The NATO of the New North

From author Ian Birdwell comes The Changing Arctic, a column focusing on the unique security challenges presented by the increasingly permissive environment in the High North. The Changing Arctic examines legal precedents, rival claimants, and possible resolutions for disputes among the Arctic nations, as well as the economic implications of accessing the region’s plentiful resources.

By Ian Birdwell

Introduction

NATO is justifiably focused on dissuading Russian aggression, especially given the Federation’s aggressive actions over the past two years in the region. However, there is growing concern for NATO’s northern flank: the Arctic Ocean and far northern Atlantic. The warming of global temperatures presents new challenges related to rising sea levels to navies like the United States,’1 but the retreat of ice in the Arctic Ocean poses a new risk as an avenue to exploit NATO’s flank in Europe. Though some budding conversation determining NATO’s role in defending Arctic nations like Norway from new security challenges is occurring,2 NATO’s gaze remains focused on ground threats throughout Eastern Europe. Despite the persistence of NATO’s strategic goals of deterrence and cooperation, a warmer Arctic demands the attention of NATO powers to preserve regional stability. Looking toward the role NATO could play in maintaining an Arctic balance of power into the future, it is important to acknowledge NATO’s regional hurdles and the strategies the alliance could employ to overcome them.
NATO’s goal has always been deterrence through mutual defense and cooperation between member state militaries, but this has never rung quite as clear among its member states as it has since the onset of the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. The crisis, if not instigated by the Russian Federation, certainly advances, exacerbated by the comments of Russian officials and state actions. Since then, Eastern European NATO states have clamored for NATO support in counteracting Russian aggression. Vladimir Putin’s regime regularly draws international ire for their actions moving to exploit Arctic oil resources, the effects those operations may have on surrounding communities, and the measures against those protesting oil exploration.3 For the Russian Federation, the Arctic Ocean represents more than just a birthplace of new oil revenues and potential superpower status, it is one of the only areas of the world were its navy may be able to operate more effectively than NATO.

Russia’s Oil and Gas Activities in the Arctic (Malte Humpert/The Arctic Institute)

The Russian Northern Fleet possesses a slight advantage over NATO forces in several crucial areas, including a slight and recent increase in submarine warfare capabilities,4 a focus on constructing Arctic naval installations,5 and a plethora of icebreakers compared to NATO.6 Russian forces certainly retain a regional upper hand at the moment yet the aged nature of their equipment belays an opportunity for NATO to deter Russian regional aggression if action is swiftly taken. Finally, to accommodate necessary actions to dissuade aggression, the alliance must gather the funding to make readiness plans a reality, which could become a difficult prospect. Most NATO members overlook the requirement to contribute two percent of national GDP towards military operations, leaving other NATO states like the United States to fit the bill.7 With a new American administration critical of NATO’s funding woes, member states may grow concerned NATO capital will go toward the defense of Eastern European states or other areas with higher visibility.8

Arctic Adaptation

NATO possesses the capability to address and overcome the challenges laid before it. A promising step to move NATO toward readiness for Arctic operations would be to expand the frequency of training activities in the High North. While the norm for nations with Arctic waters like Canada,9 Norway, and the United States,10 the inclusion of non-Arctic NATO powers in a variety of training exercises could prove pivotal in deterring aggression within the Arctic. This past summer, NATO held an anti-submarine warfare exercise called Dynamic Mongoose in the Norwegian Sea that included vessels from eight alliance members.11 With other operations planned for later this year,12 increasing the frequency of such operations, the variety of weather conditions faced, and diversifying into other types of exercises such as amphibious assault drills will allow NATO to become acclimated to regional obstacles and gain the flexibility to respond to threats.

The costlier long-term readiness goal involves the expansion of ports close to or within the Arctic Circle to house larger vessels and the construction of new facilities. Accomplishing this task would help close Russia’s geographic and logistical advantages while assisting troops in becoming acclimated to the region’s weather conditions. Moreover, those expanded ports hold the potential to facilitate an increase in commercial traffic, provide a base for scientific research vessels, and contribute to the logistical support of search and rescue operations – all valuable assets for nations wishing to study a changing global climate. For these reasons, the Army Corps of Engineers in the U.S. investigated deepening the Port of Nome.13 Dredging and enlarging ports in the region offer a boon to NATO’s defense goals while boosting Arctic infrastructure for other non-military functions.

The last and largest task for NATO powers concerned about Russian Arctic capabilities is providing the funding necessary to meet their NATO obligations. Each NATO nation with Arctic borders proffers in various declarations their preferred method to move forward with Arctic defense is to cooperate with close allies to fill gaps in their defenses.14 If Canada, Denmark, and Norway,15 NATO Arctic powers currently shy of their NATO percentage pledges, increase their military funding closer to the required two percent of national GDP, then it becomes easier for NATO to achieve its overarching security goals within and outside of the Arctic region.

Conclusion

NATO transformed from a tool bolstering European Defense in the early days of the Cold War into an alliance pulled in several directions in the name of collective security. Today NATO faces a familiar sight, a Europe pressured by an aggressive Russia. Yet as NATO reinforces its easternmost borders, the Russian Federation focuses on a new, warming frontier that could provide a new threat axis where Russia enjoys preeminence.

Ian Birdwell holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Politics from George Mason University.

References

1. Myers, Meghann “Rising oceans threaten to submerge 128 military bases:report” Navy Times. July 29, 2016 https://www.navytimes.com/story/military/2016/07/29/rising-oceans-threaten-submerge-18-military-bases-report/87657780/

2. Dearden, Lizzie “Norway urges Donald Trump to announce clear policy on Russia amid fears of military activity in Arctic” Independent December 3, 2016 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/donald-trump-russia-vladimir-putin-norway-nato-clear-policy-arctic-bases-submarines-military-a7453581.html

3. Luhn, Alec “Arctic oil rush: Nenet’s livelihood and habitat at risk from oil spills” The Guardian December 23, 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/23/arctic-oil-rush-nenets-livelihood-and-habitat-at-risk-from-oil-spills

4. Sonne, Paul “Russia’s Military sophistication in the Arctic sends echoes of the Cold War” The Wall Street Journal October 4, 2016 http://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-upgrades-military-prowess-in-arctic-1475624748

5. Einhorn, Catrin, Hannah Fairfield, and Tim Wallace “Russia rearms for a new era” New York Times December 24, 2015 http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/12/24/world/asia/russia-arming.html

6. Snow, Shawn “Retired 4-Star: US Military ill-prepared for Arctic confrontation” Military Times December 27, 2016 http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/retired-4-star-us-military-ill-prepared-for-arctic-confrontation

