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Learning Curve: Iranian Asymmetrical Warfare and Millennium Challenge 2002

Tension between U.S. and Iranian military assets in the Arabian Gulf are nothing new. Confrontations between Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN), the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) and U.S. Navy vessels in the Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Gulf of Oman are a regular occurrence for forward-deployed ships. Iran knows it cannot match the U.S. in a conventional confrontation, and focuses on an asymmetrical style of warfare to increase damage and costs of confrontation to the U.S.

In 2002, a joint war game exercise, known as Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC02), took place to gauge readiness in the event of a conflict with a hostile Middle Eastern nation. The results were disastrous for the U.S., with over a dozen ships destroyed and thousands killed or wounded as a result of asymmetric and unconventional naval warfare. 14 years later, Iranian asymmetrical warfare can still have a devastating effect on U.S. and allied forces in the Middle East. Unconventional warfare has been the Achilles Heel of the U.S. military for decades, and more gaming and training are needed to enhance U.S. capabilities in an asymmetric environment.

 

Just a relaxing day sailing the Persian Gulf.
Just a relaxing day sailing the Persian Gulf.

A Combination of Threats

Following their lackluster performance during Operation Praying Mantis, in which the U.S. Navy laid waste to several conventional naval vessels, Iran began to focus on asymmetrical warfare. Tactics include Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FIAC), covert civilian craft, naval mines, and submarines.

The IRGCN utilizes swarming tactics as its method of choice. IRGCN bases are situated in various locations along Iran’s Gulf coast, from the Strait of Hormuz to the Northern Arabian Gulf. This is a key tenet in swarming attacks: packs of small attack craft covertly leave their bases at various times, all heading for the same target, i.e. a Carrier strike group operating in the Gulf. While this dispersed tactic may result in a weaker attack that is easier to repel, it is also much more difficult to detect, as the swarms don’t operate in a large formation. Also, craft equipped with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles can fire their payloads at a greater distance, ensuring survivability and destruction of their target.

Iran currently has the fourth-largest inventory of naval mines, as well as various platforms for deployment. Mines are a successful tool in the Gulf: USS Tripoli and USS Princeton struck Iraqi mines in the Northern Gulf during the Gulf War, and USS Samuel B. Roberts struck an Iranian-laid mine during the Tanker Wars of the 1980s. Iranian mines also dispatched large numbers of civilian merchant vessels in the same time period.

Iranian mines are largely cheap and unsophisticated. However, some Chinese and Russian variants, including the EM-52 multiple influence mine, are much more sophisticated and can be used in waters up to 600 feet – plenty deep to make the Central Gulf a dangerous place.

A majority of bottom-dwelling mines are designed for shallower waters. In some places, depths in the Strait of Hormuz are between 150-300 feet and are prime locations for these types of mines.

While the mines may not be sophisticated, deployment tactics are much harder to detect. IRGCN small craft are capable of laying mines, as are dhows, fishing boats and submarines. These platforms can carry up to 6 mines each and can be resupplied at sea. Mine laying platforms disguised as civilian craft would not raise suspicion on the part of Coalition forces while submarines can be quite difficult to detect by surface or air assets.

Iran operates several different types of submarines, all of the diesel variety. The Kilo-class are Soviet surplus that are nearing the end of their service life, but still require respect, especially in an asymmetrical warfare environment. Kilos can carry several dozen mines, laying them covertly beneath the waves and avoiding the overt detection by surface assets that endanger the mission of mine laying dhows and small boats. Kilos would also require an increase in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) platforms in theater for sub identification and prosecution, such as submarines and air and surface assets. They would also increase the standoff distance of high-value assets such as carriers and troop landing ships. These platforms would most likely not venture too close to a known hostile submarine operating area with few defensive weapons.

Iran’s mini-subs are another part of the undersea warfare threat worth considering. There are at least three separate classes of mini-sub in the Iranian inventory, all diesel operated. Their small size makes them difficult to detect, and their ability to operate in shallow waters makes them a perfect tool to target vessels in the littorals, such as amphibious assault ships and patrol craft, and any convoy of warships or shipping making its way through the Strait of Hormuz. They can also participate in mine laying operations  in shallower seas as a support asset.

Millennium Challenge 2002

MC02 was framed as a Red vs. Blue game depicting the invasion of a smaller Middle Eastern nation by a much larger and more capable adversary. It was the largest war game ever devised; 13,000 troops, aircraft and warships spread throughout the world, at a cost of $250 million. While it looked much like the upcoming invasion of Iraq, the tactics employed by Red closely resembled the nonlinear and asymmetric tactics of the IRGCN.

