Category Archives: Current Operations

On-going Naval Ops or Maritime Current Events

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Prospective authors are always free to message the CIMSEC editorial team at Nextwar@cimsec.org with their ideas and draft writings. Described below are various ways to contribute. 

Active Call for Articles: Fiction Submissions CLOSED – Fiction Week Begins Oct 16

Articles: CIMSEC publications usually range from 1000-3000 words, and we offer prospective authors much flexibility with word count. Some may choose to write longer pieces, or break up a publication into a multipart series. To promote research papers, authors may adapt an article from the longer publication.

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Featured Image: General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, standing on an anchor windlass speaking to the crew of the battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64) in the Persian Gulf on Sept. 1, 1990, during Operation Desert Shield.

Finding New Ways to Fight, Pt. 1

How the Mad Foxes of Patrol Squadron FIVE are harnessing their most powerful resource – their people – in an effort to cut inefficiencies and improve productivity.

By Kenneth Flannery with Jared Wilhelm

The U.S. Military Academy’s Modern War Institute recently published a thorough primer by ML Cavanaugh on what it means to drive innovation in the military. The most important takeaway was the large difference between the simple buzzword “innovation,” and the people who actually do the dirty work of driving positive change – oft-cited as “innovation”– within the force: “defense entrepreneurs.” This series focuses on an operational U.S. Navy Maritime Patrol Squadron that is full of defense entrepreneurs, and how their unit is taking the “innovation imperative” from on high and translating it to the deckplate level. Part 1 focuses on the “Why? Who? And How?”; Part 2 reveals observed institutional barriers, challenges, and a how-to that other units could use to adapt the model to their own units. 

The Innovation Imperative

Today, the U.S. Navy remains the most powerful seafaring force the world has ever known, but there is nothing destined about that position. To maintain this superior posture, we must find leverage that allows us to maintain an edge over our adversaries. One of our most powerful levers in the past has been our economy. We were once able to maintain supremacy simply by outspending our rivals on research, development and sheer production. While the United States still has the largest military budget of any nation, that budget is increasingly stretched to counter threats in a dizzying array of locales to include the South China Sea, Arabian Gulf, or even an increasingly vulnerable Arctic. Additionally, the rest of the world is catching up economically. Some assessments indicate that China will have the largest economy in the world by 2030 and they are already producing their own domestically-built aircraft carriers. It isn’t just China on our economic heels; by 2050 the United States could have slid to third place behind India as well. Finally, our adversaries’ continual embrace of technological theft and espionage involving some of our most expensive proprietary platforms has shrunk the technological gap that the U.S. enjoyed for multiple decades. These realities make it clear that the U.S. must find a new way to counter opponents besides technological advantage.

Much like the Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia,” the Department of Defense is experiencing what some might call a “Pivot to Innovation.” Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s “Defense Innovation Initiative” and Third Offset Strategy both signal a reinvigorated focus on maintaining and advancing our military superiority over both unconventional actors and near-peer competitors alike. 

In alignment with Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson’s intent, VP-5 is investing time and manpower in the idea that that new counterweight will be the innovative ideas of our Sailors. Just as nuclear weapons and advancements like stealth and Global Positioning Systems kept the U.S. military on top during the conflicts of the Cold War and Post-Cold War eras, it will be our ability to rapidly assess challenges and implement solutions that will guarantee our security in the future. This will require a reimagining of how we currently operate and how we are organized. Our squadron believes the key to this revolution lies with its junior enlisted and junior officer ranks.

Tapping the Innovative Ideas of the Everyday “Doers”

VP-5 is taking a multi-pronged approach to molding an innovation-friendly climate to best tap the ideas of those accomplishing the mission on a daily basis. Patrol Squadron FIVE (VP-5) is currently experimenting with a dedicated Innovation Department in our command structure, but this isn’t the first time that the squadron has embraced change to maintain the technological and fighting advantage over adversaries. The unit is based at the U.S. Navy’s Master Anti-submarine Warfare facility at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, FL, where we became the second squadron Fleet-wide to transition from the P-3C Orion to the P-8A Poseidon aircraft. This successful transition was based on new training and simulation technologies, but also on a rich history that spans from our founding in 1937 to involvement in World War II, Kennedy’s blockade of Cuba during the Cold War, the Balkan Conflict, and our recent involvement in the Middle East. Throughout this time, we have used no less than five different types of Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

