Archive for the 'Air Force' Category
The June issue of Proceedings offered a call from CNO Admiral Richardson, and his speechwriter Lt. Ashley O’Keefe, encouraging naval professionals to engage with their service through the act of professional writing. The CNO has not discovered a new idea, but instead lends his voice to something a number of recent senior officers have called for, from Stavridis to Winnefeld. Even some “not so senior” officers have suggested the same. Others have written indications and warnings about the risks the voyage entails.
There have been a long list of professionals throughout our history who have participated in the development of naval affairs in this way, from Maury to Mahan, Nimitz to Zumwalt. And while the spark for this post came from the CNO and the Navy, the other services have a history here too: from soldiers in the 19th century to leaders like Patton in the 20th century. However, the repeated calls to arms over time, or perhaps calls to pens, have missed something. How do you do it?
Our Navy is a technically oriented service. This is also generally true of the other services to greater or lesser degrees. Our educational policies focus on engineering and technical study, and rarely encourage us to learn how to communicate in writing beyond a bare minimum. In our staff positions we use briefing slides and other communication methods which inspire partial thoughts, quick hits, and incomplete sentences and no concept of paragraph structure or style. For cultures raised on procedural compliance and powerpoint, what is the procedure for writing a professional article? Some simple steps inspired by the words in the Naval Institute’s mission can help set our course.
The mission of USNI is to:
Provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to global security. [emphasis added]
The bold words are borrowed from President John Adams. In his 1765 pamphlet “Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law,” Adams examined monarchy and feudalism and compared them to the growing movement for freedom and liberty in the American colonies. The future president called for Americans who valued liberty to develop their knowledge, and their argument, by daring to read, think, speak, and write on the subject. It was a clarion call, but it also hinted at a certain amount of process. Adams was a careful writer and it is quite possible he put these words in a very specific order. Following his counsel can help professionals chart their process for developing an article which contributes to understanding of our profession.
In order to make a contribution to the field of military, naval, or national security knowledge, you have to know the state of the field. The way to do this is by reading. If you have come up with an interesting analogy for a current debate the only way to know if someone has made the argument before is by reading the field. If you wonder what counter-arguments may be against your position, that also comes with reading the field. Articles in journals like Proceedings, Military Review, or Naval War College Review, online publications like War on the Rocks and The Bridge, blogs like Next War, all contribute to the state of the field. Not only will reading them give you new information, and new ideas, but they also tell you what others have said before. It can save you from the embarrassing retort: “yeah, Lieutenant Commander Jones said it six months ago and had a better argument.” (Not that you have to be entirely original, but knowing the field helps you understand where you fit.)
It is not just articles and online posts we should be reading. Books have long given us the deep knowledge needed to understand where the profession has been and where it may head in the future. There is a common refrain in the modern world that we simply do not have time for books. The watch schedule keeps us too busy. Digital media has affected our attention span. Military service is demanding, and we need time with our families. Yet we find time for physical exercise, while we discount intellectual exercise. According to some studies the average college graduate reads around 300 words a minute. If we read 15 minutes each evening, it totals up to 18-20 books a year. The excuse there is “no time” would never be accepted when we failed the PFT. Accept the challenge to read more widely. Maybe this sounds “high brow” or too “egg headed” but as President Truman, a WWI Army veteran, said: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
Once a servicemember or natsec professional has an idea of the subject they want to write about, has done some research and reading about it, and has come up with the initial kernel of an argument, they must spend some time thinking about it. This advice probably goes against the grain of what digital media incentivises, or what social media seems to encourage. However, the point of this effort is to make a contribution to the field of military and naval affairs or national security, not to rush into being a “thought leader” in the crashing tide of the blogosphere. Thinking hard about the subject you intend to tackle includes attempting to employ the skills of critical thinking.
Critical thinking gets a lot of attention these days and there are numerous competing definitions of what it means. Unfortunately, too many people seem to think “critical thinking” means “thinking about important or critical things.” That’s not the case. Instead we need level criticism at ourselves and our ideas. We need to examine our ideas with depth, and rigor, in order to get to the heart of whatever issue we want to write about. This includes becoming a critic of yourself and your own ideas, as well as the ideas of others. As you develop the concept for your article, be exacting and penetrating with the evidence you have amassed either through research or your own experience.
Having researched, considered experience, and critically examined the subject in your own mind, it is important to get a sanity check from someone else. In the academic world, this is part of the reason there is peer review before journal articles are published. In the professional and popular press, editors and editorial boards will judge your work with a dispassionate eye. The best way to ensure your argument makes sense, and you have developed a sound approach before contacting an editor, is to talk about it with other people.
Speaking about your idea can take a number of forms. It can happen with a pint in your hand at a pub with a mentor or group of respected friends. In the lost days of our Officer Clubs this was actually a common way of helping people develop professional ideas. It could also involve a cup of coffee. Seek out a mentor who you trust, whether a senior officer or a former professor or co-worker, and see what sticks in your conversation with them. Speaking also does not have to be taken literally, even if some of us work better in the give and take of live conversation. It can take the form of an email or social media exchange. The goal is to introduce new criticisms the writer has not considered, or clarifying the way to express the ideas.