The Red forces, led by Marine Lieutenant General Paul van Riper, utilized several unorthodox measures and tactics to exploit the weaknesses of the Blue forces. When electronic warfare aircraft fried Red team communications sensors, van Riper used coded messages voiced from the minarets of Mosques at prayer times. This signaled the armada of civilian boats and light aircraft underway in the Persian Gulf to take action, conducting swarm and suicide attacks on U.S. warships and firing Silkworm missiles at high-value assets, claiming two amphibious assault ships and an aircraft carrier. At the conclusion of the attacks, 16 ships were sunk and thousands of servicemen were dead or wounded. Instead of digesting the results and using them to refine tactics and strategies in the face of a nonlinear threat, MC02’s controllers simply reset the problem – ensuring a Blue victory and “gaming” the most expensive and important war game in modern history.

Was anything learned from the surprise ending of MC02? It appears not. Iran’s tactics are nothing new; they have been using asymmetric warfare since the Iran-Iraq war. Iran’s weak Navy isn’t a new development either; most ships are decades old with few modern capabilities. What Iran does have, however, is a military strategy with a basis in unconventional warfare. Asymmetric tactics, like those described above, coupled with a decentralized command and control structure and semi-autonomous unit commanders make Iran survivable in the event of a first strike.

Unfortunately, the U.S. thinks of nations with weak conventional militaries as no match for the technological and modern behemoth that is the U.S. military. This was evident in Iraq and Afghanistan, where insurgents with little resources utilized out-of-the box thinking and nonlinear tactics to inflict heavy damage on U.S. forces, culminating in eventual retreats. U.S. strategy rests on technological and conventional dominance as well as engaging in non-traditional conflicts using traditional strategy and doctrine.

While Iran’s bluster regarding its eventual destruction of the U.S. fleet shouldn’t be entertained, the threat posed by Iran should be. Nonlinear and suicide attacks from the sea, increasingly capable long-range anti-ship missiles able to reach any vessel in the Gulf, and unconventional communications and command tactics are nothing to brush off. More exercises like MC02 are needed to adequately gauge the readiness of the U.S.’s land, sea and air forces to any asymmetric conflict with Iran. Where there are tactical and strategic gaps, a shift in training is required to prepare our forces for this type of conflict. A Blue defeat in a war game isn’t an embarrassment; it’s a chance to lean forward and become a well-rounded fighting force able to meet any challenge.

The chances of a major conventional conflict with another nation are extremely rare. Unconventional land and sea combat has been the norm for decades, and the U.S. needs more gaming and training in order to cope with the nonlinear threat.

Brett Davis is a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer. He also runs the blog ClearedHot and occasionally navigates Twitter. His opinions are his own and do not represent the views of the U.S. Navy or Department of Defense.

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CIMSEC DC Chapter August Meet-Up

(F48)_Shivalik_class_frigates_or_Project_17_class_frigates_are_multi-role_frigates_with_stealth_features_being_built_for_the_Indian_Navy_(1)Join our DC chapter for its August meet-up with food, drinks, and conversation at Fuel Pizza (Farragut Square location). At 1800 we will be joined by CIMSEC member Nilanthi Samaranayake, CNA, to spend a few minutes discussing her article “The Indian Ocean: A Great-Power Danger Zone,” followed by a short Q&A and our traditional discussions over drinks. Nilanthi’s article in The National Interest is an analysis of Robert Kaplan’s book Monsoon, and the predictions therein, on the 5th anniversary of its publication.

Time: Wednesday, 20 August 1730-2030 (Discussion with Nilanthi Samarayanake will begin at 1800)
PlaceFuel Pizza (Upstairs)
1606 K St NW, Washington DC
Farragut North / Farragut West metro stops

Additional suggested reading material:
- Robert Kaplan:  “China’s Budding Ocean Empire

All are welcome and we ask both presenters and questioners alike to be mindful of our diverse audience so as to avoid acronym-talk and speaking in obscure terms of reference. We reserve the right to enforce this in a comical and distracting manner. Please RSVP at director@cimsec.org.

September Meet-up: September 10th or 11th with CDR Chris Rawley, USNR, location TBD.

Please also let me know If you’re a CIMSEC member who would like to discuss a recent/on-going project or writing you’ve done at a future meet-up.

The source of Carthaginian power.

Lessons from History: Carthage & Transport Supremacy

The role of the United States in contingency operations is changing. In all of the large-scale international interventions of the past few years, namely Libya, Mali, and the Central African Republic, the United States’ contributions consisted primarily of transport capacity in both the seas and the skies to bring foreign ground forces to the conflict. This trend appears unprecedented for a global power to pursue its interests but, as the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun. The ancient maritime power of Carthage utilized the same strategy effectively in the fourth century B.C

For those who are unfamiliar, Carthage was a preeminent maritime power for hundreds of years in the Mediterranean. Pre-saging Alfred Thayer Mahan and 19th century European colonial powers, Carthage embraced an empire not built by massive land holdings but by a disparate collection of trading spheres, ranging from Spain to Sicily, connected by the era’s most powerful navy. There were very few powers that could challenge them on the open seas, making the Western Mediterranean a Carthaginian lake by which it could generate wealth.

