Archive for the 'Navy' Category

14192803_1169656796429531_7334328988447422808_nIn a sad insult to the rump class of Pocket Battleship sized Destroyers we are building, the three ship ZUMWALT Class, this week fate delivered what many expected for a while.

Just a couple weeks after the Navy commissioned its most advanced warship, the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), the service says it won’t be buying any more of the guided precision munitions the ship’s Advanced Gun Systems uses, called the Long Range Land-Attack Projectile (LRLAP).

What are we to learn of this? There are a few things.

First of all; we have to acknowledge that of the ships of the Transformationalist Era; LCS, DDG-1000, LPD-17, and FORD – have something in common; they proved history and critics of Transformationalism right.

You cannot pack too much technology risk in to new platforms, slather them with hope and PPT and assume that all will turn out well in future people’s PCS cycle long after you are gone.

Somehow we have lost a larger sense of that handmaiden of ownership, stewardship. We need to move away from the desire to have others fawn over ourselves for our supposed “visionary embrace of the future,” but instead have a calm dedication to stewardship of the continuous improvement of our navy. That is what gave us AEGIS, TLAM, and the Virginia Class SSN.

The programmatic Hipsterdom that is Transformationalism begat the shambolic parade of our last few classes of warships.

Next; bespoke, expensive, and exquisite systems that will not have wide use in the fleet are low hanging fruit when people come looking for money. If there is something good and less expensive that can replace the awesome, you will get the good. If the good can’t be had at enough savings, you just might get a void and a blank-plate.

Price. Matters.

As smart people are moving away from “salami slice” ideas of cost savings towards whole wedges, this is what will happen.

“The Navy continuously monitors the gun and ammunition industry capability and capacities,” Capt. Thurraya Kent, spokesperson for the service’s acquisition directorate, said Nov. 4 in an e-mail. “To address evolving threats and mission requirements, the Navy is evaluating industry projectile solutions (including conventional and hyper-velocity projectiles) that can also meet the DDG 1000 deployment schedule and could potentially be used as an alternative to LRLAP for DDG 1000.”

“We are looking at multiple different rounds for that gun,” the Navy official said, adding that “three or four different rounds” have been looked at, including the Army’s Excalibur munition from Raytheon, and the Hyper Velocity Projectile (HVP), a project under development by the Office of Naval Research and BAE Systems.

“There are multiple companies that have looked at alternatives to get the cost down and use that delivery system,” the Navy official said.

But the likelihood is that there will be no LRLAP replacement before the Zumwalt enters operational service.

Current plans call for the guns to be fired during CSSQT and, the Navy official said, “the intention is to shoot the guns.” The 2015 budget provided $113 million to buy 150 LRLAP rounds and associated items, and those rounds will be used for the tests.

No funds for LRLAP acquisition were included in the 2016 or 2017 budgets. The latter included $51 million in 2018 for the program, but it’s not clear whether or not that money will be requested.

Last, we need to be willing to return to a practice of evolutionary development with room to allow that you will now and again fail small and keep going, as opposed to assuming you will always win big or have nothing.

We have a new gun system? Great. Mature it ashore and install on an established platform and see how it works at sea. New engineering plant? Same. Manning concept … etc.

Decades – really centuries – of naval best practices shows us how it is done. We should go back to that template.

For now we find ourselves in 2016 without meeting the need that started us down the road – effective and accurate NSFS from the sea. Recent combat experience Al-Faw’s “5-in Friday,” to Israeli corvettes off Gaza, to the French Navy’s 76mm and 100mm guns off Libya, the modern requirement is clear – but it can be done better.

Where to next? In the near term, “good enough” 155mm solutions will need to be found and hopefully will work.

So much wasted time for so little gain for the nation. I hate to say it, but this is also true – none of this should be a surprise to anyone. How as an institution did we go this far down this path? That is the most important lesson – one I don’t think we have really dealt with yet.

While software changes will certainly be needed to incorporate other munitions into the AGS, adapting the handling system for a different round could be complex. The automated magazines, designed to hold 300 LRLAPs, are sized for that particular weapon and it’s unlikely another munition would have exactly the same dimensions.

Other rounds under development for the 127mm guns arming all other US destroyers and cruisers could be adapted to the AGS, but would likely need a sabot arrangement to adapt the smaller shell to the 155mm weapon.

Read that again as you ponder the institutional mindset mentioned earlier on in this article. This nugget about DDG-1000 needs to be repeated. This was a warship the size of a Pocket Battleship that would carry the largest guns of any warship in our navy – gun with a large rate of fire and range – that was intentionally designed not to be able to use these guns to engage an seagoing enemy.

Let that soak in.

