Author Archive


With Genuine Respect

November 2010


I apologize to the United States Naval Institute for failing to meet editorial standards on the blog in my November 10, 2010 post titled Leadership and Accountability. In that post it has been suggested I made an ad hominem attack against Admiral Jonathan Greenert. US Naval Institute blog rules forbid ad hominem attacks on the blog. I am responsible for all content posted under my name on the United States Naval Institute blog, and I strongly believe I should always be held accountable by USNI for any violation by me of their rules.


Leadership and Accountability

November 2010


We will still need men and women in uniform to call things as they see them and tell their subordinates and their superiors alike what they need to hear, not what they want to hear . . . More broadly, if as an officer you don’t tell blunt truths or create an environment where candor is encouraged, then you’ve done yourself and the institution a disservice.

The time will come when you must stand alone in making a difficult, unpopular decision, or when you must challenge the opinion of superiors or tell them that you can’t get the job done with the time and the resources available . . . There will be moments when your entire career is at risk.

Sprinting Through the Tape, by Major General Thomas L. Wilkerson, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired), Proceedings Magazine – July 2008 Vol. 134/7/1,265

There are several important activities and topics to discuss regarding the US Navy today, but the most important issue in the US Navy right now is represented in the outcome of last week’s court-martial of Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kearns, former executive officer of the troubled USS San Antonio (LPD 17). Kate Wiltrout has a series of articles regarding the court-martial in the Virginia Pilot – and both are required reading.

The first article came out Sunday with the verdict of not guilty by military jury for his case which involved the death of Petty Officer 1st Class Theophilus Ansong during small-boat operations on Feb. 4, 2009 in the Gulf of Aden. The accident involved 3 crew members in an inflatable boat that flipped while being lowered into the sea. Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kearns, the executive officer of USS San Antonio at the time, was charged with negligence for failing to properly train and supervise small-boat operations. According to the article Lt. Cmdr. Kearns “chose to take the case to court-martial rather than accept a potentially career-ending reprimand like the one given to Cmdr. Eric Cash, the ship’s captain.”

“The true victors here are the sailors who served on, and continue to serve on, LPD-17-class ships,” he said, adding that they face struggles with the new design and are not getting the resources they need from the Navy.

When asked why he refused administrative punishment, Kearns said: “Things needed to be made known…. Someone needed to stand up.”

He stressed that the problems with the ship don’t stem from those who are serving aboard it. “That crew has never failed to come through,” he said.

The prosecution and defense had two very different views regarding the cause of the accident. For the prosecution, the argument ultimately became that regardless of all circumstances, officers are responsible for the crew under their command. The defense argument was that circumstances do matter, and that at some point a team Navy effort must extend beyond the confines of a single ship. The article lays out all of the details of the case, but what is important here is that we find a naval officer with the moral courage to speak out regarding problems in a court-martial and be held accountable by military jury. Ultimately, Lt. Cmdr. Kearns was not found responsible for the sailors death.

During the trial, prosecutors did not address the major material problems that have plagued the USS San Antonio. As I observed the trial through the media, that point stuck out to me as a very important omission by the prosecution, and as I thought about it I remembered something I read earlier this year.

Expecting a ship to meet every mission requirement while providing only 70% of the resources necessary is not setting the conditions for success. The CO is placed in an untenable situation; we set the ship and her crew up for future failure. Ultimately, it is my responsibility, working through the chain-of-command, to balance the resources I provide to our ships, squadrons and submarines with the missions I expect those units to be able to perform.

But…our COs also have an obligation to seek the truth and act on it – to honestly assess their ship, take appropriate action, and forward their findings and recommendations up the chain-of-command for the betterment of the force. This feedback is absolutely critical. Decision-making and directing action (command) only achieves the desired outcome if there is a properly functioning feedback loop (control). We have occasionally disassociated command from control with often devastating effects that are difficult to recover from, even over a long period of time.

So we have to ensure we establish an honest flow of communication through the chain-of-command; indeed, it is critical we do this. It is not about whining up or down the chain-of-command – that is, simply complaining about problems without offering any solutions; it is about effective leadership in a culture where we work together to continually improve our ships, our squadrons, and our submarines.

ADM J.C. Harvey, Jr USN posted March 31, 2010 on the US Fleet Forces Command Blog

Kate Wiltrout explains with her second article this morning that Adm. John C. Harvey was left little choice in regards to his decision to court-martial Lt. Cmdr. Kearns.

Adm. John C. Harvey said he did not take lightly the decision to court-martial Kearns.

Harvey inherited the situation after taking charge of Fleet Forces Command, which is responsible for training, equipping and maintaining naval forces and supplying them to military commanders. Two investigations into what happened Feb. 4, 2009, the day Petty Officer 1st Class Theophilus Ansong died, had been completed, but no actions had been taken.

Harvey said he felt he owed it to Ansong’s family, and the crew of the San Antonio, to deal with the lingering issue.

I think ADM Harvey’s action was absolutely right. ADM Harvey had to court-martial Lt. Cmdr. Kearns in response to the death of Petty Officer 1st Class Theophilus Ansong, as the story goes on to explain.

In May, he issued a letter of reprimand to Cmdr. Eric Cash, the ship’s commanding officer. He had fewer options with Kearns, who had transferred to a shore job. Once Kearns left the ship, he had the right to refuse administrative punishment, which he did. That left Harvey with two options: let Kearns off the hook entirely, or send him to trial.

What follows is important.

Although he is not allowed by the Navy’s legal code to comment on the case or the jury’s verdict, the four-star admiral acknowledged concern about the message the acquittal may send.

He offered a warning to the officers who command or serve as second-in-command aboard Navy warships. They need not fear becoming scapegoats when things go awry, he said. But neither can they claim that less-than-ideal circumstances absolve them of responsibility.

“The absolute responsibility that you have is the Navy’s greatest strength because it gives you the ability to command. And with that responsibility comes the accountability that ensures command is worth something, and worthy of those we lead.”

One of the best articles written in Proceedings over the last few decades was written by then Lieutenant David A. Adams in the June 1998 issue titled Chance Second Chances. The entire article applies to this issue, but this section in particular resonates in regards to the court-martial of Lt. Cmdr. Kearns.

At the core of the problem is a belief that to be successful, individuals, commands, and institutions must appear error-free. This flawed mindset is not entirely new to the Navy, but in recent years it has escalated in scope and magnitude. Downsizing and the inflated fitness and efficiency reporting fuel a widespread perception that maintaining a flawless record is a prerequisite for promotion and selection to command. Since few naval officers have deluded themselves into believing that they are perfect, a perceived necessity to maintain an unblemished record stifles initiative, breeds caution, and encourages people to commit small—yet debilitating —ethical violations on a regular basis. In the October 1985 Proceedings, Admiral Arleigh Burke warned that overlooking small infractions of integrity could erode the stature of a leader. He never could have expected that the Navy—as an institution—could come to behave in exactly the manner he described. This blurring of institutional integrity in peacetime can only have disastrous consequences in war.

Some have argued that “yes, we have problems,” but we are still “the best damn Navy in the world.” True, but the best-trained and best-equipped naval forces on the planet can be beaten if they fail to maintain the trust and confidence of American people. And as we have learned all too often in recent years, a zero-defects organization that cultivates the image of perfection at the expense of honesty is headed squarely for public-disaster. In future wars, a failure to keep dishonest peacetime promises—such as zero casualties—will rapidly be translated into a public perception of military incompetence. History also has shown that a loss of public confidence can erode the public’s will to fight rather quickly. Thus, the Navy’s unwillingness to admit imperfection and error ultimately could bring devastating consequences in battle.

