Archive for the 'Navy' Category
I was lucky, I was a JO in the last act in the Anti-Submarine Warfare golden age; the Cold War. Headed over to Desert Storm as an Ensign, came back a LTjg and then spent a few glorious years in an ocean where Soviet Tangos and Victor IIIs still prowled, frustrated, and more often than not – snuck by us when we weren’t trying to run away from them.
In exercises towards the end of that first sea tour a few years after the Soviet collapse, we still were a well oiled machine living off of tactical inertia. I have one of those memories at sea that at the moment you knew you’d always remember; a clear, bright evening. RED submarine was, I believe USS GATO (SSN 615). In the distance there were two SH-3 dipping one after another as a P-3 flew in orbits a few hundred feet above them throwing out flares/smokes on occasion while for the DD & FFG, tails were wet and working the same sub.
What made it so memorable wasn’t just the visual beauty of it all, but was that everyone seemed to be able to locate, track, and even make simulated attacks. It wasn’t that easy. It was never that easy – but at that one moment in time it all came together and had a bit of a non-goat-rope feel about it. Though you hoped that is what it would be like with a no-kidding adversary submarine – whichever nation they came from now that the Soviet Union was gone – but you knew that it wouldn’t. You remember the message traffic that outlined that TANGO disappeared when they wanted to, and that Angel of Death VICTOR III – well, people were still collecting jock-straps from Bear Island to the Malta Escarpment.
Surface, submarine, and aviation – everyone was in on the game. Carriers had large numbers of escorts when they deployed – and for the time almost all of them were ASW capable themselves for a knife fight, and the FFG, DD, and CG came with a mix of the last of the SH-2 and the sparkly new SH-60 to reach out a bit. The carriers had the S-3 and the SH-3 with the SH-60 coming along there as well. The submarines, well, say no more. Ashore, you always had the P-3 bubbas for comic relief.
The hope was that somewhere in that mix was the key to keep the submarines away, if not dead. We were never happy with the one trick pony of the LWT – after they took away our DUSTBIN – but if nothing else it might be good enough to make a hostile submarine break contact.
But, then the post-Cold War mindset came in. ASW went to the back and the money went elsewhere right when the potential enemy submarines were getting much better – our ASW technology was only getting marginally better, and our ASW skill against non-permissive and non-scripted submarines drifted and faded in the ambient noise of higher priorities.
As, rightfully, much of our ASW discussions should only take place behind the cipher door, it’s helpful to find something in open source as a reference point. In The Economist last month, there is a great article on modern ASW challenges, Seek, but shall ye find?
Some nice points to ponder a couple decades post-drift;
DURING war games played off the coast of Florida last year, a nuclear-powered French attack submarine, Saphir, eluded America’s sub-hunting aircraft and vessels with enough stealth to sink (fictitiously) a newly overhauled American aircraft-carrier, Theodore Roosevelt, and most of her escort. An account of the drill on a French defence-ministry website was promptly deleted, but too late for it to go unnoticed.
Nor was this French victory a fluke. In 2006, in what was very far from being a war game, a Chinese diesel-electric submarine surfaced near Okinawa within torpedo range of another American carrier, Kitty Hawk, without having been detected by that carrier’s escort of more than a dozen vessels and anti-submarine aircraft. And, from the point of view of carrier-deploying navies, things are threatening to get worse. Saphir, launched in 1981, hardly represents the state of the art in underwater undetectability; in the decade since the Okinawa incident diesel-electrics have become even quieter. For an inkling of the silence of the new generation of such subs when they are running on battery power alone, without their engines turning, Jerry Hendrix, a former anti-submarine operations officer on the Theodore Roosevelt, asks: “How loud is your flashlight?”
The always quotable Jerry!
…submarines are spreading. Since the cold war ended, the number of countries deploying them has risen from a dozen or so to about 40.
While we have rested some, tinkered with “new” ASW search methods a bit, the world continues to build.
Worse, for those trying to defend ships from submarine attack, Western powers have routinely cut anti-submarine spending since the end of the cold war. American carriers retired the S-3 Viking submarine-hunting warplane in 2009, leaving shorter-range helicopters to compensate. Since the Soviet Union’s demise the average surface escort of an American carrier has shrunk from six vessels to four. … Many carry anti-ship guided missiles as well as torpedoes. One such, the CM-708 UNB, was shown off by China in April. It packs a 155kg warhead and, after popping out of the water, flies at near the speed of sound for about 290km. An export version is available but, if you prefer, Russia’s submarine-launched Kalibr-PL missile offers a bigger warhead and a terminal sprint at Mach three.
So, solutions? We need to be careful in putting too much trust in high-demand, low-density “war winning” capabilities yet to be robustly tested (and always remember, no one has really faced a sub threat since the Royal Navy in the early 1980s), or promises of something just around the corner – we should reinforce what we know works.
Keeping track of submarines is good to remove uncertainty in peace, and a quicker kill in the transition to war – but how do you try to recreate the Cold War multilayered tracking system? Well, we don’t have the numbers or the money – so we’ll experiment a bit.
We are thinking about drones, but their utility starts to wear thin after the second follow-on question – but they have great promise not as a solution – but a tool;
Perhaps belatedly, but certainly determinedly, a new approach to the submarine threat is now being developed. It is based on a simple principle: since submarines are hard to detect, when you do find one you should never let go.
Shadowing threatening submersibles is nothing new. Trailing something is a much easier sensory task than discovering it in the first place, when you have an entire ocean to search. But at the moment this job is done by destroyers and (for those that have them) nuclear submarines. These cost billions of dollars to build and tens of millions a year more to run. Instead, the idea is to use smallish unmanned ships—marine drones, in effect—to do the job. These will be packed with enough sensors and artificial intelligence to follow adversaries’ submarines automatically.
