Archive for the 'Policy' Category
As I started the week with a Hendrix Renaissance Festival over at the homeblog, I’ve since read a few things that hit back on a core concept of “Influence Squadrons,” and I thought it was time to bring the topic back up over here.
Much of the discussion of the economy of “good” vs. the exquisite vapor of the “perfect” involved our surface force. There is more to global engagement than just coming from the sea, and that is why this quote from our friends at ThinkDefence popped out at me;
Although the RAF conducts defence engagement activity with many nations and like the other services, has many nations wanting to come to the UK for training, the complexity of the RAF’s basic equipment does have a limiting effect on the types of defence engagement activity it can carry out.
For many years the gulf between modern Western combat aircraft and those of less developed nations has grown ever wider.
Aircraft like the Typhoon or even F-16 are enormously expensive to purchase and operate and need a developed engineering and training infrastructure that is simply unattainable for most, especially those likely to benefit most from even basic air power components such as logistics and ISTAR.
One of our guest authors has previously chronicled the complete waste of money and almost total failure of ISAF’s efforts to create an Afghanistan air force but in Iraq, the US had much more success. In Iraq, they started with simple equipment and worked up to the F-16’s they are now flying. The Iraqi forces had the advantage that they could read and write and that they had used complex aircraft before, but by starting with aircraft like the Cessna Combat Caravan they achieved a workable, sustainable and effective capability without breaking the bank or it collapsing under the weight of its own complexity.
Accepting the extensive and excellent work carried out by the RAF with NATO partners and other advanced air forces this is a proposal to extend that down the technology ladder for less advanced air forces, especially those in Africa and some parts of the Middle East.
Building on the activities that are currently carried out.
If as a nation we are at all serious about preventing conflict then we must include the benefits of ‘air-power’ and invest in capabilities accordingly.
He is, of course, talking well inside the lifelines of the “Influence Squadrons” concept, but on the air side of the house.
The quote above is only a very small bit of an extensive and in depth investigation by ThinkDefence. Though focused on the UK/RAF possibilities, it is almost perfectly scalable to any USA effort that might be made along the same lines.
I highly encourage you to read it all.
While you are reading it I would like you to consider this; when matched with a naval “Influence Squadron” and partnering efforts our Army and Marines are already good at – this is really a Joint concept. Execute all at one time in one country?
That is powerful.
As we work our nogg’n’s to find a reasonable path to a realistic and sustainable fleet of 350 ships – do we need to look at the challenge a bit differently than our habit of throwing bags of IOU’s in our children’s name at it?
Matt Cavanaugh over at MWI has a fun bit about of all things, men’s shaving kit and what it can tell us about Russia vs. the USA – and how we buy the ability to force our will on others.
A sample. Stick with it;
In America, the most commonly used instrument is a plastic-handled, multi-bladed cartridge (usually three to five blades lashed together), which typically costs $3-5 per cartridge (though some lower-cost options are emerging—Harry’s, for example, are $2 each). The estimated lifetime cost of a daily shave for multi-bladed cartridges ranges from $7,000 for a Gillette Sensor3 to $22,000 for a Gillette Fusion ProShield (not including shaving cream!).
Russians and eastern Europeans, on the other hand, shave differently. In that part of the world, common usage is a steel-handled safety razor, designed to lock a single blade with two sides/edges into place—which is about a dime per blade. Estimated lifetime cost: $400.
Embarrassing, but enlightening. In this context, what a waste of capital – and are we really that much more smoothly shaved?
What would it be like to retrograde? What can a simple shave tell us about how we build our fleet of Sailors and ships?
So I bought a safety razor and have used it for the past six months … My observations: it’s not quite as good as a four- or five-bladed cartridge, and I did get a little bloody in transition, mostly owing to adjusting from a movable head to an inflexible steel variant. But the safety razor is at least 90 percent as good at 2–5 percent of the price. Put another way, I dropped 10 percent in performance to save 95–98 percent of the cost. That’s quite a bargain.
Let that set in. Now, think about what you have read about Russia’s economy, her military, her capability. Now, think again about shaving.