Sit down and write the article. Just do it. Don’t allow the blank page on the computer screen to intimidate. One of the benefits of having thought through the idea systematically, and then spoken about it with a trusted friend or mentor, is you have already started to develop the words to express the idea. As many successful authors have told us, from Stephen King and Anne Lamott to Ernest Hemingway: the first draft is going to be bad. It does not matter. Sit at the keyboard and bang away until you have said everything you want to say.
Once the words are on the page, raw and terrible as they might be, the writer has crossed a major hurdle. After that, it is a matter of editing, organizing, and rewriting, which should be easier than putting the idea down the first time. The editing does not need to be rushed, and the mentor or friend you spoke with probably will be excited to take a look at the article and help make suggestions to improve it. You have already made them feel like a part of the process. When the draft is something which reads well, and you’re happy with it, then it is time to start looking for a place to publish it. Good editors, strong editorial boards, and the review process they use will help strengthen the piece even more. Be ready to make more adjustments to help clarify any issues they discover.
The RTSW Loop
The steps of RTSW might be seen as a sort of OODA loop for professional writing. In some ways it is similar to Boyd’s strato-tactical ideal. For example, each element can send you back to a previous spot. Speaking with a mentor may send you to a book or article you had not heard of before which you need to read, or the process of writing may cause you to return to your thinking and reorganize your approach. But there are also differences with Boyd’s Observe-Orient-Decide-Act sequence, most notably speed. Speed can be your enemy when writing a good professional article. There is no hurry. Please do not try to beat the rush of modern media, this can lead to shallow writing, weak argument, and poorly sourced facts. Doing it right may take time, and multiple rounds of the “RTSW loop,” but that only makes the article stronger and a better contribution.
Writing for publication can be a rewarding challenge. It is also something a legion of Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and security professionals have done throughout history. Many discover the process of writing clarifies their thinking. It also develops our communication skills, our critical faculties through practice, and our leadership ability. All of these make us better military professionals. Writing for publication is not something we should do because we need another FITREP or evaluation bullet, or because we think we can impress our boss. We don’t do it simply because the CNO says so. It is something we do in order to move our profession forward and to improve our service or our nation’s security. So, it is time to dare. Dare to read, think, speak, and write.
The author would like to thank Cdr Mike Flynn and his Naval Academy summer school class on “Professional Writing” for their invitation to join them for a day of class, where the author had a chance to speak about and refine some of these ideas.
This post is the first in a three part series where the author shares lessons learned from a decade of his own professional writing, almost four years on the editorial board of the U.S. Naval Institute, as a Senior Editor with War on the Rocks, and as series editor of the 21st Century Foundations books from the Naval Institute Press. The advice contained is worth exactly what you have paid to read it and individual experience will vary. The opinions expressed are offered in the author’s personal capacity and do not represent the policy of the US Navy, Department of Defense, or any government agency.
The House of Representatives recently passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act sponsored by Representative Ken Buck (R-CO) that would “prohibit funds to implement Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 4715.21 on Climate Change Adaption and Resilience.” It is a short-sighted and ill-conceived action that will jeopardize U.S. military effectiveness.
Successful, prudent planning requires considering all pertinent variables. For that reason, DoD needs the ability to factor climate change as a variable at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. If Congress wishes to limit the scope or cost of a specific program it should do so, but it must not limit the ability of the military to plan.
Having served as the senior environmental executive for the United States Air Force in the George W. Bush Administration, I would like to address this, both as someone who had the responsibility to plan for and respond to environmental contingencies, and as a Republican needing to work with a Democrat Congress to effectively govern.
The fact that the climate changes is not a political issue, it is reality. It has been changing for millennia. While the cause may be debated by some, the reality is that climates evolve and such developments have a major impact on security interests. You don’t have to believe that the cause is man-made. You can believe it is part of an ongoing cycle and point to whatever study you want to back up your point of view.
Irrespective of the cause, the climate changes and those changes affect the weather, sea level, crop production and migration patterns. Rising sea levels have displaced populations, land failing to produce crops due to drought has exacerbated already complex Syrian issues, and ocean temperature killing coral is moving fishing grounds further into the South China Sea; all of these can lead to conflict and must be prepared for. These are key variables that are affected by climate change and impact everything from broad strategy to discrete tactics.
In a statement, Representative Buck said, “The military, the intelligence community [and] the domestic national security agencies should be focused on ISIS and not on climate change.”
To understand the importance of climate and weather in very concrete terms, one only needs to look back at the critical value of a weather forecast for the D-Day landings. To bring off the invasion, General Dwight D. Eisenhower needed a full moon, a low tide, little cloud cover, light winds and low seas. (The low tide was necessary to allow soldiers to see, avoid, and disarm the mined obstacles that the Germans had placed in the surf.) He could have had the full moon and low tide on June 5, 6, or 7. He could have had the low tide without the full moon on June 19 or 20. But what about the weather?
The landing was originally scheduled for June 5, but was moved to June 6 based upon a weather forecast and succeeded not because of the brilliant work of any solitary forecaster, but because a group of forecasters imitated the weather. They jostled, yelled, scribbled, and cast malevolent looks at one another. They fought it out and voted. And in the end, they were just right enough.
