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Navy Stuff

Hobson’s Revenge

in Leadership/Navy Stuff

This post originally appeared on the USNI Blog here.

The Navy has long held fast to the standard of accountability immortalized in Vermont Royster’s 1952 Wall Street Journal editorial, “Hobson’s Choice.” If you’re reading this blog, I assume you’ve read it. I want you to read it again. This time, focus not on the exaltation of the Navy’s “cruel” standard of accountability, but rather the condemnation of American society’s accountability. Royster wrote “all around us … we see the plea accepted that what is done is beyond discussion, and that for good men in their human errors there should be afterwards no accountability” and “almost everywhere we have abandoned accountability. What is done is done and why torture men with asking them afterward, why?”

Fast forward to 2019. Does American society look like it did in 1952? Do we have the same standard of accountability in our society? I suggest we do not. Men (and women) are now held publicly accountable for events that transpired decades ago. There is no statute of limitations in the #MeToo movement, the relative merits of which are outside the scope of this article (so don’t @ me). Across the country, police face a reckoning due to biased treatment of minorities, however widespread, with sometimes lethal consequences. Anyone in the public eye, from athletes to celebrities to politicians, is subject to their social history being excavated and brought to light, sometimes ending their careers (again, I am not weighing in on whether this is right or wrong). The simple fact is our society in 2019 displays a high sense of accountability, even to the point of mob rule in some cases.

How does Royster’s comparison of the Navy’s and the broader American society’s standard of accountability hold up in 2019? What would he write if he could update his iconic article today? I argue that, while accountability in our society has gradually risen, our Navy’s standard has remained static by canonizing the “Hobson’s Choice” concept of accountability. CAPT Michael Junge said it wonderfully on Strategy Bridge:

“Today he would likely write much as he did in 1969 and call for a public accounting of the continuing aftermath of the U.S. Navy’s terrible summer of 2017 … Fifty years ago, Vermont Royster wrote that “it may seem cruel, this tradition of asking good and well-intentioned men to account for their deeds.” This accounting should not stop with the commanders at sea, but should also go to actions ashore, including how incidents like this are handled, and learned from.”

Royster never meant to claim the Navy had a perfect sense of accountability, only that the Navy had a higher sense of accountability than American society in 1952, and rightfully so. Today, we still hold Commanding Officers of ships to the “Hobson’s Choice” standard, but we see all around us examples of wayward officers and sailors who benefit from the uniform they wear to evade public scrutiny or retire with full benefits. I believe, if not for the uniform, many of these shipmates would face a higher (or at least the same) standard of accountability from the American public. Is that the dynamic we in the Navy should strive for?

Which brings me to the final adjudication of the cases against the USS FITZGERALD CO, CDR Bryce Benson, and Tactical Action Officer, LT Natalie Combs. Last Wednesday, the Navy announced the Chief of Naval Operations will dismiss all charges against them, and the Secretary of the Navy will issue both a Letter of Censure. The officers were dismissed from their jobs, received non-judicial (administrative) punishment, and issued letters. That is a far cry from the original charges of negligent homicide, which arguably were always an overreach. The Navy certainly faced trouble in prosecuting these cases, and it may turn out we have more to learn from events after the collisions, than before. Still, is this accountability? According to USNI News, a letter sent to the families of the fallen “concludes with the service promising ‘to provide updates on significant information related to accountability actions and the Navy’s corrective measures to improve the safety and security of our people and our operations. Your loved ones did not die in vain; their legacy lives in the form of a stronger and more capable Navy.’”

What would Vermont Royster think? What do you think? I’ll finish with this: the day after the Navy announced final adjudication of the cases against Benson and Combs, we announced the nomination of the next CNO. Anyone casually following Navy news – not just a suspicious SWO – has to wonder whether the two announcements are related. It’s understandable that the current CNO would want to bring this saga to a close before the end of his term, but the obvious question now is: did career timing somehow factor into the final pursuit of justice and accountability? Even if not, the timing only serves to fuel the notion that our ideal of accountability at sea has devolved into complacency in accountability writ large. Our decades-long unquestioning devotion to “Hobson’s Choice” may now be having its inevitable revenge. Whether you believe individual or systemic accountability is most necessary, we are a now at risk of achieving neither. Perhaps it’s time we re-examine our venerated standard of accountability in the Navy.

New Opportunity for Young Strategists: Defense Analyst First Tour

in Announcements/Navy Stuff

This is a guest post by Midshipman Briney Von Saltington VIII, which originally appeared on the USNI Blog here.

Developing the next generation of strategic thinkers is critical to securing our national interests in the Era of Great Power Competition. We need officers who understand global military strategy from Day One. That is why I signed up for the first cohort of the Navy’s new Defense Analyst First Tour (DAFT) program.

A couple weeks ago, World Politics Review published an article by Steven Metz advocating for strategic education early in officers’ careers, and highlighting the value of certain “homegrown” military strategy consortia (although no mention of <cough> the U.S. Naval Institute, or <cough> CIMSEC). This article met strong criticism in the military blogosphere, so I thought I would explain the value of my DAFT career path. This is called “strategic communication.” When talking to senior officers, I find it is most effective to explain strategic concepts using quotes and short sentences.

