Lessons on Dissent from a Navy Ship

The following article originally featured in The Foreign Service Journal and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Jimmy Drennan

During the course of a damage control drill on my first ship, USS Anzio (CG 68), I was barking orders to sailors from my repair locker. My job was to ensure my team quickly suited up in firefighting equipment and established fire control boundaries and then report back to the damage control assistant (DCA) in the Central Control Station. The DCA gave periodic status updates, and in one such update he noted my repair locker was the only one that hadn’t reported completion.

When my team heard this, they scrambled even faster to put on their gear and establish boundaries. Noticing that some sailors began skipping key steps in their haste, I yelled out: “I don’t care what the DCA says! I want you to do this right!”

Just then, the chief engineer, who had been observing the drill in the background, grabbed me by the arm, looked me straight in the eye and said: “Don’t ever do that again.”

I got the message immediately. But I didn’t realize until many years later that the lessons I learned that day involved how to properly and effectively dissent in the military. Over time, the more I grasped the best techniques, motivations and conditions for disagreeing with my superiors, the more I realized that these lessons apply in any enterprise.

If you choose the right venue, build a reputation of competence and integrity, and honestly evaluate your reasons for dissent, you will maximize the chances of being heard.

How Not to Dissent

When I told the sailors in my repair locker to ignore the DCA, I violated several principles of effective dissent. First, and maybe most importantly, I dissented to the wrong audience. If I believed proper procedure was more important than speed, I should have had that conversation with the DCA in private following the drill. The whole point of dissenting is to help guide your organization in the direction you believe best. But as it was, I didn’t give the DCA the chance to hear my thoughts before I shouted my disagreement to the sailors.

This was my second mistake: I dissented in public. Except in rare circumstances, it is almost never the right call to publicly disagree with your superiors, especially if your intent is to convince them to change direction. Public dissent tends to back decision-makers into a corner and, more often than not, forces them to dig in their heels.

Dissenting in a public setting, whether it is a Navy repair locker, a meeting or a widely distributed email, could jeopardize external stakeholders’ trust and confidence in your organization. In my case, I put sailors in the uncomfortable position of having to choose whether to follow my orders (to proceed deliberately) or the DCA’s (to proceed rapidly). This undermined our chain of command. I could have inadvertently introduced delays and confusion in future scenarios as my sailors waited to hear whether I agreed with the DCA’s orders or not. I should have waited for my opportunity in the appropriate venue.

I later discovered I would have countless private discussions with the DCA and attend several small group meetings where my honest opinion would be received with an open mind. If I ever doubted whether I had permission to speak candidly in those private sessions, I recalled some advice from my first chief: “You’re in the room, aren’t you?”

Back in the repair locker, most of my sailors chose to follow the DCA’s guidance instead of mine because he had already demonstrated competence in firefighting and earned their trust. I had been onboard for only a matter of weeks, and my sailors barely knew me. My third mistake was not building trust with my audience before I offered my dissent. Although I believed strongly that it was most important for my sailors to practice their emergency actions deliberately before picking up the pace (and I still do), my sailors had no real incentive to listen to me over the DCA. I would have made more progress if I had first taken the time to demonstrate my competence as a naval officer and shipmate to them.

Building Credibility

If your audience respects your credibility, they will be more apt to heed your dissenting view. Likewise, it is imperative that your audience trusts you to act ethically. There is no surer way to destroy trust than to give dissenting advice based on some ulterior motive, such as politics or personal gain.

One thing I did right that day in the repair locker was to shut my mouth once the chief engineer counseled me. That was another lesson I didn’t fully understand until many years later: don’t carry on blindly. I voiced my dissent, my superior heard me, and he told me to fall in line. And I did.

Throughout my career, I often found that once is enough. Dissent does not have to be contentious or dramatic as it is often depicted in movies. Rather, if it is properly done in a measured way with a valid message, dissent can spur professional, unemotional conversations. If your audience understands your dissent but still decides to go its own way, you can rest assured that you did your job and gave your best advice.

Over the years I’ve also learned there are often factors I wasn’t considering or even aware of. Every so often you may find yourself in a situation where your convictions compel you to persist in your dissent, despite your audience’s initial dismissal. As always, your convictions and principles should guide you, but do acknowledge the potential consequences of your persistence, and recognize the possibility that you may not be seeing the full picture.