Imagine, if Congress, in 1944, had said that the military and the allied forces should be focused on the Germans and not on the weather, then passed an amendment that prohibited identifying and assessing the effects of the weather. Well, that is pretty much what Representative Buck’s amendment does in a 21st-century context.
The fact that the climate changes is a significant variable that needs to be considered by our military planners. Given the sophistication of modeling and analytic capability available to our military, being able to understand and predict broad patterns in the climate cannot be underestimated. It is a strategic advantage that will play out in tactics against the range of current and potential adversaries.
If you actually read Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 4715.2 [.pdf], you will find that it is not about pushing a “radical green agenda” as Representative Buck asserts. DoD Directives flow from policy and assign responsibilities for carrying out that policy. In this case, the DoD policy is to ensure that the DoD is able to adapt current and future operations to address the impacts of climate change in order to maintain an effective and efficient U.S. military.
Nowhere in the Directive is there language that speaks to the cause or reason for the climate changing. It is focused solely on identification and assessment of the effects of climate change on the DoD mission; taking those effects into consideration when developing plans and implementing procedures; and anticipating and managing any risks that develop as a result of climate change to build resilience.
Military planning is an art that requires an in-depth understanding of numerous critical elements or factors that may impact on the mission — both positively and negatively — and an assessment/analysis of how those elements or factors can be either negated, overcome or exploited to give the Commander the advantage required in the execution of the mission. The inability to take into account the changing climate would be catastrophic limitation. This limitation would be compounded by the fact that most of our efforts, against ISIS and other potential adversaries are carried out though multinational coalitions. U.S. joint strategic plans and contingency plans prepared in support of multinational efforts are developed, reviewed, and approved exclusively within U.S. operational channels. Currently, Combatant Commands are integrating climate-related impacts into their planning cycles to reduce the national security implications associated with climate change. This includes monitoring, analysis, and integration of climate related risks into existing overall risk management measures, as appropriate for each combatant command. The Buck Amendment would tie the hands of not only our Combatant Commanders and military planners, but render the United States ineffective in joint planning and operations.
If the purpose of the amendment is to limit spending on overly expensive showcase projects like the Navy’s Great Green Fleet, there are better ways to do that than prohibiting the assessment and analysis of a key long-term variable in our nation’s ability to fight and win.
For example, in 2007 and 2008 when the nation was facing oil prices of $140 per barrel, the Air Force undertook an effort to use domestically produced synthetic fuel in our aircraft to reduce the need for foreign oil. We made a conscious policy decision that the program would be market-based and that the Air Force would do only those things in our control that would create the conditions for success, but not to subsidize uneconomic alternatives.
The Air Force successfully certified every aircraft and associated system to be able to fly on a 50/50 blend of synthetic fuel, and we made a commitment to buy half of our domestic fuel requirement as a synfuel blend as long as the price of the synthetic fuel was competitive with conventional fuel.
At the same time, there were those in Congress who were concerned about the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of synthetic fuels from coal, but rather than completely stop the program, they passed Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which restricts the federal government’s procurement of alternative fuels that exceed the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions associated with conventional petroleum based fuels. While not ideal from the Air Force perspective, it was a proper and constructive use of Congressional prerogatives; it was congruent with the Air Force commitment to be good stewards of the environment, and simultaneously allowed the Air Force to move forward with our testing and certification.
Rather than Representative Buck’s draconian approach to prohibit funds to implement Department of Defense Directive 4715.21 and not allow planners to identify and assess the effects of climate change on the DoD mission, it is wholly appropriate for Congress to require that all efforts with regard to climate change be market-based and that the prices paid for biofuels and other alternative energy sources be competitive with the least cost alternative.
DoD’s ability to successfully counter terrorism, defeat a near-peer adversary, or respond to a natural disaster depends on its ability to collect, analyze and assess data regarding all contingencies, including changes in the climate. To limit that ability puts the lives or our sons and daughters who wear the cloth of our nation at risk.
Per last month’s post on the USNI Blog, the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, challenged veterans to “stay connected with those they served with” as an answer to help stop “young Marines from killing themselves.”
Strengthening personal moral bonds between veterans is part of the answer. So is strengthening moral bonds between U.S. Presidents, members of Congress and those they order to war. From 1798 to 2016, Congress made 11 declarations of war and 11 statutory authorizations for the use of military force. Congress did not authorize the Korean War. President Truman committed American troops to war in Korea citing U.N. authorizations and resolutions.
National moral bonds in the U.S. were strongest during World War II. The president requested and the Congress declared war against Japan and Germany. Three of President Franklin Roosevelt’s sons served with distinction in combat during World War II. James Roosevelt earned a Silver Star and promotion to brigadier general in the U.S. Marine Corps. Elliot Roosevelt enlisted in the Army Air Corps, flying 300 aerial combat missions as a pilot and commander and retiring as a brigadier general. John Roosevelt earned a Bronze Star as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. Americans committed themselves to the personal and national sacrifices necessary for unconditional military victories over Japan and Germany. Their sacrifices included a draft, rationing, and military industrialization instead of commercial industrialization. From 1941 to 1945 more than 16 million Americans, about 12% of the U.S. population, served in the military and over 405,000 military members were killed.