But as the Zumwalt moved from shipyard to sea and to the fleet, the Navy has notably downplayed that attribute, and while the technical achievement of the cutting-edge DDG 1000 has been widely trumpeted this year, its ability to directly support Marines ashore has not.

There was no requirement for the AGS to strike seagoing targets, and the system does not have the programming to do so. But the big guns could be adapted to target ships if necessary, the Navy official said.

“We would have to do the software modifications to make that work.”

Please join us at 5pm EST on 6 November 2016 for Midrats Episode 567: Goldwater–Nichols; Problems and Solutions

The systems that trains, mans, and equips our military – and provides guidance and support to their civilian masters is broadly shaped by Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. There is much discussion that in the middle of the second decade of the 21st Century, is there a better system to serve our national security requirements than one designed at the height of the 20th Century’s Cold War?

Using his article in War on the Rocks, Don’t Rush to “Fix” Goldwater-Nichols as a starting point, our guest for the full hour to discuss this and other related issues will be Justin Johnson of The Heritage Foundation.

Johnson spent over a decade working on defense and foreign policy issues on Capitol Hill before coming to the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense were I am now a defense and foreign policy analyst at Allison Center for National Security and Foreign Policy.

Johnson received a master’s degree from the Naval War College with a particular focus on terrorism and the maritime domain. He is also a member of the 2013-2014 Future Leaders Program at the Foreign Policy Initiative, the 2011-12 class of Next Generation National Security Leaders at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and the 2012 class of the Heritage Foundation’s Marshall Fellows.

Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Johnson grew up in Iowa before moving to Eastern Europe. After living in Germany, Belarus and the Czech Republic, Johnson attended Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia where he studied philosophy and art.

Join us live if you can, or if you forgot the time change, you can pick the show up later by clicking here or from our iTunes page or our Stitcher page.

On 4 August 2016, the Navy released a message announcing the eventual elimination of the original Type I Navy Working Uniform (NWU). The uniform, long a subject of wide criticism, was finally being replaced with something more versatile, more breathable, and more well-liked by Sailors who had tried it out. Navy Times praised the fact that we were “dumping the dumbest uniform ever. Only one small problem seems to have been overlooked by the Navy:

It’s green camouflage.

Having never tried the Type III NWU myself, I trust the claims of my peers that it is more acclimated to warmer temperatures and a better overall fit. But there are some glaring problems with adopting this as our daily working uniform.


Types I and III NWUs in 2010

First, it does not reduce the number of uniforms we need. Most commands do not wear both the Type I and Type III on a routine basis; blue is for “normal” jobs and green is for “expeditionary” jobs (more on this to follow). Pilots will still wear flight suits in their aircraft, and ship drivers will still wear coveralls while underway. Shore commands that do not use NWUs will likely still wear service and dress uniforms. It is true that mandating the use of Type III will increase uniformity; never have I seen a more oxymoronic uniform policy than in Bahrain where the staff officers at NAVCENT (who have an admittedly arduous shore duty) wear the green “expeditionary” Type III while their patrol craft counterparts—the ones actually plying the waters of the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz—walk on the same compound in blue Type I. But uniformity alone is not a good reason to adopt a uniform, and while the Navy’s attempt to reduce the contents of our seabags is praise-worthy, it is not helped by this uniform shift.

This brings me to the real issue: why does the Navy use camouflage as its normal working uniform to begin with? Until the mid-2000s, when each service’s camouflage pattern became a matter of inter-service pride and rivalry, we didn’t even have our own camouflage; neither did any other service for that matter. Camouflage is designed to be worn on a land battlefield to hide from the enemy—that’s why it’s called “camouflage”—and we had a standard pattern that all services used when necessary. The Navy jumped on the bandwagon of digital camouflage patterns—which the Army is already abandoning—in the late 2000s, threw some water-looking colors on it, and left everyone scratching their heads wondering “why?” In the years since, the NWU has become a uniform as often ridiculed for its appearance as for its utility. We have forgotten that we are the NAVY. We don’t need a camouflage uniform—and certainly not a green one at that—to prove that we are expeditionary. Being expeditionary is in our blood as a service. We don’t go on deployments to the Chesapeake Bay or Puget Sound. We sail around the world and interact with its peoples in times of both peace and war. We are meant to make our presence known to would-be aggressors, to keep commerce lanes open and our motives understood. Our warfighting prowess stems from our ability to operate complex technical systems at sea, something a flashy green uniform simply doesn’t facilitate. Most of us don’t try to hide (and for us submariners, at least not in a way where wearing camouflage would help).