Half a dozen Western naval powers are conducting the R&D needed to build these, according to Eric Wertheim, author of the US Naval Institute’s reference doorstop “Combat Fleets of the World”. America is furthest along. In June its Office of Naval Research and its Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, began tests in the Pacific of the Sea Hunter, an unmanned (and, for now, unarmed) 40-metre trimaran, pictured. It is designed to follow an enemy submarine from the surface relentlessly for months, even in high seas. While the crew of the boat being tailed will probably be able to hear their pursuer’s diesel engine, that is not really a problem. Short of a torpedo launch, which would be an act of war, “there’s nothing you can do about it”, says Nevin Carr, a retired rear admiral in the American navy who now works at Leidos, the firm which designed Sea Hunter.
ASW is not that easy. The water column is not constant, busy sea lanes are loud, the ocean bottom can be fussy – and your target gets a vote and the right to have countermeasures.
Saab Kockums’s new 62-metre A26 model will sport a tube from which an underwater drone could slip out to attack surface drones. This, Mr Wieslander says, is the first time that such a feature has been fitted to a production submarine. Mr Krepinevich, however, counsels caution regarding underwater drones. They are fine for attacking other drones, but without huge advances in battery technology (see article), no such machine could keep up for long with a big submarine that charges its batteries from a diesel engine and can travel at up to 20 knots—much less with a faster nuclear-powered one.
More sophisticated systems than this are in the works—including anti-drone countermeasures. According to Torstein Olsmo Sæbo, a scientist at FFI, Norway’s defence-research establishment, drone-towed acoustic arrays can now mimic the signature of a big submarine, luring a drone off in the wrong direction.
A new IUSS?
One way to do this, at least for home waters, is to have a dense grid of fixed detectors. One of the more advanced of these is Singapore’s. It consists of underwaterbuoys called acoustic nodes that are tethered to the sea bed two or three kilometres apart. These nodes can talk to each other. They communicate by broadcasting precisely calibrated vibrations through the water. At the moment they are sending test messages, but eventually they will be equipped with their own submarine-detecting sensors.
Active and passive? Huh … wait unit the whale people find out about that active part.
Anyway, we have been here before;
The arms race between surface vessels and submarines has been going on for almost exactly a century—since Germany’s demonstration to its enemies in the first world war of the threat from its U-boats. By the end of the second world war, the Allies had become so good at finding U-boats that German crews taking to the sea had a life expectancy of about a week. As the examples of the Kitty Hawk and the Theodore Roosevelt show, the balance at the moment has tipped back in favour of the submariner. The great question is how long it will stay that way.
The key in the hyper-Darwinian game that is ASW is to never stop. Never stop developing, never stop training, never stop understanding the threat.
Another lesson of real-world ASW? It takes numbers of ASW units on, above, and under the surface, a wide diversity of units, and the investment to maintain them.
As for the kill-chain part of the problem, well … ahem. Let’s not go there right now.
For some it is at least a half-decade late – or for long term critics, perhaps a decade – to stop what we are doing with LCS and to re-baseline our assumptions about what we have wound up with at the terminal end of the sausage maker.
The events of this year have brought even the most invested LCS advocates to pause a bit.
Sources said the Coronado is about 800 nautical miles west of Hawaii, proceeding at about 10 knots. The Military Sealift Command oiler Henry J. Kaiser is accompanying the ship. About 70 sailors are aboard the LCS.
The Coronado left Pearl Harbor on Friday for the western Pacific, where it was to operate for at least 16 months based from Singapore. The ship recently completed several weeks of operations with the Rim of the Pacific exercises, operating from Pearl Harbor.
“The extent of repairs and any operational impact is unknown at this time. An assessment of the casualty will be completed upon return to Pearl Harbor and additional details will be made available when possible,” the San-Diego-based Third Fleet said in a statement.
The Coronado becomes the fourth LCS to suffer a major incident since December.
As I outlined at the start of this decade, it is really too late to halt the bureaucratic inertia that is LCS. By design, there is no “Plan B” or other class of ship to shift to. The yet to be seen LCS-FF conversion is only a “Plan A (Rev.1)”. Though we have our CVL’s – oh, I’m sorry: Large Deck Amphibs – full of UK VSTOL aircraft, when there was still time to do so, no one was ever brave enough to want to license build a quality EuroFrigate type. On The Hill, many have become so part-of the Military Industrial Complex as opposed to a watchdog-of or customer-of, that halting any further growth in numbers of this sub-optimal platform is almost impossible with the people holding the levers of power.
So, what can be done? The focus this decade has been to hope for the best with the compound technology risk in the two LCS classes, and just focus on making the best of what we have. CNO Richardson, who has spoken most clear-headed about LCS than any of his processors, is doing just that.
“Last night’s problem is the fourth issue in the last year,” Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson said Tuesday in a statement. “Some of these were caused by personnel and some were due to design and engineering. These issues are all receiving our full and immediate attention, both individually and in the aggregate.”
“To address the personnel and training issues,” Richardson continued, “I established a program-wide review earlier this summer to incorporate deployment lessons learned and identify systemic problems with how the program was structured. Vice Adm. Tom Rowden has completed the review, which recommends changes to the crewing, deployment, mission module, training and testing concepts.These changes will provide more ownership and stability, while also allowing for more forward presence.”
“In light of recent problems, we also recognize more immediate action needs to be taken as well,” the CNO added. “The review is being briefed to leadership before implementation. I also support Vice Adm. Rowden’s decision to improve oversight class-wide, which will result in the retraining and certifying of all LCS sailors who work in engineering.
