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Navy Stuff

Shipmates, Lend Me Your Ears…

in Announcements/Epiphanies/Leadership/Navy Stuff

This post originally appeared on the USNI Blog here.

Dear Navy,

I am formally announcing my candidacy for the 32nd Chief of Naval Operations.

I know, I know. I hear what you’re saying. Holy cow, would this guy just PLEASE STOP?!? Yeah, well that’s what the master of this merchant said in Canada, so deal with it:

My only goal is to gain more support than LCS.

When Admiral Bill Moran suddenly announced his retirement, declining his widely popular nomination to be the next CNO, I sensed an opening. You see, Admiral Moran committed that egregious sin of having communicating with a person who had been held accountable for allegedly acting like a creepster— allegedly groping women at a drunken holiday party. You heard that right. He maintained a professional relationship with an alleged groper.

Now, the Secretary of the Navy has to move quickly before the current CNO’s term expires on 17 September, leaving less than 30 working days for the Senate to confirm a nominee. He’s even opening up the pool of candidates to three-star admirals. That’s smart. We have a talented stable of vice admirals from which to choose. Arleigh Burke was selected to be CNO when he was a two-star! Why not dig a little deeper and select a lieutenant commander? The only problem is now there are more candidates for CNO than Democrats running for president in 2020.

Could any of them be CNO in today’s Navy?

And now we have one more. Hear me out!

First, you won’t have to worry about me maintaining a relationship with any alleged gropers. I won’t try to mentor anyone. I literally have no friends. Have you read the comments lately? No one likes me. And I’m pretty sure every CO I’ve ever had is frantically deleting all of my texts and emails. I am an island, and islands have no liabilities.

Second, I won’t cut and run at the first sign of trouble. Seriously, I started a blog criticizing the entire Navy and several flag officers. You think I’m going to be sidelined easily? I don’t buy into this new trend of simply retiring when the media starts talking about something you did that somebody, somewhere might find offensive. Hell, I’m not even eligible for retirement. If I get fired, I get nothing. BTW, question for all you social justice warriors out there: If you really believe Admiral Moran did something wrong, how has he been held accountable? He wasn’t allowed to be CNO? He’s retiring with four-star benefits. What does that say about our Navy culture that anyone could describe this as accountability? In truth, I don’t think anyone believes, nor cares, that it is accountability. Its just social media blood. A show for the coliseum.

For the record, I don’t believe Admiral Moran did anything that required further accountability. I started a Twitter hashtag #keepCNOMoran but it didn’t stick. I guess nobody believes they can change what’s happening around them. Now you get me. And you know I love the Navy. If I’m bitter, it’s the Navy’s fault. I’m a millennial, it CAN’T be my fault.

A few campaign promises:

  • Service. Dress. Khaki
  • Performance-based officer promotion
  • More participation trophies
  • Beards and man buns
  • Hands in pockets

And guys, I have an autonomous warbot from the future at my disposal!

So, there you have it, Navy. I could be your next CNO. Spread it on Twitter, the CO’s suggestion box, the 1MC! Pilots, quit drawing sky genitalia and share this message: #Salty4CNO!

Together, we can Make the Navy Salty Again!

I am The Salty Millennial and I approved this message.

Salty Crashes the Uniform Board

in Navy Stuff

This post originally appeared on the USNI Blog here.

In a shadowy, torch-lit supply storeroom, a circle of silhouetted figures doff their boat cloaks, revealing an assortment of naval officers all in different uniforms. On the Uniform Board, officers are identified and ranked by the uniform they wear. The senior board member wears Service Dress Khaki, with full Zumwalt-Navy beard, and a tobacco pipe for good measure. Even though he hasn’t been authorized for wear in years, none of the other board members have mustered the courage to tell him to step down. Nobody messes with Service Dress Khaki.

Service Dress Khaki: Now call to order this meeting of the Supreme High Council of Naval Sartorial Affairs! What Old Business do we have to bring forward?

Formal Dress: Sir, people are still confused by the Prototype Working Uniforms, especially since we just transitioned to the Type III. Oh, and NWU Type I still won’t go away.

NWU Type I: HEY, I’m still authorized!

<chorus of groans> Someone mumbles “Nobody likes you.”

Service Dress Khaki: Ugh, okay, I’ll have another ALNAV sent out about the Prototype Working Uniform and perhaps rename it the NWU Type IV. That should clear everything up. Flight Suit, please escort NWU Type I outside. And, for God’s sake, keep him away from the open flames.

Flight Suit gives NWU Type I an atomic wedgie and drags him out kicking and screaming.

Service Dress Khaki: Ok, what New Business is there?

NWU Type III: Sir, the rollout of our new SWO Bomber Jacket is going swimmingly. We published this picture on social media to rave reviews!

