Archive for the 'Innovation' Category

16th

Innovation Buzzkill

February 2016

By

I am concerned that the Navy will soon be mandated to innovate. Even worse, that the process will be bureaucratized. In a memo dated 31 Jul 2015, Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) Ash Carter directed the Defense Business Board (DBB) to “provide recommendations on how the Department can establish ‘virtual consultancies’ that engage our internal talent.” Six months later, the DBB approved a recommendation to designate an entity within the Office of the Secretary of Defense to champion innovation efforts and to serve as a forcing function for cultural change within the organization. While I agree with the spirit of the recommendation, I believe the Navy can – and will – be more successful by innovating through internal channels.

That being said, I still believe the number one barrier to innovation is organizational culture, in which individual leaders do not invite – or support – their subordinates to challenge the status quo. It’s easy to understand why. To invite change into an organization requires courage and effort. Courage to listen, disrupt, and possibly fail. Effort to mentor, follow-through, and champion. It also takes precious time away from the daily routine and more “pressing” matters.

The Secretary of Defense has certainly reinvigorated the innovative spirit within DoD, and many efforts are afoot to facilitate innovation initiatives. Examples include: CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), SECDEF’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), ATHENA, and Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) just to name a few. Innovative efforts, however, are not just restricted to the upper echelons. Enlisted members, Junior Officers (JOs), and DoD civilian are getting involved too – in big ways. Under their own initiative, they are self-organizing, collaborating, and making things happen across the Fleet. DoN should take note.

Good ideas have no rank

For example, Surface Warfare detailing (PERS-41) championed three JO innovation cells to undertake a broad series of initiatives to lead the Navy in recruiting and retaining top talent. In March 2016, a DC symposium – organized by JOs, for JOs – will tackle the challenge of how to better evaluate our officers. Later that month, a team of operators and domain experts will gather in Hawaii to develop human-centered solutions to the challenges of Integrated Air Missile Defense Mission coordination. Stakeholders – even very senior ones – are paying attention.

In a message dated 08 Feb 2016, Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus announced his 2015 innovation award winners – ranging from Third Class Petty Officers, Midshipmen, PhD civilians, and senior officers. These winners tackled a wide-variety of challenges to include robotics/autonomous systems, data analytics, additive manufacturing, energy, weapons, decision aide, and many others. Of particular note were the categories of innovation leadership and innovation catalyst. What can be learned from these innovation leaders? More importantly, what is their formula – or process – for inspiring a culture of innovation success?

Opportunities for Innovation

According to the Department of the Navy’s innovation vision, “the [Navy] must anticipate, adapt, and thrive in a rapidly changing environment, which requires freedom, the flexibility to innovate at all levels, and the ability to flatten the organization, break-down silos, and create cross-disciplinary synergies.”

Perhaps SECNAV’s guidance says it best:

  • Commanders at every level must create an environment which allows for the challenging of assumptions, the creation of novel ideas and strategies, and the support to follow-through and make an impact.
  • Commanders at all levels must identify the appropriate conditions for taking risks.
  • Prudent risk takers, and the failures which result in learning, must be recognized and rewarded.
  • Zero-Defect thinking must not permeate promotion boards or performance assessments. Failure that occurs in a learning environment ultimately benefits the organization.

The key to DoN’s innovation success will be a collection of individual leaders who inspire trust in their people – willing to listen, provide feedback, and champion good ideas wherever they may come from. Our DoN members are already partnering with internal Navy circles, industry, small businesses, and academia to organize projects, symposiums, innovation forums, and task groups. I urge Navy leadership to leverage the enthusiasm and creativity already resident inside our organization today. Innovation success relies on relationships and empowerment, not mandates and directives.



c5db817c565459e739af64f9cd6c617a9189b9eaLack of self-awareness. We all know people who suffer from this problem. Can organizations suffer from the same?

Let’s look at the basics of looking for problems and fixing them and see where it takes us.

As a firm believer in continuous improvement, no organization can remain excellent over time without clear, and often cutting, self-examination. Good, regular “preventative maintenance” is just solid leadership. When all is well, you want to make sure all is well. You inspect, measure, compare and report. If something is not what it should be, you correct and move on.

Sometimes, problems come to you before you can find them. At sea, in the air, or even in a car – you can often “feel” something is not quite right well before a light or alarm goes off. Sometimes it is obvious like a subtle shimmy or noise, other times obvious – but you never just ignore it, you investigate.

As is often the case, you may not find the cause of your unease on the first path you take in trouble-shooting. You try one thing for a certain period of time, and if that is not productive, you move on to another possibility. What you don’t do is to double down on an area of investigation that, in a reasonable period of time, shows you nothing that is wrong.

Most can agree with this. So, let’s move away from the practical area of trouble shooting to the other side of the brain, the bureaucratic method.

What if an organization created to fix a problem finds nothing, but in its search, exemplifies a greater problem that is infecting the entire organization?

Well, we may have that.