As a DAFT midshipman, I will graduate with a degree in public policy and immediately join the team at OPNAV N5879X. My job will be to write quarterly strategic assessments, based on random articles from various military blogs I periodically check when I’m curious if any of them cited my published papers. My first order of business as a DAFT officer will be to publish my strategic masterpiece, Lethal Third Offset 5G Offshore Balancing Strategies for Great Power Competition in the A2AD Grey Zone, which is mostly a collection of my hot takes on strategic current events. I expect it to be a roaring success, as I have painstakingly regurgitated DoD and Navy leaders’ favorite buzzwords.

I was selected to be DAFT based on the quality of my senior thesis, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 2017–2019. With DAFT JOs influencing naval strategy in the decades to come, we will have the opportunity to shape the fate of the nation using the news and analysis provided to us by our social media networks. Some would call this “recency bias,” but I prefer to think of it as being unencumbered by the boredom of history.

When you go DAFT, you get to skip all that tactical and technical detail that many junior officers obsess over. Things like leading a division, flying a helicopter, and running a propulsion system are hardly relevant in the really important matters, such as nuclear brinkmanship and the big data revolution. In the fleet, we will fill shipboard policy and strategy officer (PSO) billets, where we will develop strategic plans for each individual ship. #DistributedStrategy!

DAFT is modeled on naval aviation’s highly successful SERGRAD program, in which highly qualified student naval aviators are selected to go directly to instructor training, and then return to flight school to teach new students how to fly naval aircraft. When an idea works in one particular instance, we all know it’s best to apply it universally. Since SERGRAD has been so successful, it was pretty much a “no-brainer” for the Navy to create an equivalent career path for naval strategists. As in, I am fairly certain nobody gave the decision much thought.

Most midshipmen spend their summers integrating with the fleet to gain firsthand experience with the various Navy communities, complement their education, and help them select their career paths. DAFT midshipmen, however, spend their summers interning with Washington, D.C.-based think tanks, getting indoctrinated into the unique American brand of military strategy. I chose to intern with The Salty Herald, one of the most innovative, cutting edge think tanks around. It’s a great workplace, although Saltron is a pain.

Salty Review: The Bad Day Scenario

in Navy Stuff

This post originally appeared on the USNI Blog here.

I’ve been called the intellectual equivalent of a kid squirting adults with a water gun. That’s not fair. I’m just as annoying to kids too. People have even said I couldn’t debate the merits of chunky versus smooth peanut butter. Ridiculous. Smooth is better. Chunky is just unfinished slop that the peanut butter manufacturers foisted on us to save on operating costs.

Luckily, I have more personalities than James McAvoy in Split. One of those personalities, Jimmy Drennan, has a fully loaded and primed super soaker of knowledge. He has been busy laying out his ideas for the Navy of the future over at the Center for International Maritime Security. His series, “The Bad Day Scenario,” looks at what the Navy might learn from a worst-case scenario that could happen tomorrow morning, and what it means for future force development, operational concepts, and cultural and personnel issues.

Today, he published “Part 3: Developing a Dynamic, Distributed, and Lethal Global Force,” in which he examines the convergence of two new concepts: Dynamic Force Employment (DFE) and Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO). The result is his proposal for a Navy of the future, Global Force 2020, which can operate efficiently on a daily basis, while remaining postured to respond to global crises and contingencies. Catch up on Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Highlights:

Operational Factor – “Global Force 2020 will not be able to rely on Composite Warfare Command (CWC) as an effective method of tactical maritime C2. DFE and DMO are bringing about a sea change in naval C2 that will require commanders to operate effectively both independently, and as part of a larger networked force.”

Salty Translation: If the WiFi’s down, keep calm and carry on.

Technological Factor – “Today’s weapons, sensors, and communication systems enable friendly forces to coordinate fires outside visual range of each other and the enemy. In the future, some key technologies will enable naval forces to engage targets when not even in the same theater. Global Force 2020 will utilize long range hypersonic missiles and aircraft, next-generation cruise and ballistic missiles, next-generation unmanned systems, artificial intelligence, and cyber to name a few.”

Salty Translation: Knock knock. Who’s there? U.S. Navy. U.S. Navy wh- <BOOM!>

Human Factor – “Global Force 2020 will give rise to a new level of complexity in the warfighting capabilities that Surface Warfare Officers (SWOs) will be expected to employ, and missions they will be expected to execute. It is prudent to ask whether the surface force has maxed out the cognitive capacity of generalists, and whether it is time for SWOs to be trained as specialists to become experts in a single mission or warfare domain . . . The U.S. Navy needs surface tactical action officers who are as proficient with their ship’s combat systems as an aviator is with his or her aircraft . . . The time may come when the surface force is forced to consider contracting its maneuvering function, which will be increasingly irrelevant to combat, while naval officers specialize in areas that contribute directly to lethality.”

Salty Translation: “jack of all trades, master of none” doesn’t work too well when you’re going toe-to-toe with another maritime superpower!

So, make yourself a smooth PB&J, sit back, and enjoy! If you don’t agree, fire away with your own water gun of wisdom at tsm@saltyherald.com!

Choosy naval warriors choose Jif…always smooth, never chunky!

