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Navy maintains, through the Maritime Administration, an Inactive Fleet ostensibly for reactivation in time of need. There are collections of retired ships in the James River in Virginia; Beaumont, Texas; and Suisun Bay, California and a number of other locations.

Over the past decade the number of ships in the Mothball Fleet have been dwindling – the known costs of reactivating the ships are high and the slow pace of the fleets reduction is a product of environmental concerns. Recognizing that the fleet will soon be a memory, a group of photographers went aboard the ships in Suisun Bay to document their existence. A presentation and photography exhibition will be made on Saturday May 7, 2011, 7:00-9:00 pm at Workspace Limited, 2150 Folsom Street in San Francisco.

These photographers used connections with MARAD to get aboard the Suisun Bay ships. Perhaps it’s time to more formally document these remaining ships in their various nationwide locations – a book with pictures of the ships now contrasted with pictures of them in their glory while in commission. USNI is the perfect organization to lead a project like this and it’s membership has all the resources.

(Hat Tip to The Scuttlefish)

Posted by M. Ittleschmerz in Navy | 5 Comments

If you are interested in where someone in the business thinks that publishing will go, then listen to Seth Godin’s interview at radioLitopia.

His comments about apps, the costs of publishing in the current era, the role of publishers, and what publishers should be doing as the industry changes are relevant to our interests.

I anyone wonders what publishing has to do with the Naval Institute…well…



April 2011


Over the past two months, the Naval Institute mission change discussion has brought one thing to the fore very clearly – the Institute has no articulable vision that accompanies its mission. Unchanged for 137 years, the mission – “to provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write in order to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to national defense” no longer seems to be the guiding principle at the Institute – overtaken by both critical and mundane things including profitability, process, and structure. All of which are burdened by the weight and intractability of tradition and then further afflicted with repetitive thinking disorder. Each of those issues, real as they are and they cannot be ignored, have obscured, hidden and submerged any capacity that the current leadership of the Institute had of building, articulating and executing a vision that supports the mission statement. Or frankly, any mission statement. Today’s Annual Meeting further confirmed this complete and total lack of vision.

Since nature abhors a vacuum, and seeking nothing other than discussion, thought, and daring to question the more learned and experienced members of the Board of Directors and leadership of the Institute I offer an alternative vision that I believe supports and expands on the current mission of the Institute – and in doing so will revitalize the community from which membership in the Institute derives and in turn rebuild the model of the Institute away from a business, or non-profit, or think tank. Because USNI must be a hybrid of all of them – but at her core the Institute must remain what she has for over a century – THE professional organization of the Naval services.

1. I believe that USNI should move beyond the AFCEA and Joint Warfighting style conferences and create smaller more focused ones – both by topic and by region. USNI should stop catering to Navy leadership and Industry (neither of which need another platform) and should expend its energy on working with and for junior officers and Sailors. USNI needs to become the place that officers and Sailors go with a problem, concept, idea or question that they would normally self-dismiss as “above my paygrade”.

2. In support of reconnecting with the spirit of the founders, a global Navy needs global outreach. To do that I believe that USNI should sponsor annual seminars where the Fleet is – not just San Diego and Norfolk. Monterey. Newport. Bremerton. Hawaii. Japan. Pensacola. Jacksonville. Bahrain. Groton/New London. Talk about leadership, writing, internal Navy strategies and grand global strategies. If every year is too much for some of those places, then do it every other year. Regardless, USNI needs to become a fixture of the firmament at Monterey and Newport. So much of a fixture, that the Deans of Students at the Naval Postgraduate School and Naval War College should be voting members, or at the very least advisors, to the Board of Directors.

3. Sponsor one or more prizes for Naval Postgraduate School theses that advance the mission of the Institute. Engender interest. And nothing generates interest like prizes. Cash prizes. Swords. Insignia. And recognition. And cash.

4. Sponsor one or more prizes for Naval History classes at the United States Naval Academy. Do the same for Naval ROTC units, or groups of units.

5. Establish an online writing class, webinar, forum. Just for writing. Nothing else – no politics, no sex, no weather. Partner with the Naval War College and USNA.