Most people know the Carthaginians as the enemies of Rome in the era of Hannibal but that was not always the case. Up until their first dramatic clash in the thirdcentury B.C., the Romans and Carthaginians were allies were allies of convenience. The Carthaginians faced consistent incursions from Numidians in North Africa and colonial wars with the Greeks in Sicily while the Romans had to contend with Greek colonies and restive Samnites to their south. This culminated in the early fourth century B.C. when the Carthaginians used their navy to transport Roman legions to the south to fight their common Greek enemies. Carthage did not have to sacrifice any men to achieve their foreign policy objectives and the Romans, without naval lift, would have spent a much longer time marching their army south through dangerous territory. The Carthaginians were thus able to find manpower to handle operations they could not undertake and the Romans gained rapid mobility. Both sides profited from the arrangement.
  
The United States is in a similar position in the modern as Carthage was in the ancient world. The United States has unmatched transport capacity in both the maritime and air domains, evidenced in all possible measures: numbers of sea/air transport vehicles, total cargo capacity, and experience in deployment logistics. Many other nations have tactical transports but very few others have either the numbers of strategic-level transports or the financial resources necessary to support long deployments. This situation gives the United States a unique position to influence global deployment of forces; it offers a quasi-veto to undesirable deployments and a force-multiplier for operations that it wants to see conducted.
 
While the United States has unmatched transport capacity, there are a host of reasons why the United States cannot project its power simultaneously to tackle every global crisis: ongoing operations in Afghanistan, a lack of popular support for committing troops overseas, and tightening budgets restrict the United States. Carthage had similar limitations, due primarily to budgets and the mercenary make-up of their armed forces, which they circumvented in their wars against the Greeks by leveraging Roman manpower. The United States is already doing the same for France in Mali and the United Nations in the Central African Republic.
 
The story of transport supremacy did not end well for Carthage. In the First Punic War, fought a scant few years after the common war against the Greeks, the Romans raised a substantial navy and challenged Carthage’s dominance on the seas. Defeat in that war, combined with the defeats in the Second and Third Punic wars, would spell the end of Carthage’s empire. While the Carthaginians ushered in their doom by providing transport supremacy to their eventual conquerors, the United States is in no such risk of the same, allowing it to leverage the policy without stoking an existential threat to its existence.
 
The future looks bright for those with transport supremacy.
 
Matthew Merighi is a civilian employee with the United States Air Force. His views do not reflect those of the United States Government, Department of Defense, or Air Force.
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ISPS: Operational Benefits, Administrative Burdens

Maritime Terrorism Image

Introduction

Every initiative has positive and negative sides. This applies equally to the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code.  Whilst it may be true that the ISPS Code introduced a new burden by way of the volume of paperwork it generates, its benefits outweigh the burdens. The reasons for this are as follows:

Violence against vessels will remain so long as maritime transport exists. Apart from piracy and armed robbery, we now have the threat of maritime terrorism, which poses real danger to the industry. Some of the world’s major sea lanes pass through narrow waterways, such as the Straits of Malacca and Gibraltar as well as the Panama Canal and Suez Canal, any of which could be an ideal target for terrorist attack on ships.

We cannot think of all the potential targets for maritime terrorists. A good example is the hijacking of the Italian flagged cruise ship, Achille Lauro, by four terrorists who were members of the Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF) on 7th October 1985 in Egyptian territorial waters near the seaport port of Alexandria, which had about 800 passengers on board, excluding the crew. The PLF terrorists had demanded the release of fifty Palestinians held in Israeli prisons as the reason for their action, killed a disabled passenger in a wheelchair and threw his body overboard in the course of the stalemate. If such an incident were to take place today, it may involve more lives because cruise ships these days may be better described as floating ‘townships’ with capacity to carry thousands of passengers. For instance, the Italian flagged cruise ship, Costa Concordia, which grounded on January 13th 2012 was 114,137 gross tons with 13 decks and was known to have had passengers and crew in excess of 3,200 and 1000 respectively on board.

