The most dangerous threat to the safety and welfare of a nation is blind compliance. Nowhere is this more important than in the military where we have seen innumerable historical examples of the pitfalls befalling militaries unable to foster creativity and unwilling to accept change.
In the last fifty years, the American military has so embraced indoctrination, discipline, and obedience that it has strayed from its most important cornerstone principle: the spirit of rebellion. Our heroes have demonstrated those most important components of a successful military: educated dissent and independent action. We are steeped in fear of an environment overtaken by austerity; the mere possibility of consequence has transformed us into the very forces we have defeated in past wars. In our litigious, untrusting, and self-defeating system we have lost ourselves.
To bring back the true power of our military, we must look to the training pipelines that develop our junior officers. These officers must face an outdated system with a willingness to engage in honest evaluation and change as necessary. To reinvigorate the greatness of the American maritime forces, a culture which promotes honest, educated, and respectful dissent is desperately needed.
Creating the Culture
I am marked by even my brief tenure in the military. I have felt pride, shame, determination, and defeat in rapid and unpredictable succession since I first sought a commission. I am certainly not alone in cramming all of this experience into just a few intense years, which is why so many officers are deeply affected by their time in the service. Nowhere else are consequences so dire and immediate. Most of my civilian peers will have to wait a long time to learn lessons I am already tired of repeating. Success and failure in the private marketplace for most of my peers is a small gain here, a disappointment there. The reality of our lives is so exaggerated by the authority we bear in the military that it marks us permanently. The impression left behind brands us for life, no matter where we wander.
Therefore, it is the duty of senior officers to create and foster a service for which we can be proud. Yet, in reality, we are so crippled by many of the long standing bad habits of bureaucracy that this responsibility has faded to an unrecognizable nuisance.
Officers follow a predictable life cycle. We are born of idealism, suffer as those who have gone before us, and are faced with a choice: We can either become part of the system which has robbed us of much of our original intent and in so doing become a party to the suffering of future versions of ourselves, or we can leave. The problem with the off ramp is that it denies us the power to affect change. The system is victimized by officers being crushed under the unnecessary and obsolete practices of the very leaders who once spurned against it. Their strong-willed ideas for improvement are silenced before they are in a position to enact change. The system must reflect the opinions of the best and brightest, and embrace good ideas without regard for rank of the originator. We must build new and better habits to that end.
There are a handful of moments which have illuminated the problem for me; the common theme among them is dissent.
It took me a long time to realize that was the key, but my commanding officer reflected on it one day. We were trying to make a decision and I was filling in for my department head at a meeting. Two plans were briefed: the first clearly made more sense than the others for many of the departments, but it did not allow my department time to fulfill our requirements; the second meant accepting a slightly less-optimal plan for the other departments, but would allow my department time to succeed.
When we went around the table, only I supported the second plan, and rather than show any sort of creative friction in front of our commanding officer, only the first plan was presented to the CO. When agreement became the goal in order to please our commanding officer, instead of offering him honest information, we lost something crucial. In the end, though we strived valiantly, the plan failed because my department failed.
Similarly, in an ethics class as a midshipman, we were presented with a mission to take a small team out for reconnaissance. During the hypothetical mission, we were notified of a possible chemical attack and donned our protective gear. In the oppressive heat, and with no way to test for the presence of the weapon, we had to decide which member of the team to unmask to test if it was safe to remove the oppressive protective gear. Knowing only their rank and positions on the team, someone had to be put in harm’s way. Many decided to unmask themselves as the officer in charge and the few who protested were quickly silenced. The mission crumbled beneath the weight of their conscience.
Though these examples are not perfect, what we should be learning is how to make hard decisions and why it is worthwhile to endure the consequences. Silence, compliance, and timidity masquerade themselves as loyalty, humility and teamwork. If we are indeed born of idealism, it is no wonder that it perishes so early in our careers. The opportunity to dissent, respectfully and when the situation calls for it, should be something senior leadership desires. It helps keep all of us honest if truth outranks simple agreement.