6. Generate and organize “Ask the Author” style meetings at the concentrations (Annapolis, DC, Newport, Monterey, Pentagon, online) – if an author publishes a book with the Naval Institute Press, then at a minimum they agree to be online at a certain time for a certain length of time to take questions. Either a Midrats Blog Radio model, or a blog model. But the authors need to be in contact with the demographic that makes up the membership of the Institute.

7. Aggressive “marketing” to JOs and First Class POs. And not just mailing flyers. There needs to be a concrete, and selfish, reason to join USNI. USNI needs to be able to explain to the 25 to 30 year old why joining TODAY is important for TOMORROW. Proceedings alone won’t do it. The “why” has to be developed out and then presented, modified, presented, modified and so on. And, it’s not just one easy pat answer – and too much to put forward and try and develop in a blog post or a single article. If the mid-career Sailor message works, then the message for the younger and more junior Sailor can be crafted.

8. Find and hire a dedicated web evangelist who can start building a network of professional writers about seapower online, and more specifically encourage people in the sea services to write. USNI needs “article scouts” who troll (in the fishing analogy, not the Billy Goat Gruff kind) the milblogs and forums looking for good writers and good ideas. Then getting the good idea authors linked up with someone who can mentor that idea into a Proceedings (or other professional journal) piece.

9. Finally. The By-Laws must be changed so that the businessman takeover that has occurred over the last decade can never happen again. The board should always have a majority membership of active duty Sailors, Marines or Coast Guardsmen – ideally at the paygrades of O6 and below. When civilians are members of the board, a history of service to the country, especially within the Naval service, should be considered a prerequisite. And that service should be both recent and relevant. No matter how successful a businessman one is, 2 years onboard a destroyer three decades ago is insufficient to understand the Navy, the sea, or Sailors. The Chief Executive Officer of the Institute has actively discouraged, or even banned, active duty officers of any rank from being on the board – often citing law as the reason that they cannot so serve. Yet he has been unable, or unwilling, to actually provide a reference to that law other than his own statement. And a quick perusal of any number of other military centered organizations show members of the active duty and reserve forces. So, why not USNI?

Over the past three months Chairman of the Board Steve Waters has provided a single letter speaking to making a monumental change in the future of the Naval Institute – and not one of the Board members who supported him in his desires has spoken out publicly in favor of that change. None of them has articulated a vision for the future of the Institute. There are others out there, like me, who are interested in the future of the Institute and willing, nay dare, to read, think, speak, and write about a vision for the Institute and the Navy. For 137 years the Naval Institute has been of and for Naval officers – it is time it returned to its roots and this is one proposed vision to do so.

And does it without ever using the word…

From the Jackson MS Clarion-Ledger:

Poor education is a major threat to national security, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said Thursday.

Three out of four young people between the ages of 18 and 24 in the United States cannot qualify to join the military,” Mabus told a meeting of The Clarion-Ledger editorial board. “You can’t join the military today without a high school diploma, yet one-third of the people in our country don’t finish high school. Others can’t join because of obesity or having a criminal record. We can’t remain a great country as long as that is the case. We’re on a very dangerous path if we keep going down that way.”

While CNO and CJCS sincerely talk diversity, and tend to mean “look like”, Secretary Mabus is hitting on the impediment to realizing a vision of a qualified military that “looks like” the country: most of those who enlistment and commissioning age are inelegible for one reason or another.

It’s easy, and dishonest, statistics to press for a Navy that looks the same as the Nation, while at the same time ignoring the realities of the whole population demographic.

Today’s racial demographics are

The looked at statistics for the 2030 demographic of ethnic and racial makeup in the United States are

The most challenging area of meeting the goal of looks is within the officer corps – which has a higher standard for entry. The most immutable one is a college degree. Which brings two other relevant statistics to look at…today’s officer corps, and the number of degrees conferred annualy. 

 Number of degrees conferred 2007-2008:
White 71.8%
Black 9.8%
Hispanic 7.9%
Asian/PI 7.0%
American Indian/Native Alaskan .7%
Nonresident alien 2.8%

Navy Officer Corps FY 2008:

White 85.2%
Black 8.3%
Hispanic 5.9%
Asian 4.7%

Which places the officer corps overall at a 1% “deficit” for Blacks and a 2% “deficit” for Hispanics.

