Monthly archive

January 2019

Camouflage: You Ain’t Screen Nothin’ Yet

in Navy Stuff

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

Using a television to watch TV is so 20th Century. Screens can do much more these days. The civilian sector is proving that and the Navy needs to take heed. Specifically, the Navy should use electronic displays in new and innovative ways to communicate among its deployed forces, confuse potential enemies, and even disguise its ships and shore facilities. It is not often that one talks about screens as innovative since the television has been commercially available for almost a century, but display technologies have advanced so dramatically since the early days of television that they can now be used cost-effectively for entirely new purposes. Considering the ever tightening budgets looming in the Navy’s future, it would do well to invest in proven technology, like the digital electronic display, and generate operational advantage through creative employment. What if an aircraft carrier could change its hull number at will? Or if a strike group could communicate at high data rates without transmitting a signal? Imagine a warship being able to sail right through an enemy fleet in broad daylight by simulating the appearance of a merchant vessel. These ideas may seem like science fiction, but they are all possible through the use of technologies that are used by millions every day.

Digital electronic display technologies, such as light emitting diode (LED), liquid crystal display (LCD), plasma, and digital projection, have advanced and proliferated rapidly in recent years. This has caused unit cost to decrease and quality and capability to increase. These technologies are no longer just for watching television or working on a computer. Massive LED screens are common on digital billboards, while nearly half of all Americans carry high resolution displays in their pockets in the form of smartphones. Displays are even beginning to break out of their traditional rectangular shape. LEDs can now be manufactured so that panels can be flexibly conformed to curved or irregular surfaces. Projection mapping techniques enable projectors to display images on three dimensional surfaces. All of these technologies have the potential to revolutionize the way the Navy operates for pennies on the dollar.

Consider the island superstructure on an aircraft carrier. Large white painted hull numbers take up about a quarter of the inboard and outboard faces of the island. They serve one purpose: identify the ship in order to comply with international regulations. The numbers are lined with dozens of light bulbs which can either be turned on or off. Aside from ceremonial ambience, it is difficult to see what value they provide.


Sailors scrub down the island superstructure on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). They could be watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

If the lights and the painted numbers were replaced with digital displays, the Commanding Officer of the carrier would have several new options at his or her disposal. For one, the screens could be set to display any hull number or none at all. Obviously, removing or changing hull numbers would not hide the ship, but against a capable and professional enemy it might confuse their decision making process enough to delay or deter an attack. As an example, the US Navy today requires significant confirmation, often visual, to establish and maintain maritime domain awareness (MDA). If the same ship were to be reported in three different locations, mission effectiveness would suffer while watchstanders tried to sort out the discrepancy. Conflicting reports are like poison to a networked force. Even if the superstructure screens were blank, the CO may find advantage in denying the enemy useful intelligence. In World War II, the Pacific Fleet removed visible numbers from aircraft carriers and did not return them until the Japanese were no longer a threat.

An island superstructure screen could also be used as a visual aid for flight deck operations. The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is an extremely loud and dangerous work environment. It is often difficult for crews to hear anything but jet noise. Visual messages could supplement audible alarms to indicate emergencies, not only grabbing attention but also relaying critical information. Conversely, an outboard screen could aid in force protection efforts, particularly in precarious situations like anchoring in popular foreign ports. If a wayward sightseer saw his leisure craft on the screen with the word “STOP” written in several different languages, the message would be received loud and clear.

Digital displays can also be a cost-effective means of communicating messages over long distances. In an effort to move the Navy away from highly detectable radio communications, optical communication techniques are gaining attention, but they often rely on technologies such as laser, which require more research and development (R&D) investment. Digital displays offer the possibility of optical communications without any R&D required. For example, a popular manufacturing and advertising concept called a quick reaction (QR) code uses a matrix of black and white squares to store data, which can be read by a camera on a smartphone or other computing device. When large digital displays (such as the aforementioned “superstructure screen”) are coupled with high resolution digital cameras (another readily available technology), ships within sight of each other could communicate optically, much like age old flashing light or semaphore techniques, but with much higher data rates.


A driveway turned QR code as viewed from space. Using a screen, this house could become a satellite communications node.

Since the interpretation of QR codes is automated, data rate is only limited by a computer’s ability to process each new code. Data rate, fidelity, and communications range will only increase as display and camera technologies improve. This concept could easily be applied to satellite communications, as shown above. Communication would depend heavily upon adequate visibility, but this “digital semaphore” technique could offer a cost-effective method of optical communication while recapitalizing some of the capabilities lost by the disestablishment of the Signalman rating in 2003.

Perhaps the most ambitious use of digital display technologies would be to disguise an entire ship. Much like “digital semaphore” could revolutionize optical communications at sea, the digital version of deceptive lighting could revolutionize naval deception. Deceptive lighting is a standard technique used by US Navy ships to conceal their identity at night by changing their normal lighting configurations. The effectiveness of deceptive lighting is debatable and, in any case, it offers no cover from the enemy when the sun rises. Digital displays could be used in daylight hours to complete the deception. Research into this concept, called active camouflage[1], is well underway. In fact, in 2011 BAE released an active camouflage for tanks called Adaptiv© that works in the infrared, not visible, portion of the spectrum.