VP-5 Mad Foxes
The VP-5 Mad Foxes. Courtesy Ken Flannery

Just as the transition in 1948 from the PBY-5A to the PV-2 brought new tools to the squadron’s warfighting capabilities, today we are augmenting the new technologies of the P-8A with a change to our organizational structure and business practices. A traditional operational naval aviation command administers a standard set of departments including Operations, Training, Safety/NATOPS (Standardization), and Maintenance. By implementing a new Innovation Department led by a warfare-qualified pilot or Naval Flight Officer lieutenant (O-3), VP-5 seeks to elevate the innovation construct to a position alongside the traditional departments required for squadron mission accomplishment. In addition to the lieutenant department head, the Innovation group is staffed by an additional lieutenant and a Senior Chief. Its mission statement reads:

“Lead Naval Aviation in accomplishing our mission by sustaining a culture based on process improvement and disruptive thinking. The force that knows the desired outcome, measures progress in real time, and adapts processes to overcome barriers has a sustainable advantage over adversaries who tolerate their deficiencies. Similarly, the force that can innovate transforms the battlespace to their advantage.”

The establishment of the Innovation Department sends a strong signal to the department heads and the senior enlisted that innovation is a priority, but it may not necessarily trickle down to the average junior enlisted Sailor that VP-5 is a different type of squadron. To ensure the culture reaches everyone, we have implemented large “Innovation Whiteboards” throughout the squadron and encourage all members to post ideas and suggestions. Sailors can see what others have posted and leave reactions of their own. Similar to the “CO’s Sticky Note Board” on the USS Benfold (DDG 65), the ideas written on the whiteboards are then compiled for further action by the Innovation Department.

Whether an idea has been generated via a whiteboard or suggested by means of a more traditional route, the next step in the process is to create a “Swarm Cell.” Swarm Cells are small groups of people that aim to rapidly implement solutions to the problem being addressed. These groups follow a predetermined set of procedures that begin with specifying the desired output. Starting with a clear description of the end result discourages the Cell from veering off course or diluting their product with superfluous features that do little to help the original problem. The Swarm Cells then move to address the actual problem or process for which they were created, all the while making sure that their efforts lead them toward the desired output. Next, the Cells measure their progress to decide if the desired output has been achieved. From there, the members of the group can choose to share their knowledge or revisit their solutions if they have determined that they have not met their output goals.

These Swarm Cells are not on an innovation island. The squadron strives to provide support and guidance for those working to realize their ideas and provides each Swarm Cell with an Innovation Accelerator. This Accelerator may be an official member of the Innovation Department, but is not necessarily so. If the Swarm Cell is like the train conductor, deciding the destination and exactly how fast to get there, the Innovation Accelerator is the train track, allowing room for minor deviations, but keeping the train on course to its final goal. Accelerators need not be intimately involved with the minutiae of their Swarm Cells, and as such may be facilitating two or three different Cells concurrently. By asking simple questions the Accelerator can refocus the team:

1. Has the Cell outlined a clearly defined output?
2. Is the Cell working to achieve that vision, or have they allowed distractions to creep in?
3. Are they continually measuring their progress along the way?

Again, in VP-5 innovation belongs to everyone. Sailors of all ranks and pedigrees are encouraged and expected to turn a critical eye to established procedures in an effort to push our squadron into the twenty-first century. However, change for the sake of change is not one of our objectives. To guard against this, the product or design is subjected to an internal Shark Tank once each Swarm Cell is sufficiently satisfied with their work. These Shark Tank events are open to all hands and are designed to prod for weak spots in the proposal and introduce the idea to the whole team. The Swarm Cell’s program or improvement is critiqued from every angle to determine its overall benefit and structural integrity. These sessions are designed to be thorough in order to weed out underdeveloped initiatives or those that may not provide a quantifiable benefit. If a program passes muster, it continues in whatever form is appropriate, whether that is a new or revised squadron instruction or perhaps a meeting further up the chain of command.

Meaningful Results

Our modest foray into innovation has already begun to bear fruit. One of the most promising results of the innovation process has been the development of a dedicated command smartphone application called Quarterdeck. What started as a search for a better way to communicate has blossomed into a robust “app” which boasts capability far beyond that which was initially envisioned. Currently available on the Droid and Apple App stores, the application meets or exceeds DoD information assurance requirements and includes features like flight schedule postings and peer-to-peer instant messaging, among many others. Thanks to motivated junior officers who attended the 2016 Aviation Mission Support Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation (TANG) at Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) in Silicon Valley, the Adobe Company is now conducting market research, has shown interest in acquiring the hosting rights for the app, and is currently developing a professional version based on the VP-5 prototype.