And, in order to be able to make up that deficit, there are two options – access Blacks and Hispanics with lower grade point averages than their white peers, and immediately place them at a disadvantage, or get colleges to more provide eligible graduates who meet the criteria for a commission. For Blacks, that comes out to 3,436 more college graduates (in order to make the 864 likley to be eligible, much less have the propensity to join). For Hispanics it would mean 4,320 more graduates. Out of 152,000 and 123,000 respectively – or a 2% increase in the overall number of black college graduates, and a 3.5% increase in Hispanic graduates.

I’ve not done the numbers of students by race who start, but never complete college…but you get the picture. Education is just one facet. Obesity. Mental and psychological problems. Drug use. All of those issues lead to a smaller population that is even capable of joining the force. And until those issues are addressed, we cannot, and will not – no matter how hard our recruiters work – have a force that looks like America.

Now, back to Secretary Mabus – he has not lobbied for or received a single award for Diversity that I can find – he never speaks about it, comments on it. Yet, in a single speech that never mentions the word once, he hits the nail on the head for what Navy needs in order to have a not just a force that looks like America – but a force that is capable of meeting the Navy’s statutory mission.

None of this is commentary on whether the optics of the force are a worthy goal or not…they are the goal that has been labled by CNO as our “number one priority”. However, in my rambling and disjointed way, I think we’d (the Navy, the government, parents, and our own selves) be far better served to work on the recommendations in this report than to seek awards and accolades.


Paint it WHITE!

March 2011


A week ago I was sitting in a meeting where the name of one of the leading contenders to be CJCS came up. Tied to that name was the idea that the “military would get out of HA/DR”.

That night the earthquake struck Japan and we now have over 13 ships (including two aircraft carriers) and thousands of Marines and Sailors – some stationed in Japan and others redirected from their deployment – on station and assisting. The idea that we as a government and a military would ever “get out of the HA/DR business” is patently ludicrous…and our response to the earthquake is just one more data point proving so.

As if we somehow needed one. CNA did a study in 1990 of Navy humanitarian operations. Even a quick, non-statistical, review shows that at least once every year since the mid-1950s the Navy has been to one degree or another been involved in a humanitarian operation. Following the Navy response to the 2004 tsunami, USNS Mercy inaugurated a series of “Pacific Partnership” deployments that continue this year with USS Cleveland deploying to Tonga, Vanuatu, Timor-Leste, the Federated States of Micronesia and Papua-New Guinea. On the other side of the world ships have been involved in Southern Partnership Station and African Partnership Station, modeled after the Pacific Partnership missions. And, in every case the ship involved either had to take a military asset off station or out of rotation, or active duty and reserve personnel were called up to man Military Sealift Command ships.

But, last year the House Armed Services, combined with Navy obstinancy, gave me another idea.

The HASC FY2011 Defense Authorization Report (which may never again see the light of day) Section 1024 states that the Secretary of the Navy shall retain the amphibious assault ships that the Navy shall keep Nassau (LHA-4) and Peleliu (LHA-5) in a commissioned and operational status until the delivery to the Navy of the new amphibious assault ships America (LHA-6) and LHA-7, respectively. Which idea, of course, the Navy wasn’t too fond of.

At the same time, Navy officials are pressing forward with a proof of concept study to man amphibious ships with merchant marine seamen and officers. Touted as readiness initiative for troubled classes of ships, critics look at the program as another misguided attempt to maintain ship numbers while cutting cost.

But, if Navy is willing to place volunteer civilians on combat ships…then why not reimagine the combat ship AND meet the HASC language AND provide ships that can meet the various partnership missions without impacting the rest of the fleet’s obligations?

Over the next six years Navy will retire two amphibious assault ships (LHA) and four amphibious transport docks (LPD). While not economical to refit or fully retain these ships, there is life left in them and with some alterations, they could remain in use – both as commissioned vessels (which add to the overall fleet number) and conduct critical missions over the next decade.

By retaining a Navy crew, completely removing the weapons systems, installing commercial satellite internet access, modifying the Marine berthing compartments and reconfiguring the well deck (or leaving it as is) – oh, and with a LOT of white paint – the Navy would have a platform capable of embarking 1,000 aid workers, teachers, policemen, medical personnel, and so on to move from country to country and teach, train, and help. Think of these ships as the ultimate in Joint – InterAgency – NGO power projection platform.

