Archive for the 'Proceedings' Category


A Word about Ratings

October 2016


Man the Rails

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOS Policy

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

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

The second order effects are also clear.

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

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

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

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

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

The following appeared under the heading “Answering the Call” in the January 2009 issue of Proceedings. It is based on an interview conducted by Senior Editor Fred Schultz, who pointed out that the two were fellow Pennsylvanians—Palmer from Latrobe and Schultz from Gettysburg. Palmer replied, “One of my best friends lived in Gettysburg. His name was “Ike.”


‘To Mature and Grow into a Man’

Since joining the professional ranks after winning the U.S. Amateur Championship in 1954, he has won 92 national or international golf competitions, 61 of which—including four Masters—have come on the PGA tour. Voted Athlete of the Decade for the 1960s in an Associated Press poll, Arnold Palmer has won every major except the PGA Championship, having finished second in that annual tournament three times. Even though his devoted and extensive tournament fan gallery is known as Arnie’s Army, Palmer recently received the U.S. Navy Memorial’s Lone Sailor Award for his service in the U.S. Coast Guard and subsequent success as a pro golfer. Here’s what he remembers about that service and what it meant to him.

USCG photo

USCG photo

I can’t say it was my destiny to join the Coast Guard. It just happened. When I was in high school, I had a great friend named Bud Worsham. We had become close pals playing the junior golf circuit across the United States. Before we graduated from high school, he asked me one day where I was going to go to college. I told him I hadn’t really thought much about it, and he said, “Why don’t you go to Wake Forest?” I thought that was a great idea.

So we both ended up in North Carolina at Wake Forest and played on its golf team. He and I were there for three years before a tragic event changed everything. In our senior year, Bud was killed in an automobile accident on the way home from our homecoming dance in Durham. Up to that time, that was probably the toughest thing that ever happened to me. We were very, very close. I tried to stick it out and stay in school, but I just couldn’t do it. In fact, I lost it. Consequently, I decided I needed to change the scenery and after finishing the fall semester signed up for three years in the Coast Guard.

There were numerous things I liked about the Coast Guard. First, I enjoyed boating and I liked the water. And in the back of my mind I had worked up an appetite for flight. I thought flying in the Coast Guard would be the greatest thing that could ever happen, other than playing golf, of course. So I reported to Cape May, New Jersey, for boot camp. Physical fitness was pretty much my bag, and I became an instructor. I was also a lifeguard on the ocean beach while I was there and helped train recruits.

I even managed to get involved in golf at boot camp, but not in the way one might expect. The commanding officer one day commissioned me to build a golf course. But he didn’t provide any equipment, which was a major hindrance. We did manage to build a sort of rudimentary, haphazard course, but it was not a pretty sight.

I volunteered at Cape May for something I thought would be interesting but turned out to be an ordeal. I signed up to train for the honor guard at the Washington premiere of the 1951 movie, The Fighting Coast Guard. The training was extensive and it was all on the cold, windy Cape May runways. We were still in boot camp, and it was hard. We had an old Marine drill sergeant as our company commander, and he was one tough character. When I volunteered to do this, I thought it would be a chance for me to get to see some of my friends and my sister, all who lived in Washington. But it almost wasn’t worth it. We trained for 60 days, and it was damned cold. They had started with about 400 men and ended up with 60. I made the final 60, and I’m still pretty proud of that. I never did get to visit with my friends or my sister in Washington.

I was transferred after almost a year at Cape May to Cleveland and to a job with the Coast Guard Auxiliary. My commanding officer was the son of former Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Russel Waesche. At that time, and I guess it’s still true today, the Auxiliary in Cleveland trained civilians to help police the boats on the Great Lakes, teaching them how to keep a boat fit for sailing. That was part of my job.

After about six months in Cleveland, I went to Groton, Connecticut, where I enrolled in my first Coast Guard school and became a yeoman. I was assigned to the 9th Coast Guard District, and my job was to travel to all the district’s stations and take identification photos of everyone. This was how Coast Guard personnel received their security clearances. I was in charge of taking the photos, bringing them back, developing them, and organizing them. After this, I had to distribute both IDs and security clearances to all whose pictures I had taken at each station. It was a long, tedious job.

Even though I’ve since taken up flying, I never did get to fly in the Coast Guard. What happened was that the admiral who was my boss suggested that I could be a Coast Guard aviator, but I had to sign up for another three years and go to flight school. I could then go into naval or Coast Guard aviation training. I decided then that I really wanted to play on the PGA tour, and that superseded any notion of flying. When I completed my last semester at Wake Forest after leaving the service, I went back to Cleveland and worked as a manufacturer’s rep just before winning the national Amateur Championship. Shortly after that, I got married and went on tour.

