Category Archives: Interviews

Sea Control 133 – Hacking for Defense with Chris Taylor

By Matthew Merighi

Join the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Professor Chris Taylor of Georgetown University to talk about the Hacking for Defense (H4D) movement. Pioneered by Stanford Professor Steve Blank, H4D is bringing Silicon Valley’s innovation ethos to combat national security challenges. Chris takes us through the defense innovation ecosystem, the partnerships which support it, and how H4D is becoming a fixture in university classrooms.

For those interested in learning more about H4D and the Silicon Valley principles which guide it, Chris recommended the following resources:

Download Sea Control 133 – Hacking for Defense with Chris Taylor

The transcript of the conversation between Chris Taylor (CT) and Matthew Merighi (MM) begins below. Special thanks to Associate Producers Roman Madaus and Ryan Uljua for helping produce this episode.

MM: As I mentioned at the top I’m here with Professor Chris Taylor of Georgetown University and a member Hacking for Defense. Professor Taylor, thank you very much for being with us on Sea Control today. Now as is Sea Control tradition, Professor Taylor, please introduce yourself tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to be where you are right now.

CT: I spent 14 years in the Marine Corps as an enlisted infantryman and force recon. I finished undergrad at night. I went to night school my last three years. I left the Marine Corps and went to business school at the College of William and Mary where I earned an MBA and worked for five years after that. I went back to school at the Harvard Kennedy School where I earned an MPA in political economy and international security. I’m a two-time defense industry CEO and as you mentioned I’m an adjunct professor of national security studies at Georgetown University.

MM: You obviously have a very broad array of different experiences both in the military, outside of it, leading businesses, but also a very diverse educational background. What were the key decision points in your life as you were building your career and your educational background that guided you on the path which you eventually went down?

CT: I spent 14 years in the Marine Corps. I wanted my bosses’ job at the time I was a staff sergeant. My boss was a Major. When I did the reverse math, I would have had to have spent 10 more years to get promoted to Major just to have that job. As I evaluated all of the fantastic experiences that I had in the Marine Corps and what it had done to develop me as a leader, I thought maybe there was a different way and I wanted a way to push my Marine Corps experience through some sort of framework. I chose business school. I don’t regret that at all, it was fantastic. I loved every minute of my 14 years in the Marine Corps but I loved business school. I had a fairly easy transition to school, I got out, worked for five years in the private sector and then decided with the same formula; I had five years of experience and I didn’t know what framework to push it through to get the most of out it or contribute the most with it. So I went back to grad school at the Kennedy School. I was very fortunate. I had fantastic classmates, fantastic professors. Secretary Ash Carter was actually my adviser. So I had access to brilliant national security minds helping me think through how my experience would allow me to contribute further. That led me to leading some businesses that were successful and now I’ve dipped my toe into the teaching part of life to see how my experiences could help push forward the next few generations of national security leaders. That’s how we got to be on the phone today.

MM: Let’s talk a bit about the educational piece. I have here on the hacking4defensegu.com general info page a class titled “SEST-701 Hacking for Defense: Solving National Security Issues with the Lean Launchpad,” which I kind of understand as a man with a security and startup background. Walk us through this title. What exactly is Hacking for Defense and why is the Lean Launchpad a part of solving national security issues?

CT: Hacking for defense was a name that came along with the package when I was first asked to participate. Most people when they hear it only think it’s about cyber; that’s not true. Think about it in the way you’d think of life hacks: easy and quick ways to get things done which result in great benefit. The Lean Launchpad is a class that legendary Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Blank has been teaching which is basically about how to create and run a startup. It came through a series of conversations that happened out at Stanford where Steve was teaching this with Pete Newell who is a retired Army Colonel and Joe Felter, also a retired Army Colonel. The thought was “how do we apply the Lean Startup methodology to national security challenges?” MD5, which is the national security technology accelerator at National Defense University run by [Adam] Jay Harrison, is the U.S. government proponent for the entire education program. I’ve known Pete and Joe for a number years and when they decided they were going to syndicate the class to universities across the country I raised my hand and said I wanted to bring it to Georgetown. We’re about to close out our first Hacking for Defense class on May 1.

MM: So this is just the first iteration of it?

CT: It’s the first iteration at Georgetown. Stanford begun their second iteration. There are others at U.C. San Diego, Boise State, University of Pittsburgh, and James Madison University.

MM: So the model is proliferating across different universities but it is still very new. Now that you are finishing your first session, from the feedback you’ve gotten from Professor Blank and the other institutions, how has the course been going so far? What have been the things that you expected and what has surprised you?

CT: First and foremost, the most exciting thing is that I have nothing but complete confidence in our graduate students across the country to solve national security problems going forward. Our class has been nothing less than stellar. They are smart, they are committed, they work well in teams, they’ve been doing lots of discovery. And they’ve been doing a lot to solve problems. It’s fantastic. The second thing is that what we’ve learned is that when you allow students to self-organize into diverse teams around a problem, you get exponentially better results than if you assigned them to a team and then assigned them a problem. We’re very clear that self-organization leads to the best outcomes. One of the amazing things about the Hacking for Defense class is that it’s actually a team of teams. The center is the student. Surrounding them are the teaching team: myself and Army Lieutenant Colonel Matt Zais, who is the Deputy Director of the Strategic Initiatives Group at U.S. Army Cyber Command, and my teaching partner.

Then we have a series of corporate partners. Companies like SAIS, Amazon Web Services, SAP National Security Solutions, and many others come every class to support the student teams if they get to a point where their problem-solving requires a specific resource, an engineering resource for instance, an instance in a cloud environment, or mentoring for how to think about a problem. We also have mentors who bring experience in the national security ecosystem and in business that they contact to discuss their problems and think differently. And then we have military and intelligence community liaisons. These are active duty military and people currently serving in the intelligence community who can ensure that these teams can reach out to people within the organizations they are working with, which we call their problem sponsors, to elicit as much information as they can to help solve the problem they have.

This semester, we are working on four problems. One is from Special Operations Command: it’s a cross-domain solution. The next is how to use augmented reality to help military and intelligence personnel see bad guys in unstructured crowds. The next one is a social media problem: how do we use social media from an information warfare perspective to better understand what our adversaries might be doing with social media against us. We also have a counter-drone problem. It’s all the rage; everyone is writing about counter-drone. We have a team that’s working on how to use low-cost solutions to counter drones, particularly drones you might see ISIS flying.

MM: That’s a really broad array of different topics. You mentioned at the top that this isn’t just about cyber but a very broad set of challenges. I’m curious about the people who are self-organizing in these teams, since I imagine this is offered through the Security Studies Program, correct?

CT: That is correct. The Security Studies Program (SSP) is where I teach. Bruce Hoffman and Dave Maxwell have given us exceptional support to continue doing this.

MM: In terms of the students who are in these teams, do they have technological backgrounds? Are they primarily ex-military or current intelligence officers? What are the demographics of the people participating in this?