7. Thomassen, Daniel “Norway faces a new era of Russian realpolitik in the Arctic” Center for International Maritime Security July 5, 2016 http://cimsec.org/norway-faces-new-era-russian-realpolitik-arctic/25984

8. Frum, David “Trump will inherit the biggest NATO buildup in Europe Since the Cold War” The Atlantic January 10, 2017

9. Pugliese, David “Canadian Forces to expand Nunavut training centre as Russia plans more bases in the Arctic” National Post February 23, 2016 http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-forces-to-expand-nunavut-training-centre-as-russias-plans-more-bases-in-the-arctic

10. Schehl, Matthew L. “Marines hit the arctic for largest winter exercise since the Cold War” Marine Corps Times March 2, 2016 https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/story/military/2016/03/02/marine-hit-arctic-largest-winter-exercise-since-cold-war/81161832/

11. North Atlantic Treaty Organization “NATO Launches anti-submarine warfare exercise in Norwegian Sea” June 20, 2016 NATO Press Release http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_132596.htm?IselectedLocale=en

12. Thomassen, Daniel “Norway faces a new era of Russian realpolitik in the Arctic” Center for International Maritime Security July 5, 2016 http://cimsec.org/norway-faces-new-era-russian-realpolitik-arctic/25984

13. Zak, Annie “Port of Nome sees big growth as traversing the Arctic gets easier” Alaska Dispatch News November 24, 2016 https://www.adn.com/business-economy/2016/11/24/port-of-nome-sees-big-growth-as-traversing-the-arctic-gets-easier/

14. Wezeman, Siemon T. “Military Capabilties in the Arctic: A new cold war in the high north?” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute October 2016 https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/Military-capabilities-in-the-Arctic.pdf

15. North Atlantic Treaty Organization Public Diplomacy Division “Defense Expenditures of NATO Countries” North Atlantic Treaty Organization July 4, 2016 http://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2016_07/20160704_160704-pr2016-116.pdf

Featured Image: U.S. Coast Guard (Patrick Kelley)

Russian Warships in Latvian Exclusive Economic Zone: Confrontational, not Unlawful

By Sean Fahey

The past months have seen a significant increase in Russian military activity across Europe, including the Baltic Sea. Last month, Admiral Michelle Howard, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, and commander of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Naples, described the scope of Russian military activity in Europe as “precedential,” exceeding even Cold War era levels.1 The Baltic Sea, in particular, has become increasingly congested with Russian military forces operating in the region, leading to tense encounters in the air and on the water. Most notably, last April, two Russian Sukhoi SU-24 attack aircraft made repeated low-altitude passes over the USS Donald Cook, a guided missile destroyer operating in international waters in the Baltic, with several of the passes resembling “simulated attack” runs.2 Russia also recently deployed Iskander missiles, a “nuclear-capable” system with a range of over 400 miles, to Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave situated between Poland and Lithuania,3 and, last month, conducted cruise missile drills in the Baltic Sea.4 This summer, Russia is expected to conduct its “Zapad” (or “West”) Exercise in Kaliningrad and Belarus, with estimated Russian participation numbering between 70,000 and 100,000 troops.5 Some of these incidents are alarming in and of themselves; others, though seemingly routine, may be cause for concern when viewed in light of other regional Russian military activity. Context matters.

The most recent Russian military activity to draw attention in the region was the transit of three Russian warships through the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Latvia, a NATO member state.6 The three warships—the  corvettes Liven 551, Serpukhov 603 and Morshansk 824—were sighted four miles outside Latvia’s territorial sea, or sixteen miles from the Latvian coast. The warships were scheduled to participate in a naval parade to commemorate “Victory Day,” celebrating the end of World War II, but were redeployed prior to the parade, quite possibly in response to the destroyer USS Carney’s arrival into the Baltic Sea.7 

In isolation, the transit of the Russian vessels through the Latvian exclusive economic zone is relatively benign. In the context of Russia’s military activity in the Baltic over the past year, however, the transit can appropriately be described as “aggressive,” even “confrontational.” That said, the transit was not unlawful under international law, and this point cannot be lost in the discussion. The United States and its allies rely on the navigational freedoms protected under international law as much as the Russians, arguably more so. Promoting these freedoms is essential to ensure U.S. maritime mobility.

Under international law, coastal state sovereignty ends at the outer limit of the territorial sea and the airspace above it,8 and even this sovereignty is subject to certain navigational rights, such as the rights of “innocent passage” and “transit passage.”9 Vessels and aircraft, to include military vessels and aircraft, operating seaward of a state’s territorial sea enjoy the freedoms of navigation and overflight and other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to those freedoms.10 The U.S. position is that for military vessels, this freedom of navigation includes being able to conduct certain military activities in a state’s EEZ, such as military maneuvers, flight operations, military exercises, surveillance and intelligence gathering, and weapons testing and firing.11 

Not all nations share the U.S. view on the scope of permissible military activities in the EEZ, and instead advocate a legally and practicably untenable interpretation. This interpretation is based, in part, on an incorrect reading of Article 88 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which applies in the EEZ through Article 58(2).  This Article states that the high seas shall be reserved “for peaceful purposes.”12 The “peaceful purposes” language in UNCLOS, however, does not prohibit military activities in the EEZ, only those activities inconsistent with Article 2(4) of the UN Charter.13 Nevertheless, even under a restrictive interpretation, warships transiting through a coastal state’s EEZ—even with the intent to locate and surveil a foreign warship on the high seas—would still be permissible under international law. In fact, had the three Russian warships been transiting through the Latvian territorial sea (within twelve nautical miles of the coast), and even done so unannounced, this too would have been permissible under international law, so long as the vessels were properly exercising their navigational right of “innocent passage.”14

Military activities, both planned and unplanned, will continue to be conducted in the Baltic, by both Russia and NATO and its allies, for the foreseeable future. That is not a criticism; it is a statement of fact. While it is certainly appropriate—strategically critical even—to criticize and protest unwelcome, aggressive and confrontational military acts, care must be taken not to mischaracterize the lawfulness of the acts under international law, either directly or by implication. To be optimally effective in the Baltic region, NATO forces, to include those of the United States, will rely on the freedoms of navigation and overflight preserved under the law of the sea. The lawful exercise of those freedoms, particularly as it relates to military activities, must be preserved, even when their application is unpopular.

Commander Sean Fahey, United States Coast Guard, is currently assigned as the Associate Director for the Law of Maritime Operations at the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law at the U.S Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of International Law Studies. He can be reached at Sean.Fahey@usnwc.edu

The views and opinions expressed here are presented in a personal and unofficial capacity. They are not to be construed as official policy or reflecting the views of the United States Coast Guard or any other U.S. government agency. 