How does this translate?
…the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (48 percent over budget on a program already planned to cost hundreds of billions of dollars), the DDG-51 guided missile destroyer (619 percent over on a hundred-billion-dollar-plus program), and the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft (44 percent over on a roughly sixty-billion-dollar program). [Note: figures cited in print and not digital edition.] But also recently, the New York Times published a massive cover story on Russian cyber efforts, calling it a “low-cost, high-impact weapon. … For Russia, with an enfeebled economy and a nuclear arsenal it cannot use short of an all-out war, cyberpower proved to be the perfect weapon: cheap, hard to see coming, hard to trace.” Even if contrasting these capabilities is apples to giraffes—the American/Russian strategic spending gap is noteworthy.
For each billion dollars increase in the Russian defense budget – how much more bang do they get compared to each billion of US defense spending?
Do you like the performance of the Russian corvettes in the Caspian and Mediterranean Seas? Do you, like me, sigh with longing at the SU-34?
As our good friend Jerry put it many moons ago; should we “Buy Fords, Not Ferraris?”
As Matt ended his article;
And as war inputs do not necessarily equal outputs, high investments will not guarantee optimal outcomes. From time to time, particularly in conflicts that appear to feature longer time frames, Americans could seek out simpler, less expensive options for strategic sustainability’s sake.
As with the Merkur handle, there is a shiny, silver-plated lining to this culture contrast: Americans willing to fight through the weight of cultural bias might acquire new tools for strategic success by appreciating the virtues of value and waging war on the cheap.
Please join us at 5pm EST on 20 Nov 2016 for Midrats Episode 359: A Foreign Policy Short List for the New CINC, with Mackenzie Eaglen:
Old foreign and defense challenges return, new ones emerge, and existing ones morph in
to something slightly different. The only thing that is constant is that there is no opportunity for a learning curve for the Commander in Chief of the United States of America. From the first day in office to the last, a needy, grasping, and unstable world will look to or at our nation.
What are those challenges that will test President-Elect Trump in his first few years in office, and what in the background is waiting for the opportunity to spring to the front?
Our guest for the full hour will be Mackenzie Eaglen, Resident Fellow at the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute where she works on defense strategy, defense budgets, and military readiness.
Eaglen has worked on defense issues in the House of Representatives and Senate and at the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on the Joint Staff. In 2014, Eaglen served as a staff member of the congressionally mandated National Defense Panel, a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission established to assess US defense interests and strategic objectives. This followed Eaglen’s previous work as a staff member for the 2010 congressionally mandated bipartisan Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, also established to assess the Pentagon’s major defense strategy. Eaglen is included in Defense News “100 most influential people in US Defense” both years the publication compiled a list. A prolific writer on defense-related issues, she has also testified before Congress.
Eaglen has an M.A. from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a B.A. from Mercer University.mac
Please join us on at 5pm EST on 13 Nov 2016 for Midrats Episode 568: Seapower as a National Imperative, with Bryan McGrath:
Why a Navy? Why a strong Navy? Why is a strong Navy an essential
requirement for the United States Navy?
From its ability to project national will, to it hidden hand in the economics of every citizen’s life, why is it so critical that we have a Navy second to none.
To discuss this and more – especially in light of the election – will be returning guest, Bryan McGrath, Commander, US Navy (Retired).
Bryan McGrath grew up in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and graduated from the University of Virginia in 1987. He was commissioned upon graduation in the United States Navy, and served as a Surface Warfare Officer until his retirement in 2008. At sea, he served primarily in cruisers and destroyers, rising to command of the Destroyer USS BULKELEY (DDG 84). During his command tour, he won the Surface Navy Association’s Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Award for Inspirational Leadership, and the BULKELEY was awarded the USS ARIZONA Memorial Trophy signifying the fleet’s most combat ready unit. Ashore, Bryan enjoyed four tours in Washington DC, including his final tour in which he acted as Team Leader and primary author of our nation’s 2007 maritime strategy entitled “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.”
