Archive for the 'naval strategy' Tag

12948e232c6112544b98d11a051008aeSmart people in the last few years expended a lot of effort asking the question, “Where is our strategy?”

From “Pacific Pivots” to “Offshore Balancing” to “Leading from Behind,” as a culture, the national security chatterati and professionals have been grasping for a good “Ref. A” that looked like anything close to strategic thought – even if in reality some of them are only rough operational concept outlines.

As such, heads turned when CNO Richardson announced last week,

Adm. John Richardson, the current CNO, is seeking to accelerate learning and information processing and reportedly has decided the eight months each group takes to study a problem and generate a report is too long. On March 30, he directed retired Vice Adm. Phil Wisecup, the current SSG head, to stand down the group after the current team completes its work.

As a backgrounder,

The CNO Strategic Studies Group (SSG) at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, has been working on particular CNO-directed topics since 1981. The group, according to the Navy, is tasked only by and reports directly to the CNO.Organized each year with about 18 to 22 members, many of whom are considered bound for flag rank, the SSG is thought of as a concept demonstration team, often taking on topics that could have great potential but are not being pursued in other Navy organizations. Study topics have included the integration of rail guns into operational concepts, the convergence of cyber power and sea power, and the development of synthetic fuels.

With a name like “Strategic Studies Group” and such a pedigree, one would think in a time of flux that would not be a body that the CNO would want to get rid of. Give all the squid ink about “speed” a pass and look a bit deeper on why we would do such a thing.

Why would the CNO decide it was no longer value added? I think the answer is a simple one; the product.

Such an organization produces a poor product for one of two broad reasons, neither are comfortable to talk about in the open.

1) The Process: this is what the CNO mentions as “speed.” Process is also the easiest thing to fix. Why was this not looked at in detail first? Too hard? Really not. That is what leads me to the next reason.
2) The People: if the people in the Flag holding pen are really our best and brightest, what was it about the SSG that produced such ossified thought to the point it was negative help? What does that say about either how we direct the energies of our talent, or the talent we are selecting? Those are uncomfortable and hard questions that make enemies, but they are ones that have to be asked.

This is not a process issue. Nuclear trained Admirals can fix process. The smart money is on a people problem, and that should worry us all.

As one highly respected professional told me,

SSG has been slowly descending into irrelevance, a holding pond for a bunch of post major command guys to give them a veneer of being smart guys, but the products have become increasingly vanilla. Sort of a wasted exercise where the CNO sends a really tough and important question up to Newport and nine months later the answer … comes out the other end (and sucked). I have given up reading their final reports a few years ago, a waste of time, but still three guys were selected for flag out of there in the past few years.

Why are our best and brightest producing inferior produce, and being rewarded for it? That too is a question we should want an answer to.

The following is drawn from an email sent by a fellow retired naval officer and noted naval strategist in his own right, Peter Swartz whom I’ve worked closely with for a number of years. Peter, currently an analyst at CNA, was one of the principal authors of what many consider to be the “classic” Maritime Strategy that was published int he 1980’s. His email, re-printed here in full, is done with his permission and the proviso that the views expressed are his alone.


RADM Phil Wisecup just passed me the following passage from Tom Ricks’s best-seller THE GAMBLE: General Davis Patraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006 – 2008 (2009) (which I had not seen before):

“But Fallon prided himself on being a strategic thinker, a sense he may have developed because there was little competition in that arena in the Navy, which in recent years has tended to be weak, intellectually, aside from its elite counter-terror force in Special Operations, which is practically a separate service. It is difficult, for example, to think of a senior Navy officer who has played a prominent role in shaping American strategy since 9/11, or of an active-duty Navy officer who has written a book or essay as influential as those produced by the Army’s Col. H.R. McMaster, Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, and Lt. Col. John Nagl.”


