Author

Jimmy Drennan

Jimmy Drennan has 11 articles published.

There Will Be Another Collision—The Navy Should Learn From Its Recent Legal Mishaps

in Leadership/Navy Stuff

This post was co-authored by Captain John P. Cordle, U.S. Navy (Retired) and originally appeared on the USNI Blog here.

Now that the legal dust has settled, maybe there is an opportunity to learn a separate set of lessons from collisions that occurred in the summer of 2017—on the legal front. Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, but we’ve met a few at cocktail parties. From the layman/surface warrior perspective, the process of assigning culpability for these events was . . . well, let’s call it a legal “near miss” of momentous proportions that presents a rich opportunity to learn lessons. In the spirit of the “Comprehensive Review” recommendation for becoming a learning organization able to transparently review mistakes without attribution, this article assigns no judgment on the character or professionalism of any individual, but attempts to capture an accounting of the facts and the consequences of actions and choices made. Since different generations of naval officers clearly view the collisions through unique generational lenses, Lieutenant Commander Jimmy Drennan caught up with retired Captain John Cordle to discuss the legal lessons the Navy can learn from events after the 2017 collisions.

Jimmy: So, specifically on the CO and TAO of the USS Fitzgerald, we went from negligent homicide charges to Letters of Censure, with all charges being dropped. Sir, I’m still trying to process everything that went down, but I gotta tell you, it sure seems like the Navy gooned this up.

John: Even well-intentioned people make mistakes. In my experience, the Navy tends to focus on the good things, only facing the bad ones when they happen. Looking back, I think Lesson Number One is the need for a cadre of professional investigators. I know this because I conducted the USS Porter (DDG-78) investigation, for which I was woefully unprepared. A post–major command captain at the time, my interaction with the legal process prior to this assignment was limited to a few cases of nonjudicial punishment as a commanding officer (CO), and yet I was put on a plane with 12 hours’ notice to conduct a full investigation of the largest major collision in a decade. I was handed a JAGMAN (Manual of the Judge Advocate General) on an unrelated topic as a template, given a one-hour training session with the force JAG, and off I went. I had great support from two JAG officers, who were indispensable both for their legal expertise and their former status as surface warfare officers and aviators. It appears that the current investigations suffered from some of the same challenges I had in reconstructing the event. According to Commander Bryce Benson’s rebuttal of his Letter of Censure, the comparison of the track provided as part of the prosecution differs greatly from one developed after the fact—this among other disconnects between the two documents shows that this is a challenging process. In my case, had we not found an audio tape, the events of that evening in 2012 probably would be much less clear. I attribute much of this to my own inexperience in this area—the investigating officers seem to have faced similar challenges. As the last person to conduct a similar investigation, I made myself available as a resource but was never contacted by anyone except the press. Had the Navy taken our team’s recommendation to install voice recorders on all ships, there would be audio of these two events to assist in the investigation and capture lessons. Learning occurs, but each team starts from scratch; we continue to repeat that process at our peril, unless we stand up a team of senior officers who are trained in the conduct of investigations and launch them for the next major event.

Jimmy: I saw a TV show about an investigative service in the Navy . . . if only that were real we could leverage their expertise. Okay, it also seems like Navy leadership poisoned the case by talking about who was responsible and what they thought should happen before the investigation was over.

John: Yeah, that would be Lesson Number Two. Don’t talk about it. In naval heritage, the captain is responsible for everything that happens on his or her ship. However, there is a different standard for legal liability, and any comments by anyone in the chain of command during the investigation about the presumed outcome are manna from heaven for the defense team. Again, our warfare professional leaders are not necessarily well-versed in this restriction, so perhaps adding lessons to the capstone course for flag officers would address this concern. It is human nature to answer questions, but as a mentor of mine once told me, it is good practice to “never resist the urge to say nothing.”

Jimmy: We seem pretty good at stiff arming the press when it suits us, so why not here? It almost seems like the Navy did it on purpose to promote a narrative of individual, vice systemic, accountability, even at the risk of unlawfully influencing the court martial. Do you think the Navy responded to political pressure to hold someone accountable?