But I’ve never forgotten my Coast Guard service and have retained many things from it. It provided good discipline and opportunities for me to mature and grow into a man. The Coast Guard was very important in helping me understand things I didn’t quite understand when I went in. It gave me the confidence that I was going to be able to do what I needed to do in my life. And it allowed me the opportunity to take a little time to understand myself and the outside world.

USCG photo

USCG photo

A number of my friends have had Coast Guard connections. I played golf quite a bit with the famous pro football player and coach Otto Graham, and he became a very good friend. Otto was a captain in the Coast Guard and the football coach at the Coast Guard Academy. We communicated regularly up until his death. Another person in my life with a Coast Guard connection is the former Governor of Pennsylvania, my friend Tom Ridge. He was the first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the Coast Guard. He is one of the great people in this country.

On a final note, I want to say how important I think it is to serve your country. Too many people in leadership positions today do not know what it means to serve. It’s actually very sad. Every person in the United States of America, all people who are born here, should at some point in their life serve their country for at least one year in some fashion. That should be compulsory. If they’re physically fit, they should serve. Such a requirement would benefit both the nation and the individual.


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.

Article Length

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.

PME/Academic Papers

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.

Individualized Submissions

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.

Manuscript Format

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.

Be Cordial

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.

So What?

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.

Incoming Fire

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.

Pen Names

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.



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.


The Cyber Dragon

July 2016


An excerpt of this article was published in the July issue of Proceedings. The full article is provided here for further context and explanation. This article does not reflect the views of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy or U.S. Cyber Command.

China and the United States appear to be engaged in a long-term competition, and one area of particular concern is cyberspace. What used to be considered a significant, overwhelming advantage of U.S. military capabilities relative to the rest of the world, including China, has recently been called into question. Recent Chinese military writings confirm the centrality of cyberspace operations to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) concepts of “informationized warfare.” This paper examines Chinese writing on these concepts. It proposes that China has been actively seeking to position its sources of information power to enable it to ideally “win without fighting” or if necessary, win a short, overwhelming victory for Chinese forces. It concludes with some recommendations for how the U.S. might counter China’s informationized war strategy.

Chinese Strategic Thinking and “Informationized War”

There’s a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it’s not about who’s got the most bullets. It’s about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think… it’s all about the information!

-Cosmo, from the movie “Sneakers”, 1992

You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.

-Leon Trotsky (1879-1940)

Chinese military and strategic thought is markedly different from Western tradition. Fundamentally, China views the natural state of the world as one of “conflict and competition” rather peace and cooperation. The goal of Chinese strategy is to “impose order through hierarchy.”[1] The natural conclusion is that due to this state, the world needs global powers, perhaps even a super power, to manage the conflict and competition and bring harmony. Timothy Thomas has identified several components to Chinese military thinking, to include: [2]

  1. A more broad and analytic framework that holistically incorporates information-age strategy;
  2. While remaining prominently Marxist, it “examines the strategic environment through the lens of objective reality and applies subjective judgment to manipulate that environment to one’s advantage”;
  3. The use of stratagems integrated with technological innovation, creating a hybrid combination targeting the adversary’s decision-making process to induce the enemy to make decisions China wants;
  4. The constant search for shi, or strategic advantage. Shi is thought to be everywhere, “whether it be with the use of forces, electrons, or some other aspect of the strategic environment”; and
  5. The object of “deceptively making someone do something ostensibly for himself, when he is actually doing it for you.”

Shi is the “concept born of disposition … of a process that can evolve to our advantage if we make opportune use of its propensity.” Chinese military thought seems to differ from Clausewitz, becoming focused on shi where Clausewitz finds “ends” and “means” as the most important. Shi aims to use “every possible means to influence the potential inherent in the forces at play” to its own advantage, before any engagement or battle takes place. Therefore, the engagement never actually constitutes the decisive battle that Clausewitz envisions, because it has already been won.[3]

Chinese military writing contemplates war transitioning to an “informationized” state “in which informationized operations is the main operation form and information is the leading factor in gaining victory.” Information is a resource to be harvested and exploited, as well as denied to the enemy or manipulated for advantage. Nations and militaries “can be wealthy or poor in this resource. Overall wealth in information is what will ultimately matter most in peacetime competitions, crises or military conflicts.” [4]

China considers herself at an information disadvantage, so her use of information harvesting and exploitation in cyberspace align with her strategic intention. Thomas likens it to three faces of a “cyber dragon”: peace activist, spook and attacker. The peace activist is the face of the dragon concerned with internal and external soft power (improving China’s image, respect and perhaps fear or awe of China abroad, while remaining on guard internally against a Chinese version of an “Arab Spring” or “Orange Revolution”). The spook is the uses of cyber techniques to not only acquire information but also to reconnoiter adversary information systems, perhaps laying the groundwork for future attack or deterrence capabilities. The attacker face uses offensive capabilities and concepts to deter, or if necessary, paralyze the information capabilities of the adversary. The goal is that these three faces “work in harmony to achieve dominance over any potential adversary.”[5]