Footnotes

1. Andrea Shalal, Russian Naval Activity in Europe Exceeds Cold War Levels: U.S. Admiral, Reuters (Apr. 9, 2017, 11:09 AM), http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-russia-military-idUSKBN17B0O8.

2. U.S. Department of Defense, Navy Ship Encounters Aggressive Russian Aircraft in Baltic Sea, Apr. 13, 2016, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/720536/navy-ship-encounters-aggressive-russian-aircraft-in-baltic-sea/

3. Russia Deploys Nuclear-Capable missiles in Kaliningrad, BBC News (Oct. 9, 2016), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37597075.

4. Damien Sharkov, Russia Begins Submarine Cruise Missile Drills in Baltic Sea, Newsweek (Apr. 10, 2017, 10:30 AM), http://www.newsweek.com/russian-baltic-sea-fleet-practices-submarine-cruise-missile-fire-581524

5. Thomas Gibbons-Neff, U.S. Shifting Forces to Monitor Large Russian Military Exercises, Officials Say, Washington Post (May 10, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/05/10/u-s-shifting-forces-to-monitor-large-russian-military-exercises-officials-say/?utm_term=.580e19108096.

6. Caroline Mortimer, Russian Warships Spotted Just Outside Latvia’s Territorial Waters in Latest Show of Strength, Independent (May 9, 2017), http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-baltic-agression-navy-latvia-warships-victory-day-a7725261.html;Damien Sharkov, Latvia Spots Three Russian Warships off Sea Border, Newsweek (May 8, 2017, 12:18 PM), http://www.newsweek.com/latvia-spots-three-russian-ships-sea-border-596219; Will Stewart, Putin Sends Three Warships to Latvian Waters in the Baltic Sea in Latest challenge to NATO, Daily Mail (May 8, 2017), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4485604/Putin-sends-ships-Latvian-waters-challenge-NATO.html; Doug G. Ware, Russian Warships Spotted in Baltic NATO Waters, Latvia Says, UPI (May 8, 2017, 7:53 PM), http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2017/05/08/Russian-warships-spotted-in-Baltic-NATO-waters-Latvia-says/9341494285894/

7. Damien Sharkov, Latvia Spots Three Russian Warships off Sea Border, Newsweek (May 8, 2017, 12:18 PM).

8. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Dec. 10, 1982, 1833 U.N.T.S. 397, arts. 2-5. (Article 2(1) reads: “The sovereignty of a coastal State extends, beyond its land territory and internal waters…to an adjacent belt of sea, described as the territorial sea.” Article 2(1) reads: “This sovereignty extends to the air space above the territorial sea as well as to its bed and subsoil.”) Every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to twelve nautical miles from its baseline, normally the low-water line along its coast. (arts. 3-5).

9. Id., arts. 17-19, 37, 38 and 45.

10. United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, supra note 8, arts. 58 and 87. Though the United States has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the United States considers those provisions relating to the freedoms of navigation and overflight as memorializing long-standing customary international law. United States Oceans Policy, Statement by the President, March 10, 1983 (“…the United States is prepared to accept and act in accordance with the balance of interests relating to traditional uses of the oceans—such as navigation and overflight. In this respect, the United States will recognize the rights of other states in the waters off their coasts, as reflected in the Convention, so long as the rights and freedoms of the United States and others under international law are recognized by such coastal states.”) https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/143224.pdf.

11. U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps & U.S. Coast Guard, NWP 1-14M/MCWP 5-12/COMDTPUB P5800.7A, The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations ¶ 2.6.3 (2007).

12. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, supra note 8, Articles 58 and 88; See James Kraska, Military Operations, in The Oxford handbook of the Law of the Sea884-85 (Donald R. Rothwell, Alex G. Oude Elferink, Karen N. Scott and Tim Stephens, eds., 2015).

13. Kraska, supra note 12, at 884-85. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter reads: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” http://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/chapter-i/ .

14. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, supra note 8, arts. 17-19.

Featured Image: Russian Navy corvettes (East2West news)

Minding the Interoperability Gap

By Tim McGeehan and Douglas Wahl

A significant science and technology gap currently exists between the military forces of the United States and those of most of the rest of the world. This gap is by design and has long served as a centerpiece of U.S. defense strategy. While it has allowed the U.S. to maintain military primacy for decades, the technical capabilities of many allies and partners now lag far behind, raising concerns about the gap’s impacts on interoperability. This gap can drive critical tactical and operational decisions on where, when, and how forces are employed in a multinational environment, often with political ramifications. While the science and technology gap must be maintained over adversaries for strategic reasons, just as much effort should go into mitigating it to ensure maximization of allied capability in today’s coalition environment.

Creating the Gap

It is interesting to note that America’s allies helped it get to the top and establish the science and technology gap in the first place. Microwave radar, gyroscopic gun sights, and penicillin were key innovations critical to World War II military success and all of the initial work was performed by European scientists.1 One technology transfer episode stands out in particular when in 1940, a group of British scientists came to Washington, D.C., on what would become known as the “Tizard mission.” In a series of meetings during September and October 1940, the British shared examples and schematics of advanced technology, including rockets, explosives, superchargers, the cavity magnetron (the key to airborne radar), self-sealing gas tanks, advanced sonar, and three pages concerning a project known under its code name TUBE ALLOYS, which was the seed for the Manhattan Project.2 The British provided this giant leap forward in technology because they required America’s technical expertise to further refine these inventions, but more importantly, required the American industrial base to put them into practical use and production. This mutually beneficial exchange helped to later turn the tide of the war in the Allies’ favor.