By having ships like this capable of rapidly embarking DHS and FEMA personnel to serve as a mobile command post after a hurricane, or to mirror the role of USNS Mercy after the tsunami or any of the other iconic relief actions, to include the one going on today in Japan, the Navy would have a tool – that is not armed with anything other than self defense weapons and frees up a front line combat capable unit – and, as trite as it sounds, be part of the “Global Force for Good”. It’s tough to look at something we do all the time, and think of it as a “lesser included mission”…maybe it’s time to put some dedicated resources behind the ever-present reality.

The name has been changed, but the story is true. Care to guess what the Navy is doing for Joe?

“We were called on a mission under circumstances that we normally don’t like to go. We generally work at night and we generally work when there’s not a full moon and we generally get to choose the circumstances a little better, but this time we did not, and I can’t discuss the nature of the mission, but there was a reason that we had to go. And we somehow ended up landing next to a compound full of people.

We pushed through south, kind of moving to the north in the helicopters and when you land near structures, it’s extra terrifying because, like what happened on this one, you don’t know who’s there, and if they’re bad guys, those helicopters look like school buses and they feel like bullet magnets. So, the helicopters landed and I could hear over the rotors the guns–there was a mean gunfight going on. I was in Chop 1, Chop 2 landed a little bit farther to the east, probably 100 meters, that was the helicopter that was being engaged, and the men coming off that helicopter were immediately in a–in a serious gunfight. We maneuvered–I was a Team Leader and we maneuvered to get on line, to try to stay out of the beating zone where the bullets were going on, and while we were doing this, there were–as is common, there were people running, and it was very difficult to ascertain who was who, so you can’t just start shooting people, you have to close in on them.

As the team from Chop 2, the other helicopter suppressed the fire, there were some grenades, rockets, it was a heavy-duty engagement. I could see that there were multiple what we call ‘squirters” that were moving and–and running from structure to structure and hiding in fields, and we had to cover some ground. And it was important that we–the nature of the mission called for us to find people, specifically to find people. Because of the significance of the firefight at our insert, I was very concerned that we were messing with people that weren’t your average dirt farmer Taliban, that the level of fire, the volume and the amount and the types of fire we had received, belt-fed machine guns, heavy duty stuff, not just some farmer with an AK47, it was heavy duty, I was really concerned, and when I saw there were people running just crazy, the people in this little village were frightened, I knew we had to get close and identify people and the best way to do that was to divide up my team, there were three shooters, myself, another shooter, “Joe” and his dog , and I sent a team farther to the east as we moved southward in the initial contact.

Other teams were maneuvering and there were other gunfights going on at this time. It was very confusing and very dynamic. As we moved south, we crossed through some structures which we had to clear quickly because we’d seen people run from them, but we needed to make sure that they were secured because you can’t move past something and then hope that those people are going to come back around on you, you need to worry about what’s in front of you. So, I could see the other half of my team maneuvering, and I had picked “Joe” specifically, I wanted to go with him because I knew this was his fifth or sixth mission. This was the first time he’d been in a really heavy-duty gunfight, and I wanted to make sure that I had eyes on him with the dog because I had experience with that as well.

As we moved through the fields, we engaged people who were hiding with the women and children, which is common with the Taliban, and just about any other terrorist like that, they hide. When you get the drop on them, they hide with the women and they hide behind them and the children, so we had to engage on a couple of occasions during our movement to the south, we had to engage people, and then at one point we saw some people in the ditch and I said to “Joe”, “Send him, man, send the dog,” so he sent the dog and the dog kind of–he ran in the direction and he kind of stopped for a second, he paused, and then “Joe” gave him the command again, and I’ve only seen one other dog really do that, and I figured the reason why he did it, and we knew later, it was because there were children in the ditch. 