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Genesis of the ISPS Code

A chronology of the events which led to adoption of the ISPS Code may shed light on the theme of this article. The Achille Lauro incident mentioned above led to an outcry by the international community. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) being the United Nations specialised Agency with responsibility for safety and security of shipping acted accordingly by adopting Resolution A.584(14) on 20th November 1985 on Measures to Prevent Unlawful Acts Which Threaten the Safety of Ships and the Security of their Passengers and Crews. Some countries, namely Austria, Egypt and Italy, as well as the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), urged the IMO in 1986, to prepare a convention to tackle unlawful acts against the safety of maritime navigation on the basis that there was a gap that needed to be filled by having a new convention to deal with maritime terrorism because the international law for unlawful acts against ships was far behind, compared to the civil aviation sector which had adopted the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation in 1973, otherwise commonly known as the Montreal Convention. Thus a conference was held in the early part of March 1988 in Rome, and with support from more States, on 10th March 1988 the conference adopted the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA Convention) 1988. The SUA Convention 1988 was to ensure that appropriate action is taken against persons committing unlawful acts against ships and requires governments to extradite or prosecute offenders.

At the time of the 11th September 2001 (9/11) terrorist attacks in the United States, the SUA Convention which came into force on 1st March 1992 had been ratified by only 67 countries, worldwide. However, after the 9/11 attacks, the number of ratifications for the SUA Convention skyrocketed significantly to 146 States by spring of 2008, which reflects how serious the international community now regard the issue of terrorism and its potential threat to the maritime sector. Unfortunately the SUA Convention 1988 was seen as a toothless bulldog as it had no law enforcement provisions to deal with impending offences and failed to address the growing trend of global terrorism with proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Thus after the 9/11 attacks, in November 2001 the IMO adopted Resolution A.924(22) to review existing measures to prevent and suppress terrorist acts against ships at sea and in ports, to improve security aboard and ashore so as to reduce risk to passengers and crew, as well as port workers on board ships and ashore, and to ships and their cargoes.

Consequently, a diplomatic conference took place at the IMO Secretariat in London from 9th to 13th December 2002 for measures to be taken to strengthen maritime security and to prevent and suppress acts of terrorism against shipping. That conference adopted a number of amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) 1974, the most important of which introduced the ISPS Code as chapter XI-2 of SOLAS. The ISPS Code came into force on 1st July 2004. As we know, Part ‘A’ of the ISPS Code contains detailed security-related requirements for Governments, Port Authorities and Shipping Companies which are mandatory, and Part ‘B’ contain guidelines on how the mandatory requirements are to be met.

At about the same time while the ISPS Code was in the making, there was preparatory work to toughen the SUA Convention. With backing of the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 59/24 of 17th November 2004, the SUA Convention 1988 and the accompanying Protocol on Fixed Platforms were amended on 14th October 2005 with the adoption of The 2005 Protocol to the SUA Convention and The 2005 SUA Fixed Platforms Protocol. Both Protocols created a new criminal offence for any person who unlawfully and intentionally attempts to intimidate a population or compel a Government or an international organisation. The 2005 SUA Protocols now cover modern day terrorist threats, including use of Biological, Chemical and Nuclear (BCN) weapons and materials, and to allow officials to board foreign flagged ships on the high seas to search for potential terrorists and their weapons, or to assist a vessel suspected to be under attack in similar circumstances.

A preventive instrument 

The main aim of the ISPS Code is to serve as a preventive, rather than curative instrument. No instrument will eradicate terrorism and other unlawful acts completely, just as the 1973 Montreal Convention in civil aviation did not prevent the 9/11 attacks. The paperwork generated by the ISPS Code may be a burden, but it serves as a constant reminder of the potential threat we all face, which may help to minimise potential atrocities against vessels, including crew, passengers, cargoes and port facilities.

I wish we knew, but we may never know how many potential terrorist attacks or other unlawful acts which have been prevented by the ISPS Code.  The intangible benefit may be seen from the fact that at least we have not had any terrorist attacks on the scale of the 9/11 attacks in the maritime sector (which is not impossible). Surely, no seafarer would like to witness something like the 9/11 attacks.

Conclusion

As we mark the 10th anniversary of the ISPS Code this month (July 2014), we need to reflect on its intangible benefits. The additional paperwork created by the ISPS Code is a constant reminder of the need for everyone in the maritime industry to be vigilant, which in turn keeps us on the alert that the maritime sector may be a potential target for a terrorist attack or other unlawful acts, any day, anytime, anywhere. No international instrument, whether labelled as a Convention, Treaty, Code, Protocol, Pact, Accord, Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or by any other designation, will stop a determined suicide bomber or criminal from carrying out an atrocious act, but vigilance may help to minimise, if not prevent it.

Herbert is the CEO of Global Maritime Bureau, an international maritime consultancy firm in the UK. He is a dual qualified lawyer in England & Wales and Nigeria and a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. He is an expert in international maritime and admiralty law, international dispute resolution services and multi-jurisdictional disputes. He is a Supporting member of London Maritime Arbitrators Association (LMAA), member of the International Maritime Statistics Forum (IMSF) and a member of International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Roster of Expert Consultants. 

