Tags: Defense Budget, Leadership, Strategic nuclear forces
Some keep their thoughts to themselves when they see problems, or keep them firmly behind closed doors. Others see the requirement to step from the shadows to confront in the open what others are keeping silent about.
Why are so many people in the profession of arms so quiet? The reasons are many and varied; loyalty to ones chain of command, deference to authority, orders, propriety, fear, passivity, verve, desire to retain professional viability, or just a lack of confidence in ones opinions.
When is the supported institution best served by silence, and when by open and contentious discourse? Is this a time for silence, or a time for those at the highest levels of leadership to dare to read, think, speak, and write?
Not put their name to something a person on their staff wrote; not some “It takes a village to write 3,000 words” safety-in-numbers collaboration. No – something in their own words either in their personnel by-line, or by a properly vetted “Federalist Papers” format.
At its best though; Sims, Mitchell and Connolly – there is the benchmark that we need right now.
What do those three General Officers/Flag Officers (GOFO) have in common? Well, at different stages in their careers, they were highly influential due to their very public outspokenness about what was not being done correctly in order to, in their minds, address the critical shortfall in weapons development, procurement and strategy in order to have an effective fighting force.
They put their reputations and careers on the line – while on active duty and planning to stay on active duty – in order to elevate the discussion in the open. The did this for one reason – in order to bring about a better American military.
Sims was sending letters directly to the President, used rather colorful terms to identify critical shortfalls, and was an aggressive publisher of anti-establishmentarian ideas. Mitchell beat the drum and edged across a few lines to pronounce to an unlistening and ossified parochial bureaucracy the future influence of air power upon history. Connolly had no problem aggressively explaining Newtonian physics against the Joint-fetishists of his day. Sims was rewarded, Mitchell was Court Martialed, and Connolly found himself a terminal 3-Star.
They chose the risky path – and rewarded or punished individually; their nation’s military were the better for it collectively.
There is another path – it is an honorable one as well – one that has a mixed record of success. While it is true that the higher one goes up the chain, the more perceived “power” one has and as a result has the ability to affect change, most of the time that remains just-beyond reach. That power lever is a mirage. It is a trick. It is the triumph of hope against experience.
Good people who are truly trying to do the right thing often find they have waited too long. That magic set of PCS orders, that enabling rank – it never comes. All of a sudden, they find themselves scheduled for Executive TAP, yet realize their work is incomplete.
Does the United States need a 300-ship Navy or will it over the next 70 years need seven strategic nuclear submarines on patrol in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans? Each would have 24 intercontinental ballistic missiles, all of which could carry up to five nuclear warheads.
That was the choice Vice Adm. William Burke, deputy chief of Naval Operations Warfare Systems, described Tuesday at the Congressional Breakfast Seminar Series.
Burke, who is set to retire in the next few weeks, spoke frankly about the undersea portion of the U.S. strategic nuclear triad “and its intersection with our shipbuilding plan.”
His conclusion: “If we buy the SSBN [the planned 12 replacement strategic submarines for the current 14 Ohio class now in service] within existing funds, we will not reach 300 ships. In fact, we’ll find ourselves closer to 250. At these numbers, our global presence will be reduced such that we’ll only be able to visit some areas of the world episodically.”
This topic of the impact of SSBN recapitalization in the face of a perfect storm of macro-budgetary crisis and the delayed effects of the procurement Lost Decade from poor programmatic decisions that will be the 2020’s is not new. Indeed, many of us have been writing and speaking about the need to address the coming “Terrible ‘20s” for years.
Why is it a GOFO scheduled to “retire in the next few weeks” is the one who is talking about this? On this and many other issues; you can have all the “Disruptive Thinker” JOs and sharp enlisted you can jam in a conference room, you can have scores of retired Field Grade officers pounding away at their dinner table each evening, and you can have the pundit-pondering think-tankers of the Potomac chattering until Judgement Day and it won’t have the impact of serving GOFO standing up and speaking without guile or hedge about what everyone sees, but few openly say. As long as they do not, then you will get the B-team working the creative friction.
What impact can a GOFO have as he is heading out the door? Not really that much. Like a lame-duck politician – his professional capital is spent. The cynic and critic will simply dismiss his comments as sour grapes. His natural allies will just set their jaws and mumble “too-little-too-late.” If the only issues he raise are related sequester, then he will be looked at as just a political hack.
Are these professional death-bed conversions helpful? While the decision to be silent and work behind the closed door is a valid and honorable one, in the end is it really a false economy of delayed revelation? Better late than never, or just another lost opportunity?
Sure, comments heading out the door can be helpful, important, and impactful in a fashion, but they have but a shadow of the impact they could be have had if these actions took place in the open, in high profile, years before while the GOFO were still in uniform and intended to stay as such for another tour or two.
As our Fleet shrinks and is balanced out with either sub-optimal platforms such as LCS or expensive Tiffany porcelain dolls; as our carrier decks are full of short-legged strike fighters and underarmed expensive F-35s (TBD), our deployed Sailors are burdened by a bloated, demanding, and ineffective Shore/Staff fonctionnaire cadre, and a money-sponge of a SSBN recapitalization requirement is squatting right in front of us – where are our Sims, Mitchells, and Connellys?
Do we need them? Do we have them? What do they need to do?