Archive for the 'Innovation' Category

Those who follow naval history will note the recently marked 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland—a story masterfully told by Dr. Andrew Gordon in his book, Rules of the Game. Great Britain’s naval mastery was perceived as a birthright, but after what Gordon termed “the long, calm lee of Trafalgar,” he assessed that the Royal Navy had strayed away from its fighting past. The Royal Navy was undeniably full of what Gordon termed “regulators” – people who advanced within the established bureaucratic framework and were comfortable thinking inside the box – rather than the “ratcatchers” who were dearly needed in the prosecution of war.

In the Navy’s “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” Adm. Richardson calls for “a Naval Force that produces leaders and teams who learn and adapt to achieve maximum possible performance, and who achieve and maintain high standards to be ready for decisive operations and combat.” In this call to action, in our own age and our Navy, ratcatchers are once again needed to safeguard our prosperity as a maritime nation.

The Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG-87) on June 24, 2016. US Navy Photo

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG-87) on June 24, 2016. US Navy Photo

The news surrounding the anti-ship missile attacks on USS Mason (DDG-87) from armed militant groups in Yemen while Mason operated in international waters in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb was shocking. Our subsequent shift to the “active defense” by the USS Nitze (DDG-94), however, is a telling example of how Surface Forces operate where sea control and power projection are not guaranteed and a reminder that the ability to maintain even temporary superiority will be contested.

America truly is a maritime nation, and our prosperity is tied to our ability to operate freely in the maritime environment. Threats ranging from low-end piracy to well-armed non-state militant groups to the navies of high-end nation-states pose challenges that Surface Forces are prepared to counter and, should the call come, defeat.

What many of us have learned from recent Distributed Lethality Task Force sponsored events is that while more lethal and distributed Surface Forces are designed to increase the offensive options available to the Joint Force Commander when the shooting starts, equally important is the ability to enhance conventional deterrence postures that limit an adversary’s options for escalation and buy time for leadership to make informed decisions on the further use of force. Simply stated, a more lethal and distributed Surface force gives an adversary a much more difficult operational problem with which it must contend.

We’re seeing the direct results of the concerted effort to provide the right tactics, talent, training, and tools to detect, deceive, target, and destroy enemy forces. Moreover, this warfighting ethos – that of toughness and tactical mastery of sea control operations at and from the sea – is being ingrained in every one of the crews that fight our warships.

USS Mason (DDG-87) fires an SM-2 during a March 2016 exercise. US Navy Image

USS Mason (DDG-87) fires an SM-2 during a March 2016 exercise. US Navy Image

The recent incidents in the Bab al-Mandeb involving Mason and Nitze serve as an unambiguous reminder that adversaries who wish to challenge U.S. interests in strategically vital sea areas do in fact get a vote, and it is unlikely that all of the elements of the Navy’s Fleet architecture will be available when the shooting starts. Available assets are based on the day-to-day presence and persistence of the Surface Force, which means it must be prepared to absorb the first salvo and immediately go on the offensive in order to create conditions for the success of follow-on forces. As Under Secretary of the Navy Janine Davidson recently stated, “credible conventional deterrence can only be achieved through lethal forces distributed globally with the staying power and endurance to absorb or deliver the first punch.” To be sure, forward, visible, and ready Surface Forces backed by credible combat power is a cost imposition for which an adversary must consider in its decision calculus.

The gravitational center of the Navy is controlling the sea in order to project more power, in more places. Recent events in the Red Sea highlight that we must get this right. And making sure we get things right is all about shaping the future, a future in which our men and women have the tools, the training, the tactics and the talent they need to fight and win against opponents who wish to challenge our interests and do us harm.

Our Surface Forces are indeed forward, they are visible, and they are ready. In a world where the pace of operations has clearly never been higher, my main job as the Surface Forces Commander is to ensure all our surface warships are ready. I’ve also directed a redoubling of our efforts in pursuit of a renewed emphasis on sea control to ensure we maintain the advantage.

To the ratcatchers in USS Mason and USS Nitze, and throughout the Surface Force, thank you for your fighting spirit. I am ever more hopeful for our future!



14523006_612870865559081_753367960923572387_nNow that everyone has absorbed the impact of the announcement last week ditching the Navy ratings system, let’s talk about the what and why.

Let us talk as adults. It is the mutually respectful thing to do.

Brush aside the spin, the squid ink, the general excuse making and post-decision 2nd and 3rd order effect justification on why this change was made, for what purpose, and what manner. Things such as giving a job description that will help a Sailor or Marine have a better civilian resume. Really, just stop. No one is buying it, and trust me, as someone who made the transition a bit more than half a decade ago, it won’t make a difference in that area.

With some time behind us post-announcement, there is more to discuss. We are lucky in that Mark D. Faram of Navy Times has a thorough, balanced and much needed expose from “behind the scenes of the Navy’s most unpopular policy.”

The simple answer is this; fed by some of the less intellectual threads from the 3rd Wave Feminist theory that seems to inform much of his ideas on “gender,” the SECNAV wanted to grind in his stamp on a pet agenda item before he leaves office.

How it was to be done? That was the question. There was no question of “if.”

This action began and ended with the SECNAV and full credit positive or negative belongs firmly there.

Now, let’s get in to some of Faram’s details.

Good ideas are usually given a nice warm up. This, however, was known from the start that it would be toxic upon delivery. As a result, the delivery was for most as a bolt out of the blue;

Beyond a small working group, convened this past summer and led by then-Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens, next-to no one in the Navy saw this change coming, sources with knowledge of the decision-making process say. And it’s been received with near universal contempt by sailors past and present.

In the course of military service, we have all done things we did not agree with, but duty is what duty is. If it is a lawful order, you do it. If it is a nasty bit of work, you try to come up with the least horrible way of doing it while still getting the OK from the boss. This is why I believe that those who oppose the new policy should hold no ill feeling towards those in uniform who were in the group that produced this for approval by the SECNAV. Likewise, those supporting it should not give them credit either. We’ve all been there, they did the best they could – but the initiating directive came from SECNAV, and if it weren’t for him, it would not have happened.

“I felt it was not optional,” Stevens said, “but my duty to lead this effort, knowing all along that there would be controversy attached to it.” The former MCPON, as the position is known throughout the service, says he believes the move is necessary and that now Navy leaders “must follow through.”

The post announcement spin has been a solid effort to define some positive 2nd and 3rd order effects, which there may be, but that is all they are – 2nd and 3rd order effects. Not designed, just byproducts.

Mabus declined to speak with Navy Times. He and other top Navy officials, including Richardson and Burke, have said that the change, while a nod to gender neutrality, will facilitate sailors’ professional development and career advancement by freeing them to cross train and attain broader skills spanning multiple specialties. That should make them more marketable when they leave the military, too, they’ve noted.

Mabus did speak today, and we’ll end the post with that, but let’s stick to this part of the story for now.

It would be hard to find a more divisive way of making such an announcement that impacts every Sailor.

Much of the frustration tied to Mabus’ decision stems from its timing. Most average sailors and deckplate leaders alike don’t understand why the announcement was made while so much of the plan remains undeveloped.

Well, many did. There were hints and background warnings over the summer.

Mabus, sources said, was determined to put ratings reform in motion — and on the record — before he leaves office.

The power of the office. Once you have been in a while, you begin to enjoy it and find ways to use it. When you see that power soon leaving with much work left undone, well, time to get moving.

Let’s go back to the sausage factory. Direction and guidance was both clear and vague. Interesting how MCPON tried to cobble something workable together.

…while Mabus was focused on removing the word “man” from the Navy’s job titles, he never specifically asked for a plan to eliminate rating titles entirely.

The MCPON assembled a working group composed of “about 12” individuals,…

“Course of action number one was simple: Remove man from titles,” Stevens said. “What we found was that you could in most cases, remove the word ‘man’ and replace it with the word specialist or technician…

The second proposal built upon the first and sought to determine whether the job titles in fact aligned with the work being done. An example here is yeoman; it’s a historic title, but it was decided that “administrative specialist” was a better fit for the work being performed, …

But none of the changes seemed right, he added. Taken in total, they did not amount to the profound change he felt the Navy needs. That’s when Stevens suggested something groundbreaking.