So, once that happened, we moved in, we could see with the equipment we were using, we were using lasers and the night vision, we could see they were children, “Joe” took the dog off, held security, I grabbed the children out of the ditch, I talked to them, I put them in the center of the field, I threw chem lights around them and then, as I turned from that, “Joe” and the other shooter that was with me, I looked at them and they were looking–there was an aircraft overhead that was burning, some more individuals moving, and there were a group of them and they split up, and some of them moved to the east, I’m facing south now, some of them were moving to the west. So, I–being a dog guy, and “Joe” helped me, we wanted to set up where the wind was, there–we were in a field that was about as flat as this, with ditches occasionally where the kids were hiding, and there were weeds maybe knee high and it was very flat. They moved a little bit to the west, and we maneuvered to the south and farther west to open up the distance with them and get downwind so that the dog could smell them, and because of–to this point we had–we had run across several groups of children or women or combinations of children, women and terrorists, I wanted to try and take it as slow as possible, but I knew that we were going to have to get close, unless we could get them to maneuver to us.

So, we sat down or we knelt down quietly in the field, they moved, and they moved around for a little bit and then they stopped, and when they stopped they just–they got very low and still, and I–I’m guessing at distances, but probably we were 150 meters roughly from them and perfectly lined up with them. So, we sat and I said, ‘Okay, we have to go get them. Are you guys ready?” and they said, “Yes.” So, we moved out, “Joe” and I moved together, lined the dog up and we started moving towards them. And, you know, again we’re going to have to line up to send the dog, and he was going to buy us a little time, so a full moon, fields like this, and weeds about knee high, and I knew when we sent him that we only had a few seconds. So, we started walking, kind of crouched, walking towards them, walking towards them, walking towards them, close to about maybe 30 meters or roughly that, and I said, ‘Okay, “Joe”, send him quietly,” and he sent him, and he gave him the command and he went out. And you could see him, you’ve heard talk of the way dogs indicate on things, he could smell men, he was–he was on them, and when they smell the fear of those–’cause they’re scared, they know, man, and it makes them hungry and ready to fight, and you could see him just bob his ears and his tail, and he started hauling ass, and so we–we have to stay with him, man, we’re right on top of him, he’s only going to buy you a second. 

So, I remember running, I was watching him, he was about from me to you, sir, and when he looked at me as though he got to one of the black shapes, they were hiding behind the small berm ditch, and I heard boom, boom, two quick shots, and I knew they were loaded. I couldn’t tell if they hit him or not, and there wasn’t really time to worry about it, I had to start filling them in, and then they say you never hear the bullet that gets you, and you don’t. I fell forward and rolled towards them, it hit me and I flipped forward, my back was to them, and my first thought was, “I’m a dead man,” I’m right–I mean I’m this far away, I’m dead. l–l really thought I was done, man, ’cause we were that close to them, and I didn’t know what was going on with the dog. And at first when you’re shot, it doesn’t–you–l just felt my leg give way.

Then I thought I was going to die because I was so close, I was waiting for the next shot and didn’t come, and it didn’t come ’cause that dude went to work, that dude being “Joe”. I heard–we had suppressed weapons, silencers, I could hear pops, gunshots from guns that didn’t have suppressors, spraying automatic, which I knew wasn’t him. I could hear the two suppressors, his and the other shooter who had come around to make the I could hear thumps and then something else, and they ended up being grenades being thrown at us. I heard silence for a minute, and then I screamed, I was in such pain, I wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought I would be, I was screaming, it hurt bad, and then I heard more shooting, and the most distinct sound of all was I could hear him walking, whoosh, whoosh, and crunching the weeds, and he was walking at them, and this is something that–you can’t train somebody to do that.

You can try as hard to replicate what it’s like to get shot at, to have your dog get shot and killed, to have your buddy next to you go–go down, you don’t know if he’s dead. And most people’s natural instinct is to run. He didn’t do that; he kept walking, whoosh, whoosh, I could hear his suppressor, whoop, whoop, whoop, and I heard hissing because the Taliban he was shooting had RPG rockets on their backs, and the propellant for the rockets, when the bullet would go through it, it would shhhhh, it would make a hissing sound, it would ignite that booster, and he kept walking, and he kept walking. And then I heard some rapid shots from him, I presume it was him or the other shooter, and then he came over and he knelt next to me… , and then the other shooter came over while he held security. And then I faded in and out a little bit, I lost a lot of blood. Some other folks came over to help with tourniquets and bandages, and he went to work on the dog after he was certain that I was being taken care of and it was secured. I don’t know exactly what he did with the dog. He could have done a trach, ’cause most of his mouth was blown up, he could have put a trach in his throat to get air to him, he could have given him mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-nose in this occasion, stop the bleeding. While, I was carried over to the helicopter, I was hopping on my left leg and screaming and being carried by a bunch of teammates and when I turned around and sat down, I was really concerned about the dog as well, and “Joe” was carrying him, and he- -he had to have help carrying him, and his gear.