Ugh, Generation Z is the Worst

in Haterade/Navy Stuff

Hey Midshipmen! You all need to CHILL. OUT.

Publishing articles about how we can do better in the Navy before you’re even commissioned? Seriously, not cool, bros and bro-ettes. You Gen-Z’ers need to get onboard and get in line. Expressing your views freely is NOT / NOT / NOT / NOT how we do things in the fleet!

Shipmates, come alongside and let me SWO-splain a few things to you. First, we millennials learned, through a revolutionary box set of computer training CD’s, the optimal way to conduct surface naval operations. We don’t need the “good idea fairy” coming in and shaking things up. Second, wait until you’ve been in the seat to offer your opinion. Ideally, you wait until you’ve left to tell your shipmates how messed up things are, and how you would fix things if you had the time, but you don’t anymore so it’s on them. The USNI Blog is full of great examples. 😉

Let’s take a look at some specific examples of why Generation Z is so annoying:

Recent Improvements to SWO Training Are Not Enough,” by Midshipman Paul Kenney. Ok, you were on board the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) when she collided with ACX Crystal in 2017, so you’ve seen us at our worst, and you apparently did some “research,” but that doesn’t mean we need your opinions. Your ideas, like focusing on fundamentals rather than technology and more extensive, hands-on seamanship training precommissioning, would never work. If giving midshipmen a baseline of navigation and seamanship fundamentals, and resourcing more at-sea stick time made sense, then why wouldn’t we have done it for the past 30 years? Hmm??? Yeah, I bet you didn’t think about that Mr. Smarty-Pants!

Talking About My Generation—and the LCS,” by Midshipman Connor Coleman. So, you’ve been following the controversy over the LCS? Well, I hope your parents read you bedtime stories by CDR Phibian Salamander, because the debate’s been raging for longer than you’ve been alive. Actually, past tense . . . it’s settled now. LCS is a minesweeper. End of story. We tried modularity, it didn’t work. Stop trying to act like the concept is sound because it works in submarines, airplanes, missiles, merchant ships, commercial transportation, combat systems, and nearly every computer in the world. More bridge time for JO’s? You know first-tour division officers aren’t even being assigned to LCS, right? Why would we want do that? We’re not that cruel. Convoy protection? Yes, ok, the Navy just conceded we don’t have enough warships to effectively escort shipping in a major conflict, but using LCS to protect convoys would force us to think outside the CSG box. Let’s not get crazy, okay!?

Social Media Today Will Affect the Armed Forces Tomorrow,” by Midshipman Kathleen Meeds. How did you even find the time to write this with your social media technology addiction? So, you want us to learn and adapt to ever-evolving social media communication trends. Listen, youngster, let me drop a #truthbomb on you. We’re all over this social media thing. Our Chief of Information is the best. He is very “influential.” You recommended we use our mission-focused mindset to improve communication with the American public. You say honesty and transparency are vital to our success. We’re way ahead of you. Check out the PAO Lethality Task Force! #lethalPAOlethality

Honor Cannot Be Divided,” by Midshipman First Class Noah Johnston, U.S. Navy. So, let me get this straight: you want us to live with honor in our professional AND personal lives? Sheesh! Take it down a notch, Eagle Scout. You reference the Fat Leonard scandal, but those were isolated ethical failures. Dozens of isolated ethical failures spanning several decades, ships, and fleet staffs. You write that midshipmen could improve their character development by researching the origins of the honor concept and critically analyzing its impact on their lives. That’s fine, as long as you keep that stuff in Annapolis.

And now I hear the winners of the Midshipman Essay Contest will be published in the coming months. Ugh. Gen Z just, like, be cool. Now I know how Commander Darcie Cunningham felt about millennials.

Introducing Public Affairs Lethality

in Life Hacks/Navy Stuff

In today’s Navy, everything is lethal.  Our guns are lethal.  Our missiles are lethal.  Our base housing is lethal.  Now, even our public affairs are lethal.  Whenever we encounter a narrative that’s unflattering to the Navy, we kill it by suppressing negative commentary and boosting positive commentary.  #PAOlethality baby!!!

Our reputation as the world’s greatest Navy is under attack, and we are #semperfortis!  Actual reform and investment?  These things take time.  Our spokesmen and women are ready to #fighttonight!

But we need your help!  This is a #deckplateleadership issue!  Quite frankly, its disappointing that you’ve allowed so many negative stories to surface recently.  From base housing conditions, to collisions at sea, to Fat Leonard…your leadership failures have really let us down.  To fix your mistakes, we created the PAO Lethality Task Force, and we developed 1,396 initiatives, 1,391 of which have already been implemented (what have you done lately?). Here’s a sampling of what we’ve already accomplished:

  1. We directed flag officers to reduce communications with the press. #gagorder
  2. We restricted public access to aviation mishap data. #needtoknow
  3. We stopped publicly announcing the names of officials fired for misconduct. #looselipssinkships
  4. We stopped publicly announcing flag officer nominations. #OPSECIguess?
  5. Our Chief of Information personally boosted commentary supportive to “Big Navy.” #definitelyNOTunlawfulcommandinfluence
  6. We repeatedly quote MCPON verbatim whenever anyone posts a critical comment to the CNO Facebook Live All Hands Call. #overwhelmingforce

And here’s what we need from YOU:

  1. For God’s sake, get your family in line! Just don’t let them talk to anyone, especially not on social media. If they complain about something, just tell them to stop being entitled snowflakes and get #Navytough!
  2. Whatever you do, DO NOT communicate with ProPublica, so help me…
  3. When Grammy asks you what you do in the Navy, look her straight in the eye and tell her “You’ll get the Navy America needs, and that’s all you need to know!” #OPSECsaveslives
  4. Do not post anything online unless its an official navy.mil story. Commentary from Bryan McGrath is also okay. #BigNavyiswatching
  5. If something happens on your watch that might garner media attention, immediately classify the information in the interest of national security. #AmericaFirst!