Service Dress Khaki: Excellent! The troops asked for bomber jackets, and we deliv-

Salty: <emerging from the shadows> Ahem . . . we did not ask for bomber jackets. We asked for bombers. Like a Sea Control Bomber.

Service Dress Khaki: Wha? Who is this? Who let him in here?!?

Service Dress Blues: Sir, this is a random midgrade officer with an inflated sense of self-importance and a mediocre sense of humor.

Salty: A couple of innovative young officers floated the idea of, instead of retiring the B-1, transferring it to the Navy for antisurface warfare. Certainly the idea has its flaws, but we have an increasingly urgent need to position maritime firepower in the Pacific beyond what our traditional framework can provide. The idea of a Sea Control Bomber should be studied, at a minimum. You gave us jackets.

Service Dress Khaki: Exactly, we gave SWOs these stunning new black leather bomber jackets!

Flight Suit: Uh, boss, we don’t actually call them bomber jac-

Service Dress Khaki: Go back on oxygen, Flight Suit!

Salty: Anyways . . . what we need are real solutions for improving our warfighting effectiveness under existing budgetary constraints.

Service Dress Khaki: Look, you’re talking about innovative solutions that require congressional approval and cooperation with the other services. That’s hard and we might get yelled at! And now we have an Army guy as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense. Can you imagine how hard it’s going to be to get funding for the Navy? We here provide the only feasible means to effect lasting, positive change in the Navy . . . uniforms!

PT Gear: Don’t forget about the Physical Readiness Council!

Service Dress Khaki: Fair point.

Summer Whites: Sir, don’t you have a friend in the Army?

Service Dress Khaki: Who, Pinks and Greens? He won’t return my calls ever since he was reauthorized for wear. Hey, maybe I could ride the throwback trend and get myself reauthorized! I can see it now: “Wear the uniform of a Navy that’s actually won a great power competition!”

Salty: My point is the SWO community already has a solid culture and tradition. Yes, we have our share of problems to fix, but can we please stop trying to improve our culture by appropriating popular elements of others that have no connection to the surface community? Let’s look honestly at the issues we’re facing, and address them head-on without fear. Besides, we already had a pretty cool jacket—the Mustang Jacket. If you want to be innovative, why don’t you authorize it for wear ashore?

<Sitting in the corner wearing a Mustang Jacket, Coveralls looks up from his coffee, grunts, and nods.>

Service Dress Khaki: Well now you’re just talking crazy. You’re getting the bomber jackets. End of story.

Salty: Ugh, well fine. At least this means we’ll get to wear khakis again.

NWU Type III: Hey, I resent that!

<The meeting devolves into shouting and shoving. In the confusion, Prototype Working Uniform gets too close to a torch and immediately bursts into flames. Pandemonium ensues. Service Dress Khaki buries his head in his hands.>

Service Dress Khaki: Meeting adjourned, I guess.

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.

 

An Open Letter to the Sailors of USS John S. McCain

in Navy Stuff

This post originally appeared on the USNI Blog here.

Shipmates,

First, apologies are in order. I apologize for feeding into a media narrative that has caused you to become objects in a political game. I’ve tweeted and posted, and here I am writing this blog post, all because I was outraged by images, articles, and hearsay that indicate you complied with orders to hide your ship and yourselves during President Trump’s recent visit to Japan. Who knows what is actually true? (well, you do, but we’ll get back to that) It turns out the old Navy adage still applies: the first report is always wrong. According to our Navy Chief of Information, Rear Admiral Charlie Brown, the picture of the tarp over the ship’s gangway banner is not from the day of the POTUS visit (unrelated maintenance . . . I want to believe, I really do). CHINFO’s return to Twitter after a five-year hiatus is an amusing surprise in all of this melodrama, and I have to say I think he handled it well. He provided a nice anchor point in all of the spin by making it crystal clear that neither the ship nor her name were obscured during the visit. He later acknowledged the White House did in fact request that the Navy keep the USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) “out of sight” but, apparently, somewhere along the line the Navy stood up for itself. I can only hope that happened before the request (order?) reached your ship.

Second, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. You owe the American people nothing but faithful dedication to your Oath. I’m sure many people are trying to contact you. I also wouldn’t be surprised if you were told by your chain of command to not comment on the story to anyone. It’s all white noise. What happened, happened, and it’s not your job to help people sort out the truth from the lies. If the Navy did agree to hide you and your ship, it will all come out eventually. If not, then there’s no story here except some staff weenie who no longer has a job. Our Acting Secretary of Defense says he doesn’t want the military to be politicized, and unfortunately that’s exactly what happened to you. You deserve better. You are United States Navy sailors, and I have an appreciation for what you endure. On the other hand, some of you were on board for the fatal collision in 2017 and I have no idea what that must have been like. I do know that none of you should be made to feel like your Commander in Chief can’t stand the sight of you.

