Category Archives: CNO’s Design Week

CNO’s Design Week Concludes on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

Last week CIMSEC featured writing submitted in response to our Call for Articles on the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations’ Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority. From new warfighting constructs to interwar period lessons on Navy-Marine Corps integration, these contributors built upon the tenets of the CNO’s design to carve a path forward for the Navy. We thank these authors for their excellent contributions. 

A New Carrier Strike Group Staff for Warfighting and Warfighters” by Capt. Bill Shafley

“The CNO charged senior leaders to simplify their focus. Warfighting, the Warfighter, and the Future Navy are its tenets. At the nexus of these tenets rests the staff of the Carrier Strike Group, where this staff employs the combat power of the premier maneuver arm of the Fleet Commander, the Carrier Strike Group (CSG). To master fleet-level warfare and leverage the power of the integrated fleet as the CNO urges, this staff must be organized, manned, and educated for the complexity of the high-end fight.”

Interwar Navy-Marine Corps Integration: A Roadmap for Today” by Capt. Jamie McGrath (ret.)

“Admittedly, the crucible of a world war played a significant role in forging the Navy-Marine Corps team into a virtually unstoppable amphibious juggernaut that systematically took over Imperial Japan’s Pacific empire. But the foundation for the integrated team began in the interwar period with three interrelated efforts: large-scale Fleet Problem exercises, which included amphibious operations, constant wargaming at the U.S. Naval War College, and all-out effort at the Marine Corps schools to develop and refine amphibious doctrine.”

Integrate with the Marines…And Who Else?” by Walker D. Mills

“The FRAGO harped on integration with the Marine Corps – mentioning it seven times over the course of the short, eight-page document. This is to be lauded, as General David Berger, the new Marine Commandant, has been pushing for integration as hard or more so from the green side. This naval integration is critical to the Navy and Marine Corps moving forward…But there is still a piece missing – where is the Coast Guard?”

Operating at the Edge of Chaos: Enhancing Maritime Superiority Through People” by Christine MacNulty

“We believe that innovation in the human domain is as important as it is in the technological domain – and figuring out the right things to do morally, mentally, and physically is as important as doing them right. All ideas come from or through the human mind. Why not explore what it takes to operate at the edge of chaos—and win?”

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

Featured Image: GULF OF THAILAND (Feb. 29, 2020) Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Enrico Rabina, native of Round Rock, Texas, directs an F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 265 (Reinforced) to take off from the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) in support of Exercise Cobra Gold 2020. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Vance Hand/Released)

Operating at the Edge of Chaos: Enhancing Maritime Superiority Through People

CNO’s Design Week

By Christine MacNulty

Continuous learning environments, opportunities for multi-disciplinary research in warfighting concepts and technology, and expanded Live Virtual Constructive (LVC) training, as envisioned in the CNO’s FRAGO, provide important opportunities to master new skills. But do they do enough to prepare the force for the complexity and chaos likely to characterize the future maritime environment? Do they rely too much on mastering technology—which are likely common to all—and not enough on strengthening the core human abilities of the warfighters who will employ them? Will they do enough to enable warfighters to see through complexity and ambiguity?

Research in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience indicates that human beings are tapping only a small fraction of their potential. Numerous studies over the last 35 years suggest that individuals can be trained to access more of their brains’ capabilities and that such development can lead to enhanced performance of complex tasks—both physical and non-physical—under pressure. The field of neuroscience in particular has expanded our understanding of brainwave activity and how it shapes thoughts, emotions and behaviors, all which can affect warfighting capability.

Dr. Srini Pillay,1 one of the leading researchers in the field, has discovered that when we are engaged in a focused task our level of brain activity is relatively low, but when we activate our brains differently and raise their “cognitive rhythms” by day-dreaming, doodling, mind-wandering and even self-talk, we become more creative and open to associations and possibilities – the kinds of things that mindfulness provides. This understanding is leading to methods to enable individuals to control the levels of brain activity at will—ranging from the deepest meditation to those levels that relate to processing information from different parts of the brain simultaneously.