The frames in the image show an armoured vehicle with Adaptiv off (left) and on (right), where the chosen object is a large car.

The visible version is not far off. In March 2012, Mercedes Benz made one of their new vehicles nearly invisible by covering it with flexible LED panels that displayed images from a camera on the other side of the vehicle. The aim of active camouflage in naval applications would not be to make a warship invisible, but rather to appear as a different kind of ship not worthy of the enemy’s attention. Displaying a false hull form instead of trying to make the ship invisible actually could reduce some technical challenges of active camouflage, such as the requirement to know the viewer’s look angle in advance. Furthermore, a warship has several other signatures, such as radar return and visible wake, which are impossible to eliminate completely.


To promote the environmental ‘invisibility’ of the zero-emission, hydrogen-fuelled Mercedes F-Cell, ad agency Jung von Matt covered the car in LED sheets which would display a live video image whatever was behind the car, as filmed by a camera attached to the other side.

Although the technology still needs to mature in order to be feasible for use on ships at sea, the concept is simple (indeed BAE is already working hard to apply Adaptiv to warships at sea). A ship’s freeboard and superstructure could be covered in conformal LED paneling to display an image of a merchant or some other vessel, provided it is not protected by international treaties like a hospital ship.


Artist rendition of Adaptiv camouflage applied in the maritime domain.

Naval active camouflage would be intended to fool routine enemy surveillance from near-horizon distance, not ships in close contact or aircraft conducting targeted search efforts. However, in combination with emissions control (EMCON) and careful maneuver (i.e. staying within shipping lanes and avoiding close approaches to enemy assets), the appearance of a merchant vessel on the horizon would fit the enemy’s expectations and cause him to focus his surveillance efforts elsewhere. Another potential use of naval active camouflage can be found in a historical example. In World Wars I and II, the Allies took inspiration from the art world and painted their ships with irregular patterns of contrasting geometric shapes, called dazzle camouflage, to confuse enemy rangefinders, particularly on submarines. Dazzle camouflage fell out of favor with the advent of radar, but today the digital version could prove valuable, particularly against low end threats. Without advanced fire control radars, terrorists and pirates rely on their vision to target or avoid naval warships, depending on their particular goals. Even without disguising identity, creative use of adaptive camouflage could make it nearly impossible for a threat to determine a warship’s true aspect, just like dazzle camouflage, and consequently, how to engage or maneuver effectively.


USS Mahomet (ID-3681) in port, circa November 1918. The ship has a “dazzle” camouflage scheme that distorts the appearance of her bow.

Using display technologies to make warships appear as something else is not a completely new concept for the modern US Navy. In September 2011 as part of the 5th Annual Midway American Patriot Awards gala, the island superstructure of the USS Midway was transformed into a waving American flag using a different kind of display technology called projection mapping. AV Concepts, Inc. used 3D projectors, advanced graphics software, and creative lighting techniques to virtually “paint” the flag onto the ship with stunning clarity and realism.


The American flag virtually draped over USS Midway using projecting mapping technology at the 5th Annual Midway American Patriot Awards. The projection of the flag onto the hull was so precise, some guests thought ship was covered with a flat projection screen.

While not an ideal technology for afloat forces, projection mapping could be used to fool optical sensors by blending shore facilities into their surroundings. Again, history provides an intriguing parallel. After the 1941 raid on Pearl Harbor, Lockheed Martin desperately needed to hide its Burbank, CA aircraft plant from Japanese fighters. With the help of nearby Walt Disney Studios, they used canvas, paint, and chicken wire to cover the massive industrial facility with scenery of a quiet rural community. By employing a little artistic creativity, the Burbank plant was able to continue operations throughout the war. Blending this type of creativity with modern display technology could provide cover against today’s more advanced optical sensors.


An aircraft manufacturing plant disguised as a suburban Burbank neighborhood during World War II. With modern display and projection technology, the same concept could be applied to counter modern enemy surveillance efforts.

The decreasing cost and increasing performance trends of proven display technologies offer the Navy a cost-effective way to generate revolutionary capabilities. Emerging technologies, such as electronic paper (e.g. E Ink® on Amazon’s Kindle®) and phased array optics[2] (think “the Holodeck from Star Trek”), promise to bring even more capabilities into the fold. Certainly, there will be challenges like increased maintenance requirements that must be considered to determine operational feasibility. Also, enemies will undoubtedly adapt to the capabilities described here, but simply affecting an enemy’s operations can have real value. Still, all of these capabilities are useless if the Navy does not have operational concepts for them. Without imagination and an innovative mix of art and science, the Navy will miss this opportunity to increase its combat power and, instead, give potential enemies a few more ways to bring parity to the world’s oceans.

[1] Unfortunately, the term “digital camouflage” is already in use to describe patterns on uniforms.