Since retirement, Bryan has become active in presidential politics, serving first as the Navy Policy Team lead for the Romney Campaign in 2012, and then as the Navy and Marine Corps Policy lead for the Rubio Campaign in 2016.
He is the Assistant Director of Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower, and he is the Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC, a small defense consulting firm.
“Why are we here?” As leaders, this is one of the most difficult questions to wrestle with. Every person wants to know the why behind the orders they both give and receive. Every person wants to have a purpose. We all want to know that our actions matter. It is a challenging question to answer, though, because we are in a complicated business in a complicated world and because our country, our leadership and our culture – focused on trade over profession – have allowed us to wander astray.
Why are we here? In the simplest terms, members of the military exist to defend our country. In the words of so many commanding officers, we exist to bring immediate, sustained, and overwhelming combat power in pursuit of national objectives. On a Navy deployment, more often than not, we exist for the sake of deterrence. Ask one of our junior Sailors, and you are likely to hear an earnest “I’m here to fix the engines” or “I’m here to work on the radar”: in other words, “I’m here to conduct maintenance.”
After September 11th, the country – including the military – got caught up in a patriotic fervor. The answer to “why are we here?” became “to kill terrorists.” In the wake of such a horrific event, that answer made sense. But, after 15 years – 11 for me – it has started to ring hollow.
Why are we here? To kill terrorists? To what end?
Why are we here? To deter Syria, Russia, Iran, ISIS, al-Qaeda, China, and North Korea? To what end?
Why are we here? To train the Iraqi Navy? To what end?
Why are we here? To conduct sparse and hugely restrained counter-piracy operations? To what end?
Why are we here? To win hearts and minds? To what end?
Why are we here? What is the role of today’s U.S. Military? Is it to defend our shores? Is it to defend our allies? Is it to pick fights or exercise hard diplomacy? This is not a new question for most. I do not discount the answer many troops give – that we are here for each other. I feel that too. It is the deepest and most meaningful answer to the question. Far too often though, the nature of our jobs causes us to focus inwardly – we lose sight of our greater obligation to our fellow citizens. Recently, three events made me think more acutely about how we define what it is we do, why what we do matters, and how, or if, our actions connect us to the American people we theoretically serve.
Why are we here? My ship just returned from a Theater Security Cooperation and deterrence-driven deployment. I came aboard during the last two months. It is not common to get into deep discussions with your Sailors about our greater purpose, but it should be. As leaders, we could be better about this. I could be better. No doubt that our Sailors would be more motivated if they were consistently briefed about the impact of their daily actions. But more often than not, the answer is a challenging one to translate, if apparent at all. “We are here to keep the Chinese at bay – to challenge their excessive claims and to defend our allies – so let’s grind down that rust!” One way or another, I think that they felt their purpose was to be on deployment. While this bland answer works in the short term, it lacks clarity. It is void of emotion. It leaves most Sailors feeling empty and less invested in the effort. A few weeks ago, the chain of command was discussing yet another non-judicial punishment case, and the theory was floated that our high post-deployment operational tempo – a tempo with dubious greater purpose marked by aggravating weeks at sea supporting the training of other units – was the root cause for many of the disciplinary cases we were witnessing. It was not an earth-shattering observation. The cycle our Sailors and troops in every service know is: train for deployment, be on deployment, and be not on deployment, with very little time – or active leadership – spent on why. I struggle with this challenge no matter where I find myself in the cycle. When addressing my Sailors, I revert to the “we are here for each other” purpose. It is not cliché, but I crave more substance in the answer. I know they do, as well.
Why are we here? In early October, an organization, likely Houthi rebels, shot several cruise missiles into the Red Sea at a good friend of mine. At his shipmates. At their ship. At America. The ship performed brilliantly, defending themselves and their fellow ships from imminent harm. This was notable for a variety of reasons. To the media, it was the first time a U.S. Navy ship had been shot at by cruise missiles since the Stark. To the Surface Fleet, it showed that the long-deployed but previously combat un-tested Aegis Combat System worked. To Surface Warfare Officers, who train their entire careers for this exact – but previously somewhat far-fetched – scenario, it proved that the training paid off. To me, it meant that my friend was still alive. In this instance, they were there for each other. But before they were shot at, why were they there? For deterrence and to keep sea lines of communication open? Maybe. But to what end? While both are important missions, some call this “being the world’s policeman.” Is that why we are here, and if so, why are we so reluctant to say so?