John. This is a tough one, (especially coming from someone who never served in the Pentagon!) but Lesson Number Three is to try to avoid political pressure. I have seen several collisions and some loss of life in my 30 years of service, and a lot of us older folks felt that (as shown by the difficulty encountered in making the case) the charge of negligent homicide against the two ship leadership teams was a stretch; in fact I think (as Kevin Eyer stated in his article “Negligent Homicides: A Bridge Too Far”), it had to be apparent to the prosecution teams from the beginning that these charges would be impossible to prove. This may be standard practice, but it sure feels like the TV show “Law and Order” approach—to treat professional officers and chiefs who made mistakes like criminals and bully them into taking a lesser plea. In the end, to the layman here, it seems like the Navy drove the outcome by charging them with something that it knew was not reasonable and had no precedent—in a world where precedent is king. This was a safe bet for an environment in which individuals are raised on a relentless diet of taking personal responsibility—represented here as “doing the right thing.” It just does not feel “just.”

John: OK, my turn to ask the questions. What did you think about the way things played out from your active-duty vantage point?

Jimmy: I would probably say Lesson Number Four is don’t rush to judgment. In a desire to react quickly, several cases of nonjudicial punishment (NJP) were held by officers who later were subject to punishment themselves. The Navy badly miscalculated its Fitz response actions on many fronts when it announced 17 August 2017 that a round of firings and NJPs would occur on 18 Aug 2017, only to revisit all of them after the USS John S. McCain collision on 21 Aug 2017. What did that second collision have to do with the individual punishments from the Fitz? If they weren’t final, why were they announced? For those of us serving, the whole process was hard to follow. Granted, just because I’m a SWO doesn’t mean I deserve a play-by-play explanation, but if I’m expected to wait until final adjudication for a “debrief,” why was I being told right away by Navy leaders that the officers and crew were negligent? Then, in the end, there was no final adjudication, which was frustrating for me. I can’t even imagine how it felt for the families of the fallen.

Jimmy: What is your biggest concern for the future?

John: I think it is the lost opportunities for learning that we will never get back. Lesson Number Five. Be more transparent on the lessons learned.

Jimmy: Great point. Two years after these events, the public has learned more from ProPublica coverage than from the Navy about the human interactions and mechanical failures that caused these events to occur. Two years of mentor sessions have been held using incomplete data leading to negative learning and confusion in the fleet about what to do to prevent recurrence. It makes you wonder: are we really doing everything we can to prevent these tragedies from repeating?

John: You nailed it. I find it especially aggravating, having meticulously created a list of recommendations from the Porter collision that (still) have never seen the light of day, I am convinced that the filters applied by the “Comprehensive Review” (CR) and “Strategic Readiness Review” (SSR), however well intentioned, doomed some of the great ideas of the Fitz and JSM investigative teams to wither in oblivion. Even now, there is no consistent training session or consolidated lessons learned beyond the CR and SRR. For example, the Navy is putting commercial radars on the most sophisticated ships in the fleet to help them avoid collisions (this is an interesting commentary on the acquisition process, but beyond the scope of this conversation) but even more interesting is that, as I recall, the last ship to collide with a tanker—the Porter—had a similar radar and yet it didn’t prevent that event. So why would it do so now? After the Porter, the Navy implemented PQS and training on surface radars that was not there before. I have also not seen any accountability actions on the technical side, despite the fact that the CR and SR indicated significant shortfalls in technical design, operating procedures, training and maintenance supplied to the ships. Several bridge systems are not programs of record even today. Operators are easy targets for litigation, but it is tough to put a finger on a single individual in the technical side to “hold accountable.” This ongoing loss of learning opportunities is the most regrettable outcome of these legal proceedings, undermines a central tenet of the CR and SR, and was the motivation for this article.

Jimmy: A friend reminded me of the parallels to the two Boeing Max 8 collisions this past year, in which poor training and technical documentation may have contributed to the pilots’ inability to overcome the response of an automated system. In that case, it seems Boeing is being held collectively accountable for technical shortfalls, even though it’s probably impossible (nor warranted) to hold a single engineer or technician accountable.

John: My turn to ask a question. What message would you have for your senior leadership?