From 1950 to 2016, the moral bonds between Presidents, members of Congress, most Americans and those ordered to fight their wars have become increasingly tenuous and sporadic. Presidential and Congressional strategies to avoid domestic political risks by incrementally side-stepping their constitutional duties repeatedly failed to produce military victories. Neither have they increased national security nor global security.
The most recent statutory authorizations in 2001 and 2002 started two ill defined and open-ended wars lasting more than three times as long as the declared wars with Japan and Germany.
Instead of spreading the cause of democracy these wars are destabilizing the Middle East and North Africa while forcing Europe to absorb tens of thousands of refugees. The sons and daughters of Presidents at war no longer wear the cloth of the nation and lead their fellow Americans to victory in combat against the nation’s declared enemies. The percentage of veterans in Congress continues to decline:
- 18.7% in the 114th Congress (2015-2016)
- 64% in the 97th Congress (1981-1982)
- 73% in the 92nd Congress (1971-1972)
Presently, less than 1% of the U.S. population serve in the military. Most Americans connect with their military with a “thank you for your service” and heart-felt applause for military members and patriotic ceremonies at major sporting events.
The political and media attention presently given to our wounded and post war veterans is necessary but not sufficient. Strong and enduring national moral bonds are created and sustained before, during and after our wars. They require Presidents and members of Congress to lead a majority of Americans in fulfilling the moral obligations necessary to win wars. The difficulties in fulfilling these obligations necessarily constrain wars. They require that all Americans return to sharing wartime risks and sacrifices, not just the 1% in uniform.
Next — Changing the Veteran Narrative: Moral Injury
The Commandant’s “Connection Challenge”
Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert B. Neller joined The Muster via Skype. Unlike previous speakers at the Idea Lab who had answers to the question what is your “Big Idea for America” the 37th Commandant had a request. He asked veterans to “stay connected” with those they had served with. “Too many of our friends are still struggling . . . . Please stay connected via any means possible.”
Speaking to a standing-room only crowd, “stay connected” was the only answer he had for a junior Marine’s question some months earlier about what the Commandant was doing to help those veteran Marines that were killing themselves.
While the “great majority are doing well,” the Commandant said, “the technology” was “probably there” to help veterans stay connected. Bunker Labs CEO, Todd Connor, told General Neller that Bunker Labs would take on the digital dimension of the Commandant’s “Connection Challenge.”
The Marine for Life Network is designed to connect “transitioning Marines and their family members to education resources, employment opportunities, and other veterans services that aid in their career and life goals outside of military service.”
Chicago’s Marine for Life community is strong, well supported and holds monthly meetings that alternate between the city and suburbs. In at least one case, however, there was a disconnect between Marine for Life and a Chicago Marine veteran who was told during his official transition to call Marine for Life only if he was considering suicide. Months later discovered Chicago Marine for Life was ideally suited to help Marine veterans stay connected and find jobs.
Changing the Narrative
The Secretary noted that the veterans as victims stereotype was factually inaccurate and a barrier to recruiting all volunteer forces. Compared to their civilian counterparts, he noted, “veterans are more likely to run their own businesses and to succeed.”
Increasing numbers of post-9/11 veterans are dedicated to “changing the national narrative” — veterans are civic assets and not victims. Key leaders in this initiative include Chris Marvin and Todd Connor.
Chris Marvin flew U.S. Army helicopters in combat in Afghanistan until a crash near the Afghan-Pakistan border that ended his military career and began a four year recovery from his wounds. In 2012 Chris founded and was the executive director for the national veteran campaign Got Your 6 — a coalition of entertainment industry companies and nonprofits focused on veterans and military families. Chris and the Got Your 6 Team commissioned a 2014 report, “Strengthening Perceptions of Americas Post 9/11 Veterans.” [.pdf] The report described how America’s current view of veterans is fundamentally defines by a duality that allows people to view veteran’s as concurrently damaged and heroic, a combination that tends to produce charity rather than opportunity for continued leadership.
The 2015 Veteran Civic Health Index for Chris Marvin and the Got Your 6 Team [.pdf] defined civic health as a community’s capacity to work together to resolve collective problems — the degree to which people trust each other, help their neighbors and interact with their government.
The 2015 report indicated that veterans strengthen communities by volunteering, voting, engaging in local governments, helping neighbors, and participating in community organizations— all at higher rates than their non-veteran counterparts. Key findings include:
- Veteran volunteers serve an average of 160 hours annually—the equivalent of four full workweeks. Non-veteran volunteers serve about 25% fewer hours annually.
- Veterans are more likely than non-veterans to attend community meetings, fix problems in the neighborhood, and fill leadership roles in community organizations.
- 17.7% of veterans are involved in civic groups, compared to just 5.8% of non-veterans.
- Veterans vote, contact public officials, and discuss politics at significantly higher rates than their non-veteran counterparts.
- Compared to non-veterans, veterans are more trusting of their neighbors. 62.5% of veterans trust “most or all of [their] neighbors” compared to 55.1% of non-veterans. Veterans are also more likely to frequently talk with and do favors for their neighbors.