The U.S. also leveraged German advances in science and technology. OPERATION PAPERCLIP was an effort to collect and extract German scientists before the Soviet Union could capture them in the closing days of World War II. These Germans were experts in aerodynamics, rocketry, and chemistry, and had invented or contributed to several of Hitler‟s “Wonder Weapons,” including the V-2 rocket (ballistic missile), V-1 flying bomb (cruise missile), and jet fighter.3 Many of these scientists had been classified as war criminals, but instead of facing prosecution were protected and put to work by the U.S. government in many programs, including what would become the intercontinental ballistic missile program and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The father of the U.S. space program himself, Werner von Braun, was one of these scientists.4

Dr. Wernher von Braun stands in front of a Saturn IB launch vehicle at Kennedy Space Flight Center. Dr. von Braun led a team of German rocket scientists, called the Rocket Team, to the United States, first to Fort Bliss/White Sands, later being transferred to the Army Ballistic Missile Agency at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. They were further transferred to the newly established NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama in 1960, and Dr. von Braun became the first Center Director. Under von Braun’s direction, MSFC developed the Mercury-Redstone, which put the first American in space; and later the Saturn rockets, Saturn I, Saturn IB, and Saturn V. The Saturn V launch vehicle put the first human on the surface of the Moon, and a modified Saturn V vehicle placed Skylab, the first United States’ experimental space station, into Earth orbit. Dr. von Braun was MSFC Director from July 1960 to February 1970. (Photo: NASA)

The U.S. military continues to leverage technological contributions from allies and partners, with agreements like the recently established Science and Technology Project Arrangement between the U.S. and the U.K. for energetic materials research and the Statement of Intent between the U.S. and Sweden to conduct cooperative research and development of undersea warfare and air defense technologies.5 Programs like these are the legacy of the Tizard Mission and OPERATION PAPERCLIP that helped propel the U.S. military to forefront of military science and technology, a position that it has sought to maintain ever since.

Offsets: Sustaining the Gap

The atomic bombs that ended World War II in Japan were a clear demonstration of the value and power of scientific superiority. With this lesson in mind, the U.S. engaged in massive national efforts to maintain its scientific edge. In particular, after being shocked by the Soviet launch of Sputnik, the U.S. government passed the National Defense Education Act in 1958.6 At its signing, President Eisenhower said it would “do much to strengthen our American system of education, so that it can meet the broad and increasing demands imposed upon it by considerations of basic national security.”7 Adjusting for inflation to 2017 dollars, the act provided $850 million for student loans for science majors, $2.5 billion for science equipment, and $8.5 billion worth of fellowships for graduate students in science.8 The rationale was that only federal investment in the sciences would allow the nation to achieve the technological superiority over its primary competitor, the Soviet Union.9

This was particularly important because the U.S. could not compete numerically against the conventional forces of the Soviet Union. The Eisenhower administration knew it had to rely on its science and technology advantage, specifically nuclear deterrence, to avoid the costly option of deterring the Soviet Union via a massive increase in conventional capabilities. This was the first “offset strategy” and maintaining the technological lead was absolutely imperative for it to work.
By the 1970s the Soviet Union had closed the gap in nuclear weapons. In 1973, the forerunner of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched the Long-Range Research and Development Planning Program to seek out a second offset strategy.10 It pursued “conventional weapons with near-zero miss” which resulted in networks, stealth, and high tech precision munitions. Again, the science and technology gap drove the offset. This focus served the U.S. well through the next 30 years, but adversaries are now acquiring increasingly complex technology in pursuit of anti-access and area-denial strategies; the gap is rapidly closing again.

In response, the Department of Defense is currently developing a third offset strategy and innovation is the vehicle to get there.11 The Defense Innovation Initiative, overseen by the Advanced Capabilities Deterrence Panel, is chartered to maintain U.S. military supremacy against any challenger. In November 2014, Secretary Hagel explained “our technology effort will establish a new Long-Range Research and Development Planning Program that will help identify, develop, and field breakthroughs in the most cutting-edge technologies and systems – especially from the fields of robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, big data, and advanced manufacturing, including three-dimensional printing.”12 He went on to say “we will not send our troops into a fair fight. A world where our military lacks a decisive edge would be less stable, less secure for both the United States and our allies, and the consequences could ultimately be catastrophic.”13 Note that he said “our military” (U.S.) not “our militaries” (including allies) need the decisive edge.

Impacts of the Gap

Examples throughout history have shown the value of allies and partners, both in peace and in war. Allies and partners bring authority, access, signal international resolve, and enhance the legitimacy of any endeavor. However, the opportunity to reap these benefits is increasingly put in jeopardy as advances in U.S. systems hamper interoperability.

For instance, while the U.S. Navy must maintain its technological lead amongst naval competitors, it cannot afford to operate alone. The Global Network of Navies concept illustrates how valuable allies and partners can be moving forward.14 While not every navy can afford the latest high tech systems, they often bring niche capabilities, experience, and expertise such as icebreaking, counter piracy, littoral operations, etc. One particular example is the Standing North Atlantic Treaty Organization‟s (NATO) Mine Countermeasures Group TWO (SNMCMG2). SNMCMG2 comprises mine hunters, minesweepers, support ships, and explosive ordnance disposal personnel from Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the U.S. No one nation can field this level of capability (or capacity) alone. However, this interoperability is more common at the lower-intensity end of the naval warfare spectrum. Fielding systems with the speed and complexity required to win the high intensity engagements of modern war at sea (and any domain for that matter) is costly and creates major challenges to interoperability.

PHILIPPINE SEA (April 26, 2017) – USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), foreground, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Ashigara (DDG 178), left, and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Samidare (DD 106), back, transit the Philippine Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano)

Interoperability between forces takes many forms. Compatible tactics, techniques, and procedures are required for forces to work together and achieving proficiency is largely a function of training. However, there are technology and equipment components of interoperability that are much harder to address. The U.S. military boasts a sustained long-term and large-scale investment program in science and technology, unmatched by any nation. The result is that the U.S. has fielded extremely capable but highly complex and expensive systems that are often far more sophisticated than those of its allies. Many of these systems are not capable of easily interfacing with allied systems (if they can interface at all), placing limitations on the missions that can be shared. Using an Air Force example, the fifth-generation American F-22 Raptor cannot send encrypted messages to fourth-generation fighters such as the British Typhoon or French Rafale. To remain stealthy, it was designed to communicate via encrypted messages with other F-22s and U.S. systems, but has to use traditional voice communications with these allies that nullify its stealth advantage by having to talk ‘in the clear.’15 Procuring the latest and greatest hardware from America‟s defense industry may cause the U.S. military to price itself out of fighting in and with coalitions.

The gap between U.S. and European capabilities had become so glaring that at a 2006 NATO conference a Canadian delegate remarked “NATO’s transatlantic capability gap has been at the heart of a debate over the viability and relevance of the Alliance in the new security environment.”16 To question the Alliance is shortsighted, but the concerns are valid.

Communication and interoperability of data enable the construction, maintenance, and sharing of a common operational picture (COP). This is critical for the commander’s situational awareness and allows them to mass forces and effects as required. However, some high-end systems can only communicate with similar systems or have proprietary data formats unreadable by others. In these cases, sharing the COP with incompatible units can be difficult, time consuming, and prone to errors. A lack of shared awareness adds to the fog and friction of operations, induces vulnerabilities, and in worse cases, leads to fratricide.