That said, the Type III NWU certainly has a place for those Sailors who need it. SEALs, EOD technicians, Seabees, and their supporting personnel all operate in hostile environments on land where the need to blend into the environment is paramount. Those Sailors make a huge contribution to the Force, but they are a very small portion of our people, which is why until camouflage was all the rage in Washington they didn’t have their own pattern. If anyone needs to wear the Type III, it is these men and women—it was designed with them in mind, after all—but reserve it for those who need it. Mandating it for the rest of the Navy creates an artificial feeling of expeditiousness that strays from the true expeditionary nature of the Navy.


Dungarees, per 1984 uniform regulations

We are not Soldiers or Marines; we are professional mariners and naval aviators. We should be wearing uniforms that suit a life at sea, not uniforms that pretend we are all boots on the ground shooting bad guys. For ship drivers and aviators, wearing green camouflage has zero bearing on our warfighting capability as a force. We have different ranks and customs than the rest of the armed services, and we should have uniforms that reflect that. We wear whites and blues that people around the country, even the world, recognize as naval uniforms; why shouldn’t our working uniform be just as identifiable? Our uniforms should tell the story of a service proud of its unique role. If we decide to start wearing green camouflage on ships, then we are telling the nation that we want to be like the Army or the Marines, rather than embracing what makes the Navy special.

If you look at a photo of Sailors in working khakis or dungarees, you instantly recognize them as part of the Navy. Why not bring those back? They identified us as a service, looked the part of the professional mariner, and were still user-friendly enough to wear on a ship. And with a tucked-in shirt, inelastic waistband, and metal rank and warfare insignia, they even looked more professional than what we wear now. We don’t need steel-toed boots that look like combat boots or perfect-looking rolled sleeves to have pride as Sailors, so why do we continue to think otherwise? Implementing the NWU in the first place was a classic case of fixing something that wasn’t broken. Deciding to replace it is a good idea, but Type III is even farther from the Navy’s spirit and a step in the wrong direction. The Navy should ditch camouflage and go back to what makes us proud to be Sailors. After all, who are we hiding from anyway?

Posted by LT Al Perry in Navy | 38 Comments

Please join us at 5pm EDT on 30 Oct 16 for Midrats Episode 356: Fall Free For All Spooktacular!

Midrats is back live! With a week left to go till the election, I am sure you are about done with all the political talk, so join us at 5pm Eastern this Sunday, October 30th as we cover the the globe on the breaking national security and maritime issues that have come up over the last month.

From FORD to KUZNETSOV; from The Baltic to Yemen we’ll have it covered.

As always with our Free For Alls; it is open mic an open mind. Call in with your issues and questions, or join us in the chat room.

Join us live if you can, or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also get the show later by visiting our iTunes page or at Stitcher

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (June 11, 2016) -- Tug boats maneuver Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), into the James River during the ship's Turn Ship evolution. This is a major milestone that brings the country's newest aircraft carrier another step closer to delivery and commissioning later this year. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cathrine Mae O. Campbell)

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (June 11, 2016) — Tug boats maneuver Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), into the James River during the ship’s Turn Ship evolution. This is a major milestone that brings the country’s newest aircraft carrier another step closer to delivery and commissioning later this year. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cathrine Mae O. Campbell)

Consider for a few moments two benchmark facts.

1. Aircraft Carriers are the premier capital ship in our navy and for navies throughout the world. Sorry submarine bubbas, it’s true.
2. By the time he leaves office, SECNAV Mabus will have been on the job roughly eight years.

Mid-month, SECNAV put out this rather remarkable comment;

“The Ford is a textbook example of how not to build a ship,” Ford told reporters. “(We were) building it while it’s still being designed” — which results in costly do-overs of already-finished components — “(and) trying to force too much new and unproven technology on it” — whose teething troubles result in unplanned delays and costs.

“That was already on fire when I got in,” said Mabus, who became Navy Secretary the year the Ford’s keel was laid. “But we’ve stopped the cost growth.” The carrier’s schedule is still slipping, however, with a November delivery to the fleet postponed indefinitely due to problems in the Main Turbine Generators (MTG).

Mabus is correct. He did not conceive this baby, but it has been his responsibility to raise it. I am sure his comments are informed from what he has been briefed on via the review our Sam reported on back in August, or what led up to the review.

How could we have such a screwed up program for the crown jewel of our navy? The premier capital ship in the world’s premier navy? For regular readers, this will come as no shock; spawn of the Cult of Transformationalism that abandoned the evolutionary for the revolutionary.

FORD sprouts from the same intellectual well that LCS and DDG-1000 do. The Transformationalists decided that they could just wish aside centuries of experience on how to modernize a fleet. By their own confidence in their own self-perceived brilliance – compounding risk; technology, budgetary, programmatic, etc – none of those problems would be theirs.

I was hoping the issues with FORD would be a focus on itself, but then things got a bit strange. Mabus quickly pivoted and started to defend what almost all agree is a snake-bitTtransformationalist flop, LCS;

Isn’t LCS also a textbook example of a troubled ship program, I asked Mabus, for much the same reasons as Ford?