Why are we here? Our ship was recently at one of this nation’s Fleet Weeks; a rare opportunity to interact with the public we are so often distanced from and a chance to show tax payers and visitors alike what our ships – and our Sailors – have to offer. As the first day’s duty officer, I was impressed to see thousands of people queue up for a two-plus hour wait to spend ten minutes touring the ship. During one of my trips to visit the people waiting in line, I found myself sharing stories with strangers, having my picture taken with them, and smiling pleasantly. Suddenly, a loud voice boomed behind all of us. A young man stood 15 feet away on top of a retaining wall with a small microphone and began to preach. Loudly. Passionately. And, depending on your personal views, a bit controversially. He was smartly dressed, was non-threatening and had no semblance of mental or social issues. People began to stare. They watched intently as security showed up and crowded the man who now preached in bursts interrupted by their polite requests for him to leave and his polite requests to be left alone. Visitors and Sailors alike watched this unfold. The police were mentioned several times. Neither the man nor the security guards were acting inappropriately. Adjacent to a Navy event with dozens of Sailors in uniform interacting with the public, though, the situation quickly became awkward and it seemed that the property owners were intervening on the Navy’s behalf. While I was personally concerned about the man’s rights, I was even more worried about the CNN Factor – the negative image of on-looking service members watching a man’s rights being infringed upon while surrounded by the public we serve.
I went over for a discreet chat. I asked the owners and the guards to let the man speak. Hoping that I was right, I informed them that the Navy did not have a problem with his presence. And finally, I reminded the owners and the guards that, ultimately, this is why we are here. They kindly agreed and went about doing their jobs. Afterwards, I shook the man’s hand, asked that he not threaten anyone and mentioned that the Navy and the city were glad to have him. He was genuinely thankful… and then promptly went back to his fire and brimstone. Nobody was in the wrong. Everyone acted professionally and in good faith. As I walked away to deal with the next challenge, I wondered, is this why we are here? So that people can say objectionable things or vote for objectionable people without fear of civil or military uniforms hauling them away? While it might seem obvious, it was the first and only such experience of my career and the closest I had ever felt to finding the answer.
Why are we here? We are indeed here to defend the country, to kill bad guys, for deterrence, and for cooperation with our allies. Hopefully, though, we are ultimately here to ensure the American Way remains intact. But it remains a tough question to answer. An even tougher answer to quantify. And ultimately, it leads to an often perplexing existence for the nation’s service members. Our military is incredibly important. I know this to be true. I am fully on-board. As leaders, though, I think we can do a better job of laying a foundation – of answering the question: Why are we here?
It starts at the top – with our national leaders who dictate where we go and what we do. Sending us to fight un-ending battles – wars without defined objectives – causes us to wonder. It trickles down to our service and community leaders. Ordering us to focus on everything but war fighting – when re-learning basic social skills is more important than how to shoot straight – causes us to wonder. Finally, it ends with us. Focusing on showing up to your job – one with an often unpleasant life attached – vice investing in a profession, inevitably causes us to wonder. We need clear actions and regular discussions. Our national leaders must use us judiciously and vocalize their intent. Our service and community leaders must ensure our laser-like focus on the mission, vice the minutiae. We must serve with purpose and communicate effectively with each other and our troops – we are here for each other, but more importantly, we are here for the American People! Why are we here? It is an important question in critical need of a well-defined answer. As professional war fighters of varying services, specialties, and experiences, we should never lose sight of this question, nor its dynamic answer, lest we become lost in our own existence, deploying simply because it is time to deploy or fighting because… what else are we supposed to do?
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.
One of the primary responsibilities of leaders is to be an example to junior personnel. The expected ideal is to “lead by example.” That “example” is understood to be a positive one, but often it is not. On occasion a leader becomes a negative example – “that guy” who everyone is told not to be.