Being Heard

Many years after that first damage control drill, I found myself in an entirely different situation where the lessons I’d learned on dissent proved invaluable. I was in a four-star general’s office with a small group of officers to discuss an investigation. An incident had occurred in conjunction with an ongoing operation and we were being asked to relay the details so the general could answer questions from his superiors. I was the most junior person in the room.

Working in a four-star headquarters as a staff officer, I rarely had the opportunity to interact with the general. But I had briefed him several times in small and large venues, and I had built a reputation as a knowledgeable and trustworthy officer regarding the subject matter at hand.

I listened quietly as the tone of the conversation clearly indicated the general intended to continue the operation, with no one offering a serious alternative. As the meeting was coming to a close, I spoke up and recommended we consider terminating the operation. I am sure I surprised a few senior officers in the room, but I made sure to be respectful, direct and concise. The general heard me out, and the meeting soon adjourned.

I cannot say the general took my advice, but I know he considered it; and several of the other officers in the room later told me they agreed with what I said. Instead of damaging my career, my dissent further cemented my reputation as a subject matter expert and even opened career opportunities for me. Because I followed the lessons I had learned on dissent over the years, starting with that day in the repair locker, I was able to deliver a much-needed dissenting opinion that would be honestly considered, without fear of consequence.

Lieutenant Commander Jimmy Drennan is a naval officer currently assigned to United States Central Command as a maritime operations planner. He has 15 years of experience in the surface navy, with assignments as repair division officer, navigator and operations officer, as well as three deployments to the Middle East on guided missile cruisers. Out of uniform, he is president of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). He is the recipient of the Surface Navy Association’s Arleigh Burke Award for Operational Excellence and the Navy and Marine Corps Association Leadership Award. These views are presented in a personal capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views of any U.S. government department or agency.

Featured Image: (Jul 26, 2006)The US Navy Ticonderoga Class Guided Missile Cruiser USS ANZIO (CG 68) (left) pulls alongside the USN Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN 69) for a refueling at sea somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Navy official photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Dale Miller)

Increasing the Lethality of the Surface Force: A Conversation with RDML Scott Robertson

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC had the opportunity to discuss the growth and evolution of the U.S. Surface Navy’s lethality with Rear Admiral Scott Robertson, commander of the Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC). In this discussion RDML Robertson discusses the cutting edge of Surface Navy training and tactical development, and how SMWDC is planning to take its efforts to the next level.

Much of SMWDC’s effort is geared toward being a learning organization, whether through experimenting with tactics, training WTIs, and digesting technical data gathered from exercises. Going across your various lines of effort, what exactly is being learned and taught by SMWDC?

The center of gravity for SMWDC is our Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTI) produced through our WTI courses of instruction. We have four different specialty strands to meet Fleet needs and each one has differing lengths. All WTI strands focus on warfare theory, deep understanding of surface warfare Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP), study of adversary capabilities and limitations, standardized instructional techniques, and then repetitive application of knowledge in complex scenarios.

SMWDC’s premier contribution to tactical training is Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercises held for ships in the advanced phase contained within the OFRP cycle. A SWATT has both in-port academics instruction and underway training exercises to teach TTPs through scenarios of increasing complexity. During a SWATT, the SMWDC team collects performance data related to metrics, developed and associated with surface warfare TTPs. This data collection allows us to do a number of things. First, it gives quantitative feedback to the ship crews so they can learn from the at-sea exercises and execute TTPs with increased speed and accuracy. Secondly, it gives SMWDC a better measure of the fleet’s overall increase in lethality and unveils areas that need focus or improvement. Lastly, SWATT can isolate and assess gaps in individual, watchteam, and unit-level training that exist and need to be filled to maximize our ship’s warfighting potential.

SWATT, among other underway exercises, allows us to further TTPs in two additional ways. First, it gives us the opportunity to validate, or affirm, that our TTPs work and identify what adjustments need to be made based on our application in a controlled environment. Secondly, it provides the opportunity to work TTP development and experimentation to ensure we can deliver the right TTPs, at the right time, as new systems and capability are delivered to the Fleet, as well as changes to employment methodologies required to keep adversaries at risk.

Rear Admiral Scott F. Robertson (U.S. Navy photo)

We’ve leveraged real-world events to dissect the situation and examine TTPs executed, including weapons system performance and watchstander actions to identify where expectations did or did not meet reality in response to operational commanders’ requests. This has allowed us to tailor our TTP development and training of our WTI cadre in the pertinent WTI COI.