“No,” said Mabus. LCS is more an example of typical teething troubles on a new design, he argued.

“Every time you start a new class of ship…you’re going to have issues,” he said. “LCS gets a lot of attention, but during the first deployment of an LCS to Singapore…it was ready for sea more than the (US) Pacific Fleet average.”

“It’s got a lot of attention mainly because it looks different,” Mabus said. “It is a different kind of ship.”

Ummmm, no. FREEDOM Class does not look all that different, and eight years after the commissioning of HULL-1, “new class of ship” excuses for the cascading failures no longer applies. INDEPENDENCE looked different a decade ago. We’re used to it now. Then again, he has a lot of personal capital invested in LCS, so one would expect a bit of a blinkered view.

Why do two programs with similar troubles get such a different reaction from Mabus? It’s especially striking because the carrier program matters much more to naval traditionalists, who often disdain the relatively tiny and lightly armed LCS. But throughout Mabus’s seven years in office — the longest tenure of a Navy Secretary since World War I — he’s measured his success in terms of numbers of ships.

From 2001 to 2008, Mabus said today (as he says in every speech he makes) the US Navy fell from 316 ships to 278 and put only 41 new ships on contract. In the seven years since 2009, Mabus has contracted for 86.

“Quantity has a quality all of its own,” Mabus said — and you don’t get quantity without a small ship cheap enough to build in bulk. In the face of two skeptical Defense Secretaries and sometimes bitter criticism from Congress, Mabus’s commitment to LCS explains a lot about its survival

Perhaps it would be unkind to state that we have been engaged all month in littoral combat off of Yemen, but no one in their right mind wants a LCS anywhere near that coastline.

Perhaps it is best to leave that there so we don’t wander in to another LCS post. Let’s stick to the FORD issue.

If I may be self-indulgent a bit; when we few, we happy few anti-Transformationalists began tilting against the Transformationalist series of ships that came before FORD; LPD-17, LCS, DDG-1000 – from titanium fire mains to NLOS, one of our primary critiques was a cavalier view towards technology risk. It is great to see that, in his own way, Mabus is on the same page of the hymnal with us now.

Speaking Thursday with the massive carrier in the background, Mabus said, “I think we’re a long ways down that road” to fixing the power-generation issue.

He gave a similar assessment of the advanced arresting gear (AAG), which has been installed on the Ford but is still being tested.

The Navy is studying whether to continue with AAG on the next Ford-class carrier, the John F. Kennedy, which is under construction at the shipyard and about 23 percent complete.

“Everything that has been brought up lately, we have been looking at for years, and testing for years,” he said.

Kendall ordered a review of the Ford program, which is now under way and should be complete by December. Until all concerns are resolved, Mabus said he can’t specify a delivery date.

“As soon as it’s ready,” he said. “I’m not going to give you a date. But the testing is going well. Getting to the root cause of the generator problem is going well.”

He also reiterated an oft-stated observation: that the Ford suffers from a decision made more than a decade ago to pack new technology on the ship instead of phasing in new systems over three ships.

“It’s not the shipyard,” he said. “It was us doing this to them.”

How bad is the AAG issue?

The ship’s Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) is more problematic, and “has had significant delays in completing its land-based test program due to the technical challenges encountered in transitioning from design” through final testing, Mabus reported. Other Navy sources report dozens of roll-through tests have been conducted with the AAG at the Navy’s test facility in Lakehurst, New Jersey, but to date no true arrested landings have been accomplished.

Mabus noted that the Navy is reviewing whether to continue with AAG installation on the Enterprise (CVN 80), third ship in the class, or return to the standard Mark 7 aircraft recovery system operating on all current carriers. Installation of AAG on the second ship, John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), is continuing for now, Mabus noted, because design and construction work has progressed to the point where a replacement would have a significantly negative impact on costs and schedule.

That bad.

Less of a Transformationalist problem, LPD-17 has been made useful with the extra Sailor sweat and seabags of money prescribed to fix her. LCS and DDG-1000 are what they are, but there was great hope that we would somehow get FORD right. That we would be lucky and good – looks like we were neither.

I think everyone understands technology risk as a factor described above, but what is programmatic risk? Part of programmatic risk is just that; as the DDG-1000 people will tell you, if you are too much of a burden your program will be cancelled. You also can become your own parody. In doing so, you open the door for those who want to do things with that money and effort – specifically the likes of our friend Jerry Hendrix;

The first move of a new presidential administration will not be to “cancel any of these programs but we’ve shown it is possible to make significant changes in short time,” said Jerry Hendrix, one of the report’s authors and a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank.

“We want to stir the debate.” he added.

The proposal was first reported by The Washington Post.

