75ft_Coast_Guard_Patrol_Boat

Post-Prohibition Rum Running

The following is a dissertation sample provided as part of Border Control week.
The case of American Prohibition is often deployed in the rancorous debates that surround counter-narcotics policy.  Unfortunately, it is generally deployed (to my thought, abused) without an adequate understanding of what Prohibition actually looked like.  This is especially true of rum-running, which is generally retold something along these lines:

Phase 1)  Bill McCoy founds Rum Row.
Phase 2)  ?
Phase 3)  Repeal! (and rum smuggling magically ends.)

The actual Rum War at Sea was a story of two dueling adaptive networks.  Until 1924, the Prohibition Bureau ran their own ‘Dry Navy’ of a handful of sub-chasers – this whole enterprise was entirely a disaster, due to poor personnel polices, wholly inadequate imagination, and total ineptitude at sea.  In 1924, the Coast Guard (somewhat unhappily) took on the task.  They managed to field a substantial, aggressive, and most importantly highly adaptive force built of everything from speedboats to destroyers.  Within a few months, they shuttered Rum Row.  Soon after, they chased the rum-running networks down to Florida (1925-1927) and then across to the Great Lakes (1928-1930.)  The Coast Guard fought the remnants of the rum-fleet to a stalemate through the early thirties, even after their budgets were cut.  The rum trade came back in force one year after repeal, and a recapitalized Coast Guard fleet ended organized alcohol smuggling in 1936.

In the course of this chase, Captain Charles Root founded US Coast Guard Intelligence, established HUMINT networks in Canada, Cuba, and a score of other rum ports, hired the legendary codebreaker Elisebeth Friedman, designed and fielded the first American SIGINT trawler.  The Coast Guard chief engineer Hunnewell filled the coasts with two hundred patrol ships within less than a year, and then proceeded to reverse engineer the fastest of the rum-runners and field them too.  Commandant Billard founded interagency and international task forces, which ultimately resulted in full tactical integration with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, including positive hand-offs and radio intelligence cross-cue.  By the end of the case, the Coast Guard could fix a rum-runner by their radio transmission, send a patrol aircraft along the bearing line, visually acquire the craft and orbit overhead until the a boarding ship could make the intercept.

The Rum War built the Coast Guard, founded only a few years prior from the Revenue Cutter Service and the Lifesaving Service.  It also advanced technologies critical to the Second World War – small craft (PT Boats – basically rum-runners with torpedoes, Higgins Boats – crewed by both Coastguardsmen and ex-rumrunners), codebreaking (Friedman’s USCG cell broke the Japanese merchant codes prior to the war) and radio direction finding.  This case deserves more study, both as a maritime border control campaign, but also as a contest between two highly adaptive flat network.  The Coast Guard achieved an enviable victory over bureaucracy at the outset, which allowed them to keep pace with their well-funded adversaries.

As a teaser, I submit the following account of the post-repeal suppression campaign, excerpted from my forthcoming dissertation.
I also include two animated infographics of capture records and intel reports, respectively.  I hope that it will challenge standard conceptions of the Rum War, and entice the reader to read further.  For further reading, I recommend the standard Coast Guard account, Rum War at Sea, by CDR Malcolm Willoughby.

All Captures GIS – Medium

New Animation – Medium

Repeal, 1933.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected on a platform that included the repeal of that act.  He delivered on this promise in the early part of 1933 – the 18th Amendment prohibited ‘intoxicating liquors,’ while the Volstead Act defined ‘intoxicating liquors’ as anything 0.5% Alcohol by Volume.  As the 21st Amendment worked its way through the system, the Cullen-Harrison Act reset the Volstead definition to 3.2% ABV and thereby legalized light beers.  This saw a brief drop in liquor traffic, though the trade rebounded quickly.  Rum-running had almost returned to 1932 levels, at least off of New York, when the 21st Amendment drove rum-running to an absolute low during the case.  This lasted for about six months.

An period newspaper article entitled “Rum Runners Want Repeal, U.S. Informed,”[2] explains the rumrunners’ optimism toward their post-repeal prospects.  Both Canada and Finland attempted their own forms of Prohibition, and both experienced major smuggling problems following repeal.  Rumrunners expected the same to be true of the United States, due to a combination of high expected liquor taxes, reduced enforcement expenditures and diminished legal leverage following repeal.

The country would want a ‘peace dividend,’ which meant less money going to the Coast Guard.  Additionally, the Coast Guard would now need to establish the origin of alcohol, rather than just its presence, in order to arrest a rumrunner in US waters.  Once the liquor was ashore, it now became far easier to transport.  Therefore, that rum-runners no longer needed to concentrate at urban centers close to the point of demand, and the Coast Guard would need a “less concentrated and more wide-flung patrol of the coasts.”[3]  These reduced the opportunity cost of smuggling, and so long as there was enough of a margin in the liquor taxes to make money, there was no reason to stop running.

The Coast Guard attempted to calculate this margin.  Shortly following repeal, Gorman estimated that imported liquor in the New England area cost $9.90/gal, $9.30 of which was composed of State, Internal Revenue and Customs taxes.[4]  The smuggler, paying the same price for liquor, could land liquor for $1.10/gal.  The price they would expect to receive on the beach was $1.90/gal in Maine, $2.50/gal in Massachusetts, and $3.25/gal in New York.  This yields a margin of more than two dollars per gallon.  A September 1934 calculation found legal liquor selling for $8/gal, with bootleg at $6/gal.  Even with this premium for licit drink, the rumrunner still had margin of about one and a half dollars per gallon.[5]

Profits were lower than during Prohibition, but the risk was lower as well due to diminished enforcement leverage.  Making matters worse, Americans thirsted for aged whiskey, and none would be available domestically for quite some time.  Since the rumrunner bases at St. Pierre had a great deal of capital tied up in smuggling, there was no sense in dismantling the industry quite yet.

‘Peace Dividend.’  Even before repeal, the Intelligence Office noted in 1933 that:

Vessels formerly in the rum running traffic, which had been laid up for months and in some cases years, are now being outfitted and rushed back into the illicit traffic.  Recent official reports from Canadian sources indicate during the past month a resumption of activity comparable only to the situation which existed several years ago before the Coast Guard was organized to effectively combat smuggling.  International rum syndicates are quite evidently under the impression that law enforcement will be more lax than formerly; that penalties meted out for violations of the Customs laws will be much lighter and that in general there will be less risk and more profit in liquor running…

It therefore appears to this office from a study of smuggling conditions in foreign countries and from knowledge of the present activities of the rum-smuggling rings, that there can be no curtailment of Coast Guard anti-smuggling operations until the international smuggling organizations now operating are put out of existence, and it can be said almost with certainty that this will not occur within the next two years.[6]

Institutional militaries try to minimize the inevitable drawdown that follows the end of a war, and these gloomy predictions must have sounded like that familiar chord.  Policy analysts from early think tanks broadly agreed, estimating $50 Million per year lost per year to liquor smuggling.[7]  This was more than 10% of the expected alcohol excise tax income.  Still, increasing enforcement of liquor laws during the Depression in the immediate wake of Prohibition was too politically difficult.  From a 1934 account, “repeated requests of the Coast Guard for funds, necessary to carry out its duties, particularly to control smuggling, and to protect the revenue of the Government, have been denied.”[8]  The Coast Guard would draw down.