“What if we just eliminated rating titles altogether and simply referred to ourselves by our rate? That’s the traditional Navy word for rank. You could feel the air leave the room,” he said.

There you go.

In case you are wondering, the article didn’t outline well what COA-3 was, but it does not really matter.

“If you want to do just what you asked us to do, here are the rating title changes that need to happen to remove ‘man’ from those titles. He said ‘it’s done and it’s easy and we can do it tomorrow,’” Stevens said, recalling the conversation with Mabus.

Stevens then outlined the idea of removing all rating titles, telling the secretary that he felt this was the the best proposal for the service. But he followed up with a warning.

“Make no mistake about it,” Stevens recalled telling Mabus, “this course of action will be the most labor-intensive, probably the most expensive, certainly the most controversial as well as difficult to accept socially throughout the Navy. But it certainly advances us the furthest.”

Mabus “sat there a little bit, pondered it, asked a few questions and then decided, in the best interest of the Navy’s future, this was the path he wanted to take,” Stevens said.

And that is how a very personal part of our Navy for over two centuries ended.

The pushback was as expected, I assume.

There was “absolutely no signal, no hint that a move of that magnitude was being planned, discussed or soon-to-be forthcoming,” said the command master chief, who also spoke to Navy Times on condition of anonymity. “Our sailors don’t understand it. They don’t understand why the ratings that they chose to enter have been selected for elimination, and they don’t see the need for it.”

Actually, there was, but few wanted to believe it. No question now.

“We don’t understand why this could not have been a two-to-three year, very gradual process that examined all of the effects from advancement to recruiting, and how it will affect the administration of our Navy on many different levels. It doesn’t appear,” the CMC said, “that any thought was given to that.”

Come on Master Chief, you have to understand why. The focus is all on the calendar, a calendar getting short for the SECNAV.

I know there are many who refuse to accept that this all comes from the SECNAV’s desire. Thanks to Hope Hodge Seck’s article today on his speech at the National Press Club, SECNAV Mabus underlined his priority and should remove all doubt,

“Ratings names change all the time,” Mabus said. “Corpsmen, our medics, that rating came in after World War II. Corpsmen were first called Loblolly Boys, which, I’m not sure where that came from. I thought it was important to be gender-neutral.”

In case you aren’t fully up to speed, looks like we are losing Corpsman for Medic.

I know. I know.



4693766_l5There are a lot of people who are convinced that unmanned aircraft, ships, and subsurface craft are the future of warfare. Not just surveillance and reconnaissance, but full spectrum combat.

At least for the Western democracies, my initial push-back has always been that regardless of how good your AI gets the legal/ROE issues will get in the way if you cut away the man-in-the-loop such that we have now in the TLAM to Reaper spectrum of autonomy.

Other parts of the world? Not everyone has the niceties that we are used to when it comes to moral or safety considerations.

You cannot classify math, and what is cutting edge for one generation is old and primitive for another. The North Koreans building nuclear weapons is a case in point.

There is, of course, the usual reply from the AI advocated that AI will be the next thing in military etc etc etc.

What if we are scope-locked in our AI discussion? What if we simply do not get the big picture of what is going on?

Author Sam Harris is having me rethink all of my previous assumptions about the direction we are going with and thinking about AI.

The question we should be asking isn’t as much, “if it will meet the promise,” as “should we even let it get close.”

“We.” Unfortunately, there is no international “we” with the force to keep a genie in a bottle, is there?

You need to watch the full video from his TED Talk below, but in it he outlines three assumptions you need to hoist onboard in order to fully understand what the real challenge of AI is.

1. Intelligence is the product of information processing. General Consciousness will eventually be built in to our intelligent machines.

2. We will continue to improve our intelligent machines.

3. We are not near the peak of intelligence.

Agree with the above? Well, you may not want your AI air superiority fighter anytime soon

Watch.



4th

A Word about Ratings

October 2016

By

Man the Rails

Last week, the Navy’s top leadership announced the swift transition from traditional rates to alphanumeric Navy Occupational Specialty (NOS) codes. In the matter of a three minutes and thirty-four second video, over two-hundred years of U.S. Navy Ratings – and traditions – were history. Gone. Finished. Dead. Never-to-be-talked-about-again.

But not so fast, everyone. Just minutes after the release of NAVADMIN 218/16, Facebook and social media seemingly deteriorated into a bomb box of antipathy, false equivalencies, and irreverent commentary. Public manifestos protesting the continued tyranny of Secretary Mabus’s tenure inundated message boards and status updates. Nuclear meme proliferation.

To be fair, the observed reaction among the force has ranged from tranquil ambivalence to outright hostile rejection. In typical hyperbolic fashion, the Navy Times pounced on the announcement and labeled it “the most radical personnel overhaul in a generation.” Not to be outdone, the San Diego Union Tribune called it a “tsunami of a cultural shift.” Duffel Blog headlined their page with a satirical news story entitled, “Ray Mabus Admits he Just Hates the Navy,” which like most articles attacking SECNAV resort to the usual talking points: he likes to give women a fair shot, he names ships after civilian heroes and leaders, and he doesn’t play very well with Marines.

The announcement dissolving Ratings is not an epochal policy change. It’s a tweak in syntax to ensure the personnel structure is securely in place for the future Navy. Bigger, more imperative changes have already been instituted over the last decade. Every specialty is open to women; gays can serve openly; maternity and paternity leave is guaranteed; and men and women can come to work without fear of sexual harassment or assault. These types of policies took generations of political will to develop and bring to the force, then were implemented and executed by all of us in a short period of time, sometimes despite initial and widspread resistance. Evidence clearly suggests that the aforementioned personnel changes have enhanced us as a fighting force.

Notwithstanding our increasingly connected Navy, it almost seems like Sailors are more self-compartmentalized than ever. Exhibit A is our rating system. Purely designed to categorize people based off professional skill sets, the Rating system mysteriously became a means of singular identity. Although each rate is exceptional (because each sailor is exceptional), perhaps the “Subject Matter Expert” exceptionalism spurred beyond its intended tactical structure and self mutated into hyper-compartmentalized hues of Rate camaraderie. Over time, some sailors identified themselves more according to their Rate as opposed to their service.

Therefore, beyond the minutia of personnel policy, a broader question has clearly emerged. How is it that our sailors identify more with their job title than the credos of a Sailor? Or, better yet, why such a languid and tepid response to something so clearly beneficial to enlisted sailors for the sake of the benign and often mischaracterized zeitgeist that comes with terms like “tradition?”

NOS Policy

Change is hard in an organization, especially when our organization has a predisposition to divide forces into ranks and rates and rules and flow charts. So embedded are our social traditions in the military orthodoxy that even the slightest of changes seem to throw earth off its axis. And to be clear, this policy will result in tangible improvements for everybody in nearly every quantifiable category. With promotion rates in particular rates stagnant, good sailors will be get to stay in, learn new skills, and continue a rewarding career. Shore Duty billets previously reserved for specific ratings can open up to more sailors, thereby placing even more emphasis on performance at sea. Sailors who earn new skills stand to be offered incentives in the form of increased monetary compensation or other substantial benefits.

In other words, the playing field will continue to level out and provide hard-working sailors the opportunity they deserve.

The second order effects are also clear.

  1. The system will tap into the brilliance of our sailors, allowing for ideas and best practices studied in a different NOS to be applied in new ways and in new fields.
  2. If properly managed, critical NEC’s can be adequately covered despite an unforeseen personnel loss.
  3. In the age of autonomous airplanes, unmanned underwater submarines, and sophisticated computer networks, the revised system will naturally find new jobs for sailors displaced by technological improvements throughout the force.

As most of us know, an organization glued to tradition is an organization drifting off course and not innovating.

I confess that I have never wore an enlisted uniform, so my nondescript commentary should be rebuffed with enlisted perspectives, but I must admit, I have found it is interesting to watch people fill the void of change with the call of action to go back to a system so unprepared for the future force. Rather than quibble, we should focus our effort by demanding transparency in the Navy’s new policy so we can all adequately craft the future force.