Most notably, the report calls for canceling the $40 billion Ford-class aircraft carrier program, halting construction of the littoral combat ship, and purchasing fewer F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

Those funds would be reallocated for the stealthy B-21 bomber, adding 16 additional submarines, and investing in emerging technologies like high-energy lasers, the CNAS report recommends.

Combine the latest news with FORD and the bitter fruits of the Light Attack Mafia’s bureaucratic victories in the 1990s and early 2000s, and you give other ideas room go grow. You can get the full report here.

The 2020s will be, how do the Chinese put it? Interesting.

A Farewell to Arms is the title of one of Ernest Hemingway’s best works and a book that reflects some of his own personal experiences on the battlefields of World War I. The story unfolds right here in Italy. The title is somewhat metaphorical because it represents LT Frederic Henry’s farewell not only to the honorable profession of arms, but also to the arms of his beloved compatriots that he leaves behind.

At the end of October, I will complete my tour as Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet and Commander, Striking and Support Forces NATO and return to Washington, D.C. for my next assignment in the Pentagon. Leaving this job is hard because I leave behind so many fine young men and women who have selflessly stood the watch for the last two years while navigating in harm’s way. They are composed not only of Americans but also Alliance and coalition partners who share the same ideals of freedom and justice as we do. They are young; they are strong; they are brave; and they deserve our thanks.

Since 9/11, these Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines have been fighting the war on terror; in the last year, this fight has spread to the waters of the Mediterranean where the USS Harry S. Truman and Eisenhower Strike Groups, USS Wasp Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG/MEU) and French Aircraft Carrier Charles de Gaulle have been conducting strikes on Da’esh in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

As the clock ticked down to the day of my Change of Command, I wanted to take the time to visit, walk the deck-plates, talk to the troops and just say: “Thank you!”

Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit in the hangar bay aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), Sept. 28, 2016 (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Eric S. Garst)

Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit in the hangar bay aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1), Sept. 28, 2016 (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Eric S. Garst)

A couple of weeks ago, I did just that onboard USS Wasp (LHD-1) and USS Carney (DDG-64) in the Mediterranean. Wasp has been underway for over 100 days straight delivering lethal strikes on Da’esh in Libya. The morale of the American Sailors and Marines on these two platforms was exceptional. When I asked how they kept such a positive attitude, many simply told me, it’s all about the mission.

Today, I visited USS Ross (DDG-71) and the French Aircraft Carrier Charles de Gaulle, both operating in consort, in the Eastern Mediterranean. As a young Navy Lieutenant, I was very fortunate to have been given an opportunity to study in France as an Olmsted Scholar. My relationship with the French Navy began in 1986 and it has grown even stronger as the Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet. Charles de Gaulle has deployed three times in the last two years, twice in support of our operations in the Arabian Gulf. They have filled gaps in carrier presence and brought incredible combat capability to the theater. This latest deployment takes place in the Eastern Mediterranean while they service targets in Syria and Iraq.

Like the USS Wasp, despite the high operational tempo of the Charles de Gaulle, morale was excellent . . .it’s all about the mission. They are just like us.

The French Strike Group Commander, Contre-Amiral Olivier Le Bas (himself an exchange pilot with the U.S. Navy) and Commanding Officer, Capitaine de Vaisseau Eric Malbrunot, gave me the honor of addressing the crew on the 1MC after de Gaulle launched and recovered several sorties of Rafale strike-fighters conducting combat missions over Syria and Iraq. This is what I said. This was my Farewell to Arms. . .

For all of you Francophones out there, I spoke to the crew in their native tongue because I think that is very important. I have translated my comments in English immediately after the French text below:

A Rafale fighter prepares to launch off the deck of the aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle (R 91) on a strike mission against Da’esh. (Personal photo courtesy of Vice Adm. James Foggo III)

A Rafale fighter prepares to launch off the deck of the aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle (R 91) on a strike mission against Da’esh. (Personal photo courtesy of Vice Adm. James Foggo III)

A bord le Charles de Gaulle – Bonjour !

Je suis Vice-Amiral Jamie Foggo, chef de la Sixième Flotte Americaine. Le dernier fois que je vous ai visité été le dix novembre deux-mille-seize.

Votre commandant, Eric Malbrunot m’a chaleureusement accueilli. Le lendemain, j’étais à Paris avec votre chef de la marine et votre Président, nous étions à l’arc de triomphe afin d’assister à la cérémonie de l’armistice. Cette journée de commémoration été très particulier pour moi.

Ma famille a beaucoup en commun avec la France ; mes deux grands-pères ont se battu dans la grande guerre ; puis mon père a débarqué sur les plages du Normandie avec l’armée canadienne.

