A military that faces budget constraints must make choices. The US military is no exception. Is it more important that we fund a large force that can build relationships and spread out over every potential conflict zone? Or should we instead invest in capabilities that will make our individual units more lethal and survivable? In other words, do we build a lot of the assets we know how to build, or do we instead develop better assets that we can build in the future? Secretary of Defense Carter has referred to this debate in terms of posture vs presence (advanced future-forces vs large current-forces).
The fundamental question of this debate is whether war is more likely now or in the future. If we knew we had 50 years until a large conventional conflict, most would advocate investing in capability. That would allow us to build more effective forces for when we needed them. On the other hand, if we knew we only had 1 year, it would not be prudent to divert current readiness in favor of capabilities that wouldn’t be available in time.
The United States’ modern defense establishment has faced one real peer-competitor: the USSR. They posed a threat that was felt viscerally by the populace and the military that defended them. If there was ever a challenge that dictated a large number of ready forces, it was the Cold War. New technologies always had to be researched, but they would be useless if the operational forces couldn’t win a war that day.
When we look at a graph of US defense research spending as a percentage of total defense spending, this pattern is clear. Time periods where the blue line is below the red are when research spending was lower than the historical average.
Data from SIPRI and AAAS
From the early-60s to the mid-80s, when the Soviet threat was large and immediate, research took a back seat to presence. Regular military spending outpaced research spending by a greater than normal amount. Then, America woke up in the 90s to a peerless world. Presence took a back seat to capability. The US military had breathing space to begin to think about the future. It used that breathing space to fund the technologies that would power a networked military that has yet to be seriously challenged in conventional warfare in the post-Cold War era.
In the 21st century, China has replaced the Soviet Union as the threat that focuses defense planners. So how does China compare as an adversary? Do we have the time we need to focus on capability, or should we go all-in on our currently operational forces?
Without going into direct capabilities, a fairly reasonable way to compare threats is to look at top-line military budgets. How did our spending compare to the Soviets’ and how does our spending compare to China’s? Let’s first look at the Cold War.
Data from SIPRI and CIA
From 1966 to 1989, the United States was able to muster enough defense spending to approximately match that of the Soviet Union. There were long stretches where the US lagged the Soviets, but it was always fairly close. The rest of NATO seems to have consistenly spent somewhere between 50% and 60% of the Soviet’s budget. Combined, NATO and the US spent 20-80% more than the USSR.
Data from SIPRI and CIA
Looking at these graphs, you see what looks like a close struggle, but one where the US and NATO are clearly superior. That was not at all the perception in the 60s or 70s, though. The nightly news in that era was gloomy. And the Soviet military really did pose a legitimate threat to an American-led world order. We talk today about China holding US aircraft carriers at risk. The Soviet Union held every city in America at risk. It was a global challenger as much as it sought regional hegemony. So the US strategy was to prioritize the readiness of the forces that it had. Not to prioritize the forces it wished it had.
And in the end, it is hard to argue that this was the wrong strategy. Afterall, the world is not a nuclear wasteland and America has enjoyed lone superpower status for the last 25 years. So if this is the threat picture that warrants “presence” oriented spending, what is a threat picture that warrants the opposite? This:
Data from SIPRI
It is not terribly close. During the Cold War, the US and the USSR spent similar amounts on defense. The United States outspends China three times over, today. Additionally, China’s neighbors currently spend an amount equal to China’s defense outlays, not the 60% deficit that NATO could muster on its best days.
The trajectory of China’s spending is clearly up, while the United States’ trajectory is clearly down. But America presently enjoys a vast lead. And China’s neighbors are increasing defense spending, as well (albiet at a lower rate). Taking these factors into account, it seems as though the United States has a long time before it must worry about China challenging global order. China may be building “facts on the ground” that will be beneficial once it is a mature power (by flouting international law in the South China Sea), but it is not currently a serious challenger to the United States.
While the US and NATO once spent a combined 120% of the Soviet’s budget, the US and its Asian allies currently spend 384% of China’s budget.
Data from SIPRI
If every trend stays exactly as it currently is (and that is already not realistic since China recently announced a reduction in military spending growth), it will take a decade before China poses a threat similar to that of the USSR.
China cannot currently contest our dominance in Asia in the way that the Soviets contested our dominance in Europe. During the Cold War, America waited to prioritize current-force spending until the Soviet’s military budget was about 80% of the American budget. China’s is currently at 35% of America’s.
If American strategy requires that its chief adversary be able to plausibly challenge its dominance in a region before it prioritizes current-forces over future ones, it’s clear that now is not the time for a buildup. With a minimum of 10 years before a new Cold War, and more realistically 20 or 30 years, the US military would be remiss to not fund future capabilities while it can.
The question then is relegated to one of magnitude. How much should the United States prioritize research? Let’s first look at where our current military budget is in comparison to where it’s been.
Data from SIPRI
Defense spending has averaged 6.1% of GDP since 1949. It currently rests at around 3.5% of GDP. As you can see in the above graph, defense spending was high up until the end of the Cold War, shrunk greatly in the 90s, and then rose again during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With those wars now over, our budget is in a new trough.
Data from SIPRI
Total defense spending as a percentage of GDP has only been lower for a brief time in the late 90s/early aughts. There is room to increase it if needed. And if there is to be an increase, it should go toward modernizing the force.
Research and development as a percentage of GDP lies at around .4%. The long-run average is .55%, but the R&D boom of the late 80s reached .7%.
Data from SIPRI and AAAS
The late-80s investment in R&D produced the advanced military that was able to decimate Saddam’s Soviet-style military. It was sufficient to produce a force capable of decisive victory. Similar levels of investment will be required to produce similar margins of victory. What would it take to get spending back to similar levels?
It would require 70% more research spending, but would only increase the total defense budget to 3.8% of GDP from 3.5%. Which is far below the 6.1% long-run average. By reducing our current-force size in areas unlikely to contribute in a large, conventional conflict (the least likely scenario, but easily the most damaging), we could likely keep our overall budget similar to its current levels.
China is a threat to an American-led global order in the long-run. It will eventually be able to credibly challenge our core interests in the world. It, however, does not currently warrant the same defense structure than did the USSR. We still have time to ensure our forces are capable enough to win the wars of the future. And in their current structure, they would likely prevail in any surprise conflict that comes sooner. We shouldn’t restore our military to its Cold War size. We should worry about how we can build the military of the future.
For more than 200 years the U.S. Navy has been integral to the security and prosperity of the United States, evolving to meet the security and maritime needs of America. The Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) grew out of recognition that after 14 years of sustained combat operations for our deployed units, the resultant trends in maintenance and modernization execution, training time compression, deployment length increases and personnel churn were unsustainable. OFRP is designed to optimize a series of processes to generate a maximum amount of operational availability of our naval forces in order to deliver rotational forces; accomplish maintenance and modernization to achieve the service life of our platforms, and be able to surge forces. All of this must be accomplished while maintaining our normal operational tempo – in short “we have to reset in stride.” In order to meet that goal, OFRP creates a framework for predictable deployment cycles with aligned and stabilized manning, stable and predictable maintenance plans, and ready forces fully trained to the high-end level of the warfighting spectrum. This is no small challenge given our Navy’s global presence requirements, resource constraints, and force size. Meeting these challenges, today and in the future, mandates we optimize the processes of our supply-based readiness model by implementing OFRP.