Under Mabus’s leadership, our personnel changes have occurred with admirable swiftness and efficiency. But we should be clear about the dissolvent of the Rating system. This is not a change. It’s merely a data-driven adjustment to ensure our personnel system is aligned to meet the demand of the 21st Century. Our sailors deserve more opportunity, more flexibility, and more options, even if they choose to get out.

As we transition out of a Navy that once relied on sheer manpower with adequate supervision to a Navy that cherishes specific, individual skill sets, our force structure must change. So before we sign on to more petitions and lay waste to social media, perhaps we can let ideas breath and allow everyone to absorb a new innovation and consider its broader implications.



General Omar Bradley—an Army officer, and the last man to hold a 5-star flag in the US armed forces—once said, “Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.” As we face change, we must not forget what makes us who we are.

The United States Navy has experienced a lot of change over 241 years. From wooden ships with sails to submarines and aircraft carriers powered by nuclear reactors, from crackerjacks and dixie cups to a myriad of Navy Working Uniforms, from John Paul Jones to Delbert Black, change seems to come and go as regular as the tide.

Along the way, there has been a healthy tension in our service between those who say “we’ve always done it this way” and those who believe we should implement something better. This friction both encourages sailors to truly master their craft, and helps move the service forward by ensuring we never become too complacent.

Recently, the Secretary of the Navy announced a plan to modernize the Navy’s rating system. This system has been in existence for more than 241 years—indeed, it predates the founding of our Navy. These changes are intended to modify the way we address one another and plan our careers, but they are not without substantial controversy.

Sailors find identity and belonging in their rating. It gives them a sense of pride to advance within their rate. In an undeniably technical service, our rating system develops and safeguards quality professionals that do the hard work of keeping our Navy running every hour of every day. Many men and women continue to identify with their rate long after they have left active service.

Yet, our enlisted force—much like its officer counterpart—has problems with its personnel system. We could use a good dose of flexibility in career management; sailors could benefit from being able to advance in more than one area of expertise. We should be able to leverage technology to better connect sailors with the aptitude and the drive to opportunities that would benefit both them and the Navy.

But today, we sit at a crossroads of massive discontent. Eliminating the rating system will have a long-term, deleterious effect on morale. Indeed, this may lead many to mistrust any important, positive change in the future. But it does not have to be this way.

Winston Churchill once said, “without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.” Tradition and change do not have to be mutually exclusive; we can keep our ratings and change our personnel system. The key to this change—and to all change we have faced in our 241 years of history—is our people.

We must recognize that there is more than one way to bring about change. Sequestering working groups behind closed doors in the Pentagon may not be the best way anymore. We have a Fleet of more than 300,000 men and women who are capable of rapidly iterating solutions to any problem. Leveraging the concepts of human-centered design, we also have many ways to organize those men and women into a powerful idea-generating force.

The real question for our leadership is, how will you harness those sailors? Will you continue to dictate policy to them, or can you trust them to help develop solutions that will work?

If we press the reset button on the rating modernization plan, we can bring sailors together from around the fleet to both define the problems we are trying to solve, and bring about solutions that work well and are representative of all our people. This can serve us better by ensuring all hands both understand and appreciate the problems being addressed, and are fully engaged and bought into the solutions developed.

There are models to bring about this kind of Fleet engagement, and sailors ready to get to work on them. For instance, earlier this year, a small group of DC-area junior officers convened a symposium to address changes to the Navy’s personnel management system. In just a day, this group defined the problems in the system and developed solutions to improve, delivered to the Chief of Naval Personnel. Participants felt engaged, appreciated, and motivated. We can build on this model to address changes to the rating system and develop good solutions to the problems we are trying to solve.

If we are truly to become a “high velocity learning” organization, our old way of solving problems and dictating policy—of waiting for missives from on high—won’t work any longer. “In keeping with the highest traditions of naval service,” it’s time to change how we change, and believe in the intellectual capital of our sailors.



There’s a growing realization that we must leverage the value of unmanned systems across the full range of naval missions—not to pursue “unmanned” for the sake of “unmanned” in a zeal to be more technologically advanced, but because it makes sense, taking us to the next level and beyond. As natural complements to our existing ships, aircraft, and submarines, unmanned systems bring the ability to efficiently increase both the capacity and capability of our force; there are missions where unmanned will bring comparative advantage over existing manned counterparts. In man–machine lash-ups, unmanned technology will take us even further.

Against the backdrop of an increasingly dangerous and volatile world, unmanned systems offer an opportunity to meet defense requirements at every level. Making this case, and making headway on mainstreaming unmanned across all warfare domains, begins with understanding the most fundamental aspects of warfare. Through this deconstruction, the value-added of unmanned becomes readily apparent, cutting through existing practices, communities, domains, and mission sets—all sources of friction when introducing disruptive technology. If we make this case effectively, our force and its many constituents will press to mainstream unmanned as expeditiously as possible. With bottom-up energy and creativity teamed with top-down leadership and fiscal support, we have the best chance to harness unmanned’s potential. This is an imperative in a world where competitors and adversaries already are moving out with unmanned technology.

To Understand — So what? . . . Then what?

When we think about what we do in the realm of warfighting, it comes down to four essential elements: observing, orienting, deciding, and acting—the OODA loop. Air Force Colonel John Boyd crafted this concept in part from observations of air combat engagements in the 1950s, but its relevance is more broad, and scalable from the tactical to the strategic. In simplest form, we “observe” with sensors, we “orient and decide,” then we “act” with effectors. This process takes place across all domains and is iterative. Technology is both accelerating and fusing the steps, taking us to the point of forecasting.

Marine Lance Cpl. Benjamin Cartwright launches the Instant Eye MK-2 Gen 3 unmanned aerial system during an exercise for Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory's Marine Air-Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment on Camp Pendleton, Calif., July 9, 2016

Marine Lance Cpl. Benjamin Cartwright launches the Instant Eye MK-2 Gen 3 unmanned aerial system during an exercise for Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory’s Marine Air-Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment on Camp Pendleton, Calif., July 9, 2016

Increasingly, it is not so much the “with what” (the province of things and the communities that employ them) and the “where” (the domains in which we operate), but rather the “how” and the “how fast.” The result is to understand and then take appropriate action, faster than the adversary and inside their OODA loop. Protecting one’s decision process while confronting the adversary’s is increasingly valued today; it is a foundation for both information warfare and the growing realm of electromagnetic maneuver warfare.

Unmanned brings game in each phase of the process, across all domains (traditional and nontraditional), and in doing so improves the speed of response and subsequent ability to adapt—faster than the adversary. Ultimately, the ability to see farther, understand more quickly, act faster, and adapt continuously become the essential elements of a winning team in today’s fast paced threat-filled environments. Unmanned systems are key elements in realizing a learning warfighting system that senses, evaluates, acts and, adapts continuously.

If we accept that the main thing is to understand—and to be able to take appropriate action, faster than the adversary—then we must plumb our system and processes to function as frictionless as possible, and we must populate these systems with platforms, vehicles, and payloads that permit us to fight in constantly adaptive ways. The ability to adapt as rapidly as possible, with as little friction as possible, with systems and lash-ups that permit adaptability—by design—is essential to winning in today’s fast-paced battle environments. This concept is not new. The value of “plug-and-play” is well established in the consumer world as an efficient means to leverage rapidly evolving technology. Coupled with modularity and open architecture, these tools can be put together in adaptive, creative configurations producing new ways; and the tools themselves can be adapted, leveraging the best that technology offers, providing new means. This approach arms us to first survive, then operate, and ultimately prevail in an increasingly contested world.

Warfighting Toughness

Speed of action and agility are valued in a fight. Improved speed can be realized both in terms of executing faster and by executing differently, using the same things in new ways. A prime example is how we think about what it takes to execute successfully at the tactical level. Traditionally, it is a linear process progressing through “find, fix, finish”—the sequential steps to consummate full mission execution. Technology and the speed it offers bring nonlinear and cross-domain opportunity. The prospect of executing faster through increased connectivity and multipath solutions is here now.