Incompatible units operating in close proximity can even be a detriment to mutual safety and efficiency of operations. For example, electromagnetic (EM) spectrum management is far more demanding in multinational operations than in joint operations.17 For the Navy, while operating in a tight Carrier Strike Group (CSG) formation (e.g. during a strait transit), unless explicitly deconflicted, an allied ships radar or communication system might cause EM interference on a U.S. system (or vice versa) with impacts ranging from blinding a radar to deafening a communications system. Likewise, in today’s cyber world not all defenses are created equal, and one nation’s military with lesser capabilities may inadvertently open the door to an adversary intrusion that threatens others, weakening trust.

There are also logistical concerns associated when operating with less capable forces. Highly sophisticated systems often cannot share replacement parts or components and may have unique fuel or power requirements. Additionally, a weapon system may rely on ordnance not found anywhere else in the multinational force. The aggregate effect of these issues necessitates that the U.S. maintains a unique logistical system for the sustainment of its units in the field, the burden of which usually cannot be shared by our allies. There are exceptions, like the recent Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreements process whereby a U.S. Navy and Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force destroyer exchanged maintenance parts.18 However, the fact that this transfer (in March 2017) was the first one ever completed illustrates how rare it is.

Another possible impact of operating with less technologically advanced allies or partners is that they may have slower decision cycles, be less lethal, or be less survivable, thus presenting softer targets to capable adversaries. The U.S. may need to provide enhanced force protection or over-watch assets to assist them, lest they be targeted by the adversary at a disproportionate rate. Such a situation could threaten the integrity of the coalition both politically and operationally. If the U.S. assigned additional resources to mitigate this situation, it would do so at the expense of finite resources available to accomplish the mission elsewhere.19 This situation could lead to U.S. attempting to micromanage coalition partners, which would further stress the coalition.20

U.S. joint doctrine states that the composition of multinational task forces “may include elements from a single nation or multiple nations depending on the situation and the interoperability factors of the nations involved.”21 In Desert Storm the coalition utilized a parallel command structure with some forces falling under a U.S. chain of command while the Arab contingent fought under a Saudi chain of command. While this arrangement was primarily adopted for political considerations to avoid the optic of a U.S. dominated effort, it was also due in part to military interoperability concerns.22

Coalition command relationships for Operation Desert Storm. (Public Domain)

This all begs an important question: if the science and technology gap leads to so many interoperability challenges, why isn’t there more effort to close it? The reality is that there is little incentive to close it.

Lack of Incentive to Close the Gap

A discussion of the incentives to close the science and technology gap between the U.S. and its allies and partners inevitably leads to the bigger question of how to best share the global defense burden. Even though the U.S. has exquisite capabilities doesn’t mean that it can afford to do all of the high-end warfighting alone. However, many other nations do not have the funding, technology, or industrial base to assume more of the burden. More importantly, many of them do not have the political will to do so. Secretary of Defense Carter and more recently Secretary of Defense Mattis both called Europe out for “not doing enough” to ensure their own security in that they have become reliant on the U.S. military to bear a large part of the collective burden.23 In 2002, NATO nations agreed to pay two percent of their gross domestic product on defense, but many nations have not made good on their commitment.24 What incentive do they have to make the substantial investment to develop their own science, technology, and industry to close the technology gap when the U.S. can be counted on to do it for them?

That said, in some ways, the U.S. may not have as much incentive to assist its allies in closing the gap as one would think. Despite the previously mentioned tactical challenges, the uncomfortable truth is that at the strategic level the U.S. has contributed to and in some ways benefited from this arrangement. As long as other countries lag behind U.S. military in science and technology, they will continue to rely on U.S. for the associated forces and hardware. This provides the U.S. influence and leadership capital. For example, the European Phased Adaptive Approach provides European ballistic missile defense (BMD). However, the U.S. has not provided Europe their BMD technology, but has instead secured permission to station four BMD-capable Aegis destroyers in Rota, Spain. The U.S. has also established an Aegis Ashore capability at the U.S. Naval Support Facility in the countryside of Devesulu, Romania.25 The U.S. readily accepts this role as senior partner for smaller countries and in doing so secures basing rights and strategic footholds, builds coalitions, and offsets attempts at hegemony by regional powers like Russia.

Often when the U.S. sells advanced, sophisticated equipment to other nations the agreement comes with U.S. training, support, and logistics which are other avenues for influence. This carries the threat of suspending the deal or making sustainment contingent on some other national behavior. This dynamic recently played out in 2014 when France refused to deliver two new Mistral-class amphibious assault ships to Russia based on its activity in the Ukraine.26 Likewise, the U.S suspended military sales and the delivery of 20 F-16 C/D fighters to Egypt in 2013 due to political unrest27 and the overthrow of their democratically elected president,28 and then again the U.S. suspended military assistance to Thailand following their 2014 military coup.29

The fluidity of today’s strategic environment also dictates that today’s ally could be tomorrow’s adversary. Iran still has F-14 Tomcats, F-4 Phantoms, and P-3 Orions in its inventory from the time when a previous regime enjoyed close relations with the U.S. Sharing sophisticated technology with an ally could be disastrous if they become overrun, captured, or surrender their equipment to an enemy. Luckily the Iraqi army had no game-changing technology to abandon to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but the recent episode is a cautionary tale.

Another reason the U.S. won’t assist its allies in closing the gap is that it wants to prevent proliferation of strategic technologies. Through strategic nuclear deterrence the U.S. extends a guarantee to allies thereby discouraging them from pursuing their own nuclear capabilities and with fewer such weapons in play reducing the likelihood of their use. A notable exception is the joint strategic program with the United Kingdom which is currently developing the Common Missile Compartment for new ballistic missile submarine classes.30

Handover/takeover ceremony for NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania. Fly-by of a mixed formation of Polish MiG-29, British Typhoon, Portuguese F-16 and Canadian CF-188. (Photo: NATO)

Finally, it is interesting to note that allies could likely narrow the gap by more frequently combining their efforts and resources to avoid duplication. While they do cooperate (on the F-35 for example), coordinating the defense enterprises of multiple nations is a monumental task and there remains significant fragmentation. For example, the European members of NATO use 27 different types of howitzer and 20 different fighter aircraft. They collectively spend more than four times as much on defense as Russia but much of it is duplicative.31 While nations are expected to first and foremost provide for their own defense and maintain a stand-alone range of capabilities tailored to their specific national requirements and circumstances, consolidating efforts could lead to economies of scale and drive down costs to develop and field more advanced technologies.