Strength Through Dissent
The military needs a more comprehensive way of testing not just the intelligence of incoming officers, but their ability to think logically and critically. Many eligible and interested young adults in America are intelligent, but that is only a part of what goes into the potential to be a great leader. To cultivate a culture that supports dissention and allows for an honest exchange of information, what we need is not more intelligent officers, but something more difficult to identify. We must find those willing to disagree and be disagreed with without being unpleasant, and are wary of those who would take advantage of such liberties. By recruiting officers who are passionate about this common expectation and preserving that attitude past their initial commitment, we can build a stronger wardroom rather than simply a more intellectually entrenched one.
Innovation is the backbone of enterprise and resilience. As early as the training pipeline, prospective officers must be taught how and when to present different and ideas. If things do not make sense, officers should be encouraged to ask questions. This is far more difficult to teach and enforce; it opens up the door for perceived recalcitrance and disrespect. Yet instead of being threatened by improvement and boldness, we must seek those out as positive traits and put people willing to speak hard truths in positions of authority. A person who is courageous enough to speak the truth is worthy of our trust, whereas a person who would rather meekly go along does not fully serve our strong, modern military.
We are a country which prides itself on our rebellious spirit; a culture of dissent is only fitting for the military which protects it. We must be strong enough to stand up to poor ideas, to change systems which are not working, and to address those among us who are ill suited to the position. We must develop an unwavering desire to seek the best solutions and not simply the least offensive ones. Founded on the value of the opinion of the unheard, our country blossomed from a culture open to disagreement; its military should as well.
Ultimately, although decision making authority is and should be retained by senior officers, open solicitation of honest input from junior officers should be embraced and encouraged. What we need is not a delegation of authority, but a culture which values varied input and courageous officers.
In the military today, that rebellious spirit is strangled by the conformity required to attain promotion. This has cost us good leaders and good policy. It has kept us stuck in patterns we know are ineffective. It has led my peers to write scathing articles condemning the military’s unyielding ways as a final farewell to a career of which they were once so proud. If we want to keep the officers who see the system clearly, care enough to want reform, and are capable of bringing it about, then it is time to dissent.
Our forefathers were rebels. We are not a country of meek sheep, caring so much for ourselves that we cower before authority. The greatest Americans are those who revolt against the unfair, the outdated, and the unacceptable. Instead of teaching our fledgling officers to fall in line, why not teach them to respectfully disagree? It is time to embrace the foundations upon which our military and country were built. It is time for dissent.
CHECK IT OUT!
The ATHENA Far East inaugural event is Friday, January 15th in the Commodore Matthew Perry General Mess “Tatami Room”, from 1245-1430.
The ATHENAproject was created onboard USS BENFOLD in 2012 – Led by Dave Nobles and a group of sailors who wanted to make BENFOLD and the Navy better by developing solutions to problems that Sailors see in the Navy – anything from developing new systems or retooling old systems, to new training plans, to fixing “broken” programs. By harnessing deckplate innovations and creating a cadre of forward-thinking, creatively confident Sailors, we are paving the way for the Fleet of tomorrow.
Presenters have five minutes to pitch their idea, then the crowd votes on the ideas based on idea quality, actionability, and presentation. The winner receives the Admiral Sims Award for intellectual courage, as well as command backing, leverage of the ATHENA Network, and a small functional team to make the idea become reality.
Growth and transformation within ATHENA is accelerating and we are breaking new ground in the amount of support and interest received from our surrounding military and civilian communities. The ATHENAproject has spread from the San Diego Waterfront to Norfolk, Mayport, the Pacific Northwest and now Japan. At previous events we’ve had scientists, engineers, folks from the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell and Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, professors from local universities, and local entrepreneurs coming to ATHENA to check out the amazing ideas Sailors are coming up with!
We WANT YOU TO PRESENT AN IDEA! You can present as a team or by yourself. The presentation materials and aids are also yours to decide – the only rule is NO PowerPoint.
Your idea doesn’t have to be perfect, ATHENA is all about a group of people helping each other with ideas to make our Navy better. Even Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is talking about ATHENA: http://www.navytimes.com/
We hope to see you at the Commodore Matthew Perry General Mess on January 15th at 1245!
One of the United States Naval Academy’s primary objectives is to develop not just leaders, but leaders of character. The honor program seeks to inculcate ethical behavior by immersing Midshipmen in an environment where lying, cheating, and stealing are not tolerated, in hopes that this culture will follow graduates into the fleet.