Sea Hunter, an entirely new class of unmanned ocean-going vessel gets underway on the Williammette River following a christening ceremony in Portland, Oregon

Sea Hunter, an entirely new class of unmanned ocean-going vessel gets underway on the Williammette River following a christening ceremony in Portland, Oregon

Unmanned systems can be an efficient means to populate connection points. Increasing connection points—or nodes—both manned and unmanned, brings density and resilience to our warfighting architectures, whether they be systems, systems-of-systems, or services on demand, and with it the means to prevail in contested environments. Unmanned systems can populate nodes in an increasingly connected/connectable force, bringing the ability to adapt more rapidly to changing environments.

Unmanned systems also bring the possibility of disaggregating functionality for the larger purpose of enabling dispersed fleet operations over much larger areas—scalable and tailorable to ever-changing missions and threats. Over time, many, if not most, of our ships, submarines, and aircraft have evolved into multimission systems, highly capable but also concentrated and expensive. Disaggregating the functions of sensing, understanding, and effecting with unmanned systems brings the potential to more efficiently mass effects without massing force, increase reach, and present the adversary with operational dilemmas.

Value Added

Unmanned systems largely have evolved by matching warfighting need to emerging technology—a requirements pull. Whether as an immediate extension to an existing platform, to see over the hill, extend beyond the visible horizon, or augment existing sensors, they’ve expanded reach in a linear manner. The ability to distribute and net unmanned systems also has demonstrated great value, bringing with it improved spatial coverage, to include cross-domain opportunities and reach. This compounds the linear contribution even further. Ultimately, with improvements in autonomy comes the prospect of human–machine collaborative teaming, which may well equate to a step change improvement in capability and capacity when compared to forces composed of manned systems exclusively.

Together, these three aspects span the value-added proposition of unmanned systems, natural complements to our existing manned force vice outright replacements. Along this continuum of application is a corresponding relationship that shifts from human-assisted to human-supervised and ultimately to human–machine collaborative teaming. As unmanned systems’ use and reliability grow, so too will the confidence we place in them. Trust will drive the pace of man–machine teaming within the larger context of human command and increasing levels of machine control executing human intent.

Fighting at Machine Speed

Sailors unload an underwater unmanned vehicle during mine countermeasures training operations aboard the USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15)

Sailors unload an underwater unmanned vehicle during mine countermeasures training operations aboard the USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15)

The case for unmanned rests in how it brings value to existing capabilities. Ultimately, fighting at machine speed is to combine what humans and machines do best, to create a sum greater than the parts. Unmanned systems make this vision executable. Unmanned systems complement manned through a continuous process of cognition and execution, where machines and humans interact seamlessly—the essence of teaming.

The speed of calculation and raw processing power machines bring in a deterministic realm coupled with the skill, imagination, and wisdom of humans operating in chaotic environments results in better decisions faster. In the fights of today and into the future, the side that harnesses this lash-up most effectively will prevail. With our fusion of technology and talent, coupled with a warfighting philosophy that values initiative, we’re the best equipped force to reap these benefits. A well-trained fighting force armed with these ways and means becomes super-empowered down to the mission command level, a combination hard to beat.

Editor’s Note: USNI will be publishing a three-part series of execution plans—for undersea, aviation, and surface—in upcoming issues of Proceedings.



General Robert Neller has always been regarded as a tough, no-nonsense Marine, and as Commandant of the Marine Corps he has also emerged as a genuine visionary. He deeply understands the future military environment and how his service must prepare for it. At the 2016 U.S. Naval Institute/AFCEA West Conference, the general provided critical insight into his vision, which closely aligns with that of Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral John Richardson, on the direction of leadership development the Naval Services should take.

According to the 37th Commandant:

I think the training systems we have as far as simulators and simulation are pretty good for individual task/condition/standard, for air crew, for drivers, for even firing individual weapons, gunnery, things like that, I think the thing that we’re looking for is, where’s the equivalent of our Holodeck, where a fleet commander or division commander or air wing commander can go in and get a rep. Right now that almost requires an actual provision of the real stuff, which is really expensive . . . . Where’s our Enders Game battle lab kind of thing where we can not just give our leadership reps, but we can actually find out who the really good leaders are.

General Neller’s comments compel us to further analysis. He invokes aspects of popular science fiction to paint a picture for how leaders will be trained, evaluated, and readied for operational challenges in the not-so-distant future. He identifies critical gaps in today’s approach to leadership development, where mid- and senior-grade officers have few opportunities to experiment with novel operational concepts, using multiple units, in a risk tolerant environment. He also places cognitive development, or military decision-making, on par with the physical fitness which has long been a hallmark of Marine Corps officers. Finally, Neller highlights the problem of assessing the true quality of leadership in today’s ranks, where a significant portion of an officer’s career is in non-operational assignments.

One Army study of the novel Ender’s Game describes the “battle lab” (or school) in this way:

Using virtual training environments, the children go head-to-head on an individual level against computers that simulate Formic battle tactics to gain the knowledge and abilities required to defeat the enemy. The children can then compete against one another in the virtual environments to further develop their strategies. The next phase involves live collective training. Divided into armies, the soldiers must learn to function as a single unit to accomplish a mission objective in the battleroom. With enough skill, soldiers can become commanders of their armies and must learn to lead them effectively. By merging these individual and collective training components, the soldiers’ knowledge, skills, and abilities can translate into operational readiness.

While the concept of an Ender’s Game battle lab may seem like pure fantasy to some, the technology to build it may be right around the corner. In order to turn Neller’s vision into reality, several organizational changes must occur.

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Gen. Robert Neller, the 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps, speaks to participants at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s Force Development 25 Innovation Symposium at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, Feb. 23, 2016

Harnessing advances in several emergent fields is critical for creating a naval battle lab, but we must exercise prudence in our approach. We must take full advantage of better private sector platforms and systems, and make using them our first choice, rather than taking the more expensive approach of designing our own systems. Reinventing the wheel, and the resulting exorbitant costs, will be the death knell of a naval battle lab long before the project would get underway in earnest.

As the current Pokémon Go craze clearly demonstrates, working augmented reality is now widely available to the public at virtually no cost. If built from scratch using the defense acquisition process, its cost surely would render such a system unaffordable. In fiscally constrained times, the DON must adopt new business practices and modernize outdated IT policies to capitalize on these types of commercial initiatives. Senior leaders and acquisition professionals need to consider open source software (OSS) services, such as GitHub, as the new norm for software procurement. OSS services allow users to take available code and modify it for a specific use at potentially a much lower cost than developing their own version from scratch or purchasing a commercial software license.

Another form of technological advancement needing consideration is the rise of machine learning and “bot” technology. Sophisticated software algorithms show great utility in modern computer networks, with their ability to monitor computer systems, offer data access, and to check network activity, while adapting themselves to varying conditions without human direction. This capability is being commercially used to improve customer service and to monitor network activity, among other private sector functions. Such advanced machine learning tools will be critical for creating virtual exercise controllers or simulated adversaries, using their adaptable artificial intelligence to challenge military tacticians based on their level of expertise.

Mobility will be an important enabler for leadership development in the future. It is difficult to find a naval officer today who does not own a smart phone. We must take advantage of these powerful tools by providing our people with appropriate network access and software to enable them to participate in scalable leadership exercises alone or as members of a networked team. Such access will allow them to develop professionally wherever they are. In short, we must make cognitive development as accessible as doing a set of push-ups. Leveraging commercial technology, however, is only one part of the changes required to implement General Neller’s vision.

The naval services have led at wargaming for decades. Over the past few years, improvements to analytical methods have resulted in game outcomes informing organizational decision-making processes. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that wargaming, and gameplay in general, serves as an excellent leadership development tool. In essence, traditional wargaming is a competition among participants based on a scenario that is conducted in a turn-based manner. They make people think and solve problems. This same process is easily replicated, repeated and expanded by using a virtual environment.

Virtual wargaming offers many advantages over traditional simulations. Consider popular online games such as World of Warcraft or Call of Duty. These games are played by millions of networked participants around the world every day. Fundamentally, they are designed to pose tactical problems to players who have a set of options from which to select. This interaction presents an incredible opportunity both to learn and collect useful data on military decision making.

In the future, for example, tactical problem X could be posed to a large and diverse group of naval officers in a virtual game format. From their answers, it would be possible to determine that a certain percentage would chose option Y, while others would chose option Z. This data could then influence policy changes or improve training and education programs, using any observed shortfalls. Further, if this virtual environment is shared with other services and coalition partners, it will be possible to determine the effect service and national culture has on tactical decision making.

