Last week the CNO announced that the Information Dominance Directorate would not be acquiring programs and officers from the Surface and Submarine Warfare Divisions (N86 and N87). This decision took two years of study and was the final piece that tells us that N6’s merge with N2 really was to just free up a flag billet…which is what N6 has been doing every other year since inception.

But that’s not the 19th Century thinking. The old-think stems from the inability to further erode the power of the platform in favor of the modern dominance of the information. At the same time we see one part of the Navy realizing that the Littoral Combat Ship needs it’s own Program Executive Office to merge combat systems and hulls another part of the Navy is furthering the divide between the information and the platforms that use it.

Today’s modern Chief of Naval Operations Staff (OPNAV) is an amalgamation and transformation that only centuries of bureaucracy can provide. It often reminds me of the house I grew up in – it had been added on to and remodeled so many times that while it looked good from the outside and functioned well on the inside it was neither efficient, logical or the way any architect would have put it together. Which is probably why after the last hurricane to hit my hometown, the owners chose to tear it down rather than repair.

Now, I am not advocating that a natural disaster needs to so thoroughly wreck OPNAV that it would have to be rebuilt from scratch (though I suspect that there are many who would cheer at the thought, at least the wrecking part). Instead I propose that someone, somewhere should take a look at the mission and functions – both statutory and adopted – of the OPNAV staff and redesign it so that it becomes both efficient and logical.

To begin with – the term “Operations” should be removed. The Navy Staff has nothing to do with the operational movement of forces, nor should they. That is what Fleets are for and too many in the staff of the “Chief of All Naval Operations” think that they are there to move the chess pieces. What the Staff is really there to do is two fold – set policy and develop budgets. If it’s not one of those two things, then it’s probably make work or self-imposed churn.

Of course, we can’t just go off into la-la land and ignore some other realities – the “N-code” construct is something that needs to be retained as it is simple and universal within the various armed forces. Bad enough that we have so many different combinations of camouflage, at the very least our admin (where already aligned) should remain so.

How would one version of a redesigned staff look?

N1 – Personnel Policy: support the CNO (yes, keep the title) in formulating policy for the “man” and “train” functions. Move the Community Managers back to N1 and make Commander, Naval Personnel Command the executer of the current year budget (akin to the manner in which CFFC relates to CNO).

N2 – Disestablish: Intelligence functions do not need to be on a administrative staff.

N3 – Operational Policy: Force deployment allocation, deployment length, if there is a policy that applies to the application of forces ashore or at sea, this is where it gets approved. It might be developed somewhere else, but this is where it’s vetted before going to N5 and CNO

N4 – Logistics Policy: All things supply. And ammunition. And medical. And commissary. And infrastructure.

N5 – Strategy Formulation and Policy Wholeness: What are we doing long term? And, do all of our policies make sense when put together?

N6 – Communications Spectrum Policy:

N7 – Disestablish

N8 – Budget Wholeness: Build the budget. This is the only one that I will speak to subcodes:

N81: Personnel budgetting. Works in N8, N1 signs concurrent report.

N82: Intelligence system budgetting. Works in N8, Defense Intelligence Agency signs concurrent report.

N83: Operations budgetting. Works in N8, N3 and CUSFFC sign concurrent report.

N84: Logistics budgetting. Works in N8, N4 signs concurrent report.

N85: Platforms: The hull, airframe, seaframe, people tank what ever you want to call the macro platform.

N86: Communications budgetting. Works in N8, N6 signs concurrent report.

N87: Sensors: How the platforms see

N88: Weapons: How the platforms kill

Policy. Budget. That’s all. All those other things that OPNAV does now? Figure out (1) what value do they provide and then either stop doing the things without real value or realign those things with value to the appropriate operational commander.

And I am certain someone will quibble (especially about that N2 part) but at least it’s a place to start a discussion that is both long overdue and likely to not to have any official sanction any time soon.

Posted by M. Ittleschmerz in Navy, Policy

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  • I’ll be first to take up the N2 challenge — who produces intelligence policy? This organization should not be in the tasking, collection, processing, exploitation and dissemination loops, but should be providing guidance on how the fleets will interact with the intelligence community.