But does the Naval Academy’s ethical development curriculum work? Right now, the Naval Academy has only one metric to help answer that question: honor offenses (lying, cheating, or stealing). If honor offenses go down, it is assumed that the current policies are working. And if honor offenses go up, a course correction is made. To honestly use honor offenses to make decisions, though, we must more deeply dissect the metric into all its parts and see what it is really telling us.
The total number of honor offenses is a product of three figures: 1) The number of honor offenses that are committed, 2) times the percentage of committed honor offenses that are witnessed, 3) times the percentage of witnessed honor offenses that are reported. Lowering any one of those three numbers will generate results that suggest mission accomplishment.
In recent history, there was a sharp decline in the number of honor offenses that coincided with a strengthening of the deterrent against committing an offense. While it was not official policy, nobody was being retained after their second offense. And many were been separated after their first.
Putting the observed decline aside for a moment, how would we expect harsher punishments to affect the three component numbers? I think it’s safe to assume that the number of honor offenses committed would decline. The harsh consequences would deter potential honor offenders who are on the fence between lying or not. But there is certainly a question as to whether the deterred Midshipmen would be ethical officers or whether they would just resort to their natural behavior once the Honor Concept is no longer binding for them.
The second number would also probably decline. Those Midshipmen who do decide to lie or cheat will go to extra lengths to conceal their actions, knowing that they will be separated if they are caught. This is certainly not a desired outcome of the harsher policy, since it is plausible that their successful skirting of authorities will reinforce dishonorable character traits.
And the third number would decline as well, since it would be harder for close friends to turn each other in to the honor system when separation is so certain. They would likely choose to just remediate each other in person, at the lowest level possible. And fewer honor offenders would get the senior officer remediation that they need.
So, with harsher punishments we’d expect all three numbers to decrease and the overall metric to indicate success. But movement in the latter two component numbers is undesirable and the movement in the first is of questionable significance.
We can’t assume that a downward trend in honor offenses is a good thing, then. It could really be indicating a lot of unhealthy developments. There’s no way to know.
The Naval Academy needs a different way to measure success. Creating a Brigade of Midshipmen that doesn’t cheat on tests, or doesn’t get reported for cheating on tests, isn’t the big picture goal. Graduating a body of officers who won’t lie in the fleet is. An ideal metric would be able to track the long term impact of the Academy’s program.
Since the Naval Academy knows where its graduates are going to be for their first five years after graduation, it has the ability to gather data from its alumni for at least that long. The Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership (the research arm of the Naval Academy’s Honor Program) could annually distribute anonymous questionnaires to all Midshipmen and initial commitment graduates to gather information about the state of honor development at Annapolis.
Questions could ask about beliefs held before coming to the Academy, behaviors and beliefs held while at Annapolis, and behaviors exhibited in the fleet. Stockdale Center personnel could analyze the data to identify whether the Academy is changing attitudes and habits, or if it is just wasting its time. And anonymous reports from Midshipmen would give a more accurate count of committed honor offenses than does the current system.
Not too long ago, I took the first steps toward creating such a questionnaire and found out quite a few interesting things. With the help of Shipmate Magazine (a Naval Academy oriented periodical), I got around 700 alumni to answer questions about their attitudes before they came to the academy, what kinds of behaviors and attitudes they exhibited at the academy, and what kinds of behaviors they demonstrated in the fleet.
The results were insightful, but limited by the one-time nature of the study. The data showed that it doesn’t matter what kind of foundation in ethics you have coming in, the Academy can give it to you. In fact, those who have no ethical foundation, but fully buy into the system, show the lowest rates of lying in the fleet.
I found that cheating and lying were correlated to being 2 and 3 times more likely to lie in the fleet, respectively. The large difference in these two offenses is surprising and needs further study to be sure that they are enduring. With the knowledge of which offenses are worse than others, we can tailor punishments and remediation programs more precisely.
The most interesting result, in my opinion, is that of the relationship between habits, beliefs, and future behavior. A lot of the Naval Academy’s honor philosophy seems to be based on the idea that if for four years Midshipmen are forced to be honorable, that habit will continue into the fleet. That might be somewhat true, but the study showed that getting a change in beliefs along with habits was twice as effective as just habits.