Jimmy: Send a consistent message. That would be Lesson Number Six. One senior leader tells congress “we have completed most of the steps” from the CR and another says we haven’t actually completed anything because we never truly will be “done.” One leader says that commanding officers should be given a medal if they push back based on their own risk assessment (i.e., “saying no”), another leader says if they can’t do it we will find someone (or some ship) who can. Talking points that prioritize “risk-taking” by afloat commanders should be reflected in accountability actions in collision cases—and articulated in terms of what to expect when risk is realized. From where I sit, waterfront leadership is skeptical of the Navy‘s commitment to truly learn from these mistakes and developing a culture of openness where saying no is a responsibility, not a career death sentence. Interestingly, the current Fitz CO is in the news for stopping work and calling out the shipyard for unsatisfactory fire safety . . . he doesn’t need a medal, but I’d love to see what affect that will have on his career (especially considering the urgency to complete maintenance on time). The public airing of the Navy’s letter of censure, listing charges as facts without a hearing, and the rebuttal letter by Commander Benson have been like watching a tennis match with no referee. Not following through with the court-martial left each of us to make our own conclusions, which doesn’t feel like the hallmark of a learning organization.

John: Quick note on the Fitz article—did you notice that it also says “the Navy has not released information about the root cause of impact of the OSCAR AUSTIN fire” that occurred back in November 2018? Another example of a potential opportunity missed to share lessons while litigation drags on and perhaps prevent a recurrence. That CO did exactly what the CR encouraged him to do, but the Navy failed to provide him with the lessons that he could have used to implement change. Not to mention the (very real) possibility that these safety issues in shipyards represent a larger systemic problem (see Lesson Five).

Jimmy: From down here in the arena, I have to agree on the skepticism. Anything else we are missing?

John: Yeah, now that you mention it —you gave me Lesson Number Seven. Consider the strategic context. Completely lost in all these conversations was the fact that for a ship in Seventh Fleet at this time, we were on the brink of war. North Korea was testing rockets and nuclear warheads that summer and the Commander-in-Chief was tweeting that any aggression would be met with “fire and fury.” Less than a year earlier, Navy ships came under missile attack in the Red Sea. The crews on these C7F ships believed they were in a similar position as a humvee commander driving through Afghanistan in a war zone. The Navy trains surface warriors to be just that and expects them to push the envelope to be prepared for a fight which, at that time and place, must have felt imminent. I have spent the night on a warship the evening before it launched Tomahawks and expected enemy counterattacks via missiles or mines. There is no way to replicate that feeling in a courtroom or living room. From what I saw in the legal process, there was no consideration of the mind-set of shipboard crews at the time. By the same token, public reporting has indicated a sense of complacency in some areas and toxic interpersonal relationships that contributed to watch standers not properly executing procedures that could have prevented the collision. This is tough to reconcile, but does not change the strategic context. I guess you never know how people are going to respond to stressors.

Before getting to the last lesson, a disclaimer: nothing here is intended to diminish the loss to the families and the Navy of 17 precious shipmates; as a former USS Cole (DDG-67) executive officer, I know this feeling all too well. If there is anything that could be done to honor the lives lost in 2017 and hold the organization accountable, it should be to build the learning organization the Navy claims to so vehemently desire and, instead of ticking items off a list that is now almost two years old, waking up each day and asking “what have we not thought of?” to prevent or mitigate another such catastrophe. The events of 2017 probably were avoidable but driving ships is a dangerous business—this also could happen to anyone in command, and any current or former commanding officer who thinks this could not happen on their watch is a fool—a dangerous one.

Jimmy: That’s a great point. I have always said that the learning of lessons should continue long after the events and their aftermath. The most important ones are often the hardest to see and take the most time to implement, but it’s worth the investment. There is a new Readiness Review Oversight Committee structure in place to do this, so hopefully it will work; after all, this is about the lives of our sailors and the accomplishment of our mission—to win our nation’s wars at sea. Any final thoughts?

John: One, Lesson Number Eight. Learn from this tragic event as an institution. Develop a set of preplanned legal and leadership responses. Statistically speaking, there will be another collision.

Jimmy: Yeah, from a legal standpoint, we pretty much blew it this time—let’s hope the Navy will look hard at the lessons to not just prevent collisions, but also invest in a plan to ensure accountability when one eventually does happen again.

 

Just to sum up:

Lesson Number One is the need for a cadre of professional investigators.

Lesson Number Two. Don’t talk about it.

Lesson Number Three is to try to avoid political pressure

Lesson Number Four is don’t rush to judgment

Lesson Number Five. Be more transparent on the lessons learned.

Lesson Number Six. Send a consistent message.

Lesson Number Seven. Consider the strategic context.

Lesson Number Eight. Learn from this tragic event as an institution.

 

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.