I spoke with Chris Marvin on 4 May 2016. His assessment was that the veteran narrative was becoming more of one of empowerment at the national level but that traditional veteran agencies were focused on service and charity.
Former U.S. Navy surface warfare officer Todd Connor, the CEO of Bunker Labs, is changing the veteran narrative by supporting veteran entrepreneurs: “Military veterans are builders, dreamers, and doers — who are committed to lives of service. Bunker Labs is committed to creating the place, across the U.S., where military veterans can realize their greatest potential, launch businesses, and build the next greatest generation.”
Since its founding in June 2014, Bunker Labs has raised over $23 M in total capital raised, generated more than $17 M in total revenue, supported more than 70 companies and created more than 290 total jobs. On 10 May 2016 JPMorgan Chase announced a two-year, $1.5M commitment to Bunker Labs for the Bunker Builds America Tour of twelve cities showcasing local veteran entrepreneurs and heralding new chapters of Bunker Labs.
It’s just before 6 P.M. on 11 May 2016. Millions of Chicago’s commuters are bound for home. Here in Bunker Labs (HQ), things are just getting going with young veteran volunteers who have just finished their 10+ hour day jobs are here to get ready for The Muster tomorrow on 12 May. This second annual Muster includes over 450 participants; keynote speakers, via Skype, include Acting Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy and Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert Neller; thirty three veteran entrepreneurs pitching their businesses; An Idea Lab for expert talks and panel discussions about defense innovation trends, veteran contributions to civil health; and Marketplace for Bunker member product and services.
“It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”
— Attributed to Charles Darwin.
The Rate of Change
We live in exponential times. Does anyone still own an old-fashioned, original iPhone? New products hardly hit the street before they are superseded by something newer and better. Technology seems to change daily, before our eyes. In fact, the rate of technological change is increasing, as the internet, computing power, and insatiable market demand combine to throw the research aperture wide open. In the language of the calculus, a positive second derivative means, simply, that change is accelerating. The long-term success of future defense programs will depend more than ever before on their ability to adapt continuously to this change, rather than our ability to produce exquisite point solutions.
Cutting-edge technology, once the property of governments, and especially defense departments, is now driven increasingly by market demand. Defense requirements are no longer driving the technology train. In fact, in many cases, they are not even a major passenger. A look at National Science Foundation data showing U.S. research & development (R&D) funding by source for the 45-year span between 1963 and 2008 shows that, in the 1960s, government funding dominated R&D as we developed Cold War weapons and chose to go to the moon. In such an environment, the research establishment is responsive to government needs, so integration is relatively straightforward and technology tends to flow from government development to civilian application. Radar, for example, was adapted for microwave cooking, and the Global Positioning System (GPS) changed almost everything we do. By the early 2000s, however, funding roles between industry and government had reversed. This is a good news story for a free-market economy. However, it presents a very different challenge for those who build and maintain complex defense systems, as the military is forced to become the agile adapter.
Build with Change in Mind
In a rapidly changing environment, the long-term viability of programs will depend largely on our ability to infuse evolving technologies in stride, affordably. The image at left shows the Ticonderoga-class cruiser ex-Valley Forge (CG-50) being sunk as a target after just 17½ years in service. This $1B Aegis cruiser was a technological marvel in her day, but she was not built with change in mind. Because it was too costly to backfit the open MK41 Vertical Launch System into the first five ships of her class, they were all decommissioned early—an expensive lesson in adaptability. The U.S. Navy’s Aegis cruisers and destroyers are magnificent machines, but it’s worth noting that many of the missions they perform today, including land attack and ballistic missile defense, were not on the chalkboard when they were designed in the 1970s to protect carrier battle groups from Soviet airborne saturation attacks.
We need to build systems, especially those concentrated on complex, multi-mission warships, for existing threats as well as those yet to emerge. Combat systems need to be open, modular, and flexible enough to evolve, incorporate the all-but-certain march to autonomy and machine teaming, and keep up with advances in computing and communications that are beyond military developmental control. In fact, current trends suggest the commercial-military gap will widen. Alphabet/Google, for example, consistently reinvests approximately 30% of every dollar of sales back into R&D and capital expenses (CapEX), compared with just 2% – 3.5% for top defense contractors.
Affordability, Autonomy, and the Third Offset
It has been said the United States is losing its technological edge, but technology isn’t the primary obstacle. While research in many other countries certainly is improving, the pace of innovation, invention and technology development in the United States is breathtaking, and shows no signs of slowing down. The United States still produces many of the world’s most impactful and exciting technologies; however, integrating them into our defense systems and tactics is hard and getting harder.
A close look at the Navy’s and Air Force’s investment dollars (R&D plus Procurement) compared with force structure, measured in ships and aircraft, shows that in the past, as budgets inevitably cycled up and down, force structure tended to follow. When budgets declined, services financed downturns by reducing force structure and harvesting manpower dollars. When budgets increased, generally, we bought new or improved force structure. This pattern changed in 2003. For the first time, as budgets increased significantly, force structure continued to decline, even as service chiefs maintained they did not have enough assets to satisfy demand. Now, as we again face decreased defense budgets, there is no force structure to mortgage, and the implications for unit cost point to a future we can’t afford on the current trajectory. As with the first two “offset” strategies, the recently released Third Offset is driven by affordability, and an economic need to increase capability without increasing expensive capital assets.