People’s Liberation Army (PLA) books such as the Academy of Military Sciences’ Science of Military Strategy and Ye Zheng’s Lecture on the Science of Information Operations “reflect a consensus among Chinese strategists that modern war cannot be won without first controlling the network domain.” This tracks with current U.S. doctrine that emphasizes dominance in the network domain as “central to deterring Chinese forces and protecting U.S. interests in the event of crisis or conflict.”[6]

Importantly, PLA writers emphasize first strike and first mover advantage in the network domain to “degrade or destroy the adversary’s information support infrastructure and lessen their ability to retaliate.” This creates strong incentive to strike in the network domain just prior to the formal onset of hostilities.[7] China’s lines of effort in support of this strategy include:

  1. Gaining information through reconnaissance of cyber systems, and manipulating or influencing Western or American perception and technology to establish strategic advantage;
  2. Using that reconnaissance information to position its forces, to locate vulnerabilities, and be in a position to conduct system sabotage;
  3. In a crisis, using system sabotage to either render information technology systems impotent, or expose strategic cyber geography to establish offensive cyber deterrence.[8]

Chinese writers publicly state that China lacks the ability to successfully launch a first strike at the present time. This is because they believe that Chinese networks are constantly penetrated by adversaries, and because of U.S./western control of most of the Internet’s core architecture. PLA writers do recognize the vulnerabilities of relying on Western technology supply chains for hardware and software operating systems.[9]

Chinese writings suggest information is the bonding agent for strategic action from which China will be able to amass enough power that it will be unnecessary for her to use military force to accomplish her objectives. If force is necessary, China will be in such an advantageous position that the military conflict will be a forgone conclusion. Consider the game of chess. Andrew Marshall, former Director of the Office of Net Assessment, noted that “most of the game is not directly aimed at checkmating the opponent’s king. Instead, the early and middle parts of the contest are about building a more advantageous position from which checkmating the opponent almost plays itself out.”[10] Indeed this is why most competitive games of chess end not in checkmate, but rather concession or a draw. The player on the losing end knows that he or she will lose, perhaps in a finite number of moves.

Recently, the Chinese political and military leadership established a new unit within the PLA to enhance its cyber operations capabilities, space operations and cyber espionage. This new unit, called the “Strategic Support Force,” is part of a larger military reorganization program. In some ways, it might be seen as a counter to the establishment in the United States of U.S. Cyber Command. Along with hoped for improvements to China’s already formidable cyber offensive and defensive capabilities, the unit will also focus on space assets and global positioning services, as well as interference with RADAR and communications.[11] This is a clear sign of the importance that the leadership places on fighting and winning in the information domain.

Beyond its military activities, China’s information control system remains critical to ensuring regime survival. However, understanding this system is made more difficult by the fact that the PRC goes to great lengths to “deliberately and systematically attempt to control how China is understood by both foreigners and Chinese alike,” according to Christopher Ford.[12] He goes on to note:

The modern Chinese information space remains a controlled one, subject to pervasive government monitoring and censorship, widespread and increasingly sophisticated methods of media-savvy opinion management, and the ever-present possibility that the citizenry will face penalties for venturing too far beyond the bounds of the CCP’s official line.[13]

Diplomatic and international policies are also built around giving China maneuvering room to interpret norms, rules and standards to serve domestic needs, principally through the primacy of state sovereignty. China must constantly seek to balance economic growth with maintaining the Party’s grip on power. Not only is Internet usage controlled and censored, but it is also a tool for state propaganda.[14] Chinese “journalists” are, to a large degree, arms of the Chinese propaganda system, transmitting the official “party line” to the population, while at the same time providing feedback “to the leaders on the public’s feelings and behavior.”[15]

Chinese authorities use a number of techniques to control the flow of information. All Internet traffic from the outside world must pass through one of three large computer centers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou – the so-called “Great Firewall of China.” Inbound traffic can be intercepted and compared to a regularly updated list of forbidden keywords and websites and the data blocked.[16]

Within China, the government heavily regulates and monitors Internet service providers, cafes and university bulletin board systems. It requires registration of websites and blogs, and has conducted a number of high profile arrests and crackdowns on both dissidents and Internet service providers. This “selective targeting” has created an “undercurrent of fear and promoted self-censorship.” The government employs thousands of people who monitor and censor Internet activity as well as promote CCP propaganda.[17]