Mois – j’ai fait une grande partie de mes études en France. J’ai appris le français par l’une des Grandes Dames de Paris Madame Elisabeth Girardet , à l’alliance française en mille-neuf-cents-quatre-vingts-six. Femme d’un Professeur fameux de Sciences-Po, m’a donné une passion pour la langue et la culture de la France.

J’ai continué mes études à Strasbourg, sur le professeur Francois-Georges Dreyfus – l’homme Politique, l’auteur, et speci’aliste des relations Franco-Allemands en France. Il était mon mentor. Alors, vous voyez que je suis un francophone et un francophile. Ma famille a eu des liens avec la France pendant une siècle. Mais, nos pays ont eu des liens bien plus qu’une siècle! De Lafayette pendant la révolution américaine et L’Enfant – l’architecte de notre capitale Washington D.C. En mille-sept-cents-soixante-dix-neuf le roi Louis seize mis à disposition la frégate Bonhomme Richard à la marine américaine – le Continental Navy.

Notre héro naval américain John Paul Jones disait “Donnez-moi une navire rapide, parce que j’ai l’intention de chercher le danger.“ Alors, il a pris le Bonhomme Richard en abattant le HMS Serapis dans une des victoires les plus célébrés dans l’historie maritime des États-Unis.

Malgré nos différences occasionnelle, nous sommes très similaires et nous avons crée des marines puissantes avec une portée globale. En particulier, nos deux marines sont les seuls qui disposent des porte-avions nucléaires.

Le lendemain de mon départ de Paris était le douze novembre un jour avant les attentats à Paris. En vue de ces pertes de cette tragédie, personne n’étaient plus triste que moi.

Toute de suite après, le Charles est déployé en Méditerranée orientale, afin de porter le combat vers l’ennemi — Da’esh. Puis vous avez continué votre travail a cote de nous et des autres partenaires de la coalition dans la golfe arabe. Et vous avez fait un travail magnifique !

Vice Adm. James Foggo III, Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet, right, and Vice Adm. Charles du Che, Commander French Mediterranean Fleet, enroute to USS Ross (DDG 71), Oct. 13, 2016. (Personal photo courtesy of Vice Adm. James Foggo III)

Vice Adm. James Foggo III, Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet, right, and Vice Adm. Charles du Che, Commander French Mediterranean Fleet, enroute to USS Ross (DDG-71), Oct. 13, 2016. (Personal photo courtesy of Vice Adm. James Foggo III)

Vous étés ici encore une fois, mais vous n’êtes pas seules. Comme le français ont nous soutenu pendant notre lutte de la libération, mon gouvernement a envoyé l’USS Ross pour vous assister. Nous avons aussi des officiers américains abord le Charles, et nous nous battons ensemble contre un ennemi abominable. C’est la solidarité franco-américaine !

Alors, nous avons beaucoup en commun ; je suis venu pour vous dire que je suis très fier de vous et vos compatriotes en restant forts toujours contre cette menace tyrannique. Nous ne pouvons pas vaincre cette ennemi sans travailler ensemble.

Mon amis et ancien chef des forces alliées en Europe, amiral Jim Stavridis, disait souvent – We are stronger together » – Nous sommes plus forts ensemble ! Je suis totalement convaincu par cette phrase. Merci pour ce que vous faites ; merci pour votre sacrifice personnelle et de votre famille.

Merci pour votre amitié et l’alliance. Vive le Charles! Vive la France! Et Vive l’amitié Franco-américaine !

The world is watching you. Bonne courage!

On board the Charles de Gaulle – Hello!

I am Vice Admiral Jamie Foggo, Commander of the U.S. Sixth Fleet. The last time I visited you was 10 November 2016. Your commander, Eric Malbrunot welcomed me warmly. The next day I was in Paris with your CNO and your President; we were at the Arc de Triomphe to attend the ceremony of Remembrance Day on 11 November. This anniversary was very special for me.

My family has a lot in common with France; my two grandfathers both fought in the Great War; then my father landed on the beaches of Normandy with the Canadian Forces in 1944.

The nuclear aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle (R91), as observed from a French Dauphin helicopter. (Personal photo courtesy of Vice Adm. James Foggo III)

The nuclear aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle (R91), as observed from a French Dauphin helicopter. (Personal photo courtesy of Vice Adm. James Foggo III)

I did a large part of my studies in France. I learned French from one of the Grandes Dames of Paris, Madame Elisabeth Girardet, at the Alliance Francaise in 1986. She was the wife of a famous Professor at the University of Paris (Raoul Girardet) and she gave me a passion for language and culture of France.

I continued my studies at the University of Strasbourg. I studied under Professor Francois-Georges Dreyfus, politician, author, and specialist in Franco-Germans relations.

He was my mentor.