Behold, the Pentagon’s Office of the Senior Adviser for Military Professionalism;

(RADM Peg) Klein has spent nearly two years helping the services sharpen their professional development and leadership training. Her office was created in March 2014 by then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel amid a spate of scandals involving senior officers and mounting concerns of a systemic or cultural problem in the ranks. Those fears may have been overblown, she said.

“We’re not in a crisis. But this subject of human behavior requires constant attention,”

What have we found?

The slew of scandals that emerged a few years ago made for stunning headlines. A Navy corruption scandal. An Air Force major general who oversaw nuclear missiles was fired after his drunken bender on a visit to Moscow offended both his Russian hosts and his own staff. An Army four-star general was reprimanded for spending lavishly on official trips.

But Klein said those are anecdotal and she’s found no systemic or deeply rooted cultural problem. “We’re seeing numbers within historic norms,” she said.

OK. No crisis. Good intentions here though;

“We always want to be shooting for a target that decreases the incident rate.”

“We think the right answer is a little different for each service based on their heritage.”

Improvement. Good. What other subjective ideas have come up in two years? I say subjective, as I don’t see any metrics. What we know is that they like the Marines and the Army and all their schools. They think, ahem, that the Navy and USAF officers spend too much time … well … not going to school, I guess;

During the past two years, Klein and her seven-member staff have helped the Navy and Air Force set up their own centers: the Navy Leadership and Ethics Center at the Naval War College in Rhode Island and the Air Force’s Profession of Arms Center of Excellence at Joint Base San Antonio.

“Those two organizations are helping airmen and sailors to understand the importance of trust, humility, integrity, empathy. They are helping them understand those very important virtues of command,”

Let’s take a moment and let that soak in. Based on a staff of seven’s subjective service envy, we have set up schools that won’t touch but a few officers, to understand “trust, humility, integrity, empathy.”

If you have made it through the selection process for an officer program, OCS, NROTC, USNA, and go through at least one sea tour – and we as an organization do not know at a minimum that you are a trustworthy person with integrity – what are we doing? As for humility and empathy, neither one of those things can be taught, they can only be demonstrated.

I’ve worked a lot with Marines, Army, and Air Force personnel, and have served in their units as well. Do they have different cultures? Sure do. But …

“The Army and the Marine Corps have a very mature profession of arms,”

“The ground forces, they send really junior people into leadership positions. They have company command, they have O-3s going into command, and their professional identity is learned very early on,” Klein said, referring to the paygrade for captains in the Army, Marines and Air Force. Navy O-3s are lieutenants. Yet the Navy and the Air Force, historically, “are very technically focused,” she said.

That is an incredibly broad brush. I’m not sure what she is actually going for here. Is the implication that our Navy is “immature” in its professionalism? That your standard issue Navy O3 has no “professional identity?”

That might be true in isolation, but I don’t see that in any general way in the Navy than other services. A LTjg flying a EA-18G? A LTjg XO of a PC? A LT SEAL?

Do we need more LT and LCDR commands? Of course, and to our great shame we don’t, but I don’t think that is what her team is focused on.

… Klein found that the Army and Marine Corps created “centers of excellence” for commanders’ professional development, but the Navy and Air Force had not. These organizations develop training programs for current and future leaders that focus on the intangible virtues of leadership as well as more mundane matters like travel regulations, restrictions on accepting gifts and using official vehicles — issues that can cause headaches for some leaders and their staffs.

I’ll stop there. You can read the rest Andrew Tilghman’s bit over at MilitaryTimes. But after two years, the answer for the Navy and the Air Force is less time leading Sailors, forward deployed, honing their craft – but busy work ashore to make sure they don’t have issues with,

travel regulations, restrictions on accepting gifts and using official vehicles

This has nothing to do with “warfighting first” or building leaders, this has everything to do with trying to prevent bad news stories that evolve from fallen beings in an imperfect world making leadership read embarrassing stories like Fat Leonard in … MilitaryTimes.

Goodness knows we don’t want “some leaders” having headaches or their staff’s dealing with problems.

Shipmate, I’ve got news for you – the job of “some leaders” and their staff is just that – dealing with headaches. That is why they exist.

I am not impressed. We have no uptick in human failings, by her own admission, and are not in crisis, but we are acting as if we are in crisis. It begs the question, why?

If we are concerned about people with personality defects being promoted, then we need to stop promoting them. Do the regression analysis. More schooling is not going to make an adult suddenly have more empathy or humility. Look deeper in to a culture that promotes people with these problems. If we actually have one.

Do we have things in our Navy culture that needs improving? We sure do, but I don’t see anything in RADM Klein’s report that would do that except more LT commands.

Another thing we need to do is to know when we have dug a dry hole. Let’s go back to part of an earlier quote;

RADM (Peg) Klein has spent nearly two years helping the services sharpen their professional development and leadership training. Her office was created in March 2014 …

Wait for it;

She has asked Defense Secretary Ash Carter to extend its life through January 2017. “A little bit more time is a really inexpensive investment in getting traction in these ideas that we’re trying to institutionalize,” she said.

A few years ago, I tried to create a measure of time that would give proper context to the programs we keep shoveling money borrowed from our grandchildren in to. I called it a WorldWar, or WW.