Destroyers departed the force entirely, with the last of them returned to the Navy by 1934.  The ‘six-bitters’ took a major hit, dropping from 58 in 1934 from 203 in 1931.[9]  The cruising cutters, and larger patrol boats retained most of their force.  Picket boats were halved from 195 to 109.  The number of lifesaving stations remained stable, but the suppression-oriented section bases fell from nineteen to three.  Aircraft inventory and the number of 165-foot patrol boats continued to grow through July 1934.  These two types of craft partially offset the patrolling vacuum left by the destroyers.  The patrol craft and bases were not offset at all.

The manning situation was worse.  According to a 1934 memo, “Not only has the Coast Guard felt these losses of men and units, but the drastic, quick retrenchment occasioned thereby, has been a serious blow to the morale and, therefore, the efficiency of the remaining force… funds for the payment of enlisted personnel for the current year are inadequate, and unless the situation is relieved, it will be necessary to discharge or disrate, or furlough without pay, additional men.”[10]  The memo’s author, likely the Commandant, asserts “such a step would be a serious reflection upon the Federal Government in breaking faith with men of long and faithful service to their country… a breach of implied contract on the part of the Government.”[11]  This was a disheartening time for the service.

In some cold solace, the dour predictions of resurgent smuggling proved correct.  By the summer of 1934, there were as many boats hovering off of New York as in 1928 and climbing fast.  An estimated $30 Million of revenue was lost in 1934, and if unchecked, 1935 promised to double that number at least.  Since the Canadians had been losing something in the range of $30-45 Million per year under similar conditions, this should not have been a surprise.[12] The form of this smuggling was familiar – the trade picked up where it left off with the same radio-linked swift stealth ships.

Rebuilding.  Given that the Coast Guard ‘peace dividend’ was only $10 Million per year, the government began to see the reduction in forces as a bad investment.  The half-sized, demoralized force could be swarmed and defeated, especially without its scouting destroyers or an adequate number of replacements.  The second half of 1934 saw a reversal of the decline and a re-capitalization of Coast Guard forces.  This buildup registered primarily in the new large patrol boats and in Aviation, and it allowed the Coast Guard to complete a restructuring it began in 1930.

Admiral Billard launched a service reorganization project during his last year as Commandant.[13]  Admiral Hamlet carried it through to completion as the drawdown set in, doing away with the various overlapping lifesaving, patrol and cruising forces and consolidating regional divisions under single commanders.  Henry Morgenthau, the new Secretary of the Treasury, asked Coast Guard to take the lead of all Treasury organizations in these districts – having one clear commander who curated diverse capabilities aided interagency coordination.

The divisional structure also worked well with the growing intelligence and aviation capacities, provided the relationships within these divisions were as flat as the Commandant’s guidance intended.  Notably, when these organizations were run hierarchically, these special units did not do as well.  Commanders that directed actions from the top, yet lacked the technical knowledge to grasp these capabilities, failed to make effective use of these cells.  Case in point – Wheeler and the aforementioned breakdown with his Intelligence Lieutenant in the California Division.[14]  In general, though, this structure allowed the diverse technical capabilities developed over the course of the campaign to be smoothly brought to bear at the front lines.

The return of funding put substance on the divisional framework.  By the beginning of 1935, 18 Thetis-class 165’ patrol ships were operational.  This was up from nine half a year prior, and six as of 1932.  These were Wheeler’s replacement for the Destroyers – six knots faster than the ‘buck-and-a-quarters’ and designed with a tight turning radius, they could stay with the new generation of fast rum ships at a fraction the cost of a Destroyer.  They performed this task well, and along with the still-new Lake-class fast cutters, the remaining half of the patrol fleet, and the still-rapidly-advancing SIGINT capabilities.

The Secretary of the Treasury built a seven-fold plan for the renewed campaign.  From a 1935 memo recounting the strategy, “the measures undertaken included:

a)           Provision of funds to permit of increased activity by the Coast Guard and stimulation of effort on its part as the marine patrol agency.  [NB: Support.]

b)          Determination of the sources of supply of contraband and negotiations to obtain the assistance of other governments in checking the illicit traffic.  [Diplomacy.]

c)           Coordination of the efforts of all Treasury Department law-enforcement agencies having any connection with the problem by means of regional coordinators and the establishment of a ‘law-enforcement’ council or committee at Washington, composed of representatives of the various agencies.  Frequent conferences at Washington and in the field contributed to this coordination.  [Interagency Fusion.]

d)          A study of the legal deficiencies hampering effective efforts against the smugglers and the drafting of a bill strengthening enforcement powers, for presentation to Congress.  [Legal, Anti-Smuggling Act of 1935.]

e)           Stimulation of sources of information to permit of intelligent action being taken.  [Intelligence.]

f)            Vigorous prosecutions where cases could be made.  [Courts, a major prior deficiency.]

g)           Close cooperation with agencies of the Canadian Government, which has a problem of like character.  [NB: International Fusion.][15]

These were all the result of costly lessons learned.  With this strategy in place, the last major campaign began.

 

 

The combination of a recapitalized patrol fleet, robust intelligence capabilities, and a burgeoning air fleet formed the final model of the rum war.  The Commandant explained this fusion of sea, air and intelligence in a 1934 tactics bulletin:

The Intelligence boat (or any unit suitably equipped) detects black radio traffic and obtains a radio bearing.  The air station of plane (standing by) is notified of the bearing of the “black.”  The plane takes the air and flies to the position of the patrol boat and passes over her on the course (corrected navigationally) corresponding to the bearing.  Upon reaching the black the radio-equipped plane circles overhead and calls for radio bearings from all direction-finder units… The bearings are transmitted by units taking them together with the latter’s positions to a designated patrol unit, and the plot places of the position of the “black” which can then be sought and trailed.

If the rumrunners abandoned their radios, the aircraft could still search for them.  There was no way to outrun or hide from an aircraft, other than inclement weather.  And the circling aircraft could call a cutter at its convenience.  This rumrunner-hunting model offered no ready counter.

Remarkably, this model parallels the “Find-Fix-Finish” approach of counter-terror fame.[1]  In order to beat this approach, the rumrunners would have had to re-boot their entire business model.  This would have been costly.  Social support had begun to turn against them following repeal – no longer romantic outlaws, legal alcohol had made the rumrunners just outlaws.  From an intelligence memo in 1935:

Unmentioned previously herein is the effect of a changed public attitude following Repeal.  This has been very helpful in contributing to control.  Many who were hostile to enforcement efforts during Prohibition are today either indifferent or openly favorable.[2]

Therefore, they could no longer recoup losses or recapitalize the way they once had.  A reboot was impossible, and the end of the large-scale illicit liquor trade was just a matter of time.