There are only two top-level metrics in defense procurement: capability and cost. Every new program seeks to increase capability, reduce cost, or both. Yet, while capability across all services certainly has increased by many measures, so has cost, while quantities continue to shrink. New technologies like autonomy can help increase capability, but only if they can be integrated continuously, affordably, and in stride. The modular mission package approach pioneered by the Littoral Combat Ship program, with its innovative use of networked, unmanned systems, was an important step in the right direction.
With years of effort and millions of dollars invested to start each new Program of Record, it’s no wonder the services are reluctant to change programs, or take risk and add cost by infusing new technologies. Our acquisition workforce is professional and dedicated, but they are measured on their ability to deliver programs based on “cost, schedule and performance,” and programmatic rudders don’t swing easily. How then, can we expect emerging technologies, like autonomy, to develop into a potent element of our force structure, and provide the affordable leap in capability envisioned by Secretary Work’s Third Offset strategy?
Despite general acceptance of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) as well as airborne tanking missions, our current approach to most autonomous systems has been focused on one experiment at a time. The Navy’s X-47B demonstrated that UAVs could operate safely from an aircraft carrier, and even refuel in flight. There were valuable lessons learned but, after $2B, the program has essentially reached a dead end.
Now is the time to develop a future force architecture that will guide an orderly migration to a mix of autonomous and manned systems across all domains and, more importantly, provide the underpinnings for reprogamming funds to make it happen. The Analysis of Alternatives for the Navy’s BAMS/P8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft program informed just this kind of tradeoff, producing an optimized, combined purchase of manned and unmanned aircraft. New unmanned systems like DARPA’s autonomous “ACTUV” surface vessel, and a family of future underwater vehicles, including the Large Diameter Unmanned Underwater Vehicle, can increase fleet numbers and total capability in the same way. By increasing capacity, they can also help distribute sensors and firepower.
Consistent with the Third Offset strategy, networked, autonomous systems will perform important missions in places larger manned ships can’t, or needn’t, go. Like Garry Kasparov’s centaur chess model, they’ll fit into an overall fleet architecture in ways that optimize the whole man-machine team. As autonomous systems become increasingly capable in the future, they will share burdens and shoulder more and more of the warfighting load, while open architecture and modularity will help us pace evolving technology without the need to build new ship classes from scratch.
The “relevance horizon” for combat capabilities has always been a moving target. This is nothing new, but the pace of technology change is increasing, and is driven by forces that are beyond government control. Future Defense programs must be built with change in mind, to adapt to emerging technologies that evolve faster than today’s acquisition cycle.
As long as we continue to approach autonomous systems in isolation, they will be slow to realize their full potential. Now is the time, within the new Force Structure Assessment, to look 10 to 25 years into the future and devise a comprehensive fleet architecture, based on rigorous analysis and modeling, that optimizes the mix between manned and unmanned programs envisioned in the Third Offset strategy, and helps compensate for declining force structure numbers. Like the first two offset strategies, the Third Offset is driven by economic necessity.
Finally, many of the world’s brightest minds are still right here in the United States, producing the world’s best technologies. Our challenge is to keep those technologies flowing into the hands of our warfighters.
 Personal communication, James McAleese, McAleese & Associates, 29 January 2016.
Please join us at 5pm (EST) on 24 Jan 16 for Midrats Episode 316: “Getting Female Combat Integration Right With LtCol Kate Germano”
How do we get combat integration of women right? The quest has moved well away from “if” and in to “how.”
With an apparent broad disconnect between biological realities, cultural norms, and political desires, what is the right way for military leaders to carry out their orders while ensuring that combat effectiveness is maintained.
Our guest to discuss this and related issues for the full hour will be Lieutenant Colonel Kate Germano, USMC.
Commissioned in August 1996, LtCol Germano has served for over 19 years on active duty in the United States Marine Corps. A combat veteran, she additionally participated in numerous operational and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief deployments. Ashore, her duties including a year as the Marine Aide to the Secretary of the Navy.
She was selected for command twice, most recently as the commanding officer of the Marine Corps’ only all-female unit, the 4th Recruit Training Battalion. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Goucher College, where she majored in History with a pre-law emphasis. In 2011, she graduated with distinction from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, earning her Masters of Military Science degree. She is actively engaged in the struggle to end gender bias in the military, and is a vocal proponent for equal rights and the elimination of double standards and lowered expectations for female conduct and performance.
Please join us at 5pm on 22 November 2015 for Midrats Episode 307: Our Own Private Petard – Procurement & Strategy with Robert Farley
This Sunday we are going to look at the big pixels that supports the entire national security infrastructure above it.
Using his recent article in The National Interest, The Real Threat to America’s Military (And It’s Not China, Russia or Iran), we will tackle the greatest challenge of a world power – those things it has no one else to blame for.
Procurement, strategy, and the choices we make. The run of the last 30 years of weapons development and strategic foresight has not been a very good one. Why?