Remember, shipmates, winning the battle of the narrative is up to you! To paraphrase one of our great leaders, if you can’t control the narrative and accomplish the mission with the resources you have, we’ll find someone who will!

#corevalues #hooyah #lethalPAOlethality!

“Doing More With Less” Goes High Speed, Low Drag

in Navy Stuff

Readiness and retention are always fun topics in the aviation community.  That is, if you like high blood pressure, bulging neck veins, and frothing at the mouth.  I’m a SWO, so sign me up!

On Wednesday, a couple local news outlets in Hampton Roads, VA published two different articles worth digging into.  One is clearly a puff piece written from PAO talking points, but the other one appeared to involve some actual journalism.  The first reporter, Todd Corrillo, only interviewed the Naval Air Force Atlantic PAO.  The second, Jaclyn Lee, interviewed at least seven current and former aviators, ranging from Lieutenant to Rear Admiral, and scoured publicly available information such as GAO reports and PERS-43 briefings.  Buckle up.

I found some tidbits that were an interesting contrast to some other recent statements made by senior navy leadership, and I have some questions for you steely-eyed heroes of the skies (aka Air-SWO’s).

“[Rear Admiral] Kelley made it clear that he does not feel the shortage impacts military readiness. 13News Now asked, “And you guys have never deployed an air wing that was not ready?” To which Kelley said:

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. I would say that we man, train and equip to the very best that we can to meet requirements. Now if you said, ‘Is there anybody that’s deployed that we felt was somewhat challenged for one reason or the other… they may have gotten personnel later in the training cycle so that they weren’t able to get the qualifications level that they wanted to have for deployment?’ Yeah, absolutely. Are we looking at operational risk by doing it? No.””

Now, first of all, people tell me Rear Admiral Kelley is, in the highest form of compliment a naval aviator can give, a “solid dude.”  That’s not for me to comment on, but I appreciate his candor.  I suppose it’s a good thing he’s being forthright that air wings are deploying without meeting readiness standards, right? Don’t get me wrong. We’ve been there before in the surface community, but we learned our lessons the hard way. In fact, the two admirals in charge of certifying every ship in the Navy for deployment just testified this week to congress they hold an unwavering standard. Admiral Christopher Grady said “We do not ask a ship nor direct a ship to go on mission if they are not certified to do the job. Indeed there have been several occasions where I have said: ‘That ship is not ready. We will need more time.’ We know what the requirement is and if they’re not ready, they’re not going.” What’s interesting to me is these two admirals are also responsible for certifying every air wing for deployment. Does the unwavering standard only apply to surface ships?

“According to data from Tailhook 2017 and 2018 Symposium PERS-43 briefings, FY 2015 shows approximately 36 percent of junior officers declined the department head promotion. In FY 2019, approximately 63 percent of junior officers declined.”

“Entering the second year of the new AvB, Command Bonus take rates have already increased by 30% over 5-year averages.  DH Bonus initial take rates and fleet feedback have also been positive.  These trends mean more top-performing O-4/O-5 Aviators are choosing to stay Navy.”

“In the 2018 fiscal year, Naval Air Force Atlantic says six aviation communities saw an increase in the number of pilots taking a new Department Head bonus.”

These statistics appear to be inconsistent.  What is the overall trend of aviation JO retention over a meaningful timeframe?  A one-year spike amid a five-year downturn in DH bonus take rates is not meaningful.  DOUBLING the rate of JO’s turning down the bonus over five years…is.

“The biggest increase comes from Airborne Electronic Attack and Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance communities, where there was a 250% increase in EA-18G pilots and a 256% increase in P-3/8 aviators taking the bonus over the year before.”

I would like to know the overall percentage increase, vice individual communities with particularly high increases.  These statistics have the potential to be misleading.  Yes, the VAQ and VP communities are healthy.  What about the VFA community?  What about the overall aviation community?  Lets not talk in generalities or anecdotes.  Lets just look at the numbers.  In fact, why are even relying on bonus take rate as a proxy for retention?  It seems like we should be able to examine actual data of aviators leaving the Navy.  Then again, the Navy is trending toward making less information available to the public (e.g. aviation mishap data, firings for misconduct, flag officer nominations, etc.), so maybe its an operational security concern?

“We do a little bit more with less,” said Lieutenant Julius Bratton, an Instructor Pilot at VFA-106. “We run the squadron with fewer JO’s and the same amount of jobs so it’s inevitable that we’re going to work hard and feel overworked.”