So you see I am a both a Francophone and a Francophile. My family has had links with France for a century. But our countries have had links for much more than century!

For example – Lafayette during the American Revolution and L’Enfant – the architect of our capital in Washington, D.C. in 1779, King Louis XVI provided the frigate Bonhomme Richard to the U.S. Navy – the Continental Navy.

Our American naval hero John Paul Jones once said: “Give me a ship fast, because I intend to go in harm’s way!” So he did when he commanded Bonhomme Richard and engaged the HMS Serapis in one of the most celebrated victories in the history of the United States Navy.

French and US leadership and Sailors aboard the USS Ross (DDG 71), Oct. 13, 2016. Ross is providing multi-warfare defense support to FS Charles de Gaulle (R91) in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. (Personal photo courtesy of Vice Adm. James Foggo III)

French and U.S. leadership and Sailors aboard the USS Ross (DDG-71), Oct. 13, 2016. Ross is providing multi-warfare defense support to FS Charles de Gaulle (R91) in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. (Personal photo courtesy of Vice Adm. James Foggo III)

Despite our occasional differences, we are very similar and we have created powerful navies with a global reach. In particular, our two navies are the only ones who have the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers like the Charles.

The day after I left Paris on November 12, 2015, was the day before the horrible terrorist attacks in your capital. In response to these tragic losses, no one was sadder than me.

Immediately after the attacks, Charles de Gaulle deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean, to take the fight to the enemy – Da’esh. Then you continued your work with us and other coalition partners in the

Arabian Gulf. And you did a wonderful job!

French Rafale fighter recovers aboard aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (R91) dropping ordnance on Da’esh targets in Syria. (Personal photo courtesy of Vice Adm. James Foggo III)

French Rafale fighter recovers aboard aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (R91) dropping ordnance on Da’esh targets in Syria. (Personal photo courtesy of Vice Adm. James Foggo III)

You are out here again, but you are not alone. As the French supported us during the American Revolution, my government sent the USS Ross assist you.

We also have several American officers onboard the Charles, and we fight together against an abominable enemy. This is Franco-American solidarity at its best!

So we have a lot in common; I came to tell you that I’m very proud of you and your compatriots as you remain strong against this tyrannical threat. We cannot defeat this enemy without working together.

My friend and former Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), Admiral Jim Stavridis, often said – “We are stronger together.” Of that, I am totally convinced.

Thank you for all that you do; thank you for your personal sacrifice and the sacrifice of your family. Thank you for your friendship and alliance.

Long live the Charles! Long live France! And long live Franco-American friendship!

The world is watching you. Bonne courage!

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.


A Word about Ratings

October 2016


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.

When I say “The Navy conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations in order to advance security and stability in Europe and Africa,” I truly mean the full spectrum of operations. That includes both the treble and bass clefs.

Sailors assigned to The U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band perform at a cultural celebration in Panza, Ischia Sept. 27, 2015. (U.S. Navy photo by Musician 3rd Class by Marco Di Rienzo)

Sailors assigned to The U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band perform at a cultural celebration in Panza, Ischia Sept. 27, 2015. (U.S. Navy photo by Musician 3rd Class by Marco Di Rienzo)

Within the DoD the Navy takes on a diplomatic role, showing the flag and defending American interest abroad. The Navy is in the vanguard, representing American foreign policy and values as her ships steam across the world’s oceans. The disadvantage of our inherently maritime presence is that a ship underway is often “out of sight and out of mind.” If we are not careful, this lack of awareness can be true for both the American public and our international Partners and Allies. While a warship in the Mediterranean or Black Sea may be a powerful deterrent to potential adversaries and reassurance to policymakers within the Alliance, it is more difficult to get these messages across to the public. Cue the Band. Nothing in the world is able to bridge two distinct cultures while expressing the uniqueness of each quite like music. In their distinctive role, Navy musicians build upon a critical capability of the U.S. Navy presence.

The U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band is a force multiplier. From the headquarters in Naples, Italy, it represents U.S. interests to 105 countries in Europe and Africa, just over 25% of the world’s population.[1] American Sailors are among our most capable ambassadors, and in our area of operation we average 10,000 Sailors at any given time. Most of these Sailors, though, are either underway or concentrated near a few Navy bases. The Band’s 50 musicians—including five Italian members—are extremely adaptive and play as one large unit or within smaller, specialized groups. Like all Navy bands, they support our mission, enhance international diplomacy, improve community outreach, and help forge enduring relationships. Each component of the Navy is concentrated on support of the warfighters and their mission. The Band is no exception.