With the release of the National Defense Strategy, great power competition has become the primary focus of the Department of Defense after years of focusing on rogue states and counterinsurgency. What does a return to great power competition mean for SMWDC, and how do you operationalize this guidance and tailor your efforts?

The nature of SMWDC’s establishment and identified lines of operation in our codified Missions, Functions, and Tasks (MF&T) is a measure the Navy as a whole has taken to “operationalize” and act upon the higher-level national security guidance. Therefore, the answer is simple: carry out our assigned duties in our MF&T and continue to learn and build upon our execution as described earlier.

The return to great power competition also means that we have to conduct all of our training (both for WTIs and SWATT) at a level that closely represents or even exceeds the anticipated environment (volume and multi-domain warfare-wise) our ships will need to operate in should a conflict with a great power adversary occur.

A major function of SMWDC is integrating tactical development across the surface warfare enterprise, and ensuring cross-cutting conversations are happening between various entities. How is this integration an improvement from the past, and especially with communicating across communities to their own Warfighting Development Centers?

Before the development of SMWDC (and the greater WDC concept) we had Warfare Centers of Excellence that were separated into entities based on warfare areas (i.e. surface, subsurface, missile defense) rather than tied to an entire naval community (i.e. aviation, surface, subsurface, information warfare, expeditionary warfare). From a Surface Navy perspective, the stovepiping of efforts hindered alignment and cross-warfare area TTP development. Furthermore, the previous WCOEs were charged with conducting work on the intellectual side (TTP development and validation) but not so much on the training and operational side (i.e. the equivalent of a SWATT exercise). Now that all surface warfare areas are combined under one command, we can easily govern cross-warfare area TTP development while providing advanced tactical training to the fleet. The current WDC construct truly enables better alignment and supports increased integration across communities; there are more and more connection points between the WDCs and Naval Warfare Development Command.

How has SMWDC and the WTI program influenced the career continuum for SWOs?

There are three ideal entry points into the WTI training pipeline (not in order of preference), namely between one’s first and second division officer tour (advanced warfighter program), after one’s division officer tours during their shore duty, or after one’s department head tours during shore duty.

All of these entry points are congruent with the current SWO career continuum model such that they do not interfere with the sea/shore tour lengths or milestone goals such as starting Department Head School by the 7.5 year mark. The program is still in the development stages. However, we’re beginning to see our first waves of command-eligible SWO WTIs go before selection boards and have initially high screening rates for patch wearers. Bottom line, the surface warfare community values our WTIs and it shows in milestone selection figures.

One of the founding visions has been the idea of having a Fleet full of patch wearers manning our ships at the Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, and Department Head levels. The overall increase in the tactical proficiency and thus lethality of our ships will be impressive and measurable. We are well on our way.

What is the envisioned working relationship between SMWDC and the newly formed Surface Development Squadron?

SMWDC will work with SURFDEVRON to leverage opportunities to develop TTPs and conduct experimentation in conjunction with the DDG-1000-class to shape our understanding on how we can optimize the capabilities this platform brings to the fight. SURFDEVRON is also SMWDC’s gateway to developing the needed TTPs to integrate with coming unmanned assets.

The SMWDC-led series of Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercises are pushing the surface fleet further out from its comfort zone. How are you looking to enhance and expand these exercises?

As we develop capabilities to combat emerging threats, we will expand SWATT schedules of events to ensure we’re flexing said developed capabilities to give our operators a chance to see the capabilities in action and build a level of comfort employing their weapon systems. In the near term, we will be elevating our exercise complexity and be working to induce more failure to stretch ship crews. We envision incorporating unmanned systems and presenting training targets across different domains that mimic profiles that replicate the most stressing threats. SMWDC is also looking to add more offensive-based exercises vice the traditional heavier bias toward the defensive. Lastly, we also know that Live, Virtual, Constructive (VLC) training is a must for inclusion in our future SWATTs to truly train at the high-end.

Rear Adm. Robertson assumed the duties as commander, Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Command, in May 2019. Robertson has served in a highly diverse range of assignments and participated in many campaigns and operations. His sea tours include: 1st division officer onboard USS George Washington (CVN 73); fire control officer onboard USS Normandy (CG 60); weapons/combat systems officer onboard USS Port Royal (CG 73); engineering auxiliaries officer on USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74); and executive officer on USS Gettysburg (CG 64). Robertson commanded USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60) during a seven-month counter-narcotics deployment; he also commanded and deployed with USS Normandy (CG 60), the first Aegis Baseline 9 warship with Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air capability. Additionally, he served as Air and Missile defense commander for the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group. Robertson’s shore assignments include Aegis Training and Readiness Center (ATRC) as course supervisor and lead instructor for the Force Air Defense Warfare Commanders Course; Joint Staff, J-8 Directorate as the resources and acquisition manager; and commanding officer of Surface Warfare Officers Schools (SWOS) Command. 