[2] The technology behind phased array optics is still several decades from reaching maturity.

Tidying Up: Navy Edition

in Epiphanies

This post originally appeared on the U.S. Naval Institute Blog here.

People tell me I’m too negative. I AM NOT!!

Buuuuut . . . I’m beginning to wonder: do I focus on what’s wrong too much? Don’t misunderstand me, I have plenty of reasons to be salty. We still haven’t paid the Coast Guard. We still don’t have a force field over the country to protect us from ballistic missiles and terrorists. We’re still at war in the Middle East. We’re still building science projects instead of warships. Tom Brady is still in the Super Bowl. We STILL can’t decide on a !@#$ uniform. I could go on…

Then I watched an episode of the Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, about an enchanting Japanese consultant and author with a knack for decluttering people’s houses and lives. Central to her KonMari method is the concept of tokimeku, or “spark joy.” When helping her clients evaluate what to keep, she asks “does it spark joy?” If so, keep it. If not, discard it. Mind. Blown.

Spark joy, not Class A fires.

The first thing I thought was how funny it would be to watch “Tidying Up: Navy Edition” in which Marie visits a DDG to conduct a pre-INSURV zone inspection. She would giggle daintily and whisper to her interpreter as she discovers fireworks stacked against an exhaust trunk in the MWR Gear Locker. Just the look on her face as she walked through berthing or the “JO Jungle” would be worth the cost of a Netflix subscription. Then, she would return a week later to find a spotless ship after the crew moved all of their excess gear to a PODS storage unit on the pier instead of getting rid of it. Come on people, lets make this happen!

The second thing that came to mind was “What about the Navy sparks joy for me? What do I like about it? What I would I keep if it were up to me?” Scary thought, I know, but there’s a lot, actually. Many of our traditions are rooted in virtue and deserve to be carried forward. Here are a few that have been on my mind recently:

  1. Our sense of service to the American Ideal is amazing. It transcends any one President, political leaders, and superior officers. It drove hundreds of thousands of federal workers to continue to serve their fellow citizens while they were not getting paid for more than a month. We’re not conscripted or drafted—we all volunteer. We swear an oath to defend the Constitution, but even this revered document can be amended to relentlessly pursue the American Ideal. However each of us defines it, our commitment to serve the American Ideal is incredible. Just look at the crew of USCGC Bertholf (WMSL-750), and the thousands of other Coasties around the world, who deployed without pay. Ultimately, there will be a price to pay, in terms of their faith in and commitment to the mission, but you better believe their service sparks joy for me. I believe this sense of service to the American Ideal – if we don’t squander it—will be a decisive factor in future conflicts.
  2. Our questioning attitude also has the potential to be a decisive factor in future conflict. There’s something uniquely American about our ability to challenge our superiors and tell them when they’re a little jacked up. Respectfully, of course. It’s also a part of our maritime heritage. Our first lesson in navigation is to not rely on single sources of information. Get multiple inputs. Analyze them. Think for yourself. We have some work to do to gain acceptance of this questioning attitude in communicating up the chain of command, but articles like this from Lieutenant Katelyn Davidson and Commander Josh Menzel give me hope (shipmates, put your knuckles to the screen because I want to give you a fist bump!).
  3. Embracing the “modern warfighter.” Let’s face it. American warfighters don’t look like they used to. So what? Who cares? I don’t. Are you capable? Are you committed? Do you have integrity? Come aboard. We have a long way to go here, but the trend is positive. We’re starting to see studies and policies that support dual-professional couples (not just dual-military or spouse employment . . . spouses with civilian careers that might even be the larger share of household income) and working mom sailors. It’s not just diversity for diversity’s sake. Modern warfighters are highly educated senior officers and empowered junior cyber warriors. We’ll need multiple perspectives to compete and win in future naval warfare.
  4. Leaders matter no more than their followers. I’m probably naively optimistic, because we’re not even close on this one. I subscribe to the General Stanley McChrystal view that leaders should think of themselves as “nodes in a network, rather than the top apex in a triangle.” Leaders serve a unique function, just as every team member serves their own unique function. Our best leaders groom others to fill their shoes if necessary, and our top performers are always ready to step in. Our special forces, whom we regard as the elite of the elite, have senior enlisted leaders who are indistinguishable from officers. In general, the line between officer and enlisted is becoming blurry and less meaningful (a trend we should watch with an intrigued eye). The division of officers and enlisted sailors is rooted in aristocracy, which obviously no longer applies. We’ve all known sailors who we’ve practically begged to apply for commissioning programs because they were already outperforming junior officers.
  5. Leaders matter no less than their followers. On the flipside, we’ve also been known to take the concept of servant leadership too far—some leaders burning out because they neglected to take care of their own wellbeing. Vice Admiral Moran’s directive to flag officers to take the leave they’ve earned is not coincidental, and it’s a beacon of hope. No one can say what led to Vice Admiral Stearney’s (a man with whom I served and deeply respect) tragic suicide, but it shows that none of us are immune to mental stress. I have long said that our slogan “ship, shipmate, self” should be thought of as a triad, not an order of priority. Maybe Navy leadership is starting to listen.