The Exit Interviews series provides an opportunity to capture and share the honest and thoughtful insights of those members of the naval service who have served their country well, and are either moving on to serve it in other ways outside of the service (the “exit interview”) or who have chosen to pursue higher rank and greater responsibility within it. It focuses on individuals who are transitioning out of the service or have recently gotten out, and those who have recently chosen to stay in past their initial commitment.
Much like an exit interview in the corporate world, we ask a series of standardized questions that are intended to be open-ended and solicit honest reflection. If you would like to participate, or you know somebody who would, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
LT Tony Butcher commissioned through Air Force ROTC in 2005, and received an interservice transfer to the Navy in 2007. While in the Navy, he served as a Supply Officer on a destroyer based out of Norfolk, followed by tours ashore in Diego Garcia and Australia. He transitioned from active duty in 2014, and is in the second year of MBA studies at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management.
Why did you join the Navy?
My grandfather and six of his brothers were World War II veterans, most of who enlisted in the Navy the week following Pearl Harbor. When I was entering high school, my Great Uncle Bill told me his stories on the USS San Diego (CL 53): most notably the ship’s 18 battle stars without losing a Sailor and being the first U.S. ship to sail into Tokyo Bay after the surrender. My high school in Monterey, CA had a Navy JROTC program, and a military community represented from the Naval Postgraduate School and Defense Language Institute. That exposure drove my desire to become an officer in the Navy.
My path to a Navy commission took a circuitous route. I attended a university with an Air Force ROTC detachment and commissioned in the Air Force in 2005. However, I came in during the height of USAF force shaping programs as they ramped up officer numbers anticipating an increased Congressional authorization that never came. I used that as an opportunity to negotiate an interservice transfer to the Navy, which was approved at the end of 2007.
What was your favorite part of serving in the Navy?
The old slogan “Join the Navy: See the World” says it all. Before serving with the Navy, I’d never heard of the Seychelles, wouldn’t have been able to find Santorini, and if I’d been asked where Sydney Australia was I would have pointed at Perth. There were plenty of not so fun places as well, but I wouldn’t have erased those as they contributed just as much to the experience I gained. My exploring different parts of the world ashore and on the high seas gave me an educational experience not available in any classroom.
What did you find most frustrating?
Career management. When I transferred to the Navy it was as a Student Naval Aviator. Unfortunately, I was found to be not physically qualified to continue with aviation and was redesignated to the Supply Corps. This was frustrating because I’d listed the Information Dominance Corps (IDC) communities as my preference. In retrospect, it seemed like my only shot to select for an entire career path and involved more about timing than desire and skill set.
When I got to my ship and earned my surface qualification, I submitted a lateral transfer package. Although the IDC communities had openings for my year group, the Supply Corps community manager refused to release me, citing management of his numbers. Two years later, the next community manager reversed course and my release was granted, just in time for the IDC manager to shut the door to my year group. Further, I’d completed Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) certificate programs in Network Operations, Space Systems, and Cyber Security Fundamentals that the IDC community had recommended, only to find that they seemingly made no difference in my efforts.
With my current MBA internship, the private sector has been happy to utilize the Navy’s investment in my skills obtained at NPS. For its part, the Navy got absolutely no return on that investment. I find it hard to take articles from 10th Fleet stating they want more people with cyber skills very seriously when the current personnel system repels people like me from getting in.
When and why did you decide to get out of the Navy?
Ultimately, I left due to the inability to pursue an IDC designator as discussed in the previous question. I’d been on the fence about staying in for a full career for a while, but I made the decision while participating in exercise RIMPAC 2012. I didn’t find the work on my watch station to be adding value and was never excited about roles in the Supply Corps. My most memorable role was actually on a 5th fleet ship deployment where my C.O. allowed me to qualify and stand watch as Surface Warfare Coordinator. Anyway, I had this moment where I looked around the watch center and realized I didn’t like who I was working with and there was nobody there I wanted to be like when I grew up.
The mentorship that I was after was also lacking. The mentor that my detailer had set me up with was great for providing me with career path specific advice, but I can’t say any took the time to know anything about me personally. That’s the experience I felt with most senior officers I dealt with throughout several afloat and ashore commands. I don’t think they were being cold-hearted, but I was left feeling like we were all just cogs in a machine. Everyone seemed too serially focused on the series of wickets they needed to hit to reach 20 years of service and retirement.
If you could change one thing about the Navy what would it be?
Overhaul the personnel system. Give more flexible career management, and modify the up-or-out promotion system. I worked as a liaison to the Royal Australian Navy, and observed they did not have the up-or-out policy, which didn’t seem to wreck their officer corps. The current officer promotion boards serve as a very narrow high year of tenure checkpoint and punish anyone that deviates from a predefined optimal career path. Finally, if a Sailor leaves active duty, they’re essentially gone forever aside from a contribution in the Reserves. If a Navy veteran acquires significant skills and experience in the private sector, there’s no opportunity for the Navy to make use of that in a full time capacity.
I am encouraged by recent statements by VADM Moran and SECNAV Mabus that change may be on the horizon. They seem keen to make reforms that will modernize the current officer year group system that constrains community numbers. However, many issues are driven by provisions of the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) and will require action from Congress for change to occur.
What single most important lesson or piece of advice would you leave with naval leaders?
Take care of your people.