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Content@cimsec.org

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (March 14, 2019) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85), the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69), and the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) maneuver while operating in the Philippine Sea. U.S. Navy warships train together to increase the tactical proficiency, lethality, and interoperability of participating units in an Era of Great Power Competition. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Harris/Released)

Sea Control 151: CIMSEC Fiction Week with Ian Brown

By Jared Samuelson

In the wake of CIMSEC’s Short Story Fiction Week, two of the authors, The Krulak Center’s (@TheKrulakCenter) Ian Brown (@ian_tb03) and Sea Control producer Jared Samuelson (@jwsc03), break down what we can learn from the Fiction Week’s stories about the future of warfare, the obsessive focus on China, and which story kept them awake at night.

Download Sea Control 151: CIMSEC Fiction Week with Ian Brown

Referenced Material and Show Notes

Destination Unknown, Vol I., the first graphic novel of short stories about future war released by the Krulak Center via Marine Corps University Press.

A New Conception of War by Ian T. Brown

Jared Samuelson is the producer of CIMSEC’s Sea Control podcast. Contact him at seacontrol@cimsec.org.

Naval Tactics and Their Influence on Strategy, Pt. 1

CIMSEC mourns the passing of renowned thinker on naval tactics and strategy Capt. Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., who passed away peacefully on December 3, 2019. Author of the classic work Fleet Tactics and longtime researcher and faculty member at the Naval Postgraduate School, Capt. Hughes made extraordinary contributions to naval discourse. Below is one such contribution. 

The following piece originally featured in The Naval War College Review and is republished with permission. It will be republished here in two parts. Read it in its original form here.

By Captain Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., U.S. Navy, (ret.)

A viewpoint almost taken for granted among Defense officials is that national policy determines military strategy, which in turn deter­mines the quantities and allocations of forces. Let me offer a contrasting position:

“What actually halts the aggressor’s action is the fear of defeat by the defender’s forces, [even though] he is not likely to concede this, at least not openly.

“One may admit that even where the decision has been bloodless, it was determined in the last analysis by engagements that did not take place but had merely been offered . . . where the tactical results of the engagement are assumed to be the basis of all strategic plans, it is always possible, and a serious risk, that the attacker will proceed on that basis. He will endeavor above all to be tactically superior, in order to upset the enemy’s strategic planning. The latter [strategic planning] therefore, can never be considered as something independent: it can only become valid when one has reason to be confident of tactical success . . . it is useful to emphasize that all strategic planning rests on tactical success alone, and that – whether the solution is arrived at in battle or not – this is in all cases the actual fundamental basis for the decision. Only when one has no need to fear the outcome – because of the enemy’s character or situation or because the two armies are unevenly matched physically and psychologically or indeed because one’s own side is the stronger – only then can one expect results from strategic combinations alone.”

I have been quoting Clausewitz, of course. We should remember that Clausewitz dealt with ground warfare. The passage above is found in Clausewitz’ discussion of defense, which he and other analysts believe is the stronger tactical posture on land. As will be seen, I hold that the tactical nature of ground war often differs from sea war. Specifically, there has been no corresponding tactical advantage for the defense in naval combat. Nevertheless, in this instance I am happy to take Clausewitz as my text, and assert that what he thought to be the link between tactics and strategy on the ground applies even more strongly at sea, if that is possible.

The reason that a discussion of tactics is appropriate when discussing contemporary strategy is that strategy must rest on the rock of combat capability. One builds decisions from the bottom up: tactics affect the efficacy of forces; the correlation of forces reveals what strategy our forces can support, and a supportable military strategy governs national aims and ambitions.

This is the opposite of the Secretary of Defense’s “Defense Guidance,” which starts with national goals and policies, which in due course defines strategy, and which takes largely for granted that existing forces will be able to execute it. The top-down approach is proper for deriving force requirements to guide procurement policies, but force requirements – if they exceed existing force levels – can only be built in the future. If one is concerned with present strategy, he must know current capabilities and design his strategy accordingly. If the forces are inadequate, then a strategy which is part bluff may be necessary, but it is important for everyone to understand that the strategy is in fact not executable, so that the part which is bluff does not become forgotten and lead to self-delusion. As a case in point, many will remember the 2 1/2 war strategy that lingered on long after it was beyond our capabilities.