When we got back to the MEDEVAC place, I remember asking about the dog, I remember seeing him there, and I don’t remember much after that. I’d lost, I think, units of blood, something like that, and I went under and, when I woke up, I was in–somewhere else, but the guy who helped me get on the helicopter went out, after they pronounced the dog dead, they went back to the fight.”

Defense News lists some of the Marine Corps’ desired characterstics for the now cancelled EFV’s replacement – dubbed the “Amphibious Combat Vehicle”. They are interesting and speak somewhat to the Corps’ future…

* The ability to autonomously deliver a Marine infantry squad from an amphibious ship to shore a minimum distance of 12 nautical miles, at “a speed to enable the element of surprise in the buildup ashore.” The notice acknowledges that a high rate of speed “may prove to be unaffordable.”  I’m not sure what is meant by “autonomously” here except that it’s one of today’s buzzwords. Self propelled and self navigated? Likley. Unmanned, or artificial intelligence piloting (the most current use of “autonomous”) – unlikely. Exact speed in the water is not defined for the RFI. It will bear watching if the speed is nummerically defined in later documents – specifically designated speed unsupported by study, logic, and thought being the Achilles heel of modern acquisition – despite the comment linking “a high rate of speed” and “unaffordable”. The most interesting part of this snippet is the “minimum distance of 12 nautical miles”. More on that below.

* Protection characteristics must be applied to direct fire, indirect fire, and mines/IED threats. In order to address the spectrum of operating environments, this protection can be modular (i.e., applied incrementally as the situation dictates. The first part will be a given for the forseeable future…the key is the second part, the modular piece. The Marine Corps is admitting that they’ve gotten heavy, and too heavy and too big to fit all they want onto the defined square and cube of today’s (and tomorrow’s) amphibious ships. By being modular you can at least take the armor or defensive systems off, transport them or stow them seperately, and add them on when necessary – or able.

* …should enable the Marine Corps to rapidly integrate emerging technologies through the use of open architecture and reconfigure the interior to support alternative mission loads including logistics provisions (55gal drums etc.,) heavy weapons (mortar/rockets) and medical evacuations (litters). Also a current, and long desired, buzzword that will ideally pay dividends. For those not familiar with “open architecture” the easy shorthand is “no proprietary solutions”. The systems – navigation, mechanical, electrical, electronic, communications need to be able to plug and play with both military and civilian standards. But the level to which the reconfigurations are desired may become a cost driver if designers don’t build a big empty vehicle that can be internally configured to support these desires.

* Be powerful enough to engage and destroy similar vehicles, provide direct fire support to dismounted infantry and maneuver with M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks. This speaks to two things – terrestrial speed and firepower. Given the state of today’s art, neither of these should be daunting challenges.

OK..12 nautical miles from sea to shore. That’s the key differentiator here. EFV was somewhat hamstrung by two things – speed requirement and range. Navy and Marine Corps doctrine has for decades pressed to move amphibious operations over the horizon – to launch outside the range of shore based missile envelopes at 25 nautical miles. And that range drove the speed because studies show that Marines tend to be less combat effective after bouncing aroud in a closed box at sea for more than an hour. 12 nautical miles means that a 12 knot water speed vehicle can be part of the solution set – and that 20 knots will be acceptable. That alone may drive the costs down – if the Marine Corps can stay it’s own appetite for unconstrained acquisition.

Other than speed and range, the requirements for the ACV are nearly identical (including the Open Architecture requirement) to the original requirements for the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV) which was later renamed the EFV. The only real question is why did it take so long to move away from the EFV? A system which has been in development for more than 16 years , and underperforming for 10. While our personnel systems may be slow or broken – they are nowhere near as bad off as some of our acqusition programs.

The full RFI cand be found at the FBO website. Responses are due by close of business 22 April 2011.

Now that Captain Honors has been kind enough to post his fitness reports as an exhibit in the court of public opinion it might be helpful to have a chat on how an officer in the Navy is selected to command.