Intuition and insight are regarded as core components of creativity. Gary Klein,2 a leading cognitive psychology researcher who has worked with several senior Marines, including Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, investigated examples of intuition and insights, including how they happened, how they were accepted, and how they were used. He identified ways in which organizations can encourage and facilitate insight. He distinguished between “fixed” and “growth” mindsets, where creativity is prevalent in the growth areas. Graham Wallas, a co-founder of the London School of Economics, developed a four-stage approach for understanding how insight occurs—preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. These insights hold tremendous potential for developing warfighters.

Warfighter investments for both officers and enlisted must do more to directly address individual capacity for reading the situation, harnessing complexity as a competitive advantage, and creatively improvising to generate advantages throughout the force. The design for the future Navy should include focused warfighter development that focuses on expanding core human capacities.

Mind-Body Training is already taking place in the Military 

This idea is not new, though the most common applications have targeted ground forces. Richard Strozzi-Heckler3 reports teaching aikido and meditation techniques to Army Green Berets in the mid-1980s, and later developing a martial arts program to provide similar effects for the Marines. Navy SEALs train themselves to expand their sensory perceptions and emotional resilience. Many of them learn martial arts, mindfulness, and meditation. Would it surprise us to learn that some of our Asian adversaries are doing this, too?

A paper published in the journal Progress in Brain Research reports that Army infantry troops who went through a month-long training regimen that included daily practice in mindful breathing and focus techniques were better able to discern key information under chaotic circumstances and experienced increases in working memory function. The soldiers also reported making fewer cognitive errors than service members who did not use mindfulness. The recent study found that service members who train for four weeks experience significant improvement, but those who train for only two weeks do not.

Major General Walter Piatt, former commander of coalition forces in Iraq, reportedly attributes his best decisions to mindfulness4—the practice of using breathing techniques, similar to those in meditation, to gain focus and reduce distraction. His approach is based on work of Amishi Jha, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami. The Navy’s own Warrior Toughness Program, originating at Recruit Training Command, is a deliberate approach to making and operationalizing the connection of mind, body, and spirit.

SEALs and other SOF have demonstrated cognitive capabilities for situational awareness beyond those produced by mindfulness for many years.  Much of it seems inherent, although advanced training in martial arts – especially Aikido and Qi Gong – are recommended, and brain training and entrainment, using breathing, humming, music and other sounds with specific beats can have measurable effects on different parts of the brain by stimulating different brainwave activity.

Mindfulness is clearly becoming broadly accepted as a useful form of cognitive training, but it is only the beginning.

Capabilities of the Future Navy Warfighter

If we truly want to maintain maritime superiority then innovating in the human cognitive domain is an area we should be examining in depth, just as more cognitively powerful technologies like automation and decision aids advance. Indeed, it may be that our focus on technology and its use in decision-making could lead us to ignore our own natural abilities and intuitions, and even lose them.

A 2020 project on SOF operators that we undertook for USSOCOM a decade ago – one of several SOF innovation projects sponsored by the combatant commander himself – may indicate some initial areas of focus. Rather than considering types of future conflicts, weapon systems, technologies, or terrain, we focused on physical, emotional, and mental capabilities that would equip SOF operators with the ability to operate effectively under any conditions. Participating SOF operators recognized that warfighting is as much a mental and emotional activity as a physical one, and that incorporating mental and emotional training increased all warfighting capabilities.

Some of the key cognitive capabilities identified as desirable include:

Intuition/Insight: Being aware of all one’s senses, trusting one’s heart and gut, and using mental imagery to one’s advantage. Many SOF have had their lives saved by intuition about ambushes, buried IEDs, and incoming mortars and bombs. Interestingly, many scientists, inventors, and engineers attribute their successes to these same intuitive capabilities.