Optimizing our honor program should be less about the beliefs of whoever is currently in charge and more about empirically backed approaches. There is no other institution in the world that is as well placed to develop these approaches as the United States Naval Academy. By building the tools to collect data about our student body’s interaction with the honor program, we can enable current and future generations to build techniques and strategies that can be applied not only at our institution, but around the world.
CIMSEC Topic Weeks have always been an excellent way to engage our community of defense and foreign policy professionals and academics to highlight issues that deserve greater attention. CIMSEC’s upcoming topic weeks will be listed well in advance in this post to give our prospective authors more lead time to develop their ideas and contribute superb publications. Expect subsequent announcements at the beginning of each month listing specific dates and deadlines for individual topic weeks.
January: The Littoral Arena
The littorals only constitute around 15 percent of the world’s oceanic expanse, yet 60 percent of the world’s urbanized populations are located within sixty miles of the coast, including 80 percent of the world’s capitals. The U.S. Navy has only recently drawn attention to the littoral domain after decades of emphasizing blue water sea control. What are the unique warfighting challenges posed by the littorals? What capabilities and operating concepts best enable power projection in this complex environment? Can navies optimized for blue water operations effectively translate their experience into the littorals?
February: Naval Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR)
Time and time again, naval forces have performed admirably as first responders to devastating natural disasters. Naval forces can rapidly maneuver to disaster struck areas and facilitate the transfer of millions of pounds of critical supplies in a matter of weeks. The Asia-Pacific is especially prone, with over half a million lives lost and $500 billion in damages incurred within the last decade due to natural disasters. Can HA/DR operations refine warfighting skills? What are the political challenges and benefits of deploying naval forces in support of humanitarian operations? Could demand for naval aid increase as sea levels risen and climate change progresses?
March: Sino-Indo Strategic Rivalry
Much has been made of great power competition in the Asia-Pacific, with the U.S. and China considered the main actors, but India is a powerhouse in the making. India’s rapidly growing economy and modernizing armed forces ensures its relevance in the Asia-Pacific. Prime Minister Modi aligned India with U.S. policy towards South China Sea maritime disputes with a joint statement stating “We affirm the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region…” Additionally, the Indian peninsula juts 1000 km into the Indian Ocean, providing India’s carrier equipped navy superb positioning to affect sea lines of communication flowing towards the straits of Malacca. How might this strategic rivalry evolve, and is there precedent and potential for conflict?
Authors can send get in touch with the editorial team and send their submissions to [email protected]. Topic weeks are competitive and not all submissions may be accepted, so we encourage thoroughly researched contributions. CIMSEC topic weeks are our opportunity to make our mark as a community on the big discussions, and we look forward to promoting your insights.
December 20th marked our first month as Naval Innovation Advisory Council fellows, stationed in Silicon Valley. Imagine an aviator and a SWO standing at the doorstep of Silicon Valley; it has been an experience akin to Alice’s entry into wonderland. As we’ve been exposed to several corporate cultures centered on innovation, one theme continues to prevail: TRUST.
Trust requires vulnerability and leads to profound mutual respect. With trust comes openness, and with openness comes true innovation. Without trust, the best ideas remain close to people’s chests. With openness, people are more apt to engage in difficult conversations, an essential component of great collaboration. If you’ve ever experienced great collaboration you will know that it becomes much easier to frame problems and in turn, find solutions. It all starts with a solid foundation of trust among all of the organization’s members.
We are intrigued by the way top executives frequently hold open dialogue with all members of their company even (especially) about sensitive matters effecting company strategy. They trust their employees to keep the sensitive information close and the employees trust their executives to take their feedback seriously.
The Department of the Navy will only achieve organizational honesty and institutional integrity if we trust each other… And this is difficult.
How do we overcome our negative reactions to internal threat, embarrassment, perceived loss of power, and new perspectives from E-1 to O-10?
Are my Navy teammates comfortable showing me their vulnerabilities? If not, why?
How can trust be restored?