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Sea Control 47 – British and American Surface Warfare Officers

seacontrol2Jon Paris joins us to discuss his article, The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 1: A Day in the Life of Sub Lieutenant Snodgrass. We compare the Royal Navy and US Navy processes of creating officers for their surface fleet, the nature of being a maritime “professional,” improvements for the American model, and generally gab on for about 36 minutes.

DOWNLOAD: British and American Surface Warfare Officers

We are available on Itunes, Stitcher Stream Radio, etc… Remeber to subscribe, leave a comment and a 5-star rating.

Roosevelt is conducting its final pre-deployment evaluation with the George H.W. Bush Strike Group to achieve mission readiness and the ability to work alongside international allies in the execution of the Navy's maritime strategy.

Is There A Military Millennial Problem? Twelve Responses to CDR Darcie Cunningham

In the most recent edition of Proceedings, CDR Darcie Cunningham, USCG, describes what she sees as the strategic challenge of cultural friction between millennial expectations and the rigors of professional military duties in an article titled, “Millennials Bring a New Mentality: Does It Fit?

Now, mind you, I can be pretty dismissive of my own Millennial generation at times, but the reality is that our newest generation of Sailors are professional, courteous and – based on the fact we are the most kick-ass navy on the planet – doing a damn fine job. For the USCG, the service of the author, I’m often jealous of the exotic, far-afield deployments of their Mobile Training Teams and the challenging mission they do with our partners. As a Patrol Coastal guy the Gulf, I was glad to have the WP’s there to carry some of the load. Here at home? The response during Hurricane season is always a testament to the Sailors of the Coast Guard.  Is there REALLY a strategic “millennial culture” problem or are we using the idea to run away from our REAL problems?

To answer the first part of that question, I will endeavor to respond to 12 major points posed by CDR Darcie Cunningham. I hope this better frames the reality of the “millennial issue.”

Iron Dome is an advanced defense system, designed for quick detection, discrimination and interception of rockets & mortar threats with ranges of up to and over 70 km and against aircraft, helicopters, UAVs and PGMs.
Iron Dome is an advanced defense system, designed for quick detection, discrimination and interception of rockets & mortar threats with ranges of up to and over 70 km and against aircraft, helicopters, UAVs and PGMs.

1. “This generation has me questioning how they can acclimate to the highly traditional, structured U.S. military.”

To the cognitive bias about “traditional (&) structured” – let’s talk about a generation in “general” terms being able to acclimate to those traditions and structures. The article is right – the millennial generation cannot row for days on end and do not like the sound of leather drums. I also find the horned helmet a bit heavy and the hamlets we burn down a bit boring. I also do not feel it necessary to fire cannon salutes upon the departure of the CO’s dinghy – I would note that getting Non-Combat Expenditure Allocation (NCEA) can be a pain, and I’d like to maximize the ammunition I have for training. I would also likely die if subjected to liberal use of lashings. Barring that, I would then likely chafe at the idea of paying for my commission or being rejected due to my family’s social standing. I also do not have the disdain for my steam plant engineers that other Union Officers have. Finally, I do not, in fact, know how to splice a mainbrace.  That said, we do power some of our ships by rending apart the very base material of the universe. The ships that burn boring ol’ dead dinosaurs can shoot a bullet down with another bullet in space. You take what you can get, I guess.

Iron Dome is effective in all weather conditions, including low clouds, rain, dust storms or fog.
Iron Dome is effective in all weather conditions, including low clouds, rain, dust storms or fog.

2. “The younger generation postures to work only the bare minimum number of hours required. Additionally, they continuously request more time off in the form of early liberty, shorter workdays, the ability to go home after an office luncheon, and so on.

With greatly decreased crew sizes and 8-10 month deployments, can we REALLY complain when people try to get some extra leave in? Can we even claim they “work less”? Long-gone are the times of a 300+ DDG crew and a rope-yarn day. Is this “extra” time off, or just normal requests that are now a bigger deal due to the normal workload.  Now, that said, if there is time for an “office luncheon”, likely there is nothing critical going on and no reason to stay around the office for tradition.

Srlsy bro? Passed over AGAIN?
Srlsy bro? Passed over AGAIN?

3. Upon hearing they would not be in-zone for promotion or advancement in a given year, these younger members declare they are fed up with the service and wish to resign. They have an expectation of accelerated advancement through the organization, without regard for the value that experience provides to those in leadership positions. 

People complaining about being looked over for promotion would seem completely in-line with reactions since the time some random Athenian strategos was looked over for command during the Peloponnesian War.

Iron Dome uses a unique interceptor with a special warhead that detonates the targets in the air within seconds. The system can handle multiple threats simultaneously and efficiently.
Iron Dome uses a unique interceptor with a special warhead that detonates the targets in the air within seconds. The system can handle multiple threats simultaneously and efficiently.