CT: All of the above. We have tech folks. We have former and current military folks. We have data analytics folks. We have linguistics folks. We have policy folks. And then of course we have the SSP folks. The course is open to all schools and all programs across Georgetown University and next year we’re going to open up Hacking for Defense to all graduate schools and graduate programs in the National Capital Region. So instead of solving four problems next year we’re going to solve 40 problems. A bit ambitious and it keeps us moving but if we want to start to develop the capability to solve problems quickly, effectively, and cost-effectively, then there is no better group of talent than America’s graduate students to be able to help us do that. That’s why we are trying to expand it the way that we are.

MM: So this course will be open to everyone in the National Capital Region starting next year which, as a person who currently works in academia, I know that getting even simple things like cross-registration agreements handled can be a challenge, so best of luck to you as you navigate those minefields on the bureaucracy side; but it’s really exciting that so many people are getting engaged. The other method of engagement that I’ve noticed is that you livestream all of the lectures for this course, correct?

CT: Every class session is livestreamed on Twitter @h4dgussp and also on our Facebook Hacking4DefenseGeorgetown. Every week we put it out there. It’s kind of like our own national security reality TV show. We put it out there because we want people to see the quality of students that we’re attracting to this class and the difficulty of some of the problems that they’re working on because, quite frankly, for many of these students this is a 13-week job interview. Many of our corporate partners have reached out to our students and said “look, when this is done I’d really like to speak to you about this” and that’s because they’re doing it well. They’re digging in, they’re becoming better problem solvers, they’re becoming better team members, and they’re leveraging everything that they’ve learned in graduate school and everything they haven’t learned yet. They are learning on the fly to solving the particular problem they are working on.

MM: So you’ve seen firsthand the positive feedback loop of the organizations supporting the course wanting to continue getting access to the students and looping them into their own work.

CT: I just spent last Friday with one of our sponsors, OGSystems in Chantilly, Virginia where the CEO and two other executives sat us down and said “we want to be part of this forever.” And the reason is because we get to see some of the problems plaguing national security but the most interesting thing is that the talent sitting in that classroom is unbelievable. We have not seen that in any other classroom environment and so they, admittedly selfishly, want to find out how to hire the very best students out of Georgetown to become part of their companies. We’re ecstatic about that.

MM: Definitely. That’s always the concern, as a recent grad school graduate; the top of mind concern for those going through their final exams right about now. I’m curious that you have OGSystems and all of these other corporate partners and the military and intelligence liaisons. How did you go about building this diverse, multi-stakeholder team? It couldn’t have been easy to sell organizations, especially ones that aren’t as used to working with the military or with Georgetown in getting involved with this very ambitious, very unique program.

CT: It was a little bit of everything. A lot of it came from my own personal network from being involved in the business of national security for so long. Certainly the folks at Stanford at Hacking for Defense Incorporated (H4DI) were very helpful in introducing us to different folks who wanted to be involved. I’ve gotta be honest with you: it’s not a difficult sell. This is the coolest class being taught. If you’re any type of international relations, national security, diplomacy, government, or business geek at all this is the coolest class being taught anywhere. So it’s not a hard sell. But we want to get the right people involved because there are investors in the classroom as well. At the end of the day, if there’s a “there” for the solution that the student teams have come up with, either the government will give them some money to continue their work or they’re going to start a company and they’re going to get venture money to get it going. There’s nothing else like this happening around the country right now.

MM: What is the next step for Hacking for Defense, the course you in particular are teaching, besides expanding it to the other schools in the National Capital Region? What do you see as the vision for where you want this very unique and clearly very successful business model to go?

CT: I’m involved on the education side, so I want to continue working with the Hacking for Defense and H4DI folks out in Palo Alto and also with MD5 to make sure we can leverage all of the talent in the National Capital Region. There’s 16 different universities in the National Capital Region consortium and we want to take advantage of all of that graduate school talent across all of the schools and programs against the hard problems our problem sponsors are giving us. What we’re coming to find is that now there’s international interest. Oxford University has interest in forming a partnership at Georgetown. I know that the NATO representative at the Pentagon for Strategic Transformation, General Imre Porkoláb, is all over trying to bring this to NATO. From an education perspective, Georgetown will play a role in the National Capital Region. From an enterprise-wide perspective, a company out in Palo Alto called BMNT has the lead on bringing the Hacking for Defense methodology into government offices, corporations, and friendly and allied militaries. So there’s a corporate and commercial side to this with BMNT and there’s an education side and that’s H4D.

MM: And for the people who are out there, whether they are currently in the Fleet or listening to our partners at the University of Kiel in Germany or down in Australia, what would you recommend for ways for those people to get involved or to learn about your organization?

CT: First, I’m glad you mentioned Australia. One of our mentors for Hacking for Defense at Georgetown is a gentleman by the name of Jamie Watson and he is an Australian military liaison for innovation and technology. He’s actually helped bring Hacking for Defense to the Australian military already. So if you’re out in Australia, we’re coming to a base near you. BMNT is bringing it out there. If you are a member of the military or intelligence community and you have a particularly difficult problem and you don’t have the capacity to solve it yourself, they should go to H4DI.org and register as a problem sponsor. Darren Halford who runs H4DI.org will help them curate the problems and then get it in to the hands of the right university who can help them solve the problem. We want as many problems as the national security ecosystem can give us and we want to put as many talented graduate students against them as we can. But it has to start with a problem. So for anyone who has a challenge they want looked at, they should go to H4DI.org and start the process.

MM: Obviously the program sponsors and liaisons are very helpful for building this Hacking for Defense system but there are other innovation initiatives happening within the defense community or outside of it. What other organizations have you been working with and what sort of support, whether it’s financial or advocacy or guidance, have you been getting from outside the Hacking for Defense Initiative?

CT: Everyone has been supportive. [Defense Innovation Unit: Experimental] DIUx has been fantastic to us. The Defense Innovation Board has been very involved; Josh Marcuse and Aaron Schumacher from the Defense Innovation Board have been exceptionally supportive of us. The Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum (DEFx), run by Jim Perkins and Ben Taylor, have been all over us. They serve as mentors for us, they get the word out to the innovation community. They very much welcome this new thing into their innovation meadow and we all try to help each other make progress together. I can’t say enough about the Defense Innovation Board, DIUx, the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, and the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Selva’s office has been exceptionally supportive. And of course our friends at MD5: Jay Harrison, Joe Schuman, and Libbie Prescott have been fantastic to us, as has everyone out at Stanford. It’s a rockstar crew and we couldn’t be happier to be working with all of them.

MM: As you approached these organizations for the first time, were they receptive right off the bat and wanting to work on partnerships and provide support or was it something that you need to sell?

CT: It was not a difficult sell but I’ll tell you what sold everybody is inviting everybody to our opening class at Georgetown. We had 20 students but 113 people in the classroom. And they were all curious about how this Hacking for Defense program was going to work. At the end of the class, everyone was on board. We have routinely 80 people in the classroom every week for 13 weeks working on helping us get better. The corporate partners are fantastic, too. They step up every time. Once the different islands of innovation, like DIUx and Defense Innovation Board, saw it? Sold. It was kind of like finding a kindred spirit in the national security innovation wilderness.

MM: It’s very interesting what you’re working on but we’ve started to reach the end of our interview. As is Sea Control tradition, from time to time, I want to know more about what you’re reading. What things have you been reading recently that will either help the audience learn the ideas behind Hacking for Defense or even unrelated topics?