This is just a start. Maybe I’ll follow up with more next week. Email me at with the things about the Navy that spark joy for you. Or tell me about the things that you think we should get rid of . . . you know I like getting riled up! Oh, and if you know how to reach Marie Kondo’s agent, let me know! I can see it now: “Clamping Down with Marie Kondo.”

Mr. President, You Want Money for a Wall? Don’t Pay Back the Federal Workers!

in Epiphanies

Ok, just hear me out.  You are asking for $5.7 billion from Congress to build a wall along the southern border, right? While the government was shut down for 35 days, 800,000 federal workers missed two paychecks.  On Friday, you agreed to reopen the government as you continue to negotiate with the Democrats.  I get it.  Compromise can be a powerful thing…well done!  Now, your administration is on track to pay back federal workers’ salaries sometime this week.  Wait just a moment and think about it.

Sir, you can use the money from the unpaid salaries to fund the wall!  The math checks out.  The average federal worker’s salary across the U.S. is $80,142.  That’s $6,678 a month.  So, for 800,000 federal workers, you’re about to pay out $5.3 billion!  That 93% of your wall budget right there!  You could find the remaining $400,000,000 in Pentagon couch cushions.

Worried about political blowback?  Sir, these people are going to vote for you ANYWAY!  You said it yourself.  You could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot someone and you wouldn’t lose any votes!

And if they’re Democrats?  Well, lets face it, you were never going to get those votes.  Do you even want them?

As an alternative to my proposal, you could also just fire those 800,000 federal workers.  I mean, what happened during the government shutdown?  We survived, didn’t we?  The economy thrived!  The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose about 1% during the shutdown.  Meanwhile, fewer Americans filed for unemployment than any time since 1969.  You are right to be proud to shut down the government!  You just learned you were paying $5 billion in excess workforce.  FIRE THEM ALL!  They’re called “non-essential” for a reason, after all.

I hope you will consider this earnest plea to take an innovative approach to funding border security.  Please reach out if you have any questions:

Very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very respectfully,


The Bad Day Scenario, Part 1

in Navy Stuff

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

At 0830 Monday morning “BREAKING NEWS” banners start flooding cable news broadcasts, home pages, and Twitter feeds, but the headlines are not all telling the same story. One network reports a British-flagged crude oil tanker suffered a catastrophic explosion in the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, the critical chokepoint just south of Yemen through which nearly all maritime commerce flows between the Middle East and the Western World. Initial reports point to a naval mine strike. Separately, various websites are reporting heavily armed military vehicles and masked troops with no flags storming an Eastern Turkish town. Meanwhile, Twitter is erupting with the hashtag #WarWithChina after Chinese military officials claimed responsibility for the downing of a U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane in the South China Sea, saying the aircraft had violated its territorial airspace.

As the U.S. military’s top brass gathers around a conference table in the Pentagon a question is being muttered around the room before the Secretary of Defense steps in. It’s the same question many are probably asking themselves at home in their living rooms and kitchens: “Can this really be happening?”

Thankfully this is a purely hypothetical “Bad Day,” but who can say that some nightmare scenario like the one described above will not occur someday? Similar events have independently taken place in the past and conditions exist today for history to repeat itself. In fact, the multitude of regional conflicts affecting the U.S. and its allies today makes it more likely that multiple trigger events will occur near simultaneously. Not through some coordinated, multi-pronged attack from an Axis of Evil, but rather because America has so many potential adversaries and they don’t tend to de-conflict their calendars. As threats to U.S. national security and interests continue to proliferate, the Bad Day Scenario described above becomes increasingly likely.

As one might expect, this is not the first attempt to consider the implications of a worst case scenario for the Navy. In his article “The Hunt for a Small Surface Combatant,” Dr. Norman Friedman described a Navy briefing entitled “A Bad Day in 2003” which examined multiple independent crises in the wake of 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As in today’s scenario, one obvious answer was the Navy needed more ships. Back in 2003, the focus was on the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) with its high speed, modular, and (supposedly) low-cost design. But the focus today should be on fleet design, not ship design. No matter how you cut it, the Bad Day Scenario would be difficult to address for even the most advanced navy in history. A solution will not be found simply in fielding a new type of ship or by building more ships.

This series will consider the Bad Day Scenario, how the Navy could respond to such a challenge today, and what steps it could take to be better postured to respond in the future. Examining emerging technologies and operational concepts to respond to such a scenario reveals opportunities to make the U.S. Navy even more capable and lethal in the future. These insights could be applied every day, not just in times of crisis, making more common scenarios all the more manageable.

If the Navy had to Fight Tonight

If we woke up to the Bad Day Scenario one day the first challenge would be to verify the accuracy of the news reports. Even if the U.S. Government had its own intelligence to corroborate, would the events merit a military response? Against whom? If the decision were made to utilize military power, employing the Navy would be an ideal response . The wheels could be set in motion quickly, but leaders would still retain decision space if a non-military solution could be achieved. Still, setting the wheels in motion would not be easy. Under the Navy’s traditional force structure and operational patterns, responding to the Bad Day Scenario would involve complex, improvised planning and re-coordination, incurring great cost and risk to current and planned operations.