A WW is the length of time it took to fight WWII. 1,366 days = 1 WW.

From March 2014 to Jan 2017, that is roughly .76 WW.

In ~3/4 the time it took us to fight WWII, we are going to have a 2-star and a staff of 7 look in to the cause of,

a spate of scandals involving senior officers and mounting concerns of a systemic or cultural problem in the ranks.

~.5 WW in to that investigation, the group realized that concerns were unfounded, but they liked their little exercise and wanted to extend its life by another 50% to see if they could find any more happys that needed to be put in to glads. Any light grey that needed to be dark grey.

If you are looking for cultural problems, you can start here. In a time where the US Navy is facing,

… a $7 billion reduction in fiscal 2017 funding – about 3.5 percent over last year’s plan … The Navy is planning on a uniformed force of 322,900 sailors in 2017, down from 327,300 authorized in 2016 and last year’s forecast of 326,500 for 2017. … the permanent elimination of a tenth carrier air wing and four aviation squadrons, and a new request to take seven cruisers out of service in 2017 …

… and we are trying to keep a Flag Officer project alive another year that, after two years, determined that the purpose for which it was created was unfounded, nothing is systemically broken, but they found some things they personally found interesting that they want to spend unknown millions of dollars to tinker with.

This staff has done its job. It has some recommendations – some that one could argue could have been discovered in a much quicker time. It is time to let it submit its report and to recode the manning document.

It has been .5 MM.

The Tamarians may have had, “Shaka, when the walls fell,” perhaps we can have, “Klein and Hagel on leadership.”



Over the past several months, senior naval leaders have highlighted the importance of organizational learning to accelerate innovation and adapt to future challenges. For instance, the SECNAV noted the confluence of people, ideas and information as the foundation of the DON’s Innovation Vision; Admiral Richardson introduced his concept of “accelerated learning” in A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority; and LtGen Walsh unveiled the Marine’s “campaign of learning” in a speech at CSIS. However, many internal barriers must be addressed to fully implement their vision.

The concept of a learning organization has been discussed in management circles for several decades. Yet there is no consensus on a standard definition nor are the steps to build one clear. A 1993 Harvard Business Review article by Professor David Garvin serves as a useful starting point for the Naval Services to consider.

Garvin defines a learning organization as, “…an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.” Garvin also identifies five building blocks to create such an organization. They are:

Systemic Problem Solving: This first activity rests heavily on the scientific method, wide use of data and statistical tools. Most training programs focus primarily on problem-solving techniques, using exercises and practical examples. Accuracy and precision are essential for learning. Employees must therefore become more disciplined in their thinking and more attentive to details. They must continually ask, “How do we know that’s true?”, recognizing that close enough is not good enough if real learning is to take place. They must push beyond obvious symptoms to assess underlying causes, often collecting evidence when conventional wisdom says it is unnecessary. Otherwise, the organization will remain a prisoner of “gut facts” and sloppy reasoning, and learning will be stifled.

Experimentation: This activity involves the systematic searching for and testing of new knowledge. Experimentation is usually motivated by opportunity and expanding horizons, not by current difficulties. It takes two main forms: ongoing programs and one-of-a-kind demonstration projects. Ongoing programs normally involve a continuing series of small experiments, designed to produce incremental gains in knowledge. Demonstration projects are usually larger and more complex than ongoing experiments. They involve holistic, system-wide changes, introduced at a single site, and are often undertaken with the goal of developing new organizational capabilities. Because these projects represent a sharp break from the past, they are usually designed from scratch, using a “clean slate” approach.

Learning from past Experience: Companies must review their successes and failures, assess them systematically, and record the lessons in a form that employees find open and accessible. Unfortunately, too many managers today are indifferent, even hostile, to the past, and by failing to reflect on it, they let valuable knowledge escape. A study of more than 150 new products concluded that “the knowledge gained from failures [is] often instrumental in achieving subsequent successes… In the simplest terms, failure is the ultimate teacher.”

Learning from Others: Not all learning comes from reflection and self-analysis. Sometimes the most powerful insights come from looking outside one’s immediate environment to gain a new perspective. Enlightened managers know that even companies in completely different businesses can be fertile sources of ideas and catalysts for creative thinking. At these organizations, enthusiastic borrowing is replacing the “not invented here” syndrome.

Transferring Knowledge: For learning to be more than a local affair, knowledge must spread quickly and efficiently throughout the organization. Ideas carry maximum impact when they are shared broadly rather than held in a few hands. A variety of mechanisms spur this process, including written, oral, and visual reports, site visits and tours, personnel rotation programs, education and training programs, and standardization programs.

To some extent the naval services are already engaged in these activities but significant improvement is needed if we are to turn these efforts into a real competitive advantage. Several internal challenges need to be addressed to become the learning organization envisioned by our senior leaders. Here is a short list:

Culture: Dr. Frank Hoffman recently noted that the Navy’s learning culture was essential for overcoming the challenges of countering German U-Boats in WWII. According to Hoffman, “Brutally candid post-exercise critiques occurred in open forums in which junior and senior officers examined moves and countermoves. These reflected the Navy’s culture of tackling operational problems in an intellectual, honest, and transparent manner.” To regain this learning culture, two issues must be addressed: fostering an environment of candor and preventing organizational hubris, often buttressed by questionable models or rhetoric intended to defend programs of record, from lulling leaders into a false sense of security. Learning cannot begin if we cannot have candid conversations about what is working and what needs to be fixed. The best agile organizations today continually use stress-testing of plans and strategies to identify areas for improvement.

