I began writing this during the 11th hour of Joint Warfighter, feeling like I had something of an information hangover. Coffee was having no effect. Concepts and ideas were jumbled into an atemporal mess in my mind–it has been a long couple of conferences.
After the last session a woman walked past me and remarked that the panel was uninformative. I’ve now heard this sentiment twice in the last two days. In terms of this, I can agree that perhaps the actual information given by panelists might not be new, novel, or insightful. But, at best such a reality is decided on a case-by-case basis, since those in the audience have each been privy to different types, amounts, and quality of data. What was not profound to you, could have very well been profound to someone else. In short, the fact that you might not have found anything new in the discussion is irrelevant. But, it does point my thinking towards a new paradigm for conferences is needed.
There is little information that will be given to you in person that could not have been read elsewhere. The volume of data and information availed online is huge–you want to know about the Navy, you can learn most everything online. You can be given nuance from blogs and context from history. However, it is in person is where you learn about what people are thinking, and what they haven’t decided on. You see the person and all those subconscious things that denote what they’re really thinking.
That is the power of panels, that is why it is worth traveling so very far and spending so much: Experience. My Boss says that nothing supplants meeting someone in person, and he’s right. You can share emotion via the Internet, but you cannot truly experience emotion with someone, not even the subtle emotion felt when one is posed with a difficult question–as is often done in panels.
The division between audience and panel needs to be broken down. I struggle to articulate how to do this short of some hippie-esq ‘let’s-circle-our-chairs-and-hold-hands’ nonsense. But, the answer must be in there somewhere between the connectivity enabled by the Internet and being there in person.
AirSea Battle is in trouble. I don’t really know what it is, and even with engaging with the panel today, I still don’t think there is anyone out there who has the whole story. But. What truly troubles me, is that from the question I asked today.
I asked how AirSea Battle Strategy (anyone know what the word ‘battle’ is doing in a strategy?) would affect the tactical level. From what I remember of the answer, almost nothing will change except that there will be more jointness (termed ‘interoperability’ if I remember correctly) and tactical units will be smaller and enabled to mass quickly if a concentration of forces are needed.
Additionally, the design for AirSea is such that it will be layered over the tactical and operational COCOM level. This is where I really get lost–and I need your help to make sense of.
Wasn’t one of the greatest critiques of COIN that it wasn’t a true strategy, but rather a collection of tactics jumbled together and called strategy? If we are overlaying this strategy on top our existing operational and tactical paradigms, aren’t we doing the same thing COIN is accused of? What I understand of strategy is that it is the larger goals and combination of ends, ways and means towards reaching those goals. In attempting to draft a strategy that does not perturb current tactical paradigms, are we creating a strategy that changes nothing?
I really hope we aren’t, but I will need to be convinced we aren’t.
Another thing is that the crowd drawn to such Conferences are more industry than strategist. The questions routinely posed to the panels concerned acquisition more than they did anything else. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I’m not a contractor and so I am more I am more interested in strategy and tactics. What’s more is that because of the majority of the questions it is now hard for me to separate the future tools for implementing AirSea from the strategy itself.
Is AirSea a collection of new capabilities rather than a strategy in its own right?
While I was told that AirSea was not to have any major impact on the tactical level, there is one area in which I do see it having a major impact. AirSea seems to support the notion of acquiring 5+ generation fighters, new comms gear, and making everything stealth. The fielding of such gear will necessarily drive the need for new tactics, and operational models. From what I understand of the F-22, the logistics and maintenance requirement are quite different from having 15s, 16s and 18s downrange. In addition, if the services are to specialize further in niche but vital capabilities, interoperability is going to demand another round of relocating units CONUS for training purposes. If the Army has an Electronic Warfare requirement for a mission the Navy will have to fill that role. But, odds are that EW Squadron is in Northern Virginia, but the Combat Brigade is located in North Carolina or Georgia. For these two units to train together to be fully interoperable, they will need to train together almost constantly. I struggle to see how this will be cost effective, in the age of austerity with sequestration looming.