While the CCP retains the ability to shut down entire parts of the information system, to include Internet, cell phone, text messaging and long-distance communication, it truly prefers to “prevent such incidents from occurring in the first place. And here lies the real strength of the system.”[18] The “self-censorship that the government promotes among individuals and domestic Internet providers is now the primary regulating and control method over cyberspace and has experienced great success.”[19]

China has long been rightfully accused of being a state sponsor of cybercrime and intellectual property theft . This has led to a high level of domestic cybercrime “due in large part to rampant use and distribution of pirated technology,” which creates vulnerabilities. It is estimated that 54.9 percent of computers in China are infected with viruses, and that 1,367 out of 2,714 government portals examined in 2013 “reported security loopholes.”[20] Chinese networks themselves, by virtue of their size and scope, may represent a gaping vulnerability.

Options for the U.S.

Both the 2015 National Security Strategy and 2015 DoD Cyber Strategy state that the U.S. desires to “deter” or “prevent” China from using cyberspace to conduct malicious activity. To do so, the United States may want to consider strategies which have the following desired outcomes:

  1. Build up Chinese confidence that they are achieving their goals and devote resources to attacking networks where the United States wants them to be;
  2. Increase ambiguity in China’s understanding of the information they are able to acquire;
  3. Introduce doubt in China believing it has the ability to disrupt American information networks; and
  4. Force China to expend more resources focused inward to controlling information within China that threatens Communist Party control.

Unlike the other domains, cyberspace is entirely man-made and the physical properties which characterize it can be altered, almost at will and instantaneously. Traditional geographic constraints do not apply, and we can alter the cyber strategic geography to reinforce American competitive advantages that can aid in achieving some of the goals mentioned above.

For example, many American networks that interest Chinese cyber forces reside on public and commercial Internet service provider (ISP) backbones, such as those owned by Verizon and AT&T, and use commercially available equipment, like Cisco routers. We like to think of “cyberspace” or “the Internet” as being a “global commons,” (see the 2015 NSS), but in reality, nearly all the physical infrastructure and equipment is privately owned and subject to manipulation. The information itself travels on electrons, which can also be manipulated.

The U.S. might develop alternative information pathways and networks, perhaps solely owned and operated by the government or military and not connected to the public ISP backbone. By keeping the existence of a separate network a secret, China may continue to devote resources to attacking and exploiting existing government networks residing on public ISP’s. Alternatively, the U.S. could permit China to acquire access to this surreptitious network in order to feed it deceptive information. In either case, the Chinese regime’s confidence in its ability to disrupt or deceive U.S. information networks could be placed in doubt at a time of our choosing.

Existing information networks could be made more resilient. Peter Singer recommends that we think about resilience in terms of both systems and organizations. He identifies three elements underpinning resiliency: the capacity to work under degraded conditions, the ability to recover quickly if disrupted, and the ability to “learn lessons to better deal with future threats.”[21]

The DoD can also play a role by establishing more consistent network security standards. Cleared defense contractors (CDC), such as Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman and Boeing for example, are priority targets for espionage. The DoD can leverage its buying power to mandate accountability, not only for the products developed by the contractors, but also for the security of the information networks they use. It can work to bring “transparency and accountability to the supply chain” to include using agreed-upon standards, independent evaluation, and accreditation and certification of trusted delivery systems. It should address supply chain risk mitigation best practices to all contracting companies and the Department.[22] Resiliency, risk mitigation and security can reduce China’s confidence that it can successfully execute system sabotage or offensive deterrence.

Another strategy might be to develop capabilities that permit the U.S. to execute cyber blockades or create cyber exclusion zones. A cyber blockade is a “situation rendered by an attack on cyber infrastructure or systems that prevents a state from accessing cyberspace, thus preventing the transmission (ingress/egress) of data beyond a geographical boundary.” Alison Lawlor Russell has researched the potential of blockades, carefully examining case studies of Russian attacks on Georgia in 2008 and Estonia in 2012, and comparing them to more traditional maritime blockades and “no fly zones.” She notes that it is a “legitimate tool of international statecraft … consistent with other types of blockades” and can be, though not always, considered an act of war.”[23] Cyber exclusion zones seek to deny a specific area of cyberspace to the adversary, sometimes as a form of self-defense.[24]

As previously stated, China’s information strategy is designed foremost to ensure regime survival. It has erected a massive information control system for the purpose of monitoring, filtering and controlling information within China and between China and the world. The Chinese Communist Party spends more money and resources on domestic security and surveillance than the PLA.[25] Clearly, in the minds of the Chinese Communist Party, information control is a critical vulnerability. Therefore strategies which seek to keep China focused inward may be advantageous. The U.S. might invest in technologies which can be easily inserted into the Chinese market that encrypt communication or permit Chinese users to bypass government monitors. Targeting China’s information control regime should align with current and historic cultural proclivities. For example, environmental degradation, corruption and an urban-rural divide are areas of concern for the Chinese people. Sophisticated highlighting of these issues put pressure on the Communist Party.