The U. S. Naval Forces Europe Band plays to a full house Sept. 9, 2015 to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of Salerno, Italy (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist (select) Brian P. Biller)

The U. S. Naval Forces Europe Band plays to a full house Sept. 9, 2015 to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of Salerno, Italy (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist (select) Brian P. Biller)

In Europe, commemorative events surrounding the World Wars are deeply personal. The scars of those cataclysms are still visible. Locals remember the exact moment U.S. Servicemembers arrived in their town, city, and country. Americans fought beside them, and many died and are buried in the very soil they helped liberate. Annually, the Band plays at Memorial Day services for the Battle of Anzio in Nettuno, Italy, and for Operation Dragoon in Théoule-sur-Mer, France, as well as at the commemoration of Operation Avalanche in Salerno, Italy. With each performance they are reiterating to a different audience and with different music the same consistent message, that America is committed to the values and interests that have made the transatlantic Alliance the most successful in history. This year the U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band also supported the 72nd Anniversary of the D-Day Landings in Normandy, France. As the number of World War II veterans is dwindling, so too are the number of Europeans with the first hand memories of their arrival. By participating in commemoration events, Navy bands reinforce the shared values and common goals we have with other nations.

The band does not limit itself to the European theater. The tyranny of distance makes port calls in Africa even more challenging than they are farther north, but the Band travels throughout the continent. Through music, the Band continues to build mutual understanding and trust, a subtle but memorable reminder of America’s commitment to our friends in the region.

Members of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band pose with students at the Abraham Lincoln Leaders School as part of Africa Partnership Station in Libreville, Gabon April 14, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Amy M. Ressler)

Members of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band pose with students at the Abraham Lincoln Leaders School as part of Africa Partnership Station in Libreville, Gabon April 14, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Amy M. Ressler)

That was exactly the effect we got when we sent a twelve-member Band contingent performing throughout the Gulf of Guinea region in 2010. I was N3 back then, coordinating operations for Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF). The Gulf of Guinea was known for piracy and the local governments had difficulty coordinating efforts to secure the maritime domain. Our goal was to help our partners emerge from “sea blindness” to “sea vision” in a region of increasing strategic importance due to its natural resources. Initiatives included flag officer visits, training, and mil-to-mil engagement, but the star was MU2 Kori Gillis and the eleven other Band members stole the show during a live performance on Gabon television viewed by millions over the course of several days. Regardless of whether or not you like the cliché “winning the hearts and minds,” the fact remains that working effectively with partners requires buy-in from the population. The Band is, plain and simple, a force multiplier for us.

When I returned as the Deputy Commander to Naval Forces Europe and Africa and the Sixth Fleet Commander in 2014, I again saw the Band’s effect firsthand during the opening ceremony of Obangame/Saharan Express 2016 in Dakar, Senegal. The history of the region is tumultuous. The westernmost point on the continent, Senegal was the last stop for slaves traveling from Africa to North and South America. Today, though, Senegal has overcome this history and is a bright spot of stability on the West Coast of sub-Saharan Africa. The moderate Muslim country has a tradition of civilian control of an apolitical military much like the United States.

The U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band and the Musique Principale des Forces Armées Sénégalaises play together during the opening ceremony for exercise Obangame/Saharan Express 2016 in Dakar, Senegal, March 16, 2016. . (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Weston Jones)

The U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band and the Musique Principale des Forces Armées Sénégalaises play together during the opening ceremony for exercise Obangame/Saharan Express 2016 in Dakar, Senegal, March 16, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Weston Jones)

Within that context imagine how poignant it was for the Americans, Senegalese, and African and European partners to hear the Navy Band and the Musique Principale des Forces Armées Sénégalaises belt out in unison New Orleans jazz tunes and the two national anthems. No one remembered the speeches that day. What they and I will always remember was that outstanding joint performance—a clear symbol of how the United States stands beside our partners in the region.

When the Band plays the national anthem of an Ally or Partner, it has achieved its objective within the first few notes. It is up to Navy leaders to ensure these notes are played to the right audience. That could be an MWR Fourth of July celebration showing appreciation for sailors and their families; in a public venue like the Royal Edinburgh Tattoo where military bands from across the world play to sold out crowds each year; or to representatives of foreign militaries. Our Band has participated in ceremonies from BALTOPs in the Baltic Sea—almost within earshot of the Russian border—to Africa Partnership Station in the Gulf of Guinea where Partners aided by U.S. naval expertise are resting control of ungoverned spaces from pirates, illegal fishermen, and smugglers.

The Band’s “inland ports of call” in nation’s capitals are cities where no Navy ship will ever weigh anchor but where our message must be heard. We deploy the Band to these places to show our commitment to a specific relationship because relationships matter. In the DoD we call them Alliances and Partnerships but they must be fostered just the same. An Alliance is built on much more than goodwill. It is shared interested and shared values. The Band exists at the tactical level of relationship building. At the boundary between cultures, the Band is the bridge.



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.

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