Ability to Operate at the Edge of Chaos: The term “edge of chaos” is used to denote a transition space between order and disorder that is believed to exist within a wide variety of systems. In our description of related competencies, it is a combination of the ability to make decisions under severe stress, operate in ambiguity, have emotional stability, and exhibit courage and fortitude.

Concentration: Ability to know when to focus, and then allocate attention using all senses.

Awareness: the ability to directly know and perceive, to feel or be cognizant of physical, mental, and emotional signals. This can include physical awareness – sight, sound, feelings. Acute, trained hearing can pick up sounds of engines and engine anomalies at very low decibels or long distances. And some troops with experiences of “knowing” where IEDs have been planted have indicated personal biomarkers such as a feeling of coldness across their shoulders.

Some of these were also inspired by the work of Richard Strozzi-Heckler (In Search of the Warrior Spirit – based on his work with Marines and SOF) and Commander Mark Divine,5 USN, (ret.) – a former SEAL (Unbeatable Mind ) – who has developed a leadership training program of the same name.

While originally conceived in the context of small unit engagements by special operations and ground forces, this list addresses advanced human capabilities that would benefit people operating in the multi-domain maritime environment. Education and training in these capabilities would be very different from that in the traditional RRL curricula, yet could be important to the force’s ability to deliver on many of the objectives described in the CNO’s FRAGO. Building on the Warrior Toughness Program and expanding its reach across the force is a place to start and reinforce the skills being developed among new accessions. Scaling up the methods that have been developed so far for delivering training and measuring effects will require continued research and innovation.

Combining the Best of People and Technology

As the world becomes more complex and chaotic, the faster Sailors can take in and make sense of information of all kinds that is bombarding them, the better. Fast reaction times and greater mental resilience equate to increased ability to manage risk and strike at the enemy.  

We believe that innovation in the human domain is as important as it is in the technological domain – and figuring out the right things to do morally, mentally, and physically is as important as doing them right. All ideas come from or through the human mind. Why not explore what it takes to operate at the edge of chaos—and win?

Christine MacNulty is the CEO of Applied Futures, Inc. and is a strategist, futurist and writer on the human dimensions of innovation, strategy and warfighting. She is the co-author of Strategy with Passion: A Leader’s Guide to Exploiting the Future, and many papers and monographs. She is grateful to VADM Patricia Tracey (ret). for her comments and suggestions. Any remaining errors were produced without help.


1. Dr. Srini Pillay, Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try, Ballantine Books, NY, 2017.

2. Dr. Gary Klein, The Power of Intuition, Doubleday, NY 2003, and Dr. Gary Klein, Seeing What Others Don’t,  Public Affairs, 2013.

3. Richard Strozzi-Heckler,  In Search of the Warrior Spirit, 1990 – latest edition, Blue Snake Books, 2007.


5. Mark Divine, The Way of the SEAL, Readers Digest Book, 2015, and  Mark Divine, Unbeatable Mind: Forge Resiliency and Mental Toughness to Succeed at an Elite Level.

Featured Image: South China Sea (August 22, 2019) – Junior Officer of the Deck Ensign Jasmine Walker, from Lexington, South Carolina, establishes bridge-to-bridge communications with another marine vessel while standing watch on the bridge aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Markus Castaneda)

Integrate with the Marines…And Who Else?

CNO’s Design Week

By Walker D. Mills

“The proposition that the sea service of the United States should behave as complimentary parts of a national fleet is true to their several natures and functions. It need not provoke controversy.”Colin  S. Gray, 2001

In December 2019, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael M. Gilday, the released his FRAGO A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority. The FRAGO harped on integration with the Marine Corps – mentioning it seven times over the course of the short, eight-page document. This is to be lauded, as General David Berger, the new Marine Commandant, has been pushing for integration as hard or more so from the green side. This naval integration is critical to the Navy and Marine Corps moving forward.