Firepower, scouting, and c2 are the three elements of naval force – the means – and attrition is the great end. In the back­ground I can hear Peggy Lee singing her song, “Is That All There Is?” Yes, I think that is all.

Of course, the design of a current maritime strategy is not really so simple that it can be built from the bottom up. The process is dialectical, with policy and strategy goals juxtaposed against combat capabilities. But current strategy, I insist, must rest on a foundation of realistic force comparisons.

Perhaps the sense of urgency about tactical considerations will be made more real by starting with this: It is demonstrable both by history and theory that not only has a small net advantage in force (not the same as forces) often been decisive in naval battles, but the slightly inferior force tends to lose with very little to show in the way of damage and destruction to the enemy.

At sea, there has been no counterpart to prepared positions and the effects of terrain, nor any thing corresponding to the rule-of-thumb, 3-to-1 attacker-to-defender ratio. There are no mountains nor swamps to guard flanks, no rivers to cross or defend, and no high ground. A fleet tactical commander keeps no force in reserve and all his energy is devoted to attacking the enemy effectively before the enemy can attack him. At sea, offense dominates in a way foreign to ground commanders. When a tactical commander is not competitive he had better stand clear; because, as I said, he will have little to show for the loss of his force.

In peacetime, every strategist must know the true combat worth of his navy, as compared to the enemy, or he risks deep humiliation with or without bloodshed. That above all was the tactical lesson for Argentina in the Falklands, which found its navy outclassed by the Royal Navy. In wartime, every strategist must know the relative fighting value of his navy – so carefully nurtured and expensive to build and maintain in peacetime. When committed in battle, the heart of a fleet can be cut out in an afternoon.

Three Tactics-Strategy Interrelationships

The fighting power of forces available determines strategic combinations. This does little to explain why tacticians emphasize not only forces as orders of battle but also the very tactics of those forces as elements of sound strategy. The answer lies in the distinction between forces and force – the difference between an order of battle and fighting power at a scene of action against a specific enemy, or what Russian military scientists call the correlation of forces and means. Here are three examples of how tactics and strategy are interrelated. The first example is in the realm of force planning, the Washington arena. The second deals with naval operations, the battle arena. The third illustrates the danger when either the strategist or the tactician lays his plans without due regard for the risks he may thoughtlessly impose on his counterpart.

First, in the U.S. and Nato studies of the military reinforcement and resupply of Europe in the 1960s and early 1970s, classical convoy tactics were used. The escorts formed a ring around the merchant ships. But the ASW screens so configured could not prevent the penetration of many torpedo­ firing submarines. The Navy’s strategists drew the conclusion that we should buy more ASW protection. Other strategists who toted up the Navy’s hardware bill said there must be a better strategy, better meaning less expensive. One solution was to preposition Army divisional combat equipment in Europe and then fly the troops over to marry up with it. No one questioned the soundness of the convoy tactics on which the gloomy losses were based until the early 1970s. Then some work being done concurrently by the Center for Naval Analyses and a small Nato study group at SacLant concluded that if you opened out the merchant ship formation and embedded the protection inside the convoys, the losses to merchant ships would be reduced by a factor of two or three.

These same studies of the tactical details of the convoy engagements revealed that the submarines ought to be able to find enough targets to unload all of their torpedoes on every patrol, unlike the experience of World War II when the average U-boat fired less than one-sixth of its torpedoes on a patrol. The number of torpedoes carried to sea, therefore, became a number of extreme importance. When the fact was appreciated, a more careful look was taken at the torpedo load of enemy submarines and it was decided that we had probably overestimated it, and in so doing overestimated the damage the subs could do over their lifetimes.

With the estimates of probable losses of merchant ships reduced dramatically, did convoying reenter as the preferred strategy? Not exactly, because there were too many other considerations – political, budgetary, and strategic, affecting the decision. The present attitude toward the desirability of convoying is, in some circumstances yes, in others no. Here the interrelationship with strategy enters the picture. If the maritime strategy described by Robert Wood and John Hanley in the previous issue of this journal is executable, then that will have a powerful and positive effect to reduce the need for convoying. If we are surprised as the allies were in World Wars I and II, then the strategist has some assurance that the tactics are in hand to convoy the most vital shipping – if we must.