CT: Since we’re still in the semester, I am focusing on the books that we are using for Hacking for Defense. One of them is called Value Proposition Design by Alex Osterwalder. Steve Blank’s book The Startup Owner’s Manual is one of our texts and it is fantastic. His other book, Four Steps to the Epiphany, is also great. As I mentioned before, it’s important for students to understand how to better have conversations and elicit information so Talking to Humans is a great book. Personally, I just finished Ed Catmell’s book Creativity, Inc which was just amazing to me. I thought it was one of the best books on not only business management but also on how to think through problems. For national security stuff, I’ve become addicted to the Cypher Brief. They do really smart stuff by really smart people. It’s different from what everyone else is doing. I read it every morning.

MM: Everything you’re working on is wonderful. It’s exciting to me personally. I may go down the hall tomorrow when everyone is back to work after Patriot’s Day and talk to the people at the Security Studies Program at Fletcher about maybe trying to start a course like this. Thank you very much for the work you’re doing on behalf of the nation and world security. Thanks for being on Sea Control today.

CT: It’s absolutely my pleasure. Thank you.

Chris Taylor, a global business leader and entrepreneur, is a two-time national security industry CEO. A veteran of 14 years in the Marine Corps, he has an MBA from the College of William & Mary and an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Chris serves as an adjunct associate professor of national security studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service Security Studies Program where he teaches “The Business of National Security” and “Hacking for Defense.”

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer for Sea Control. He is also Assistant Director of Maritime Studies at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and CEO of Blue Water Metrics.

Arctic Security and Legal Issues in the 21st Century: An Interview with CDR Sean Fahey

By Sally DeBoer

The changing Arctic is a topic of increasing interest to the maritime security community. Rapidly receding sea ice and increasingly navigable waters combined with the promise of rich natural resource deposits have made investment in the Arctic – particularly military and infrastructure investment – a priority for Arctic nations and other parties that stand to benefit from the region. To discuss these issues and more, CIMSEC interviewed Commander Sean Fahey, USCG of the U.S. Naval War College Stockton Center for the Study of International Law for his expert insight on legal and security issues in the High North in the 21st Century. 

SD: CDR Fahey, thank you so much for taking the time to discuss legal and security challenges to the Arctic in the 21st Century. We are honored to have someone with your experience and expertise speak with us! To begin, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

SF: Great to be with you; thank you for the invitation. I serve 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 this role, I conduct research and teach global maritime security law. In particular, I focus on the intersection of law and security in the Arctic Ocean. For example, I recently collaborated with Professor James Kraska on a position paper for the U.K. House of Commons Defence Sub-Committee, Defence in the Arctic Inquiry. I am also the Editor-in-Chief of International Law Studies, the Stockton Center’s peer-reviewed law journal, and the oldest journal of international law published in the United States.

By way of background, I am an attorney and commissioned officer in the rank of commander in the United States Coast Guard, and have advised various levels of command on the legal issues impacting maritime security operations, primarily counter-drug, fisheries enforcement, migrant interdiction and environmental law enforcement. I have also served as a Trial Attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice and as a legal advisor in the operational law division of USAFRICOM, where my focus was on maritime security operations, namely counter-piracy and maritime law enforcement support, and counter-terrorism.

SD: Can you characterize the United States’ current position in the Arctic? Is the U.S. prepared – materially and strategically – for challenges ahead in the Arctic?

SF: The United States is an Arctic nation, and the region is of significant strategic, economic and environmental importance to us. Some of the challenges we face in the region, for example, energy and mineral exploitation, are future challenges, but many, such as preserving freedom of navigation and overflight, are immediate. Climate change – whatever the cause – promises to be a major factor in how we prioritize our responses to those challenges, but it is not the only factor. Our strategy is influenced by the actions and priorities of the other Arctic nations as well, and in some areas the United States is not in the lead.

Strategically, we have comprehensive guidance on how to structure our approach to the region. American priorities are set forth in National Security Presidential Directive-66/Homeland Security Directive-25 and the “National Strategy for the Arctic Region,” and the accompanying Implementation Plan. Broadly, U.S. strategy is to advance U.S. security interests, pursue responsible Arctic stewardship, and strengthen international cooperation in the region. Each of those priorities has several detailed lines of effort. For example, the U.S. has four primary lines of effort to promote security: (1) preservation of freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the Arctic region; (2) enhancement of Arctic regional domain awareness and presence; (3) development of future U.S. energy security; and (4) evolve Arctic strategic capabilities, military force structure, and civilian infrastructure to be able to best respond to challenges unique to the region.

Many of the federal departments and agencies tasked with taking the lead on a particular line of effort within the national policy further refine the National strategy with additional guidance documents, among them the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Defense. So, in response to the second part of your question – is the United States prepared for future challenges in the Arctic? Strategically we are. We know the priorities and we know who is responsible for advancing them. Materially, however, the United States is not in the best position it could be to advance its strategic priorities. The most pressing example of this lacuna is the requirement for icebreakers.

One of two USCG Polar Icebreakers (Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst/Coast Guard)

Enhanced icebreaking capabilities are vital to properly support U.S. security interests in the Arctic. You cannot be present if you cannot get there. Virtual presence is actual absence. A persistent presence in the Arctic region is a condition precedent for the effective exercise of law enforcement jurisdiction and improved domain awareness. Currently, the U.S. has two icebreakers. The Russian Federation has 37. A fleet of at least six heavy icebreakers would provide one full-time U.S. presence within the Arctic Ocean in both the east and west, while also allowing enough hulls for training, work-ups, and post-deployment maintenance. This requirement is supported by the Pentagon, and is the single most important capability for the U.S. to pursue in the Arctic. Only a robust ice-breaking capability allows the U.S. to respond to all threats and all hazards in the region.

SD: The United States is in a time of flux, politically – how do you think a U.S. position that is perhaps less invested in preventing the effects of climate change might affect the security situation in the Arctic and the role of the U.S. as an Arctic leader?

We certainly are in a time of flux, but it is too early to say how the administration will address the challenges posed by climate change. Time will tell. That said, the data on the environmental changes occurring in the Arctic are alarming. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, which is directly supported by NASA and NOAA, the minimum Arctic sea ice extent has reduced by 40 percent since 1978. Last year the maximum (wintertime) sea ice extent was at a record low for a second year in a row. Additionally, NASA reports that global surface temperatures – to include in the Arctic – were at record highs in 2016. In short, the data indicate that the melt will not only continue, but will likely accelerate.

Trends in sea ice thickness/volume are another important indicator of Arctic climate change. While sea ice thickness observations are sparse, this figure utilizes the ocean and sea ice model, PIOMAS (Zhang and Rothrock, 2003), to visualize October sea ice thickness from 1979 to 2017. Sea ice less than 1.5 meters is masked out (black) to emphasize the loss of thicker, older ice. Updated through January 2017. (Zachary Michael Labe, Ph.D. Student, Department of Earth System Science, The University of California, Irvine)

Responsible regional stewardship – over the Arctic and its resources – is one of the pillars of our national strategy. It would be unfortunate if the United States were forced to effectively abdicate its leadership position in the Arctic due to a perceived lack of credibility on this issue by other Arctic nations. If we abdicate our leadership position, we abdicate our ability to shape regional security issues, and other Arctic nations may be reluctant to partner with us.