There is hope to answer these questions and enhance the level of trust in our organization. Building and restoring trust becomes easier when we focus on mutual purpose and respect. Destructive disagreement can be overcome by respect built on our common pledge to support and defended The Constitution of the United States of America.
Today, the Aviation Major Command Screen Board (AMCSB) convenes in Millington, Tennessee. It is the annual gathering to determine the future of Naval Aviation’s most promising leaders, and plays a large role in setting the strategic direction of our enterprise.
As we alluded to in our August 2015 Proceedings article “On Becoming CAG,” the fates of aspiring leaders were determined years prior to this week. FITREPs, joint jobs, and other career assignments funnel COs into competitive tracks for leadership positions, including Carrier Air Wing Commander, or CAG.
However, as the current AMCSB convenes, one troubling trend remains: Naval Aviation has gone five years since a non-VFA CAG was selected.
After publishing “On Becoming CAG,” the authors received intense positive and negative feedback about our arguments. Notably, at the annual Tailhook Reunion in Reno, Nevada this year, PERS-43 addressed the debate in an open forum (you can watch it here).
He pointed out that CAGs are responsible for the mentorship of squadron COs, with the ultimate goal of cultivating leaders who are able to replace him or her as CAG.
Reflecting on the past five years, it appears as though CAGs have failed their non-VFA Commanding Officers in this essential mentoring. All else being equal, if zero COs from outside the VFA community have been selected, we arrive at one of two conclusions:
1) VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC squadron COs have been inadequate leaders compared to their VFA contemporaries. If this is true, it points to a huge, unspoken problem in these communities that Naval Aviation has not addressed.
2) VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC squadron COs are not viewed as equally qualified leaders by CAG when FITREP time comes. If this is true, it points to a problematic culture within our ranks that Naval Aviation has not addressed.
As thousands of junior officers and Sailors will attest, we have seen many outstanding leaders from the VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC communities over the past five years. Conclusion #1 would seem to offend this reality.
As such, we are left with Conclusion #2, and the problem it exposes in the process of selecting carrier aviation leadership. The culture change needed in our collective Ready Room is the realization that aviation major command is about leadership; not tactical proficiency. We expect this proficiency of our junior officers and our junior officers expect leadership—both within the Air Wing and across the joint force—from their major commanders.
The ability to fly a strike mission from an F/A-18 or execute a flawless fly-by of the carrier are impressive skills, and it is true that only one community can really experience those fully. But CAG is a leader at the operational level of warfare, and the leadership required to execute at that level is not exclusive to the aviators of a single airframe. If our process for selecting CAGs is based on tactical proficiency as a proxy for promoting certain types of officers at the expense of an equally talented pool of others, that system–and the culture that underpins it–must change.
The authors believe that increasing the diversity of perspective at the CAG level will improve combat efficiency, leadership acumen within the air wing, and interoperability with the joint force. We invite you to join in the constructive debate of these issues.
Over the coming weeks, the authors will share some of the most common feedback received from “On Becoming CAG.” The most important takeaway is that people on each side of this issue care about Naval Aviation and seek to make it better.
It is disconcerting to read that the U.S. Navy is making itself into “an unsustainable liability” in the pages of PROCEEDINGS. This is the argument made by Captain R. B. Watts, USCG (Retired) in his essay, “Advocating Naval Heresy” in the June 2015 issue of this magazine. Captain Watts writes that since irregular warfare is the most pervasive form of warfare confronting the United States now and into the future, the U.S. Navy should have a “small combatant that can deal with the complexities of irregular warfare.” However, he continues that because the Navy is a traditionalist organization, unthinkingly wedded to a Mahanian principle that capital ships remain the primary instruments of seapower, this need for a small combatant will go unmet as the Navy continues to focus on the aircraft carrier as its primary capital ship.