The U.S. will not be as successful if does not address the modern, “informationized” concept of war. This should not be taken as a call to change our understanding of war or its nature. War remains violent and brutal, and should be avoided when possible. But the use of information to exploit the adversary and achieve strategic advantage is not being addressed by strategic and military planners as well as it might. Information capabilities in the electromagnetic spectrum, cyberspace, and elsewhere remain stove-piped and walled off from planners. The Department of Defense (and the U.S. government) continues to treat information as a separate compartmented capability rather than treat it holistically – a resource that supports our national security.

The 2015 DoD Cyber Strategy does make mention of force planning, to include the training and equipping of cyber forces. However, cyberspace is just one part of the information domain. We need to better integrate the growth in advanced technology into planning, not just acquisition. We need to consider the impact of dual use technology and its proliferation worldwide, not just to China. We must consider the implications of Chinese information technology companies providing goods and services in the U.S. – especially to the U.S. government. The DoD should develop human capital investment strategies that leverage America’s strengths, and consider new ways to recruit, train and keep the best and brightest in the military, intelligence and national security communities. Just as the “space race” of the Cold War ushered in the modern “Information Age,” .


China’s use of cyberspace operations to support her strategic goals is like the canary in the coal mine. While the U.S. maintains several competitive advantages, it is clear that China is investing large amounts of time, energy, people and resources to achieve her strategic desires, probably within our lifetime. Yet there is reason for the U.S. to be hopeful. It engaged in a long-term competition with the Soviet Union, and was ultimately victorious. This competition was not so long ago, and America has a wealth of talented veterans in the military, civilian and academic worlds who know what it takes to engage in a long-term competition with a rival while trying to avoid a shooting war.


[1] Jacqueline N. Deal, “Chinese Concepts of Deterrence and Their Practical Implications for the United States,” (Washington, DC: Long Term Strategy Group, 2014).

[2] Timothy L. Thomas, “China’s Concept of Military Strategy,” Parameters 44, no. 4 (2014-15).

[3] Francois Jullien, The Propensity of Things: Toward a History of Efficacy in China (New York: Zone Books, 1999). p. 34-38.

[4] Barry D. Watts, “Countering Enemy Informationized Operations in Peace and War,” (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2014).

[5] Timothy L. Thomas, Three Faces of the Cyber Dragon: Cyber Peace Activist, Spook, Attacker (Ft. Leavenworth: Foreign Military Studies Office, 2012).

[6] Joe McReynolds et al., “Termite Electron: Chinese Military Computer Network Warfare Theory and Practice,” (Vienna, VA: Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, 2015).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Timothy L. Thomas. China’s Cyber Incursions. Fort Leavenworth: Foreign Military Studies Office, 2013.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Watts, “Countering Enemy Informationized Operations in Peace and War.”

[11] (Rajagopalan 2016)

[12] Christopher A. Ford, China Looks at the West: Identity, Global Ambitions, and the Future of Sino-American Relations (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2015). p. 13-14

[13] Ibid.

[14] Rebecca MacKinnon,. “Flatter World and Thicker Walls? Blogs, Censorship and Civic Discourse in China.” Public Choice 134 (2008): 31-46.

[15] Ford, p. 19-21.

[16] Michael Wines, Sharon LaFraniere, and Jonathan Ansfield. “China’s Censors Tackle and Trip Over the Internet.” The New York Times. April 7, 2010.

[17] Thomas Lum, , Patricia Moloney Figliona, and Matthew C. Weed. China, Internet Freedom, and U.S. Policy. Report for Congress, Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2013.

[18] Ford, p. 32.

[19] Ibid. P. 38

[20] Amy Chang. Warring State: China’s Cybersecurity Strategy. Washington, D.C.: Center for a New American Security, 2014.

[21] P.W. Singer and Allan Friedman, Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). p. 170-171

[22] Ibid., p. 202-205.

[23] Alison Lawlor Russell, Cyber Blockades (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2014). p. 144-145.

[24] Ibid., p. 146-147.

[25] Chang.

Today, 27 May 2016, the Class of 2016 will be graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. The Naval Institute shares the words of a commanding officer to his son on the occasion of his son’s graduation from the Naval Academy in June, 1955.

As today’s graduates enter commissioned service, these words of sixty years ago ring true.

To the Class of 2016, the Naval Institute extends heartfelt congratulations.