This should be a red flag for the Commanding Officer of VFA-106.  In 2017, the CNO explicitly warned the Navy to “fight against this do more with less mindset.”  Admiral Richardson cautioned “if you let this do more with less mindset eat into our way of doing business, you start to see this slow decline in readiness.”  We should take Lieutenant Bratton’s words as a barometer reading, but also not overreact to them.  I trust he’s being sincere, but he also may lack the broader context that Rear Admiral Kelley has.  It may be a stretch to say aviators are doing more with less, but certainly when you billet three department heads to VFA squadrons instead of four, you are doing the same with less.

So, aviators, when you look into the mirror, do you see yourself on the readiness incline or decline?

I could understand if our first reaction is to target the individuals who said these things, but let’s not, please.  That would squander the opportunity to improve.  These folks are being candid and honest. The (possible) inconsistencies just indicate we have more work to do.

As always, if you feel the need to tell me to stay in my lane, please email me at tsm@saltyherald.com!

Stay in your lane, bro!

Naval Leadership in the Age of Superdeployments

in Leadership/Navy Stuff

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks here.

Superdeployment (n) – a forward Navy deployment resulting in at least nine months away from homeport, with the possibility that the duration could be extended at any moment (including after return to homeport).

In March 2011, USS BATAAN set sail for a nearly 11-month deployment, four months ahead of schedule –the longest Navy deployment in 40 years. In February 2013, two days before the ships were scheduled to set sail, the USS HARRY S. TRUMAN Strike Group’s deployment was delayed until July – eventually deploying for nine months. This may not seem like a big deal, but historically deployments have averaged around six months. These are just two examples of a major trend in U.S. Naval Operations: deployments are getting longer and more unpredictable. The Navy has extended the length of forward deployments over the past decade to adapt to a dynamic geopolitical environment overseas and tightening defense budgets. Hence, the rise of the superdeployment. Maintenance, training, and logistics are just a few areas that are impacted when sending ships on deployments of nine months or more. However, one aspect of this that Navy leaders have not focused on as much is leadership itself.

How should officers, chiefs, and petty officers lead their sailors differently when deployed for nine months or more? As the operations officer on the USS GETTYSBURG, I was with the HARRY S. TRUMAN Strike Group on its recent nine-month deployment. I can tell you deployments of this length are a different animal. I can also tell you I did not see most of the differences until I returned home. I did not always have the compassion, creativity, and endurance I so clearly needed. While top Navy leadership determines how to stabilize our operational tempo, one thing is for sure: Navy leaders need to adapt to the challenge of superdeployments to show their sailors that their struggle is important, that they matter in the grand scheme of national security, and how to keep pressing forward even when stress turns into exhaustion.

First, two realities of superdeployments:

1) Although deployments are getting longer, the average length is still closer to eight months. In fact, United States Fleet Forces Command developed the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) at least in part to cap deployment growth and make eight months the fleet standard. Meanwhile, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Jon Greenert has publicly made a commitment to shorten deployments to seven months. The CNO’s commitment to shorter deployments is certainly well-received, but will take some time to implement. Unfortunately, the superdeployment still exists today. Whether responding to Russia invading a neighboring country, or the need to relieve a Strike Group delayed due to emergent repairs, there will always be the possibility that an eight-month deployment gets extended to nine or ten months. Even after sailors return from an eight-month deployment, they must face the reality that their ship may be called upon to re-deploy as a “surge” asset. This is a tried and true strategy in readiness. Generally there is no ship more ready to respond than the ship that has just returned from deployment. Nevertheless, it is a reality that sailors, and leaders of sailors, must handle.

2) Superdeployments are different from land-based deployments in the Army and Marine Corps. Frankly, troops in contact with the enemy face a kind of stress and trauma that most sailors will never know. Furthermore, many soldiers would probably jump at the chance to deploy for only eight months. In 2007, at the height of the Iraq War, the Army extended its standard deployment to 15 months. So, Navy deployments are “easy” compared to longer and more dangerous land based deployments, right? Well, not exactly. It is true that for the past decade the Army has deployed for longer than the Navy, but sailors have no garrison where they can rest and recharge. Sailors at sea are always on duty, interrupted by periodic port visits, usually only about once a month. The Army also sends its soldiers home for two weeks of R&R during 12-month deployments, a model the Navy could very well learn from. Over nine months, the day-to-day stress of deployment builds inevitably. The stress sailors build during superdeployments could be mitigated by sending them home for a short leave period in the middle. Pending any such major changes to the Navy’s personnel policies, it is clear: creative, compassionate, and enduring leadership is required now more than ever to manage the strain of superdeployments.

Compassion: A Little Goes a Long Way

It may sound trite, but when deployments are extended from six months to nine months, things are 50% more likely to happen during deployment. What do I mean by that? Whether at home or on the ship, sailors are more likely to have to deal with significant events, most of which will not warrant the sailor being sent home. If it is a child’s birthday, the sailor wishes she could be there to share in the joy. If it’s a spouse sick with the flu, the sailor wishes he could be there to help her feel better. No matter what it is, it’s harder to handle on deployment than at home.