Which brings us to the very heart of the issue, as outlined later in Kate Wiltrout’s article this morning.

Harvey said he’s concerned that junior sailors could come to feel that high-ranking people are immune from being held accountable.

“The issue here is trust, and that’s the only issue,” Harvey said. “If you don’t have the trust of those you lead, you don’t have anything.”

It’s important for sailors to understand that the Navy sets a standard of accountability to ensure their leaders are worthy of trust, he said.

“And I will do everything in my power – legally, morally, ethically – to enforce and sustain that standard of accountability.

“Our leaders must be worthy of the trust of those they lead.”

As I think about the court-martial of Lt. Cmdr. Kearns, I think Kate Wiltrout has appropriately found the real story here. This is a story about leadership and accountability. Both leaders in this case, Adm. John C. Harvey and Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kearns have made a series of leadership choices to stand up and be held accountable. In the case of Adm. Harvey, he is executing his responsibilities as Commander Fleet Forces Command. In the case of Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kearns, he chose to be held accountable to the decision of a military jury, which found him not guilty of the charges filed.

What is being said here is that accountability matters, but what is not being said is who should also be investigated for accountability. When Adm. Harvey says “Ultimately, it is my responsibility, working through the chain-of-command, to balance the resources I provide to our ships, squadrons and submarines with the missions I expect those units to be able to perform” he is speaking specifically of himself in his current job, but he was not in Command of Fleet Forces Command at the time of the USS San Antonio (LPD 17) accident.

The court-martial trial does not specifically state that fault lies with the leadership of those who were tasked to support the USS San Antonio (LPD 17) prior to the ship being deployed in a state that is completely unacceptable to the current standard applied by Adm. Harvey at Fleet Forces Command, but as that was the prevailing argument of the defense it can be implied as part of the ruling.

This is where we run into the real problem no one wants to touch, and none of those involved can address – and why Adm. Harvey is absolutely right to be concerned “that junior sailors could come to feel that high-ranking people are immune from being held accountable.” Since I have every intention of calling it exactly how I see it – I will state up front that I have a genuine sense that the problem already exists in the Navy, and it goes beyond junior sailors and the attitude exists among many – MANY – officers in Command at the CDR and Captain level. The belief that the US Navy does not hold officers accountable is exactly why Ronald O’ Rourke can testify in front of Congress and mention as a perception the lack of confidence in the US Navy regarding shipbuilding.

Officers and Sailors in the US Navy today understand their responsibilities as leaders and know they will be held accountable for their actions – and in the case of Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kearns, they only ask that they are fairly held accountable by military jury. The big problem is the blatant, obvious, and ignored perception on parade within the flag officer community that Admirals are not held responsible for the most spectacular failures of the last decade – and the only time a flag officer is held accountable is for conduct issues or political miscalculations – not job performance.

I am reminded of a speech given by James Webb on April 25, 1996 at the Naval Institute’s 122nd Annual Meeting and Sixth Annapolis Seminar.

There are still exceptional leaders in our Navy, some of whom are my classmates, others whom I can see in this audience today. But too often the best leaders are not being heard. Something almost unexplainable happened in the decades since we sat in those seats in Mahan Hall. Some of it happened to the country as a whole, but some of it did not. A great deal of it happened to the Navy as an institution. It happened gradually, issue by issue, argument by argument, compromise by compromise.

Over time, getting worse as the years went by, an increasing percentage of the naval leaders who were promoted into the highest sanctums of government somehow lost their way, until finally, in recent years, many whose very duty it was to defend the hallowed traditions and the unique culture of their profession declined to do so when their voices were most urgently needed. Some are guilty of the ultimate disloyalty: to save or advance their careers, they abandoned the very ideals of their profession in order to curry favor with politicians.

I frequently find myself wondering how this possibly could have happened. To be fair, these have been uniquely difficult times for military leaders. Our generation’s complex and volatile political debates resulted in unprecedented intrusions into command relationships because of new concepts of limited warfare, increased judicial oversight, and a variety of programs mandated under the rubric of equal opportunity. The all-volunteer system, with its emphasis on targeted bonuses and specialty pay, fostered greater rewards for individual skills than for group values. But the other services faced these same issues with far less chaos. The inescapable difference has been the approach of the Navy’s top leadership, particularly during this decade.

And so I go back to those dank, sweltering teenage evenings in Mahan Hall, and I ask myself, what would Nimitz have said and done in these situations? Or King? Or Admiral McCain’? Or, dare I be presumptuous, Tom Moorer, one of the great living admirals of our time? Indeed, what should any true leader who believes in the system that advanced him and in the people who serve that system feel compelled to do’? And why has it not been done’?

Perhaps over time moral courage became less important as a promotional criterion than political correctness, so that many of the most capable simply did not get promoted in the first place, couldn’t make the cut in an environment where politicians more and more frequently played favorites.

Perhaps some kept their courage but became confused regarding their jurisdiction in this ever-widening grey area where military and political control overlap. Perhaps, some chose to hide behind the notion of civilian control as a way to duck the hardest issues facing them, issues they feared might be dangerous to their personal advancement, issues that might even affect their ability to get a good corporate job when they retired.

Perhaps for some, loyalty became personal rather than institutional, directed at saving the boss rather than the service itself, and along the way getting one’s self a fine fitness report. Or, just maybe, all of the above, in varying amounts, depending on the individual and the crisis of the moment.

In my opinion, Adm. Gary Roughead has been the best Chief of Naval Operations in the 21st century, and I can say this with confidence despite disagreeing with him on an unmentionable number of issues and decisions he has made. No CNO this century has had to make more tough decisions on highly public and controversial issues than Adm. Roughead has over the last 3+ years. With that said, in my opinion his record has an enormous stain that will severely stain his legacy – he failed to hold several of the highest ranking leaders under his immediate command accountable for their job performance. Their failures are paraded today as promotions even though they are representative of the Navy’s struggles and outright failures over the last decade.

Before Adm. John C. Harvey took control at Fleet Forces Command, there was no accountability for the poor job performance at Fleet Forces Command. We absolutely know there was poor job performance at Fleet Forces Command before Adm. Harvey arrived, because that is exactly what The Balisle Report revealed. Adm. Jonathan Greenert’s resume at Fleet Forces Command is the catastrophe described in the The Balisle Report. The effective defense that acquitted Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kearns by military jury in the court-martial was based on, but not identified as, the terrible performance of Adm. Jonathan Greenert at Fleet Forces Command at the time. Virtually the entire San Antonio class of vessels is in dry dock undergoing incredibly expensive repairs because by coincidence – if you believe it to be coincidence – the San Antonio class problems were not revealed by Fleet Forces Command while under the command of Adm. Jonathan Greenert, rather were only revealed once Adm. Harvey took command.

And for three strikes of consistent failure that have only been revealed since the departure of Adm. Greenert from Fleet Forces Command – failures that have resulted in the death of sailors like Petty Officer 1st Class Theophilus Ansong – Adm. Jonathan Greenert’s record went unblemished to the point he was promoted to Vice Chief of Naval Operations in the Navy. He is not the only Navy Admiral promoted under Adm. Roughead’s tenure whose record in hindsight is one of failure, but Adm. Greenert is the most prominent Admiral promoted and represents the posterchild for the perception that accountability doesn’t apply to flag officers.

