too pessimistic in my post.
    I didn’t intend to make it sound like we’re heading down a path similar to one of the low points in the Navy’s history.

    My intent was to say that it is natural for any process to become bloated overtime. This effect occurs in software in addition to organizations. It is not something done on purpose, or because someone is incompetent. Churn or bloat is as natural as entropy. Removing programs or aspects of programs is just part of the process. If we remove a lot of the churn today, years down the road we will be talking about what we need to add.

  • Jay

    YN2 — if you like the condensed version — the entire 15 volume set is worth the read — but it took me some months of serious effort a few years ago.

  • Old Air Force Sarge

    YN2 – A brilliant post. I see so much process in the defense contracting world that I sometimes despair of getting any real work done. That being said, all is not lost. My company has realized lately that its processes to build better products for our warfighters were actually getting in the way of quality results, largely due to bloat. They’ve started to streamline those processes to improve our efficiency and reproduce quality on a systematic basis. While process is not a bad thing, it can get cumbersome over time. We need to continually re-assess and re-evaluate what we’re doing and why. Again, brilliant post and I’ve got to read that book!

  • Mike M.

    Amen! And Old Air Force Sarge is 100% right. If you want some REAL acquisiiton reform, try ditching every “reform” fobbed off on the services over the last thirty years. Let the engineers stop wrestling wiht Powerpoint and start wrestling with engineering problems instead.

  • YN2 — if you like the condensed version — the entire 15 volume set is worth the read — but it took me some months of serious effort a few years ago.

    I’ll gladly second that. I would of course encourage all USNI readers to at least read The Two-Ocean War. But a serious student should certainly read the 15 volume work.

    As to process bloat, it is very common. And the Navy isn’t the only institution that succumbs to it. I’ve seen similar effects in Army training as well.

  • Chuck Hill

    When you read Morison there is no mention of the code breaking because I think it was still classified at the time, but I think he was aware of it and its implications and his view of the officers involved reflected that knowledge.

  • Chuck Hill

    I was referring to the 15 vol. work. There might be some reference in Two Ocean War.

  • Mary Ripley

    Going on purely personal opinion here…Why is this young man not a Mustang candidate for the Naval Academy? Or for (forgive me, I don’t know the Navy term) Officer Candidate School? Bright. Bright young man. certainly worth the investment.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    Mary, thank you for the kind words. To answer your question, I am too old for most Seaman to Admiral-21 programs (ones I’d be interested in pursuing) and I am not yet an E-6 eligible to take the E-7 test. I’d have to pass the Chief’s exam to be able to put in my Limited Duty Officer package. I will be eligible for the March ’11 test for E-6. Best case, I am looking at taking the Jan ’12 E-7 test, and putting in my LDO package if I pass.

    Otherwise, I am waiting to see how I did on the Foreign Service Officer Test for the State Department. I took their test last month in Kabul, just to see what my options are.

  • Byron

    Then the Navy made a mistake for not recognizing the talent they had. You’d have made a damn fine officer, and you’d make a hell of a good Chief, which in my book might be an even more important job.