Still, are the engineering problems buried deep in the bowels of these ships something we can grow and learn through to a fix, or will they be a baked-in characteristic of these ships – an original sin that must be accepted?
We’ll just have to wait and see. Measure the costs and write another chapter in Lessons Identified.
Either way, that Fleet ship count? It is going to need a big asterisk next to it.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) for Midrats Episode 347: Baltic Security with Bruce Acker and Dan Lynch
With a resurgent Russia, the security environment from former Soviet Republics to the traditionally neutral nations of Finland and Sweden has changed dramatically.
What are those changes and how are they changing how these nations see their place in the larger Western security infrastructure? We’re going to look at how thing are changing in how they work and see each other, NATO, and what they need to do to provide for both their and collective defense.
Our guests for the full hour will be Colonel Bruce Acker, USAF (ret) and Captain Dan Lynch, USN (Ret).
Bruce is currently a Defense Strategy Consultant in Stockholm Sweden. He spent 30 years on active duty starting as a Air Defense Weapons flight test engineer upon graduation from the Air Force Academy, and subsequently served in Space, Missile Warning, and Missile Launch operations culminating as a Minuteman ICBM squadron Commander. Following staff tours managing future Air Force and Defense Space systems programs, he broadened to political military assignments as the US Air Attaché to Malaysia and as the US Defense Attaché and Senior Defense Official in Stockholm. Col Acker has published articles on regional security issues in the Swedish Royal Academy of War Sciences journal as well as leading National daily newspapers.
Dan is currently beginning his fifth year on the maritime faculty of the Swedish Defense University in Stockholm. He spent over 35 years on active duty starting as an enlisted Marine and upon graduation from the Naval Academy selected Naval Aviation where he commanded a VP squadron and a patrol and reconnaissance wing. Following major command, he served on the staff of the US ambassador to NATO in Brussels and retired after his last tour as the Naval Attache to Stockholm.
Due to the location of our guests, the show was recorded earlier today. Listen to the show to at 5pm or pick it up later by clicking here. You can also get the show later from our iTunes page or from our Stitcher page.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 21 Aug 2016 for Midrats Episode 346: The Farsi Island Incident – Is the Navy a Learning Institution?
The thankfully bloodless embarrassment that was the Farsi Island Incident is still making news after the January 12, 2016 seizure of 10 U.S. sailors by Iranian forces. Especially for our Surface Warfare community, there are a lot of hard, cold lessons here not just about the incident itself, leadership and professionalism – and institutional lessons about how conditions are set and organizations are sub-optimized to a degree that an incident – in hindsight – was just a matter of “when” vice “if.”
Using his recent article at CIMSEC on the topic, our guest for the full hour to discuss the background leading up to the Farsi Island incident, its aftermath, and the lessons we should be taking from it will be Alan Cummings, LT USN.
Alan is a 2007 graduate of Jacksonville University. He served previously as a surface warfare officer aboard a destroyer, embedded with a USMC infantry battalion, and as a Riverine Detachment OIC. The views expressed in the article and on Midrats are his own and in no way reflect the official position of the U.S. Navy.
Please join us for a live show at 5pm EDT (US) on 14 August 2016 for Midrats Episode 345: Fisheries as a Strategic Maritime Resource
We live in a crowded world with limited resources. What happens when this meets modern technology’s ability to shorten the time/distance equation and increase the ability to know of what lies below the waves?
What complications do we fine when the above two points meet up with the eternal search by growing nations to reach for the seas to support their homeland’s growing needs?
As populations demand more protein in their diets as per capita incomes rise, many nations see the open seas as the best place to fill that demand. With more competing for shrinking resources, can fishing be seen as a security threat? How does it impact coastal states’ economic, food, and environmental security? What are the roles of transnational organized crime and state power in this competition. Is international law being strengthened to meet this challenge, or is the challenge undermining the rule of law? More than last century’s quaint “Cod Wars,” does this have the potential trigger to broader, more serious conflict?
Our guest to discuss this and more will be Scott Cheney-Peters, LT, USNR.
Scott serves as a civil servant on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations, and is the founder of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC).
Scott’s active duty service at sea included the USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS Oak Hill (LSD 41). His shore duty before leaving active service was in Washington, DC, where he served as the editor of Surface Warfare magazine.
Scott graduated from Georgetown University with a B.A. in English and Government and holds an M.A. in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College. Scott researches issues affecting Asian maritime security and national security applications of emerging technology.
Relinquishing command is always bitter sweet because of the people and the experiences you have to leave behind and because there always seem to be so many things that you still want to get accomplished.
As I pen this post, a reflection piece, I am in the final moments of command as Commander, Amphibious Force 7th Fleet – 7th Fleet’s amphibious arm that also includes a mine countermeasures force and a helicopter sea combat squadron. By the time many of you read this, I will have turned over the reins to my long-time friend Rear Admiral Marc Dalton.
I met the expeditionary strike group—emphasis on strike group versus amphibious ready group—about this time last year on their way back from a very successful summer patrol, capped by completion of Exercise Talisman Saber.
Our forces are the best of the best in amphibious warfare in the world and have been for years. But, I challenged my staff and the leaders on the deckplate to go higher, to recognize that getting our Marines to the beach is just one component of maritime superiority, a superiority that we should be postured to achieve as an integrated naval force with Marine Corps partners anywhere in the world.
We have applied the Composite Warfare Command (CWC) construct to the operations of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) with great work by Amphibious Squadron 11, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Destroyer Squadron 7, USS Shiloh (CG-67), USS Preble (DDG-88) amongst others to robustly bolster our ability to defend the amphibious task force. This work will carry forward as we continue to integrate CruDes capabilities into the ESG.