This week we saw one of the last parts of Act-III from the tragedy of General James E. “Hoss” Cartwright, USMC (Ret.).
Josh Rogin over at WaPo outlines the story and its context well, and we’ll get to that later on in the post, but here is the take-away everyone in uniform must know – you are not part of the cool-kids club in DC. Only a very few ever have crossed that barrier, and you are not one of them.
There is a problem with spending too many years in the Imperial City rubbing elbows and watching the Byzantine stew of politics, press, sex, fame, money, and power that swirls around you. If you are lucky, you have enough of a sense of history and self-awareness to know your place, or you have a wife or the ever-rare circle of friends you will listen to who will keep you grounded. Even then, it may not be enough. Even the greatest are human too.
Some can spend the balance of the decades of their life in DC and remain unsullied by its nature, uncompromised, unmoved by the warped ethics and moral compromise one sees every day. Others can be seduced by it inside a single PCS cycle.
It is not a hard sell to think that you have to play by the rules those in suits and pants-suits do to make things happen. You can feel forced to bend, but just as many want to bend. They can smell what is there, and they want to be part of it.
High rank, personal staffs, and a parade of sycophantic obsequiousness can build on top of the existing human desire for power, influence, and position. A person in uniform can see which civilian tactics, techniques, and procedures are used to best effect, and that the civilians get away with it.
Why not you too?
Here is why; you are not them. You wear the uniform. It isn’t that you are held to a different standard, you are, but not for the self-serving reason you think. It isn’t your “higher sense of honor” or any of that. No, it is much baser.
You are not in their club. You do not know their secret handshake. You are not in their circle of influence, cabal, or family though marriage, affairs, or shared history. Even if you went to the same schools, you are outside that circle. Even if they make you feel you are – you are only being patronized for their own interest; you aren’t.
To many there, you are just “The Other.” You are just another government employee who, even as a General Officer and Flag Officer, are seen somewhere between a GS-15 and a Deputy Undersecretary.
You can play some of their games, but even then you will not be allowed to play by their rules. To them, you aren’t just expendable, you are a potential sacrifice to appease whatever is the angry god of the moment’s demands.
The Imperial City is a fascinating place, but only if you know it for what it is. Its standards are not for you. Its concept of accountability do not apply to you. It isn’t because you are better, it is because you are The Other.
Go back to the fundamentals you learned as a JO and grab a map/chart. The Pentagon isn’t even in DC, it is in northern Virginia. Keep that in mind.
The Obama administration Justice Department has investigated three senior officials for mishandling classified information over the past two years but only one faces a felony conviction, possible jail time and a humiliation that will ruin his career: former Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman General James E. Cartwright. The FBI’s handling of the case stands in stark contrast to its treatment of Hillary Clinton and retired General David Petraeus — and it reeks of political considerations.
Monday marked a stunning fall from grace for Cartwright, the man once known as “Obama’s favorite general,” who pleaded guilty to the felony charge of lying to the FBI during its investigation into the leaking of classified information about covert operations against Iran to two journalists. His lawyer Greg Craig said in a statement that Cartwright spoke with David Sanger of the New York Times and Dan Klaidman of Newsweek as a confirming source for stories they had already reported, in an effort to prevent the publication of harmful national security secrets.
The defense attorney’s job is to paint the best picture for his client. Re-read the above last paragraph for clarity.
Under his plea deal, Cartwright could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Last year, Petraeus cut a deal with the Justice Department after admitting he had lied to the FBI and passed hundreds of highly classified documents to his biographer and mistress Paula Broadwell. He pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor of mishandling classified information and was sentenced to two years probation and a $100,000 fine.
Clinton was not charged at all for what FBI Director James B. Comey called “extremely careless” handling of “very sensitive, highly classified information.” Comey said that although there was “evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information,” the FBI’s judgment was that no reasonable prosecutor would have filed charges against Clinton or her associates.
Is this fair? Is it right?
That doesn’t matter. It is.
“The FBI will continue to take all necessary and appropriate steps to thoroughly investigate individuals, no matter their position (emphasis added), who undermine the integrity of our justice system by lying to federal investigators,” said Assistant Director in Charge Paul Abbate.