Now, in order to properly define the discussion space, this is limited to ONLY the selection for Command at Sea. Which in turn limits the discussion, almost exclusively, to officers in the Unrestricted Line. While there are many, many more commands out there that are not either Command at Sea, or limited to the Unrestricted Line, each community has its own particular method of selecting officers for command. And in some cases there are commands which have no particular selection process.

So, we’re basically talking about ships, aircraft squadrons, submarines, aircraft wings, amphibious squadrons, destroyer squadrons, and submarine squadrons. Those are in turn subdivided, loosely, into Commander and Major Commands (Early Command of PCs and minesweepers are also slightly different and not necessarily part of this discussion).

Selection for Commander Command is predicated upon a single thing – performance as a Department Head. At sea. In a submarine, ship, or aircraft squadron. Said performance being documented in an officer’s fitness reports. That’s it.

There are all sorts of other “nice to haves” that might help a record be selected , but in the end, it’s the documented performance in the fitness report that is the clear differentiator. And, to take it even further, it is the level to which an officer is ranked against his peers that counts. Almost all of the verbiage on the back of a report, no matter how flowing, colorful, evocative, or even pathetic will make the difference for an officer who is ranked ahead of his departmental peers. The officer who gets ranked 1 of 2, 1 of 3, 1 of 4 and so on is the officer most likely to have his record selected in a selection board. Those at the 2 of 3, 2 of 4 and so on are where verbiage and “tie breakers” like masters degrees, shore tours, subspecialty codes and the like come into play.

That’s what works for Commander Command (and there is a good discussion in a Navy Personnel Command brief on pages 22, 23, 24 that provides more detail). For Major Command, the only thing that really matters is performance in Commander Command. It’s essentially a “career reset” the day an officer takes command. Every fitness report earned before that is garnish – the meat is those one, two, or three reports earned in Commander Command. A 1 of 2 or 1 of 3 almost guarantees selection to Major Command. 3 of 3 in a competitive report without another competitive report that is a 1 of “something other than 1” does not preclude eventual selection, but all those 1 of 2 or 1 of 3 officers will most likely be selected first.

The basic process by which a board selects a record is the same for command selection boards (screen boards) and promotion (statutory boards). The laws that the boards are governed under are the same. The differences lie in the information within the official record that is considered by the board to be important enough to warrant selection and the number of officers that can be selected. For more detail, look at this brief on statutory board procedures.

Within the “tank” the board is presented records for voting. The most common screen projected to the members is the “Officer Performance Summary Record (PSR)” which provides the most basic information for a fitness report: Reporting Senior, Command, Duration, Individual Trait Grades, breakout against the competitive group for that report, comparison against the reporting seniors previous reports, and promotion recommendation. And that’s it. Individual fitness reports are not normally read or reviewed by the board when voting. The record is reviewed, in its entirety, by a board member known as the “briefer”. This board member reads the fitness report, any letters to the board, and reviews any other information contiained within the record. The briefer makes annotations on the PSR to show trends or important distinction within the fitness reports…but what is annotated is entirely up to the briefer.

When voting there is a small period for discussion (in many boards it can be less than two minutes). During that discussion any question can be asked about the record that is being presented. Any officer with personal knowledge of positive or complimentary information may introduce that information at this time. Adverse information that is NOT contained within the official record cannot, by law and regulation, be presented to the board. No stories of “I heard that ship ran aground” or “Wow…why isn’t that DUI showing up” or “Odd, I don’t see the results of that IG investigation”. If it’s not in the record, basically, it doesn’t exist…didn’t happpen…can’t be discussed. Which is why the common phrase is “boards pick records, not people” exists.

Now, there are a couple of other idiosyncrasies in a few places. Most Surface Warfare command positions (and all operational aviation squadrons) use what is called “Fleet Up”. An officer is selected for command, but spends the first half of the command tour serving as Executive Officer (or sometimes Deputy Commander). There are other selections that have a longer track towards command – Aviation Major Command of an Aircraft Carrier (the aviation community refers to it as Major Sea Command (Nuclear Power Pipeline) )is one. In that case, the officer is selected for major command but serves first as Executive Officer of an aircraft carrier followed by Commanding Officer of a large surface ship (nicknamed “Deep Draft Command”). Once that officer has a fitness report in command of that large surface ship, he is then placed into a pool of officers who’s records are considered by the Major Command Selection board for assignment to command an aircraft carrier (Sequential Command at Sea). The selection rate from Nuclear Power Pipeline to Sequential Command at Sea is very, very high…on the Fiscal Year 11 (sometimes also called the FY 12 board) board there was a 1:1 correlation between the two categories. On the FY 10 board it was a 2:3 correlation. The tyranny of small numbers makes any larger percentage comparison over time suspect. However, it is realistic to surmise that absent an inability to complete Nuclear Power School, or a career ending action that results in either an “adverse fitness report” or a “detachment for cause” proceeding the officer selected for the Nuclear Power Pipeline is most likely to select for Sequential Command at Sea.