SD: Can you speak to some of the impacts that climate change has had on the Arctic security situation?

SF: The changing Arctic climate has already had a recognizable impact on the regional security landscape. Less ice means greater access and more activity. Some of the impacts may be positive. For example, the Arctic has enormous importance for long-term U.S. energy security. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves (90 billion barrels) are in the Arctic. This estimate is in addition to more than 240 billion barrels of petroleum reserves that have already been discovered. The USGS estimates that one-third of this oil is in the circum-Arctic region of Alaska and the Alaskan Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Responsibly and safely developing new domestic energy sources strengthens U.S. energy security by reducing U.S. reliance on imported oil, some of which, as you know, travels vast distances from extremely unstable regions before entering the national supply.

That said, competition for energy resources in disputed areas of the Arctic could destabilize the regional security balance. I am confident however, that the United States and the other Arctic nations will resolve their boundary disputes peacefully. We have seen evidence of this already with the Russian Federation and Norway resolving a long-standing maritime border dispute in the Barents Sea.

The more immediate impact of climate change on the Arctic security situation will be on freedom of navigation and overflight in the region. Broadly speaking, freedom of navigation and overflight are critical for the U.S. to be able to support peacetime and wartime contingencies across the globe. If the Arctic ice melt continues at its current pace, the Northwest Passage, the shipping route along the Canadian Arctic coastline, and the Northern Sea Route, the shipping route along the Russian Arctic coastline, will be accessible for longer periods of time, possibly year round.

Strategic mobility throughout the Arctic could become critical to support strategic sealift for U.S. contingency operations worldwide, and the Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route could serve as waterways to support such contingency operations. Portions of both shipping routes cross areas where the respective coastal state has made, in the opinion of the U.S., an excessive maritime claim, and these claims threaten the ability of naval forces to exercise their navigational and overflight rights. Preserving these rights is a central tenet of the National Arctic strategy. The U.S. Department of State, the lead agency for this strategic priority, is actively engaged with Canada and Russia on this issue, but it may be prudent for the United States to conduct freedom of navigation operations – the peaceful exercise of international legal rights in disputed sea areas – in areas of the Arctic Ocean that are subject to unlawful maritime claims.

SD: Many of our readers may not be aware of the pivotal role the U.S. and international Coast Guards have in maritime operations, specifically on operations in the high north. What improvements could the United States make to its infrastructure to be more prepared for operations in the Arctic?

At the risk of sounding redundant, I think greater icebreaking capability, and the shore-based infrastructure required to support icebreakers, is absolutely critical for the U.S. to achieve its maritime security goals in the Arctic. In order to respond to regional threats and hazards, U.S. surface forces need to be able to safely navigate the Arctic Ocean.

In the same vein, the U.S. should also commit to constructing ice-strengthened patrol ships for its seas services, similar to the Arctic Offshore Patrol ships being commissioned by the Royal Canadian Navy. The increased security presence in the region that greater icebreaking capability and ice-strengthened patrol ships would enable will help further deter conventional and unconventional maritime security threats and also ensure that U.S. near-shore and offshore oil and gas industry infrastructure is properly safeguarded. Search and rescue (SAR) also requires both ships and aircraft that are capable of operating in extreme climate. The United States has inadequate force structure to meet SAR contingencies.

Additionally, the U.S. needs to strengthen is pollution response capabilities and infrastructure in the Arctic. Needless to say, as the energy sector expands in the Arctic, so too does the risk of pollution. Given the remoteness of the region, sufficient pollution response capabilities and infrastructure need to be in place and accessible in order to ensure a timely response.

Finally, as the region becomes more accessible to year-round commercial navigation, the U.S. needs to ensure we have the sufficient infrastructure to support safe and secure maritime commerce. This could include harbor and dock improvements, aids to navigation, management systems for high risk vessel traffic areas,  search and rescue capabilities, and effective communications networks. Some of these are in place, some just need to be enhanced, and some need to be created.

SD: As you are a legal scholar, we’d like your insight on competing maritime claims in the region. First, what legal foundation, if any, does Canada have for its claim over the Northwest Passage? We know this is a controversial topic; what does the letter of the law dictate on the matter?

The Northwest Passage Route (Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.)

Canada asserts they have complete sovereignty over the waterways that comprise the Northwest Passage. Their legal argument for doing so is that the waters comprising the Northwest Passage lie within either Canadian internal waters or its territorial sea, and are thus subject to their jurisdiction and control. The United States and the European Commission have rejected Canada’s claims, and consider the Northwest Passage, a strait used for international navigation, open to navigation without coastal state interference.

Canada’s internal waters claim is predicated on straight baselines and the assertion of historic title to the waters of the Northwest Passage. Though the normal baseline used to measure the extent of a nation’s territorial sea is the low-water mark along their coast, UNCLOS does permit nations to draw “straight baselines” if certain criteria are met. Once a legal baseline has been drawn, waters seaward of the baseline, up to twelve nautical miles, are considered territorial sea; waters landward of the baseline are considered internal waters, subject to absolute coastal state sovereignty and jurisdiction. In short, Canada claims that, through its application of straight baselines, the entire waterway of the Northwest Passage became part of its territorial sea or internal waters, and is subject to its exclusive control. Remember though, that the Northwest Passage is some 100 nm wide in many areas, and Canada may not claim these areas as internal waters or territorial sea.

The U.S. position is that Canada’s application of straight baselines along the Northwest Passage is excessive and constitutes an unlawful interpretation of the criteria for establishing straight baselines under UNCLOS. Straight baselines may be used in the case of fringing islands or a coastline that is deeply indented and cut into. But even in these cases, the coastal state must draw the baselines narrowly. Under Article 8(2) of UNCLOS, even if countries accepted the limits of coastal state jurisdiction, then vessels from any nation would be completely free to traverse the area in innocent passage.

Consequently, even if nations accepted Canada’s straight baseline claims on their face, the ships of all nations would still be entitled to “innocent passage” through these “internal waters.” UNCLOS is clear on this issue; when the application of straight baselines have the effect of enclosing as internal waters areas which had not previously been considered as such – as is the case in with the Northwest Passage – the right of innocent passage still exists. Canada asserts that – the UNCLOS provisions about straight baseline enclosures notwithstanding – they have a historic claim to the Northwest Passage as well, one that precedes its straight baseline application. One of the weaknesses with that argument, however, is that a claim of historic title to internal waters requires, among other things, the acquiescence of foreign nations to that claim. The United States have never acquiesced to Canada’s claim, but have, instead, openly protested it, and continue to do so.

As you indicate though, it is a controversial matter, and much stronger legal scholars than I have written at length on the issue, but I think the position of the United States and European Commission is the legally correct one; the Northwest Passage is an international strait. Various legal characterizations aside, I am confident that the dispute over the Northwest Passage will be resolved amicably. Canada is a longstanding and indispensable ally of the United States – one that we have the deepest respect for – and an invaluable partner in the Arctic. The U.S. shares the same interests as the Canadians in ensuring a safe, secure, and environmentally protected Arctic, and many of the systems employed and contemplated by Canada to protect its interests – ship reporting, designating sea lines, vessel traffic separation schemes – do not require absolute sovereignty to affect. A diplomatic solution will be found.