The Navy does not define seapower in terms of capital ships such as the aircraft carrier. Seapower is the enduring ability to project influence through the control and exploitation of the maritime domain to include the maritime littorals and the air above it to achieve strategic, operational, or tactical objectives. Seapower gives the United States the ability to convert the world’s oceans—a global commons that covers more than 2/3’s of the planet’s surface into a medium of maneuver and operations for projecting U.S. power ashore and defending U.S. interests around the world. The ability to use the world’s oceans in this manner—and to deny other countries the use of the world’s oceans for taking actions against U.S. interests—constitutes an immense asymmetric advantage for the United States, one so ubiquitous and longstanding that it can be easy to overlook or taken for granted. Projecting seapower is independent of a capital ship, and relies, instead, upon numerous ship types to include, surface combatants, amphibious ships and attack, cruise-missile, ballistic missile submarines, and aircraft carriers—along with underway replenishment ships for logistic support.
Furthermore the Navy bases its need for the type of ships it operates on enduring geopolitical realities and not Mahanian theory. First the United States exists as an island nation between two great oceans. Second the United States is and will remain a global leader with world-wide interests and responsibilities. Third most of the world’s people, resources, and economic activity are located not in the Western Hemisphere, but in other hemispheres, particularly Eurasia.
In response to these realities the United States has designed its Navy to cross broad expanses of ocean to protect America’s global interests, and if required, conduct sustained, large-scale operations upon arrival. Countries in other hemispheres do not design their navies to do this for the very basic reason that they exist in that hemisphere, where the action is, and consequently do not confront the “tyranny of distance” or the conduct of operations without shore bases. Far from home base and operating in distant waters, the Navy uses the sea itself as its base to conduct the full range of military operations. Although bases on foreign soil can be valuable, they are not a requirement for the Navy, as they are for land-based ground and air forces. The Navy can position its forces near potential trouble spots without the political entanglement associated with the employment of land-based forces. Moreover Navy ships are integral units that carry much of their own support, and mobile logistics support can maintain them on forward stations for long periods of time. The United States needs a Navy with ships that have the range, mobility, endurance, speed, resiliency, multi-mission capability, survivability, and most importantly, lethality for global operations. This is the principal reason why the Navy has large, blue-water, ocean-going ships.
According to Captain Watts, the Navy continues to “assume that a modern Jutland” will be its future and builds capital ships such as the aircraft carrier that are no longer relevant to today’s threat environment—especially against the irregular threat. The aircraft carrier with its embarked air wing executes the full range of military operations—from deterrence, to humanitarian assistance, to large-scale combat operations, and to irregular warfare—to protect our national interests. Indeed history has shown time and time again that when our national interests are at risk, the aircraft carrier will be the first to answer the call.
There is no greater proof of the tangible effects of a carrier on global events than the initial U.S. military response to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in early 2015 during an irregular warfare scenario no less—the very form of warfare that Captain Watts states is irrelevant to the carrier. The USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH with its embarked airwing, provided for 54 days the only armed response option for the Nation to blunt ISIL’s advance with air strikes and numerous related maritime-based effects. During Operation Iraqi Freedom from March to April 2003, because of regional basing restrictions, five carriers provided very different roles. For Northern Iraq two carriers provided eight aircraft “24/7” for on-call, close air support for small, independent ground units, keeping Iraqi Army divisions tied down. For Southern Iraq, three carriers exercised the full range of airpower missions from electronic warfare, reconnaissance, airborne early warning, to strike and interdiction. Again because of basing and overflight restrictions, carriers provided majority of air support to special operations forces in the fall of 2001 for Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) that resulted in toppling the Taliban regime. They were the only viable option.
Without question many recent operations would not have been as effective or even possible absent carriers—they are an indispensable tool for national security. Studies have consistently shown the aircraft carrier provides the best combination of sustained on-station time, sortie-generation capability, sea-keeping, and defensive ability at the most reasonable value for the defense dollar. The aircraft carrier remains relevant despite technological advances among our adversaries that make access to the battlespace more challenging due to their flexibility, adaptability and lethality. While anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) threats are increasing in complexity, the Navy is evolving to address these challenges and outpace the threats through its Air Sea Battle concept. Looking more broadly at how a carrier operates with an integrated network of aircraft, sensors, and weapons, the carrier remains a viable and credible threat to any adversary. The aircraft carrier provides the Nation with an unequaled hard, soft, and smart power advantage in a single, responsive, flexible, and mobile package, unfettered by geopolitical constraints.