Incentives: Many individuals and organizations view knowledge as a source of power. Therefore, the more knowledge one collects and retains, the more one’s standing and influence increases. In Team of Teams, General McChrystal examines this issue through a game-theory lens. In a “knowledge-is-power” environment, those who share knowledge are considered the losers, while those who receive knowledge are winners. We must create the right incentives to change this behavior by rewarding those who put effort in to sharing knowledge and penalize those who hoard knowledge or prevent information from being shared.

Outdated Tools and Policies: Since the advent of the internet, senior leaders have called for shifting from a “need-to-know” approach to a “need-to-share”. Unfortunately, this shift is difficult to achieve because of outdated information-centric policies, exaggerated treats, and risk-averse leaders. The workforce must have the proper tools and effective policies so knowledge transfer can occur easily and risk is realistically considered. Further, we must resolve how to capture the great ideas of our talented workforce and share our problems with public. Our naval culture and our desire to solve problems internally often prevent us from sharing our complex problems with “outsiders”. This practice prevents novel solutions from entering our decision making cycle.

Undefined Learning Ecosystem: Pockets on knowledge and learning exist across the DON but sharing is often stove-piped by organizational boundaries. Many organizations created the position of Knowledge Managers but their effectiveness is inconsistent and there is no strategy to create a “knowledge CO-OP” across the organization. Having an enterprise-wide strategy would prevent duplication of effort in knowledge generation and permit learning from other’s experience. The DON must create a learning ecosystem, with the appropriate infrastructure, tools, and practices that enables us to become an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.

Having senior leaders champion these issues today is an important first step to develop this important capability. However, the organization needs to move with a sense of urgency and not treat learning as another passing fad or simply leave organizational learning to happenstance. The digital natives entering the workforce today are knowledge sharers by nature. If no improvements are made to the issues discussed above, they will go “outside the wire” to collaborate on work related issues. This will increase risk and detract from organizational learning.

The Department of Navy possesses an incomprehensible amount of data, information, knowledge and practical experience; all are underpinned by a wealth of naval history from which to learn. We must place a priority on creating a learning organization and turn this concept into a true competitive advantage for the future.



Please join us at 5pm (EST) on 17 Jan 2016 for Midrats Episode 315: “Where Next for our Ground Forces?” with Paul Scharre:

With a decade and a half of ongoing ground combat under our belt, what are the hard-won lessons we need to keep, and what should be left behind? Looking forward, what are the challenges our ground forces need to make sure they are prepared to meet?

From growing conventional strength from nations who desire to challenge our nation’s global position, to the unending requirements for Counter Insurgency excellence, what is the balance?

Our guest to discuss this and more will be Paul Scharre, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a former Army Ranger with service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

You can download a copy of his CNAS report, “Uncertain Ground: Emerging Challenges in Land Warfare,” from the CNAS site here.

Join us live if you can, or pick the show up later, by clicking here. Or you will find the show later at our iTunes pages here



The January 2016 issue of Proceedings is out, and it contains a well-intentioned essay from Captain Kevin Eyer, USN (ret) on “How to Make Flag.” It is an honest reflection of what many see as the way to achieve the storied rank of Admiral.

There are certainly no shortages of literature out there about how to rise to the top in your profession, from do-it-yourself guides to self-reflection pieces by leaders. In the Navy, we are often told about the sanctity of the Golden Path and the sacred nature of the MILPERSMAN. These are our “how-to” guides to get that mythical “EP” or “100” or “knowing wink of approval” when a career hinge-point appears.

Many folks want to make the Navy a career, and I can’t imagine a nobler pursuit. Some rely on the Navy for a paycheck and a decent standard of living. But let us never forget that a Navy career is not about oneself; it is about something greater.

What is needed in our Navy today are not officers committed to flag, but officers committed to purpose. We need men and women who are willing to make a difference for the service, for their Sailors, and for each other without regard to self-acclaim or the credit.

Cynicism and the Company

Captain Eyer remarks that, to make flag, “cynicism of any sort is unwelcome. You do not want to be identified as one of those poor souls who simply doesn’t ‘get it’.” Cynicism, though, is often in the eye of the beholder; at times it is feedback or legitimate grievance, while at others it is useless complaining. And the root of much of the background cynicism in our service is that “the system is rigged;” that “the status quo culture” reigns; and that it is more about “career building than professional development.”

It is telling that small talk in our service, especially when one meets someone new, goes something like this:

“So, are you staying in?” (meaning: The Navy)

If you answer “No” or “I’m not sure,” commence some tangent conversation. But if you say, “Yes:”

“Oh, so you’re a lifer?” they sneer.