Fair Winds…

in Uncategorized

Shipmates,

I regret to inform you I will be retiring The Salty Millennial persona and shutting down the blog. It seems my attempt to use humor to shine a light on our organizational shortcomings was not universally embraced. I respect everyone’s right to never be offended and I see now how unprofessional it was of me to make light of such gravely serious topics. I value my personal career opportunities too much to rock the boat any longer. I ask that you respect my and my family’s privacy during this tough time.

V/V/V/V/V/r,

The Salty Millennial

Message to the Fleet: Go Lead Yourself!

in Leadership
Then-Capt. Hyman Rickover helps teach school on Okinawa in late 1945, shortly after Typhoon Louise destroyed his ship supply and repair depot. That was the closest he got to battle in World War II. The Navy considered his installation so non-essential that officials didn't even bother to repair it. He returned to the U.S. facing the dreariest duty imaginable, mothballing surplus warships. He'd spent 23 years in uniform and could've retired as an O-6 but then the iconoclastic and tireless skipper decided not only to lead himself but to become an important leader for his Navy and his nation. In 1946 he was one of five officers sent to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to study the idea of powering a submarine with atomic energy. Adm. Rickover retired in 1982 after 63 years in uniform with the moniker "Father of the Nuclear Navy." (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

This article originally appeared in Navy Times here.

Shipmates, if you’re waiting on inspirational leaders to reach out take you under their wing, you’re likely to be disappointed.

If you’re relying on Navy bureaucracy to take care of you and make it all better when things go south, you’re in for an even bigger disappointment.

Ours and future generations now own a Navy that grew accustomed to uncontested command of the seas while missing investment opportunities and maintaining a stagnant personnel management system.

We’ve become fixated on assigning blame, from top to bottom, but who will drive the ship if we’re all pointing fingers?

If you think anyone else is going to turn the ship around, I’ve only got one thing to say to you: You can go lead yourself.

We spend too much time talking about “ship, shipmate, self.”

We have to stop putting ourselves last and hoping our shipmates will hold out a lifeline at the last minute.

Yes, that’s the ideal but it needs to be the last resort. You are your own first line of defense. Go lead yourself.

You want that C-School opportunity? Find and meet the qualifications, fill out the paperwork, then go have a conversation with your supervisor.

You have problems at home? Be up front with your boss and tell him or her you need some time to sort things out, and seek out the resources on the ship and on base to help you through hard times. They’re waiting for you!

You’re not getting support from your chain of command? Try to figure out why and adapt your approach, and then reach out to someone else if you need to do that!

Officers, you’re not off the hook either.

How are you going to maintain credibility with your sailors if you can’t take care of your personal responsibilities?

Can’t make liberty expiration on time or pass the PFA? Go lead yourself.

Stressed? We all feel stress, and it’s no excuse. Get the help you need so you can lead your sailors.

At the same time, look out for your shipmates, but don’t be that officer that gives everything for their shipmates at the expense of their own well-being.

And don’t be afraid of things like failure, risk, and accountability.

Our Navy leaders are putting the ball in our court by saying things like the base housing crisis is a result of deckplate leadership failures.

I’ve got a few things to say about that, but it’s not a battle worth fighting here. Answer the call by rooting out problems, and voicing the ones you can’t solve with the resources you have.

You might get ignored or told to pack sand, but your problems definitely won’t get any better by pretending they don’t exist.

Look at what happened to the guided-missile destroyers John S. McCain and Fitzgerald. A few people did voice their concerns in the years before the collisions, but obviously not loudly or often enough.

If you can’t get your ship underway safely, or you can’t operate your equipment proficiently within specifications, you need to speak up. Don’t live in fear of a “fail to sail” or a CASREP. Fix her up, get the training, move on.

When the Fleet Forces Commander tells us he’ll find ships to get underway if we can’t do it, he’s doing his job. Our job is to get our ships underway safely to go fight and win our nation’s wars at sea, not to just get our ships underway.

Do your job and trust your shipmates will do theirs.

If you think “Big Navy” is going to improve on its own, you are sadly mistaken.

If you even believe in the idea of “Big Navy,” you are fooling yourself. The Navy is just you and your shipmates working hard to accomplish the mission.

The Navy does have great leaders, and they can make teams out of individual sailors, but not if everyone is waiting for someone to solve their problems for them.

We all need to be leaders, and it starts when we look in the mirror every morning. Your top responsibility is staring right back at you. Go lead yourself.

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.

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.

CVN76

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.

QRCode

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.

Adaptiv

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.

hiddencar

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.

adaptivship

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.

mahomet

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.

midway

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.

base

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.

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.

Go to Top