The application developed by the Mad Foxes’ Innovation Department. (Courtesy Ken Flannery)

Another of our most promising innovation programs appeared to be headed toward realization before being dismissed due to concerns about running afoul of the Program Management Aviation (PMA) office. The plan was to implement an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) to replace the existing system of paper flight publications. This innovation would use tablet computers and digital flight publication subscriptions to save each squadron approximately $17,000 annually. PMA is currently developing a parallel program, but the estimated fleet delivery date was still at least a year away at the time our project was initiated. Our program would be able to deliver tablets within months. Every detail of the program had been meticulously researched, and drew heavily upon long established, similar programs used by the airlines.

The EFB program was widely supported among VP-5 junior officers, Fleet Replacement Squadron instructors, our own CO and XO, reserve unit squadrons manned by commercial airline pilots, and even had the interest of Commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Group (CPRG). Unfortunately, information security concerns rooted in a risk averse culture combined with the lack of official approval from higher authorities halted the project prior to purchase. Even though our organic EFB proposal was not accepted, our efforts to address the issue sparked broader interest and pressured PMA to move up its timeline. It is a testament to the power of this innovation process that it could conceive and develop a product that rivaled a parallel effort of the standard acquisition pipeline and a regular program office. Tablets are now forecast to be delivered to the fleet by the end of this year.

Other achievements include a redesign of the Petty Officer Indoctrination course, a Command Volunteer Service Day suggested, planned, and led by an E-3, and an “Aircrew Olympics” which pitted two combat aircrews against each other in a variety of mission-related tasks. These ideas were all generated and executed from within the junior enlisted ranks.

Conclusion

We do not intend to suggest that a smartphone application or volunteer service holds the key to dismantling Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear program or China’s grip on the South China Sea. What we are trying to do is develop a framework in which creative solutions can be cultivated. Not every idea is going to be a grand slam, but before you can hit a grand slam you have to get people on base. The most important point we’ve learned is that the ideas are out there, we can cultivate them, and we’ve so far proven that we have “defense entrepreneurs” that can see these innovative ideas through from the white boards to implementation.

Formalizing an innovation process within a squadron is a new way of doing things and this new approach has been met with a variety of challenges. From stubborn, bureaucratic restrictions to “innovation stagnation,” the innovation construct at VP-5 has faced hurdles along the way and been forced to adapt. In the next installment of this series, we will explore some of these obstacles and describe the ways in which the Innovation Department has evolved as a result.

Lieutenant Ken Flannery is a P-8A Poseidon Instructor Tactical Coordinator at Patrol Squadron FIVE (VP-5). He may be contacted at kenneth.flannery@navy.mil.

Lieutenant Commander Jared Wilhelm is the Operations Officer at Unmanned Patrol Squadron One Nine (VUP-19), a P-3C Orion Instructor Pilot and a 2014 Department of Defense Olmsted Scholar. Hey may be contacted at jaredwilhelm@gmail.com

Featured Image: A P-8 assigned to VP-5 (U.S. Navy photo)

Call for Articles: Short Story Fiction

By Dmitry Filipoff

Articles Due: October 9, 2017
Week Dates: October 16 – October 20, 2017

Article Length: 1000-5000 Words
Submit to: Nextwar@cimsec.org

Fiction offers a powerful tool for posing questions and envisioning change. CIMSEC will be launching a topic week featuring short stories that use fiction as a way to better understand contemporary defense and foreign policy challenges. Submissions can take place in any time period. Send us your stories to challenge conventional wisdom, reveal problems or solutions, and spark imagination. 

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

Featured Image: “Old Submarine” by Rado Javor (via Deviant Art)

In the Warlords’ Shadow: SOF, the Afghans, and Their Fight Against the Taliban

Daniel R. Green, In the Warlords’ Shadow: Special Operations Forces, the Afghans, and Their Fight Against the TalibanNaval Institute Press, 15 July 2017, $29.65, pp. 304

By Patrick Hughes

Introduction

Since the U.S. entered Afghanistan, the question on the minds of civilians, soldiers and commanders alike has been when and how do we leave? A narrative quickly came out of the conventional warfare strategy that boiled down to “shape, clear, hold, build and transition.” Although simple in nature, it was a narrative born out of political necessity and lacked a fundamental understanding of the people that U.S. troops would be fighting and defending. Through In the Warlord’s Shadow, Daniel Green uses experience gained from multiple tours, staggered throughout a decade of conflict, to highlight how this narrative had developed by 2009 when he deployed for the third time. He fades out the major action typically told in conventional war literature and brings out the personal stories of involvement with local leaders. In doing so, Green endorses a balanced war-fighting program that synchronizes development initiatives and tribal outreach with a less kinetic strategy.