Only $6.5 Million was lost from the treasury due to liquor smuggling in 1935, around 20% of the 1934 number.  The last spike of the rum trade was in the early summer of 1935, and it fell precipitously from there.  From the same 1935 report:

As a result of the cumulative effect of the efforts expended by the Government the organizations and individuals promoting smuggling have suffered a severe blow.  Efforts are being exerted by them to develop new methods of supply such as chartering vessels to transport cargoes from Europe for delivery on the high seas to smaller vessels or to run directly into large ports where maritime traffic is great and there is the possibility of slipping in as a legitimate vessel not subject to routine inspection.  This is an effort on the part of those to whom ‘easy money’ has been the fondest recollection of the heyday of the smuggling traffic.  There will always be smuggling in some form and amount but liquor and alcohol smuggling as evidenced during the last fiscal year is declining as a major problem under the pressure exerted by the Government.[3]

What little of the trade remained had fizzled out by 1936, with the liquor ships melting back into the Nova Scotia fishing fleet, or in a few cases, hardening into opium or migrant smugglers.  Coast Guard Intelligence ceased tracking suspected Rumrunners entirely on account of irrelevance by 1939.  Operational life returned to traditional lifesaving missions and routine law-enforcement by 1936 with the end of organized rum-running.

 

[1] Charles Faint and Michael Harris, “F3EAD: Ops/Intel Fusion ‘Feeds’ The SOF Targeting Process,” Small Wars Journal, 2012, http://smallwarsjournal.com/author/charles-faint-and-michael-harris.

[2] Parker (?) memo.  RG 26, NARA.

[3] Ibid. 

 

[1] Bruce Yandle, “Bootleggers and Baptists-The Education of a Regulatory Economists,” Regulation 7 (1983): 12.

[2] Unidentified Clipping.  RG 26, NARA.

[3] Gorman Memo.  RG 26, NARA.

[4] Cost Calculation Memo.  RG 26, NARA.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Intelligence Memo.  RG 26, NARA.

[7] Newspaper Clippings.  RG 26, NARA.

[8] Memo.  RG 26, NARA.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Lawlor, Rum-Running.  93.  ‘The customs revenue went down between $70 and $90M in two years’ – it is unclear whether this is per year or total, but I assumed the former.  Since the 1930 US Dollar was 2.07 Canadian dollars, dividing by two accounts for the currency conversion.  Depending on the estimate, this could be cut in half once more if the $75-90M was an aggregate number.  Either way, there was some non-trivial sum of smuggling losses.

[13] Billard Memo.  RG 26, NARA.

[14] Wheeler CA memo, 1934 (?).  RG 26, NARA.

[15] Parker(?) 1935 Memo.  Reflected verbatim in Waesche 1938 Memo. RG 26, NARA.

Contraband cigarettes seized in August 2014 at Thessaloniki. (image courtesy of Hellenic Coast Guard).

Terrorists, Tyrants, and Tobacco: How the Illicit Cigarette Trade Fuels Instability in the Middle East

This article is part of our “Border Control Week”

The sea is the circulatory system of the world economy, through which the economic blood of trade, ideas, and information flows.  At odds with this healthy economic lifeblood are the pathogens of theft, corruption, and illicit trafficking.  In addition to patently illegal contraband, such as narcotics and weapons, numerous illicit goods move through the maritime transportation system, avoiding taxes and undermining legitimate trade.  Tobacco is one of the most commonly smuggled illicit goods around the world.  The commodity moves in multiple directions, sometimes both to and from the same countries, making it challenging to understand the traffic flow.  Specifically, the distribution of substandard, untaxed cigarettes through the Eastern Mediterranean involves a complex criminal network of producers, smugglers, and dealers and benefits nefarious actors across the Levant.

Turkish Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Vessel SG-701 Dost (image courtesy Turkish Coast Guard Command)
Turkish Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Vessel SG-701 Dost (image courtesy Turkish Coast Guard Command)

These substandard cigarettes are often cheaply made in Eastern Europe, circumventing European Union safety regulations.  Brands such Prestige and Victory are packed aboard container ships in Bulgaria which move through the Black Sea, then into the Aegean via the Bosporus Strait.  From there, some of the contraband shipments make their way to Syria, while others continue down to the Red Sea and around to the Persian Gulf.  The Gulf-bound cigarettes likely continue into Iraq and Turkey.  In the Eastern Med, many are offloaded at the Syrian port of Latakia.  The cigarette distribution network in Western Syria is controlled by and benefits the Assad family while bypassing various international sanctions against the authoritarian regime.

Upon arrival from sea at the port of Latakia, cigarettes move through a series of storage warehouses and distribution points from Assad-controlled coastal regions of western Syria into transshipment points near the Turkish border that are sometimes controlled by smugglers aligned with the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL).  The cheap cigarettes are sold at a premium price in Syria and also smuggled across several border points into Southern Turkey. In a typical display of jihadist hypocrisy, ISIL has publicly burned shipments of cigarettes to enforce Sharia while continuing to profit from their smuggling into Turkey.  The product and profit not only support ISIL and their organized crime network, but other Al-Qaeda affiliates and foreign fighters drawn to the region.  The illicit tobacco trade is an instrumental part of their funding portfolio, which also includes weapons trafficking, and sale of stolen oil.

Disrupting a trade that crosses multiple sea and land borders (some of which are in war-torn countries) is challenging to say the least.  Law enforcement and military organizations are incentivized to ignore or take action against illicit smuggling networks for various reasons.  Clearly, customs officials in more than one jurisdiction are complicit in looking the other way or even facilitating these illegal cigarette shipments that contribute to instability in the Middle East.  On the other hand, one of the more active maritime law enforcement authorities in combating the illicit tobacco trade is Turkey’s Coast Guard.  In 2013, the organization seized 177,420 packs of cigarettes, down from over half a million in 2012.  The organization’s deployments in the Bosphorus Strait and along the Eastern Mediterranean coastline place it in a strategic position to combat shipments moving towards Syria.

Contraband cigarettes seized in August 2014 at Thessaloniki. (image courtesy of Hellenic Coast Guard).
Contraband cigarettes seized in August 2014 at Thessaloniki. (image courtesy of Hellenic Coast Guard).

Another regional player with a demonstrated a propensity to disrupt the illicit tobacco trade is the Hellenic Coast Guard.  The agency recently arrested two smugglers and seized a container full of nearly nine million contraband cigarettes at the port of Thessaloniki.  Interdicting a cargo ship at sea to find a contraband cargo in one or more specific containers is extremely difficult from a tactical perspective and often unsuccessful.  But intelligence sharing can assist in narrowing down the search and aiding in the removal of suspect containers as the ships make port while not disrupting the flow of legal cargo.  Additional cooperation between intelligence services, private companies, and maritime law enforcement will erode the illicit cigarette trade, and reduce the profits supporting the region’s bad actors.