Compassion may seem to some as the “kinder, gentler Navy” many so frequently lament. Certainly, generational gaps are reflected in Navy leadership styles. Just look at all the debate raging in the blogosphere on Millennials in the military. Instead of railing on the Millennial generation for being too soft, Navy leaders should embrace compassion as an effective means to lead today’s sailors to accomplish the mission and maintain their mental health, all while holding the standards of the U.S. Navy as high as they’ve ever been. Compassion within the force does not make a sailor a less effective warfighter. Quite the contrary. What should a leader do when a sailor finds out, right before assuming the watch, that his fiancée had second thoughts and won’t be waiting for him on the pier when he comes home? Situations like this will inevitably occur on superdeployments. There is no simple answer, but compassionate leadership helps. After all, it is just as likely the leader herself will be faced with a similar challenge.

Naval leadership is, at its heart, all about people. Therefore, ships preparing to go on superdeployments should take appropriate measures. The Wardroom and Chief’s Mess should meet separately to discuss how they will handle the spectrum of personnel issues that will certainly arise. Also, the Command Triad (Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, and Command Master Chief) should be honest with the crew: these types of issues are more likely to arise on superdeployments…and there is help available should you need it! Compassionate leadership is more than acknowledging the immense stress that our sailors are under and helping them find a healthy way to handle that stress. It is also a leadership investment in making sailors and their families a priority. A sailor that is convinced his leaders have his or her families’ best interest in mind will be more inclined to give his command 100% effort and commitment.

Creativity: Leadership Fuel for the Long Haul

Compassion will only get a leader so far on a superdeployment. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the long run, it is far better to be proactive in leading sailors through superdeployments than reactive. Being deployed for nine months or more, it takes exceptional creativity to keep sailors motivated, healthy, and focused on the mission – all of which can be accomplished by showing sailors that they matter in the grand scheme of national security.

Since most Navy deployments support U.S. national strategy through forward presence, deployed ships usually operate in a steady-state, relatively peaceful geopolitical environment. In other words, not much is going on. There is, however, almost always a significant amount of regional tension to add to sailors’ daily stress. So, how do Navy leaders combat the stress-tinged doldrums that creep in over a superdeployment? The answer cannot be simply “focus on the mission.” The key is finding creative ways to keep sailors focused on the mission over nine months or more by showing them a connection between their daily work and the ship’s mission. For example, on GETTYSBURG’s recent deployment, we frequently sent sailors to work with their counterparts on the aircraft carrier. For one, it was a nice change of pace. It also allowed them to see how their work impacted the strike group as a whole.

This can be applied at all levels in the command. From the Commanding Officer to the Work Center Supervisor, leaders need to apply creativity in their leadership approach to keep the daily routine from becoming a “bunch of busy work,” which can easily happen on a superdeployment and is a surefire way to kill sailors’ motivation. By connecting daily work to the ship’s mission, leaders reinforce an intrinsically motivating sense of purpose. Leaders can go further in applying creative leadership by showing sailors the value of their work, informally reviewing progress, and ultimately linking their work and the ship’s mission to national strategy.

Whatever the focus may be, from advancement to warfare qualifications to maintenance, there is a creative way to drive it toward excellence. All it takes is time and energy, both of which are abundant on superdeployments. It also focuses that energy away from the negative aspects of superdeployments, further contributing to sailors’ mental health and, therefore, to combat readiness.

Endurance: Taking Care of Oneself Along the Way

So, if compassionate, creative leadership can keep sailors going on long deployments, what keeps leaders engaged and ready to lead their sailors day in and day out even when they are stressed to the point of exhaustion? It does a sailor, and therefore the Navy, no good if a leader burns out six months into a nine-month deployment. Leaders must balance their own personal health along with their sailors and the mission in order to effectively maintain combat readiness. The old adage “ship, shipmate, self” should not be viewed as an order of priority, but rather as a triad that can only accomplish the mission when it is properly balanced.

Leaders can maintain their personal health in many ways on superdeployments. There is an abundance of studies that have examined the link between physical health and work performance, almost all finding positive correlation. Some leaders may argue that there is not enough time in their busy schedule for exercise, but nine months or more is plenty of time to figure out how to work some physical activity into their daily routine. Physical activity is not the only way for leaders to maintain their personal health. Taking time to read a book, write a letter to home, or have a conversation over a cup of coffee all contribute to a leader’s ability to effectively lead through superdeployments.

Maybe the biggest benefit of enduring leadership is that it is a force multiplier. Sailors see leaders taking care of themselves and staying committed to the mission, and they are motivated and empowered to do the same. Of course, it works both ways. Sailors observe everything their leaders do, so if leaders never take time to manage their personal health then sailors may not either. But when leaders make personal health a priority, the impact is multiplied throughout their sailors. Not only do they give themselves the endurance they need to “make it” through superdeployments, they also create a positive feedback loop.

Compassionate, creative, and enduring leadership is absolutely critical in responding to the challenge of superdeployments. Compassion shows our sailors that their (and their families’) struggle is not taken for granted, fostering an environment of trust and commitment. Creativity enables leaders to keep things “fresh” throughout nine or more months of deployment, and to show our sailors how they fit in the grand scheme of national security. Endurance is the key to completing the mission as leaders on superdeployments. Much like championship-winning quarterbacks that play their best in the fourth quarter, Navy leaders need the energy to finish stronger than they started in the ninth or tenth month of deployment.