Another advantage of virtual gaming is its ability to draw upon the expertise of the crowd to solve challenging problems. This is contrary to the norm of giving only a few elite players the opportunity to participate in large-scale events. Virtual environments are also more accommodating to various personality types and better for overcoming the power dynamics and hierarchies associated with the traditional approach to military wargaming.

The DON is at the forefront of crowdsourcing in the Department of Defense through its use of online platforms such as MMOWGLI, The Hatch, and the Marine Corps Innovation Challenge. Each of these forums provides Sailors, Marines, and DON civilians the opportunity to participate in virtual problem solving challenges. The lessons from these nascent systems could influence operational planning in the future, as the multitude of options available to our adversaries could be given to a network of operational planners, rather than myopically focusing on one or two likely courses of action. History has shown the current approach to planning often results in failure to anticipate our adversaries’ actions, an inflexibility we must remedy.

Virtual games are only as good as the environment in which they are conducted. Commercial gaming technology, geographic information systems, intelligence collection sensors, and repositories of global societal data are constantly improving. Much work remains to integrate these various sources of data in order to develop virtual environments of sufficient quality to enable realistic decision-making exercises. Excessive emphasis on environmental fidelity can often become an expensive distraction, however.

Virtual environments may be used to represent complex, networked, “wicked problems” better, as well as demonstrating the impact of our actions within, for example, complex civilian population centers. In short, virtual environments can present a different set of decision making problems and feedback mechanisms not available in live training exercises or traditional war games. This is yet another advantage offered by new forms of simulation.

The term “game” often connotes a recreational activity. If gameplay in the battle lab of the future is to become an effective tool for assessing the tactical decision making of naval leaders, proper incentives must be put in place so these exercises are taken as seriously as time on the rifle range. The emerging concept of gamification rests upon rewards or meaningful status upgrades to reinforce positive behavior, while penalizing negative behavior. Performance in the naval battle lab consequently must be incorporated into annual performance assessments and ultimately influence career decisions.

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Wargaming at the Naval War College

In an examination of military innovation, Dima Adamsky notes a significant difference between the US and Soviet militaries during the Cold War in their approaches to technological adaptation. The Soviets would develop concepts and strategy for use ahead of delivering a technology, whereas the US military usually had the technology and then often took a decade to figure out how to turn it into an operational advantage. To prevent this problem in the future, DARPA and ONR could insert the latest weapons technology into the battle lab years ahead of its actual fielding. This would give future naval leaders the opportunity to experiment with weapons of the future, then speedily integrate them into their decision making cycle as soon the new systems arrive in the operating forces.

The DON’s Task Force Innovation was comprised of over 150 naval innovators from across the operating forces. Improving wargaming and expanding virtual environments were identified as important tools to promote innovative thinking. As a result, Secretary Mabus directed two policy memos to emphasize these two issues and take an integrated naval approach, when possible. While great progress is being made as a result of these directives, these two areas will ultimately form the foundation for a naval battle lab and must proceed in parallel and complement one another.

To operationalize this concept, the numerous stakeholders from across the naval enterprise must work towards a common vision. Developing the functional system as described here will require strong leadership and collaboration across numerous DON organizations. As we have seen, this topic is of great interest to the SECNAV, CNO and CMC. Therefore the current bureaucratic environment may be optimal to make meaningful progress.

There are many technical, fiscal, and organizational barriers which must be overcome to fully operationalize the naval battle lab concept. The most significant obstacle, however, will be cultural. Ultimately our leaders must see the lessons learned from traditional leadership tasks and day-to-day decision-making in an operational environment are invaluable and cannot be supplanted. As cognitive decision-making emerges as a critical capability on the battlefield of the future, we must leverage every opportunity to build the most tactically and operationally proficient naval officers possible. As we see in every aspect of society, technology will play a vital role. If a battle-hardened, infantry Marine like General Neller, who entered military service long before personal computing became part of our daily lives, recognizes the potential of a naval battle lab for building and testing naval leaders, others must take notice too.



As our platforms and missions become more complex, our need for talented people continues to be a challenge. We need to recruit, train and retain the right people…”

Admiral John Richardson, U.S. Navy
Chief of Naval Operations

In 2017, nearly 2,000,000 young men and women will graduate from colleges and universities throughout America. We want 200 of the very best to commission through Officer Candidate School (OCS) and serve America as a Navy Surface Warfare Officer (SWO).

To be sure, we have historically attracted and retained great people in Surface Warfare. With an eye toward our return to Sea Control and distributed, more lethal warships, we should ask ourselves a series of critical questions, “Can we do better?”… and… “Are we tapping into the full potential of America’s shining youth?” Former Joint Chiefs Chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen, referred to the “sea of goodwill” that has given rise to a tide of support for our military since the attacks of 9/11. Is that goodwill sustainable?

Talented young men and women matriculating from our nation’s colleges and universities have life options. Surface Warfare could be one of those options, but it is not enough to sit back and wait for talent to come to us. In the competitive market of America, we must reach out, connect with, inform and attract the most talented into our community – and our Navy – in order to position our warships to fight and win when the nation calls.

There are extraordinary young men and women throughout this nation who would thrive as Surface Warfare Officers, but literally have no idea that the amazing opportunity to serve on warships… leading at sea… undertaking impactful work for our country… is even a remote possibility in their lives.

We are positioned to turn a life opportunity into reality for our nation’s best. Here is how we are doing it.

We know who we want

Through a series of surveys and data collection efforts, we have mapped attributes and characteristics of successful young SWOs.

These include: previous proven leadership experience – of any sort, at any level – in a varsity sport, club or organization; demonstrated initiative; oral and written communication skills; positive contribution to organizational efforts as part of a “team” – assessed through previous participation in organizations, clubs and sports; work experience that illustrates a sense of discipline and accountability; time management and organizational skills that reflect an ability to follow established procedure and demonstrate attention to detail; enthusiasm and passion for the nation and the Navy that would prompt internal motivation in the face of adversity; and, a desire to work hard, remain committed to mission accomplishment with a strong desire for service with impact.

In March, we worked with Navy Recruiting Command and we generated guidance to the entire officer recruiting force in the country, reflecting these attributes and characteristics.

Leveraging our competitive advantage

Junior Officers have told us that the principal attractors to Surface Warfare are: 1) the opportunity for immediate leadership; 2) the opportunity for adventure and travel; 3) the opportunity for a flexible, option-based career; and, 4) the opportunity for postgraduate level education.

In business terms, Surface Warfare has a near-monopoly on these attractors. Can we better leverage that competitive advantage in a more meaningful and vibrant way?

Outreach and the Power of Social Media

In Fiscal Year 2016, 18 young men and women applied to be SWOs through Officer Candidate School from the states of North and South Carolina –combined. We met our “numbers” and we got great people. But there are more than 125 colleges and universities in these two states. Do graduates from these schools – and thousands like them around the country – even know that Navy Surface Warfare is a life option for them and, consequently, are we missing out on large segments of the population who could serve and propel us to even greater heights as a Navy?

Through the power of social media, we can – at a minimum – begin to raise nation-wide awareness of the opportunities in Surface Warfare. This is not about numbers. This is about reaching out and connecting with talented young men and women to ensure they are aware of the opportunities to serve in our community today, ultimately leading our Navy and serving as the sea captains of tomorrow.

Bringing it together

We know who we want, we know what attracts men and women to serve in Surface Warfare and we have the ability to connect with America at our fingertips. Can we take these pieces and integrate them in a meaningful way? Conceptually, we want to move toward “getting who we want” to serve as Surface Warfare Officers – quality men and women, with characteristics that set themselves up for success as a SWO and who are drawn to our community. Along the way, we should connect with America’s exceptional youth from backgrounds and demographics that are under-represented in today’s force.

This is possible today. So we are seizing an opportunity – and moving out quickly!

In a collaborative effort with Navy Recruiting Command, we launched our community’s first-ever targeted outreach into America using the power of social media. Through a newly formed teaming effort with LinkedIn – the largest connector on the planet – we now have the ability to “meet people where they are,” connecting directly with people all over the country using high end talent matching and recruiting functionalities imbedded in LinkedIn.