We are operationalizing the concept of an “up-gunned” ESG, a concept now being promoted by Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the Pacific Fleet, and Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, commander, 7th Fleet, in anticipation of USS Wasp (LHD-1) with the F-35B joining the 7th Fleet amphibious force in the near term.
The beautiful thing about our trajectory as a naval expeditionary force in this regard is that our Marine Corps brethren have been equally engaged in trying to be more robust in their expeditionary capabilities. The Marine Corps is already scalable with its MEU-MEB-MEF design, but we’ve done some important work, as a Blue-Green team, to look at ways to bring Naval-Marine integration beyond the MEU level. It could mean augmenting the MEU with increased capabilities or using MEU assets from a sea-base to augment MEB assets ashore.
But that’s the big picture stuff, the stuff that many think-tankers can pontificate on for hours – and so could I, but I won’t here. What I’m most proud of is the bonds we have been able to form with our allies in the region, bonds that have true meaning.
It has been said before that while you can surge forces, you cannot surge trust, and trust is what these partnerships have forged.
We truly see the power of these partnerships during times of crisis, like the recent earthquakes near Kumamoto, where U.S. and Japanese forces worked hand-in-hand, using the 31st MEU’s MV-22 Ospreys ashore and at sea on board JS Hyuga, to deliver critical supplies to those in need. Well before formal messages were sent, critical actions were taken to get the ball rolling, based on our partnerships and trust, at every level.
This is but one example of the many accomplishments made possible through hard work on the deck plates, by Sailors and Marines who have a dedication to duty and a high standard for mission accomplishment day in and day out and second to none.
And so, as I prepare to say those heart-breaking words “I will now read my orders,” I know I leave behind a force that is ever-so capable of standing the watch. I was fortunate to have relieved Rear Admiral Denny Wetherald who took the ESG back to sea as a deploying strike group staff, and I now turn over to an old shipmate in Rear Admiral Marc Dalton, who will now set the bar even higher.
I’m so proud to have been part of this amazing Blue-Green team, and I look forward to watching from afar as the Navy’s forward-deployed expeditionary force does incredible things.
Writing professional articles has a long history in all the U.S. military services. American naval publications date as far back as the 1830s. While military personnel are commonly lauded for their willingness to take physical risks in defense of the nation, sometimes we are less open to taking the intellectual risks involved in the betterment of our profession. In #RTSW 2 we discussed the fear some writers have that they might embarrass themselves through a small mistake or problem in a professional article. Taking an intellectual or academic risk is far different than strapping into an aircraft, rigging to dive the boat, or free-falling out of a perfectly good airplane.
The reality is there are a number of things military authors do which are sort of embarrassing from an editor’s perspective. Military personnel hold themselves up as professionals, but occasionally behave like inexperienced freshman undergraduates when it comes time to submit an article for publication. Most of the issues can be addressed by acting like the professional we all claim to be. These are not actually hard things to do, but generally fall into the GI Joe category of knowledge.
Follow the contributors guidelines. Seriously. If the journal or publication says they take feature articles with a maximum word count of 3000 words, do not send them 4500 words. Some will give you some latitude, maybe 10% overage, but not always. It is not the editor’s job to turn your over-length piece into something appropriate. You are telling them either you could not be bothered to check the guidelines, you have never read their publication, you just don’t care, or you think you are so brilliant the rules don’t apply to your ideas. None of these interpretations will help you impress anyone.
From my experience as an editor this is an across the board issue. Frankly, most junior personnel tend to follow the rules, but sometimes they don’t understand the difference between “departments” at some journals. Some mid-grade officers, senior officers, and Flags, however, have issues understanding the rules apply to them. One would hope the professors from our PME institutions who encourage officers to use their school papers for articles would help them understand how it works. Yet, I have also seen PME professors who submit articles which are thousands of words over maximum, so sometimes they are part of the problem.
Papers and assignments written in the professional military education system, or from academic work, are a great source of material for articles. I have used the work I wrote for class in a number of articles I have published. But, a school paper and an article are not the same thing. We’ve already covered the length issue, but this is a common problem with academic papers. There are also differences in style and tone, occasionally in formatting, and in the types of arguments that will fit at certain publications. Do not simply send your PME paper to an editor. Always rewrite and reformat the paper to ensure it fits the publication you are sending it to. The editors will still help you make it better, but it is on the author to make the first effort of getting it right for the publication in question. It should not require mentioning, but the editor is also not interested with the grade you got on the paper. No need to share, the work should stand on its own.
Ensure you are sending the right submission to the right publication. If a certain publication has a name for a “department,” or type of article, don’t use that same name at a different publication. For example, Proceedings has opinion pieces called “Nobody Asked Me But…” An author who sends a commentary submission to War on the Rocks or The Bridge “for your Nobody Asked Me But section” is immediately off on the wrong foot.
Simple freelance manuscript format is the best way to approach an editor. Do not try and impress with multiple fonts, complicated formatting, etc. Depending on what software they are working with, your fancy format may get thrown off anyway. You aren’t applying for a job in desktop publishing, the words in the article are what matter and speak for themselves. Name, contact info, word count, title, one font, double spaced, simple paragraph format. Use bold, underline, or italics to set things off, but only sparingly. It is designed for fiction authors, but William Shunn’s website gives a good image of how to set things up. Avoid pdf’s to the best of your ability, because the editor will probably want to digitally mark up the piece.