The previous force generation model, the Fleet Response Plan (FRP), needed adjusting in order to more efficiently deliver ready forces for deployment; achieve the life-expectancy of our platforms and provide a more sustainable surge capability. The Optimized Fleet Response Plan provides the needed change to maximize readiness by aligning staffs, ships, and air wings to Carrier Strike Groups (CSG) and Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) at the beginning of a 36-month cycle. A key distinction in the OFRP instruction is the delineation of Carrier Strike Group Commanders and Amphibious Ready Group Commanders as the Supported Commanders. Previously, TYPE Commanders (TYCOMS) moved units through the Maintenance and Basic Phases of the training and readiness cycle, with a notional hand-off to the CSG Commander when the ships entered the Integrated Phase and began operating as a Carrier Strike Group. Today within the OFRP framework, all of the ships are brought under the CSG commander at the beginning of FRTP. According to Russ Williams, USFF Deputy Director for Fleet Training and the OFRP Cross-functional Team lead, this means that “The CSG, ARGS, and TYCOMS work together to ensure the readiness of that Strike Group given where they are in the OFRP phase.”
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group is the first aircraft carrier and Strike Group to implement OFRP, having entered into the first cycle of OFRP last fall, and initiating the Navy’s new strategy for force generation. The Ike CSG and all of its assigned units have been a complete team throughout the maintenance phase and into the basic and integrated phases of OFRP. As they prepare to deploy mid-2016, Ike CSG’s progress through OFRP reveals the benefits of the plan and what can be improved upon.
Maintenance and Modernization
One of the goals of a maintenance and modernization process is to achieve on time and on cost execution of the schedule. OFRP is designed to help stabilize and synchronize the execution of the maintenance and modernization of our fleet in order to achieve these two goals. The stabilization and synchronization leads to other benefits than predictability. Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus said to the House Armed Services Readiness Committee on Sept. 10, 2015, that he was confident the Navy is taking the right steps to get maintenance on track. “We’re going to be in a position to get the life span of the ships that you’d expect out of those ships when they enter the fleet.” This is in large part due to the Optimized Fleet Response Plan. Russ Williams stated that with OFRP maintainers are given more time to “dive into the planning phase of maintenance.” With more time to plan the maintainers ensure the efficiency of the phase. It appears OFRP sets up CSGs going through the process to achieve these goals, yet with all new processes there are some issues to work on. What makes OFRP different than previous force generation models is that it takes into account the Navy being a learning organization, and therefore fosters an environment of innovation for problem solving. “World events will cause changes to the production plan – if somebody’s maintenance gets extended beyond our ability to absorb it within the shock absorber that’s built into OFRP, we would have to adjust accordingly and modify the schedules,” Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harley told the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee. Issues in the maintenance phase faced by Ike CSG lead to four of the seven Ike CSG deployers experiencing unexpected delays. Russ Williams noted that the “industrial base simply cannot support eight or nine surface combatants going into maintenance at the same time and coming out at exactly the same time, but that isn’t the goal of OFRP, it isn’t designed to be that rigid.” This sort of issue highlights the importance of OFRP’s flexible yet disciplined approach to force generation. Each of these late deliveries created issues in the Basic Phase of Training that had secondary negative effects leading into the Integrated Phase of training. Meeting the issue head on, the Casualty Report to Certification Crosswalk (C3) process was developed to minimize the impact of the unexpected delays. This now helps ships identify, prioritize and facilitate maintenance solutions that enable the ships to complete their certification events on time, first pass. Russ Williams notes “It was never the OFRP intent to get everybody out of maintenance at the same time. It was an OFRP construct to get everybody to begin the Integrated Phase at the same time.” Mr. Williams went on to say that OFRP enables backlog to be rectified within the cycle. The OFRP process has led to some incremental material improvements within Ike CSG, yet Maintenance and Modernization remains a critical Line of Effort (LOE) that requires continued attention by naval leadership in order to ensure the Strike Group assets all enter the Integrated Phase on schedule.
Manning and Individual Training
Historically, ships have struggled to achieved their manning goals early in the pre-deployment work up, often receiving new Sailors “just in time” before the deployment, or prior to composite training unit exercise (C2X), the Integrated Phase capstone training event. This resulted in numerous x- deck personnel transfers, which sub-optimized the deploying unit’s readiness, hurt the manning of the ship remaining at home, and eroded the morale of the force. Sea-centric manning policies under OFRP prioritize personnel requirements to ensure forces are ready to deploy on schedule with the right Sailors in place fully trained. This policy mandates units be manned to 92% fit, 95% fill and at threshold for all critical naval enlisted classification code (NECs) by the target Manning Date, or “M-Date,” which is the start of Basic Phase or 12-months prior to deployment (if Basic phase starts earlier than that). This allows the necessary time for shipboard teams to form, train together, and build a cohesive warfighting team prior to deploying. It is because of this OFRP protocol that Ike CSG has seen the greatest improvement in the manning and individual training LOE. With deploying Sailors onboard earlier, OFRP ships in the Ike CSG were able to better manage their school requirements and ensure individuals received the training they needed prior to both the Basic and Integrated Phases. Additionally, direct support Sailors were assigned no later than nine months before deployment (D-9) which further enhanced the integration of off-ship personnel into the warfighting team. As a result, Strike Group warfighting syndicates were able to start developing during the Maintenance Phase, leading to early engagement and increased tactical training opportunities across the Strike Group. Having the right Sailors at the right time provides a more stable and predictable organization and ultimately leads to greater unit cohesion, experience, and development of the critical warfighting skills needed for deployment.
A “side effect” of previous manning practices was that many times units may not be as well-trained as they could be. OFRP ensures forces are trained with the right capabilities and trained to a single, high-end standard. Unit level training during the Basic Phase is the critical foundation toward maximizing Strike Group combat effectiveness and efficiency. Optimizing the basic phase helps by giving time to identify and overcome possible shortfalls. For example, issues during the Maintenance Phase led to a compressed Basic Phase schedules for four of seven Ike CSG deploying ships. In order to lessen the impacts of these delays, the Maintenance-Operations Float Process was employed as part of a cross functional working group to identify risks to the mission – deploying on time and fully trained. This process leveraged the expanded relationships of all the stakeholders to mitigate the identified risks. For instance, both USS Monterey (CG-61) and USS Nitze (DDG-94), both a part of Ike CSG, conducted combined sea trials to regain time within their Basic Phase schedules. Additionally, through early engagement and collaboration with Afloat Training Group (ATG), CSG-4, and Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (NSMWDC), Ike CSG developed a group sail schedule. The schedule included Basic Phase events, and moved previous unit-level events that were historically conducted in C2X, forward into the Basic Phase, and added new Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) events early in the Integrated Phase. This collaborative effort will have allowed the entire Strike Group to get to C2X on time, fully prepared to train to the high-end level of tactical warfare.
In order to maximize the benefits of optimizing the basic phase Ike CSG utilized information technology and subject matter experts to help units meet their goals. Ike CSG used a Schedule Synchronization Tool (Integrated WEBSked), which is available to all stakeholders as required by USFF/CPF Instruction 3000.15A, and a Command Monitor/Mentor Process that together identifies areas where staff subject matter experts can provide assistance to individual units prior to ATG inspections or certification events. Implementation of this program has had an immediate impact on Strike Group units. Two ships, the USS Mason (DDG-87) and USS Stout (DDG-55), within Ike CSG, have completed the Basic Phase and according to ATG Atlantic, both of these ships performed above fleet average, which is attributed to the implementation of our Optimized Fleet Response Plan protocols.
Ike CSG was in the Integrated Phase of OFRP (as of the time of publishing this article), and there were some successes due to innovative measures to cope with early challenges brought about mostly by disaggregated ops being conducted within the FRTP cycle. For example, USS Oscar Austin (DDG-79) returned from a seven-month deployment during which she superbly executed national level tasking. Rejoining the Strike Group’s schedule, she met every Joint Fleet Maintenance Manual milestone, including her CNO Maintenance Availability. USS Porter (DDG-78) transferred to Sixth Fleet two weeks earlier than scheduled after completing a Joint Warrior exercise with British and NATO allies. She completed her first BMD patrol and did very well in her first maintenance availability overseas. USS McFaul (DDG-74) deployed with 91% FIT/97% FILL /1 in manning and no active C-2 CASREPs. She finished her Fifth Fleet deployment and escorted USS George Washington (CVN-73) through SOUTHCOM area of operations. These successes continue to show that OFRP allows for adaptation in order to ensure forces are ready to deploy with the right capabilities and trained to a high standard.