The problems the Navy faces will only get worse unless we, as leaders, adapt our leadership approach to extended and unpredictable deployments the same way we have adapted maintenance and training. I’m not saying that suicide, sexual assault, divorce, retention, and other issues are all directly related to longer deployments, but these issues don’t get better for sailors when you turn up the voltage on operational stress and strain. I’m also not saying that simply being better leaders will solve all our problems, but it’s a start. I recognize and applaud the efforts of top Navy leadership to balance operational commitments with force structure. Hopefully, we can put the term ‘superdeployment’ in our history books instead of our current lexicon. However, until operational tempo is stabilized, Navy leaders must confront the reality of superdeployments, adapt to the challenges, and lead our sailors as they deserve to be led.

The Bad Day Scenario, Part 2

in Navy Stuff

This article was originally published by the Center for International Maritime Security here.

The first article of this series introduced the “Bad Day Scenario,” reminiscent of a similar scenario the Navy considered in 2003. The Navy went on to test its global responsiveness in the surge exercise Summer Pulse 2004. The scenario posited in Part One involves simultaneous reports of a mine strike in the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, a paramilitary invasion of a Turkish town, and a Chinese attack on a U.S. military aircraft.

The Bad Day Scenario pushes the U.S. Navy, even with its global reach, to the brink of mission failure. Even if none of the three flashpoints boiled over into armed conflict, it is questionable whether today’s Navy could posture to deliver desired effects in a timely manner. There is also no true safe haven to be found in the other military branches or U.S. allies. The preferred military response would probably be a joint operation, but the Navy would likely be called upon to act first, if only to begin moving forces into position. Mobilizing naval forces could provide national leadership with decision space before crossing a strategic “point of no return” while achieving a rapid, politically acceptable result. If the Navy, however, could not position capable forces to respond in a given timeframe, such a response would be decidedly less feasible to political leadership.

Nor could the Navy rely on U.S. allies to save the day. First, prudent planning dictates that in a worst case scenario analysis, one should not assume the benefit of allies coming to their aid. Second, although unlikely, unilateral U.S. operations are entirely feasible. American presidents have routinely reserved the right to act unilaterally to preserve vital interests. Meanwhile, NATO is a shell of the military force that once served as a counterbalance to Russian aggression, and much of Europe is preoccupied witheconomic and domestic issues. Even if European allies could muster the political will to assist in Turkey, it is unreasonable to assume they would have the capacity to support in the Bab el Mandeb simultaneously. In the Pacific, it is possible U.S.  allies would view the downed aircraft as strictly a U.S.-China issue. There could also be murky questions as to the flight profile of the aircraft relative to China’s contentious claims of territorial airspace. However, U.S. allies in the region are far more likely to come to the aid of the U.S. over issues that impact their sovereignty or economy, such as China’s excessive claims in the South China Sea.

Faced with the specter of having to go it alone, the Navy could capitalize on two emerging concepts to tackle the Bad Day Scenario: Dynamic Force Employment (DFE) and Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO). Both concepts have the potential to improve the Navy’s global responsiveness. Integrating DFE and DMO into actual operations and doctrine creates both intriguing challenges and opportunities for the Navy of the future.

Dynamic Force Employment

Introduced in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, DFE is a concept for employing forces on a global scale in an agile and unpredictable manner. DFE has a significant impact on the Navy by shifting carrier strike group (CSG) deployments away from the routine, almost clockwork, schedules that supported  the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past two decades, and toward a demand-based methodology that could involve shorter or more irregularly spaced deployments to any number of locations based on current events. Among the many changes that DFE will bring, it will immediately impact the advanced training portion of the readiness cycle – ships and strike groups will no longer be able to focus on a predetermined set of threats based on geographic area.

DFE essentially addresses the timeliness aspect of the Bad Day Scenario. It is designed to maximize the probability that forces will be available to respond to global crises and contingencies. It sacrifices presence for responsiveness and agility.

Forward staging forces around the world on rotational deployments provide presence, but this approach has gradually degraded force readiness over the past two decades. In addition, there’s no guarantee forces are deployed where the next crisis will ignite, and it may take just as long for them to reposition as it would for them to deploy from CONUS. Instead, DFE uses responsive deployments. Forces deploy when and where they are needed, and when deployed, they can extend their presence on demand and far more easily than a unit coming off a long deployment.

The value of DFE’s agility is highlighted in the Bad Day Scenario. Under the traditional force employment paradigm, an east coast-based CSG would typically deploy to the Arabian Gulf. From there, it would take nearly as long to respond to the Turkey incident as a CSG in homeport, plus the time, risk, and resources incurred by transiting a potentially mined chokepoint in the Bab el Mandeb Strait or even the Suez Canal. DFE eliminates the “default” deployment to the Arabian Gulf, and increases the likelihood of east coast-based forces being allocated to the European region (6thFleet), poised to respond to the Russian aggression in Turkey. Forces in the Middle East (5th Fleet) would be preferable to CONUS-based forces to respond to the mine strike in the Bab el Mandeb Strait. However, the unique defensive and force protection challenges of the region (e.g. anti-ship cruise missiles, explosive boats, lethal unmanned aerial vehicles) require capabilities that 5thFleet’s assigned mine countermeasure forces do not possess. As the Navy’s Director of Expeditionary Warfare points out, having the wrong capabilities available is the same as having zero availability. Critical enablers such as Aegis cruisers and destroyers may need to deploy from CONUS after all. DFE forces the Navy to prepare for the possibility of having to rapidly deploy such a package for unique missions like mine clearance, potentially resulting in improved global responsiveness.

