Archive for the 'Doug Robb' Tag

America’s “longest war”—now in its eleventh year in Afghanistan—has proved a source of frustration to policymakers, military strategists, and academics alike. Hypotheses abound about why American progress appears sluggish. Everything from failed tactical objectives, fractured civil-military relations, and an unbridgeable cultural divide have been scrutinized.

One theory, postulated by Thomas Ricks, an author and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, suggests that “serially rotat[ing] our top war commanders” on an almost-annual basis has contributed to this stagnation. Writing in a New York Times op-ed article, Ricks notes that there have been 11 officers to lead the war effort in 11 years. “Rotating troops is appropriate,” he observes, “especially when entire units are moved in and out.” However, replacing commanders is inefficient and counterproductive.

Ricks may have it backwards: Perhaps the reason why the U.S. has not fully met its operational goals in Afghanistan is precisely because the military is not rotating its top commanders through the country with sufficient frequency. One need only look at U.S. naval operations during the latter part of WWII to find a useful case study for how pragmatically swapping theater commanders yielded myriad benefits in prosecuting the war.

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In February, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus approved the name of the newest Littoral Combat Ship for Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Congresswoman who was critically injured in a January 2011 shooting in her Tucson district. Today, in what will be a decidedly less controversial decision, the Secretary should consider naming the next Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier after American hero, icon, and patriot Neil Armstrong. This is fully in keeping with the Secretary’s report to Congress on the policies and practices of naming Navy ships.

Though we never met, I feel a particularly close bond to the first man to walk on the moon. I was born and raised in West Lafayette, Indiana—home of Purdue University, where Armstrong studied and received a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering in 1955. After the U.S. Naval Academy, Purdue has educated more astronauts (22) than any other school, including Eugene Cernan, a fellow naval officer and the last man to walk on the moon in 1972. My high school stands less than a mile from the campus’s Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering; a bronze statue of Armstrong as a student graces its plaza.

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Guest Post by Lieutenant Doug Robb, U.S. Navy and Lieutenant J.D. Kristenson, U.S. Navy


After more than a decade of asymmetric warfare, conventional security challenges are once again rising to the fore. This has resulted in heightened operational tempo, lengthened deployments, strained ships, and exhausted crews. Given the daunting tasks facing the maritime services, the Surface Navy cannot afford to remain “steady as she goes.” Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert’s article, “Payloads Over Platforms: Charting a New Course,” advocates a capabilities-based approach for future Navy combatants that emphasizes flexibility, adaptability, and longevity both to meet changing threats and address the materiel problems that have plagued the surface force for years. One solution is to create a Fleet comprised primarily of three different platforms based on existing designs. Interestingly enough, there is an organization—albeit a commercial enterprise—that may provide a useful model: Southwest Airlines.

While Southwest Airlines (SWA) and the Navy have divergent missions, there are notable similarities. Although SWA is a private-sector business operating in a highly competitive market, the Navy also provides a consumer (the combatant commander) with a product (warships) designed to execute the mission. Like Southwest, if the Navy does not deliver it risks “losing business” to the other services that are competing for new mission areas in a time of shrinking budget resources.

In recent years, the Navy’s adoption and implementation of business practices has often been clumsy and much of the criticism noting that the Navy is not akin to a private-sector entity is valid. Yet, when dealing with the financial realities of budgeting and procurement that will largely determine the underpinnings of the future Fleet, it is quite reasonable to look to the business practices of successful companies for guidance. Southwest Airlines provides an intriguing template for how the Navy can meet its objectives more efficiently and effectively.

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