4. There are an increased number of negative confrontations between very junior members and senior leadership. Rather than saying “Yes Sir” or “Yes Chief” when tasked with a project or simple task, our newer members frequently question why they have to do it.

First, we now have different mechanisms of enforcement. Before my time, there was the threat of getting roughed up – that no longer exists. Naturally – mechanisms  exist in NJP, counseling, discussion where appropriate, etc… but threats & violence were damn scary, and likely without it there will be naturally more friction than before – and a good thing too BECAUSE…

Alfred Thayer Mahan, first great strategist of the Modern US Navy.
Alfred Thayer Mahan, first great strategist of the Modern US Navy.

Our systems are increasingly based on technical knowledge that decision makers will not have without prior in-depth training. There will be no more Da Vinci-like experts of all things. Where once it was possible to master the knowledge of a ship in 10 years – it can now be a challenge to truly master the nature of some single systems in 20. While belligerence is not excusable, is all this actually belligerence from the subordinate or sensitivity from the superior? I’ve seen some Petty Officers forced to get pretty bellicose in order to avert a  stubborn lurch towards disaster.  Once in awhile, I was the one lurching – and thank God for their candidness! These are motivated, intelligent, and dedicated folks. Maybe part of leadership is to know when that “why” or “what” comes from a place of honesty – I find it is not for the purpose of avoidance or excuse, but a desire to understand or improve. It’s an opportunity.

If I may, I would also quote Alex Smith’s lovely post at the USNI Blog, the “Call of the Deep.” In it, he notes, “Mahan’s diary as a junior officer is a fascinating read. Many of his entries lament about his fear of drinking too much and his abhorrence of superior officers. ‘The Captain has annoyed me, and I have felt and spoken angrily and sullenly.’” Oh, that rascal millennial and his complaints – and a diary? Pshaw!

The Iron Dome provides robust, yet selective defense. Its ability to discriminate between threats headed towards the defended area and those that will fall into the sea or open fields reduces costs and limits unnecessary interceptor launches.
The Iron Dome provides robust, yet selective defense. Its ability to discriminate between threats headed towards the defended area and those that will fall into the sea or open fields reduces costs and limits unnecessary interceptor launches.

5. Customs and courtesies are eroding. Juniors are no longer smartly saluting seniors or verbally acknowledging higher ranks. On an almost daily basis, I hear, “Hi, how’s it going?” 

There is some truth here. Perhaps we can be a bit more informal at times. It’s not a deadly sin, if a sin at all, but I suppose there are places where we could shore things up a bit. I, for one, do find more use in candid superior-subordinate engagements that usually lead to a bit more informality. That said, once I leave my office for lunch, I am pretty much saluting until I get back indoors if there is heavy foot traffic.  I don’t see any slack in the saluting department and, personally, I like it. It allows me to salute back- which is the part I like. Call me a romantic.

6. Texting is becoming the primary mode of communication. It has already become a means of jumping the chain of command as a condoned communication tool.

Before we start, let us be clear about the problems here – “Jumping the chain of command” is not a “texting” problem. That is like saying a negligent discharge is a “bullet” problem. We shall touch on both.

To jumping the chain of command: Do we really see that much? I would say no. Let’s not stop there, however. When we do, is it always so bad? Is the problem one of people being sneaky or people trying to get things done in a timely manner. We all read the message-to-Garcia story as MIDN – is an hour of work-stoppage waiting for approval acceptable in an already daunting pile of PMS and repair issues? Of course, we do have an increasingly large number of supervisors and mangers running in parallel… perhaps an up-tick in “jumping the chain of command” is a natural side-effect of the increased number of bosses and not a symptom of generational issues?

To texting: there was a time when Sailors crossed the brow and didn’t come back until the next day – or Monday. There was no command expectation to have a cellphone leash at all times. In fact, many commands now require Sailors to have cellphones so they can be recalled. Texting is a short, to-the-point communication that can be sent to the entire command’s pocket - the ability to “leave a text” so someone comes in after a major casualty or maybe just a quick tool for finding people in one’s work-center. Sounds like a success for readiness.

Unveiled at the 2014 Singapore Air Show and expected to enter service in 2015, the Iron Beam is designed to destroy short-range rockets, artillery, and mortars too small for the Iron Dome system to intercept effectively.
Unveiled at the 2014 Singapore Air Show and expected to enter service in 2015, the Iron Beam is designed to destroy short-range rockets, artillery, and mortars too small for the Iron Dome system to intercept effectively.

7. We must educate them on the importance of patience in our systems.. If this doesn’t sit well with a young member, he or she should be subtly reminded of the current economy and associated unemployment rate. 