    Of course, ff you aren’t going to have intelligence policy, then you could also eliminate your proposed N82 shop… no sense having a budget if there aren’t any priorities.

  • Mittleschmerz

    But…the CoComms don’t have any real budget authority. And, frankly, I couldn’t think of any sort of intelligence policy that would need to be done that wasn’t already handled at the National level. I am prepared to be educated.

    As for the budgeting, someone has to buy the systems and make sure there is money to fund the collections even if there is no policy to be made.

  • EWB

    We have the Office of Naval Intelligence. I’m not quite sure why ONI doesn’t promulgate any Navy-specific intelligence policy to the Fleet, or why the Director of Naval Intelligence isn’t the same as the CO of ONI. I think it might make sense to push any N2 functions to ONI, and keep N82 on the OPNAV staff.

    (Actually, I believe the counter-argument is that the distance between Suitland and the Pentagon is great, and that there was sufficient difference in the mission of OPNAV N2 and COMONI that it made sense to break it apart. Not sure I buy it, but their specific duties are way above my paygrade.)

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Your “21st century thinking” largely mirrors 20th century US Army organizational doctrine for staffs, circa the deployment of the AEF (including Col George Marshal)to France for the great war.

    The Head of Service as Chief of Staff was imposed by Goldwater-Nichols which codified the agenda of the non-sea services at the the earlier Key West Conference in the Truman Administration.

    New, trendy, up to date? Bad reasons for change, absent other considerations. In this case, not really the case, actually.

  • Mittleschmerz

    Gramps – I’m not claiming any “21st Century thinking” – just that the current construct is a thing of the past and should be updated. As for the “20th century Army organizational doctrine”, sure. But if all the other services are organized the same way, and staffs and fleets are organized the same why, why should the Navy staff be suddenly different.

    In the end my concept was intended to be something for discussion. Honestly all I can take from your comment is that you don’t think that there is any reason to change to construct of OPNAV. Is that what you meant?

  • mcx

    Why have an N5 at all? Why not ensure adequate Navy expertise is embedded within sanctioned (and increased) JDAL billets at the COCOMs. Let the Geographic commanders assigned responsibility for the application of military power determine the strategy and policy germane to their regions nested under the strategic hierarchy of the national guidance.
    The Navy needs an acquisition strategy, yes. A Strategically informed budget, yes. But a whole N-code devoted to Navy centric strategy and policy is a self-serving entity. Joint up, Sailors.

  • Steve Kime

    This kind of discussion is exactly what the Forum is about and it is terrific to see it here. We need this in Proceedings magazine, too. Am I, like,like OPNAV, just a creature of another century, or can we make that happen?
    Steve Kime (

  • Byron

    If it cuts the flag numbers by 2/3 and a concurrent reduction in bloated staffs, I’m all for it. Too many fingers in the pie, too many damn kingdoms that need protecting.

  • M. Ittleschmerz

    mcx – if not Navy, then who would develop a global maritime strategy? The Joint Staff? My thoughts on the Joint Staff would take another post entirely. Regardless, I don’t think that the “new N5” under my desired construct would need more than the people who are in N51 now. My completely uninformed opinion doesn’t really provide enough concept of what the other N5XX codes provide to the Navy to be able to keep them.

    Byron – this is a discussion of staff organization and composition. That should drive Flag numbers and staffs, not the other way around. Those who cry “we have too many!!!!” and cite nothing other than “we have too many” as their rationale aren’t making an argument. But, I’ll play some of that game.

    CNO – 4-star
    VCNO/DNS (really, why two separate jobs?) – 3-star
    N-Codes – 2 star with a one star deputy (Why? So that someone can travel)
    Two digit and lower codes are Captains or SES.

    That’s all. That’s 14 Admirals total (which might even be fewer than N8 alone has today).

  • sid
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  • Nick di Leonardo

    By the way, Title Ten says that OPNAV N85 must be commanded by a USMC 2 star General to see to the requirements of expeditionary warfare. So unless you are looking to pass legislation, that one portion of your reorganization will never be realized.