The concept of authorship is directly tied to the question of personal integrity in the academic world. Almost every university or institution of higher learning has an authorship policy statement (read Yale’s here). Fundamentally “authorship” is the question: who belongs on the byline of an article? Who should get credit? This is a question every senior officer looking to publish an article must ask themselves when they think about the staff process which might have helped them produce the article. Senior officers and civilian leaders sometimes have speechwriters who help them. At what point, and in what venues, should they get mentioned for written work? Is a shared byline proper? Or is a mention in the author bio at the end of the article the right place? “LCDR Jones contributed to the writing of this article.” Perhaps a junior officer on the staff amassed the research and wrote the first draft of sections of the piece. Do they deserve some credit? These questions don’t always apply, but in colleges and universities this is a key ethical question. If we are going to pursue professional integrity in the military services, and consider it intellectually, it makes sense for us to examine authorship as well.
Professional articles on military subjects are not the place for personal attacks or for antagonism. Even if the spark which got you writing was disagreement with someone else’s idea, take a step back and make sure you are writing about ideas and content and you are not being antagonistic. Sometimes this is unintentional, and requires you to look at your own work closely. Also, some publications do not publish this kind of tit-for-tat writing, so expect rejections if you are writing something focused on being critical. You should be focused on new ideas and solutions. It is ok to be constructively critical of another writer, thinker, or publication, but avoid personal or professional antagonism: try and follow Dennett’s rules. Aim at the ideas, not the people, and give credit where credit is due.
Cite Your Work
Footnotes, endnotes, hyperlinks…they matter. They help prove you have done the research and reading discussed earlier in this series. More importantly, perhaps, they acknowledge the hard work of others who have tackled the same or similar subjects and on whose shoulders your work stands. They offer the editor and the reader a chance to check up on you. None of us form our ideas or opinions in a vacuum. Even senior officers haven’t come to all their knowledge through experience or epiphany. We should acknowledge that through good use of notes and links. This does not mean every article must be peppered with quotes from Clausewitz or Mahan. You do not have to tackle the great masters. Sometimes it makes you look silly. I know from experience.
Say something in your article. Identifying a problem is certainly a contribution, but often times it is not enough. It only becomes a good article when you also suggest a solution or a path to a solution. You have to argue for something, not just report on a situation. In the first post in this series we talked about John Adams’ call to “dare to read, think, speak, and write.” Professional articles are at their best when they remember that first word. Writers must dare.
Take It or Leave It
This series of three posts has tried to offer a starting point for military professionals and members of the national security community who want to take up the call to contribute to our profession, all call which was recently echoed by the CNO and Lt O’Keefe. The observations offered are intended as a little bit of what naval folks call gouge to get started. Like all gouge, the advice offered is worth exactly what you have paid to read it. These are simple observations from my past several years both writing and editing on military and naval subjects. Individual experience will vary. As we say in the navy, if you live by the gouge you’ll likely die by the gouge. But it least it gives us somewhere to start.
This post is the third in a three part series where the author shares lessons learned from a decade of his own professional writing, almost four years on the editorial board of the U.S. Naval Institute, as a Senior Editor with War on the Rocks, and as series editor of the 21st Century Foundations books from the Naval Institute Press. The opinions expressed are offered in the author’s personal capacity and do not represent the policy of the US Navy, Department of Defense, or any government agency.
Chief of Naval Operations Richardson has put out a call for more naval professionals to contribute to their profession through writing. Other Flag Officers have followed his lead and there is a rising movement across the joint force. The first post in this series examined how someone can develop an idea into a professional article. The next two posts will look to offer a clearer picture of what a writer should expect once their article is written: from submission to when it is out in print or online.
The advice in this series is based on professional writing for a print or online magazine/journal. People interested in blogging can certainly also learn from these ideas. But blogging has a slightly different place in our digital society, and frequently has different (sometimes looser) standards. As seen from the fact this series is published on a pair of blogs (USNI and the Military Writer’s Guild), I see a lot of value in both approaches.
One of the most intimidating things about publishing a professional contribution is fear the author will get something wrong, or embarrass themselves through small mistakes. The reality is a typo, an improperly used italics formatting, or a misspelled name is not something most editors care about. If the problems are repeated and glaring, that is different, but a couple of small mistakes are not very important.
Personally, this is why I like working with journals and magazines more than unedited blogs, or blogs run from personal websites. My work always benefits from the critical eye of a dedicated editor, whether a paid employee of a publication or sometimes a volunteer. That kind of sanity check has kept me from embarrassing myself when the editor asks “hey, are you sure that is right?” or “what is your citation or link for this fact?” From fixing typos, to helping improve the writing in terms of style or house format, and challenging flawed logic or argument, editors have always made my work better. Once the article or essay has made it through them, or their editorial board, there’s a much smaller chance I am embarrassing myself.
Finding a Publication
With a completed draft on the computer screen, it is time to decide where to submit the article. There are many, many options. For naval writers there are the big time naval professional journals like Proceedings and Naval War College Review, to the magazines published by community organizations like Tailhook and the Naval Helicopter Association. The other services have similar venues like Military Review, The Gazette, or branch publications like Armor. There are also the online publications about defense and national security issues. Authors must realize each and every publication has its own niche and its own style. Your manuscript should aim to fit their unique niche and style.