World events and our previous demand-based force generation model put stress upon Sailors and their families with long deployments, deferred and unpredictable ship maintenance schedules and unpredictable pre-deployment schedules. Chief of Navy Personnel, Vice Adm Moran said “We need to make sure we attract and retain the best people,” and he believes that the predictability and stability afforded by the Optimized Fleet Response Plan will help increase retention. OFRP provides stability and predictability, thus relieving stress and lessening uncertainty, to our Sailors and their families. Ike CSG has been scheduled for a seven-month deployment since entering OFRP. Despite 23 months of collective maintenance delays across the Strike Group, the scheduled deployment date has not shifted. The flexibility afforded by OFRP across the Strike Group has allowed the Ike CSG to absorb the maintenance delays and training schedule changes, while still tracking to the initial deployment date, fully trained to the high-end level of tactical warfare, creating a more predictable schedule for Sailors and their families.
At the outset, Navy leadership was clear that fully implementing OFRP across the Fleet would take time. As the first Strike Group to enter and execute the early cycles of OFRP, Ike CSG is laying the foundation for significant improvements throughout the entire process. The lessons learned have enabled the improvement of manning and training within the scope of the Strike Group; however, there is still work to be done in the maintenance and modernization LOE. While the performance in the Basic Phase continues well above average, the ultimate measures of effectiveness will be deployed performance. The Ike CSG goal is clear: to tactically outperform the Theodore and Harry S. Truman CSGs during the demanding and rigorous pre-deployment training and throughout deployment, and to have the Bush CSG outperform us. As a premier learning organization, only then will it be known if OFRP has been operationalized at the tactical level.
This is a call for direction, to give focus to the avalanche of innovation asked for, by, and delivered to our Navy. I started this essay a dozen times. Every time a new anecdote or angle occurred to me, I would set out again to describe something on the tip of my tongue and it always fizzled out. I have come at it swinging; I have sidled up to it sideways.The truth is, every officer that I know has seen the same systemic inadequacies and has had many brilliant ideas to move the Navy forward. I am woefully underqualified to present the catch-all solution for the Navy’s problems; I lack the experience and expertise. So when I examine the heap of possibilities I wish to engage, I have trouble finding a place to start.
It is a mountain of Everest proportions and geared-up officers at the bottom are still puzzling the path that will move them forward. The bureaucracy has become so large, so complicated, so obscured that every start seems to simply tire and thin the herd. With this many people all looking in the same direction, seeing the same issues, it is incredible that we seem to still be at base camp. Then, I start this essay over again and realize, I too am stuck at base camp with just an essay, not even an actual proposal or policy! Progress proves to be as difficult to define as to execute.
The Problem is the Problems
A foundational issue with trying to see a way forward is that we have a system akin to pre-WWI Europe, one of secret alliances and tensions in which to change one small thing could bring an unending avalanche of consequences. Every time a brave officer comes forward with a solution and attacks the mountain, they dislodge a myriad of other issues which force them back to the safety of the ranks. Even those who have climbed their way to positions of authority, look back on the path they took and can hardly recognize it, with policy and technology changes obscuring and isolating them from bringing others along. The Navy is at the foot of an impossibly high pile of interrelated and cascading issues with no clear path to the top and all of our training and motivation seems to mean nothing when we are not sure how to stabilize the stack to make passage possible.
There is a beacon of hope to guide our efforts, however. Those with the depth of knowledge and experience to see the full set of obstacles are of highest value. Yet with so many people energetic to climb the mountain, it seems that those with the perspective to guide them may be tired from the climb, entrenched in the system which they navigated or bound by the intricacies of bureaucracy. Those of us just beginning our ascent cannot follow their paths, and they aren’t calling down the mountain. The entire way we have been trying to innovate is flawed because we are pulling pieces out from the already unstable bottom, without any guidance from those with a much broader, more mature vantage point.
The Conditions are Right
Anyone who has begun a precarious climb knows that without the right equipment, angle, and direction you are just asking for the ground to crumble beneath you. This is, at best, comical, as you struggle without making any progress and, at worst, dangerous. We, as aspiring innovators, are not navigating the treacherous path of change as well as we should. Yet there are many of us, trained up and passionately ready, to build a navigable trail so that we can tame the mountain.
We must begin. We have tools. We have ideas. We have experts. We have the time. All we are waiting for is the right people to give us the go ahead, and to guide us from their elevated positions. We need those fearless enough to reach great heights to call again upon that fortitude and communicate with us.
The greatest barriers to innovation are feelings of being overwhelmed, thinking in isolated terms, and failure to launch. The time is right, with motivated innovators ready to start who understand the complexity of the issues and are eager for support and guidance. It is time to begin.
The Solution is Perspective
This last piece of the puzzle is one that our enthusiasm and creativity cannot overcome. We know the value of climbing the mountain; we know the programs, incentives and awards meant to entice us to attack the mountain. We know the bemoaned complaints and the fiery desire for improvement that pushes from behind us. Neither of these are new phenomena and yet relatively little progress is attempted. Every time one problem is fixed, it tugs at the thousand other things to which it is tied and the system rejects the amendment or absorbs it with little appreciation for the intent of the improvement.
Junior leaders simply can’t see a way to conquer it all with our limited experience and perspective. We need senior leaders to take a risk and trust that given a problem, we can provide creative solutions. Then we need them to use that position to properly define the problem, so that we are not solving it from our too-close vantage point, but with proper respect for the breadth and depth of the systems we may impact. There is a broad call out for improvements and passionate leaders giving us broad directions. This is simply not working – the paths they took no longer exist, and the workable way ahead is difficult to distinguish. The mountain is ever more treacherous, precariously balanced and threatening.
Solutions seem easy to come by, and there are many smart, innovative people seeking them with reckless abandon. Yet these are simple solutions to simple problems. No problem in the Navy exists in a truly simple form, or in a vacuum. An entire generation is waiting for their moment, but is unable to see the tangled infrastructure supported by that rock they seek to demolish. We are waiting for the opportunity to marry our education and enthusiasm. Many of the best and brightest spend a lot of time working on wonderful, well thought out solutions. Those who have worked hard and attained the rank and authority to enact change are constantly looking for creative solutions, or those who can help them craft them. With so many people putting forth so much time and effort, there is no shortage of solutions.
Without a clearly defined problem, we can’t know if brilliant solutions are hitting the mark. No amount of innovation or hard work can overcome a poorly defined problem. We need to not only be more enthusiastic in our creative problem solving efforts, but deliberate in defining our problem defining. The accuracy of the definition of the parameters of a problem will directly correlate to the effectiveness of the solution, and when there is no clearly defined problem at all, the solutions are bound to cause more harm than good. The Navy has some of the most innovative minds at all levels of leadership. Junior officers are ready to craft solutions, anxiously anticipating and even creating problems. The youngest members of the wardroom may see many of the problems, but without the scope and clear direction that could be provided by senior leaders, we are bound to waste precious time and effort building paths in the wrong direction. Senior leaders need only shine light down the mountain and give us permission to build.
We have a need, as a Navy, to be better stewards of our own system. We have a responsibility to tackle the mountain of outdated policies and known shortcomings. We need well-defined targets, measured perspective, and large-scale cooperation to manage the secondary and tertiary effects of change. We need not run up the gravel bottom only to backslide, tired and frustrated. There are great leaders along the path; there are many more ready to band together for the trek to the top. Define a problem clearly, give us permission to upset norms, and we will eagerly bring ideas to make the mountain more manageable.