Read the rest of this entry »

I was intrigued by the recent article under the ‘Charting a Course’ column. The notion of ‘geometry’ in a career is certainly an interesting one, and in the previous article it is formed by the relationship between the individual officer and the Detailers, with an aim to help the individual officer get what they want. We can extend the author’s concept of geometry to the relationship of all Officers with the Enterprise. As a supplemental lesson, I would like to present the ‘iron triangle’ of manpower.


Figure 1: The “Iron Triangle” of Operational manpower, modeled after expeditionary helicopter squadrons. At any given time, 36 LTs representing 3 year groups will ‘neck down’ to 12 Department Heads, eventually becoming 3 CO Selectees (CO, XO, PXO) Other community triangles may have different angles, but all follow the same basic geometry. This is stolen, of course, from the “iron triangle” of systems engineering, which consists of Weight, Strength and Cost.

While we can argue about selection policies for any given year group, in aggregate, the Operational Fleet as a whole cannot stray too far from the triangle. This structure is in our organizational DNA and attempting to change it would be folly. Actual selection rates should be slightly higher than the triangle, because some leave the Operational Fleet, either by separating or transitioning to staff/support functions.

If you are convinced that you will make it to the top of your operational triangle, I wish you all the best.

If you are not as certain as the average Charting a Course reader – or if you supervise someone who might not be certain – the next part applies to you:

Your Operational leaders don’t usually know very much about those who ‘evaporate’ from the triangle – i.e. escape from the sides. This is because everyone you deal with in an operational setting is by definition still inside. Here’s the insight and our second lesson in geometry – Corporate Navy is not a triangle but rather a ‘square’.


Figure 2: The “Iron Triangle” in context with the overall ‘value ecosystem’. The challenge for talent management in the current epoch is to recapture those who exit the ‘white’ pyramid and put them into the Orange or Green triangles.

The challenge for the manpower system is to manage the box as a whole. Should the white triangle take priority? Absolutely. It should not do so to the complete disregard of the box. Picking and Paying for the equipment is neither (physically) dangerous or glamorous, but it does require competence – frequently in specialties that bring unique one-off skills to the Navy.

BONUS: Sometimes we don’t get what we want from the Detailing Process. Sometimes we wonder why our tours/careers/lives have taken the path they have, it is useful to recall Sherlock’s answer when Watson asks a similar question (His Last Vow, BBC, 2014)

Watson: What have I ever done? Hmm? My whole life, to deserve you?

Sherlock: Everything.

Watson: Sherlock, I told you. Shut up.

Sherlock: No, I mean it. Seriously. Everything, everything you’ve ever done is what you did. You were a doctor who went to war. Your best friend is a sociopath who solves crimes as an alternative to getting high…you’re addicted to a certain lifestyle! You’re abnormally attracted…to dangerous situations and people, so is it truly such a surprise that the woman you’ve fallen in love with conforms to that pattern?

We are who we are, or as Popeye the Sailor man would say:

I yam what I yam.


Today, the Aviation Major Command Screen Board (AMCSB) convenes in Millington, Tennessee. It is the annual gathering to determine the future of Naval Aviation’s most promising leaders, and plays a large role in setting the strategic direction of our enterprise.

As we alluded to in our August 2015 Proceedings article “On Becoming CAG,” the fates of aspiring leaders were determined years prior to this week. FITREPs, joint jobs, and other career assignments funnel COs into competitive tracks for leadership positions, including Carrier Air Wing Commander, or CAG.

However, as the current AMCSB convenes, one troubling trend remains: Naval Aviation has gone five years since a non-VFA CAG was selected.

After publishing “On Becoming CAG,” the authors received intense positive and negative feedback about our arguments. Notably, at the annual Tailhook Reunion in Reno, Nevada this year, PERS-43 addressed the debate in an open forum (you can watch it here).

He pointed out that CAGs are responsible for the mentorship of squadron COs, with the ultimate goal of cultivating leaders who are able to replace him or her as CAG.

Reflecting on the past five years, it appears as though CAGs have failed their non-VFA Commanding Officers in this essential mentoring. All else being equal, if zero COs from outside the VFA community have been selected, we arrive at one of two conclusions:

1) VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC squadron COs have been inadequate leaders compared to their VFA contemporaries. If this is true, it points to a huge, unspoken problem in these communities that Naval Aviation has not addressed.
2) VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC squadron COs are not viewed as equally qualified leaders by CAG when FITREP time comes. If this is true, it points to a problematic culture within our ranks that Naval Aviation has not addressed.

As thousands of junior officers and Sailors will attest, we have seen many outstanding leaders from the VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC communities over the past five years. Conclusion #1 would seem to offend this reality.