Adm. Harvey, Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kearns, and Petty Officer 1st Class Theophilus Ansong’s family can’t do anything about the lack of accountability at the top of the Navy chain of command. Nobody in the Navy or who does business with the Navy would dare call out a Navy leader by name publicly. Only Adm. Gary Roughead, Secretary Mabus, or Secretary Gates could do something about it from inside the Pentagon, unless the new Congress decided to take up their own investigation. It is a truly sad state of affairs in the Navy when a blogger, blessed only by the freedom implied in the independent forum mission of the US Naval Institute, can highlight the failures of Admirals in public in 2010 without worrying about ones career – but then again the culture problems in leadership discussed in 1996 by James Webb, just like the culture problems in maintenance discussed in the The Balisle Report that date back to at least 1996 – still exist, don’t they.

These problems are institutionalized, I fear, but I remain encouraged for the future of the US Navy. In my opinion, one cannot observe the actions of Adm. John C. Harvey, regardless of whether you agree with them, and not see the lights at the end of the tunnel. God bless the US Navy – I do hope it is a train.

Posted by galrahn in Navy | 16 Comments

When a Leader Writes…

October 2010


ADM James Stavridis has blogged most of the contents of the speech he gave at the US Naval Institute awards ceremony last Wednesday night. As I mentioned last week, I was in attendance of this event sitting right in the middle of the room with one of the very few Navy Junior officers in attendance. Read the Admiral’s blog post in full, then come back.

I am only 34 years old, and I was easily one of the youngest people in the room. I note this because I also noted there were only a handful of other younger folks in attendance for honors night. There were exactly two naval officers under the rank of Captain in the room who didn’t have “aide de camp” identification on their uniform (LCDR BJ Armstrong and LCDR Claude Berube – both of whom were part of the USNI History Conference earlier that day). The other younger people in the room consisted of one Marine Corporal who was attending out of uniform, my fellow USNI blogger midshipmen John (Jack) James, CDR Salamander, and the Admirals daughter.

That’s it. Everyone else in attendance was older and in some way had almost certainly been part of the Naval Institute family for years, if not decades.

Read the speech by Admiral Stavridis again and ask why in that room of dignitaries that included some of the most accomplished Navy writers over the last few decades; a 4-star Admiral gives a speech that in my mind specifically targets the smallest audience in the room – younger folks – and encourages them to write.

Only the Admiral knows why he chose to make that speech in that room, but I believe observers can safely draw two conclusions. First, Admiral Stavridis has a deep, personal passion for writing, and second – I believe the audience was bigger than that room.

As I encounter junior officers in the maritime services who want to write, but haven’t quite figured out how to start, I’d point out something ADM Stavridis mentioned in his blog post a great starting place.

Write about what you actually know something about.

That may sound like simple advice, but it is important. When I run into junior officers who express the desire to write, but haven’t quite figured out how to get started – I usually probe the officer with a few questions on the subject they want to write about. One thing I typically find among young Navy officers who want to write about their profession is that they have a really solid historical background on their profession. In my opinion as a reader, history is always a great place to start with writing.

Just ask ADM John Harvey Jr., who on Monday posted about the Battle of Leyte Gulf on the 60th anniversary of the largest naval battle in history. I have read both Last Stand of The Tin Can Sailors and Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945, but that didn’t make ADM Harvey’s version any less interesting – indeed the way he personalized the historical event into the context of today is precisely what made his comments interesting.

As I noted the other day on my blog, the winner of the Proceedings writer this year who was honored last Wednesday night was Captain Vic Addison, who in addition to his 4 Proceedings articles this year also wrote two articles on my blog over the last year.

If you consider publishing in a magazine a step too far for a first shot at writing and would like an opportunity to publish on a blog – even if it is just for practice – let me know and I will help facilitate your effort as best I can. I do understand there are conditions younger officers encounter where your chain of command only prefers you to publish to certain accredited organizations – and in that case I already have permission to publish articles here on the USNI blog if Information Dissemination isn’t suitable to your requirements.

The messages both direct and by example that both ADM Stavridis and ADM Harvey are sending is critical. We are in the early stages of a global, social information sharing age where power exists in ideas, and the benefits of shared ideas can and often do extend beyond the periphery of our intended audiences. The message of the maritime services is ideally advocated and evangelized by those inside the bubble who put pen to paper, and at no time in history has their been a better opportunity to join the conversation than right now with the emerging social mediums.

At a time when we are seeing generational turnover within the officer ranks of the maritime services, there is also no better time to evangelize the ideas of the maritime services in the pages of Proceedings and Naval History magazine. As Admiral Stavridis points out, “if you write a page or a paragraph here and there—while on an airplane or in a car ride—eventually you’ll have a good piece. Do that in an organized way over a year, and you’ll have a book. What seems like a big commitment in time is so often just a series of small steps.”


Naval History Conference 2010

October 2010


Yesterday the United States Naval Institute held their History Conference 2010 in Annapolis covering the subject of piracy. I think I can safely speak for all attendees that this conference exceeded all expectations. The event schedule almost tells the story of how the conference unfolded in terms of narrative, but it was the content quality, discussion and analysis that offered perspectives on how with piracy – everything we have seen we have seen before, and yet what we are seeing today is in itself unique.

The day began with Dr. Martin Murphy, who laid the foundation in a short history of piracy leading to a conclusion of parallels to Somalia today. Citing numerous statistics and highlighting historical examples, some going back thousands of years, Dr. Murphy explored causes and conclusions to historical episodes that concluded with details how cultural understanding played a role in solving historical piracy problems in various regions. My take away from Dr Murphy was how there is a clear link between the strategies, tactics, and techniques utilized in modern COIN doctrine that can be directly applied toward developing counter-piracy doctrine. The other take away was there is no political appetite among US policy makers to actually develop that doctrine though, as the cost of COIN doctrine is too high to be executed to low level criminal activity like piracy.

The first panel moderated by RADM Joseph F. Callo, USNR (Ret.) included Dr. Virginia W. Lunsford, Frederick C. Leiner, and LCDR Benjamin Armstrong, USN. The panel focused primarily on the history of piracy and where comparisons can be made to modern piracy. The panel repeatedly stressed that there are no direct comparisons, noting that because of the cultural differences one finds in each specific place piracy has historically existed it is very difficult to directly apply solutions utilized against piracy in one place to another. As a panel focused on history, this panel turned out to be one of the more enjoyable panels I have observed at a conference, as the stories (and in particular less well known stories of US Navy history) added theater I had not expected. In several ways, good questions offered the panel an opportunity to feed off one another in citing historical cases ranging from the Barbary Wars in the Mediterranean Sea to the West Indies squadrons and beyond.

I want to focus a second on some of the fine points of the panel. Dr Lunsford noted 6 factors that allow piracy to flourish, and argued that disruption to any of the factors can limit piracy.