A subtle reminder that if many of our management methods were used in a competitive market, our company would be exterminated within months. Anyone who clung to these systems because they were “what we had”, advocating for them merely because they were what they knew, would be quickly fired. Anyone who could think critically about these issues would be well on their way to success (though, granted, those who just complained about them endlessly would ALSO probably be fired). Must we automatically ascribe selfishness to the folks who think we can do better? If our service members expect our world-class military to function on a world-class level, good on them! If we say we’re the best, we should want to be the best.

8. They need to be “course-corrected” immediately if they show signs of insubordination or disrespect.

This happens every day – I have seen it, done it, and had it done to me. It is correct and appropriate. However, we must be careful to realize that, while the line may be fuzzy, informality is not “disrespect” and disagreement is not “insubordination” – the latter especially.

9. We must get back to basics. Customs and courtesies are the foundation of our military traditions.
(later)
While I embrace the fact that we have a new generation that’s better educated, technologically astute, and poised to preserve our nation’s liberties, I also hope we can find a middle ground that will capitalize on their strengths and preserve our proud traditions.

We defend the constitution; we fight and win our nations wars – THAT is our “basic”. THAT is our foundation. THAT is our #1 priority. In Norfolk, there is a stand that claims to hold the lovely wooden helm from the USS MAINE – replaced for metal as our relationship with Spain began to strain. The customs and courtesies that change with time and tide as we pursue the mission are for us to decide and are of secondary importance.

As for where that tradition comes from, from E-1 to O-9, we all take part in creating a service-wide culture that merges tomorrow’s yesterday with ours. This gets at the subtle problem with the turn of phrase used here. Customs and Courtesies are not the foundation of our military tradition. Our military tradition is defined by our customs and courtesies.  The article is right – things have changed. They always have. Harness that and use it – many of these things have changed for a reason. Tradition is not something we keep preserved in a jar passed to us in perfect form from the first Sailor. From our youngest SN with his iPad to our flush-faced comrades in the Continental Navy after a night of grog – each of Sailor in their own time is creating tradition for the next generation.

10. They also need positive feedback early and often. Little gestures such as going to their offices and offering accolades for jobs well done gives encouraging reinforcement and the feedback for which they hunger….

I’ll be the first to admit there are many things about my generation I cannot stand, though I reject that this characterization is correct for our warfighters – but, let’s entertain a small kernel of truth here. Why DO millennials sometimes engage in such childish shenanigans?

It’s this very perspective that enables nonsense. No, don’t treat your grown-up, educated subordinates like children; they are not gentle flowers. Do not create the self-fulfilling prophecy by choosing the easy, comfortable route of leadership by coddling and participation trophies. What they’re looking for is constructive input – good and bad- not blind accolades.

11. And finally . . . this needs to be said: We must be prepared for the tough conversation. Will they truly be able to adapt to the service?

 

Truly realize who we are talking about. These are uniformed service members who joined up in wartime to make a difference – what they’re looking for is knowledge and relevance, not a fight with their boss or some empty accolade. It is a mature desire, one informed by a drive to defend our way of life, in the best way they can, at potentially shattering cost.

12. “If millennials are more focused on what’s in it for them, they may not be the right fit.”

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24 APR 2012 – USS FIREBOLT, in the Northern Gulf, honors the ultimate sacrifice of Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Pernaselli; Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Watts and Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal: killed in a terrorist attack during operations to defend ABOT and KAAOT.

I may have neither risked nor sacrificed as much as many of my friends who served on the front lines of the Global War on Terror, but I did serve on the USS FIREBOLT and refurbished the 3 stars embedded in the floor of the mess decks. From the 2004 terrorist attack on ABOT and KAAOT, one of those stars belongs to DC3 Nathan Bruckenthal, first USCG wartime casualty since Vietnam. He didn’t ask what was in it for him.

Millions have gone out to the front lines of our global war against terror and not asked what was in it for them. Thousands have not come back – they did it for what was in it for us, the ones that live. They are all Americans, but one could throw a superficial label like “millennial” on many.  Remember, when we write these kinds of articles, we are talking about leading people who, in the course of war, will have to kill – and some may have to die – in the service of their country. This kind of “millennial this” and “millennial that” talk doesn’t match that reality. This kind of talk is NOT what -we- should have “in it for them.”

I by no means think the purpose of this article was to ignore the great work of our shipmates, the ultimate sacrifice of our comrades, or the potential of so many others to bear that burden as well – but nevertheless, this kind of sentiment ultimately ignores it.

Matthew Hipple is a naval officer by choice and millennial by cruel twist of fate.

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Millennials in the Military

This post is a response to an article in the August issue of USNI’s Proceedings by Commander Darcie Cunningham, U.S. Coast Guard, titled “Millennials Bring a New Mentality: Does it Fit?” So if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you start there.