The Navy is at a tipping point. With the rapid rise of advanced technologies in the commercial sector and shrinking defense budgets, the Navy is being forced to modernize at the same time that it is contracting. Near peer adversaries like Russia and China, regional actors like Iran and North Korea, and even terrorist forces are able to take advantage of social networks and personal communications devices to organize, communicate and provide command and control of their forces.
In many cases, the tools they are using to communicate – iPhones, Twitter, and Facebook- are superior in some ways to the tools our Navy uses to communicate. Our potential adversaries can leverage the power of social media and collaboration in ways the Navy has not mastered. They do it cheaper, faster, and with more agility than the US Navy. The Navy seems to be frozen in time.
Technology is the simple part. The existence of the right technology is not the problem. Low-cost computer systems are powerful enough to run nearly any software we like. The exponential development of microprocessors and storage has driven the cost of commercial software and hardware to the point of making these essentially disposable. Software designers can program vehicles to drive autonomously and coordinate over the air communications for hundreds of millions of people every day.
The problem is, the Navy as a business enterprise is not able to take advantage of low cost, disposable solutions. The Navy enterprise is made up of people and people make decisions. In the aggregate, the decisions the Navy makes are not leading to a leaner, more lethal force. The current culture of the Navy is designed to reinforce maintenance of the status quo.
The Navy has a culture problem. The CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell tried to fix that problem.
The Chief of Naval Operation’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) had two missions. The first was to rapidly bring new concepts and technologies into the Navy. The second was to build a culture of innovation within the Navy. For the first mission, the CRIC was wildly successful. The CRIC, in three years, brought additive manufacturing to ships, highlighted augmented reality in the workplace, and used data analytics and machine learning in new ways to drastically reduce the time and cost of integrating systems of maintaining aircraft. Two CRIC projects, a cyber security project and a project on rapidly reconfigurable mission packages, shifted over $1 billion in Navy investment. None of these projects cost the Navy more than $2 million and most took fewer than two years to complete.
The second mission, building a culture of innovation, has been harder.
CRIC was founded in the middle of sequestration and as a result has had a prejudicial mark against it from Congress since its beginning. As a result, CRIC was unable to grow and accept additional funding from outside sources. The mark against the CRIC was a procedural step, likely meant to set a firm stand against small, pet projects. It was an easy cut for a staffer in Congress to make.
CRIC members have included Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard personnel in the ranks of E-5, E-6, O-2, O-3, and O-4. Despite the direct relationship to the Chief of Naval Operations, CRIC members universally received strong resistance to their implementing their ideas. This resistance came from a single group.
The people who were barriers to innovation for CRIC members were E-7 to E-9, O-5 and O-6, and GS-15 in the civilian ranks. Without exception, those who have a tendency to resist innovation, and the power to do something about it, are the senior managers in the Navy. This group is the “frozen middle” of the Navy. It is both the group that is most resistant to change, and also the group that is most needed to carry forward change.
The enlisted sailors had it the worst. There were several enlisted CRIC members who were unable to continue in the CRIC simply due to the pressure they felt from the Chief’s Mess at their parent commands. In some cases, enlisted sailor’s careers were only salvaged when they transferred out of their commands. The success of many of our enlisted CRIC members was only because of influence from our CRIC director, and in some cases, intervention by the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy himself. The CRIC was often toxic for enlisted sailors. It gave them hope they could change things in the Navy.
The culture of the Navy does not support enlisted innovators. It is not clear that has changed.
On the officer side, life was only marginally better. The Navy has a culture that supports officers speaking their ideas. Essays in Proceedings and USNI Blog are evidence this culture is strong. It is a different thing altogether for junior officers to implement their ideas.
Resources for innovation are only held at the flag officer and senior executive level. The O-5, O-6, and GS-15 of the Navy are the gatekeepers. Those resources are hotly contested and subject to large councils of stakeholders, who make decisions on if and when the resources will be allocated. For the senior officer on the council, their ability to maintain funding and support for their project portfolio is paramount. New ideas, injected in the council, especially from those twenty years their junior, may disrupt projects that span decades. As a result, those people responsible for maintaining those programs are resistant to, if not openly hostile to CRIC ideas.
The problem comes in when the new idea is actually better than the old idea. There is little opportunity to supplant the old idea because the gatekeepers knowingly or unknowingly block access to the meetings and resources. When ideas are considered, the administrative requirements to present an idea from the junior lieutenant level up to the decision-maker provide additional barriers to innovation beyond what the senior manager is required to provide.
Despite it all, the CRIC was successful in getting projects completed faster, cheaper, and more effectively than the rest of the Navy. The CRIC accomplished this in part by recognizing the importance of the “golden triangle.”
For any successful enterprise, three roles are critical. First is the junior-minded individual with an idea. This person is important because they provide fresh perspective to problems and youthful energy. The second is the mentor. That is the senior person who provides wisdom, experience, guidance, and often resources. The third is the technical expert. This is the person who has the technical acumen to actually take the idea into reality. The technical expert could be an engineer, policy maker, or acquisitions professional.
In the CRIC, the Chief of Naval Operations played the role of senior mentor, providing the ultimate top cover. Each successful member of the CRIC had more than one senior mentor. The CRIC developed strong working relationships with many of the other flag officers and senior executives throughout the Navy.
The CRIC member played the role of the junior-minded individual. Junior-minded is key because the role is tied to a mindset, not an actual age or rank. CRIC was able to develop strong relationships with senior mentors because CRIC provided raw, unfiltered opinions and ideas directly to the leaders. Both groups were reminded that not only were there ways to do things better, but the senior leader had the ability to make consequential changes to remove barriers to innovation.
Technical experts varied. Arranged groupings between subject matter experts for a CRIC member’s project and the CRIC member usually ended in failure. The better way was when the CRIC member and the technical expert met each other and discovered a shared passion. The CRIC member often brought with them top cover and resourcing from the senior mentor.
There is another group critical in the CRIC’s success. There were key individuals in the ranks of the “frozen middle” that were not frozen. They may not have all been innovators themselves, but they were enablers. They provided top cover and process development for the CRIC member. They were the ones who took the initial CRIC idea and turned it into doctrine and policy. They were the ones physically removing language in the policy documents, and standing in those rooms fighting for resourcing for the CRIC projects.
Those Chiefs, Commanders, Captains, and Senior civilians became a part of the “golden triangle.” They embraced change and innovation and shepherded the Navy on a new course. There are small pockets of hope within the “frozen middle.”
The CRIC built a culture of innovation for junior sailors and officers and for a generation of senior leaders. The CRIC is fading away under its congressional mark, but its work is not over. It is time to unfreeze the middle in order to build the future Navy … even in today’s constrained fiscal reality.
The time for the CRIC to change the culture is over. The Navy needs to take the culture of innovation developed by the CRIC and transition it. That is a job for the newly unfrozen middle.
The Navy seems to have an evaluation problem. Every time FITREP season rolls around, virtually everyone agrees that the system is not adequate but differs on the best way to improve it. Some of the common criticisms include: the system is outdated, it is too focused on timing and not on performance, we need more feedback, it does not accurately reflect performance, and so on, and so on. Is this an accurate portrayal? Is the current system used as it is supposed to? Can we make it better?
Before any changes can be proposed to enhance how the Navy evaluates its officer corps, let’s revisit how the system is supposed to work. How many people have read the Navy’s BUPERS Instruction 1610.10D on evaluations? Unless you were looking for something to help you sleep, you probably have not read it in its entirety. However, within the 217 pages of this instruction there are morsels of information that if implemented properly could enhance the current system.