My view: Ricks is flat wrong. Not to take anything away from ADM Fallon, and whatever one may think of the merits of the particular positions they took, Admirals Clark (CSGs, ESGs, FRP), Cebrowski, Stavridis, Mullen, Morgan, Martoglio, CAPT Wayne Porter, & recent Navy retirees CAPTs Bill Luti, Ryan Henry, Jim Kelly, and Joe Benkert all played prominent roles in shaping American strategy & policy after 9/11. A succession of Navy officers, including Kurt Tidd, drafted key national security documents while seconded to the NSC staff. It was a Navy officer — Mike Mullen — whom a President and SECDEF chose to be CJCS, based in part on their view of his strategic acumen, by all accounts. And two Navy officers — Mike McConnell and Denny Blair — were chosen by successive presidents to be their DNIs, also — by all accounts — in part due to their track records in thinking about and developing strategy. Navy officers and enlisted at sea imaginatively sought ways to implement new national strategies in unforeseen operational ways (e.g,.: Doug Crowder responding to the Tsunami, and Phil Cullom taking GW etc. around South America, and the Sailors who set up the first partnership stations, hospital ship cruises & NECC commands). (I’ve no doubt forgotten somebody; this e-mail isn’t based on exhaustive research, and the number of Navy thinkers and implementers since 9/11 has been large).

Retiree CAPT/Dr. Bud Cole’s GREAT WALL AT SEA came out in 2001, Active Duty CAPT/Dr. Sam Tangredi’s edited GLOBALIZATION AND MARITIME POWER came out in 2002; Active Duty CAPT/Dr. Terry Pierce’s WARFIGHTING AND DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGIES came out in 2004; CAPT USNR Dave Rosenberg & LCDR USNR Chris Ford’s ADMIRALS’ ADVANTAGE came out in 2005, and Retired ADM Holloway’s AIRCRAFT CARRIERS AT WAR came out in 2007. All related significantly to past, present and future American strategy.

There probably is no good analogy in any other service to what the 2 Army & 1 ex-Army authors Ricks cites wrote — interestingly, including the USMC. There are numerous USAF articles trying to counter/ supplement the Army COIN literature, though. One could argue that the Army was screwing up the lead it had been given in the big war of the day, and needed the 3 books/articles in question. The Navy has been performing its various supporting roles well in the 2000s — even enthusiastically — having overcome its own big strategy-implementation issues during the 1990s (when there was an even more significant Navy literature: Bill Owens’s 2 books, PD Miller’s 3 monographs, etc.).

To not even mention the enormous outpouring of naval strategic and operational thinking triggered by John Morgan in 2004-8, fostered by ADM Mullen, aided and abetted by Jake Shuford and recent retiree Barney Rubel, and crafted into prose by then-CDR Bryan McGrath and his team over the past several years is just plain disingenuous. The pages of Proceedings and Naval War College Review, especially the latter, have brimmed with debate by CAPT (Ret) Wayne Hughes and others on national and naval strategy and policy (probably leaving their readership a bit exhausted from it all, and wondering why those same pages haven’t brimmed with more articles about resources, procurement, budgets, overruns, acquisition, and the naval industrial base — where we’ve got real difficulties) (although RADMs Stark and Houley and CDR Jerry Hendrix and others are changing that). And, of course, the Navy and its sister maritime services published” A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower” a year and a half ago — probably before Rick’s book went to press.

A service that has ADMs Walsh and Stavridis — 2 Fletcher Ph.Ds – in its 4-star ranks is hardly “weak intellectually,” whatever its other problems.

Ricks just hadn’t been paying attention.

I will no doubt be accused again of being “too defensive” in my reaction to Ricks’s ignorant blast (as Chris Cavas did a few months ago during a Strategy Discussion Group mtg). But defending against silly accusations from people who should know better seems more appropriate than just letting them pass.

Follow on issue: Ricks is pretty well plugged in. How come he doesn’t know this stuff? Who’s to blame? Him? Us? “Them?” Other?

And Ricks may be right in one small but significant item: Serving mid-grade & senior mainstream URL officers have not gone public in a series of public “we gotta change the Navy and the Nation” books and articles and studies. Retirees like Jan van Tol, Bob Work (a Marine) and Wayne Hughes have, but there haven’t been many (any? except Jim Stav) active Navy front-runner pointy-end platform counterparts to McMaster, Yingling and Nagl in the open literature. Is that a big deal? Does it matter? Does writing an influential article trump, say, Wayne Porter staff work on Global Fleet Stations or Doug Crowder staff work on the FRP or a CNO decision to stand up an NECC and revive riverine warfare, in the world of naval policy and strategy?

Posted by SteelJaw in Navy | 13 Comments