Lastly, DFE is ideally suited for the return to an era of great power competition by presenting unpredictability to potential adversaries, such as Russia and China. To be clear, DFE is in some respects a necessary outcome of budget restrictions and the end of nonstop naval air support to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, it is heartening to see DoD make a strategic transition so deftly. Instead of shifting default rotational CSG deployments from one area of responsibility (AOR) to another, DoD rewrote the game plan, simultaneously forcing potential adversaries to wonder where U.S. forces will show up next, while also creating operational tempo “breathing room” to help reset the force.

As Tyson Wetzel points out on the Strategy Bridge, there are some potential challenges to DFE becoming an effective force management system. Some Combatant Commanders (COCOMs) could view DFE as a threat to force allocations in their AOR since they have long been accustomed to continuous naval presence. Allies may view irregular deployments as a sign of waning U.S. commitment to their strategic partnerships. Above all else, DFE will remain constrained by overall end strength. No matter how dynamic the Navy is, it is ultimately only as responsive as the number of ships it has operationally available.

Distributed Maritime Operations

One way to overcome the limitations of end strength is to rethink how U.S. naval forces operate once deployed. This is, in part, the logic behind distributed maritime operations (DMO), the successor to Commander, Naval Surface Force’s distributed lethality concept. While a universally accepted definition of DMO does not exist, DMO emphasizes multi-domain maneuver and kill chain agility through incorporating lethality into more platforms, offboard sensors, network-optional C2 (i.e. a blend of mission command and networked operations), and unmanned systems, to name a few. It is an operational concept that guides the Navy toward fielding a force capable of applying efficient, tailored force packages to a wide range of potential missions and threats. To some, it represents a significant departure from the near-myopic focus on power projection ashore via high-end capabilities, such as CSG sorties and ship-launched cruise missile strikes to support land-based operations.

If DFE addresses the temporal aspect of the Bad Day Scenario, DMO addresses the spatial and doctrinal aspects. DMO, in concept, would allow the Navy to respond to multiple contingencies in different regions by operating in a distributed manner. Although the Navy has been slow to adopt DMO (due in part to “organizational inertia” associated with the preeminence of CSG operations), deployed CSGs, amphibious readiness groups (ARGs), and destroyer squadrons (DESRONs) are already accustomed to operating disaggregated units, sometimes even across COCOM AOR boundaries. DMO will theoretically take disaggregated operations to the next level. DMO will allow units to disaggregate and then effectively integrate with other distributed units to produce tailored force packages on demand as the situation dictates.

Specific to the Bad Day Scenario, DMO could improve the Navy’s responsiveness in multiple ways. A group or squadron operating in the Mediterranean or Red Sea could rapidly disaggregate to respond to both the Turkey and the Bab el Mandeb crises. And by building lethality into all platforms, there is a greater likelihood the Navy could respond to any of the incidents with the nearest available assets. With the current force, some otherwise capable platforms, such as the San Antonio-class LPDs, could not respond to the South China Sea incident due to a lack of integrated air and missile defense capability. Offboard sensors and unmanned systems are particularly useful in mine threat areas, which create greater standoff ranges in relatively small littoral areas such as the Bab el Mandeb Strait. DMO can integrate lower-end surface platforms with these capabilities, allowing them to conduct missions such as mine warfare without incurring undue risk or having to wait for the minesweepers to arrive.

While DFE has been rapidly implemented, DMO (and distributed lethality before it) has lingered on the Navy’s operational “whiteboard,” with many supportive ideas and unique definitions coming from across the Navy enterprise. The implementation of DFE benefited from top-down Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) guidance, whereas DMO, on the other hand, began with the Surface Force and had to gain acceptance from the broader Navy and Joint Force from the “bottom up” (or at least from a few steps down). DFE was received as a mandate from SECDEF, whereas DMO has to be sold as a valuable concept, which necessarily takes longer. The lack of a unifying guidance document may have contributed to the delay in widespread acceptance. In order to facilitate implementation, the Navy should prioritize publishing a Naval Warfare or Doctrine Publication (NWP/NDP) on DMO as soon as possible.

The Convergence of DMO and DFE

The advent of DFE, coming from the Joint Force, and DMO, being developed from within, create unique challenges and opportunities for the Navy’s global responsiveness going forward. Ignoring the necessary integration of the two concepts and addressing them in a vacuum could lead to sub-optimal implementation of both concepts, or an unnecessary rejection of one concept in favor of the other. (Likely DMO would be the one to suffer, given SECDEF’s endorsement and rapid implementation of DFE.) Instead, the Navy needs to analyze how DFE and DMO will coexist to maximize maritime warfighting effectiveness. With that comes several key implications which will be addressed in detail in Part 3 of this series.

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