SD: Can you provide some context for Russia’s extensive maritime claims? Can they reasonably expect a favorable ruling on their extension of their continental shelf?

The Russian Federation has several maritime claims of interest, particularly their claims regarding the Northern Sea Route and, as you note, their claim to an extended continental shelf. The Northern Sea Route claims need to be looked at closely from a maritime security perspective, as they have the potential to adversely impact maritime mobility.

As you know, the Russian Federation enacted national legislation establishing a state institution (the Northern Sea Route Administration or “NSRA”) with a mandate to “organize navigation in the water area of the Northern Sea Route.” This national legislation also defined “the water area” of the Northern Sea Route to include the Russian Arctic internal waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, and – notably – their exclusive economic zone. Shortly after its establishment, the NSRA published their “Rules of Navigation on the Water Area of the Northern Sea Route,” which contains several provisions that adversely impact freedom of navigation and may not be consistent with international law, chief among them the unilateral requirement that all ships must request advance permission from the NSRA to enter “the water area” of the Northern Sea Route.

The potential impacts of this provision alone to maritime mobility could be significant; the regulation is arguably an attempt to unilaterally bypass vital high seas freedoms and navigational rights, such as innocent passage and transit passage that ships would otherwise be entitled to, in order to assert greater control over the shipping channel. Though UNCLOS (Article 234) provides for limited legislative and enforcement rights in “ice covered areas” of a coastal state’s EEZ, any coastal state legislation adopted under this limited authority must have “due regard to navigation.” As such, the Russian Federation’s reliance on Article 234 as the international legal basis for its regulation requiring ships to request permission to enter the water areas of the Northern Sea Route is overreaching. The impacts to navigation of this provision are severe.

Russian nuclear icebreaker NS 50 Let Pobedy (Sputnik, Sergey Eshenko)

With respect to whether the Russian Federation can expect a favorable ruling from the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf on their extended continental shelf claim, I would say that the Russians are certainly doing everything in their power to see that they do. And if they do not receive a favorable ruling, I fully expect them to continue conducting research into the Arctic seabed, compiling data, and submitting revised claims, much like they did in 2015 after their 2001 application was rejected and the Commission requested additional scientific evidence from the Russians to support their claim. The natural resources potentially at stake are too valuable for Russia to simply walk away.

SD: The PRC’s response to the arbitration ruling on claims in the SCS indicated a disregard for international law – can you see such a reaction leading to similar reactions when it comes to Arctic rulings?

There’s always the potential for it and, in fact, already some evidence of it. In 2013, the Russian Federation refused to directly participate in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea proceedings in the Arctic Sunrise case, the dispute between Russia and the Netherlands over law enforcement actions taken by Russia in their Exclusive Economic Zone against a Netherlands-flagged Greenpeace vessel protesting against Russian oil exploration in Arctic waters. To be fair, the Russian Federation did, however, submit several position papers to the arbitral tribunal about various aspects of the case, to include protesting the jurisdiction of the tribunal, but ultimately Russia rejected the tribunal’s ruling.

More generally though, any given nation’s strategic priorities may not always be in perfect alignment with what international law requires. Ideally though, in such a situation, nations will recognize that short-term national “gains” may ultimately compromise their standing within the international community, and erode their ability to partner with other nations. My concern is that as energy resources become less plentiful in other regions and more accessible in the Arctic, particularly in the disputed areas, we may see some nations more inclined to act solely in their own national self-interest, even if their actions are in direct conflict with international law.

To date, however, many of the challenges facing the Arctic have been addressed collectively. There appears to be a genuine spirit of international cooperation in the region. We’ve seen this in the Ottawa Declaration establishing the Arctic Council as a forum for intergovernmental cooperation in the region, the commitment to the Law of the Sea as the legal framework to govern the Arctic Ocean made by the Arctic coastal states in the Ilulissat Declaration, the participation of the Arctic coastal states in the formation of the International Maritime Organization’s Polar Code, and the successful development of a binding multilateral search and rescue agreement between all of the Arctic nations, governing the entire region. There are many examples of international collaboration in the Arctic, and I am cautiously optimistic that nations will respect collective interests – such as adherence to international law – even when there may be some short-term national advantage to be gained by disregarding them. The Arctic is not a region where you can “go it alone.”

SD: Let’s discuss militarization in the Arctic – do you foresee a trend toward greater military presence in the Arctic and what possible implications of this movement might you caution?

I do, and it is a trend that cannot be solely attributed to any one nation. Many of the Arctic countries are increasing their military footprints in the region, which of course has a ripple effect. As you know, the Russian Federation recently stood up a Joint Strategic Command for the Arctic. The entirety of Russia’s Northern Fleet was completely absorbed into this new Arctic Command, and the land component is comprised of two brigades, with plans for a third, as well as specially trained Arctic coastal defense divisions. Fourteen airfields and sixteen deepwater ports are in various stages of development along the Northern Sea Route. Russian submarine patrols across the North Atlantic rose by nearly 50 percent last year. These capabilities and this infrastructure positions Russia to have a dominant military presence in the Arctic for the foreseeable future.

Despite this escalation, however, I think the potential for a large-scale, conventional conflict in the region is low. Perhaps that’s naïve, but there is little evidence that the Arctic nations will abandon diplomacy as the preferred dispute resolution tool in favor of force. In fact, the evidence points to the contrary. I think what is more likely is another “Black Sea Bumping Incident” type scenario between an Arctic coastal state, defending what they believe their territorial integrity, and a foreign naval vessel, exercising freedom of navigation, perhaps along the Northern Sea Route. Of course, this kind of scenario can – in and of itself – lead to an escalation.

SD: How would you answer those who feel UNCLOS is insufficient when considering legal issues in the High North?

I agree with the wisdom of the signatories to the Illulissat Declaration. The Arctic is primarily a maritime region, and the Law of the Sea is the appropriate international legal regime. Many of the future challenges in the Arctic – delineating the outer limits of the continental shelf, which will hopefully resolve many of the potential resource disputes in the region; ensuring freedom of navigation along shipping routes that may become increasingly more accessible with the changing climate; ensuring comprehensive, but fair, environmental stewardship – are challenges that the Law of the Sea already addresses. Bilateral and multilateral treaties on specific issues – for example, the Arctic Search and Rescue Treaty – can help fill most of the gaps not directly addressed by the Law of the Sea. In terms of a governing body of law, however, the Law of the Sea, to include UNCLOS, is more than sufficient.

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. 

Sally DeBoer is currently serving as the President of CIMSEC for 2016-2017. She can be reached at president@cimsec.org.

Featured Image: Russian nuclear icebreaker NS 50 Let Pobedy (Sputnik/Vladimir Astapkovich)

Reagan-Era Navy Secretary John Lehman on Naval Recapitalization

By Dmitry Filipoff

John F. Lehman Jr. served as Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration from 1981-1987. In this role, he advocated for the 600-ship Navy and went on to lead one of the most significant naval buildups in American history. In this interview, he recalls the critical elements that drove the Reagan-era naval buildup and what lessons can be applied to the new administration’s effort to build a 350-ship Navy. 