We also have the ability to provide interested candidates with access to our #1 asset – our people. Today, a cadre of more than 50 junior officers in the current force who have “walked a mile in the shoes of a SWO candidate” are aggregated in an on-line platform. Have a question about serving in the Navy? How to apply for a commission? What does a Surface Warfare Officer do? Those answers are a keystroke away on social media.

The overall concept is simple. Connect directly with the people we want to serve in our ranks, invite their attention to the opportunities of future service as a SWO and provide on-line access to the exceptional men and women we have in today’s fleet. Then, turn interested candidates over to the exceptional professionals in our Navy Recruiting Districts all over the country to support application for Officer Candidate School.

Earlier this month, we conducted our first significant outreach — a direct communication to 150 students possessing the background, attributes and characteristics we want in future SWOs. These students are enrolled in universities and colleges in North and South Carolina – among them: Duke, Wake Forest, the Universities of North and South Carolina, Clemson, Appalachian State, Elon, Davidson, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) like North Carolina A&T and Benedict College.

In a great example of the power of high velocity learning, we have already captured key lessons and applied them – enabling outreach to specific people in even larger audiences on-line.

More broadly, perhaps we open new doors and find opportunities by using a similar approach in critical areas for national security like cyber.

We are also thinking differently about how to more vibrantly leverage social media and networks of influencers to connect with young men and women seeking a commission through the U.S. Naval Academy and Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC).

From 2,000,000 young men and women, we want the best 200 to serve America as a Navy Surface Warfare Officer – executing military diplomacy, sea control and power projection.

Let’s go get ‘em!



President Obama has proclaimed 17-23 June the National Week of Making. The White House is championing the Maker Movement, a cause that respects creativity, inventiveness, and ingenuity. Makers have a passion for creating machines, tinkering with them, and making improvements. New technologies such as 3D-printers, easy-to-use design software, laser cutters, and open-source software are making it easier than ever for everyday Americans to design and prototype their ideas, as well as to solve problems.

The Navy celebrated “Maker Week” on 21 June by sending a part to space. That day, members of Congress, senior military personnel, and members of the zero-gravity 3D-printer company Made In Space, gathered in Washington, D.C. to send the Technical Data Package (TDP) to the International Space Station (ISS). No expensive rocket launch was needed, the TDP simply provided data to produce the part onboard.

Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class A Figert uses a 3-D printer aboard aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75)

Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class A Figert uses a 3-D printer aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75)

The TDP contained plans to create a part called “TruClip,” designed by three Sailors of the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) while underway. The device is designed to protect the clasps used on handheld radios by flight deck crew in rough conditions. A TruClip costs only $0.06 to produce onboard the ship’s 3D-printer, far less than a replacement radio clasp which costs $615. 3D-printers are proving to be a worthwhile investment, for in the 2½ years prior to TruClip the Truman needed $146,000 worth in replacement clasps; since TruClip was introduced only two clasps have been needed. The Navy intends to capitalize on these savings by introducing 3D-printers to its other nine aircraft carriers.

The Department of the Navy’s greatest resource is its Sailors, Marines, and civilian workforce and their ingenuity. Secretary of the Navy Ray Maybus created Task Force Innovation to foster creative problem solving throughout the ranks. With his support, it has funded the introduction of Fabrication Laboratories (Fab Labs) for use by sailors to make their ideas real in the same spirit as the maker movement. The potential of this concept is ground breaking; new designs can be tested and instantly distributed to the entire fleet for construction.

Great progress currently is taking place in the field of 3D-printing, also known as additive manufacturing. The technology has its origins in the 1980s, though it has only recently started to mature as a practical means of producing items. The public’s familiarity with additive manufacturing is often limited to using inexpensive 3D-printers, like Makerbot, to create plastic trinkets. While 3D-printers may not yet be able to print smartphones, they are capable of much more than making plastic models. After years of being relegated to constructing models for designing and prototyping, the private sector now uses additive manufacturing to produce finished parts made of various materials including ceramics, glass, and metal alloys.

It is vital for the military to recognize the potential of new civil technologies. Additive manufacturing is projected to lead to the democratization of manufacturing, allowing the dissemination of production directly to the consumer. It will cut supply chains and eliminate the need to maintain large inventories of spare parts. This change will perhaps be as revolutionary as Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, which democratized knowledge and enabled the Renaissance.

Private innovators are leading the charge for additive manufacturing development, notably Made In Space. This small American startup was founded in 2010 with the intent of making additive manufacturing practical in space. The team started out flying their 3D-printers in NASA’s zero-gravity “Vomit Comet” aircraft, taking it on over 400 parabolic flights as a proof of concept. They created the first 3D-printer to be used in space, which was sent to the ISS on 21 September 2014.

Civilian-developed technologies have often been dismissed in military minds, before proving their worth later on. One notable example is the Higgins boat. The United States Marine Corps developed a strategy for amphibious warfare in the interwar period, but like other naval forces of the time, lacked an adequate landing craft to implement it. After trying numerous unsatisfactory Navy-designed craft, the Department of the Navy (DoN) finally selected a design from a struggling civilian boat maker from New Orleans, Andrew Higgins.

In 1926, Higgins designed “Eureka,” a 20 knot shallow draft boat for use by loggers and fur trappers on the bayou. A metal arm, called a skeg, extended along the bottom of the keel to protect its rudder and propeller in shallow water, and its spoon-bill bow allowed it to easily run up on the shore. The Navy invited Higgins in 1937 to design a landing craft based on Eureka. Higgins’s design was adopted by the Navy, and its definitive form, the LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel), was produced in the tens of thousands.

Higgins’s design received minor modifications to make it more effective in combat, with important impact on the war. Originally it lacked a bow ramp, meaning troops had to jump over the sides to disembark. The Japanese pioneered this feature, which was discovered in 1937 by future Marine Lieutenant General Victor H. “Brute” Krulak, then a First Lieutenant, while serving as a military attaché to Japan. He witnessed the Japanese land in China, and was immediately impressed. Then-1stLt Krulak reported his findings to the DoN, but it had no interest in imitating the Japanese. It was not until 1941, when he went around the DoN and directly to Higgins, that this important feature was added.

Illustration of an LCVP. U.S. Naval Institute

Illustration of a “Higgins Boat”– an LCVP. Click to enlarge. U.S. Naval Institute

The landing craft Higgins designed made an enormous contribution to Allied victory. It made amphibious operations like the Pacific island hopping campaign and Operation Overlord in Normandy possible. General Eisenhower gave the boat immense praise, saying “If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.”

The Higgins boat is an example of civil technology being adopted by the military to great effect, just as additive manufacturing has the potential to do now. In all times, the Department of Defense needs to remain at the cutting edge and recognize the potential of emerging technologies. Additive manufacturing is a current example which the military must explore. Fortunately the DoD is wasting no effort in this regard; the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, Defense Logistics Agency, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are all working to take advantage of additive manufacturing.

Senior sponsorship helps, in addition to support from Secretary Maybus, the need for innovation is also recognized by the President. In 2012 the White House announced the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute — America Makes — as a partnership between the departments of Defense, Energy, and Commerce, the National Science Foundation, NASA, and manufacturing firms, universities, and nonprofit organizations to collaborate on research, development, and demonstration of additive manufacturing. In 2014, President Obama hosted a Maker Faire at the White House. The White House recognizes the need for innovators to collaborate, a major theme of the maker movement at large, with its preference for open source-software and crowdsourcing ideas.

The military benefits most when its best minds collaborate with and learn from private industry and academia. This was shown in the past when future-LtGen Krulak conveyed his thoughts to Higgins. On 21 June, it was demonstrated by having Sailor-designed blueprints sent to a tech startup’s 3D-Printer in space. The goal of Task Force Innovation is to lower barriers and cultivate change. Everyone, from junior enlisted to flag officers and startup companies to multinational corporations, have an equal opportunity to voice their ideas. The delivery of TruClip to the ISS shows what is possible when the military and private sector work together. The Navy has come a long way since the Higgins boat-era and now fully embraces all creative concepts to problem solving.