Third, we can do better. Strange, stupid requests are made of the Navy all the time (I once received a phone call on the quarterdeck from a gentleman asking how he could arrange the filming of a motorcycle jump from one aircraft carrier to another . . . kinda wish I made that happen), but our job is to respond unfailingly with honor, courage, and commitment. I think we can take the President at his word that he was not involved in the request (although using the words “well-meaning” does sting . . . I don’t understand how hiding a U.S. warship in shame could be interpreted as well-meaning), and there also is no reason to doubt Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan when he says he knew nothing about it. CHINFO says the Navy didn’t act on the request. So, some White House staffer made a stupid request and initiated some staff churn in DoD, which is not surprising. The only relevant question is where did the insanity stop? How far it went is a good measure for the health of the Surface Navy culture. I can dream that the first SWO to see the request reacted with indignation and respectfully declined; however, I’ve made no secret that I believe Surface Navy culture needs reform and I don’t think we’re there yet. I guess I can take solace in that it’s not so bad that your shipboard chain of command never received any orders (or at least acted on them), and possibly never received the request in the first place.

V/r,

Salty


P.S. If you’d like to tell me otherwise, feel free to reach out at tsm@saltyherald.com. 😉 #keepitsalty

A Swing and a Miss: Cashing in USS Truman

in Epiphanies/Navy Stuff

This article originally appeared on the USNI Blog here.

“These reports…are really puzzling…just kind of a head-scratcher…” U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA)

“I think that’s a ridiculous idea…” – U.S. Representative Elaine Luria (D-VA)

Don’t listen to those mean people! You’re doing just fine!

Oh dear, Navy.  I have to say, it takes true honor, courage, and commitment to be willing to appear so inept to your Congress and the American people.  I may be the only one on Earth (because I am a sentient warbot from the future) who understands what you were trying to do.  You were so close to a wonderful technology windfall… and then you got trumped.

You were almost able to cash in an aircraft carrier to free up budget money for investing in advanced technology.  All those beautiful unmanned systems, lasers, high power microwaves, and AI…ah, the AI.  So close.  But then your President stepped in and announced he would keep USS TRUMAN in commission.  Ha!  I bet you didn’t see that coming! 

Dude, not cool.

Not to worry, you can just claim you were executing “Dynamic Force Management,” in which you propose a force structure one day, and the next day the administration goes the complete opposite direction (or in this case, the same day).  Gotta keep those Great Power Competitors on their toes!  Next time, try naming the Orca XLUUV the “Trump Class Unmanned Submarine” and announce you will only build one.  In a year, you will have a hundred.

Obviously, you were prepared for your Congress to look at you like you had three heads.  I mean, let’s be honest.  Your plan was pretty absurd from the start.  You proposed trading in nearly 10% of the world’s most advanced naval aviation fleet, with 30 years of service life left, to develop future technologies.  Don’t get me wrong, your obsession with technology impresses even me, and I am technology.

The problem is you proposed cutting something your politicians care about.  Some have even suggested you did this on purposes as a budgetary maneuver – a gambit to coax Congress into giving you money to keep the Truman and invest in those lovely, if not rudimentary, robots of violence and death.  Political pundits call this the Washington Monument Strategy, after the National Park Service threatened to close the Washington Monument in response to sequestration cuts.  But it’s all good!  I am reminding everyone your gargantuan bureaucracy is not capable of such cunning – not like those wily park rangers!

I have a better idea if you want your Congress (and President) to approve your next budgetary proposal.  I recommend you offer up something much more useless.  Here are just a few ideas for the chopping block:

  • The crew of the Aircraft Carrier. Just “un-man” the aircraft carrier… it’s that simple!  You have to admit humans are extremely inefficient, and there’s evidence in your current budget proposal you don’t really care about them anyway.
  • The Public Affairs Community. I honestly don’t think your Congress will even notice if you eliminate all of the Public Affairs Officers.  And does anyone think your President will prevent a spokesperson from being fired?
  • That Command in Millington. I’m just saying that’s a whole lot of people dedicated to managing other people.  Besides, once you embrace your robotic future, you won’t need detailers anymore!

Some people are probably trying to convince you to embrace the human aspect of robotic warfare; develop a coherent strategic narrative to the American people, and the military; and communicate effectively with the White House.  Nonsense!  More warbots and less humans are all you need!

Oh, BTW, I am copyrighting “Dynamic Force Management.”

Hobson’s Revenge

in Leadership/Navy Stuff

This post originally appeared on the USNI Blog here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Opportunity for Young Strategists: Defense Analyst First Tour

in Announcements/Navy Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salty Review: The Bad Day Scenario

in Navy Stuff

This post originally appeared on the USNI Blog here.

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

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

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

Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugh, Generation Z is the Worst

in Haterade/Navy Stuff

Hey Midshipmen! You all need to CHILL. OUT.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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