As multiple independent crises break out could the Navy deploy or reposition these assets to several separate regions at the drop of a hat? Possibly, but it would involve more than a little luck. The trigger events suggested above occurred in three different military theaters – the oil tanker struck by a mine in the Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility (AOR), the attack on the Turkish town in the European Command (EUCOM) AOR, and the downed aircraft in the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) AOR. One should look at how the Navy might respond to the Bad Day Scenario if it had to use the assets it has today or, as many military commanders like to say, “fight tonight.”  The Navy would likely default to applying its premier force packages – Carrier Strike Groups (CSG), Amphibious Readiness Groups (ARG), Expeditionary Strike Groups (ESGs) and fast attack and guided missile submarines (SSN / SSGN) – to the maximum extent possible.  A deployed CSG or ARG would often have to be in the right place at the right time. Forces in port would need to be in the right phase of the training and maintenance cycles in order to be primed for a surge.  

The Pacific Fleet would clearly respond to Chinese aggression with its assigned CSG, but even if PACFLT could spare a CSG for CENTCOM or EUCOM it could take days to weeks to respond simply due to distance. After 9/11, the Navy began continuously deploying at least one CSG to CENTCOM, and occasionally two during times of heavy tension. But times have now changed. In 2015, for the first time in eight years the Navy suffered a gap in its CSG presence in the CENTCOM AOR, citing a strain on resources. With the advent of Dynamic Force Employment, an innovative but nascent approach to more agile deployments, it will soon be more noteworthy for a CSG to be stationed in the Middle East than not. Even with Dynamic Force Employment  it stands to reason the Navy would still fall back on a more traditional deployment model.

Even if we assume CENTCOM has a CSG at its disposal, could it respond to the incident in Turkey, a NATO ally whom the U.S. is sworn to aid through a mutual defense agreement? Intelligence reports and common sense could point to Russia as the faceless aggressor, and there are almost always Russian naval forces operating in the Black Sea and Mediterranean. Yet, if the U.S. decides to shift the CSG to the EUCOM AOR to deal with the higher-end threat, the carrier and her escorts still have to get through the Strait of Bab el Mandeb. The latest reports indicate the tanker that exploded in the strait was struck by a floating mine, and Houthi rebels in Yemen have already proclaimed their ability to close the strait. The risk to a CSG could be unacceptable. While the Navy is deciding how to hold a Russian naval force at risk until a second CSG can surge deploy from the East Coast (days? weeks? months later?), the international community is clamoring for the U.S. and its allies to clear the strait so vital commerce can continue unmolested. As national leadership tries to balance these concerns, the limits that stem from force structure and potential combat operations would shape options for employing the Navy.

A New Navy Ready for Surprise

No doubt the Navy would eventually respond to the Bad Day Scenario with today’s force structure, but it could incur significant cost in terms of money, time, relationships, and strategic objectives. The Bad Day Scenario would be difficult for today’s Navy to address, but emerging trends in technology, management, and operational concepts can present a new option for the Navy: a disaggregated, lethal, and resilient fighting force that can turn a bad day into an unparalleled triumph.

Passing the Eye Candy Test

in Rants
Would you promote me? I’d promote me.

Excerpt from NAVADMIN 265/18: “This NAVADMIN cancels reference (a) and reinstates the requirement to display the Official Photograph for all Officer Selection Boards.  This policy change is the result of board feedback received since the removal of the photograph requirement that the photographs aid the board’s ability to assess the Title 10 requirements of an officers ability to perform the duties of the next higher grade.”

Before I go on, I’d like to ask everyone to watch this four minute clip from the movie, Moneyball, of baseball scouts assessing the talent of future prospects. I promise it will be worth your time.

Now, I’m not saying this is what happens during Officer Selection Boards, but I’ve never sat in on a board, so I can’t say it doesn’t happen. Judging from “board feedback” on officer photos, it seems entirely plausible this kind of conversation happens – senior officers trying to assess who passes the “eye candy test.” But lets take a step back, before I jump to conclusions, and examine the possible motivations for board members clamoring for photos to assess the potential of rising officers.

The Fat Test

Someone once told me “the Navy doesn’t want fat officers.” Fair enough.  There is real military utility in physical fitness and officers should lead by example.  If only we had some way of assessing physical fitness of our officers on a semi-annual basis… oh wait, we do!  The Physical Fitness Assessment (PFA) Program!  The PFA assesses both the physical readiness and body composition of our officers. Perfect! What’s that you say? The PFA doesn’t reliably assess whether officers are “in shape” and look good in uniform? Well, I question the impact how good an officer looks in uniform has on the Navy’s ability to accomplish its mission. Granted, public perception of an all-volunteer force can have a tangible impact in a democratically elected republic.  As officers, we are all symbolic to an extent, but for the most part the American public doesn’t know the first thing about how to defeat a future enemy force in multi-domain warfare.  I’m not saying we need pink-haired, nose-ringed cyber warriors in uniform (although I wouldn’t mind), but if a big fat Ensign would’ve had the intestinal fortitude to tell LTJG Sarah Coppock to call her Captain and potentially save the lives of seven sailors, would you select him for promotion? We give too much credence to perception in officer promotion at our own peril.