For instance, one of the biggest critiques of the current officer evaluation system is that the feedback received is inadequate, untimely, and generally not reflective of a person’s actual job performance. If we return to the BUPERS INST (Encl 1, paragraph 5), it provides the following guidance for how to conduct a thorough counseling:
The objectives are to provide feedback to the member and to motivate and assist improvement. Performance counseling starts with a fair assessment of the member’s performance and capabilities, to which the member contributes. It identifies the members’ strengths and motivates their further improvement. It also addresses important weaknesses, but should not dwell on unimportant ones. It should avoid personality and concentrate on performance.
On paper, this sounds great. It is very cut and dry; you’ll discuss performance, address strengths/weaknesses, and be focused on the officer’s development. But more commonly, these sessions are treated more as a formality, where an officer’s timing in relation to other officers is discussed, vague generalities are exchanged, and the debriefing is attempting to cover roughly six months of work where the details of performance recalled from months ago have often faded from memory. The frequent result is an officer walking away from a session with the advice of “just keep doing what you’re doing.” Evaluations of our officers should not be confined to a twice a year sit-down with the CO. Evaluation, and more importantly feedback, must be continuous. In aviation, aircrews debrief every flight, yet somehow this same feature eludes naval officers when discussing leadership, improvement, and development as an officer in general. The guidance already exists; there is no reason why this feedback should be constrained to only counseling and FITREP debriefs.
What are we evaluating?
When examining a topic as broad as this, it is essential to step back and ask just exactly what is the point? What are we evaluating? Are we evaluating how you did at a job, or how you will do at the next one? Are we choosing who will be the next Department Head, or Commanding Officer, or Admiral? To this end, there should be two overarching goals of the Navy’s officer evaluation system:
- Promotion potential
Feedback needs to be an honest appraisal of performance. In the current paradigm, the norm is that officers write their own evaluation for their FITREP. How can your FITREP provide a candid assessment of your performance when YOU write your own FITREP? The process is intrinsically self-inflated, full of hyperbole, and over-embellished. In order to give an objective assessment of their performance, an officer’s FITREP should be written by his or her superior. At the same time, promotion potential must continue to be part of the system. It is imperative that officer evaluations and rankings not only address the past performance but also how well the individual could perform at future positions of responsibility and authority. We are, after all, training and advancing the Navy’s next generation of leaders. But rankings must reflect the job you did and not the job you are going to do. Poor or weak performance should not be overlooked in favor of advancing a career at a desirable future job. Typically, an individual’s past performance is a direct indicator of how they will perform in the future. The problem with the current system is when these sometimes competing objectives of past performance and promotion potential are out of balance with each other.
There are existing methods of evaluation in other services that should be examined for application into the Navy. One method that is gaining traction in both the military and civilian sectors is the use of 360-degree reports, which uses feedback from an individual’s peers, supervisors, and subordinates. The U.S. Army currently mandates that all of their officers complete a 360-degree assessment at least once every three years on what is called the Multi-Source Assessment and Feedback Program (MSAF). Using MSAF, Army officers first answer a short self-assessment and then select the individuals they want to solicit feedback from, including peers, superiors, and subordinates. Responding to a MSAF request is optional and any responses are anonymous. A typical assessment takes only 5-10 minutes to complete.
So how is the Army’s MSAF program doing? According to a 2013 evaluation of MSAF, “approximately 50 percent of its participants said that the process revealed an unknown aspect of themselves, 33 percent said they discovered a weakness, and 17 percent said they discovered a strength.” 360-degree reviews can provide a worthy dimension to the development of our naval officers.
In April 2013, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey outlined his plan to implement a 360-degree system to evaluate admirals and generals with the feedback from their superiors, peers, and subordinates. Since then, there has been a rigorous discussion within the Department of Defense to determine if 360-degree evaluations should be implemented throughout the services at all levels. To determine the efficacy of 360s, the RAND Corporation was enlisted to conduct an in-depth study that was published in 2015.
The RAND Study had several recommendations and conclusions. The most notable was that they advised against incorporating 360s service-wide, at least for now:
Use of 360s without careful attention to content, design, and delivery can be harmful to an organization and not worth the time and money spent on them. Thus, mandating 360 assessments force-wide, even for development purposes, is not necessarily the right answer to solving leadership problems within the services and could waste significant resources. Rather it is more advisable to allow the services to continue on their current paths, expanding the use of 360s in a way that is tailored to individual service needs and goals.
The Navy should continue, as RAND suggested, to “expand the use of 360s in a way that is tailored” to Navy-specific needs and goals. As alluded to above, opponents of 360-degree reports primarily contend that they are time consuming and expensive to maintain. With respect to these arguments, RAND looked at 15 different leadership development practices currently employed by the Army, and MSAF was shown to be the least time-consuming and the least expensive practice. Furthermore, it is absolutely integral that we as an organization view this not as an expenditure, but as an investment, an investment in our leaders, an investment in our officer corps, an investment in our Navy, and an investment in our future.
Proponents of 360-degree evaluations argue that the direct supervisor may not be in the best position to evaluate, it adds multiple perspectives, and multiple raters are more reliable than a single rater. Currently, the Navy is the only service to have a single rating official on their officer evaluations. Fundamentally, 360s provide a viewpoint that would not typically be available. There is also empirical evidence that shows that employees have mostly positive reactions to 360-degree reports. RAND documented the work of Edwards, Ewen, and Vendantam (2001) that showed “responses to surveys of more than 1,400 employees in multiple companies revealed that over 75 percent of respondents reported that the program added useful information and improved process fairness, felt that feedback was helpful, and recommended the 360 process.” The Navy should immediately move to utilize 360-degree reports as a tool for officer development. Depending on the success, it could be reexamined down the road if 360s would play a bigger role in evaluation. This focus on development provides further feedback and opportunities to strengthen our collective leadership.
Innovation and interoperability
The military world and the civilian world are very different and yet very similar. Many of the same leadership principles and practices in top Fortune 500 companies are just as applicable in the military as they are throughout the business world. General Electric was founded by Thomas Edison in 1892 and has grown to become one of the world’s largest and most successful companies with over 300,000 employees and in 2015 ranked #8 on the Fortune 500 list. GE, once famous (or infamous) for their “vitality curve” evaluation system, where employees were ranked annually and the bottom 10 percent fired, is revolutionizing how they conduct their assessments and performance reviews.
In a world that is increasingly technologically advanced and progressively interconnected, information needs to be passed real-time. GE has deduced that the same principle must be applied with feedback and how companies evaluate performance. A performance system that reflects on the previous year is, by its very nature, already outdated. Therefore, performance feedback must be conducted real time. GE’s innovative new approach, very characteristic of the young tech-driven millennial generation, employs the use of a management app called “[email protected]” or “Professional Development at GE.” In this program, each employee has near-term goals or “priorities” and managers are supposed to have frequent discussions called “touchpoints” that specifically address progress on those goals. These “touchpoints” must note what was discussed, committed to, and resolved. The emphasis isn’t so much on grading and ranking, but on constant improvement.
Employees can give or request feedback at any point through a feature called “insights,” which isn’t limited to their immediate manager, or even their division. Normally, you never get that feedback unless you manage to track someone down the next day, which people rarely do, and only from a direct manager. If you wait for an annual review, any specifics are probably long forgotten. There’s an emphasis on coaching throughout, and the tone is unrelentingly positive. The app forces users to categorize feedback in one of two forms: to continue doing something, or to consider changing something.
Could this paradigm just as easily be applied to the Navy? Absolutely! The Navy has recently incorporated the use of apps in other areas and this could certainly be examined. Even without use of an app as the delivery device, all of the same principles need to be embraced. Continuous, timely, and pertinent feedback on performance and progress on objectives is imperative. Call it coaching, call it leading, call it whatever you want, but the incremental steps towards achieving small goals is what makes organizations able to accomplish big goals.