And that, right there, is the crux of the issue. There is a perception that commitment to the Navy as a career means you must become a “company man;” that you will swallow the “company line.”

Maybe that was how things were in a different time. But there is a generation working hard, quietly, coming up through the ranks. We are committed to making a difference instead of making rank. We are committed to doing this even if it makes us look personally bad, or if it means some new “requirement” or the elimination of some cherished pot of money, or a request for assets that can help us fight better.

A Different Discussion

According to Captain Eyer, “following these rules should get you into the discussion, which cannot be said of that other superb performer who chose either to labor in obscure fields or was freer in the expression of his or her views.”

We should never fear the thoughtful, positive, constructive exchange of ideas or opinions. We must be confident in ourselves as a service–and individually as leaders–that debate makes us stronger and inspires greater understanding, better operations.

If we are going to break the stereotype of “company men” or “company women” in positions of authority, we are going to have to break down some barriers. We are going to have to value intra-service communication and discussion. We are going to have to break through the paradigm of the NAVADMIN and the Page 13 and talk about why we do things. And we are going to have to help change the often counter-productive cultures in our service, from de-facto personnel policy to innovation to leadership and command.

New Year, New Navy

Captain Eyer’s piece accurately reflects the current perception of how some of our leaders are chosen. But it does not have to be this way. We can be a generation who chooses purpose over promotion.

We choose to gain perspective now. We choose to build coalitions now. We choose to attempt to solve the problems that vex us today so that we can be the generation that stops kicking the can down the road. We choose to take charge of our Navy now–if not in rank or billet, then in ideas and purpose.

We have history on our side. Our Navy is at its best when it uses all of its brain; not just the well-billeted, high-ranked parts.

Thankfully, there are more than a few flag officers who have made a difference throughout their careers. They inspire us, give us hope, and challenge us to achieve greater things.

As we close out 2015, let us look to a New Year where we care less about the ink on our FITREP, and more about the sweat and daily strain required to make our service better, every day. How do we do this? Write. Get together over coffee, beer, water, or PT. Ask Questions! Talk about our history and lessons learned. Ask “What if?” Prototype. Practice. Fail. Never Stop Moving Forward.

We do not need permission to make our Navy better. We do not need to wait for flag. We need simply to make a difference.



December 20th marked our first month as Naval Innovation Advisory Council fellows, stationed in Silicon Valley. Imagine an aviator and a SWO standing at the doorstep of Silicon Valley; it has been an experience akin to Alice’s entry into wonderland. As we’ve been exposed to several corporate cultures centered on innovation, one theme continues to prevail: TRUST.

Trust requires vulnerability and leads to profound mutual respect. With trust comes openness, and with openness comes true innovation. Without trust, the best ideas remain close to people’s chests. With openness, people are more apt to engage in difficult conversations, an essential component of great collaboration. If you’ve ever experienced great collaboration you will know that it becomes much easier to frame problems and in turn, find solutions. It all starts with a solid foundation of trust among all of the organization’s members.

We are intrigued by the way top executives frequently hold open dialogue with all members of their company even (especially) about sensitive matters effecting company strategy. They trust their employees to keep the sensitive information close and the employees trust their executives to take their feedback seriously.

The Department of the Navy will only achieve organizational honesty and institutional integrity if we trust each other… And this is difficult.

How do we overcome our negative reactions to internal threat, embarrassment, perceived loss of power, and new perspectives from E-1 to O-10?

Are my Navy teammates comfortable showing me their vulnerabilities? If not, why?

How can trust be restored?

There is hope to answer these questions and enhance the level of trust in our organization. Building and restoring trust becomes easier when we focus on mutual purpose and respect. Destructive disagreement can be overcome by respect built on our common pledge to support and defended The Constitution of the United States of America.



Please join us for a special 2PM (EST) early edition of Midrats for Episode 310: Fleet Battle School

How do you design a game that has practical tactical application to the naval tactician? Even more ambitious, how do you make one accessible and understandable with the goal of making it a mobile wargame for eventual use by sailors and warfare commands.

For today’s show we will discuss one of the projects of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), the game “Fleet Battle School.”

Our guests to discuss this game, gaming in general, and its practical application will be three individuals involved in the project; LT Matthew Hipple, Paul Vebber and Chris Kona. Chris Kona is a warfare analyst at Naval Undersea Warfare Center. A former submarine officer in the U.S. Navy, he was project lead for the CRIC’s Fleet Battle School wargame project. Paul Vebber is a retired SWO CDR who is a life-long hobby wargamer. He was one of founders of Matrix Games, the premiere publisher of computer wargames, working with them until their merger with Slitherine games. He currently works for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Mission Area Director for Undersea Warfare as Asst. Director for Concept Development, Wargaming, and Experimentation.

Join us live if you can (or pick the show up later by clicking here). Or pick the show up later on our iTunes page here.



2nd

Fanta’s Elephant

December 2015

By

w_16As reported by our friend Chris Cavas, at an American Society of Naval Engineers symposium this week, we heard an interesting series of statements from those who are responsible for providing the tools we give our Sailors to take to sea.