  • An available population of potential recruits
  • A secure base of operations
  • A sophisticated organization
  • Some degree of outside support
  • Cultural bonds that engender vibrant group solidarity
  • Access to goods or materials

LCDR BJ Armstrong also offered some interesting thoughts. Focusing at the operational level, LCDR Armstrong discussed the three P’s in piracy: People, Platforms, and Partnership. I found it interesting how LCDR Armstrong noted that in previous eras of piracy, it was young officers who stepped up and took risks to significantly impact theaters, but this example was tempered by noting success and failures of young officers – noting that understanding the limits of risks are important. In discussing platforms it was noted how in the West Indies, the US Navy struggled to curb piracy until three gun schooners were utilized in the fight, allowing the US Navy to go closer in shore to influence operations at the coast more effectively than the larger Navy ships were capable of doing due to draft concerns. Partnership was also noteworthy in that it highlighted the quiet support of British for logistics and provisions when fighting the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. Partnership for forward operating bases used in fighting piracy is an American policy going back to the founding of the nation.

When a question was raised regarding the value of small Navy’s in fighting piracy, it was noteworthy the entire panel pointed to the historical example of the United States Navy prior to WWII as an example where small navy’s can make a significant contribution towards counter-piracy operations in Somalia today.

The second panel was moderated by LCDR Claude G. Berube, USNR, and consisted of Eric Wertheim, Robert Gauvin, and CAPT Mark Tempest, USNR (Ret.). This panel focused more on the history of modern piracy and the history of modern efforts in counter-piracy, with a focus primarily on the Strait of Malacca and Somalia. The issues raised by the panel primarily included the problems regarding what to do once counter-piracy measures are effective, and nations have pirates in custody. With so many nation states as a stakeholder in any given scenario, it led to interesting discussion. An example would be a Liberian flagged, Singapore owned vessel with a Ukrainian master, a crew consisting of members of multiple nationalities, an Indian union, and a British insurance company attacked by Somali pirates with the pirates captured by a Dutch warship and a trial to be conducted by Kenya under their requirements for evidence. In the end, it really is no wonder there are so many ‘catch and release.’

Then came Stephen M. Carmel, Senior Vice President of Maersk Line, Limited. If you have never heard Stephen Carmel speak, it is worth the price of admission to any conference. I will attempt to get a copy of the speech by Mr. Carmel and post it here on the blog, because it is a long list of statistics that leaves no doubt regarding the insignificance of modern piracy in the big economic picture. There was one thing that jumped out to me regarding his speech though – and it is something that needs to be very carefully considered.

The current methods of ransom payment for hijacked ships represents a suitable condition to the commercial industry for managing Somali piracy in its current form, where no one is being killed and property is being returned. This relationship appears to work as long as there are no links between piracy and terrorism in Somalia. In other words, it is in the interest of the $7+ trillion global commercial shipping industry for there to be no links between piracy and terrorism in Somalia. In a cynical world, al-Shabab has the largest global political lobby on the planet towards the ability to conduct piracy in the same non-lethal manner as other Somali clans. Just saying, something to consider.

The final panel of the day was moderated by CDR John P. Patch, USN (Ret.), and consisted of RADM Terence E. McKnight, USN (Ret.), Capt Zachary D. Martin, USMC, and Laurence Smallman of RAND. I sat at the table throughout the day with Mr. Smallman and CDR Patch, so I admit being partial to this panel as they had insightful commentary all afternoon for me. Mr. Smallman touched on but never extensively expanded on his theories of maritime disorder while on the panel, although I intend to mine the RAND database in the future to see if this concept is further developed for public analysis. Captain Martin was largely reserved in his opinions (as one would expect from an operator), but stressed as Marines often do on these types of piracy panels that the US Marine Corps brings a broad variety of capabilities outside the kinetic operational focus that usually gets all of the attention; highlighting that training operations in developing professional security forces regionally goes a long way towards developing sustainable counter-piracy operations in the region. This panel also carried further points raised by Stephen Carmel regarding the distinctions of anti-piracy, which are ship based measures taken to prevent the hijacking of a ship, and counter-piracy which is the activities by maritime forces at the operational and tactical level against pirates.

The panel and conference concluded on the point that the international community is nowhere near a solution to the root causes of modern piracy, but has made significant strides in both anti-piracy and counter-piracy containment in piracy regions globally. Piracy remains a globally managed maritime challenge, but the slogans that popped up following the conference tell the story in many ways. The international community has been ineffective in solving the problems of modern piracy, but at least they have been collectively ineffective in solving the problems of modern piracy together. It is like the old saying, none of us are as smart as all of us. When it comes to modern piracy, the takeaway from the conference on piracy for me was how none of us are as ineffective as all of us.

It started with this news:

The Pentagon has again postponed a high-level meeting on the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship program that was due take place on Oct. 29, a spokeswoman said, citing scheduling issues.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said no new date had been set for the meeting of the Defense Acquisition Board, which was expected to pave the way for the Navy to award a $5 billion contract for its new class of coastal warships.

The only reason the Navy would push the date back for selecting a winner of the LCS competition is if the Littoral Combat Ship is on the chopping block for POM 12. Well, as Bloomberg quotes Admiral Mullen discussing future defense budget cuts, that appears to be exactly what is happening.

“We’re going through that process right now,” Mullen said. “Major programs from all the services which aren’t performing well, which can’t get themselves under control in terms of cost and schedule, they’re going to be looking at either being slowed down dramatically or being eliminated…”

“If LCS is unable to contain itself in terms of cost and schedule, then I don’t think it has much of a future,” he said.

I explain in greater detail on the home blog why I believe the LCS program is about to get the axe in POM 12.

Posted by galrahn in Navy | 16 Comments

Below is a guest post from LCDR Benjamin Armstrong, USN. Lieutenant Commander Benjamin “BJ” Armstrong is an active duty naval helicopter pilot who has served as an amphibious search and rescue and special warfare pilot and an advanced helicopter flight instructor. He is currently assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28. He holds a master’s degree in military history from Norwich University and has written on irregular warfare and naval history. A frequent contributor to Proceedings and Naval History magazine, he also writes for Small Wars Journal, and his articles have appeared in The Naval War College Review, Defense & Security Analysis, and Strategic Insights. LCDR Armstrong is also a panelist in the United States Naval Institute History Conference 2010 on piracy next week.

Last week Galrahn, USNI Blogger and skipper of Information Dissemination, wrote an article on his home blog about operationalizing the Influence Squadron. It was an important next step in the discussion started by Captain Henry J. Hendrix in his Proceedings and Armed Forces Journal articles introducing and developing the concept. Anyone unfamiliar with the Influence Squadrons should read CAPT Hendrix’s articles for USNI, “Buy Fords, Not Ferraris” and “More Henderson, Less Bonds.”

Galrahn’s plan for a Horn of Africa squadron is well reasoned and the capabilities included would provide a solid foundation for the success of the squadron. However, deployment of an Influence Squadron to the Horn of Africa would do little to impact the debate over the importance of these squadrons or demonstrate their effectiveness on a wider scale.

Opponents of the Influence Squadron point out that the expense of developing the platforms required, and the changes in training and deployment methods, would result in little benefit compared to the current strategies used by the USN. They are more interested in “non-material” solutions that would allow the current fleet constitution to be “jacks of all trades.” The most common criticism of the Influence Squadron is that these task forces, while capable in constabulary missions like Somalia, would have no use in regions with near peer-competitors. Despite the importance that smaller vessels have played throughout naval history to convoy protection, scouting, and blockade forces in full scale conflicts, these critics will require a modern 21st century example of a squadron operating in a region with a potential near-peer competitor.