Oh well, I guess if perception really is the dominant factor, then we should overhaul the PFA Program to more accurately determine “in-shapeness?” Too hard, you say? So we should just have selection board members give an eyeball judgment before they promote officers?  In that case, let’s just save some money and eliminate the PFA Program for officers. Hey, at least we’re not pretending like we actually care about physical fitness anymore!

The Diversity Test

An entirely different motivation for using officer photos at selection boards might be to ensure diversity among selectees.  This would be fine with me – I embrace the military utility in officer diversity (if you disagree, please, oh please, let me know in the comments!).  The problem with using photos to ensure diversity is that the Navy has not acknowledged this purpose.  In fact, the Navy specifically stated the reason was to assess “an officer’s ability to perform the duties of the next higher grade.” If diversity is the motivation behind this phrase, then we have bigger problems.

In any case, to my knowledge, there is no documentation that states selection boards must select a certain amount of officers for promotion based on factors such as gender, race, etc.  Quite the contrary, Title 10 U.S. Code states “Any metric established pursuant to this subsection may not be used in a manner that undermines the merit-based processes of the Department of Defense and the Coast Guard, including such processes for accession, retention, and promotion. Such metrics may not be combined with the identification of specific quotas based upon diversity characteristics.” I’m not weighing in on either side of this debate.  I’m simply saying that requiring a photo for ambiguous reasons leaves people to wonder whether the Navy is trying to manage diversity “off the record.” Worse, it leaves open the terrible possibility that the Navy is trying to limit the promotion rate of certain races or genders.  I don’t believe that’s the case, but an ambiguous photo requirement only emboldens people who are inclined to think this way.

The Eye Candy Test

Perhaps worst of all is the possibility that board members want to see officer photos so that they can judge subjectively whether the candidate has “the look” of a naval officer of the next highest grade.  This would introduce a whole host of undocumented, unconscious, and unchecked biases into the equation.  If individual board members are left to their own devices, it is quite possible candidates will be rejected or selected based on factors outside of the performance and career potential documented in their record; factors that are irrelevant to building a more effective maritime warfighting force. We are all subject to these biases, and selecting people based on photographs opens up commercial businesses to all kinds of legal jeopardy from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is why private industry almost never asks for photos from job applicants.

I can hear it now: “the military is different from private industry!!!” I get it.  I agree in fact.  The Navy should not be managed the same as a commercial business, but, in this specific case, there is no military utility in evaluating officers based on their photograph.  At least no utility that cannot be achieved through a rigorous, comprehensive PFA and performance evaluation system.

Just like the scouts in Moneyball, if we’re using the eye candy test, we’re not even trying to solve the right problem. Our job is to win our nation’s wars at sea.  We should be promoting officers based on factors that have military utility in accomplishing that mission.  And.  Nothing.  Else.

Oh, I have a new email address: Fire away and come visit me and my friends at  BTW, the volume of feedback from the fleet is picking up! Apologies if it takes me a while to respond!

Somebody’s Doing the Raping: Misandry Through Rape Culture

in Boys Will Be Boys/Rants

Girls require strong guidance from their mothers to prevent them from becoming total sluts, an unfair temptation for the boys and men in this world. This is why slut-shaming is so frowned upon; it’s just their predetermined destiny without proper intervention. Please act now for the good of humanity.

Totally ridiculous, right? That’s pretty offensive too, right? I mean there are plenty of women raised by fathers, bad mothers or with absentee parents who are not unthinking id-monsters ruled by their sex organs. The suggestion that women are so fragile and malleable is not just a slap to the doctrine of all waves of feminism; it dehumanizes and suggests the girls and women of this world lack free will, independent thought and a moral compass, right? I couldn’t agree more.

At some point during this first term of the Trump presidency, and I don’t know if it was the Access Hollywood tape, the #MeeToo movement, Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing or some other time, this idea that males are predatory by nature has become an acceptable opinion. It may even be considered fact by some. You see plenty of memes that say “Teach your son not to rape” or other similar verbiage to imply that there is a problem with males being naturally predisposed to assaulting women without proper parental guidance to direct them otherwise. Beyond making this claim, this meme-philosophy conflates rape with sexual harassment, groping and any unwanted sexual behavior in which a male might participate when he’s being ruled by his penis (see Harvey Weinstein masturbating into pot). Well-meaning folks will re-post these memes. Strong women do it to give a “true true” take and flex their fem-muscles. Men do it to make sure they aren’t confused with a man who has not been instructed to not rape and to make sure all know that they are some of the “good ones.” There are a number of other motivations that aren’t necessarily rooted in any deep thought nor do they give consideration to the weakening of the word “rape.” Most recently corporate marketing has jumped into the fray with the astounding Gillette ad, We Believe.