In the background we could also see an enlightening contrast between the tinkerer and the warfighter.

First, the tinkerer;

“How do we deliver the capabilities going forward, what does it take to do that?” John Burrow, the Navy’s top civilian official for research, test and evaluation, asked a professional audience in Washington on Tuesday. “It takes investment, a willingness to take on risk, a willingness to fail.”
..
“From an engineering point of view — a science point of view — if we don’t push the envelope, take it to the outer edge, we’re not going to achieve the capabilities we need.”

Without pointing to specific entities, Burrow decried critics who focus on defects.

“We need to be willing to go off road, to change direction,” he said, noting that it’s not always apparent at the beginning of a program what eventually will be needed.

“I don’t think we can get a group of people to deliver a requirements package that’s perfect,” he said, “and then at the end we have trouble with cost and schedule. I submit that with that linear process, we shouldn’t be surprised that we have problems at the end.”

Is he really speaking of two different things here, experimentation vs. the need for functional systems at sea? Is his problem that two different goals have been welded together and as a result, produces an inferior product?

We’ve often discussed the compounding nature of technology risk and the danger that places programs run under concurrency. It is the secondary effect of concurrency that I believe he is complaining about.

The first part of his quote is spot on about basic research and development. You test a lot of things expecting a lot of failures. That way we know what doesn’t work, and can refine the refinable to get something of use, an improvement, or perhaps even a breakthrough.

The second part is the classic requirements battle of change and disconnect. When you look at the dog’s breakfast of DDG-1000 and LCS in particular, you can see where we have a forced pairing of technology development & concept evaluation with a very real need to get warships in to the fleet; concurrency. As a result, we really haven’t done either very well or in an acceptable timeframe.

Now for the warfighter;

Read the comments from Rear Admiral Pete Fanta, USN, Director Surface Warfare (N96). He threw out some good thick slices of USDA-Prime red meat. I had to back up and re-read it to see if he actually said what I thought he said. Salamander, on balance, approves.

We have been floundering since the end of the Cold War when it comes to our ability to advance the fight from our warships. “Build a little, test a little, learn a lot” has morphed in to “Spend a lot, testify in front of Congress a lot, learn new ways to make PPT slides.”

The desire of the revolutionary transformationalists to meld “if we don’t push the envelope, take it to the outer edge,” to “build aircraft and ships now” has left the decades and centuries of evolutionary development behind. Results speak for themselves, and while rolling in that froth we have failed to execute the fundamentals.

Why don’t we have better weapons at sea? Simple, they have not been a priority. The technology is there, while the perfect is on PPT; the good is on the shelf, as an unfunded requirement.

“We still have a requirement for a Tomahawk cruise missile to attack surface ships sitting on the books. In fact it’s been reiterated for the past 15 years,” Fanta noted.

“We know what Tomahawk is capable of,”…

“We’re talking about evolving the capabilities that we have,” he said. “I got a great truck” — the Tomahawk. “It’s a big missile, it’s sitting inside my [vertical launch system] cells right now. What other things can we put on it or make it do, whether with a seeker, without a seeker, dumb seekers, smart sensors? We’re looking at all of that.

“This missile is going to be around until the mid-2040s,” Fanta noted. “I think I better figure out more things to do with it than just hit a spot on the beach.”

Like Harpoon, it is a bit dated, but it is better than nothing – and is a good capability bridging weapon until we get focused and get something better.

That was not the most interesting thing he said. RADM Fanta has put down a marker, and BZ to him for doing it deftly;

Rear Adm. Pete Fanta, the director of surface warfare at the Pentagon, was blunt in responding to a question about why the US can’t seem to field similar capabilities in a timely manner.

“We can get there, but get the hell out of my way,” Fanta declared, speaking to the bureaucratic obstacles. “I can get there fast, I can get with the same capability, I can get it on the ships, but I can’t do it in a risk-averse, fear-centric organization.

“That’s not you folks,” he said to the civilians in the room, “that’s us wearing the uniform. I’m willing to go be the chew toy for Congress if I fail. You let me go try it, I’ll go do it. You let me bolt it on, I’ll take the risk. I’ll find a [commanding officer] out there that’s willing to point it in a direction and fire it” and understand the risks.

“I can’t do it in an organization that spends three times as much on proving it might or might not work perfectly every single time, as I can if I just go do it. Every success we’ve had we just went and did. Every major failure we’ve had has been an opinion on the level of failure by someone else.

That may be a little too blunt, but it’s the truth,” Fanta said. “We need to get out of this risk-averse culture.”

There is your elephant. He is speaking about leadership. Our senior leadership. I don’t know if he just put his boss on report, in a fashion, but who cares if someone tries to construe that he did? He is a Flag Officer in the world’s greatest navy. Speaking blunt truths is what he is paid the big-bucks for. It is a serious job when your orders determine how many men and women return from going in to harm’s way.

Everything begins and ends with leadership. All else is simply decoration.

More of this. Much more of this. This is the clear, direct, and blunt talk among professionals we need. In areas such as this, in public is a great place to do it. It encourages junior leaders by example.