As such, we are left with Conclusion #2, and the problem it exposes in the process of selecting carrier aviation leadership. The culture change needed in our collective Ready Room is the realization that aviation major command is about leadership; not tactical proficiency. We expect this proficiency of our junior officers and our junior officers expect leadership—both within the Air Wing and across the joint force—from their major commanders.

The ability to fly a strike mission from an F/A-18 or execute a flawless fly-by of the carrier are impressive skills, and it is true that only one community can really experience those fully. But CAG is a leader at the operational level of warfare, and the leadership required to execute at that level is not exclusive to the aviators of a single airframe. If our process for selecting CAGs is based on tactical proficiency as a proxy for promoting certain types of officers at the expense of an equally talented pool of others, that system–and the culture that underpins it–must change.

The authors believe that increasing the diversity of perspective at the CAG level will improve combat efficiency, leadership acumen within the air wing, and interoperability with the joint force. We invite you to join in the constructive debate of these issues.

Over the coming weeks, the authors will share some of the most common feedback received from “On Becoming CAG.” The most important takeaway is that people on each side of this issue care about Naval Aviation and seek to make it better.

Watts-Blue Ridge

U.S. Navy – The USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19), flagship of the 7th Fleet, patrols the South China Sea in March. Forward presence remains a conventional-wisdom cornerstone of U.S. strategy.

It is disconcerting to read that the U.S. Navy is making itself into “an unsustainable liability” in the pages of PROCEEDINGS. This is the argument made by Captain R. B. Watts, USCG (Retired) in his essay, “Advocating Naval Heresy” in the June 2015 issue of this magazine. Captain Watts writes that since irregular warfare is the most pervasive form of warfare confronting the United States now and into the future, the U.S. Navy should have a “small combatant that can deal with the complexities of irregular warfare.” However, he continues that because the Navy is a traditionalist organization, unthinkingly wedded to a Mahanian principle that capital ships remain the primary instruments of seapower, this need for a small combatant will go unmet as the Navy continues to focus on the aircraft carrier as its primary capital ship.

The Navy does not define seapower in terms of capital ships such as the aircraft carrier. Seapower is the enduring ability to project influence through the control and exploitation of the maritime domain to include the maritime littorals and the air above it to achieve strategic, operational, or tactical objectives. Seapower gives the United States the ability to convert the world’s oceans—a global commons that covers more than 2/3’s of the planet’s surface into a medium of maneuver and operations for projecting U.S. power ashore and defending U.S. interests around the world. The ability to use the world’s oceans in this manner—and to deny other countries the use of the world’s oceans for taking actions against U.S. interests—constitutes an immense asymmetric advantage for the United States, one so ubiquitous and longstanding that it can be easy to overlook or taken for granted. Projecting seapower is independent of a capital ship, and relies, instead, upon numerous ship types to include, surface combatants, amphibious ships and attack, cruise-missile, ballistic missile submarines, and aircraft carriers—along with underway replenishment ships for logistic support.

Furthermore the Navy bases its need for the type of ships it operates on enduring geopolitical realities and not Mahanian theory. First the United States exists as an island nation between two great oceans. Second the United States is and will remain a global leader with world-wide interests and responsibilities. Third most of the world’s people, resources, and economic activity are located not in the Western Hemisphere, but in other hemispheres, particularly Eurasia.

In response to these realities the United States has designed its Navy to cross broad expanses of ocean to protect America’s global interests, and if required, conduct sustained, large-scale operations upon arrival. Countries in other hemispheres do not design their navies to do this for the very basic reason that they exist in that hemisphere, where the action is, and consequently do not confront the “tyranny of distance” or the conduct of operations without shore bases. Far from home base and operating in distant waters, the Navy uses the sea itself as its base to conduct the full range of military operations. Although bases on foreign soil can be valuable, they are not a requirement for the Navy, as they are for land-based ground and air forces. The Navy can position its forces near potential trouble spots without the political entanglement associated with the employment of land-based forces. Moreover Navy ships are integral units that carry much of their own support, and mobile logistics support can maintain them on forward stations for long periods of time. The United States needs a Navy with ships that have the range, mobility, endurance, speed, resiliency, multi-mission capability, survivability, and most importantly, lethality for global operations. This is the principal reason why the Navy has large, blue-water, ocean-going ships.

According to Captain Watts, the Navy continues to “assume that a modern Jutland” will be its future and builds capital ships such as the aircraft carrier that are no longer relevant to today’s threat environment—especially against the irregular threat. The aircraft carrier with its embarked air wing executes the full range of military operations—from deterrence, to humanitarian assistance, to large-scale combat operations, and to irregular warfare—to protect our national interests. Indeed history has shown time and time again that when our national interests are at risk, the aircraft carrier will be the first to answer the call.