Chris Rawley is a Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve with experience in maritime interdiction and counter-smuggling at the tactical and operational levels.   The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Defense or any of its agencies.

Coast Guard, sheriff's office work hand-in-hand

Border Control Behind the Scenes: Maritime Operational Threat Response Plan

By Guest Author LCDR Craig Allen Jr., USCG for our “Border Control Week”

Border security presently headlines national policy discussions following the influx of child and teenage immigrants fleeing poverty and violence in Central America, the outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa, and warnings from the commander of U.S. Southern Command, General John Kelly, that the activities of transnational criminal organizations operating in the Western hemisphere pose an existential threat to the United States. The confluence of events has reinvigorated scrutiny of our border control programs, including the effectiveness of our deterrence and interdiction capability and the balance between humanitarian, law enforcement and national security interests at stake.

 

Although the 2,000 mile land border with Mexico garners much of the recent attention, identifying, tracking and interdicting threats along more than 12,000 miles of coast line that comprises America’s maritime border poses an even more challenging endeavor. Adding to the complexity is the fact that responsibility for maritime border security is shared by several US Government federal agencies with separate, overlapping, and occasionally competing authorities, capabilities and priorities.

 

The sword designed to cut through the Gordian knot of interagency friction in the maritime domain is the Maritime Operational Threat Response (MOTR) Plan. MOTR seeks to integrate the capabilities and expertise of all USG agencies that have a role in responding to a given maritime threat to achieve a unity of effort through a process of “compelled coordination.” Although perfect synergy often proves elusive, MOTR provides an effective forum to align efforts and facilitate early resolution of interagency conflicts. The Global MOTR Coordination Center (GMCC) located in Washington, DC, serves as the nucleus by providing relevant information and connecting all concerned agencies together when an event triggers the MOTR process.

 

This photograph of Simas Kudirka was taken from his Soviet Identification card. 1972 LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
This photograph of Simas Kudirka was taken from his Soviet Identification card. 1972 LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES

Like many cross-cutting federal policies, the impetus to improve interagency coordination that led to the present MOTR plan began with a high profile disaster. Most Coast Guardsmen are familiar with the Simas Kudirka debacle, in which a Lithuanian radio operator attempted to defect to the United States by leaping from a Soviet fishing vessel onto a Coast Guard cutter off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in 1970. The inability of Federal agencies to agree on an appropriate response in time (and poor tactical-level decision making) resulted in Kudirka being severely beaten and forcibly removed from the cutter by the Soviets. The resulting outrage at the stain on American prestige led to several Congressional hearings, a movie, and Presidential Directive 27 (PD-27) “Procedures for Dealing with Non-military Incidents.” PD-27 required several federal departments to maintain a 24-hour watch and coordinate a USG response to non-military incidents that could have an adverse impact on the conduct of US foreign relations. The PD-27 process significantly improved interagency coordination, but the reinvigorated focus on coordinated USG response to the elevated terrorist threat after 9/11 identified a need for further refinement.

 

The MOTR Plan, approved in 2006, expanded upon PD-27 by directing a whole-of-government response to threats in the maritime domain. The MOTR process address a wide spectrum of maritime threats, including terrorism, piracy, drug and migrant interdiction, piracy, and fisheries incursions. Interestingly, there is no command and control relationship within its structure. It requires coordination and cooperation, but no agency has the ability to compel another to do its bidding. Despite its coalition nature, sometimes described as “used by all, owned by none,” MOTR has proven successful. Since its inception, it has been an effective mechanism for responding to thousands of incidents, including high-profile events such as the Somali pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama.

 

To illustrate the value of the MOTR process, consider the following fictional but plausible scenario- an overloaded vessel departs from Haiti and appears headed for the United States. So far, nothing out of the ordinary, the Coast Guard responds to similar events all the time. But suppose recently there have been reports of Ebola in Haiti and reports indicate that several possible Ebola victims are fleeing Haiti hoping to seek treatment in the US. Add to that reports from a maritime patrol aircraft that it appears that there are several children onboard the vessel. Now the interest of other agencies is piqued, including (among others) Department of State, Health and Human Services, and Center for Disease Control. From all of the interests involved must emerge a single “desired national outcome” to guide the response. Depending on where the vessel was initially located, its stability and on-scene weather, and many other factors, the timeline for coordinating and carrying out the response might range from days to hours.

 

Maritime border security is a Herculean endeavor that continues to evolve in its complexity. Threats in the maritime domain range from primitive vessels: “sail freighters” from Haiti, “chugs” and “rusticas” from Cuba, and “yolas” from the Dominican Republic- to submarines manufactured in Andean jungles that can transit from Ecuador to Los Angles while thirty feet below the surface. The nature of the threat varies widely as well- terrorism, pandemic, narcotics, humanitarian crisis, etc. MOTR is an important evolutionary lead towards enhancing the US ability to respond to these threats more quickly and efficiently.

US Navy presence in the Persian Gulf

The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 3: Viper and the Pitfalls of ‘Good Enough’

chostorm

In both Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I compared various naval counterparts – laying the groundwork for discussing what the U.S. Navy’s Surface Warfare Officer community is getting right, and what areas could use improvement. It is easy to complain. Surface Warfare Officers are notorious for it. I am infamous for it, as my peers and superiors alike will attest. Combine our penchant for complaining and our ingrained inferiority complex and it is no wonder that so many SWOs think that everyone else is “doing it better.” This time, though, it is not typical-SWO wanking: they are doing it better, and we must pull our heads out of the sand and catch up. Royal Navy Warfare Officers, U.S. Naval Aviators and nuclear trained officers are specialists and are unmatched masters of their trade. They must train endlessly and they feverishly adhere to standards written in blood to remain at the top of their respective callings. They are role-models and could teach us a thing or two about being the best. As for Surface Warfare Officers – we are good, and that is the problem.

WINSTON S. CHURCHILL launches TLAMs into Iraq

Surface Warfare Officers – and the ships we drive, fight, and lead – guarantee the free flow of commerce across the world. We deliver critical readiness to the Geographic Combatant Commanders and we send a powerful message to both overt and would-be enemies. What we do, works. Our ships deploy and our navy projects unparalleled power around the globe. As an inherently expeditionary force, we ply the world’s oceans, go where we please, and influence international events as a matter of course. We conduct prompt and sustained combat operations like no other nation can. Our ships are leaving port and returning safely, they complete the widest variety of operational tasking of any military community, our personnel are advancing, and finally, as one senior community leader put it to me, “We are pretty damn good… I would take our top 50% Department Heads and put them against the top 10% of PWO (RN, Principle Warfare Officers) or Snipes (engineers) and bet on our people.