But there is still a piece missing – where is the Coast Guard? The Coast Guard has been increasingly asked to share the burden of maritime policing, presence, and security cooperation in the Pacific, and they have long supported those missions in other waters. The USCG has even contributed to U.S. FONOPS in the Strait of Taiwan. Despite this, the Coast Guard was not mentioned a single time in the document. As long as the Coast Guard continues to support Navy missions in the Pacific and elsewhere (and it should), the CNO should make it clear that the USCG is an integrated part of the nation’s maritime force structure. Not doing so only marginalizes one of America’s best tools for maritime grey zone competition and contributes to an overly narrow focus on conventional naval combat.

The most significant line of effort in the FRAGO is lethality. CNO Gilday makes it absolutely clear that lethality is the most important measure of the Navy, which is hardly disagreeable. But a single minded focus on “lethality” and “warfighting” ignores much of the reality in the Pacific. As the U.S. Navy prepares for the possibility of a conventional battle for sea control, every day a mix of commercial vessels, paramilitaries, and maritime law enforcement vessels tangle in constant competition. Admiral Gilday himself writes “We must also succeed in sustained, day-to-day competition, winning future fights before they become kinetic.” But this appears to be only an afterthought, a caveat to his focus on lethality.

The Chinese Coast Guard possesses the world’s largest law enforcement fleet, and by some counts their law enforcement fleet would be the second largest fleet in the world – after the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). The U.S. Navy is meeting the simultaneous challenge of being prepared for potential conflict with the PLAN and countering day-to-day aggression by Chinese law enforcement vessels below the level of armed conflict. But it doesn’t have to go it alone – the Coast Guard can support these missions too. And perhaps better still – the U.S. Coast Guard can help U.S. allies and partners in the region strengthen and fortify their own coast guards more effectively than the Navy can alone. The Coast Guard is also integral to operations in the Arctic and the Middle East. They operate the only icebreakers owned by the federal government and maintain a permanent presence in Alaska. Cooperation and integration between the Navy and Coast Guard is essential for supporting an increased naval presence in the Arctic and protecting “increasingly vital” economic corridors like the Bering Strait. In the Middle East, the U.S. Coast Guard has maintained their largest detachment outside the United States since 2002 with 5th Fleet in Bahrain.

Some observers have raised objections to including the Coast Guard in the U.S. response to Chinese belligerence and encroachment in the South China Sea – it has repeatedly been a focus of commentary without generating a consensus. Generally, these objections are based on the small size and meager funding that the Coast Guard has and how the Coast Guard would be unprepared if a shooting conflict broke out in the region. Both of these are reasons why the CNO needs to plan for and mention the inclusion of the Coast Guard in his guidance to the force and make them a part of the larger conversation. Ignoring the Coast Guard, minimizing their potential contribution, or leaving them out of the discussion entirely would only serve to exacerbate these two issues. The Coast Guard is already supporting operations in the Southern and Western Pacific and it would be unwise to ignore this reality.

Recognizing the unique value that the Coast Guard can provide in support of national security missions is also valuable to the Navy. If the Navy believes itself to be undermanned and underfunded as its leaders have recently argued – increased integration with the Coast Guard can be a way to offload some missions and relieve a small piece of that burden. Arguments have been made for standing up a dedicated Coast Guard force for patrolling in the Pacific, which could serve as another means to reprioritize the Pacific over the Middle East where the United States has maintained a permanent USCG presence for almost two decades.

In keeping with the intent of the CNO’s FRAGO, one way the Navy can increase its focus on high-end lethality is to argue for an enhanced and interoperable Coast Guard that can absorb some of the lower-end missions. The 2015 joint Navy-Coast Guard National Fleet Plan, signed by the CNO and the Coast Guard Commandant, affirmed that “Navy and Coast Guard forces maintain a symbiotic relationship that benefits the nation as a whole. This relationship is most noticeable during ongoing operations, but it starts with conceptualization, continues through the planning cycle, and culminates during mission execution.” But unfortunately this sentiment is not captured in the FRAGO.