There is no greater proof of the tangible effects of a carrier on global events than the initial U.S. military response to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in early 2015 during an irregular warfare scenario no less—the very form of warfare that Captain Watts states is irrelevant to the carrier. The USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH with its embarked airwing, provided for 54 days the only armed response option for the Nation to blunt ISIL’s advance with air strikes and numerous related maritime-based effects. During Operation Iraqi Freedom from March to April 2003, because of regional basing restrictions, five carriers provided very different roles. For Northern Iraq two carriers provided eight aircraft “24/7” for on-call, close air support for small, independent ground units, keeping Iraqi Army divisions tied down. For Southern Iraq, three carriers exercised the full range of airpower missions from electronic warfare, reconnaissance, airborne early warning, to strike and interdiction. Again because of basing and overflight restrictions, carriers provided majority of air support to special operations forces in the fall of 2001 for Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) that resulted in toppling the Taliban regime. They were the only viable option.

Without question many recent operations would not have been as effective or even possible absent carriers—they are an indispensable tool for national security. Studies have consistently shown the aircraft carrier provides the best combination of sustained on-station time, sortie-generation capability, sea-keeping, and defensive ability at the most reasonable value for the defense dollar. The aircraft carrier remains relevant despite technological advances among our adversaries that make access to the battlespace more challenging due to their flexibility, adaptability and lethality. While anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) threats are increasing in complexity, the Navy is evolving to address these challenges and outpace the threats through its Air Sea Battle concept. Looking more broadly at how a carrier operates with an integrated network of aircraft, sensors, and weapons, the carrier remains a viable and credible threat to any adversary. The aircraft carrier provides the Nation with an unequaled hard, soft, and smart power advantage in a single, responsive, flexible, and mobile package, unfettered by geopolitical constraints.

Captain Watts asserts in broad-brush statements that, “we need a small combatant that can deal with the complexities of irregular warfare and missions that move beyond our traditional paradigm.” Regrettably he does not describe what these irregular warfare complexities are beyond generalizing about the need for “developing a small, capable combatant to deal with the lower ends of conflict.” Offering no requirements for why the Navy needs a smaller ship, he opines that the Navy simply “hates small” despite the growing numbers of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) in the Navy’s Battle Fleet Inventory and a recently announced program to upgrade their weapons and sensors. Not surprisingly he condemns the Navy over the LCS as ships that were “never wanted” and that will likely be replaced by “new and larger combatants.” Yet on numerous occasions the Chief of Naval Operations has publicly promoted LCS with its associated adaptive force package concept as a prime means for the Navy to respond to the entire spectrum of military operations to include irregular warfare.

Captain Watts considers the rise of the China’s Navy as a non-threat that is “at best, a public-relations event for the United States.” Seen in this light the rise of the China’s Navy must also be of little concern to Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand. Many security analysts agree that China is and will remain the most significant competitor to the United States for decades to come. China continues to pursue a long-term, comprehensive military modernization program designed to improve its armed forces’ capacity to fight short-duration, high-intensity regional conflicts. Additionally, its military modernization program has become progressively more focused on investments for a range of missions beyond China’s periphery, including power projection, sea lane security, counter-piracy, peacekeeping, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief. For these reasons the Navy assesses China to represent both an opportunity and a security challenge.

The premises Captain Watts offers in his argument do not support his conclusion to the needed degree. The Navy does not have an animus to small ships such as the LCS. Additionally the Navy is an innovative, forward thinking organization as witnessed by its numerous efforts: (1) to leverage new technologies such as bio-fuels, directed energy weapons, rail gun, and unmanned vehicles in the air, on the surface and below the surface; (2) to develop new operational concepts such as Sea Basing, Distributed Lethality, and All Domain Access; and (3) to employ its ships such as the Joint High Speed Vessel and Mobile Landing Platform in alternative roles. Moreover the Navy understands seapower and comprehends that seapower’s effort must be directed at an effect ashore. The Navy fully recognizes that the United States must be a seapower nation if the United States is to influence global security conditions. Freedom to use the oceans is absolutely essential for any United States defense policy to insure the security of the United States and our allies and partners. The current fleet of Navy ships—to include the aircraft carrier—with their unique combination of combat power, mobility, sustainment, and multi-mission flexibility are well suited to operations in a global security environment in which threats cannot be anticipated and prepared for long in advance. The Navy’s fleet of ships provides the United States with the ability to use the sea for whatever purposes are necessary to the Nation.

Captain Watts concludes his argument by calling for a “time for heresy.” The Navy welcomes his call to examine contrary opinions but that examination must be based on facts and underwritten by critical thinking that is fair and objective.

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