It appears that there is nothing wrong here. As a Surface Warfare Officer myself, I can get onboard with most of the above. There is a seedy underbelly to all of this, though. It thrives on a couple of points: that our greatness has not been tested by an opponent in decades, and that the perspective of greatness is naturally skewed from the top down. If not by desire, doctrine, or intent – then surely through practice – the Surface Warfare Officer community accepts mediocracy.

Good Enough?

Tom Skerritt’s Viper stood in front of a room filled with the elite – “the best of the best,” and told them deadpan: “we’ll make you better.” In this fictional portrayal, which is representative of the real-life attitudes found in the previously featured communities, good enough, wasn’t. Surface Warfare Officers are undoubtedly the best in our business. Unfortunately, context matters, as the same can be said when a Major League club steps into a Little League park. We need to be better. We have ill-defined core-competencies, which leads us to becoming Jacks-of-all-Trades. Our habit of recoiling in horror at the thought of specialization causes us to become plug-and-play officers; ultimately figure-heads and placeholders with little value added to a respective sub-unit. Finally, we do not deliver professionals to the Fleet. One Surface Warfare Officer with multiple commands under his belt conceded, “We should be more deliberate. Success and mastery occur by happenstance.” Another community leader said, “We have good tacticians, but that is mostly by personal choice, and a little bit about your ship’s schedule and how interested your Commanding Officer was in tactics.” This series is not about career advancement. It is about a profession. It is about war. It is about winning! Our nation does not deserve victory by happenstance. It deserves an ocean-roiling, awe-inspiring, burned-into-the-history-books slam of Thor’s hammer upon our enemies. I do not think we are there yet.

Defending Freedom and Democracy Around the World

Getting there is not simple. It is not as easy as adopting all of the policies and culture of the Royal Navy or Naval Aviators or nukes. Surface Warfare Officers should be the best because we train to be the best, not because we happen to be a part of the American Navy. We should be the best because we retain the best, not simply because our kit is better than everyone else’s. Under some fantastic leaders, the community is getting the right idea. The introduction of the Basic Division Officer Course, the Advanced Division Officer Course, the Surface Navigator’s Course, the Command Qualification Exam, and rigor added to the Department Head Course are all aimed at developing professionals. Weapons Tactics Instructors – previously a rice-bowl of the aviation community – will invigorate tactical awareness and proficiency throughout the Fleet. The SWO Clock concept – another idea poached from Naval Aviators – which gets “beached SWOs” back to the waterfront, shows a tilt towards valuing production in the upwardly-mobile. We are making good efforts to improve our community in an environment that naturally builds anti-bodies to culture change. That said, we are not doing enough; our profession, our competencies, our reputation, and our retention suffer due to this slow trod down the middle-of-the-channel. As is evidenced by both the Naval Aviation and nuclear communities, it really comes down to what a community accepts in, and for, itself. Do we continue to accept mediocracy, or do we stand up and say that “good enough” is not good enough?

One admiral opined, “I think it is good we SWOs have this institutional ‘inferiority complex,’ as it keeps us from getting complacent…like naval aviation did in Vietnam and later years.” I am not nearly the first to question the level of professionalism in our force. In a 2009 Proceedings article, LT Mitch McGuffie discussed his shock at how much more professional Royal Navy Warfare Officers were than SWOs. This topic and topics like it pop up on Sailor Bob – the definitive forum for SWO discussion – all the time. We do have a questioning attitude and that does make us better. While I readily acknowledge that we are the best Surface Warriors on the block, I am not satisfied with a 10:1 or 50:1 advantage. Like Viper and his pals, and real-life naval professionals who recognize that “there are no points for second place,” I am not satisfied with us being the best – I want us to be the best of the best.

To lose the edge, one must have had it in the first place.

To be the best of the best, we must deliver professionals to the Fleet at all levels. To measure one’s professionalism, we must establish community-recognized core competencies. We must define what it means to be a SWO and prove that our pin is worth more than the money we pay for it. For the sake of brevity, I propose that our core competency be ship-driving. Imagine, if you will, a room full of mid-grade Hornet pilots: 20% of them openly admit to each other that they have no clue how to fly Hornets, and another 30% who are less open about their weakness demonstrate their ineptitude in the simulator. The remaining 50% range from barely capable to superstars. While quality spreads are a reality in any group, this scenario is un-imaginable. Naval Aviators with more than 8 years of service that do not know how to fly? Rubbish! This is a reality for Surface Warfare Officers, though. Lieutenants that do not know how to drive ships are commonplace. They exist because they were never trained, nor tested, much less held to a standard, in the first place. They were never trained, tested, or held to a standard because ship-driving – again, if not due to desire, doctrine, or intent, then through practice – is not recognized as a core-competency of the U.S. Navy’s ship drivers. As is demonstrated in the excellent film, Speed and Angels, Naval Aviators consider carrier operations to be a core-competency – if a student pilot cannot land on the boat, then he will not become a Naval Aviator. Why can’t Surface Warfare Officers take the same approach to our profession?

We need a flight school for Surface Warfare Officers. The name is not important at this point – rather, the purpose ought to be the focus: building ship drivers. We must stop accepting mediocracy in this venue! While the Basic Division Officer course is a fantastic concept meant to bolster our young ensigns, it lacks focus and does not zero in on core-competencies. The lessons taught in the Basic Division Officer course are important – being an effective small-unit leader is vital, and I do not propose that we scrap the current construct. Rather, I propose – nay, I implore – that we first recognize ship-driving as a core-competency, and second, require our officers to be competent ship drivers.

BDOC should not give us a warm and fuzzy.

SEALs do not accept sub-par. Neither do Naval Aviators, nor nuclear-trained officers, or Marines. While I applaud our most recent Commander, Naval Surface Forces for his outstanding efforts to instill meaningful training, we are still accepting sub-par, and are using the re-creation of half-way schooling as a security blanket. Under our current system, young SWO candidates are flooded onto ships in an effort to make future retention goals – an indictment of our culture’s impact on retention. They then fiercely compete for time on the bridge to gain experience – and hopefully competency – as ship drivers. On most ships, this is not a recipe for success. The Professional Qualification Standard books, which drive progression, are signed with unpredictable integrity, imparting sometimes-dubious knowledge on young minds. To cap it off, Officer of the Deck and Surface Warfare Officer qualifications, granted by Commanding Officers, are determined using two-hundred some different standards. Some candidates sit for gut-wrenching, rigorous tests of their skills and knowledge, and others chat with their Commanding Officers at local watering holes after a command event. The evidence of the disparity in knowledge is on display in Newport, Rhode Island – home of Surface Warfare Officers School – where junior officers return for the Advanced Division Officer Course, and later, the Department Head Course. Some officers were obviously put to the test during their professional development, and others were obviously not.