I’m not sure why this has become not just socially acceptable, but praise-worthy and thought to be valuable enough to sell men’s products. Half the country wants to rape or beat you and it’s just strong women, woke hipsters, pithy memes and social media that keep us monsters at bay. It’s easy for these folks to defend too. No matter what, someone can say “Well, obviously this doesn’t mean you. You were raised right.” The man can then acknowledge that he’s better than the other guys and avoid a conflict he didn’t really want to participate in anyway. We’re told that our job as men is to help our comrades in arms who share our struggle in resisting whomping, whooping and raping. Our society is savage, where unenlightened men wander the streets grabbing butts and demeaning women when we’re at our best. This is nonsense. This is lazy, sexist and wholeheartedly ignorant. Boys need to be taught to not sexually assault the same way girls need to be taught that they can’t bed every man that gives them a kind smile.

So, really, what typically causes a male to become a rapist? A penis, right? Actually, no. Circles, a European organization that specializes in treating sex offenders in hopes of returning them to society (a cause that I am more opposed to than in favor of) states that men who commit sexual assault have one or two of these major issues:

1) Major unresolved anger issues directed toward women

One of the unexpected notes on this one is that many children who have suffered violent abuse at the hand of some adult man blame their mothers for not protecting them. They were powerless when the adult “had the power to stop it” and now that they have the power they’re going to humiliate or dominate women since it was a woman who refused to stop their own domination and humiliation.

2) Difficulty establishing relationships

Along the same lines as the first is repercussions from being abused neglected or abandoned as children. These are the obsessive types who fear abandonment and cling to the idea of a relationship with a woman. They will resort to violence and worse as they try to make sure that this woman won’t leave or will love them or some other such distorted intimacy.

With this in mind, can we please stop? I’m a grown-ass-man and can roll my eyes when people are choosing to be purposefully ignorant, going for group-think meme-brain over original thought, but our boys are still innocent. Labeling them as Future Rapists is so unfair that you should literally feel ashamed of yourself. I mean that. You should feel that ache in your chest when you have wronged another person and immediately start cleaning out your timeline. Our boys are not rapists in-waiting. Our girls are not sluts in-waiting, nor are they victims in-waiting. Do I really need to explain sex to my child just to explain rape to him, to then tell him that I know he wants to do it but he can’t? It is also cruel to think it’s best to teach boys from a young age to be ashamed of themselves for being boys because one day it is going to lead them to horrendously hurting someone … and they won’t be able to stop themselves. “Boys will be boys” does not mean that they will be bullies, assailants, or misogynists and we, as a society, just need to accept this violence. This rape culture idea, including Gillette’s ad, seeks to redefine the phrase to fit it into their narrative, but this is a narrative that seeks to subjugate men to be seen and not heard (unless they are echoing thoughts that have been approved by the “thought leaders”).

Another thing – notice I asked what causes a male to become a rapist? Yeah, that’s because women can be rapists too and the numbers are not insignificant. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 men were victims of sexual violence at some point in their lives. 1 in 14 men were “forced to penetrate (or attempt to do so),” a CDC rape classification. According to Scientific America, who pooled four years of data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, 35% of male victims who experienced rape or sexual assault reported at least one female perpetrator. Those men are only 58% of those victimized by women. When women rape, they rape other women 41% of the time. There are also gender stereotypes that conclude that all heterosexual sex is welcome with men and the “no harm, no foul” or questioning one’s manliness has caused men to under-report their assaults at a rate greater than the already-astounding 64% of sexual assaults that women don’t report. So, doing a little math here (with minor rounding for ease) that’s 9.3 million cases of women raping men in the USA by the time the current population dies. There will be another 6.6 million cases of women raping women. As then-candidate Donald Trump made famous “Well, somebody’s doing the raping” and guess what, ladies. It’s you too.

If anyone knows who to credit, please let me know. This is hilarious.

I can already hear responses. “Oh, boo-hoo for men. They’re the victims now because they’ve had it soooooo hard.” That ain’t it, babe. Equality is equality. Equality is not learning a lesson and then repeating all of the behaviors that we learned were bad with a new batch of people. That’s petty retaliation and I’m no longer willing to accept it as appropriate behavior. It is sexist bigotry, misandry, and the backwards thinking of a nouveau chauvinist. Calmer heads will say that the ultimate point is that we need to teach our sons morals and principles that will ensure they grow into good men. Well, excuse me, but no $4!7.There hasn’t been a push to train our boys to be awful that needs to be overcome, so calling our boys rapists is not a requirement to hammer home a point.

I’m a father of a son, a brother of too many sisters, a son (obviously), and a man. No one had to teach me not to rape. No one had to teach me not to murder, maim or even pinch a girl’s butt. You can choose to look at these little boys as future rapists and you’ll teach them to look at you like a current @$$40l3. There’s too much division in this country among adults; let’s not start dividing up the children too.