That statement reveals that the FBI is trying address public criticism that it gives senior officials like Petraeus and Clinton special and favorable consideration, Aftergood said.
“They seem to be trying to make a policy point,” he said. “The Justice Department would say they are not influenced at all by policy or political considerations. In the real world, of course they are influenced.”
One of the best things Cartwright could do is, after a cooling off period, write a book about this whole affair. Not a book to push blame on others. Not a book to try to spin the story in his favor. No. He is a Marine Aviator. He needs to look at this as a mishap report. Focus on what he did wrong. Clear, unblinking honesty of how he found himself walking up the steps to a courthouse. It might help those who follow. Might.
Cartwright, by contrast, was short on high-profile Washington friends. He had long ago run afoul of his two Pentagon bosses, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who never forgave him for going around the chain of command to join with Vice President Joe Biden to present Obama with an alternate plan for the Afghanistan troop surge in 2009.
Cartwright’s greatest mistake was not talking to reporters or lying about it; he failed to play the Washington game skillfully enough to avoid becoming a scapegoat for a system in which senior officials skirt the rules and then fall back on their political power to save them.
Bingo. It wasn’t his game to play. He didn’t even understand the rules.
I just hope this doesn’t eat in to his soul, as it would take a lot for it not to eat in to mine;
Will the other Stuxnet leakers be held accountable? No one has suggested that Cartwright was the primary source of the Stuxnet disclosures. According to emails obtained by the conservative action group Freedom Watch, Sanger had meetings on Iran with several other high-profile administration officials, including National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and even Clinton herself. There’s no evidence of any other Stuxnet leak investigations of high-level officials.
Not being in the club has its consequences.
In his best-case scenario, Cartwright could avoid prison time but will be saddled with a felony conviction that will bar him from most money-making opportunities. In the worst-case scenario, he could be getting released from prison around the same time Clinton finishes her first term.
In his statement taking responsibility for lying to the FBI, Cartwright asserted his motivations were patriotic. “My only goal in talking to the reporters was to protect American interests and lives; I love my country and continue to this day to do everything I can to defend it.”
All glory is fleeting.
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?”
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.
- 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.
- If properly managed, critical NEC’s can be adequately covered despite an unforeseen personnel loss.
- In the age of autonomous airplanes, unmanned underwater submarines, and sophisticated computer networks, the revised system will naturally find new jobs for sailors displaced by technological improvements throughout the force.
As most of us know, an organization glued to tradition is an organization drifting off course and not innovating.
I confess that I have never wore an enlisted uniform, so my nondescript commentary should be rebuffed with enlisted perspectives, but I must admit, I have found it is interesting to watch people fill the void of change with the call of action to go back to a system so unprepared for the future force. Rather than quibble, we should focus our effort by demanding transparency in the Navy’s new policy so we can all adequately craft the future force.
Under Mabus’s leadership, our personnel changes have occurred with admirable swiftness and efficiency. But we should be clear about the dissolvent of the Rating system. This is not a change. It’s merely a data-driven adjustment to ensure our personnel system is aligned to meet the demand of the 21st Century. Our sailors deserve more opportunity, more flexibility, and more options, even if they choose to get out.
As we transition out of a Navy that once relied on sheer manpower with adequate supervision to a Navy that cherishes specific, individual skill sets, our force structure must change. So before we sign on to more petitions and lay waste to social media, perhaps we can let ideas breath and allow everyone to absorb a new innovation and consider its broader implications.
General Omar Bradley—an Army officer, and the last man to hold a 5-star flag in the US armed forces—once said, “Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.” As we face change, we must not forget what makes us who we are.
The United States Navy has experienced a lot of change over 241 years. From wooden ships with sails to submarines and aircraft carriers powered by nuclear reactors, from crackerjacks and dixie cups to a myriad of Navy Working Uniforms, from John Paul Jones to Delbert Black, change seems to come and go as regular as the tide.