Secondly, let us next consider a radically different example of the integration of strategy and tactics that shows up at the interface between land and sea, in what felicitously has been called “littoral warfare.” Navies are built and supported in order to influence events on land. It is almost impossible to find an instance of two fleets going out to fight like boxers in a ring – may the best ships win, to the victor goes the spoils and command of the sea. Seldom has the inferior fleet failed to appreciate its inferiority, and so it has been only some matter of gravest consequence which drew the weaker fleet to sea, usually to its doom and with little harm to the stronger.

One of the tactical implications is that the larger fleet in case after case has been burdened with the forbidden sin of split objectives. Look at the 1942-45 Pacific War. Japan or the United States, whichever was superior and on the offensive, almost always entered into battle with prioritized but nevertheless dual missions – to shield the movement of some vital force and to destroy the enemy fleet. The whole Pacific strategy-tactics interface can be studied and understood in that context. The maxim that a fleet should first gain control of the sea before risking an amphibious assault turned out to be impossible to follow, because without the overwhelming strategic consequences of invasion the smaller fleet would not fight. Now look at the sea battles in World War I, in particular those in the North Sea. In this case the battles came about by some subterfuge, a strategic entrapment –the British hoping to lure the High Seas Fleet into a death trap and the Germans hoping to snare some detachments of the Royal Navy, and whittle it down to equality. Since neither Britain nor Germany had a strategic motivation to come to battle at a disadvantage and since Scheer knew his fleet was decisively inferior, there was never a fight to the finish as strategists anticipated before the war. The German High Seas Fleet ended its days not with a bang but a whimper.

As the range of weapons and sensors increased, so did the direct, tactical interaction between land-based and sea-based forces. In my opinion there is no finer example than the Solomons Campaign of 1942-43 of ground, sea, and air forces all acting in concert, not coincidentally or serendipitously, but necessarily and vitally. A subject worthy of more study is the way these interactions on a wider, deeper battlefield will carry over into the realm of strategy and policy. Land-based aircraft and missiles already reach well out to sea. Sea-based aircraft have had an influence that is well known, and now missiles from the sea will also play a role. One of the tactical lessons of the Solomons is this: We do not plan to put the Marine Brigade into northern Norway merely to hold the land flank, but also to hold the maritime flank. The Marines and their accompanying airpower would fight from a vital piece of real estate that will support operations at sea as well as on the ground. It is hard to find a more apt example of littoral warfare in the making.

Thirdly, as an example, let us look at the Mediterranean, and ponder the problem of the Sixth Fleet Commander. He is very conscious of the need to attack effectively first, but he knows American policy is unlikely to give him the freedom to do so. He also knows that policy has often required a forward, and exposed presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. His survival at the onset of war rests on two hopes to offset these two liabilities. The first is that he will be given the freedom of movement in sufficient time to take a geographical position that will make a major attack on him difficult. The second is that his Rules of Engagement will allow him to act with measured force when certain circumstances demand it. Since the steps he must take are in the nature of denying the enemy tracking and targeting information – “antiscouting,” a term I will define later – in my opinion both the location he must take and the actions he must be authorized ought to be tolerable at the policy level. Whether the modus vivendi now in effect is satisfactory both as to tactics (battlefield risks) and to strategy (political risks) I do not know. But it is important to see the conflict between the statesman’s political objectives and the naval commander’s tactical risks in a crisis. The tactician at the scene understands the primacy of diplomatic and political objectives. But an optimum political stance, such as a highly visible naval presence, can require a disastrous battlefield posture. The tactician and strategist both need agreement that to contain a crisis, the nation must be able to win twice, both politically and on the field of battle. 

In days gone by my solution to the Sixth Fleet’s tactical problem was to head west. To solve the strategist’s problem of the embarrassment of retreating in the midst of crisis, my strategists were to make clear well in advance of any crisis that when the fleet withdrew, that was not appeasement but a final war warning, the naval equivalent of mobilizing the reserves. I think now my solution was too pat. But if heading west is not the answer, then the strategist must collaborate with the tactician to find it. The tactical imperative at sea is to attack effectively before the enemy does so. This is simply too compelling a consideration for the strategist to wish away.

Captain Hughes is on the faculty of the Naval Postgraduate School, writes widely on maritime and national security affairs, and is author of Fleet Tactics, soon to be published-by the Naval Institute Press.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 27, 2019) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Russel (DDG 59) and the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) transit the Eastern Pacific Ocean Nov. 27, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew F. Jackson)

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.