There are two good rules of thumb for selecting where to send the article. First, make sure you’ve read articles from the publication you want to target and ensure your article is the kind of thing they publish. Second, find the publication’s “contributor guidelines.” They all have them, and the editors actually put hard work into getting them just right. Here is the link to Proceedings, and here is War on the Rocks, to give you an idea of what they include. Frequently, these pages are also a wealth of advice on good writing. FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES. (Yes, I just stomped my foot and yelled at you.) Do not let the word “guidelines” fool you, these are the rules for the publication. The quickest way to get rejected by an editor is to send them something clearly violating the rules they have put out in the open. And don’t blast the article out to multiple publications at the same time. Pick one, submit, and be patient. Give the editors a couple days to acknowledge your submission, and even more time before you demand an answer. Some have review processes which take months. Even if the article is rejected, you frequently will get constructive feedback that will help you make it better before sending it to the next publication.
You may decide you are interested in a less formal arrangement, and go with a blog such as USNI Blog or work with junior folks like at CIMSEC. But deciding where to send your article should be a conscious choice based on knowledge of what they publish and how you fit into their corner of national security or professional discussion. You do not need a personal introduction to an editor. Find the email address for submissions, write a brief introductory email (include who you are, title of the article, length, and where you see it fitting into the publication), attach the article (or just make a pitch if that is what the guidelines say), and hit send.
Working with Editors
Editors are here to make our work better. Sometimes, we don’t like to hear their criticism, but it is really crucial we listen and consider it. You can push back against an editor’s changes or suggestions, but you should be able to explain why. Also, you can ask an editor to explain the reasons they have made or suggested a certain change. The writer-editor relationship should have plenty of back and forth, with give and take from both sides.
A professional editor will also never talk about the details of the work they do with you. For example, the Editorial Board at the Naval Institute has very strict privilege rules covering what is discussed in the boardroom. Some new writers fear editors will bad mouth them to other publications or with other writers, but that has never been my experience. In fact, I’ve had many editors try and help me by suggesting other publications which might be a “better fit” if they have rejected my work. Editors have also offered to make introductions to other publications for me. While talking with an editor isn’t quite like talking with a Chaplain, respected outlets are run by respectable people. Publishers always want you to come back with good material, because it is how they keep their journal up and running.
The vast majority of material published today ends up online. Even print journals like Proceedings place their articles on their website. Along with this comes the dreaded “comments section.” Realize there is no obligation for you to read the comments section. Frankly, most of the time I try and ignore it. For each ego stroking reassurance you have offered a brilliant analysis, there’s a troll looking for a fight or a pedantic fact checker ignoring the actual point. Sometimes, a genuine expert in your subject might respond with good insight. When I am tempted to look, and I discover someone like that, I have been known to contact them directly to learn more, but not engage in the furball of likes and unlikes and replies. Most publications want their authors to engage, on more than one occasion staff at USNI have suggested I dive in. However, the key for any author is to realize engaging with commenters is entirely a personal choice. There is no requirement to do it, and there is no requirement you ignore it.
A number of professional naval journals have had a history of allowing the use of pen names. Many excellent digital commentators, like our friend Cdr Salamander, use them with skill and for excellent reasons. The first thing to realize is most publications have a specific policy on the use of pseudonyms. They probably are not going to break their own rules for you, and you better know what they are before you try and submit as “W.T. Door” or “Sailor Timmy.” Many blogs also have a policy on it as well. If you decide you need to use a pen name to protect yourself, you may be limiting how seriously your work will be taken and limiting the kinds of publications you can approach.
Personally, I have also found my writing is far better when I do it under my own name. There is less of a temptation to resort to snark and sarcasm and greater incentive to make sure the research is fully and rigorously sourced. Since we have been talking about writing for professional journals and magazines, it is uncommon for them to resort to pen names. If you are publishing in a respected journal or online publication the odds are you want some credit for your ideas, and for having the guts to get them out there, anyway.
This post is the second in a three part series where the author shares lessons learned from a decade of his own professional writing, almost four years on the editorial board of the U.S. Naval Institute, as a Senior Editor with War on the Rocks, and as series editor of the 21st Century Foundations books from the Naval Institute Press. The advice contained is worth exactly what you have paid to read it and individual experience will vary. The opinions expressed are offered in the author’s personal capacity and do not represent the policy of the US Navy, Department of Defense, or any government agency.
It is funny how a topic can keep coming in to your scan after being in the background for so long. The last few weeks, the Navy and the Atom kept breaking above the ambient noise.
First was something I first wrote about 30-yrs ago as an undergrad. The topic of the paper, which I received a very disappointing B- on if I recall correctly (NB: when your POLYSCI professor rants against militarism and you are NROTC, avoid military topics on papers) was New Zealand deciding they were going to ask, and we were going to tell, or we could shove off.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced during a joint news conference with Biden in Auckland that New Zealand had invited the U.S. to send a ship to participate in the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary later this year. Biden, who is visiting New Zealand as part of a tour of the Pacific, said he had gladly accepted the offer.
“It will be yet another expression, another expression of our close and cooperative relationship between both of our countries that we’ve worked together so hard to strengthen,” Biden said.
No U.S. warships have been allowed to visit the country since the 1980s, when New Zealand introduced its nuclear-free policy. Because the U.S. won’t officially confirm or deny if its ships have nuclear capabilities, New Zealand’s default position has long been to ban them from its waters. But as military relations have improved between the two countries in recent years, speculation had grown that New Zealand would allow the U.S. to participate in its anniversary celebration.
“It would be very odd for us to have all of our friends and acquaintances there, sending ships to celebrate our 75th Naval commemorations, and yet on the same point not have the United States there,” Key told reporters.
Key still needs to formally sign off on the ship visit. The prime minister said he did not yet know what type of vessel the U.S. was planning to send, but said it would still need to comply with New Zealand law, which requires that he be satisfied that any ship entering the country’s waters has no nuclear capabilities.
PEO LCS, call your office. Great liberty. Congrats to whoever goes.