At the same event, USNI’s own Megan Eckstein picked up a few other items that should encourage navalists even more that we have good people in hard jobs who are thinking right.

“There are systems that we’re using that we’re moving from defensive capability into a very aggressive offensive capability,” Program Executive Officer for Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS) Rear Adm. Jon Hill said during the panel discussion, referring to the SM-6.

Surface Ship Weapons Office Program Manager Capt. Michael Ladner told USNI News in November that he was pursuing software-only upgrades to the missile that would allow it to take on other missions, which he said he could not discuss. But he said the new missions “focus on distributed lethality and shifting to an offensive capability to counter our adversaries’ [anti-access/area-denial] capabilities.”

The SM-1 had a great anti-surface combat record, let’s give SM-6 that same capability and perhaps a few other fun ones as well. Give CO’s a toolbox to do their job, not just a bag of hammers. This is all very good. Megan also snagged another good RADM Fanta point,

… the Navy needed a way to better protect its four Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) destroyers forward stationed in the Mediterranean Sea. Since the ships are so focused upward on searching for missile threats, they became vulnerable themselves to cruise missiles and other incoming munitions, Hill told USNI News in September. Rather than station another ship nearby to protect the BMD destroyer, Navy engineers realized they could install Raytheon’s Sea Rolling Airframe Missile (SeaRAM) anti-ship missile defense system onto the ships – even though SeaRAM had never been integrated with a destroyer or its Aegis Combat System before.

Without naming the specific new threat, Fanta said during the discussion that “a new threat pops up in the Eastern Mediterranean, we have a very low probability of kill against that new threat. Within six months, we had moved over $50 million. Jon Hill had found a contractor that was building a new asset. We redirected new mounts and new systems out to those destroyers. His testing folks decided how it could actually be done better, faster, cheaper and smarter. We shipped the mounts to the Mediterranean – never been done to do an install in the Mediterranean. And now we’re testing it in the Mediterranean in the Spanish ranges.

“We went from a probability of kill of very low to a probability of kill of pretty damn high,” Fanta continued.

The advantages of extra deckspace and freeboard.

Are we making up for some lost time? Perhaps. The talk is right, and some action is moving. Watch the money and follow-through … but the needle is twitching and drifting in the right direction.



FRAMEWORKS_17OK, with the core topic of this post, “Russians” may be a bit of clickbait, but they actually are a large underlying flavor to this stew history is cooking up.

This is the stew of the realists and their allies the antitransformationalists – something we should have a hearty appetite for after a few decades of the toasted rice-cakes fed to us by the Cult of Transformation.

The last year has seen a welcome shift in the center of gravity for navalists in the national security arena in a direction that will help our navy rebalance towards the end of the Terrible 20s that will be defined by budget stress and an excess number of sub-optimal platforms warping our perception of per-unit power projection. It took a few decades for us to get here, so let’s look at how we got here.

Dizzy in the head following our victory in the Cold War, a large cadre of people came in to positions of influence that really thought that not only was the world new, that war itself was new. They thought they had found a new world via an ahistorical, blinkered perspective of technological progression limited to their professional lifetime. Not unlike the nuclear weapons fetishdom of Eisenhower’s “New Look” – they thought they had a gift of being at the right time in a technological leap where their brilliance will be able to facilitate a transformation that decades and centuries of prior leaders could not make happen.

Aggressively following the post-Goldwater-Nichols diktat of Jointness, they picked up the McNamara Era mindset that, like GM made Pontiac, Chevrolet, and Oldsmobile versions of the same car by changing the grill and a few other items – all the services should be able to make do with the same kit.

Using carefully crafted green eyeshade practices that would make Quartermaster Bloomfield proud, they were convinced that the warfighter needed to make compromises to make the metrics fit in DC, regardless of the actual combat utility of the item in question. A penny-silly and pound-foolish track record only brought in more “oversight” and regulations – further compounding a system with each passing year decoupled from operational experience.

Few breaks were in place to counter an almost pentecostal fervor toward what was becoming a personality based procurement process. Any opposing ideas, cautioning, or points-of-order were seen as naïve at best, disloyal at worst. As dissent was silenced and blind endorsement rewarded, humility – and a refined evolution of systems gave way to an ego driven revolutionary movement.

Initial warning signs were seen as early as the Bush-41 administration, but the transformationalist party culminated at the opening of this decade when the grim truth of what we bought with this new movement began to displace water and make shadows on the ramp (if they made it that far).

What did we get? I’ll leave the other services alone, but what we got was A-12, ACS, titanium fire mains, warships without the ability to engage other warships, an entire class of sub-optimal hulls we still do not know what to do with, a Joint Strike Fighter that no one is happy with, technology demonstrators made of balsa wood, EFV, and flight decks full of light fighters circling CVN in some strange mobi-strip VFA-centipede refueling each other.

Yes, that does need to be reviewed almost monthly if for no other reason than as a warning to future generations.

So, what have Neptune’s copybook headings brought us that should give us cheer? Let’s go to the title of the post.