In building up to the 600-ship Navy, what role did strategy play in informing budget? How did the 1980s Maritime Strategy help justify a naval buildup when many powerful voices argued against it?

Strategy played an essential role – arguably THE essential role. I spent years thinking about naval strategy before I became Secretary, sitting at the feet of masters, and I was able to hit the ground running to both promulgate and also implement that strategy through exercises at sea, within the context of President Reagan’s own well-thought-out goals, from the first day I was in office. I was blessed by CNOs who “got” strategy – especially Admirals Tom Hayward and Jim Watkins – and who developed and maintained a superb set of institutions and strategically-minded officers that were able to explain and carry out our Maritime Strategy from the get-go whether at sea; in Washington; in Newport, Annapolis and Monterey; and in Navy and joint commands all around the world. We were able to counter those “powerful voices arguing against it” time and time again.

How did you build a strong relationship with Congress and what arguments sustained their support?

We had many strong and experienced Navy supporters in Congress. First among them were Senators John Stennis, Scoop Jackson, John Tower and former SecNav John Warner. Our message to Congress was loud and clear: We had a disciplined logical  strategy that would lead to American maritime superiority and success at sea. To carry out that strategy successfully, we needed a 600-ship Navy. And, recognizing that such a navy would undeniably cost money, we committed ourselves to fundamentally change Navy weapons development and procurement, bringing costs down dramatically.

We did this by restoring authority and accountability to officials, not to bureaucracies. Gold-plating and a change order culture were ended, which enabled fixed-price contracts and annual production competition. Navy shipbuilding actually had a net cost underrun of $8 billion during the Reagan years, the first and only time in history. Congress saw that we kept our word and did what we said we would, and gave us its support year after year.

The new administration is seeking to build a 350-ship Navy. What will it take to achieve this goal sooner than later, and should this buildup be used as an opportunity to augment existing force structure?

First, it will take immediate enunciation of a clear, compelling strategy. Next, as the fleet shrank from 594 to the current 274, the Defense bureaucracy has grown. Bureaucratic bloat must be slashed immediately through early retirement, buyouts, and natural attrition. Next, the kind of line management accountability that marked the Reagan years can end constant change orders and enable fixed price competition.

In addition to these deep reforms it will of course take an immediate infusion of more money. And it will take an immediate refocus on drastically ramping up competition within the defense industry

With regard to force structure, the Navy desperately needs frigates. We do not need more LCSs nor can they be modified to fill the frigate requirement. We do not need to have a wholly new design as there are several excellent designs in European navies that could be built in American yards with the latest American technology. Indeed, the now-retired Perry class could easily be built again with the newest weapons and technology.

Naval aviation needs more and longer range strike aircraft. The advanced design F-18 can help fill this need with a program to procure a mix of both F-35s and advanced F-18s with annual buys, effectively competing the two aircraft for the optimum lowest cost mix.

The Navy faces multiple competing demands for resources including deferred maintenance that is hampering readiness and insatiable combatant commander demand for greater capacity. Additionally, the rapid rate of technological change is opening up numerous possibilities for new capabilities. Where should the Navy prioritize its investments to ensure credible combat power going forward?

There are some who argue that the dismal state of readiness must be dealt with first, and then the procurement of a larger fleet after. That would be a mistake. The priority is to achieve balance. Readiness and sustainability must be dealt with simultaneously with embarking on procuring the necessary new ships and aircraft.

In the 80s I was a vocal proponent of 15 carrier battle groups. But I was no less an advocate for 100 attack submarines. The Navy defends the nation across the entire spectrum of conflict—from what my old shipmate CNO Jim Watkins called the “violent peace,” through deterring and controlling crises around the world, to fighting and winning wars and deterring nuclear holocaust. That’s a tall order, but a necessary one.

Navy Secretary John Lehman in October 1982 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Navy needs to be able to pummel targets ashore, land Marines and SEALs, sink submarines and surface ships, knock sophisticated airplanes and missiles out of the sky by the dozens, lay and neutralize mines, get the Army’s and Air Force’s gear to the fight, and use both hard kill and soft kill power to do all that, as required.

The force structure needed to perform successfully at sea across that range of operations is extraordinarily varied, and must be continually balanced and adjusted, as we did with our 600-ship force goal all through the 1980s. It can be done, and the new administration and Congress must do it.

Your time as SECNAV involved hard-fought battles with industry to ensure better and more cost-effective shipbuilding. How can the Navy better work with industry to facilitate a buildup and improve acquisition?

The Navy must get its procurement system under control. It must end gold plating and constant design changes. Industry cannot sign fixed price contracts unless the Navy has completed detailed design and frozen the requirements. When that is done the disciplines of competition and innovation can return. Shipbuilders can make good profits by performance, cost reduction, and innovation in such a disciplined environment.

Of the possible operational contingencies the Navy faces around the world, which poses the greatest challenge to the Navy in successfully defending American allies and interests?

Would that it were so simple. The Navy is the nation’s premier flexible and global force. It must be able to deter disturbers of the peace like Islamist terror, and potentially the Chinese, Russians, Iranians, and North Koreans, and to destroy their forces if deterrence fails. The Navy must meet them toe-to-toe all around the world wherever they stir up trouble.

True, during the Cold War, we focused – and appropriately so – on pushing Soviet naval bears back into their cages in the North Atlantic, the North Pacific, the Med, and the Arctic. But we also had to be prepared – and were prepared – to turn on a dime to carry out President Reagan’s orders in and off Lebanon, in Grenada and off Nicaragua, over Gaddafi’s Libya, in the Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War, and all over the world against Middle Eastern hijackers and terrorists. Simultaneously we were engaged in saving hundreds of lives rescuing Vietnamese boat people in the South China Sea, and performing many other humanitarian missions around the globe.  

What strategic and operational concepts would best apply naval power to today’s threats and adversaries?

To reestablish maritime supremacy and “Command of the Seas.”

The size, deployments, and capabilities of the U.S. Navy are indicative of America’s chosen role in world affairs. What would it mean for the Navy if the incoming administration adopts isolationism?

Despite occasional tweets to the contrary, an administration that has sworn to protect its citizens and businesses everywhere, renegotiate trade deals, and destroy ISIS cannot be characterized as “adopting isolationism.” Such a policy is unthinkable today.

200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson tried to get by with isolationism on the cheap, invested in a fleet of low-end gun-boats of limited value, and set his successor James Madison up to fight the War of 1812 to no better than a draw.

A little more than 100 years later, a succession of administrations adopted isolationism as their policy and disarmed their by-then world-class Navy through bad international treaties and worse budgets. As a result, the Navy struggled during the first two years of World War II before hitting its stride and surging to victory (read Jim Hornfischer’s and Ian Toll’s recent books for how we did that).

Threats to the nation won’t go away just because the country may turn inward. They will just try to push the country back across the oceans and then keep pushing ashore. American naval supremacy will guarantee that can’t happen.

What final advice do you have for the next Secretary of the Navy?

Have a sound strategy, and stick to it. Have a robust but achievable force goal. Cut costs and increase competition everywhere you can. Balance and adjust the fleet among all its competing missions, regions, and levels of conflict, and above all, ensure the capability to deter or defeat the most dangerous potential enemies of our nation. The new secretary must immediately go on the offensive against bureaucratic bloat, against sloppy contracting, against gold-plating and for fixed price production competition, and technological innovation through block upgrades.