Captain Watts asserts in broad-brush statements that, “we need a small combatant that can deal with the complexities of irregular warfare and missions that move beyond our traditional paradigm.” Regrettably he does not describe what these irregular warfare complexities are beyond generalizing about the need for “developing a small, capable combatant to deal with the lower ends of conflict.” Offering no requirements for why the Navy needs a smaller ship, he opines that the Navy simply “hates small” despite the growing numbers of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) in the Navy’s Battle Fleet Inventory and a recently announced program to upgrade their weapons and sensors. Not surprisingly he condemns the Navy over the LCS as ships that were “never wanted” and that will likely be replaced by “new and larger combatants.” Yet on numerous occasions the Chief of Naval Operations has publicly promoted LCS with its associated adaptive force package concept as a prime means for the Navy to respond to the entire spectrum of military operations to include irregular warfare.
Captain Watts considers the rise of the China’s Navy as a non-threat that is “at best, a public-relations event for the United States.” Seen in this light the rise of the China’s Navy must also be of little concern to Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand. Many security analysts agree that China is and will remain the most significant competitor to the United States for decades to come. China continues to pursue a long-term, comprehensive military modernization program designed to improve its armed forces’ capacity to fight short-duration, high-intensity regional conflicts. Additionally, its military modernization program has become progressively more focused on investments for a range of missions beyond China’s periphery, including power projection, sea lane security, counter-piracy, peacekeeping, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief. For these reasons the Navy assesses China to represent both an opportunity and a security challenge.
The premises Captain Watts offers in his argument do not support his conclusion to the needed degree. The Navy does not have an animus to small ships such as the LCS. Additionally the Navy is an innovative, forward thinking organization as witnessed by its numerous efforts: (1) to leverage new technologies such as bio-fuels, directed energy weapons, rail gun, and unmanned vehicles in the air, on the surface and below the surface; (2) to develop new operational concepts such as Sea Basing, Distributed Lethality, and All Domain Access; and (3) to employ its ships such as the Joint High Speed Vessel and Mobile Landing Platform in alternative roles. Moreover the Navy understands seapower and comprehends that seapower’s effort must be directed at an effect ashore. The Navy fully recognizes that the United States must be a seapower nation if the United States is to influence global security conditions. Freedom to use the oceans is absolutely essential for any United States defense policy to insure the security of the United States and our allies and partners. The current fleet of Navy ships—to include the aircraft carrier—with their unique combination of combat power, mobility, sustainment, and multi-mission flexibility are well suited to operations in a global security environment in which threats cannot be anticipated and prepared for long in advance. The Navy’s fleet of ships provides the United States with the ability to use the sea for whatever purposes are necessary to the Nation.
Captain Watts concludes his argument by calling for a “time for heresy.” The Navy welcomes his call to examine contrary opinions but that examination must be based on facts and underwritten by critical thinking that is fair and objective.
Most Americans have little understanding of what our military can do – and not do. And far too many government officials have even less of an appreciation of what it takes – in people, materiel, and funding — to accomplish the missions that are deemed important to the national interest.
So far, in the 2016 campaign, there has been virtually no discussion of how we as a nation should be engaged in the trouble spots around the world. Equally disturbing, there has been even less debate about whether we are adequately funding – and thus equipping and training our soldiers, sailors, and marines — to do the jobs they are (and might be) asked to do.
This needs to change.
The debate – and it is a debate, for people of good will and thoughtful consideration – will have different opinions about how to answer these questions. But a serious conversation needs to take place in universities, civil organizations, and around dinner tables.
Next week, one such discussion is going to take place at Brown University. On the evening of Tuesday, September 29th, there will be a panel discussion entitled: “The American Military in a Dangerous World: How Much is Enough?”
The panelists include Senator Carl Levin, the former Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; former Under Secretary of State and NATO Ambassador Nick Burns; and BGEN Paula Thornhill, former special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The moderator is former Ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights Jeff Robbins.
You can watch a live feed of the discussion here:
A video of the program will be available later here: http://www.brown.edu/academics/taubman-center/
The next day, Jeff, August Cole, and I will conduct a seminar for interested students from Brown, West Point, and several ROTC units – encouraging them to think and write about the topics discussed by the panel.