So, let’s look at this through the lens of two recent and well documented cases – Captain Holly Graf and Captain OP Honors.

In Captain Graf’s case she was selected for Major Command of a surface ship in 2006 on her 2nd look. That look was based entirely on her documented performance in Commander Command. Since she was not a first look select one can infer that her record in command was not flawless. But, her record was sufficient to be selected for Major Command.

For Captain Honors, based upon his statement to investigators he was selected for Major Command in 2004 on his first look. He subsequently went to Nuke School and had successive tours in Enterprise as XO, then Mount Whitney as CO, and then back to Enterprise as CO. He was already selected for and promoted to Captain when he served as XO in Enterprise. His command tours in Mount Whitney and back again to Enterprise were already predetermined while he was XO in Enterprise. They were only his to lose, not gain, from his performance as XO.

Same as it ever was.

RAND questions the Navy’s push towards alternative fuels citing problems with the initiative.

There is no direct benefit to the Department of Defense or the services from using alternative fuels rather than petroleum-derived fuels.

 Defense Department technology-development efforts overemphasize early demonstration and underestimate the difficulty of developing alternative fuel technologies that offer acceptable economic and environmental performance.

If Defense Department efforts in alternative fuel testing, research, and promoting early commercial production are successful, the benefits of this work will accrue more to the nation as a whole rather than to DoD or the services.


Large-scale testing and certification of hydrotreated renewable oils is premature.

“Unfortunately, we were not engaged by the authors of this report,” said Thomas W. Hicks, deputy assistant secretary of energy for the Navy. “We don’t believe they adequately engaged the market,” he said, adding, “This is not up to RAND’s standards.”

Why do I get the feeling that this point counterpoint is so much like the criticisms of optimal manning, Sea Swap, and the host of other initiatives that were more flash than bang through the past decade.

There are lots of things we can do to try and reduce the usage of fossil fuels and reduce the need for convoys that carry them through hostile regions…but with limited resources perhaps it’s time to spend more money on conservation with proven technologies (LED lighting, solar power, reduction in electronics usage forward and so on) than in trying to develop the technologies themselves.

Industry will do research and development when there is a profit incentive. DoD should not be the one generating that incentive.

Cross posted from Seth Godin’s Blog:

“I’ve got your back”

These are the words that entrepreneurs, painters, artists, statesmen, customer service pioneers and writers need to hear.

Not true. They don’t need to hear them, they need to feel them.

No artist needs a fair weather friend, an employee or customer or partner who waits to do the calculus before deciding if they’re going to be there for them.

No, if you want her to go all in, if you want her to take the risk and brave the fear, then it sure helps if you’re there too, no matter what. There’s a cost to that, a pain and risk that comes from that sort of trust. After all, it might not work. Failure (or worse! embarrassment) might ensue. That’s precisely why it’s worth so much. Because it’s difficult and scarce.

Later, when it’s all good and it’s all working, your offer of support means very little. The artist never forgets the few who came through when it really mattered.

Who’s got your back? More important, whose back do you have?

Lots of discussion at Sal’s home about “the leadership“…and a significant supposition that conventional wisdom among the rank and file is to not trust anyone over 30 senior to themselves.

Since most of us are senior to someone else, does that corrolary mean that your subordinates don’t trust you?

Could it be that they don’t feel that you have their back?

If so, why?

Do you take the time to explain the logic and thought behind an unpopular decision? Any decision?

Or do you default to “Nike Leadership“? Nike Leadership is directly incompatible with forceful backup. Which one do you think is more present in the Navy?

Who has your back? Who’s back do you have?

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