That little move got my attention, and as I pondered one 30-yr old topic, look what else came through the mists of time;
The Russian Navy is preparing a contract with the nation’s largest shipbuilder for eight new nuclear-powered missile cruisers.
According to local media, United Shipbuilding Corporation Deputy President Igor Ponomarev says the contract is currently under review. The construction of the first vessel is expected to commence in early 2018.
The new missile cruisers will be designed by the Severnoye Design Bureau in St. Petersburg and are expected to have a deadweight of 17,500 tons, a length of 200 meters (650 feet0 and to be equipped with more than 200 missiles including a version of the S-500, the newest and most lethal Russian missile system.
That is about 80% of a Kirov Battle Cruiser and, if they move forward with what will unquestionably be an very expensive warship, it will be interesting to see deployed.
The Russians have been modernizing the smaller units its fleet in the last few years with quite a bit of success, and this would be a step in modernizing their blue water fleet. Interesting concept, not unlike the one they had for the Kirov;
“Nuclear-powered cruisers are autonomous and well-armed. They can face various challenges in any part of the world ocean. The Russian Navy has not placed orders for vessels of this class since 1989. The decision to build several ships means that Russia pursues geopolitical interests to maintain its presence in remote parts of the world.”
Things come in threes, and after reading the bit about the newest Russian aspirations, I thought of one of my more dystopian conversations as of late that involved nuclear weapons and nuclear power. This doesn’t go boom, or glow all that much at all – but compared to dirty bombs or nuclear war – this is more likely to occur.
In your mind, picture all the CVN we have. Now picture all the SSN/BN we have as well. Add to that how many port visits they make globally each year. Put that to one side.
Recall the reaction to the rather insignificant release of radioactivity at Three Mile Island, and the reaction to very significant nuclear releases at Chernobyl and Fukushima. In between these data points are a lot of possibilities. Put those to the other side.
Put this in the center. Though the Russians (nee Soviets) have had a few significant nuclear accidents, we have not. The Russians have a different press and social culture than the West, so impact is different. What would the impact be here of either a nuclear accident (unlikely) or some kind of release – however small – following a terrorist attack against one of our nuclear powered ships (unlikely, but not hard to outline)?
The American people and our friends are comfortable with our nuclear ships because they are used to them. They are comfortable because we have had such a superb safety record for decades. Our nuclear designs are the best in the world and everything comes second to safety.
All that being said, all human institutions and creations are flawed. None are perfect. It would be one thing to have a nuclear armed ship sunk in combat on the open seas with miles of water between it and the nearest person; but what about the bottom of Pearl Harbor? Norfolk? Groton? Yokosuka?
No one could claim this as a black swan; this is a pink flamingo. Exotic, but well known.
What would the domestic and international response be following an incident where even a small amount of radioactive leakage occurred, especially if it followed an attack while tied up to the pier or moored close ashore upwind from a city of over a million souls?
When does nuclear power become “that?” What would be the tipping point?
The June issue of Proceedings offered a call from CNO Admiral Richardson, and his speechwriter Lt. Ashley O’Keefe, encouraging naval professionals to engage with their service through the act of professional writing. The CNO has not discovered a new idea, but instead lends his voice to something a number of recent senior officers have called for, from Stavridis to Winnefeld. Even some “not so senior” officers have suggested the same. Others have written indications and warnings about the risks the voyage entails.
There have been a long list of professionals throughout our history who have participated in the development of naval affairs in this way, from Maury to Mahan, Nimitz to Zumwalt. And while the spark for this post came from the CNO and the Navy, the other services have a history here too: from soldiers in the 19th century to leaders like Patton in the 20th century. However, the repeated calls to arms over time, or perhaps calls to pens, have missed something. How do you do it?
Our Navy is a technically oriented service. This is also generally true of the other services to greater or lesser degrees. Our educational policies focus on engineering and technical study, and rarely encourage us to learn how to communicate in writing beyond a bare minimum. In our staff positions we use briefing slides and other communication methods which inspire partial thoughts, quick hits, and incomplete sentences and no concept of paragraph structure or style. For cultures raised on procedural compliance and powerpoint, what is the procedure for writing a professional article? Some simple steps inspired by the words in the Naval Institute’s mission can help set our course.
The mission of USNI is to:
Provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to global security. [emphasis added]
The bold words are borrowed from President John Adams. In his 1765 pamphlet “Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law,” Adams examined monarchy and feudalism and compared them to the growing movement for freedom and liberty in the American colonies. The future president called for Americans who valued liberty to develop their knowledge, and their argument, by daring to read, think, speak, and write on the subject. It was a clarion call, but it also hinted at a certain amount of process. Adams was a careful writer and it is quite possible he put these words in a very specific order. Following his counsel can help professionals chart their process for developing an article which contributes to understanding of our profession.
In order to make a contribution to the field of military, naval, or national security knowledge, you have to know the state of the field. The way to do this is by reading. If you have come up with an interesting analogy for a current debate the only way to know if someone has made the argument before is by reading the field. If you wonder what counter-arguments may be against your position, that also comes with reading the field. Articles in journals like Proceedings, Military Review, or Naval War College Review, online publications like War on the Rocks and The Bridge, blogs like Next War, all contribute to the state of the field. Not only will reading them give you new information, and new ideas, but they also tell you what others have said before. It can save you from the embarrassing retort: “yeah, Lieutenant Commander Jones said it six months ago and had a better argument.” (Not that you have to be entirely original, but knowing the field helps you understand where you fit.)