If we are to sustain an efficacious evaluation system, it is important to utilize the tools we have first. Everyone has a different leadership style and you always have to tailor your approach to different people and situations. For this, there can be no substitute for pure, unadulterated leadership. However, it is clear that junior officers are hungry for meaningful, timely, and reflective feedback in their evaluations. If Navy leaders moved away from the norm of having officers write their own FITREPs, embraced 360-degree reports for officer development, utilized existing metrics to provide feedback as originally intended, and continue to pull techniques from successful organizations, the current evaluation system could be greatly enhanced. Ultimately, the evaluation system needs to focus on feedback for an officer’s performance and his/her promotion potential. We need a system that fosters and encourages feedback. We need a system that weighs performance more than timing and personality. We need an innovative approach to this system.
The tremendous daily buildup of vehicle traffic at US naval installations represents both a critical safety and critical security vulnerability. Additionally, the backup and standstill of traffic obstructing the local neighboring communities is an impediment to the local economy. The buildup is not limited to any single element of the installations, infrastructure, or organization, but a combination of these elements. Ultimately, the question arises that if there were a major incident at an installation that required mission essential personnel to be rapidly recalled and available, could they affectively arrive at their duty assignment within a respectable amount of time? Innovative solutions must be sought and implemented to decrease the overall amount of heavy traffic at these locations, while sustaining the appropriate level of security measures.
Anti-terrorism/Force Protection (ATFP) measures seek to diminish and prevent the possibility of a terrorist attack against US military forces. These measures focus on a variety of implementations aimed at providing the optimal level of security, with the capacity to make adjustments as necessary. Since 9/11, naval installations worldwide have seen a dramatic overhaul of their primary access points; however, have the communities surrounding these installations made adjustments as well? ATFP and security measures are directly aligned to protect both the shore and afloat commands attached to each installation. It is certainly not an easy task, particularly at the large fleet concentration areas.
Every day thousands upon thousands of military, government civilians, contractors, and families pass through the access points to naval installations. For most of the military assigned to afloat commands, there are normally prescribed hours affiliated with commencement of the daily schedule. For example, most afloat commands have a liberty expiration time period of 0700, with a large majority of the contractor affiliated work commencing at this time as well. It can be assumed that ‘peak hours’ of arrival and departure are from 0530-0730 and from 1500-1700 respectively. It is also implied that the heaviest amounts of traffic in the vicinity of the installation are during these times.
The causes of these backups and delays actually appear rather obvious. Many of the issues surrounding the impairment and inefficiency of traffic flow are not complicated and they may/may not be strictly limited to any single point of failure. A delay in one location may have a ripple effect for delays at other locations throughout the access point, local community, highway, etc. After witnessing the traffic patterns at multiple naval installations, a variety of conclusions can be drawn as to the reasoning for these delays. Additionally, with each conclusion, simple solutions can be addressed to help fix this rapidly growing problem.
Organization: Operations officers assigned to both afloat and ashore commands (attached to an installation) should be meeting with installation command operations officers weekly to address security, schedule, and events. The deconfliction and alignment of identifying each command’s weekly priorities and the affects this might have are imperative! Furthermore, greater focus can be placed on individual commands making necessary adjustments to support the installation. This could include staggering working hours, altering the working hours to arrive/depart at different times, and realigning the daily schedules all with the intention of working to reduce and minimize traffic during ‘peak hours’.
Infrastructure: The patterns of roadways, traffic lights, intersections, etc. play a dramatic role on the overall movement of quantities of vehicles and personnel into the installation. The main access points are only designed to support a certain capacity; however, the surrounding infrastructure funneling into these points needs to be better aligned. This is of particular importance during ‘peak hours’, where alternative measures MUST be implemented to support the greater magnitude in traffic. For example, a stoplight outside an installation is inappropriate during ‘peak hours’. It creates a hindrance and buildup of incoming or departing traffic at the critical points of entry.
Local community cooperation / involvement: Installations should be reaching out to local communities and local government agencies to better align priorities and schedules. Substantial local community inhibitors include train schedules, construction, public transportation, and other activities that directly cause the traffic in the vicinity of the installation to be significantly affected or even cause alternative routes to be established. Simple communication can help enable better planning.
Technology: Creating a system analogous to the “TSA-PRE” security system could generate express lanes for installation entrance. This system would be designed to allow designated military CAC holders to enter the installation having been “pre-checked”. For security measures, a gate guard could be assigned and monitors could be placed for verification purposes. Furthermore, creation of an APP (password/security required) to show the traffic patterns, average wait times, gate changes, gate locations, etc. would assist in rerouting traffic. This would reduce traffic at specific locations and support relay of valuable information to motorists.
Driver competency and awareness: One aspect that cannot be ignored is the individual driver of the motor vehicle. Drivers need to be conscious of their surroundings and recognize they too have a direct impact. As a result, seek to reduce the distance between cars, have identification prepared to present, don’t fixate on one specific lane – seek the open lane and then readjust once on base, and don’t be that guy that runs the yellow light and gets stuck in the intersection! Numerous minuscule measures can make a tremendous difference.
The problem does not necessarily exist at the primary installation access point. It is a continuum of factors that each injects an effect. These factors can certainly be massaged to allow a much smoother flow of personnel, automobiles, delivery trucks, etc. I encourage every single person that commutes to work, entering a naval installation either on foot, bicycle, or motor vehicle, to pause for a few seconds and realize that we have a problem. Look for those inhibitors and barriers to efficiency. Look for those specific items that have a detrimental effect on traffic flow. This is a problem that CAN be fixed, it just requires a little “outside the box” thinking to address. Safety and security are of utmost importance to an installation; however, this is certainly threatened with the daily inefficiencies in traffic management.
*Writer’s note: Sensitivity must be observed while addressing this topic. The use of specific locations, specific installations, etc., should remain very general. Focus should remain on the various inhibitors to the overall traffic flow entering installations and what we can do to fix it.
I am concerned that the Navy will soon be mandated to innovate. Even worse, that the process will be bureaucratized. In a memo dated 31 Jul 2015, Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) Ash Carter directed the Defense Business Board (DBB) to “provide recommendations on how the Department can establish ‘virtual consultancies’ that engage our internal talent.” Six months later, the DBB approved a recommendation to designate an entity within the Office of the Secretary of Defense to champion innovation efforts and to serve as a forcing function for cultural change within the organization. While I agree with the spirit of the recommendation, I believe the Navy can – and will – be more successful by innovating through internal channels.
That being said, I still believe the number one barrier to innovation is organizational culture, in which individual leaders do not invite – or support – their subordinates to challenge the status quo. It’s easy to understand why. To invite change into an organization requires courage and effort. Courage to listen, disrupt, and possibly fail. Effort to mentor, follow-through, and champion. It also takes precious time away from the daily routine and more “pressing” matters.
The Secretary of Defense has certainly reinvigorated the innovative spirit within DoD, and many efforts are afoot to facilitate innovation initiatives. Examples include: CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), SECDEF’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), ATHENA, and Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) just to name a few. Innovative efforts, however, are not just restricted to the upper echelons. Enlisted members, Junior Officers (JOs), and DoD civilian are getting involved too – in big ways. Under their own initiative, they are self-organizing, collaborating, and making things happen across the Fleet. DoN should take note.
Good ideas have no rank
For example, Surface Warfare detailing (PERS-41) championed three JO innovation cells to undertake a broad series of initiatives to lead the Navy in recruiting and retaining top talent. In March 2016, a DC symposium – organized by JOs, for JOs – will tackle the challenge of how to better evaluate our officers. Later that month, a team of operators and domain experts will gather in Hawaii to develop human-centered solutions to the challenges of Integrated Air Missile Defense Mission coordination. Stakeholders – even very senior ones – are paying attention.