I propose that we start a Deck Watch Officer School – our flight school - in Newport, which all ensigns will attend, and must pass, prior to reporting to BDOC and ultimately, the Fleet. As with aviators, this school would not be a second thought or a 60% solution, but rather would be a proving ground for our nation’s future ship drivers. The length of this notional school can be figured out later; what is important is that SWO candidates shall qualify; ashore. We must have one standard, one organization responsible for enforcing that standard, and must require those desiring entrance into our community to meet it – otherwise, seek life elsewhere. We should not be ashamed of upholding a standard and of telling some people that they are not cut out for this business. At this school, candidates would receive in-depth, hands-on instruction in seamanship and navigation, basic-through-advanced ship handling, meteorology, bridge resource management, and a variety of other skills required for the competent mariner.

YP’s are not giving us a big enough bang for our buck. They should be used to train young SWO’s, not uncommitted midshipmen.

Integral to this process would be the move of the Yard Patrol Craft fleet – the U.S. Navy’s only training ships – from Annapolis to Newport for the exclusive use of the Surface Warfare Officers School. During the pipeline, ensigns would log hours and prove their skills in simulators and on the water. They would complete classwork, learn from case studies, and would be continually tested, remediated, and attrited, as required. If they successfully made it to the end of this program, they would sit for a SWOS-run and community-sanctioned Officer-of-the-Deck board, ensuring that all ensigns are held to the same standard. Earning one’s OOD letter – like the pilots and their wings – would be a culminating event, and those unable to meet the mark would not be sent to the Basic Division Officer Course or the Fleet. If we could implement this plan, we would then send Captains competent, qualified ship drivers, immediately useful to their commands. Like in the Royal Navy, newly reported officers would then complete their platform endorsement, signifying both their grasp of their new ship and the trust their Commanding Officers have in them. 

To be the best of the best, we must be good at our jobs. If Surface Warfare Officers are going to continue to be both professional watch standers, and small unit leaders, we must stop accepting the notion that plug-and-play is an effective way of doing business. Imagine a Naval Aviator spending his junior officer tours flying F/A-18’s, his department head tour in a P-8 squadron, and finally, growing up to command an MH-60 squadron. This progression would never happen in the aviation community because they are not plug-and-play pilots. Yet, a Surface Warfare Officer may indeed spend a tour in Weapons Department, followed by Operations Department, followed by Engineering Department, followed by eventual command. The issue as I see it is that the community views this as a positive – exposing officers to a variety of shipboard functions – but in reality, it ensures that we never become truly good at our jobs. We become personnel and administrative gurus, irrespective of our assigned department, perched to jump into a different role at a moment’s notice.

An Engineer Officer overseas his kingdom.

Instead of our current system, I propose that U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officers matriculate into the community with a billet specialty: engineering, operations, or combat systems. Anathema! Rather than wandering from department to department as figure-heads, I want us to have a vested interest, and subject matter expertise, in the Sailors we lead and the systems we are responsible for. An Infantry Officer leads infantry units. Armor Officers lead armor units. F/A-18 pilots fly Hornets. Today, a Surface Warfare Officer can become a Weapons Officer, and in theory, an Engineer Officer, without prior experience in those respective departments. Imagine, though, the benefits of the following: a new officer enters the community as a Surface Warfare Officer-Engineering, graduates the OOD School and BDOC, completes basic engineer training, serves two division officer tours in Engineering Department, completes shore duty, graduates Department Head School, and returns to the Fleet as an Engineer Officer. This officer has received specialized training along the way and has walked the walk and talked the talk at sea prior to stepping foot into what is acknowledged as the most challenging tour of a SWO’s career. They are no longer a figure-head, but rather: they are an engineer. Or a Combat Systems Officer. Or an Operations Officer. Their title means something. They are good at their job. To ensure preparation for command and to keep some semblance of well-roundedness, Surface Warfare Officers of all flavors would continue to earn the qualifications and stand the watches that the community currently holds dear: on the bridge, in the Combat-Information-Center, and in the engineering plant. Finally, the XO/CO fleet-up model would ensure that specialists are appropriately rounded-out before taking command.

I want Surface Warfare Officers to push ourselves “right to the edge of the envelope.” I want us to be proud of our community. I want our Surface Warfare Officer pin to mean something – to the military, to the service, and most important of all, to us. I want us to be professional watch standers and experts in our respective jobs. The Surface Warfare Officer community is known for being the dumping ground of Unrestricted Line Officers who could not hack it, and this happens because we do not establish, much less uphold, standards. No more! We should honor our heritage, establish a role in our force that is both respected and admired, and strictly and unabashedly police ourselves as consummate professionals who accept nothing less than the best of the best.

Lieutenant Jon Paris is a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer. At sea, he has served aboard both a destroyer and cruiser, in both Weapons and Navigation Department. Ashore he has served as a Navigation Instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy and as a Flag Aide. He is a prospective destroyer Operations Officer. His opinions and generalizations are his own and do not reflect official stances or policy of the U.S. Navy. 

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Sea Control 48 (East Atlantic) – Falklands Series Introduction

seacontrol2Alex Clarke of Phoenix Think Tank discusses his upcoming Sea Control Falklands series with associate editor Chris Stockdale.

Sea Control 48: Falklands Series Introduction

Dear Listener

This is a series which is the very definition of mission creep. It started out as one podcast and has now grown into something with batches of them. It is great fun to do, and I very much hope that more service personnel, and anyone else with a story about the conflict they think the world should know, will be motivated by these to get in contact and take part.

These podcasts include a panel with Michael Clapp, Julian Thompson and Jeremy Larken discussing the command situation, strategy and thinking of the Amphibious Task Group, the accounts of three RM commanders including Christopher Nunn who commanded M Company of 42 Commando – the Company which was dispatched to carry out Operation Paraquet (the recovery of South Georgia), and these are just some of the people and history within them.

There are notes though which need to be made; for all of these accounts, it must be remembered that it is thirty two years since the events of 1982. Some misspeaks did occur, many were corrected straight away, but in the case of Christopher Nunn for example realised when listening to the podcast that he referred to Admiral Lewin, when he meant to refer to Admiral Leach (he didn’t request a do-over, but wanted to make sure it was corrected in the notes, so as to preserve the flow of the original).

Ultimately though, I hope you enjoy these podcasts as much as I enjoyed recording them.

Yours sincerely

Alexander Clarke

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Forging Leadership Worthy of Warriors

Men and women volunteering to serve their country during a time of war have a right to be taken seriously. They deserve a leadership capable of serving them as they serve the nation, throughout all phases of their career and current conflicts.

Three articles written in two separate military thought forums have put leadership on notice of late:

In “Millennials Bring a New Mentality: Does it Fit?” by CDR Darcie Cunningham, USCG, published in USNI’s Proceedings Magazine, the author argues that the most recent generation of military warfighters is lacking in adherence to the author’s view of military traditions, customs, and courtesies. She argues that millennials should recognize their place as subordinates and refrain from questioning senior leaders or asking “Why?” Cunningham writes, “We take pride in the missions we perform, serving as humble servants to the public. If millennials are more focused on what’s in it for them, they may not be the right fit.”