The CNO dedicated part of his FRAGO to guidance on building “alliances and partnerships” internationally – but it is just as if not more important to build partnerships and interoperability between sister services and other U.S. agencies. The CNO’s FRAGO is a far cry from the level of Coast Guard inclusion that permeated the 2015 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. While CNO Gilday obviously does not have the statutory authorities to direct his FRAGO at the Coast Guard – he can make it clear to his sailors that he views the Coast Guard as playing a critical role in the Navy-Marine Corps-Coast Guard team. That would be moving toward a truly integrated national maritime architecture and force structure. This direction will be critical for preserving U.S. primacy at sea and enforcing rule of law in the global commons.

Walker D. Mills is a Marine infantry officer currently serving as an exchange officer in Cartagena, Colombia. He has previously authored commentary for CIMSEC, the Marine Corps Gazette, Proceedings, West Point’s Modern War Institute and Defense News.

Featured Image: The US Navy (USN) Virginia Class New Attack Submarine Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) TEXAS (SSN 775) sails past the US Coast Guard Cutter USCGC SEA HORSE (WPB 87361) as it returns to Northrop Grumman Newport News shipyard in Virginia (VA) after successfully completing Alpha sea trials. (PHAA Patrick Gearhiser, USN)

Interwar Navy-Marine Corps Integration: A Roadmap for Today

CNO’s Design Week

By Capt. Jamie McGrath (ret.)


In his FRAGO 01/2019: A Design For Maintaining Maritime Superiority, Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michael Gilday calls out three focus areas: Warfighting, Warfighters, and the Future Fleet. The CNO declares that “Together with the United States Marine Corps, our Navy is the bedrock of Integrated American Naval Power.” This level of USN/USMC Integration was last seen at the end of WWII. The path to that level of integration blazed in the interwar period provides a blueprint for integrating today’s Navy and Marine warfighting and warfighters.

Admittedly, the crucible of a world war played a significant role in forging the Navy-Marine Corps team into a virtually unstoppable amphibious juggernaut that systematically took over Imperial Japan’s Pacific empire. But the foundation for the integrated team began in the interwar period with three interrelated efforts: large-scale Fleet Problem exercises, which included amphibious operations, constant wargaming at the U.S. Naval War College, and all-out effort at the Marine Corps schools to develop and refine amphibious doctrine. Although not initially coordinated, by the mid-1930s, these efforts all focused on the plan to defeat Japan, commonly referred to as War Plan Orange.

Preparing for War

The Fleet Problems, the interwar equivalent of today’s Large Scale Exercises (LSE), allowed fleet and ship commanders to experiment and practice with their weapons platforms at both unit and fleet-level formations. This allowed the development of doctrine and the full exploration of the new capabilities as they joined the fleet. Fleet Problems even exercised future capabilities with the interwar years’ version of Live, Virtual, and Constructive training – the simulation of capabilities with surrogate and constructive forces. Following the Fleet Problems, robust conversations and formalized after action debriefs, which included dozens of senior commanders and junior officers of the fleet, critiqued the performance. The Fleet Problems identified some enduring lessons that can guide development of warfighting today: innovation requires time to mature; exercises and wargames should not be confused with reality; surrogates should not be mistaken for actual capability; annual large scale exercise foster openness, flexibility, and frankness; familiarity with tactics and operational concepts leads to internalization of these ideas; and the role of the Fleet Problem is to explore ideas, not necessarily technology; and candid critiques must be done immediately afterward.1

The cost of the Fleet Problems, both in dollars and wear and tear on the fleet, meant they occurred only annually. Unconstrained by these costs, the Naval War College took the lessons from the Fleet Problems and incorporated them into a vast series of wargames. These wargames were also unconstrained by predetermined conclusions. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the officers who would eventually lead the American armada in its defeat of Japan spent time at the Naval War College participating in and learning from these wargames.2 And the results of the wargames were fed back to the fleet, helping to inform the next Fleet Problem. It was these incessant wargames the prompted Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz to remark after the war, that “the war with Japan had been enacted in the game rooms at the War College by so many people and in so many different ways that nothing that happened during the war was a surprise—absolutely nothing except the kamikaze tactics toward the end of the war. We had not visualized these.”3