A Theater In Need of Partnership and Security

There is another region of the globe, an area for a test deployment of an Influence Squadron, which would prove the value of these task forces to countering the naval and diplomatic maneuvering of near peer-competitors. Currently the United States Navy provides an “all-in” diplomatic option to America’s foreign policy. Either a Carrier Strike Group or other major warfighting force sails within striking distance of the disputed area, or nothing happens. In the example of the recent exercises off the Korean coast, the point was made by sending a carrier but only for a short period of time and not without increasing the level of rhetoric. The Influence Squadron offers another option, a less bellicose choice that can also improve theater security and build partnership relationships while at the same time demonstrating the long presence mission embraced by the United States Navy. Where would this option be valuable today? The South China Sea.

Chinese rhetoric over claims to the South China and East China Seas has become more aggressive within the last year. Serious conflicts appear on the horizon both with traditional American allies like Japan and the Philippines and also other nations like Vietnam and Indonesia that are vital to regional security. In South East Asia, all nations are maritime nations and therefore able to benefit from partnership with the United States Navy. An Influence Squadron for South East Asia could not only be made to test the capacity of the U.S. Navy, but could also be a combined, multinational operation that would leverage the regional maritime strength of American allies and friends.

Call it the Pacific Security and Assistance Squadron, or just label it the next iteration of the Pacific Partnership Station, but a multi-national squadron coordinated and supported by the United States to develop maritime security in the South China Sea, East China Sea, and the Pacific archipelagos would benefit the entire region.

A South China Sea Security and Assistance Squadron

The flagship for the squadron, as suggested by Galrahn, should be an LPD. Despite the ever present drumbeat against the Navy’s amphibious fleet, these ships provide the greatest versatility not just when it comes to capabilities but also in the adaptability of Gator sailors. These units are experienced in irregular warfare, humanitarian assistance, as well as full kinetic operations. A San Antonio Class vessel is not required. As we have seen over the last several years the older LPDs of the Austin and Cleveland classes, despite their slow march to the boneyard, still have a contribution to make.

A U.S. Marine Corps unit based on the Company Landing Team (COLT) model is a solid foundation for the embarked units aboard the LPD. This would be augmented by detachments from the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command including Sea Bees and Maritime Security Detachments, as well as a medical detachment and a U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment. A single LCU in the well deck, with the Stiletto on the other side (obviously dependent on the beam and area of each), could provide amphibious lift, with NECC RHIBs on trailers in the ship’s vehicle storage area. On the flight deck a detachment of MH-60S Knighthawks, with Block III Armed Helicopter airframes, from the Helicopter Sea Combat community’s expeditionary squadrons could provide everything from Hellfire missile/gunship kinetic capability to medical transport and humanitarian operations. These pilots and aircrew, trained in special operations support and anti-surface warfare as well as classical logistics and search and rescue missions, would easily be able to integrate with the USMC units while bringing their vast experience in overwater and littoral operations.

Self-Defense & Anti-Submarine Surveillance. Any squadron deploying to the South China Sea can count on the fact that they will be monitored by the Chinese submarine force. Australia, long time American ally and a growing maritime power in the region, can provide the capability to monitor that possibility, as well as provide limited air defense protection. An upgraded Adelaide Class FFG would prove to be the perfect platform. Not only would the ship provide advanced defensive capabilities, but being a smaller vessel it wouldn’t dwarf other ships from the region while at the same time providing training to partner nations on integration with high-technology allies. In the frigate’s hangar bay would be a pair of Australian SH-60B Seahawk helicopters to help work anti-submarine training with partner nations and provide surface search and surveillance capabilities during integrated maritime security operations. Attaching an Adelaide class frigate to the squadron would allow Australia to step into their role as a naval leader in the region, while also allowing them to prove the impressive systems of the “new” frigates.

Maritime Security & Patrol. Several navies in the region have recently begun programs designed to improve their patrol vessels and corvettes. Three ships of the smaller classes would make up the core of the squadron. The United States should approach this as another opportunity for evaluation and development of the Littoral Combat Ships. Whether Freedom is sent, once repairs are completed, because it is already on the west coast or if Independence is ready for a real world operation, the squadron will be conducting exactly the type of littoral operations the ships were designed for. In the hangar bay should be a detachment made up of an MH-60S and MQ-8 Firescout UAS. This deployment will give the Helicopter Sea Combat community the chance to work with Firescout integration while continuing to prove the capabilities of the maritime vertical UAS.

Indonesia and Malaysia have each worked to procure new patrol ships over the past decade. The Indonesians could participate by providing a Diponegoro class corvette for the squadron. Introduced in 2007, these ships were built as part of the European designed SIGMA series of vessels. With a Thales combat system installed and a helicopter flight deck, integration with the other ships of the squadron would be relatively simple. The Malaysians have their new Kedah class of offshore patrol vessel. If they accept the invitation to participate the OPVs, built in Germany as part of the MEKO series of vessels, would serve as an excellent complement to the LCS and the Indonesian corvette.

Dedicated Logistical Support and Theater Lift. During Operation Enduring Freedom the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force provided reliable and regular logistical support to American and NATO ships. Political debate within Japan accompanied that mission. However, with Japan’s vested interest in the security of the South and East China Seas, such a debate is unlikely for this deployment. By providing dedicated logistical support to the squadron the Japanese would be playing a vital role in the success of the deployment, while limiting the historical concerns about Japanese designs on the region. The JMSDF provides a modern and experienced capability that would ensure timely delivery of resources.

Besides an oiler and logistical support for the vessels in the squadron, a ship to provide theater lift and movement of detachments and humanitarian supplies ashore would be required. Recently naval analyst Craig Hooper has discussed the value of the Logistic Support Vessels (LSVs) of the U.S. Army. The Philippines have been sailing LSV’s for a generation and have extensive littoral experience in the archipelagos of Asia. Inviting them to contribute the Dagupan City or Bacolod City to the squadron would provide lift within the theater, as well as a vessel capable of entering shallow or unprepared harbors.

Theater Security/Humanitarian Assistance/Partnership Development

Rather than a short term exercise, like RIMPAC, this squadron would be a full term deployment. Each contributing nation would commit to a four to six month operation. The squadron would move as a group, touching at each of the participating nations as well as others in the region. Other nations, like Vietnam, would be welcomed to participate and could be offered the opportunity to work with the squadron. With each Navy in the region they would conduct maritime security operations, training and development with the host nation’s forces, and humanitarian missions ashore. Maritime Patrol and law enforcement capabilities, EEZ enforcement, and multinational integration would be the focus of the military training missions. Medical and construction projects ashore would help to demonstrate American good will.

The South China Sea continues to see not only an increase in the disputes over territorial claims, but also a recent increase in piratical activity. Smuggling and maritime crime also continue in the region. These are problems that can not be addressed simply by sailing a CSG through the region. The deployment of a Security and Assistance Squadron, or an Influence Squadron, would create an opportunity for the Navy to return to its historical roots as an augment to the diplomatic capabilities of the United States. An invitation to the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to participate would only strengthen the role of the squadron, whether or not it is accepted (thought likely not).

Deployment of an Influence Squadron to Somalia would be useful, as would a deployment to the Caribbean or the west coast of Central America. However, neither would serve to address the concerns voiced by those who focus solely on the potential near-peer competitors of the future. The deployment of a multinational Security and Assistance Squadron to the South China Sea would not only help to prove the value of such a unit in “great power” relationships, it would demonstrate that the United States Navy understands that “in no case can we exercise control by battleships alone.”