In a message dated 08 Feb 2016, Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus announced his 2015 innovation award winners – ranging from Third Class Petty Officers, Midshipmen, PhD civilians, and senior officers. These winners tackled a wide-variety of challenges to include robotics/autonomous systems, data analytics, additive manufacturing, energy, weapons, decision aide, and many others. Of particular note were the categories of innovation leadership and innovation catalyst. What can be learned from these innovation leaders? More importantly, what is their formula – or process – for inspiring a culture of innovation success?
Opportunities for Innovation
According to the Department of the Navy’s innovation vision, “the [Navy] must anticipate, adapt, and thrive in a rapidly changing environment, which requires freedom, the flexibility to innovate at all levels, and the ability to flatten the organization, break-down silos, and create cross-disciplinary synergies.”
Perhaps SECNAV’s guidance says it best:
- Commanders at every level must create an environment which allows for the challenging of assumptions, the creation of novel ideas and strategies, and the support to follow-through and make an impact.
- Commanders at all levels must identify the appropriate conditions for taking risks.
- Prudent risk takers, and the failures which result in learning, must be recognized and rewarded.
- Zero-Defect thinking must not permeate promotion boards or performance assessments. Failure that occurs in a learning environment ultimately benefits the organization.
The key to DoN’s innovation success will be a collection of individual leaders who inspire trust in their people – willing to listen, provide feedback, and champion good ideas wherever they may come from. Our DoN members are already partnering with internal Navy circles, industry, small businesses, and academia to organize projects, symposiums, innovation forums, and task groups. I urge Navy leadership to leverage the enthusiasm and creativity already resident inside our organization today. Innovation success relies on relationships and empowerment, not mandates and directives.
Guile: /ɡīl/ noun: sly or cunning intelligence. Oxford Dictionary
In the Aeneid, Virgil describes the contentious arguments between Achilles and Odysseus on whether the Greeks should adopt a strategy of force or one of guile to defeat their antagonists in the city of Troy. Odysseus eventually wins, with the famous Trojan Horse ultimately successful in this epic battle. Similarly, in Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan rejects the advice of his advisors and opts to deceive Eve rather than face God in a battle of force. The philosophical debate of guile versus force has faced us since the beginning of humanity and remains relevant today.
The two preceding literary examples illustrate strategies based on guile rather than brute force. As a nation, we too must develop cunning options for state-level competition rather than simply relying on direct military action to achieve political objectives. This will only occur if we have the right personnel in our ranks. Historically naval officers, because of our decentralized and semi-autonomous control structures and their inherent ability to deviate from established doctrine, have been best suited for this task. During World War II, for example, rather than attack the most strongly-held islands of Imperial Japan, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps’s South Pacific campaign bypassed both Rabaul and Truk, attacking somewhat less-defended places instead.
Thoughtful naval experts paint a much different picture of the future than what the Pentagon is planning for today. Indicators clearly show future wars will be fought by smaller, dispersed units, with more sophisticated technology, in a data-centric environment. Success will be enabled by competency in skills such as real-time surveillance and analysis, machine-human teaming, data manipulation, and influence operations. In contrast, relying solely on the ability to “kill people and break things” through brute force will leave the nation woefully unprepared for the future.
China too seems to be preparing for modern conflict, as indicated in their recently announced defense reorganization. One significant change is the creation of the Strategic Support Forces (SSF).
…the SSF will consist of three independent branches: ‘cyber force’ with ‘hacker troops’ responsible for cyber offense and defense; ‘space force’ tasked with surveillance and satellites; and ‘electronic force’ responsible for denial, deception, disruption of enemy radars and communications systems. The SSF integrates the previous PLA General Staff Headquarters Third and Fourth Departments, responsible for technical reconnaissance, electronic warfare, cyber intelligence and cyber warfare, as well as absorbing the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the former PLA General Political Department, tasked with information operations, propaganda and psychological warfare.
Developing artful naval “guileists” to counter future threats will take deliberate effort and will certainly make many traditionalists in the ranks today, often incentivized to maintain the status quo, very uncomfortable. Yet these are the types of people we need to confront opponents who mix electronic, cyber, intelligence and psychological warfare. Four recommendations to achieve a more cunning naval force follow.
Unleash our thinkers: Bold, cunning thinkers cannot be limited to our special operations community and the clandestine service. We need to develop a generation of leaders who can follow a script when required but who can also apply ingenuity to tactical problems when the operational situation necessitates and that will not occur by happenstance.
Now that the mind-numbing debate on full gender integration has ended, we need to make this new reality an operational advantage. At the heart of the gender integration debate was the controversial Marine Corps Study. While opponents of gender integration pointed to the results of physical tasks, they ignored that mixed gender units scored higher on cognitive tasks than did all-male units. We are doing our enemies a great service if we continue to measure the value our Sailors and Marines, male or female, based on their ability to carry a box of rocks, or similar tasks equally well-suited for a donkey, rather than creative guile.
We need to prepare all leaders, female and male, who are sly and cunningly intelligent by nature, for a greater role in military planning, not simply being familiar with the mechanics of the planning process but actually crafting ingenious solutions. To do this, we need to create an environment where men and women are comfortable challenging industrial-age paradigms of warfare.
In addition, however, female officers must take advantage of increasing opportunities and must not hesitate to challenge traditional schools of thought and create new ones, when appropriate. If women bring different or better skills to the fight, they have the obligation to put them into practice, this is more important than simply trying to fit in. For example, female voices have been conspicuously absent from the recent discourse on military reform, defense innovation, and naval strategy.
As context, it has been my personal observation that non-white male officers tend to stay within the established “box,” because they continually have to prove themselves to be fully qualified. Their counterparts more freely operate “outside the box” because they are often assumed to be fully qualified. This dynamic will only change with greater heterogeneity in our leadership corps. And it is incumbent on our senior leaders to encourage all subordinates with good ideas to let them loose.
Create complex problem solvers: The current military education and training systems create excellent linear thinkers. Unfortunately, the problems they will confront on a complex and uncertain battlefield will be wicked problems that they are ill-prepared to solve.
Wicked problems are unique, complex ones which are often poorly defined and interconnected to other thorny problems. Using a linear approach to solve them often creates additional challenges or significant unanticipated consequences. While creating artful, cunning options is part of the solution, these actions must be placed in their proper context and the entire set of interconnected relationships must be examined before execution. Military officers must develop increased sensing and awareness to ensure an effective feedback loop is created.
Design thinking offers great potential to enable our military officers to adapt in a complex environment. This structured approach, widely used in today’s most agile civilian companies, should be added to our current training systems and fully integrated into the military planning process.
Purge the risk averse: Making cunning military decisions requires a heightened level of risk-taking. Today, we tend to promote our most risk-averse officers. Following established practices, making no waves, being overly deferential to rank, and adhering to conventional schools of thought are safe ways to advance careers in today’s military. This unfortunate reality will have disastrous results in the future.
DoD’s Force of the Future and other personnel reform initiatives in the Pentagon focus on managing actual talent and deemphasize simply hitting career milestones. To support these essential reforms, the military services must also overhaul their approach to assessing performance and eliminate the single top-down, subjective reporting of officer fitness. Leaders must reward subordinates who succeed by getting outside of the pattern.
Part of assessment reform must address an officer’s ability to understand and manage risk, and comfort with assuming it when appropriate. While sometimes operationally needed, many officers are risk averse simply to protect their careers or to keep their boss out of trouble, even when that boss may not share the sentiment. Being overly cautious is as dangerous as being reckless on the future battlefield and we need to purge the risk averse from operational leadership positions.