While engaged in this righteous offensive he must constantly explain and articulate his strategy, his objectives, and his vision to Congress, to the Sailors and Marines, and to the American people.

The nation elected a new President with a set of clear and purposeful goals. The Secretary of the Navy must ensure that – under his charge – the nation’s Navy becomes stronger and readier to carry them out.

The Hon. John F. Lehman Jr. is Chairman of J.F. Lehman & Company, a private equity investment firm. He is a director of Ball Corporation, Verisk, Inc and EnerSys Corporation. Dr. Lehman was formerly an investment banker with PaineWebber Inc. Prior to joining PaineWebber, he served for six years as Secretary of the Navy. He was President of Abington Corporation between 1977 and 1981. He served 25 years in the naval reserve. He has served as staff member to Dr. Henry Kissinger on the National Security Council, as delegate to the Force Reductions Negotiations in Vienna and as Deputy Director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Dr. Lehman served as a member of the 9/11 Commission, and the National Defense Commission. Dr. Lehman holds a B.S. from St. Joseph’s University, a B.A. and M.A. from Cambridge University and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently an Hon. Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University. Dr. Lehman has written numerous books, including On Seas of Glory, Command of the Seas and Making War. He is Chairman of the Princess Grace Foundation USA and is a member of the Board of Overseers of the School of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania.

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

Featured Image: Secretary of the Navy John Lehman aboard USS Iowa in July, 1986. 

A Conversation with Naval Fiction Writer David Poyer, Author of Onslaught

By CIMSEC Book Review Team

CIMSEC sat down with author David Poyer, former naval officer and author of the ‘Tales of the Modern Navy’ series of novels, among other exciting modern and historical naval fiction titles. Poyer’s latest title, Onslaught, finds protagonist Dan Lenson in command of USS Savo Island during the opening salvo of the war with China. Poyer’s masterful character development, eye for technical details, and comprehensive understanding of life at sea have made him a favorite of fans of this genre. We asked him about his writing process, inspiration, and more.

CIMSEC: You do an excellent job of combining intrigue and drama with technical details and action. How do you do this and how do you begin the writing process?

DP: Thanks! I’m notoriously process-oriented, having been originally educated as a naval officer and engineer, and worked as a submarine systems designer before going into fiction. These days, though, I teach narrative structure at the Creative Writing Program at Wilkes University. So…here goes!

A quick overview: I begin with a general plot idea, then sketch out how each character will contribute to the overall story. Next, I construct the arcs for those characters. During this process, scenes will have started to come to me. Also, thoughts for more scenes and plot points occur as I do background reading and interviews and ship visits.

Eventually I generate a ten-to fifteen-page single-spaced outline of the action proper of the novel. This “blueprint,” plus the character studies, makes it possible for me to cruise through the first draft at a rate of about four pages a day without too much angst, and without excuses or writer’s block.

Author David Poyer

Of course, six months later, that only gives me the first draft! Lenore Hart, my better half who’s also a novelist, reads the second draft and makes extensive comments I revise. Then a varied stable of retired and active duty Navy, Marine, NCIS, State, physicians, and many other subject matter experts comment on their sections. After that I revise again. (I put a lot of time and effort into trying to make events and descriptions as authentic as possible, while still driving the action forward with drama and suspense). Four to five drafts later, after I’ve cut out every possible excess word, it’s time for my editor at St. Martin’s, George Witte, to see it!

CIMSEC: What do you think readers, especially readers in the naval profession like many of our readers here at CIMSEC, can derive from your narrative? What are you trying to convey?

DP: I started out as a writer simply wanting to recount and reflect on my own early experiences at sea. The Med, The Circle, and The Passage were based on specific cruises, events, and locales I saw during active duty. For example, The Circle was inspired when USS Bowen deployed north of the Arctic Circle in winter, with orders to find the biggest storm around and stay in it as long as we could. (This was to test a new sonar system). So I didn’t have to research what Arctic storms looked and felt like!

In terms of artistic intent, at first I was largely innocent. Mainly I wanted to craft an exciting story. If a deeper theme emerged, great. And over the years I’ve been blessed with some critical acclaim. But the reviews that warm my heart most are from the enlisted, chiefs, and officers who write to thank me for a realistic portrayal of the sacrifices they’ve made. If I can bring such stories to a general audience as well, I’ve met my basic requirements.

A few recurrent motifs or themes do underlay my work, but they’re not buried so deeply you need a PhD in literature or philosophy to winkle them out. After my first dozen or so novels, I realized that every work had been about the question, ‘What is the ultimate authority or guide we can depend on for ethical action?’ I don’t really concern myself much with “identity,” which much current fiction seems occupied with. I know who I am, and my characters, in general, know who they are. That doesn’t mean they aren’t conflicted and uncertain. I’m attracted to deeply-layered, multidimensional characters who act as well as think. But to act means to decide; to choose. As John Gardner, one of my early mentors and exemplars put it, every novel is, at its deepest heart, a morality play.

That, I think, is why some of my novels have been taught at the Naval Academy: they’re not simply thrillers; they’re about difficult choices made in short time frames under terrible stress. Exactly what sometimes happens at sea.

CIMSEC: Onslaught explores a hypothetical conflict with China. How much of what you include in your novels is inspired by current events and what other sources do you call on for inspiration?

DP: I started research and planning of the War with China series – The Cruiser, Tipping Point, Onslaught, and two more books now in progress – well before tensions with that country reached the current near-boiling point. You have to realize, a novel is written at least two years before you see it on the shelves; a year to write, and a year in production. Complex and research-intensive ones take even longer. So I can’t really tune too close an ear to current events. Nor am I psychic! The books are thus based on my own strategic calculations and a knowledge of history. (I did the same thing earlier with The Gulf). Around 2008 I asked myself, What if there were a new Pacific war? Everything downstream flowed from that initial “what if.”

CIMSEC: It seems as though your last two works bore some resemblance to the outbreak of the First World War and the geopolitical tensions that characterized that time in history. Was this intentional?

Very much so; in fact I refer in the narrative to Dan Lenson’s reading of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. The problem the U.S. faces in accommodating a previously stable international structure to the rise of a peer competitor is much like that which the British Empire faced in dealing with Imperial Germany, or Rome with Carthage, or even farther back, Sparta vs. Athens. Other influences are Sallust, Gibbon, Thucydides, the battles of Savo Island and Guadalcanal, Korean medieval history, the tactics of Ulysses S. Grant, and Allied op plans (both executed and not) for the latter stages of WWII, among many others.

I loved the comparison between the skills of ancient mariners and modern high-end war; specifically I am thinking of the instance in which your Chief Quartermaster takes a celestial fix – I pictured him doing so on the port bridge wing above the SPY faces. That really conjured an image for me of the juxtaposition of ancient naval practices and modern technology.

I think one of the distinguishing themes of sea fiction, what Professor Herb Gilliland of the Naval Academy calls “techné,” the machinery that’s mastered (or at least used) in sea tales.