Mitigating the Gap

As there is lack of concerted effort to close the gap there must be a focused campaign to mitigate it. Formal alliances and regular exercises provide a venue to work out interoperability concerns before the crisis comes. There are also opportunities for cooperation in development of technological standards and shared doctrine. Even though coalitions are by their nature more temporary ad-hoc arrangements, some mitigation can be achieved through the use of liaison officers and loaned equipment.

There is also a human and cognitive element to interoperability. Programs like International Military Education and Training (IMET) allow foreign militaries to send their officers to a variety of courses, to include American service academies and war colleges. Beyond the content of the education, they build relationships and learn the mindset and approach of their U.S. military counterparts (and vice versa). Building on this to increase allied participation in wargaming and experimentation could further enhance commonality in how to address future challenges and boost interoperability.

Even if the science and technology gap prevents some multinational forces from full integration with their U.S. counterparts (e.g. into a Navy CSG), the gap can be mitigated by shifting consideration from just the operational factor of force to the interrelated factors of space – where to employ them and time – when to employ them.

The technical capability of a platform is often the largest determinant in where (in geographic space) it is employed. For example, an ally with a BMD capability may be assigned an operating area that will put them in the best position to make an intercept. A ship with traditional surface capabilities might be best to act as an escort or cover a transit corridor to deter piracy, just as a capable antisubmarine platform could be assigned along a submarine threat axis. As such, multinational force laydown is largely a function of technical capability. Political concerns and national rules of engagement also play a large role in this calculus.

JEJU JOINT CIVIL-MILITARY COMPLEX, Republic of Korea (Mar. 25, 2017) – Cmdr. Douglas Pegher, left, commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63), shakes hands with Rear Adm. Kim, Jeongsu, commander of Maritime Task Flotilla 7, following a meeting between the two regarding the historic arrival of the ship. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan Harper/Released)

Another consideration is when to employ less technologically advanced forces. Platforms with more rudimentary capabilities can make large contributions, particularly during Phase 0 shaping operations or security cooperation, where much of the effort relies on presence and partnership development. Likewise, they can play significant roles in the later phases of stabilization and enabling of civil authority. However, depending on the threat, less capable forces may be positioned elsewhere during the high intensity phase of an operation. This could be politically problematic, contributing to perceptions of “ally X has no skin in the fight” or “the U.S. doesn’t trust us or consider us to really be a member of the team.” Every effort should be made to give credit where it is due and highlight the importance of the diverse contributions made by multinational forces in supporting the overall effort.

Interoperability in a particular task is often constrained by the least technologically proficient participant.32 However, some data can be reformatted to comply with other standards and forwarded to feed less capable systems, such as when forwarding between tactical data links (Link 16 and Link 22 to Link 11).33 Likewise, some attributes can be stripped from data to make information releasable to partners by using systems like Radiant Mercury.34 Technology like this will be increasingly critical going forward.

Conclusion

America’s technological lead is perishable and due to the global connectivity afforded by the internet, advances are proliferating at an incredible rate. Unmanned aerial vehicles like quadcopters were science fiction a few years ago, but can now be purchased commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) at Walmart and flown with a smart phone. Satellite-based imagery, encryption software, secure communication gear, and navigation systems are widely available to anyone, including adversaries. The science and technology gap remains a strategic imperative that the U.S. must focus efforts to maintain. However, in the face of increasingly capable and assertive adversaries, the U.S. must use every available avenue to mitigate the gap to ensure interoperability with allies and partners.

Tim McGeehan is a member of the Navy’s Information Warfare Community.  He has previously served in S&T positions and as an exchange officer to the UK Royal Navy.  

Douglas T. Wahl is the METOC Pillar Lead and a Systems Engineer at Science Applications International Corporation.

The ideas presented here are those of the authors alone and do not reflect the views of the Department of the Navy or Department of Defense.

References

1. National Air and Space Museum, The Tizard Mission – 75 Years of Anglo-American Technical Alliance, November 17, 2015, http://blog.nasm.si.edu/aviation/the-tizard-mission/
12

2. Ernest Volkman, Science Goes to War, p. 158

3. National Air and Space Museum, “Buzz Bomb”: 70th Anniversary of the V-1 Campaign, June 13, 2014, http://blog.nasm.si.edu/history/buzz-bomb-70th-anniversary-of-the-v-1-campaign/; Annie Jacobsen, Remembering ‘Operation Paperclip,’ when national security trumped ethical concern, PBS Newshour, March 31, 2014, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/operation-paperclip-national-security-trumped-ethical-concern/

4. Marshall Space Flight Center History Office, Bio: Dr. Wernher von Braun, 2015, http://history.msfc.nasa.gov/vonbraun/bio.html

5. Nikki Ficken, US, UK arrangement allows joint research, AMRDEC Public Affairs, February 23, 2017, https://www.army.mil/article/183095/us_uk_arrangement_allows_joint_research; Megan Eckstein, U.S., Sweden Sign Agreement To Collaborate On Anti-Sub, Anti-Air R&D, Exercises, USNI News, June 8, 2016, https://news.usni.org/2016/06/08/sweden_us_agreement

6. https://www.ida.org/~/media/Corporate/Files/Publications/STPIPubs/ida-d-3306.ashx

7. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=11211

8. Ernest Volkman, Science Goes to War, p. 208; http://www.dollartimes.com/inflation/inflation.php?amount=1&year=1958

9. Ernest Volkman, Science Goes to War, p. 208

10. Bob Work, The Third U.S. Offset Strategy and its Implications for Partners and Allies, January 28, 2015, http://www.defense.gov/News/Speeches/Speech-View/Article/606641/the-third-us-offset-strategy-and-its-implications-for-partners-and-allies

11. Hagel, Chuck, “Defense Innovation Days: Keynote Speech” September 3, 2014, http://www.defense.gov/Speeches/Speech.aspx?SpeechID=1877

12. Hagel, Chuck, “Defense Innovation Days: Keynote Speech” September 3, 2014, http://www.defense.gov/Speeches/Speech.aspx?SpeechID=1877

13. Hagel, Chuck, “Defense Innovation Days: Keynote Speech” September 3, 2014, http://www.defense.gov/Speeches/Speech.aspx?SpeechID=1877.