Along the way, there has been a healthy tension in our service between those who say “we’ve always done it this way” and those who believe we should implement something better. This friction both encourages sailors to truly master their craft, and helps move the service forward by ensuring we never become too complacent.
Recently, the Secretary of the Navy announced a plan to modernize the Navy’s rating system. This system has been in existence for more than 241 years—indeed, it predates the founding of our Navy. These changes are intended to modify the way we address one another and plan our careers, but they are not without substantial controversy.
Sailors find identity and belonging in their rating. It gives them a sense of pride to advance within their rate. In an undeniably technical service, our rating system develops and safeguards quality professionals that do the hard work of keeping our Navy running every hour of every day. Many men and women continue to identify with their rate long after they have left active service.
Yet, our enlisted force—much like its officer counterpart—has problems with its personnel system. We could use a good dose of flexibility in career management; sailors could benefit from being able to advance in more than one area of expertise. We should be able to leverage technology to better connect sailors with the aptitude and the drive to opportunities that would benefit both them and the Navy.
But today, we sit at a crossroads of massive discontent. Eliminating the rating system will have a long-term, deleterious effect on morale. Indeed, this may lead many to mistrust any important, positive change in the future. But it does not have to be this way.
Winston Churchill once said, “without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.” Tradition and change do not have to be mutually exclusive; we can keep our ratings and change our personnel system. The key to this change—and to all change we have faced in our 241 years of history—is our people.
We must recognize that there is more than one way to bring about change. Sequestering working groups behind closed doors in the Pentagon may not be the best way anymore. We have a Fleet of more than 300,000 men and women who are capable of rapidly iterating solutions to any problem. Leveraging the concepts of human-centered design, we also have many ways to organize those men and women into a powerful idea-generating force.
The real question for our leadership is, how will you harness those sailors? Will you continue to dictate policy to them, or can you trust them to help develop solutions that will work?
If we press the reset button on the rating modernization plan, we can bring sailors together from around the fleet to both define the problems we are trying to solve, and bring about solutions that work well and are representative of all our people. This can serve us better by ensuring all hands both understand and appreciate the problems being addressed, and are fully engaged and bought into the solutions developed.
There are models to bring about this kind of Fleet engagement, and sailors ready to get to work on them. For instance, earlier this year, a small group of DC-area junior officers convened a symposium to address changes to the Navy’s personnel management system. In just a day, this group defined the problems in the system and developed solutions to improve, delivered to the Chief of Naval Personnel. Participants felt engaged, appreciated, and motivated. We can build on this model to address changes to the rating system and develop good solutions to the problems we are trying to solve.
If we are truly to become a “high velocity learning” organization, our old way of solving problems and dictating policy—of waiting for missives from on high—won’t work any longer. “In keeping with the highest traditions of naval service,” it’s time to change how we change, and believe in the intellectual capital of our sailors.
Please join us at 5pm EDT on 2 Oct 2016 for Midrats Episode 352: Building Resilience in the Face of Man Made & Natural Threats
At the height of hurricane season, people think of the impact such storms can have on the security, economy, and even the political direction of places if hit by such huge events such as Katrina.
As we saw in the attacks in New York City in 2001, terrorists are trying to create those same effects, along with a few more. With a global economy, local events can have international impact.
How do you best to prevent, prepare for, and recover from natural events – but on the high end, terrorist attacks that go beyond explosions, but reach the next level with chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons?
Our guest to discuss this and related concerns for the full hour will be J. Michael Barrett, Director of the Center for Homeland Security & Resilience (CHSR), and Diligent Innovations.
Mike’s previous experience includes serving as the Director of Strategy for the White House Homeland Security Council, Intelligence Officer for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and Senior Analyst for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A former Fulbright Scholar to Turkey, Mike has served as a Homeland Security Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, an Olin Foundation Fellow at Johns Hopkins University, and a research analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Mike received an M.A. in Strategic Studies and International Economics from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C., and an M.B.A. from the Australian School of Business in Sydney, Australia. He also was graduated cum laude with a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania and is an Occasional Guest Lecturer at National Defense University, Georgetown University, and Joint Special Operations University.
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