Grassroots Counterinsurgency in Action

Although not explicitly mentioned in the book, Green’s candid account stresses several critical flaws in the current thinking behind U.S. counterinsurgency operations. Foremost among these is a misunderstanding of the centers of gravity in insurgency groups. The U.S. military’s understanding of centers of gravity is derived from Carl Clausewitz who defined it as a military’s source of strength. Once these sources are destroyed, the enemy would either be unable or unwilling to effectively sustain combat. However, Green notes that even after “defeating” the Taliban, fighting would recommence shortly after departure. How do you fight an enemy that continues to fight after traditional sources of strength have been depleted? By Green’s account, you sap the strength that they want, but have yet to obtain completely. In the Taliban’s case, this is the will of the Afghan people.

While the reaction to quickly invade Afghanistan was widely considered both moral and justified, the commanders faced a difficult dilemma that more time to plan might have remedied; we knew almost nothing about the political and cultural roots of the conflict. Instead the U.S. entered the conflict viewing the path to victory, and what that would look like, though, as Green calls it, a “prism of their own institutional lens.” We viewed an unconventional conflict as having a conventional end. However, early claims of victory would have to account for a resurgent enemy, continuing U.S. casualties and loss of territory previously thought secure. Deeper understanding of the nature of the conflict would have allowed a strategic narrative to develop along the Afghan cultural mores that the Taliban was exploiting: justice, micropolitics, reconciliation, laissez-faire and village empowerment.

Recounting his experience during a third tour with special operations, Green details how a new strategy, developed along the same mores the Taliban was exploiting, was beginning to work in Afghanistan. He states, “this mission was not exclusively about combat and that one yardstick of [the mission’s] success was getting the Afghans to step up to be part of the solution.” In the original strategy of clear, build and transition, security improved causing local economics to improve, but the community was still not enlisted in its own defense. Although the central government maintained input, the strategy implemented by Green’s unit allowed local tribes to man and manage their defense. This also allowed for economic rebuilding in areas where aid often did not trickle down from the central government. By integrating the locals into improving their own security, Green’s unit effectively turned the Taliban’s “people’s war” against them. Additionally, it contributed to a potential U.S. exit strategy.

Although implemented at the beginning of the 2009 surge, the bottom-up strategy implemented by Green’s unit was noted as having more progress than previous approaches. Perhaps it was only an illusion. Maybe the initial strategies laid key groundwork that allowed for this approach to be effective. However, it logically makes sense that leveraging the Afghan peoples’ will against the Taliban could both simultaneously remove a critical center of gravity and develop an infrastructure that could prevent a resurgence following U.S. withdrawal.

Conclusion

In the Warlord’s Shadow is forthright in its critique of U.S. strategy and highlights areas that we as a U.S. military have room to grow. The most significant lesson from the Afghanistan War is that in fighting insurgency our exit strategy does not stand separate from our entrance strategy, our mid-course operations, or the tactics on the ground. Rather, how we enter and conduct ourselves will dictate how we leave, not the other way around.

In his final redux, Green cautions that the U.S. will only repeat this mistake in the next small war unless we develop an organization willing to challenge the status quo of fighting warfare. We have to develop a bureaucratic culture that has an incentive to use cultural intelligence, diplomacy, and development to create dynamic combat plans. It must retain lessons learned and synchronize approaches between the military and other areas of government influence. Finally, our measures of success cannot come from solely what is done to a local community (i.e. Number of combatants killed), but what comes from it.

ENS Patrick Hughes  graduated Summa Cum Laude from Kennesaw State University (KSU) with a BA in International Relations and a BBA in International Business in 2015. Upon acceptance into Navy OCS, ENS Hughes reported to Officer Training Command in Newport, RI November 2015, commissioning early 2016. After commissioning, ENS Hughes reported to Information Warfare Training Command May 2016 where he attended DIVOLC, IWBC and NIOBC. An academic interest in China drew ENS Hughes to select FIAF DT Pearl Harbor as his first duty station where he currently serves at COMPACFLT headquarters.

Featured Image: Members of coalition special operations forces meet with Afghan Local Police and Afghan National Army to discuss village stability in the Khakrez district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, April 19. The ALP, ANA and coalition forces work together to routinely monitor local villages for insurgent activity, ensuring the safety of the local Afghan population. (DoD photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Gregory N. Juday)