In an earlier essay , I described how technology will make the future littoral environment even more dangerous and increase the power and reach of smaller ships and shore batteries. I described the need to test and develop flotillas of combat corvettes and other craft and proposed a few platforms currently being built in the United States for use in this experimentation. My article continues the argument originally made by Vice Admiral Cebrowski and Captain Wayne Hughes in their path setting article on the Streetfighter concept. However, successful combat in the littoral environment will have to be a team sport. Fortunately, we have the US Navy and Marine Corps team who can execute this mission, if enabled to develop new capabilities and doctrine to employ them.

This paper is not an argument to kill the Liberty or Freedom class LCS/FF. It is offered for cost and capabilities comparison purposes only as the actual cost data is not for public release. The LCS is a capable mother ship for the operation of other smaller platforms, particularly helicopters. Further the LCS is a cost effective platform for open ocean anti-submarine warfare the corvettes we shall discuss here described here cannot do. We have much more work to do in fully exploring the applications of the LCS/FF.

The United States and her allies require capabilities and doctrines to operate in the littorals to provide on scene presence in areas of controversy such as the South China Seas. By being present we can shape the environment and prevent competitors from achieving effective control using salami slicing tactics and intimidation. If tensions arise to the point of requiring deterrence such forces can provide considerable numbers and resilience as to force an opponent to have to make a serious effort to remove the flotilla supporting littoral outposts. This will reduce the urge for “Use ‘em or Lose ‘em” scenarios which can rapidly escalate. If deterrence fails, these combined forces will pack a considerable punch and contest, if not remove, sea control. Over time such forces operating together could create their own Anti-Access/Area Denial (AA/AD) zone (creating a “No Man’s Sea” where both sides’ zones overlap), gradually advance our own zones and then peel away an opponent’s AA/AD zones.

A truism illustrated in the book The Culture of Military Innovation by Dima Adamsky is genuine revolutions in military affairs do not usually arise out of incremental improvements but in taking new capabilities and systems and employing them in a truly unprecedented configuration. This is the mindset we should adopt when considering how best to employ flotillas of corvettes in littoral environments. Flotillas should not be considered on their own but as part of a combined arms effort. We must change how we think of the design of the corvette and its employment with other joint forces. The flotillas, operated primarily by the Navy, should be supported by littoral outposts operated by Navy Expeditionary Combat Command and United States Marines. Their combination can be very powerful. To take full advantage of them, we must rethink how we operate the combined force. Here I’d like to examine first the flotillas and then the littoral outposts.

An undated photo of the ENS S. Ezzat, an Egyptian Fast Missile Craft. VT Halter Marine Photo

An undated photo of the ENS S. Ezzat, an Egyptian Fast Missile Craft. VT Halter Marine Photo

We must reexamine how we think of the corvette or light frigate. First let us address the definition of Corvette, which historically has ranged between 500 and 2,000 tons in displacement, though there have been variations on this theme. The more important factor is the effect of modern electronics and weapon systems granting smaller platforms enhanced capabilities, similar to what has occurred in aircraft. This provides the ability to adjust to the offensive environment of the sea by the distribution of capabilities in smaller profile platforms, however corvettes measure time on station in days not in the minutes aircraft do.

One of the most dramatic impacts of modern electronics is the increasing ability of smaller platforms to conduct scouting. Aerostats, towed kites, and small UAVs such as Scan Eagle give small platforms capabilities similar to larger platforms operating helicopters, etc. These smaller platforms have no need for the large flightdeck and hangar required for normal helicopter operations. They just need a small flat surface and storage area for rotary drones, nets and launchers for UAVs, or the UAVs can be designed to be recovered from the water. The MQ-8B could potentially be operated from a small flight deck with a small maintenance and storage hanger. This will drive the displacement requirements (and the resulting signature) for such platforms down considerably. Flotillas can then be further augmented in their ocean surveillance (“scouting”) missions by the use of land based aircraft, UAVs, Aerostats, etc. as well as carrier based aircraft operating further back.

Corvettes enabled in this manner can have the same surveillance capacity as any destroyer or frigate. By employing an aerostat or towed kite the corvette would have the ability to suspend a radar system at altitude. Because the power generation is on the ship, the aerostat or kite can have a very capable radar normally seen only in the largest UAVs or on helicopters. Further the greater altitude also provides the ability to control light weight visual sensor enabled UAVs like the Scan Eagle at far greater ranges. Combining the two systems grants the Corvette the ability to conduct surveillance on a large area with the radar locating contacts and the scan eagle visually identifying them. Thus we have gained the same capability which in the past would have required a large flight deck on a destroyer or frigate.

Complementing their scouting capability smaller platforms increasingly will have lethal firepower. The capabilities of anti-ship cruise missiles continue to improve. The distribution of firepower across multiple platforms will mean an enemy has very little opportunity to eliminate such a force without response. Similarly, defensive systems are becoming smaller and more effective. Thus the flotilla force is the littoral element of the Distributed Lethality concept designed for this deadly environment. The limiting factor for the size of corvettes is becoming less dominated by the weapons and more by endurance. Thus it would appear the knee in the curve between competing factors of size, endurance, signature, defensive weapons, offensive weapons, scouting capacity, etc. is between 350 and 800 tons.

The mission of such platforms will be challenging but necessary, particularly in light of aggressive salami slicing lines of operations which require presence to counter. In peacetime, flotillas of corvettes will maintain presence to shape the environment, assure our allies, be observable witnesses to aggression, and train others in conduct of sea control. In an environment of increasing tension, they remain on station to continue scouting, shaping, deterrence and assurance while giving larger signature platforms space to maneuver. At the outset of conflict in a real shooting war they have one mission… attack. Attack like Arleigh Burke planned and Frederick Moosbrugger executed but with updated tactics, techniques, and procedures which enable massed force from distributed forces (See Jeff Cares Distributed Network Operations). Ships will be lost; the question becomes what will be lost when the inevitable hits occur.

While it is tempting to continue the technological trend and employ such small platforms without crews, there are significant limitations which it appears solutions have not arisen. The first is the limitation of control of such vessels. Modern Electronic Warfare means the connections to small platforms will likely be severed. While artificial intelligence has made great advances it does not appear ready, or ready in the near future, to address the challenges and complications of operations at sea specifically for factors such as rules of engagement, fusing information, training allied forces, etc. Robots are not known for their imagination and ingenuity. Further there are considerable sociological prohibitions about lethal force capable platforms operating on their own. Robotics and automation should be designed into such platforms to augment the performance of and decrease the size of the crew, but not replace them. With secure line of sight communications, manned platforms could be teamed with unmanned platforms to provide sensors and firepower.

We need to decrease our dependence on hardkill systems. One of the potential driving factors of increasing the size of such platforms is the compulsion to place Aegis weapons systems on them. We may likely gain the ability to place highly capable sensors on smaller platforms. The move away from transmitting wave tubes on current passive electronically scanned array radars such as SPY-1 to more capable and lighter weight transmit receive tiles used in active electronically scanned array radar systems such as in the APG-81 on the F-35 fighter. However the limitation then becomes one of missile systems, etc. If a force is dependent on hardkill systems, it accepts the risk of not being able to defend itself adequately should active measures fail. Given the proven history of effective electronic warfare, decoys, etc. it would be prudent to take a mixed approach. However, decoy systems, etc. are only as effective as their ability to emulate the intended target. Fortunately, corvettes generally can have very small signatures and other platforms can have even smaller signatures.

Military history shows warships built for niche purposes are very successful in actual wartime though their operators often expand their use outside the original intended mission, thus the need for experimentation.

In the essay in Proceedings, I offered an example for purposes of comparison and analysis, an up-armed variation on the Sentinel class Fast Response Cutter (FRC) as an example of what a combat corvette could offer. Even when doubling the total ownerships costs of the FRC for the modifications described between 12 and 14 FRCs could be owned and operated for the cost of a single LCS and its helicopters. The FRC has an endurance which is competitive with the LCS.

Based on the displacement and design of the FRC, it could be outfitted with two to four ASCMs (perhaps the Naval Strike Missile), the 11 cell SeaRAM system, and decoy system such as the Mark 36 Super Rapid Blooming Offboard Chaff and/or the Rheinmetal Rapid Obscuring System (ROSY). Sensors upgrades would be a navalized version of the APG-81 or other AESA in a rotatable pedestal housing. Offboard sensors would include an aerostat or towed kite system with a surface search radar and/or UAVs similar to the ScanEagle. If these offboard sensor systems cannot be operated together from the same platform, then the corvettes can work in teams.