Range: Jerry Hendrix’s paper from CNAS last month, Retreat from Range: The Rise and Fall of Carrier Aviation continues to get traction. The first phase of this argument started when Jerry and I were barely LTs with the coming death of the A-6 and towards the end of that decade, the light attack mafia’s destruction of the VF bloodline. That argument was lost. The results are clear.

The end of the Cold War – followed by the decision to cancel the replacement aircraft for the A-6 Intruder, the A-12 Avenger II – began a precipitous retreat from range and the deep strike mission that had long characterized the carrier air wing. The rapid successive retirements of the A-6 Intruder, F-14 Tomcat, and S-3 Viking that followed, and the decision to replace these aircraft with variants of the F/A-18 Hornet – originally designed as a replacement for the short-ranged fighters and light attack aircraft – shrank the average range of the carrier air wing from over 800 nm in 1996 to less than 500 nm by 2006. This occurred just when competitor nations, led by China, began to field A2/AD systems with ranges of 1,000 nm or more.

Just in time for the design of the replacement for the F/A-18 that will patch over not just the range issue, but the shortcomings of the F-35C and the significant capability gaps that will exist in whatever carrier based drone fleet we develop. The heavy fighter should be back.

Reach: Now that potential challengers on the high seas are leaving brown and green water, another screaming voice can no longer be ignored. We really do not have a way to reach out and touch anyone. Those few ships that can carry a ASCM are stuck with an old but useful Harpoon, a weapon modern AAW defenses have made much less effective. Other nations have one to two generations better ASCM than we do. We are making progress towards something better, but for now – there isn’t much to distribute in our distributed lethality. The transformationalists were so busy looking in to the far future, they forgot that the now and near future may have to go to war at sea.

The joint DARPA/ US Navy LRASM program was initiated in 2009 to deliver a new generation of anti-ship weapons, offering longer ranges and better odds against improving air defense systems

Faster please.

Risk: Rest assured, the transformationalist have been chastened but not humbled in the last few years. Ignoring their track record, may of them have moved on to one of the last areas where PPT seems to trump physics, technology, and ROE – unmanned systems. Even there, smart voices are saying smart things that should help us be able to get something useful for the fleet. Not something ethereal that never makes it like the A-12, but perhaps something usable like the VIRGINIA Class SSN.

One of the better points in this regard was made recently by Bryan McGrath;

The Unmanned Carrier-Launched Aerial Strike and Surveillance program proposes one jet to do both jobs, but ongoing argument between the Navy and Congress has delayed its request for proposals: Some lawmakers want Naval Air Systems Command to focus on strike capabilities, but the Navy wants to maintain an emphasis on a long-range surveillance platform.

“The problem is, if you try to stuff both missions into one airframe, you end up sacrificing one,” former destroyer skipper retired Cmdr. Bryan McGrath told Navy Times. “We need both strike and surveillance, and we probably need them in two separate aircraft.”

More of that thinking will get shadows on the ramp sooner.

Russians: Ah, yes. Russia. As Dr. Dmirty Gorenberg pointed out this summer on Midrats, from a naval perspective, the Russians will have a lot of work to do in modernizing their fleet. Though we have their most high profile ship off Syria, the Slava Class Cruiser MOSKVA, she is just what is left of the former Red Banner Fleet of the Soviets. Russia is working now on her smaller ships and submarines, and then we’ll see what she can do later in modernizing larger ships. As she showed in the Caspian, her ships have quite a bit of punch relative to their size and have a good bit of kit.

With her navy again at sea – and this time putting ordnance down range – and her submarines once more haunting the shores of other nations, this is a great opportunity to bring out the realists cudgel against the ever-present Beltway transformationalists who are happy to spends billions of dollars for programs that never deploy, while Sailors and Marines are ordered to go in to harm’s way without the tools they need.

There is a lot to be positive about in the change of the conversation looking forward to the next year. This should help steer the development of unmanned systems, the replacement for the F/A-18, DDG-51, and the LCS albatross in a direction that will give us products we can be proud of. Programs that reach for a solid hand-hold before progressing forward, as opposed to making a leap of faith that results in to a fall in to the abyss.



Please join us at 5 pm EST on 15 November 2015 for Midrats Episode 306: Author Claude Berube on his next book: Syren’s Song

This Sunday for the full hour our guest will be author Claude Berube to discuss his second Connor Stark novel, Syren’s Song. From the Amazon page,

Syren’s Song is the second novel featuring Connor Stark, and it promises to be just as engaging as The Aden Effect. This geopolitical thriller begins when the Sri Lankan navy is unexpectedly attacked by a resurgent and separatist Tamil Tiger organization. The government issues a letter of marque to former U.S. Navy officer Connor Stark, now the head of the private security company Highland Maritime Defense. Stark and his eclectic compatriots accept the challenge only to learn that the Sea Tigers who crippled the Sri Lankan navy are no ordinary terrorists.”

We will also discuss the craft of writing, how emerging real world events can influence the writing of fiction, and as we usually do with Claude, perhaps some other interestiing topics that crop up in the course of our conversation.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or you can also catch the show later on our iTunes page here (though the episode number might be different because …?)



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