There is something in the Annapolis water, because it seems to me the United States Naval Institute has this uncanny ability to align conversations about maritime piracy with major unfolding events and activity related to maritime piracy. That December 2008 issue of Proceedings was precision timing for an issue discussing piracy given the events happening at the time. If you recall, just two weeks before publication the supertanker Sirius Star was hijacked – the first time such an enormous prize was seized by pirates.

Well, here we go again. On October 20th, 2010 the US Naval Institute will be holding their History Conference in Annapolis, and as soon as it was announced the subject would be piracy – we should have known all hell would break loose. I look forward to seeing how the panels address this bit of NATO news in context.

In the northeast there are several mother ships operating east of 55E, including the MV SAMHO DREAM which may be operating in company with two unidentified fishing dhows which may correlate with media reports concerning the pirating of two Iranian dhows near 60 degrees. There is also activity at 60 degrees east probably linked to the last known location of the FV TAI YUAN 227. Pirates frequently force these pirated vessels and crew to be mother ships, thereby extend their range and increase their endurance. The area south of 3 degrees south off the Tanzanian coast is also very active with 3 recent incidents noted and the MV ASPHALT VENTURE pirated in this area today. This area is likely to remain active for some time due to the prevailing weather conditions.

Masters should note that the Tai Yuan 227 is a white hulled fishing vessel, approximately 50 metres long, with the registration numbers BH3Z87 painted in large black letters on the hull.

VLCC SAMHO DREAM is probably being used by pirates as a mother ship in operations near the shipping lanes, approximately 190 nm SE of Socotra Island. The SAMHO DREAM is a 319,000 dwt, crude oil tanker, approximately 333 metres long, with an orange hull and white superstructure.

And oh yes, if it is not mentioned, I will be the guy asking my good friend Dr. Martin N. Murphy what he thinks about the new 319,000 dwt supertanker carrying $190 million worth of crude oil cruising the commercial sea lanes conducting mothership operations for pirates 900nm off the Somali coast. Dr. Murphy, what is the historical context for pirates leveraging a floating crude oil bomb three times the size of a Nimitz class aircraft carrier as a mothership for pirate operations? Would that be like using the USS Iowa to protect fishing rights in Lake Pontchartrain? I admit I am struggling to find the proper historical analogy.

The bad news is, that isn’t even the most important development in piracy that took place this week. Check out my latest roundup of issues taking place in Somalia on Information Dissemination – where the use of pirvate army’s appears to be deploying on the ground, the use of private navy’s is expanding at sea, and the game changer – al-Shabab appears to have conducted their first pirate hijacking.

Piracy just hit a new red line, which we should have predicted now that we are only a few weeks away from a major USNI effort to discuss piracy. The history conference is going to be fantastic – current events appears to have already determined that conclusion for those of us who plan on attending.

From the most senior officers to the most junior petty officer, the culture reveals itself in personal attitudes ranging from resignation to frustration to toleration. The downward spiral of the culture is seen throughout the ship, in the long standing acceptance of poor housekeeping, preservation, and corrosion control. Over time, the ignored standard becomes the new norm. Sailors watching their Commanding Officer, Department Head, Division Officer, and Chief Petty Officer step over running rust, peeling non-skid or severe structure damage long enough, associate this activity as the standard…While the severity of current culture climate may be debated, its decline cannot. If left unchecked, a declining culture can only generate a worsening level of surface force readiness. That said, it will take a long, hard pull to turn around attitudes that have developed over an extended period of time. It is the considered opinion of this Panel that we must vigorously reinforce recent efforts to clarify and instill standards aboard our ships.

The Balisle Report: Fleet Review Panel of Surface Force Readiness, Section 3.8: Culture

It is very interesting to me that Admiral John Harvey pushed for an independent Fleet Review Panel to evaluate Surface Force Readiness – after all, he must have known there would be harsh criticism in the report, and he also must have known that all of that criticism would be directed squarely in his direction to be fixed – as he is the Commander of Fleet Forces Command. What does it say about the Leadership culture of the Navy when a 4 star Admiral pushes for an independent review in order to insure change within the Navy? What does it tell us about the character of the Admiral himself?

The culture problem of relaxed standards does not appear to be limited to only the surface fleet. Christopher Brownfield has an article up on The Daily Beast that describes a similar culture of accepted lower standards within the submarine community.

During my on-board training, while I studied more than 70 hours per week, my fellow officers regularly warned me, “Don’t let knowledge stand in the way of your qualifications.” They urged me not to, “learn too much… just check the box and get qualified.” But when my exam arrived, it seemed impossibly difficult. I failed miserably, despite having made a very serious five-month long effort to pass.

My fellow officers were surprised by my failure, and wondered aloud why I hadn’t used the “study guide.” When my second exam arrived, so did the so-called study guide, which happened to be the answer key for the nuclear qualification exam I was taking. I was furious. Defiantly, I handed back the answer key to the proctor and proceeded to take the exam on my own. I failed again. My boss, the ship’s engineer officer, started to document my failures with formal counseling so that he could fire me.

The most competent junior officer on our ship ran to my rescue, confiding that none of the other officers had passed the exam legitimately; the exam was just an administrative check-off. “Swallow your pride,” he told me, and just get it done.

The ship’s engineer and executive officer didn’t believe me when I complained of the cheating, and swept my allegations under the rug. It took me five attempts before I finally passed the “basic” qualification exam. Unbeknownst to me, senior members of my crew even went so far as to falsify my exam scores in order to avoid unwanted attention from the headquarters. But strangely, the exam was anything but basic. The expectations on paper were astronomically high compared to the banal reality of how our ship actually worked.

The USS Hartford had many serious problems. Later that year, the ship ran itself aground off the coast of Italy, resulting in the firing of our captain and several senior officers. But sadly, the nuclear cheating scandal was not isolated to the Hartford. Two years later, when I began to teach at the Naval Submarine School in Connecticut, my colleagues whispered of cheating scandals aboard their own boats. Did it happen on the Scranton? What about the Seawolf? The results were not pretty. From our extensive whispered surveys, several other officers and I concluded that the vast majority of the fleet had some odious practice that resembled the cheating scandal I witnessed firsthand aboard the Hartford.

Thus far, the U.S. Navy has maintained a perfect nuclear safety record. But, having attained the senior supervisory certification of a ship’s nuclear engineer officer, I am deeply disturbed by what I consider to be a threat to the nuclear Navy’s integrity.

There will be several reactions to this story, but I want to highlight two. The first reaction will be from someone with a good understanding of naval power who reads the article in full to discover the author is a strategically ignorant fool. The entire world is having an awakening on the value of submarines to national security in the 21st century, and this guy is having trouble understanding the value of submarines to the worlds only superpower in 2010. When someone who wishes to be taken seriously as a national security analyst says “Unless Osama bin Laden commandeered a rubber raft with WMD, there was nothing of unique value that a submarine could provide.” you just ripped up your credibility card.

But here is the problem. Just because the author appears to be strategically and tactically challenged on the merits of submarines, that strategic ignorance doesn’t disqualify the seriousness of the claims against the Navy made in the rest of the article – particularly when these claims are very similar to cultural problems that have been identified in other areas of the Navy. This article is written in a way that could easily lead to an Admiral dismissing the claims as ludicrous or impossible, but I would be very wary of any Admiral who did that.