“Brown?” you ask. Yes, I chose to organize this event at one of the most liberal campuses in America. Because those are the minds that need to be educated and the opinions that need to be influenced.
The bigger question might be: why am I doing this? I have a citizen’s rudimentary knowledge, but no expertise. (That hasn’t stopped me, or many other journalists from opining on complicated subjects.) In fact, the few times I have been invited to give talks based on Op-Ed articles I have written in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, I have been heartened by how much interest there is this topic. Consequently, my answer is intended to be provocative: because you, more qualified people are not.
So my request is simple: you, the members of the U.S. Naval Institute should be giving these talks: to Rotary Clubs, and Kiwanis, at local colleges; anywhere where thoughtful people are willing to engage. The stakes – for our nation and for the young men and women we send in harm’s way – are too high to allow these questions to go unanswered. Disagreement about the answers is not the problem; silence is.
Over the past nine months, a variety of companies and organizations have republished in book form the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s December 2014 report on the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program. Most of those publications tried to convey the impression that the SSCI report, produced by Senator Dianne Feinstein and her staff, was the definitive word on a very controversial part of American history. It was not.
These publications often did not even mention that the Feinstein report was produced by only one political party and that there were robust rebuttals to it produced by the then minority Senate staff and by the current CIA leadership.
Every senior CIA officer who was involved in the creation, administration or oversight of the interrogation program, as I was, are convinced that the conclusions of the Feinstein report were terribly flawed. For that reason, a number of us sought to have the historical record balanced – by the publication, in book form, of the SSCI Minority and CIA rebuttals. To provide additional context and illumination, eight of us wrote essays to also be included which give our personal perspective on the program. This personal perspective was important because, incredibly, despite working on their report for five years and spending more than $40 million in the process – the SSCI majority never spoke to a single one of us. Their excuses for failing to do so were laughable. They cited Department of Justice Investigations which ended years before their effort did as a principal reason. They claimed that basing their report entirely on a review of documents was an acceptable alternative to talking to eye witnesses and then they cherry-picked their way to conclusions that their chairwoman held before the investigation even started.
When our response, called Rebuttal, was published about ten days ago, the reaction from Senator Feinstein and her supporters was quick and predictable. They claimed there was nothing new in our publication. But Rebuttal contains the very strong responses from the SSCI Minority and CIA staff which were left out of other publications and which were only infrequently mentioned in press accounts following the initial December release. What will be new to many readers is the firsthand accounts from my seven former colleagues and me – which show the folly of Senator Feinstein’s staff working so hard to make sure our voices were never heard. In a second response published this week in the Huffington Post, Feinstein and her staff were quoted as saying “Only (former CIA Director General Michael) Hayden can say if he intentionally mislead policymakers.” No, anyone who knows Mike Hayden knows he did not – and in any case – if Feinstein had concerns –why didn’t she have the decency to ask him?
The media response to the publication of Rebuttal was similarly predictable. Some complained that in our essays we did not often mention things like waterboarding. True. That is because the issue was dealt with at length in the 300+ pages of the two following reports. Other media accounts repeated some of the canards from the Feinstein report as if they were gospel.
Let me stress that we are in no way saying that the program that we were involved with was perfect. Far from it. But we know for a fact that the enhanced interrogation program was legal, authorized, and accurately briefed to the highest levels of the U.S. government and senior officials on our Congressional oversight committees. We knew at the time the program was being developed and implemented that the details of the program would one day leak and would be controversial. But we never believed for a second that anyone would challenge the effectiveness of the program. Monitoring the intelligence windfall that came from the program day after day in the years immediately after 9/11 as I did – I can say with absolute assurance that the program was effective and saved lives. Those who believe that the absence of a major al Qa’ida inspired attack on our homeland over the past 14 years is just luck are fooling themselves and trying to fool the American public.
We are grateful to the Naval Institute Press who, unlike Senator Feinstein’s SSCI, gave us a forum from which we could tell our experiences and make accessible versions of the two other reports which undermine the credibility of the one that Feinstein’s staffers peddle as “the report.”
We entered into this effort solely to make sure that both sides of the story get told. Any profits produced by the publication of “Rebuttal” are being donated to the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation – which looks after the children and spouses of Agency officers who die in the line of duty.
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