SPECIAL EDITION: Coast Guard Survival Guide for the Government Shutdown

in Life Hacks/Rants

This post originally appeared on the U.S. Naval Institute Blog here.

<sits down at computer, takes deep breath, and prays he can get through this with a straight face>

On 9 January, The Washington Post reported that the Coast Guard was trying to help its members cope with not getting paid during the government shutdown. The Coast Guard Support Program published some financial advice to its members on how to make a little extra money on the side.

Coast Guard brothers and sisters! If you needed advice on how get your side hustle on, why didn’t you just say so?! I GOT YOU!

Here are some innovative moneymaking tips for those of you feeling the pinch while the government sorts out its business:

  • Climb a cellphone tower and strip out the copper to sell on the black market. Apparently you can also cut down power distribution poles to get the copper out of the transformer. Fingers crossed the breaker trips and the pole falls away from you!
  • Respond to various ads on Craig’s List. The most lucrative opportunities are going to be in the sections people warn you about. Take risks.
  • Sell your organs on the black market. You don’t NEED two kidneys, and better to get paid than wake up in a Bangkok hotel room in a tub of ice with shoddy stitching and a note to call 911.
  • Start a bitcoin mining operation. Admittedly, this would have helped you more last year but you can’t afford to be choosy!
  • Pretend to be homeless, stage an incident where you help your civilian buddies as good Samaritan, put it all over the internet, set up a Gofundme account, and ask for donations. Bonus: you may not have to pretend to be homeless much longer!
  • Sell your kids’ social security numbers on the dark web. They don’t need good credit if you’re going to be bankrupt anyway.
  • Steal Amazon packages from your neighbors’ front porches. Just watch out for glitter bombs!
  • Sell your . . .

OK! Nope! Can’t do it! LISTEN UP: Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, all of you . . . STOP ACTING LIKE CHILDREN! DO YOUR JOB! You are four days away from breaking a sacred contract with our men and women in uniform, and just because it’s happened before and they’ll likely get backpay (yes, Baby Boomers, we’ve all heard about your late paychecks during the 1995 shutdowns) doesn’t make it ok! Take a look around you! You literally could not have gooned this up any worse. OK, well except for maybe global thermonuclear war, but even that I’m hearing some of you talk about like “oh, well maybe that’s what needs to happen to get fill-in-the-blank country to act right!” WTF?!? The fabric of our Republic is becoming almost unrecognizable. And to those of you saying the shutdown is a good thing: cool, cool, let’s see how it works out for you not paying the people who secure our borders. Read that again. Wait, wasn’t this all about border security in the first place?? Forget it, never mind. You’re done, move aside. You’ve abdicated your responsibilities. We’ll take it from here.

We Talkin’ About Practice!

in Rants
Y’all need to listen to this man. He speaks the truth.

This post originally appeared on the U.S. Naval Institute Blog here.

Seventeen years ago, Allen Iverson gave one of the most epic press conference rants in NBA history. Yes, Baby Boomers, I’m old enough to remember it. In fact, I agree with every word he said!

We are the United States Navy. First round draft pick. Undisputed league MVP 28 years running. Back-to-back world champs. We do not need to worry about PRACTICE!

Come at me, bro.

Fleet exercises? C’mon man! We gotta get these ships on deployment for the real deal! Just certify them like we’ve always done it: scripted scenarios, serialized training events, predictable adversaries, zero risk, check the block, done, see you in nine (maybe ten) months! All this talk about challenging high-end exercises? Totally unrealistic, we’re too busy. Just get the ships underway and they’ll reach basic proficiency halfway through deployment—then extend them on station and, voila, you’ve got a combat ready force! And now CNO wants to conduct a “Large Scale Exercise 2020?” Fine, as long as it’s a one-off event that only uses non-deployable assets, includes lots of photo opportunities, and haphazard lessons learned are locked away in a vault. That would be OK. Hey, maybe we should call Lieutenant General Van Riper out of retirement again!

SWO Training? I hear people like these junior officers saying we need to improve our training pipeline. Gimme a break. Our ensigns need to toughen up, report to their ship, and hit the ground running. This is the best navy in the world and we’re focused on hitting 355 ships before the Great Power Competition! We don’t have time to train every little butterbar running from one mistake to the next!

We literally do not.

Some have even suggested we give newbies a full training regimen with stick time on Yard Patrol (YP) craft. Others even going so far as to suggest SWOs earn their pins before they report aboard their ship. What are we, aviators now? So what if the flight school model has contributed to developing the most lethal and proficient naval air force in the world? We are black shoes! Twin reversible screws, 100,000 horsepower, automatic plotting radars, electronic charts with GPS input, and coffee are all we need!

The next thing you’re gonna tell me is we need to send our best SWOs to be instructors, like aviators do! Don’t be ridiculous. We need to send our top performers to be detailers in Millington so they can optimize the personnel management system and give us the perfect next set of orders!

We got this detailing thing on lock down!

In the end, maybe there’s one thing on which we can all agree. Allen Iverson said it best: this is not a game.

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