There are many factors which must be worked out. There may be other platforms more suited or complementary to this role, such as the Mark VI patrol boat, the Stiletto experimental platform, the SeaSlice experimental platform and the Ambassador Class missile boat. The upgunned version of the Sentinel class FRC could perform the role of its namesake, the day to day presence patrol missions in littoral regions, while a platform like the Stiletto would conduct sweeping attack and scouting runs in the event of conflict or the need to conduct a demonstration of resolve. Some of these platforms would not have to be manned. Those conducting high risk missions can be teamed with manned platforms to augment their scouting capabilities and firepower. The important point is the exploration of the concepts, tactics, techniques, procedures, and doctrine in wargames, campaign analysis, and fleet exercises to understand the impact advancing technology is having on naval warfare.

One threat to flotillas of corvettes is enemy submarines. Submarines would have some challenges tracking and effectively employing torpedoes against corvettes due to their small size, speeds, etc. Submarines would have to make modifications to their combat systems and torpedoes to address the flotilla. Submarines’ best opportunity to attack the flotilla would be in chokepoints. The flotillas can have an effective means of negating the submarine. Without sonar, it would appear the corvettes are very vulnerable, but simple tactics can negate the effectiveness of a submarine. As the flotilla approaches a littoral chokepoint they launch lightweight torpedoes pre-emptively in a snake search pattern in the direction of travel. The submarine will likely abort any effective targeting and have to run. Given the high rate of false positive contacts likely to be produced in littoral environments, just as many torpedoes would likely be expended by conventional ASW ships with sonar systems, etc. The number of torpedoes expended can be greatly reduced by the contribution of other forces as will be describe below.

The employment of flotillas of corvettes is only one element in how we need to approach littoral warfare. Equally, if not more, important to success in littoral conflicts is the employment of combined arms. The Proceedings essay briefly touched on the concept of Littoral Outposts as contributors to the effectiveness of flotillas. Such outposts deserve further exploration as they can contribute significantly to the success of future military conflicts and competitions.

Littoral Outposts composed of combined Navy, Marine Corps and other joint/coalition forces can contribute greatly to sea control. The Proceedings essay has already described how such forces can contribute to sea control employing shore based anti-ship cruise missiles, sensors, UAVs, etc. This is only the beginning. Such teams can contribute to ASW, AAW, and strike. Using denial, deception, hardening and mobility in the littoral environment these teams can present a difficult challenge to a competitor. All this would be accomplished by employing new technologies in new and innovative ways.

Littoral Outposts can have a significant impact on Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). We’ve discussed organic responses from corvettes to submarines, but the littoral outpost can greatly reduce the threat of submarines to corvettes and other platforms. The simplest and most conventional solution is the employment of Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) for submarine hunting helicopters. Such helicopters can be stationed ashore or aboard ships operating further back (such as the LCS). Technology also offers effective and innovative approaches to littoral ASW. Littoral outpost can launch a swarm of UAVs employing sensors to conduct grid searches of submarines or minefields in chokepoint areas. When a target is detected and prosecution is initiated the drones could potentially drop charges or these could be launched from shore based mortars. The charges can be very deadly to a submarine as demonstrated by the Hedgehog ASW mortar in World War II. In addition to the MAD UAVs, forces ashore can launch small Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUVs) which act as mobile sonobuoys. The effectiveness of such systems can be greatly enhanced by the survey of such chokepoints in peacetime to identify wrecks and other metallic objects which could generate false positives, etc. In times of crisis, Littoral Outposts and corvettes can work together to plant mines in the chokepoints thus creating a dangerous environment for submarines to operate in.

Littoral Outposts can have a significant impact on Anti-Air Warfare (AAW). Corvettes are vulnerable to Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA). If allowed unfettered access to an area, MPRA has the ability to eventually find and pick out of the clutter small craft like corvettes and deliver weapons or direct weapons and platforms to kill them. The key to the success of the MPRA is time and unfettered access. Littoral outpost can nullify this in different ways. First we noted the size of a corvette limits the size (and therefore range) of surface to air missile systems. So while advanced light weight AESA radars can give a corvette the ability to search and locate MPRA, they don’t necessarily have the weapons which can reach out and touch them or drive them off. Littoral Outposts can be armed with such long range weapons and employ either their own air search radars or employ cooperative engagement systems to guide off the corvette’s track. Littoral Outposts can also employ short takeoff and landing aircraft such as the F-35B. If employing land based radars the Littoral Outposts can disperse the sensors and missiles so as to retain one when the other is destroyed. Or they can remain silent and be queued from land based aerostats or airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft flying from aircraft carriers or air bases further back. Just the knowledge surface to air missiles or aircraft may be hidden in Littoral Outposts can effectively nullify MPRA which are very vulnerable to such weapons and platforms. Taking advantage of denial, deception, hardening, and mobility Littoral Outposts can present a threat to enemy aircraft which is difficult to find, fix, and finish. However, MPRA do not enjoy the same environment when they are radiating to locate small ships in the clutters of the littorals.

Littoral Outposts can make significant contributions to strike. Marine and Navy Expeditionary forces working together can deliver offensives strike operations to sea or land. Employing mobile launchers such as High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) with different weapons (and increasingly in the future weapons which can change roles) Littoral Outposts can deliver fires to affect ships at sea and targets on land. The same HIMARS employed to launch surface to surface missiles can also launch surface to air missiles today. Many Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs) today can also perform land attack missions. Again the F-35B provides similar opportunities.

Combining flotillas of corvettes with Littoral Outposts and littoral transportation platforms like powered barges, the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV), Landing Craft Utility (LCU), and Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM); the US can create mutually supporting elements to conduct maneuver in the littoral environment. Employing denial, deception, rapid hardening (digging in), and mobility, joint forces can advance in the littoral environment in the face of Anti-Access Area Denial (AA/AD) capabilities in the hands of potential adversaries. Littoral Outposts operated by, with, and through allies create AA/AD zones of our own. Behind these AA/AD zones we can then operate higher profile platforms such as aircraft carriers, etc. From these zones, flotillas of corvettes and other seaborne platforms sortie out to conduct sea control/denial and strike operations. From these zones, Littoral Outposts conduct support and strike operations. Once the environment has been shaped, the littoral outpost forces advance with the support of the conventional navy and flotillas. The Littoral Outposts then create new forward AA/AD zones behind which the process advances continues.

As the combined force advances their AA/AD zones advance and enable the attrition of an opponent’s AA/AD system, particularly the sensors (such as MPRA) necessary to enable them. This process will gradually wear down an opponent’s AA/AD system. If our opponents have become too reliant upon AA/AD, they will find themselves in a vulnerable position. Thus in time a combined force can contribute to the peeling away of AA/AD systems and gain maneuver space for the fleet near an opponent’s shore.

A combined arms approach to littoral combat can be very effective. We should be taking advantage of the trends in weapons and how they enhance the lethality and reach of smaller and smaller ships and shore batteries. In essence we must expand the Distributed Lethality concept to embrace our USMC and NECC capabilities in the littoral threat environment. However, to be effective and achieve true revolutions will require changing the way we employ these systems and capabilities. By employing combined arms of flotillas and littoral outposts we and our allies can confront potential opponents with a powerful deterrence force. These forces can enable us to shape events and prohibit aggressive behaviors in peacetime. As crises arise, they provide a resilient force which cannot easily be defeated thus providing stability. Finally in actual combat they provide a deadly threat which can support the larger fleet objectives by contesting and peeling away an opponent’s AA/AD network.

Here we have only addressed the outlines of what the Navy-Marine Corps team’s potential for combined arms in the littorals. We should conduct wargames, experimentation, and analysis to explore the options more fully and identify what other joint capabilities can contribute to this deadly environment. These combined forces should be able to provide commanders with options to address an opponent’s competitive actions in pre-hostilities, deterrence, and if required open warfare. Much more work needs to be done if we are going to remain viable in this new deadly environment.



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