I have a statistics professor at my current university that says “show your guts, show your heart, don’t be just talk-talk.” Leaders need to take care of their people through actions, not words. Military justice comes with unique power that no other profession has over its people. With the power comes great responsibility to use it righteously.
In 2012, when several criminal incidents involving Sailors took place in Japan, the 7th Fleet Commander decided the solution was to restrict liberty across the entire PACOM theater. I still have not heard a rational argument that supports why Sailors in Singapore and Australia with no history of bad incidents were denied due process and punished. The Navy needs leaders that use their power wisely, not selfishly to protect their careers at the cost of the masses under their commands. Sailors suffering under such toxic leadership will lose faith in it, in turn weakening the mission, their retention, and ultimately the Navy. CDR Guy Snodgrass’s recent Navy Retention Study seems to back this up.
When I had the opportunity to lead, I used corrective action as a surgical tool and saw mass punishment as effective only in destroying morale. When my Sailors and Marines were getting their job done efficiently, I rewarded them with liberty wherever possible. Ultimately, I saw this improve their quality of life and morale, and created a healthy environment driving successful mission accomplishment.
What’s next for you?
My long term career intent is to become a Chief Information Security Officer. I’m halfway through an MBA at UC Davis and wrapping up a summer internship at a Fortune 50 firm. The role has been in a strategic technology management area which I would have liked to have held in the Navy. Once I’m finished with my MBA and re-enter the work force, I plan to start a part time M.S. in Computer Science with emphasis in Computer Security to further build on my NPS coursework and improve my core knowledge.
Colonel John Boyd (USAF) developed a decision cycle concept called the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) Loop. He applied the concept at the strategic level in military operations, but it can also be applied to our current and future warfighting efforts, what we design, build, budget for, and use in pursuit of our national objectives – today and in the future. If we consider Col. Boyd’s concept in relation to those warfighting efforts, then today we must begrudgingly admit that our adversary’s decision cycle operates more quickly than our own OODA Loop. Technology, particularly use of information technology systems (including the internet), has moved so quickly the past few decades that our enemies can design, steal or borrow new ideas for weapons or equipment, share information and quickly move out well in advance of our ability to counter those ideas. Yet we remain mired in the same processes used to design, build, budget and produce those items our military needs, more or less unchanged, since the 1960s.
Today to provide the warfighter a new weapon, ship, or airplane, we begin inside a bureaucratic process that requires an analysis of the gaps, alternatives, various capability documents, review upon review by a number of well-meaning organizations, etc… That is just to come to an agreement on what must go out to industry for their ideas, proposals and estimates. Items must be competed – sometimes even when it is already known what company can build to the need quickest and at the best price. And then there’s the funding question.
Creating a finished budget literally takes two years or more. Once the decision is made that we need to buy item X at price Y, it has to be put into the Department’s Budget. It takes almost a year for a service to build a budget, allow senior leaders the opportunity to review, debate and determine priority, and ultimately, decide if an item should be funded or not. Then begins the process of defending the service’s priorities starting inside the Pentagon and ending on Capitol Hill a year (or so) later. If approved inside the National Defense Authorization, and Defense Appropriation Acts (it is worth noting that today, a non-decisional Continuing Resolution is the norm), then we can finally spend money on a contract for a new warfighting capability. In summary, if we decide we need to produce a new, non-complex weapon, it takes a minimum of three or four years to actually deliver that weapon to the field.
We have begun to change – small but necessary steps, are being made. There is an Urgent Operational Needs process that allows the warfighter to quickly request a new capability, if the request meets certain policy criteria. A group of senior decision makers meets every two weeks to ensure urgent warfighter needs are being met as quickly as possible. They work together to push through the bureaucracy, even working outside the Department of Defense – with the Department of State and leadership on Capitol Hill. There have been successes. However, at the same time we make these small but important steps towards flexibility, we continue to struggle with new policy constraints or modifications to current requirements in existing systems.
If we are to remain the preeminent military force in the world we must continue to change. We must build a process that results in capability fielded quickly, vice capability fielded much slower – with minimal risk. Rather than have a series of consecutive leadership reviews on proposals (and the capability and/or funding required), each of which takes many months and can only move forward to the next step sequentially after each leader approves, we need to have single meetings of the right leaders to take in information, ask questions and make decisions – in a timely manner. We need the ability to spend money on new efforts today – not two years from now after we’ve built a budget, reviewed and defended it against any one of hundreds of reviewers who might disagree. We need flexibility to change programs as they move forward – when they hit a snag we must be able to quickly modify our plans, or if required – terminate our efforts and re-allocate the monies towards other needs. Naysayers will say a new process with speed in mind will lead to waste. The reality is that without a new process with speed in mind, we will fall further behind our growing number of challengers.
Do not misunderstand this to be a criticism of those that run or are involved in these current processes. Everyday there are tens of thousands of great Americans that work towards building the best and most capable Navy of the future. They toil under policies and laws currently in place and they do outstanding work. But we have to change the way we are doing the Navy’s business if we hope to continue to be the best. We have to tighten our own OODA Loop to decide and act far more quickly so that the enemy can’t get inside it, cannot work around it – or use our own process against us. Bottom line – we must change.