  • Mittleschmerz

    Well, yes it does. Sort of.

    Here’s what it actually says:

    5038. Director for Expeditionary Warfare
    (a) One of the Directors within the office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations with responsibility for warfare requirements and programs shall be the Director for Expeditionary Warfare who shall be detailed from officers on the active-duty list of the Marine Corps.
    (b) An officer assigned to the position of Director for Expeditionary Warfare, while so serving, has the grade of major general.
    (c) The principal duty of the Director for Expeditionary Warfare shall be to supervise the performance of all staff responsibilities of the Chief of Naval Operations regarding expeditionary warfare, including responsibilities regarding amphibious lift, mine warfare, naval fire support, and other missions essential to supporting expeditionary warfare.
    (d) The Chief of Naval Operations shall transfer duties, responsibilities, and staff from other personnel within the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations as necessary to fully support the Director for Expeditionary Warfare.

    Doesn’t have to be N85. Just needs to work wherever there are requirements.

    Regardless, do you fear or worry about passing legislation, or just calling attention to it? Title X gets modified all the time. Legislation should never be an impediment – a consideration, yes, but not an impediment.

  • Grandpa Bluewater


    The Navy is not “suddenly different”. It is, rather, inescapably and functionally different. Over the years since the Truman administration, the army and its offspring, the AF, have been been getting changes in organization, and customs to match their way of doing things….usually by procrustian edict, and usually to the sea services detriment.

    The Navy is best run when functionally organized to match the interaction between the unchanging ocean and the ever changing state of art, and the accidents of geography and its own history. Joint considerations have their place, when absolutely required and non mission detrimental.

    Being “up to date” or “modern” is not reason to change anything, per se. Evolutionary change based on the adoption of best practices as validated from the bottom up usually succeed. Top down change to yield to pressures from other organizations with great confidence in their own doctrine and no understanding of ships, sailors, or the sea usually fail, even if defined as successful in the face of repetitive failure in practice by edict of the “top” forcing the change “down”. Look about you, oh ye mighty, and despair.

    Is it faster, more reliable, lower cost, more efficient, more effective (not always the same, those last two), has it been tested on small scale and shown promise, did it come from the practictioners, does it make sense? When yes, make a change.

    For my money OPNAV is labyrinthine, byzantine, internally conflicted and trapped in the coils of Gresham’s Law (The bad drives out the good.) and Pournelle’s Iron Law (Bureaucracies always fall victim to those who seek to shape the bureaucracy to their personal advantage, suppressing those who try to carry out the tasks for which they exist for the reasons the tasks are important, e.g. the mission).

    Think I’m wrong? Treat it as a black box and examine the goezins and the comezouts. Ever more money, higher ranking officers, and processing time go in. Better fiscal control, ship design, aircraft design, personnel able to excel at the next step up when chosen for promotion, streamlined paperwork,
    and competitive performance vis a vis keeping what the navy holds and adapting to new opportunities and threats, and the simple ability to admit a mistake and backtrack until back on on intended track and even with PIM HASN’T rpt HASN”T come out in decades.

    Always for reasons of being thoroughly modern Millies, oh, so up to date. Just can’t get the useful and necessary stuff defined and enforced. Not the bee’s knees, that little fact.

    Do it because it will work better, and evaluate it honestly and then set it in stone, but only if it really works.

    What number code to give it? How about just call things by their right name. If it confused the AF and the Army, serendipity should be embraced.

    Step 1? Abolish the uniform board and the last five years output of the same. Uniforms that camouflage sailors when they abandon ship so SAR can’t find them, grump, mutter, grumble, snort.

    But I digress. Over to all for practical examples.

  • Mittleschmerz

    Gramps – The tone I am reading from your comments is that you disagree with what I wrote. But I can’t find anything in what you wrote to disagree with. Other than the concept of number codes – very “un-joint” of you. 😉

    What am I missing? What did you find fault with in my contention that OPNAV needs to change? You seem to agree that change is needed – or did I read that wrong?