The Marine Corps of the 1930s realized that if it were to remain viable as a service, it needed a mission beyond is role as a constabulary force. Recognizing the need for island bases for the success of the Navy’s plan to defeat Japan, the Marines developed doctrine first to seize and then to defend island bases to allow the fleet to march across the Pacific. Initiated by Major Pete Ellis’ survey of the islands of the South Pacific, the Marines developed the Tentative Manual for Landing Operations (1934) and the Tentative Manual for Defense of Advanced Bases (1936) with the help of dedicated effort by the faculty and staff of Marine Corps Schools. Brigadier General James Breckinridge, Commandant of Marine Corps Schools, “temporarily discontinued Field Officers School classes so that the staff and students could devote their full attention to developing the new doctrine.”

The three efforts discussed above were self-synchronizing, which is to say not synchronized, with no single authority directing their efforts. This led to inefficiency and a lack of common direction. Despite the excellent work occurring in Naval War College wargaming, the college struggled to stay open during the austere, Great Depression-era budgets of the late 1920s and early 1930s. The conclusions reached by fleet commanders and War College staff and students did not always agree, and senior navy commanders in charge of the fleet often did not want to yield to the academics. And despite the apparent utility of seizing island bases to the drive across the Pacific, the U.S. Navy initially invested little in amphibious capability, even when naval construction began anew in 1933.

There were still successes in integrating efforts. Fleet Problem III in 1924 provided the first opportunity to incorporate the Marines into fleet operations and demonstrated that “amphibious operations might have a role to plan in the navy’s sea-control mission.”4 In the mid-1930s, the Fleet Problems began to include a Fleet Landing Exercise (FLEX) component, but often the Marine’s desire to contribute to the sea control mission by seizing islands was superseded by the Navy’s focus on the decisive fleet engagement.5 The opportunity for integration was there, but without a common top-down coordinator, the two branches continued to focus on their independent priorities.

Integrating Today for Tomorrow’s Fight

Today’s Navy-Marine Corps team can learn from these efforts, modeling the commitment to Fleet Problems, Naval War College wargaming, and the single-minded development of amphibious doctrine, but today’s team needs to take it further. The first improvement is to ensure these efforts are integrated. The CNOs FRAGO and the Commandant’s Planning Guidance are a step in the right direction but cannot be the end of integration. An integrated Navy-Marine Corps steering group should be developed to synchronize integration efforts, identifying significant integration development activities, and ensuring alignment among them. A modern version of the Navy General Board as suggested in Joel Howlitt’s 2017 CNO History Award-winning essay could serve this role admirably. The steering group does not need to create additional events but instead would ensure existing events are linked together and align Navy-Marine Corps integration efforts and doctrine where appropriate.

Next, make these three powerful integration mechanisms a priority. Don’t allow LSE 2020 to be a one-off event. Like the Fleet Problems of the interwar years, make the LSEs annual, and make them a defined operational priority for the fleet’s ready naval power, getting as many ships, aviation units, and Marine formations to sea and into the exercise as possible. And for ships unable to sail or other units unable to join, connect them to the exercise via the Navy Continuous Training Environment (NCTE) and after action review mechanisms.

Once complete, consider how the lesson from the exercises will be used. Will they be squirreled away in a lesson learned database, or will they be turned over to these new, powerful brain trusts of the Naval War College and Marine Corps University? Like the interwar period, the Large Scale Exercise and Fleet Exercises should inform, and be informed, by the studies at the two institutions. Give the classified results, all of them, to the war colleges, and let the student and staff pick them apart.