Where to begin? To her credit, Commander Cunningham asks an important question: “how does our structured military culture adapt to this new generation?” It’s also clear her frustrations are borne of personal experiences in command. Unfortunately it’s a question she fails to answer (more on that later) and in doing so perpetuates myths and patronizing generalizations. [Full disclosure: I’m in the millennial generation, on the older end of the spectrum, and like all such groupings the term “millennial” is a debatable construct but I’ll accept her definition (those born in the 80s and 90s) for argument’s sake.]

“Kids These Days!”

From a more disciplined era of service.
From a more disciplined era of service.

Commander Cunningham begins by noting several behaviors that are supposedly unique to millennials: that they “posture to work only the bare minimum number of hours required,” that their “customs and courtesies are eroding,” and that “there are an increased number of negative confrontations.” It is entirely possible that this is what is happening at Coast Guard Base Los Angeles, it is certainly her perception. But more likely it is just that: perception. Such perceptions have existed about pretty much every generation when they were in their youth. That doesn’t make them accurate.

Let’s return to the important question: “how does our structured military culture adapt to this new generation?” Beyond the advice to use positive feedback to keep the crew motivated, the Commander Cunningham offers nothing. Instead she says they must be “educated,” “course-corrected,” and evaluated for whether they will “truly be able to adapt to the service.” And that’s the thing – this isn’t really an article about adapting the military to millennials, it’s about adapting millennials to the military, as reflected in the title. Which is not all bad. To be sure respect for rank and proper military etiquette are just good manners, and appreciation for a service’s traditions, structure, customs, and courtesies are the marks of a professional.

Yet here is where it gets downright galling. The commander moves to close by questioning whether millennials are just “focused on what’s in it for them.” This is flat-out wrong. As the Washington Post reports, millennials “want jobs that affect social change, and they give what they can. A 2012 study found that three-quarters of young people surveyed gave to a charity in 2011, and 63 percent volunteered for a cause.” It bears remembering that this is an all-volunteer force. While many undoubtedly join the military in part for other reasons – heck I joined partly to pay for college and to travel abroad – I would submit a vast majority, such as myself, also joined in part for the ideals that military service embodies and a belief that such work is work towards a better world.

Instead of playing to these motivations, however, Commander Cunningham advises reminding these servicemembers that there are “long lines” waiting to get into the coast guard and that the economy is not the best. There’s so much wrong in this.

First, it’s unclear if the commander thinks that since “millennials…may not be the right fit,” they can be replaced by one of the other five generations she says she oversees, or if she’s referring to individual millennial members. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt she means the latter and that she’s not saying that taking on the challenge of motivating millennials may just be too hard and that they should be written-off en masse.

Second, there’s a reason these individuals are the ones in service and not in the supposed long lines. It’s because these they were the top qualified candidates. Even those who aren’t top performers in service are not likely to have too much trouble finding work outside the military, or using their benefits for further education, so this threat rings hollow except for those really troubled individuals threatened with a non-honorable discharge. And that’s to say nothing of how trying to scare one’s employees isn’t typically the best management or leadership strategy.

millennials Third, because these were the top qualified candidates this also means that any millennial you give up on is going to be replaced by…another millennial…who by and large won’t be as qualified. Sure you can keep up the numbers, but again, what does this say of the quality of your talent pool?

One complaint the commander makes that does ring true is that “younger members…have an expectation of accelerated advancement through the organization.” In Commander Snodgrass’ 2014 Retention Survey he notes that 60% of respondents “feel they are making a difference in their job, but regardless of what they do – 64% don’t think they will be rewarded in any way by superior performance.” This should not be an indictment of millennials but a recognition of a drawback of military service in comparison with civilian organizations, as well as an opportunity to prove one’s leadership bona fides.

Yes, we millennials want positive feedback and to know whether we’re doing a good job, and yes we wish we could rise through the ranks commensurate with our talents rather than in accordance with organizational and statutory limitations. Leaders would be well served to look for alternatives such as creating opportunities for crewmembers to prove themselves through increased responsibility or challenges. If the military can’t keep up with the rest of the world in reasonably advancing its people, Commander Cunningham should at least be able to explain what is or isn’t in her control and that she will do what she can to position her people for success.

091013-N-9132C-008 There are going to be bad apples among us, as there are in any generation. But tarring an entire generation with questionable generalizations is counter-productive. While this article may ask the right question, it doesn’t really attempt to answer it. What most millennials want is appreciation, when earned, an opportunity to make a difference, and a voice that is heard if not always heeded. The military, the top employer of millennials, still needs to make a serious attempt at understanding how to best take advantage of what this generation has to offer.

A good place to start exploring the issue is Air Force vet Tim Kane’s Bleeding Talent, NYT review here.

Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founder and president of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), a graduate of Georgetown University and the U.S. Naval War College, and a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council.

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