It is a noteworthy and interesting irony that Christopher Brownfield is doing in this article what dmiral Harvey wants sailors doing as per his speech last week – demanding higher standards within their profession, and speaking out when those standards fail to meet the expectations of duty requirements. The submarine community doesn’t want to hear what this guy is saying, but if what he is saying is true – then whether you want to hear it or not is irrelevant.

This is my point. I encourage Secretary Gates, Secretary Mabus, and Undersecretary Work to pay attention to this. The reaction of Naval leadership to a story like this will reveal quite a bit about the character of the leaders in the US Navy today. Who is shooting off emails in anger, and who is rolling up their sleeves to get to the bottom of the claims being made? There is already plenty of evidence that a culture problem exists in the US Navy, and because the culture problems are widespread – the culture problems exists in the flag ranks too.

You don’t have to convince me that Christopher Brownfield is strategically shallow on the merits and value of submarines in the 21st century – but his remarkable ignorance in that regard does not disqualify the seriousness of the claims made in his article.

Posted by galrahn in Navy | 33 Comments

On July 28th, 2010 ADM John C. Harvey, Jr was asked about the culture problems discussed in the Balisle report, and ADM Harvey told Congress that he was directly accountable for it, and it was his responsibility to fix that problem. Cultural problems are hard to fix, but this is one way you address the challenge. This speech is remarkable – a lot to think about and discuss. Taken from here.

Remarks as written for ASNE Conference
ADM J.C. Harvey, Jr., U.S. Fleet Forces
Delivered 14 September 2010

Good morning. It’s a privilege to be here with you today to address a subject very near and dear to my heart.

For my remarks today, I would like to address the subject of fleet maintenance and modernization by taking you on a historical journey back to our navy’s roots. It would be impossible to cover all the major decisions and events that have gotten us where we are today regarding fleet maintenance and modernization, and so I will focus on one small, but extremely critical thread – the history of the naval engineer.

And the story of the naval engineer is a complex one: a story that evolved over 170 years and was shaped by politics, personnel policies, prejudices, constantly changing operational demands, and the unyielding advance of technology. Originally civilians under private contract with the navy, the need for a uniformed naval engineer was ushered in by a significant technological advancement – steam propulsion.

The advent and adoption of steam propulsion for navy warships, beginning with the USS Fulton in 1837, brought new skill requirements for navy officers. At first, navy met this requirement through continuing the practice of recruiting civilian engineers under private contract. But by 1841, as the navy built more steamships, new Secretary of the Navy Abel P. Upshur recognized the requirement for the navy to recruit, train, and retain naval officers able to not just design and build, but operate and maintain sophisticated machinery – skills that simply were not found to be in line officers at that time.

In his first annual report, Secretary of the Navy Upshur wrote, quote “the use of steam vessels, in war, will render necessary a different order of scientific knowledge from that which has heretofore been required. If our navy should be increased by the addition of any considerable number of steam-vessels, engineers will form an important class of naval officers. It will be necessary to assign to them an appropriate rank, and subject them to all the laws of the service. Great care should be used in the selection of them, because a great deal will depend upon their skill and competency; hence it is necessary that they should have the proof of their competency which an examination, conducted under their own rules, would afford.”
Close quote.

By 1842, naval engineers were incorporated into the navy’s staff corps – a decision which, very early on, created significant tension with the officers of the line.

In 1842, there were five communities that constituted the staff corps – chaplains, surgeons, navy constructors, paymasters, and engineers. Navy constructors didn’t go to sea and chaplains, surgeons, and paymasters certainly played very important roles, but their responsibilities were ancillary to the operations of the ship.

Naval engineers uniquely stood out from the rest of the staff corps – they were responsible for their ship’s motive power, and this responsibility raised issues over the locus of command authority and the engineers’ place within the shipboard chain-of-command and larger naval hierarchy.

As the demand for engineers increased, so did the tensions between the two officer communities. Prior to 1854, the navy had built an average of 1 steam ship per year; but between 1854 and 1859, the navy constructed an additional thirty steam ships and naval engineers soon outnumbered all other staff corps in numbers on active duty, second in total numbers to the line alone.

Over the next four decades, the navy would struggle with the unique responsibilities and requirements of the naval engineer. Through a series of laws and policy changes, the navy’s professional engineers would achieve “relative rank” to their line counterparts and equal pay; and the navy, responding to the shortage of qualified engineers generated by the civil war, would establish the first class of cadet engineers at the naval academy beginning in 1864.

Over the next twenty years, the contributions and responsibilities of naval engineers continued to increase as greater technological advancements became commonplace aboard navy warships.

The navy of wooden ships powered by wind and sails forty years earlier was quickly being replaced by iron clad ships powered by steam; ships completely reliant on mechanical power for most functions; with significant technological advancements on the horizon as shipboard electrical systems were conceived, developed, and brought aboard.

By the early 1890’s, it became virtually impossible to command a ship without having a fundamental understanding of its machinery.

Engineer in chief George Melville, quoting from the French navy’s journal La Marine Francais would write, “there is strife between the deck and the engineer officer. While the role of the former is growing less every day, that of the latter is constantly increasing in importance…this is the age of the engineer, and he will be the great factor in modern warfare, whether the contest be waged by land or by sea. The trained engineer is a combatant in naval warfare.”

This tension over place and privilege continued to grow until a compromise solution championed by then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt was adopted. The policy was an amalgamation of the engineer and the line. This amalgamation was signed into law by the 55th congress on 3 March 1899 and modified in 1916 to allow line officers to select engineering duty only when they had achieved the rank of lieutenant commander.

Over the next sixty years, the importance and responsibilities of naval engineers continued to grow. By the time World War II was won and the navy was focused on the cold war, naval engineers were the navy’s technical experts – responsible for designing, operating, maintaining, and modernizing navy’s technologically advanced fleet.

Ironically, just as the advent of steam power ushered in the age of the naval engineer, the next great leap, to shipboard nuclear propulsion, almost brought about its end. The incorporation of nuclear power into the navy – spearheaded by Admiral Rickover (an engineering duty officer of some note) reinvigorated the debate concerning the proper relationship between engineers and officers of the line.

Admiral Rickover summarized his position by stating, “the man of the future on whom we shall depend more and more is the technical expert. Today he is still subservient to non-technical leaders in government and industry, and his work is hampered and sometimes destroyed by men in whom is vested great power but who cannot understand the realities of the new, artificial, technological age. But the ‘verbal’ men are on the way out… We have taken cognizance of this demand for a different kind of man…”

Which pretty much explains the volcanic reaction ADM Rickover had when I, a naval academy political science major, walked into his office for my nuclear propulsion program interview. I was not the different kind of man ADM Rickover was looking for.

Admiral Rickover’s statement closely mirrored Secretary of the Navy Upshur’s sentiment 100 years earlier.

But, instead of looking to the EDO community as the solution, admiral Rickover drove the navy to focus instead on creating a new version of the line officer with the goal of reducing navy’s reliance on the EDO community and creating a much more technically-focused line officer. And in 1958, the Franke board, led by future Secretary of the Navy William Franke, took the first steps down that path by significantly reducing the size of the EDO community with the assumption that the line community would take up the technological load.

And they did, but over time, increasingly complex operational realities and new career path requirements resulting from Goldwater-Nichols and other changes to law and policy have caused the line community to search anew for the proper balance of expertise between the naval engineer and our line officers.

At stake is nothing less than how we will hold the line on maintaining standards of technological expertise and performance for our ships, submarines, and aircraft.