To ensure quality analysis and feedback, the service must send the best officers from all warfighting and combat support communities to the Naval War College and Marine Corps University – not just the officers who happen to be available. There is a saying that if the loss of a liaison officer you sent to another command doesn’t hurt, you’re sending the wrong officer. The same should be true with the Naval War College and Marine Corps University. Accept the tactical risk at the unit level of losing an officer to this effort to buy down the strategic risk of an underprepared officer corps. This is exactly what is called for in the Secretary of the Navy’s Education for Seapower (E4S) Decisions and Immediate Actions memorandum from February of last year. In it, he directed that “All future unrestricted line Flag and General Officers will require strategically-focused, in-residence master’s degrees.” The Navy’s Chief Learning Officer further notes that “the critical months of in-residence study afford each officer a unique chance to read, think reflect, and interact with their future fellow Fleet and Marine Operating Force Commanders…”6

While these future operational commanders are in residence at the War College and Marine Corps University, make it worth their while to attend these prestigious institutions. Rather than sticking to a rigid curriculum designed to satisfy graduate school accreditation and Joint Professional Military Education wickets, give these officers the hard problems to solve. Give them the tools to “study strategy, policy, operational doctrine, and the effects of new technologies for national strategic advantage”7 that comprise the current curriculum, but then give them real-world tasks, at the appropriate classification levels, and let them apply that knowledge. Not just in select groups like Gravely and Halsey, but across the board – putting large numbers of minds against our hardest problems to come up with a range of solutions, just like the interwar period’s Naval War College did.

And while sending the best and brightest to in-residence programs, more integration is needed in each institution. A recent Proceedings article called for higher percentages of Marines at the Naval War College and filling all the Navy billets at Marine Corps University. This is spot on and should be implemented with urgency. If we are going to ask the Naval War College and Marine Corps University to tackle problems of integration, they must have an integrated staff and student body. Then allow wargaming departments, now with a significant pool of frontline operators available to run the games, refight the LSEs and determine were improvements can be made. And finally, feed the output from these wargames into designing the subsequent LSEs, to take advantage of the lessons learned from these multiple interactions.


The tools are in place and a roadmap is available for developing Navy-Marine Corps integration in peacetime. The interwar use of annual Fleet Problems, Naval War College wargaming, and Marine Corps amphibious doctrine development focused the efforts of all three on preparing for war against Japan. Using those same tools and the lessons learned from their shortcomings, Navy-Marine Corps warfighting and warfighters can achieve unprecedented levels of integration and be prepared for the next great Pacific war when it comes.

CAPT Jamie McGrath, USN (ret.), retired from the U.S. Navy after 29 years as a nuclear-trained surface warfare officer. He now serves as a Deputy Commandant of Cadets at Virginia Tech and as an adjunct professor in the U.S. Naval War College’s College of Distance Education. Passionate about using history to inform today, his area of focus is U.S. naval history, 1919 to 1945, with emphasis on the inter-war period. He holds a Bachelor’s in History from Virginia Tech, a Master’s in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College, and a Master’s in Military History from Norwich University.


1. Albert A. Nofi, To Train the Fleet for War: The US Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940 (Naval War College Press: Newport, RI, 2010), 303-315.

2. John R. Kroger memorandum to Secretary of the Navy, Graduate Strategic Studies for Flag and General Officers, dated 11 December 2019. On 07 December 1941, 83 of 84 active Navy flag officers were graduates of the US Naval War College in residence program at the beginning of World War II.

3. Chester W. Nimitz [FAdm, USN], speech to Naval War College, 10 October, 1960, folder 26, box 31, RG15 Guest Lectures, 1894–1992, Naval Historical Collection, Naval War College, Newport, RI,

4. Craig C. Felker, Testing American Sea Power: US Navy Strategic Exercises, 1923-1940 (Texas A&M University Press: College Station, TX, 2007), 94-97

5. Ibid., 104-109

6. Kroger memorandum.

7. Ibid.

Featured Image: Sailors and Marines of the USS Ronald Reagan stand at attention before manning the rails on the flight deck in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, June 28, 2010.
U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Oliver Cole