The most complicated device existing in the 18th century was a full-rigged warship, and its present-day successors are among the most complex devices today. Think of The Sand Pebbles; if you took the machinery out there wouldn’t be much book left. Or Delilah by Marcus Goodrich, the crew manhandling and shoveling all that coal from the bulkhead bunkers into the boilers. Under technique also falls seamanship, and the skills and even artistry involved in steering safely through changing weather and sea conditions.

And you’re right, at sea today we have to be masters of both an ancient set of skills and comfortable at the very cutting edge of 21st-century technology. Both the fascination and the challenge for me lies in making the advanced technology involved in, say, intercepting an incoming ballistic missile terminal body with an Aegis-steered Standard missile comprehensible to the general or lay audience. Sometimes I fail in that regard; I remember one reviewer wrote, “I learned more about the Navy than I really wanted to know.” Not the impression I wanted to leave!

In general, if I hear equal numbers of readers complaining that I didn’t go deeply enough into the techné, and others that I got too technical and acronymophilic, I should be roughly in the middle of the channel. Complicating that further in the later books in this series will be that war inevitably accelerates technology…which means I may have to go beyond anything currently used in the Fleet.

CIMSEC: Crime aboard ships is a common thread throughout the series – why is that? Is this intentional and is this something you have personal experience with, or is it just a storytelling device?

Well, crime isn’t as prevalent in the USN as it is in my series, that’s for sure. On the other hand, we’ve all read about service-related cases of bribery, sexual abuse, rape, theft, counterfeit parts, murder. Every crime ashore has its cousin at sea. It would actually be unrealistic to pretend it doesn’t happen.

War and crime seem analogous in certain ways. They force choices and actions, and sometimes very difficult ones, on both the participants and those who must find the perpetrator and administer justice. Remember your high school lit classes, where they talked about the various forms of antagonists: human, animal, natural, corporate, governmental, enemy, etc? The more of these conflicts I can layer into the story, the more complex and punishing it becomes for the characters, the greater the forward velocity and the more strongly the reader becomes involved.

CIMSEC: Your story features very competent but very diverse female characters, which is a rarity in this genre of fiction. Is this an important message to you as an author and former naval officer or a reflection of the makeup of a modern crew at sea?

I don’t think it’s as much some kind of “message” as a reflection or realization that this is how things are now, both at sea and ashore. Still, it took me a few novels to feel comfortable with portraying a female voice or point of view. My first two or three novels weren’t that effective in portraying black, female, or gay characters. But as I moved out of the all-white environment I grew up in, and as the rather homogeneous and all-male Navy of the 1970s and 80s changed, my views widened. My first book with a female central intelligence was The Whiteness of the Whale, with Dr. Sara Pollard. I’m happy with the way that turned out and it got some very pleasant reviews.

To take it a step farther, I don’t believe a writer should or can be limited to drawing characters that reflect only his or her own ethnicity and gender. Providing access to the interior thoughts and feelings of what the reader considers the “other” is one of the primary functions of fiction. But with that freedom also comes a responsibility: to portray every character as truly and complex as possible, without defaulting to clichés or cardboard villains. One of the most difficult characters I ever had to inhabit was the treacherous, fanatical Al-Maahdi in The Crisis. But eventually I understood why he became what he became. That’s not the same as sympathizing with his actions, of course.

CIMSEC: Your characters are drawn in a way that is so sophisticated and complex – are they based in any way on individuals you’ve served with?

DP: Sometimes!!

CIMSEC: Onslaught features a total breakdown of the international system and diplomacy, as we know it. Is this something you feel we are moving toward?

DP: Unfortunately, nations do seem to be demolishing or abandoning, one by one, the international structures and norms that promoted accommodation, protected human rights, and acted to prevent war. China dismisses the rulings of international courts. The U.S. behaves more and more cavalierly toward long-time allies. The president of the Philippines brags about his extrajudicial killings. Russia subverts any democracy it can. Combine these with a decline in the former relative preponderance of U.S. power in the western Pacific, and the events in Tipping Point and Onslaught begin to seem not just possible, but all too likely.

CIMSEC: What message do you hope junior officers and sailors reading your novels can take away and apply to their profession?

Nothing unique or new, I fear. Merely this:

Know your job.

Care for your troops.

And always try to do the right thing, even if it may hurt your career.

CIMSEC: Where does the series go from here and what’s next for Daniel Lenson?

DP: After the opening of the Pacific war in Tipping Point, and its first battles in Onslaught, the next strategic question will be: can the Allies hold the central Pacific? IF we can’t, then no recovery and new offensive farther west is possible. Of course Dan, Blair, Obie, and Cheryl will all be in the thick of the action. So look for Hunter Killer in December of 2017…and thanks for the interview!

David Poyer was born in DuBois, Pennsylvania in 1949. He grew up in Brockway, Emlenton, and Bradford, in western Pennsylvania, and graduated from Bradford Area High School in 1967. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1971, and later received a master’s degree from George Washington University.

His active and reserve naval service included sea duty in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Arctic, Caribbean, and Pacific, and shore duty at the Pentagon, Surface Warfare Development Group, Joint Forces Command, and in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. 

Poyer began writing in 1976, and is the author of over forty books, including THE MED, THE GULF, THE CIRCLE, THE PASSAGE, TOMAHAWK,  CHINA SEA, BLACK STORM, THE COMMAND, THE THREAT, KOREA STRAIT, THE WEAPON, THE CRISIS, THE TOWERS, THE CRUISER and TIPPING POINT, best-selling Navy novels; THE DEAD OF WINTER, WINTER IN THE HEART, AS THE WOLF LOVES WINTER, and THUNDER ON THE MOUNTAIN, set in the Pennsylvania hills; and HATTERAS BLUE, BAHAMAS BLUE, LOUISIANA BLUE, and DOWN TO A SUNLESS SEA, underwater adventure. Other noteworthy books are THE ONLY THING TO FEAR, a historical thriller, THE RETURN OF PHILO T. McGIFFIN, a comic novel of Annapolis, and the three volumes of The Civil War at Sea, FIRE ON THE WATERS,  A COUNTRY OF OUR OWN, and THAT ANVIL OF OUR SOULS.  He’s also done two well-reviewed sailing novels, GHOSTING and THE WHITENESS OF THE WHALE, and several nonfiction books.  Two books will appear later this year: ONSLAUGHT, another Modern Navy novel, and ON POLITICS AND WAR, co-authored with Arnold Punaro.

Poyer’s work has been  translated into Japanese, Dutch, Italian, and Serbo-Croatian, recorded for audiobooks, published as ebooks, selected by the Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club, etc. Rights to several properties have been sold or optioned for films. 

Poyer has taught or lectured at Annapolis, Flagler College, University of Pittsburgh, Old Dominion University, the Armed Forces Staff College, the University of North Florida, Christopher Newport University, and other institutions. He has been a guest on PBS’s “Writer to Writer” series and on Voice of America, and has appeared at the Southern Festival of Books and many other literary events. He currently a fellow at the Virginia Center of Creative Arts, and teaches in the MA/MFA in Creative Writing program at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre and at the Ossawbaw Island Writers’ Retreat.  He lives on Virginia’s Eastern Shore with his wife, novelist Lenore Hart.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (June 16, 2009) – Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73), Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG 63) and Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) steam in formation during a photo exercise June 16. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Bryan Reckard)