It is not just articles and online posts we should be reading. Books have long given us the deep knowledge needed to understand where the profession has been and where it may head in the future. There is a common refrain in the modern world that we simply do not have time for books. The watch schedule keeps us too busy. Digital media has affected our attention span. Military service is demanding, and we need time with our families. Yet we find time for physical exercise, while we discount intellectual exercise. According to some studies the average college graduate reads around 300 words a minute. If we read 15 minutes each evening, it totals up to 18-20 books a year. The excuse there is “no time” would never be accepted when we failed the PFT. Accept the challenge to read more widely. Maybe this sounds “high brow” or too “egg headed” but as President Truman, a WWI Army veteran, said: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
Once a servicemember or natsec professional has an idea of the subject they want to write about, has done some research and reading about it, and has come up with the initial kernel of an argument, they must spend some time thinking about it. This advice probably goes against the grain of what digital media incentivises, or what social media seems to encourage. However, the point of this effort is to make a contribution to the field of military and naval affairs or national security, not to rush into being a “thought leader” in the crashing tide of the blogosphere. Thinking hard about the subject you intend to tackle includes attempting to employ the skills of critical thinking.
Critical thinking gets a lot of attention these days and there are numerous competing definitions of what it means. Unfortunately, too many people seem to think “critical thinking” means “thinking about important or critical things.” That’s not the case. Instead we need level criticism at ourselves and our ideas. We need to examine our ideas with depth, and rigor, in order to get to the heart of whatever issue we want to write about. This includes becoming a critic of yourself and your own ideas, as well as the ideas of others. As you develop the concept for your article, be exacting and penetrating with the evidence you have amassed either through research or your own experience.
Having researched, considered experience, and critically examined the subject in your own mind, it is important to get a sanity check from someone else. In the academic world, this is part of the reason there is peer review before journal articles are published. In the professional and popular press, editors and editorial boards will judge your work with a dispassionate eye. The best way to ensure your argument makes sense, and you have developed a sound approach before contacting an editor, is to talk about it with other people.
Speaking about your idea can take a number of forms. It can happen with a pint in your hand at a pub with a mentor or group of respected friends. In the lost days of our Officer Clubs this was actually a common way of helping people develop professional ideas. It could also involve a cup of coffee. Seek out a mentor who you trust, whether a senior officer or a former professor or co-worker, and see what sticks in your conversation with them. Speaking also does not have to be taken literally, even if some of us work better in the give and take of live conversation. It can take the form of an email or social media exchange. The goal is to introduce new criticisms the writer has not considered, or clarifying the way to express the ideas.
Sit down and write the article. Just do it. Don’t allow the blank page on the computer screen to intimidate. One of the benefits of having thought through the idea systematically, and then spoken about it with a trusted friend or mentor, is you have already started to develop the words to express the idea. As many successful authors have told us, from Stephen King and Anne Lamott to Ernest Hemingway: the first draft is going to be bad. It does not matter. Sit at the keyboard and bang away until you have said everything you want to say.
Once the words are on the page, raw and terrible as they might be, the writer has crossed a major hurdle. After that, it is a matter of editing, organizing, and rewriting, which should be easier than putting the idea down the first time. The editing does not need to be rushed, and the mentor or friend you spoke with probably will be excited to take a look at the article and help make suggestions to improve it. You have already made them feel like a part of the process. When the draft is something which reads well, and you’re happy with it, then it is time to start looking for a place to publish it. Good editors, strong editorial boards, and the review process they use will help strengthen the piece even more. Be ready to make more adjustments to help clarify any issues they discover.
The RTSW Loop
The steps of RTSW might be seen as a sort of OODA loop for professional writing. In some ways it is similar to Boyd’s strato-tactical ideal. For example, each element can send you back to a previous spot. Speaking with a mentor may send you to a book or article you had not heard of before which you need to read, or the process of writing may cause you to return to your thinking and reorganize your approach. But there are also differences with Boyd’s Observe-Orient-Decide-Act sequence, most notably speed. Speed can be your enemy when writing a good professional article. There is no hurry. Please do not try to beat the rush of modern media, this can lead to shallow writing, weak argument, and poorly sourced facts. Doing it right may take time, and multiple rounds of the “RTSW loop,” but that only makes the article stronger and a better contribution.
Writing for publication can be a rewarding challenge. It is also something a legion of Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and security professionals have done throughout history. Many discover the process of writing clarifies their thinking. It also develops our communication skills, our critical faculties through practice, and our leadership ability. All of these make us better military professionals. Writing for publication is not something we should do because we need another FITREP or evaluation bullet, or because we think we can impress our boss. We don’t do it simply because the CNO says so. It is something we do in order to move our profession forward and to improve our service or our nation’s security. So, it is time to dare. Dare to read, think, speak, and write.
The author would like to thank Cdr Mike Flynn and his Naval Academy summer school class on “Professional Writing” for their invitation to join them for a day of class, where the author had a chance to speak about and refine some of these ideas.
This post is the first in a three part series where the author shares lessons learned from a decade of his own professional writing, almost four years on the editorial board of the U.S. Naval Institute, as a Senior Editor with War on the Rocks, and as series editor of the 21st Century Foundations books from the Naval Institute Press. The advice contained is worth exactly what you have paid to read it and individual experience will vary. The opinions expressed are offered in the author’s personal capacity and do not represent the policy of the US Navy, Department of Defense, or any government agency.
- A Polite Rozhestvenski Whisper to the Trump Transition Team
- On Midrats 8 Jan 2017 – Episode 366: Is it Time for a General Staff?
- “Ameri-Straya”: The Story of the People Behind the U.S.-Australian Partnership In Electronic Warfare
- There Are Bad Ideas and Then There is This Bad Idea
- Missile Gap? Warhead Gap? No. Try Strategic Spending Gap