There is way too much that has gone unsaid regarding AirSea. I appreciate OPSEC needs as much as the next guy. But, AirSea is starting to be discussed widely across strategy and military focused blogs. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force and the Chief of Naval Operations are appearing together to present this strategy to the American People, and the message is thus far garbled. As we’re in the opening stages of the messaging campaign, I can appreciate that there is tweaking that will be done to it towards answering the myriad of questions we all have regarding AirSea. But, it will be a struggle. My sense is that many bloggers, strategists, and journalists are suspect of AirSea. After nearly ten years of coin being vigorously debated, any new strategy will have an uphill battle.
I saw a lot of GOFO’s over the course of Joint Warfighter. Just about as many as are at SHAPE. But, what is important is that I got to listen to them, at some length. General Allen, COMISAF, VTC’d in for an hour (and it was roughly 2100L AFG). Despite weather delays GEN Dempsey was present for an hour. I don’t know how much experience everyone has will trying to get on a GOFO’s schedule. But, average availability is around 15 minutes. An hour is an insane amount of time.
GENs Cartwright, Allen, and Dempsey all spoke without the use of PowerPoint or notes. They were able to navigate through multiple topics, ensuring that key messages were hit and came across as relaxed. They were all polished and impressive. GEN Cartwright had the luxury of no longer being in uniform and so his candor was particularly poignant.
I asked a lot of questions, and the way I worded a lot of questions was not readily understood. I’m pretty sure I had to rephrase every question I asked. It sucks when you’ve got a minute or seven standing behind the mic, listening to the other questions being asked, answers that touch upon the one you’re about to ask, and you’re thinking of a myriad of permutations of how you could ask your question. It’s like roulette, you don’t know when the moderator is going to call on you, and where ever your mind is at when you’re asked is the question that comes out.
*Remember, identify your self and your affiliation.*
One question got me asked if I wanted to work on the Joint Staff, and the answer to that is still an emphatic yes (if you want to see how that went down, watch the video. I won’t elaborate further).
During one such evening, at the USNI Member Event, I turned a corner, and Mary stopped me and introduced me to John Nagl. Yes, that John Nagl. Amazing, right? I love the Naval Institute… For more than just this one instance.
In 2007 I attended my first conference. It was Joint Warfighter, and the day I attended ADM Stavridis gave the keynote at Lunch.
I became aware of the conference while I was underway, and emailed the Institute asking how I could pay for the lunches. I was told that the Institute saves a few tickets for Enlisted members, and that I needn’t worry about paying to attend the luncheon keynote. Because of this, I became aware of ADM Stavridis, and sought out everything I could find of his writing. Eventually I found him on facebook as well, and in 2010 this all came together in enabling me to come work for him at SHAPE. It is directly because of the Naval Institute that I am who I am today.
The last keynote of the Conference was from Google’s Chief Technology Advocate. He presented a number of fascinating things Google does as “hobbies”. Google is all about gathering real world information and organizing and availing that information through the internet. I consider this a noble and laudable goal. What’s more is that they are doing an exceptional job at all of it.
However, such a goal is fraught with challenges and disturbing implications. Arthur C. Clark has some very good words to this point
The Information Age offers much to mankind, and I would like to think that we will rise to the challenges it presents. But it is vital to remember that information — in the sense of raw data — is not knowledge, that knowledge is not wisdom, and that wisdom is not foresight. But information is the first essential step to all of these.
Google gets this, and they are actively engaged in finding the right answers to such dilemmas. They seek out expert advice from guys like GEN Colin Powell. They seek to understand the implications of the capabilities and technologies they develop–they seek to build wisdom as much as they compile information.
I think it is important for this conversation to take place, as well as for it to be transparent and done in public. If Google can develop technologies that have significant security implications, it does us no good to bury this fact, as it denies us the ability to develop the wisdom required to understand our new abilities. Further more, if Google can do it, then eventually anyone could do it, being quiet about it won’t prevent this from happening.
All Around It was an excellent conference, I was especially pleased to see so many of our Allies stationed at Allied Command Transformation in attendance. Seeing French, British, German, and Spanish uniforms in the crowd made me feel a little bit like I was back home at SHAPE. Going forward, I think it would be a good thing to try to engage with our Allies more in such conferences. With more focus on Asia being demanded, deepening engagement and ties with our European Allies in other ways is important. An easy, and smart way to do this is with conferences like Joint Warfighter. Plus, JCWC has a nice ring to it (Joint-Combined Warfighter Conference).