14. Jonathan Greenert and James Foggo, Forging a Global Network of Navies, USNI Proceedings, May 2014, http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2014-05/forging-global-network-navies

15. Dan Lamothe, What happens when the most advanced fighter jets in the U.S., France, and Britain prepare for war, The Washington Post, December 17, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2015/12/17/what-happens-when-the-most-advanced-fighter-jets-in-the-u-s-france-and-britain-prepare-for-war/

16. Pierre Nolin, Interoperability: The Need for Transatlantic Harmonization, NATO Parliamentary Assembly Annual Meeting, 2006, http://www.nato-pa.int/default.asp?SHORTCUT=1004

17. Joint Publication 3-16: Multinational Operations, July 16, 2013, http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/new_pubs/jp3_16.pdf

18. Megan Eckstein, U.S., Japanese Destroyers Conduct First-Of-Kind Parts Swaps During Interoperability Exercise, USNI News, March 17, 2017, https://news.usni.org/2017/03/17/u-s-japanese-destroyers-conduct-first-ever-parts-swaps

19. Michele Zanini and Jennifer Taw, The Army and Multinational Force Compatibility, Rand Report 2000, http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf&AD=ADA383687, p. 22

20. Michele Zanini and Jennifer Taw, The Army and Multinational Force Compatibility, Rand Report 2000, http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf&AD=ADA383687, p. 22

21. Joint Publication 3-16: Multinational Operations, July 16, 2013, http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/new_pubs/jp3_16.pdf , p. xv

22. Michele Zanini and Jennifer Taw, The Army and Multinational Force Compatibility, Rand Report 2000, http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf&AD=ADA383687, p. 52

23. Robert Burns, Pentagon Chief Carter: Europe ‘Not Doing Enough’ On Defense, Associated Press, April 22, 2015, http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_CARTER_EUROPEAN_DEFENSE

24. Stephen Fidler, NATO Leaders Vow to Lift Military Spending, The Wall Street Journal, September 4, 2014, http://www.wsj.com/articles/nato-leaders-to-vow-to-lift-military-spending-1409832341
13

25. Luke Meineke, Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System Team Arrives at NSF Deveselu, June 6, 2015, http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=87534

26. BBC News, Russia Mistral: France halts delivery indefinitely, November 25, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30190069

27. Mark Landler and Thom Shanker, U.S., in Sign of Displeasure, Halts F-16 Delivery to Egypt, July 24, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/25/world/middleeast/us-halts-delivery-of-f-16-fighters-to-egypt-in-sign-of-disapproval.html?_r=0

28. Ernesto Londono, U.S. halts delivery of F-16s to Egypt, Washington Post, July 24, 2013, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-halts-delivery-of-f-16s-to-egypt/2013/07/24/f227ac7a-f495-11e2-aa2e-4088616498b4_story.html

29. Rachel Stohl, Shannon Dick, and Axelle Klincke, US Military Assistance To Thailand, May 28, 2014, http://www.stimson.org/spotlight/us-military-assistance-to-thailand-/

30. Tomkins, Richard, US Navy authorizes building of Common Missile Compartment Tubes, UPI, October 31, 2014, http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2014/10/31/US-Navy-authorizes-building-of-Common-Missile-Compartment-tubes/8481414785104/

31. The Gryfs of Europe: Europe is starting to get serious about defence, The Economist, 23 February 2017, http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21717391-under-pressure-donald-trump-herbivores-are-thinking-about-eating-meat-europe-starting

32. Joint Publication 3-16: Multinational Operations, July 16, 2013, http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/new_pubs/jp3_16.pdf , p. III-21

33. Northrup Grumman, Understanding Voice and Data Link Networking, December 2014, http://www.northropgrumman.com/Capabilities/DataLinkProcessingAndManagement/Documents/Understanding_Voice+Data_Link_Networking.pdf

34. Barry Rosenberg, Addressing security challenges of a common operating environment, Defense Systems, June 11, 2013, https://defensesystems.com/articles/2013/04/26/one-on-one-quinn.aspx

Featured Image: POHANG, Republic of Korea (April 7, 2017) – Staff Sgt. Robin McClain a cyber-technician assigned to the 621st Contingency Response Wing stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., shares knowledge with two Republic of Korea Airmen during exercise Turbo Distribution 17-3 at Pohang Air Base, Republic of Korea, April 7, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Gustavo Gonzalez/Released)

Power to the Polymath: Why Defense Engineers Should Know the Classics

By Mark Vandroff

Introduction

Engineers and scientists are under ever expanding influences to obtain expertise in continually narrowing fields of study. At the University of Michigan, one of the largest and most respected schools of naval architecture in the world, graduate students may specialize in a variety of concentrations including: hydrodynamics; marine and offshore structures; marine system integration; marine robotics; marine design, production, and management; marine renewable energy; and structural and hydro-acoustics. Naval architecture is itself a specialized form of the engineering discipline, so mastery in any one of the concentrations involves a great deal of learning about a relatively few things. 

At one level, this is good. As the sum of human knowledge continues to expand, no one can be a true Polymath; a person knowing a great deal about all the fields of academic study. There is simply too much information to be learned. A scientist or engineer who wishes to make significant contributions to his or her field of study will have to concentrate on some specialty narrow enough to be mastered and relevant enough to produce useful knowledge. However, I would entreat scientists and engineers to take at least a brief side trip through an academic field apart from their own. I would make this plead especially to those in technical fields whose work impacts national defense. Those professionals whose life’s work takes the needs of the warriors who defend our way of live and turns those needs into the products placed back into the warrior’s hands would do well to study classic literature.

What do I mean by “classic literature”? I refer to those texts foundational to Western Civilization. The holy scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. The historical, poetical, mythological, philosophical and scientific writings of Greek and Roman civilization. I do not offer this suggestion for solely aesthetic reasons. While it is a fine thing in the middle of a cocktail party in your neighbor’s house to look around the room and utter Cicero’s quote “a room without books is like a body without a soul,” it will not improve the design of the ship, tank or fighter jet that is the object of your labor. Knowledge of the classics helps practitioners be better program managers, technical directors, and requirements setters. Here are three reasons why.

Human Factors as Design’s Purpose

 A study of classic literature yields insights into human nature. This is important because all engineering is ultimately “human factors” engineering. Human factors engineering as a unique discipline is a relatively recent phenomenon, with professional societies devoted to its study appearing in the middle part of the 20th century. At its core, human factors engineering seeks to optimize the interaction of an engineered system with the people with which the system is designed to interface. Examples range from designing the driver’s seat of a car to be comfortable to designing a website interface to be intuitive to use. In our specialized world, human factors engineering is thought of separately from fields such as aeronautics, electrical engineering, or material science. However, everything an engineer does ultimately aims to have at least some effect on people.

As Aristotle begins the Nicomachean Ethics, “Every art and inquiry, and likewise every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good.” The Greek word translated as “pursuit” is techne, from which we get the English word “technology.” Even 2500 years ago, Aristotle understood that technology did not exist for its own purpose but had to serve some purpose that a person had identified as good. Engineers need to appreciate what constitutes “the good” for the people their systems serve and a study of the classics is the best way to understand what is fundamentally good for people. 