In “Fireproof Commanding Officers” by LT Lawrence Heyworth IV, USN, published in USNI’s Proceedings Magazine, the author discusses recent high-profile firings of commanding officers. He argues that “a career built on solid ethics and character development is the best way to safeguard naval leaders from relief due to personal misconduct.” He debunks the myths that ethically weak COs are either “bad apples” or “of weak moral character.” Rather, Heyworth concludes that commanding officers are predisposed to ethical failures due to their access to power, resources, an inflated sense of self-worth, and a loss of focus.

Unlike Cunningham’s analysis, Heyworth does not argue that senior leaders are “more equipped to take on increased levels of responsibility” based solely on their time in service. Rather, he argues that “deep and consistent introspection,” reading philosophy, and applying moral lessons each day can help leaders avoid ethical shortcomings and set the example.

Finally, in “Wasting the Warrior Culture: The Story of Frank” by Baz Khan, published in The Havok Journal, the author centers his discussion on a quote attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus:

“For every one hundred men you send us, ten should not even be here. Eighty are nothing but targets. Nine of them are real fighters; we are lucky to have them, they the battle make. Ah, but the one. One of them is a warrior. And he will bring the others back.”

In his article, Khan argues that “Frank” is “the one;” “exactly the kind of knuckle dragging gunslinger that you want at your side when everything goes to shit, you’re surrounded and you need someone to help you carve an emergency exit out of lead, broken bones and charred human flesh.” But, as with most true warriors, Frank is “pretty rough on the edges;” he struggles with alcohol to cope with the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that comes from numerous, highly kinetic deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Khan’s analysis is of the Marine Corps, but it is spot-on for the naval service as well:

“We were willing to overlook some cosmetic defects while we were fighting a war on two fronts but now it appears that these violent and coarse warriors are unacceptable in our post-war, garrison focused military.  It seems that guys like Frank do not have a place in our modern Marine Corps.  We are putting down our scarred and battle weary war dogs and promoting porcelain dolls in their place.  Haircuts, close order drill and trouser creases now hold greater appeal to promotion boards than Purple Hearts, valor awards and combat experience.”

Sailors, soldiers, airmen, and Marines swear an oath to “uphold the Constitution of the United States.” These men and women dedicate their lives–regardless of their service or proximity to combat–to that end. (And contrary to what CDR Cunningham writes, they do not need to be “reminded of the current economy and associated unemployment rate.” That sentiment cheapens the service of thousands of young people.) And while I sympathize with the points brought out by LT Heyworth and agree that reflection and a strong moral compass is essential, our focus on the actions of commanding officers is misplaced.

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert takes as his motto: “Warfighting First. Operate Forward. Be Ready.” If we are to regard his priorities seriously, it reasons that the warriors doing our warfighting should be first and foremost.

But in today’s Navy, they are an afterthought. Washington leadership passes down the law via Navy Knowledge Online (NKO) and mandatory trainings with pre-recorded speeches from the CNO and MCPON. The message of this training insinuates that the Navy has problems, and the leadership is here to fix them. Sexual assault, alcohol abuse, and other issues are lectured ad nauseum to sailors in computer programs and Page 13 forms, often at the expense of a commanding officer, division officer, of Chief Petty Officer addressing these concerns and setting the tone within the unit.

An American president once said, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” So it is with our Navy. When 99% of our sailors are doing the right thing, punishing the group for the misdeeds of a few is leadership that takes the easy way out. It is not worthy of the warriors that it serves.

In his seminal essay “The Institution as Servant,” Robert Greenleaf maintains that “caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built.” The concept of servant leadership, inspired by Greenleaf, has only been around for about four decades, but those grasping its tenets have been some of the most successful military leaders of our time.

Above all, servant leadership is about putting the needs of the ship or sailor above the petty wants or needs of the leader. Servant leaders inspire a vision, develop their people, and maintain trust. They are loyal to each individual as much as possible; they are tenacious advocates for their people.

A return to servant leadership is imperative to the vitality and future of our service. The question leaders should ask is not, as CDR Cunningham suggests, “Will [sailors] truly be able to adapt to the service?” but rather, “How can I set my sailors up for success?”

Deeper still, a sense of servant leadership must permeate down from the top of our service. When we more easily promote people who look good on paper and have the blessing of bureaucracy, we are not serving our sailors as we should. When we perpetuate a “zero defect” mentality that banishes a sailor to the darkest corner of our service for any transgression, we are not serving our sailors as we should. When we look around every corner for “signs of insubordination or disrespect” instead of using our efforts to help our people excel, we are not serving our sailors as we should.

LT Heyworth makes an excellent point: “The failure to lead by personal example and the impact of a CO’s relief can have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for a crew of more than 250 sailors.” When leaders systematically fail to inspire vision, establish trust, and recognize excellence in their sailors, the effects are even farther-reaching and longer-lasting. This is the current troubling state of retention and advancement throughout both the officer and enlisted corps.

CDR Cunningham’s exhortations–”They should be reminded that there’s a long line of people outside the door waiting for a Coast Guard spot”–are not the leadership answer for the generation she writes about. Khan comes closer to the truth:

“There will come a time in the future when our nation will once again find itself in a time of great darkness and evil. Young men, yet untested in battle, will look to their leaders for guidance and find instead hollow vessels without the steel or stones necessary to lead men into battle. The painted soldiers on the parade fields will shake in terror and search desperately for the rough men like Frank who shepherded them through the last conflict for guidance only to find that they have all been weeded out of service. This is unacceptable.”

By serving those under our care as leaders, by advocating for them–even against a stubborn naval bureaucracy built up over years of legislating and obfuscating–and by delivering vision, honesty, and empathy, we can begin to “course-correct” the troubling leadership issues of this century. The men and women volunteering for selfless service deserve this effort, every day.

Roger Misso is a Naval Flight Officer in the E-2C Hawkeye and former director of the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference. The views expressed here are his own and in no way represent the views of the US government, US Navy, or his unit.

T-45

The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 2: Are All Nuggets Created Equal?

U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officers have a Napoleon complex. The community is often described as inherently self-conscious and hyper-competitive. Though SWO’s often sell themselves short, in reality, they are in the highest demand at all levels of our service and throughout the joint world. Commanders want Surface Warfare Officers because they can be counted on to get any job done – regardless of past experiences or training. The community can be a meat grinder, and those with upward mobility possess well-earned street credibility. How do they get to that point, though? In Part 1 of this series, we compared the training pipeline, billet structure, and shipboard priorities of the Surface Warfare Officer and Royal Navy Warfare Officer communities. Now let us delve into the mysterious world of the Fleet Nugget. This piece will compare the products that the Naval Aviation, nuclear, and conventional Surface Warfare communities deliver to the Fleet on Day One.