Defeat hubris: Around the Pentagon and within the operating forces, bombastic proclamations such as “fighting at a time and place of our choosing” or “using overwhelming firepower to achieve victory” are often heard. While useful for motivating (or perhaps deceiving) ourselves, in reality the United States no longer has this luxury. Our challengers fight us globally, and don’t count our divisions, air wings or aircraft carriers. Further, we believe our own questionable analytical models, used to support investment decisions and to defend outdated weapon systems, while overlooking the reality of our military performance over the past several decades.
To overcome this condition, a variety of tools should be used across all levels of the organization. Wargaming, red-teaming, simulations, and other forms of thought experiments will develop creative thinking skills while grounding military planning in reality. Unlike the Marine Corps, where officers are taught to conduct tactical decision games and to put themselves in the “enemy’s shoes” as second lieutenants, the Navy seems to reserve participation in these intellectually challenging environments for elite senior officers.
Finally, leaders would benefit from adopting the mind-set of the underdog, placing themselves in scenarios where they have limited critical resources or a numerical disadvantage. In reality, there are many scenarios in which these two conditions occur. Such circumstances are often ignored. To be successful as the underdog in any form of competition requires a different way of thinking than we observe from our military officers today.
Much has been made recently about the need to create naval strategists. But strategy devoid of guile or one relying primarily on brute military force to achieve political objectives will fail. We must create naval “guileists” who inject bold thinking and cunning ideas into the traditional ends, ways and means approach to strategy development, operational planning and tactical execution. With these we will be successful in the future.
This post appeared in its original form at CIMSEC.
Week Dates: Feb. 22-28 2016
Articles Due: Feb. 21 2016
Article Length: 800-1800 Words (with flexibility)
Submit to: [email protected]
Since we last discussed the Surface Navy’s operational concept of Distributed Lethality (DL) in July 2015, there has been a tremendous amount of progress on the topic. Distributed Lethality is the condition gained by increasing the offensive power and defensive hardening of individual warships and then employing them not only in traditional roles, but also in different ways than has been the practice in the past few decades. Distributed Lethality enables Naval Surface Forces to provide forward, visible and ready combat power for the nation. Operating forward, Naval Surface Warships execute military diplomacy across a wide geography, building greater transparency, reducing the risk of miscalculation or conflict, and promoting a shared maritime environment. Maintaining a persistent visible presence, Naval Surface Warships assure allies and partners and promote stability by deterring actions against U.S. interests. Providing credible combat power, Naval Surface Warships are ready to respond when called upon in times of crisis providing operational commanders’ options to control increased ocean areas and hold potential adversaries at risk, at range, whether at sea or ashore.
More recently, as highlighted at the Surface Navy Association’s annual Surface Navy Symposium, we were introduced to a deeper and more holistic update on Distributed Lethality, in terms of its value as both an organizational and operational concept. Organizationally, we heard that Distributed Lethality involves a comprehensive effort (much of VADM Rowden’s remarks discussed), that is focused on Tactics, Training, Talent and Tools (i.e., weapons, sensors and platforms; “if it floats it fights…,” of which the Director of Surface Warfare RADM Fanta’s presentation revealed). Operationally, we learned that Distributed Lethality involves harnessing 3 key initiatives to ensure we can fight and win in any environment: those initiatives are “to Deceive, Target and Destroy.”
There has been a significant investment in thinking about the problem throughout the past year. More recently, the approach to understanding the concept has been largely twofold: first, we’ve worked to understand what value DL could bring to the Surface Force and a step further, to the larger Fleet. We’ve approached this through three primary lines of effort: wargaming, analytics and operational experimentation. Studying the results of more than 15 wargames in 2015 alone, substantial analytics from multiple sources and operational experimentation deepened our understanding of the value that a distributed and more lethal Naval Surface Force can provide across a number of scenarios and ranges of conflict. We are training now for our first Adaptive Force Package deployment this Spring.
During the final week of February, CIMSEC will host a series focused on the next chapter of Distributed Lethality. The theme of the next chapter gravitates around the question of “how we fight” as a more lethal and distributed force. As such, we’ve listed some of the key issues that we seek to better understand. For example: How should the upcoming Adaptive Force Package be employed: including Tactical Situation (TACSIT) execution, organic and inorganic targeting, fielding of modified weapons, and improved integration with Amphibious Forces and Expeditionary Marine Corps units in support of sea control operations? What role does Distributed Lethality play in other joint concepts such as the DOD Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC)? How will the utilization and fielding of the F-35 (Navy and Marine Corps variants) contribute to the effectiveness of Distributed Lethality? What effect will cyber warfare have on the surface forces in the context of Distributed Lethality, both offensively and defensively? How can we better utilize the signature spectrum in a complex Anti-Access/Area Denial environment? How will the addition of a long range surface-to-surface missile affect both the deterrent and warfighting ability of the Surface Navy in the various phases of conflict? What are the legal implications of arming MSC ships, both for self-defense and for a more robust offensive role? How and to what extent should the Surface Navy incorporate other nations into Distributed Lethality? What are the risks of Distributed Lethality across the various phases of conflict?
Contributions can focus on the aforementioned key issues, or can explore Distributed Lethality in a broader strategic and operational context. Submissions should be between 800 and 1800 words in length (with flexibility) and submitted no later than February 21 to the CIMSEC editorial team at [email protected].
Note from CIMSEC: We have amended our topic week schedule to accommodate this opportunity.
CAPT Cooper’s “Retaining Our Most Talented…To Fight And Win” is both exhilarating and empowering. As a SWO and Officer Recruiter (OR) for all 3 accession sources, provided are actionable recommendations to support PERS-41’s goals in front-end talent management.
For USNA/NROTC, the first sales pitch is at grey hull cruise. Deep engagement is necessary and a responsibility that lies with the COs of ships. The Midshipman Early Ship Selection Initiative is on-target to emphasize this priority.
Within Navy Recruiting Command, there are opportunities. The following are immediate impact changes that parallel the paradigm shift from ‘most willing’ to ‘most talented’ for recruiting:
- Allow SWO to be third or below choice on applications. Currently, if an applicant desires SWO behind two other communities, their application is an immediate nonselect, regardless of qualifications or desire to serve as a Naval Officer in any capacity. This creates a barrier to entry for competitive nonselects of Nuclear Power, Civil Engineer Corps and Naval Aviation (all of which are prioritized via incentives for ORs).
- If selected SWO before next higher board convenes, work with SWO ORs to push sale for acceptance vice waiting. Once the next community selects an applicant, the offer for SWO is retracted. Alternatively, remove requirement for ranking of programs until after boards convene.
- In some cases, the SWO application is more cumbersome than others. Because we are competing so extensively with other communities for talent, our application should be streamlined to the least common denominator. By removing recommendation letters and test requirements, for example, our checklist requirements would match the Nuclear Power and Civil Engineer Corps programs.
- Create Board Precept to be disseminated to the field outlining attributes desired by the initial talent pool as well as quantifiers for recruiter identification.
- Insert a structured interview with an O-3 or above SWO into the application process.
At the “identify” step, the perception among ORs is that the SWO program is leftovers. This perception is valid in that our ideal applicant is poorly defined compared to other communities. In reality, a SWO prospecting plan is nonexistent because the profile of a SWO top-performer prior to commissioning is unknown.
Beyond the horizon, SWO can differentiate itself by evolving our selection process. Doing so will create a competitive advantage over other communities. While the rest focus on GPA and test scores, the opportunity exists to emulate Fortune 500 companies utilizing job analysis to identify which behavioral competencies are most suitable for their organization and then structuring selection to hire individuals with those attributes.
The OR is our strike capability. If we make SWO distinguishable and recognizable to them, via development and formal communications, the probability of a sale for SWO over another program when better fit exists will increase and reduce the risk that applicants choose another program when SWO may best serve them. This will allow us to attack effectively first in this zero-sum game of talent acquisition.