An example I like to cite in the discipline of warship design is the concept of balance. Just as Aristotle observed that virtue is often the midpoint between two vices, a good ship design must reach a balanced point between multiple competing priorities. If a ship is designed to be heavily armored, with very low vulnerability to gun or missile attack, it will by necessity be much harder to remove outdated equipment during its service life. In this example, a balance point must be found between survivability and reconfigurability. The whole point of Nicomachean Ethics is to inquire what is good, primarily for people; however, the concept of “the good” extends into the designed systems which serve people as well. Plato’s Republic, the Bible’s Book of Micah, Cicero’s  De Re Publica, and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations all offer different yet complementary insights on what is good for people. A modern engineer, schooled in works such as these, will bring a basic wisdom concerning human nature and the process for balancing competing demands to the task of designing systems to meet human needs.

Enduring Narratives and Human Traits

A study of classic literature yields insights into the societies in which an engineer operates. Imagine living in a society that is the exception for its times; a society that is both a democracy and a maritime power. Imagine further that this society depended upon freedom of and access to sea lines of communication in order to maintain its security and its economic prosperity. Picture such a society threatened by adversaries that are either dictatorships maintaining large standing armies or malevolent forces originating from Persia with religious beliefs so different from those of the society as to seem fanatic and bizarre. Aristotle’s Athens was just such a society. Any similarities between ancient Athens and modern states such as the U.S., UK, or Japan, should give one pause to contemplate how geography and human nature are eternal. While simple engineers see strategy as something that provides an input to their efforts, wise engineers knows that an understanding of the world and the society in which they life have a profound impact on the ultimate trade space available to them. A society that values human dignity and autonomy will constrain acceptable designs in the areas of safety and survivability in a way that would not be constrained by other societies. A wise engineer, tuned to the values of the society, takes this into account.

Trireme Olympias of the Hellenic Navy (Wikimedia Commons)

When Plutarch wrote Parallel Lives, he sought to show how the human virtues and failings had manifested their consequences for both good and evil in the great leaders of Greece and Rome. Contemporary readers of Parallel Lives have the benefit of another 2000 years of human history with which to view these classical figures, yet, human nature continues to produce the same combination of achievements and failures as it did in the leaders of old. Pitfalls such as pride and anger still plague leaders gifted with extraordinary ability and awareness of our limitations is still a vital precaution several centuries after Plutarch. For engineers, the vice of pride could be especially deadly. The design of any complex system, especially a ship or aircraft, is the result of a great deal of teamwork and will require input from dozens of experts. An engineer that believes that only his or her way is right and is uninterested in listening to dissenting views is an engineer whose project is doomed from the start. Because collaborative design is a human activity, the other human vices; anger, sloth, envy, etc, all constitute real risk to a project’s success. Those involved in engineering the common defense in a representative democracy would be especially well served equipped with the understanding of humanity, especially their own humanity, which classic literature can provide.

The Basic Nature of Problems and Problem Solving

A study of classic literature yields insights into overcoming challenges. At the heart of the engineering discipline is solving problems. A customer needs the ability to do or have something and the engineer provides the capability or product. In the Bible’s Book of Ezekiel, there is a famous passage known as the prophecy of the valley of dry bones. In this story, God commands Ezekiel to raise an army from a valley full of dead, dry bones. However one views this passage theologically, from a practical standpoint Ezekiel shows tremendous engineering discipline. He started to sort and attach “bone to its like bone.” After the bones were attached, there came sinew and after the sinew came flesh. Like any good systems engineer today, Ezekiel started to solve a big problem by breaking it down into its component parts.

The Book of John begins with the statement “In the beginning was the word.” The Greek word in the original writing that is usually translated as “word” is “logos,” from which we get “logic” which can also be translated as “information” or “plan.” One of the clear implications of the Book of John is no great feat can be accomplished without a plan. From the Bible’s telling of Nehemiah building walls around Jerusalem to the Augustan History tales of Hadrian’s Wall across northern England, classical antiquity abounds with difficult problems being solved with ingenuity, prudence, and courage. Here are three examples of how these ancient ancient virtues translate directly to the practice of modern engineering.

First, as the modern management expert Steven Covey would say, “Begin with the End in Mind.” In two of the Biblical examples above, the Divine customer communicated a clear requirement. The course of actions in the stories that followed all flowed from that clear requirement. In all the most successful defense acquisition programs, from nuclear power, to the F-16 Falcon, to AEGIS, there was a wide and well-documented consensus on what was to be achieved. Those trusted to manage the design and procurement of these capabilities had those clear requirements to guide them as they made programmatic and technical decisions. 

Second, success depends on solid system engineering.  Ezekiel did not try to build an army all at once. AEGIS BMD, once of the most complex systems in the DoD inventory, takes a page from Ezekiel. Every part of the chain that results in destroying a missile flying through outer space is a part of the greater whole. From the radar that detects, to the combat direction system that evaluates, to the missile that impacts the target, to the ship that maneuvers the whole system into place, a complex task is accomplished by breaking it down into smaller, achievable tasks.  \As Ezekiel says, “bone to bone.”

Third, personal leadership is as much a part of an engineering accomplishment as technical excellence. The story of Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem contains a fair amount of technical information about how high the walls were built and what material was used. Just as fascinating was Nehemiah’s story of bringing together the different talents and resources of the citizens of Jerusalem in order to get the job done. Today, we remember Admiral Hyman Rickover as a great engineer. That is true, but the management system and the different talent sets he brought together to make Naval Reactors a longstanding historic success is a legacy at least as worthy of study as the technical achievement of naval nuclear power.          

Conclusion

To my fellow engineers and scientists who work in the defense of our nation, I ask you take at least a brief periodic break from your computers and calculators. Pick up a good translation of Plato or Vergil as you read at the end of your day. You may grow to like the wisdom they offer into the human condition. In the end you will be far the better for it. You will have the power of the Polymath. 

Captain Mark Vandroff is a 1989 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. His 28 years of commissioned service include duty as both a Surface Warfare and Engineering Duty Officer. He was formerly the Major Program Manager for the DDG 51 program and is currently the Commanding Officer of Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock. The views expressed in this article are the author’s personal views and do not reflect the official position of the Department of Defense or Department of the Navy.

Featured Image: Odysseus bound to the ship’s mast is attacked by the Sirens. Red-figure pit of Sirens Zografos, 480-470 BC Source: www.lifo.gr

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.

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