Surface Warfare Officers and Naval Aviators – the Jets and the Sharks. While there is no more fearsome combat team in the world, the communities are notorious for their sibling rivalry. Though we train fiercely to integrate our forces and work extremely well together to the detriment of the enemy, the professional blueprints of each community are oceans apart.

A T-45 Conducts Carrier Qualifications aboard RONALD REAGAN

A Nugget is a first-tour Naval Aviator or flight officer, especially applicable during their first deployment. The origin of the term absolutely belongs to aviators, but it does have cross-over appeal, and its connotation paints a faithful picture of a new officer in his first unit, regardless of designator. The general insinuation of the term is that the officer has little to offer their unit and must be taken under someone’s wing – pun intended. Is an F/A-18 Nugget equal to a SWO Nugget, though? What does each community really provide to their Fleet Squadrons and ships when they deliver a new batch of officers?

Student Naval Aviators in the Advanced Strike pipeline spend approximately two years learning everything from aerodynamics and physiology to air combat maneuvering and carrier qualification. During the training pipeline, they spend nearly 250 hours in the air testing their skills on three different airframes and refine those skills over the course of 75 simulator hours. Earning one’s Wings of Gold does not spell the end of training. The new Naval Aviator’s final stop before hitting the Fleet is the Fleet Replacement Squadron, where they perfect their art in their assigned airframe, spending another 175 hours in the air and in the simulator. When a Naval Aviator executes his orders to his first fleet squadron, he has spent at least 500 hours in hands-on training scenarios.

What is expected of a new Naval Aviator? What do wings mean on Day 1? Wings only come after an officer has demonstrated that they are able to meet a well-defined standard. When seasoned pilots accept a Nugget into their ready room, they see a pilot who can safely operate their aircraft, manage their respective mission and flight administration, and serve as a competent and safe wingman.

Aviators are well-trained before reporting to the Fleet and we have established the practical meaning of wings. What is the true nature of the product, though? On Day 1, the Naval Aviator Nugget will already have demonstrated proficiency at landing aboard a carrier during day and night operations. During his initial weeks in the squadron, he could be entrusted to conduct mid-air refueling, air-to-ground strike, strafing, and close-air-support missions, carrier qualifications, or high-value air-asset escort duties. With these baseline skills, the new aviators are immediately useful to their squadrons and are able to jump into the rigorous Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor-lead curriculum.

Like aviators, Nuclear Surface Warfare Officers also use the train-to-qualify method. After they complete a conventional division officer tour, they spend 6 months at Nuclear Power School where they master advanced mathematics, chemistry, physics, and nuclear theory. This school is widely acknowledged as the most demanding academic program in the U.S. military. They continue their pipeline with an intensive 6 months of hands-on watch-standing training and examinations at one of two Nuclear Power Training Units, or Prototype. Their community’s methods are known internally as the “Gold Standard.” This standard is rigid, unquestioned, and unabashedly enforced. When an officer graduates Prototype, they report to their aircraft carrier as a proven, and more importantly, qualified watch-stander. Shortly after reporting, a SWO Nuke Nugget earns their platform endorsement and re-qualifies on their ship as a Plant Watch Officer, immediately contributing to their department’s watch organization while also leading their respective division.

Newly commissioned Surface Warfare Officer candidates notionally attend an 8-week course known as the Basic Division Officer Course, or BDOC, prior to reporting to their respective ships. Keeping with the community’s focus on generalists, BDOC covers a wide-range of topics, including: basic damage control, Navy pistol qualification, basic SWO engineering, Maintenance University, maritime warfare, division officer leadership and fundamentals, basic navigation, seamanship, and ship-handling. Students take numerous exams and are held to the community standard of a 90% passing grade on their Navigation Rules (Rules of the Road) exam. It is a demanding school and was established to rectify the absence of any such schooling that existed for nearly a decade. During their time at BDOC, the ensigns spend 24 cumulative hours in the ship-handling simulators where they get a taste for everything from pier work to harbor transits and man-overboard recoveries.

chonim

After graduating BDOC, our SWO Nuggets report to their ships and take over their first divisions. Unlike their aviator brethren, they do not wear a warfare pin when they report to the Fleet, nor do they possess any watch-standing qualifications. What then is the product that we are delivering to our ships? Our new ensigns – our Nuggets – are confident leaders and are capable of taking over the responsibility for people and gear from the get-go. They board their ships with a basic familiarization with shipboard systems, service policies, and standard commands (used to drive a ship). SWO Nuggets are not qualified to stand watch on their own, much less to lead an entire watch team, but they are prepared to step onto the bridge and take over as a Conning Officer – learning the finer details of ship handling from their fellow junior officers, enlisted specialists, and the ship’s leadership. Though they are not flying a Hornet solo over Afghanistan, they are standing tall in front of their divisions, as well as on the bridge, issuing commands to the helm and engines of their billion-dollar warships, increasing their competency and savvy exponentially during every watch.

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There is no doubt that the aviation and surface warfare communities have different demands, different priorities, and nearly polar-opposite cultures. An aviator must know what he is doing when he enters the Fleet, lest he crash his aircraft on the flight deck or drop his bomb on the wrong people. The Death-and-Destruction Factor is certainly relevant and is often used as an excuse for why Surface Warfare Officers do not have a similar training mindset. In other words, the argument is that young SWO’s can afford to be inexperienced because their mistakes are far less likely to cause catastrophe and because they operate with a safety-net of sorts made up of other watch standers. While I recognize the inherent danger of Naval Aviation, I disagree with this argument as a way to justify short-changing Surface Warfare Officer training. The culture and doctrine of the aviation community would not tolerate – much less conceive of – squadron skippers in the Fleet being burdened with building an aviator from scratch, yet our service puts that same burden on our ships’ captains, taking away from their crew’s overall combat-effectiveness. We are doing the world’s most fearsome warships an injustice. Surface Warfare Nuggets should report to the Fleet with know-how and qualifications, ready to drive and fight at the pointy-end from the moment they cross the brow.

After comparing the lives, methods, and priorities of Royal Navy Warfare Officers, Naval Aviators, and Surface Warfare Officers, I want to take the opportunity in the final piece of this series to analyze where the SWO community is getting it right, and where we could improve, as well as put forth two proposals that would fundamentally alter how the community trains and operates. In an era where fiscal uncertainty, regional conflict, and increasing operational tempos reign supreme, we must put our very best on the front lines – our country and our crews deserve it, and our enemies must fear it.

 

Lieutenant Jon Paris is a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer. At sea, he has served aboard both a destroyer and cruiser, in both Weapons and Navigation Department. Ashore he has served as a Navigation Instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy and as a Flag Aide. He is a prospective destroyer Operations Officer. His opinions and generalizations are his own and do not reflect official stances or policy of the U.S. Navy.

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