Now, after covering almost 170 years of navy history and personnel policy development in about 10 minutes, I only scratched the surface of this incredibly important and complex issue. So you may be asking yourself, “what is the point here?” “Why is the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces giving us a somewhat academic lecture on the development of the naval engineer?” Well, I have two reasons.

First, we sometimes forget why certain decisions were made and we often assume that – in our navy’s case – our organizations, processes, and policy represent the culmination of 234 years of lessons learned.

In reality, the organizations, policies and processes we have today are a representation of a snapshot in time…

A picture resulting from a set of serial decisions, each made in response to specific challenges at very specific times and a unique set of circumstances.

And so, as we add our own decisions in response to our own unique set of circumstances, we often lose sight of the history of what worked and what didn’t work, and why. We become consumed by the fierce urgency of now.

Which leads me to the second reason I took you on a brief tour of the history of the naval engineer – I believe we have lost sight of our roots and the reason why we established the professional engineer in the first place.

At one time in our history, rapidly advancing technology overwhelmed the line officer and we needed the naval engineer to re-balance the equation in our ships, to ensure we could fight our ships.

ADM Rickover’s efforts restored the balance in our ships, the balance we enjoy today, by forcing the development of a far more technically competent line officer, officers who can both operate and fight their ships.

Now, our primary challenge has shifted ashore – to the design, development, construction, testing and delivery of our ships and the sustainment of their hulls and installed engineering and combat systems over time.

And it is to overcome this challenge, which we have not done successfully in the past 10 years, that I call to our professional naval engineers to return to their roots and re-establish themselves as the keepers of the standards of technological excellence.

Naval engineers are our bulwarks against bad decisions. Just as the CHENG is the one who must tell the co the sometimes unwelcome news concerning the ship’s limitations – so must our program managers, regional maintenance commanders and shipyard commanding officers hold the standard, and if the standard is not achievable, let that fact be known and identify what must be done to meet the standard upon which the fleet depends.

I recently read the navy engineer journal’s “Story of Aegis” edition. It is a terrific read – highly educational and I recommend it to everyone here.

One of the articles in the journal was Rear Admiral Wayne E. Meyer’s reflection on what made the Aegis program so successful.

I won’t bore you with all of the details, but he attributes his success to two major characteristics. First – good governance, which included a very high degree of personal accountability. For 15 years, Admiral Meyer was the single accountable officer responsible for bringing Aegis from concept to implementation.

And PMS 400 was the single organization responsible for the Aegis program.

We no longer have an Admiral Meyer and PMS 400. Aegis was once a small island in a big fleet – now Aegis is the fleet. And as Aegis has grown, so have the number of organizations responsible for some piece of the Aegis pie. Which leaves us the question – “who is now responsible and accountable for the whole pie?”

Second, Admiral Meyer describes the importance of single minded dedication to the pursuit of technical excellence combined with being obstinate.

Admiral Meyer understood both the operational impacts and the burdens that would be placed on the backs of our sailors if he delivered a combat system that was not operationally effective, suitable, and reliable. And so Admiral Meyer refused to budge one iota from that standard of system performance, reliability, and effectiveness.

Admiral Wayne Meyer and his team were true to his roots as a professional navy engineer – he never wandered, he never waffled. His example shines before us to this day – an enduring commitment to excellence. Now, I know many of you here today aren’t EDO ‘s. But that doesn’t matter – I believe my message applies to everyone here today. Whether you are an EDO , a government civilian, or a private contractor; whether you work at a shipyard, a regional maintenance center, or at a headquarters – we are all one team.

And so my message to you today reflects my expectations as a fleet commander for the maintenance and modernization of our ships – our foundation must be the absolute adherence to the time-tested standards of performance, reliability, and effectiveness.

We don’t need maintenance managers or system life-cycle managers – we need technically savvy, hard-nosed systems engineers who are absolutely committed to delivering excellence in design, development, construction, test and delivery.

I need you focused first and foremost on effectiveness – if it’s cheap, efficient, but doesn’t work – it does the fleet no good. The worst sin we commit is when a new system or platform is expensive and still doesn’t perform to specification and requires still more expensive fixes to get right.

You are the front line in the battle to maintain our standards, it all starts with you. I expect you to ensure our ships are built correctly, receive all the proper maintenance necessary to reach expected service life, and that the ships and their installed combat and engineering systems will perform to design specifications as long as our crews do their jobs underway correctly and conscientiously.

No matter what organization you’re in, and whatever “box” you’re in within that organization – and however the boxes are arranged linking you with other boxes or other organizations – straight lines, dotted lines, dashed lines, or imaginary lines – be obstinate! Never, never, never give way on our standards of excellence. And you know what they are…

The standards that have sustained our navy so well for so long – standards of technical rigor in design and performance, standards of uncompromising adherence to our maintenance plans and standards of professional performance in every aspect of your duties.

These are the standards this community brought to our navy in response to Secretary usher’s call to arms in 1841 – they are in your DNA.

Today, each of you must make the personal choice to go back to your roots, face today’s challenges head-on and take ownership of whatever actions are necessary to bring our design, development, construction, test, delivery and maintenance programs back to standard.

And you, each one of you, must consider yourself accountable, wherever you serve and whatever you do, to the fleet sailor to sustain those standards.

That accountability is non-negotiable and must drive your daily work just as it drove Admiral Meyer.

I fully understand how challenging this work will be given our current operational tempo and our navy’s growing fiscal challenges. It is truly varsity-level work. But then, I’m talking to the varsity, aren’t I?

Meeting and maintaining the standard, not giving way on the imperative of excellence, that has been the work of the naval engineer since 1837.

And it is the work you can do, it is the work you must do, and it is the work we will do, for it is the work upon which the future of our navy depends.

And so, my naval engineers, let’s get at it, with a vengeance.

Thank you.

More information here.

Posted by galrahn in Navy | 4 Comments

A Mind Puzzle

August 2010


Yesterday I attended the Homeland Security 2020: The Future of Defending the Homeland conference at the Heritage Foundation – which turned out to be very insightful. If you didn’t catch it on C-SPAN you can find a video of the panels here. During the second panel, Dr. Steve Bucci raised an interesting mind puzzle that I think is excellent for the kind of collaborative discussion one can usually finds in blog comments.

The scenario is straight forward – a large container ship still a few hundred miles off the US coast is believed to have a nuclear bomb. It is unclear, but all detection capabilities and intelligence suggests that one of the several hundred containers may have a nuclear bomb. How do you find out for sure? Where do you unload these containers so you can get to the one setting off sensors? Where do you send the ship? Are you going to sink a 70,000 ton bulk carrier because an imperfect detection system is giving you a suspicious reading, and intelligence is giving you a 50% probability that there could be a nuclear weapon on the ship?

Bottom line, nobody has any idea what we are going to do. It is one of many mind puzzles where the details that would constitute a real plan for dealing with deadly scenarios remain elusive.

The conversations at the Heritage event were very informative. The first panel put a great deal of intellectual energy into the global trade system and an examination of policy decisions to date that impact and influence our trade system. I highly suggest listening to Michael Barrett if you are not familiar with him. He is one of those young guys on this subject who has already developed an enormous resume – and will be a voice in this conversation for decades. The second panel was also very good – with Dr. Steve Bucci adding a bit of humor to the discussion.

I also thought VADM Terry Cross provided an interesting assessment of Deepwater.

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