Category Archives: Interviews

Vice Admiral Brian Brown On the U.S. Naval Information Warfare Community

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC had the opportunity to discuss the formation and future of the U.S. Navy’s Information Warfare (IW) community with Vice Admiral Brian B. Brown, commander of U.S. Naval Information forces (NAVIFOR). In this discussion, Vice Admiral Brown discusses how the IW community came together, how it is delivering capability to the fleet, and how information warfare is featuring in an era of great power competition.

The IW community was founded 10 years ago and saw the establishment of its own warfighting development center (NIWDC), numbered fleet command (10th Fleet), type command (NAVIFOR), and other critical components. What has the journey of establishing this community been like? 

First, I have to give due credit to the founding fathers of what we call Information Warfare today, strategic thinkers like then-Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Gary Roughead and Vice Adm. Jack Dorsett (the first N2/N6). Over ten years ago, those two leaders had the vision and foresight to see that we needed to reorganize to meet the needs of warfighting in the Information Age. And then they took the decisive action that made that vision real.

We started as a collection of high-performing individual specialties, including Information Professionals (IP), Intelligence, Cryptologic Warfare (CW), Meteorology/Oceanography (METOC), and the Space Cadre, which were originally established together as the information dominance corps (IDC). This was later rebranded under CNO Adm. John Richardson as the Information Warfare (IW) community. The change of IDC to IW community was more than just a name change. It was a recognition of our community’s value in delivering battle-minded warfighters and capabilities to the full spectrum of warfighting. Our current CNO, Adm. Mike Gilday, was a commander of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet, so the IW community continues to be a focus area at all levels.

It would be an understatement to say that we face more complex challenges in this information-based era of great power competition. It is now a much more cognitive operating space and requires a different kind of fighting force. We find ourselves in a time where information, no longer just firepower, brings true advantage. How effectively we operate in this information space determines our ability to decisively act faster than our competition.

Monterey, Calif. (January 17, 2020) Vice Adm. Brian B. Brown, commander, Naval Information Forces, discusses chief of naval operations’ strategic intent and Sailor readiness during an all-hands call and visit to Information Warfare Training Command (IWTC) Monterey. (U.S. Navy photo by Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) 3rd Class Shelby Sims)

We have come a long way in the past 10 years. While each information-based skillset brings significant and needed capabilities (the Navy still needs great intelligence, IP, CW, METOC professionals, and space expertise), this is a true case of the sum being greater than its parts. The combination of these capabilities brings winning advantage to the Navy’s needs in today’s complex fight. 

In the IW domain, you are constantly dealing with competitors every day, with DCNO for IW Vice Adm. Kohler stating “We consider ourselves in contact with the adversary now.” The Navy traditionally has its Phase 0 to Phase 5 spectrum of operations, but how does this apply to IW operations? How does the IW community balance winning the daily fight with being ready for what may be needed in a major conflict?

In today’s complex warfighting environment, we talk less about phases and more about the spectrum of conflict. That spectrum spans from so-called day-to-day/peaceful presence, through escalation and all the way up to lethal combat. We absolutely have to be ready for that high-end fight – lethal combat, but we also need to be successful across the entire spectrum.

Having said that, though, even in the peaceful presence side of the spectrum, there is daily conflict in the cyber domain. Both state and non-state actors leverage cyber to gain advantage in the strategic space below the threshold of armed conflict. Activity in this left-of-conflict spectrum run the gamut from intellectual property theft, to election interference, to ransomware and DDoS attacks, just to name a few. From a Navy IW perspective, this conflict at the left end of the spectrum is more than cyber, it is also contested engagement in intelligence, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum, and in understanding the physical domain.

Information Warfare is in that fight today in all those areas. The keys to this success are two-fold. First, we must defend forward. A great power’s weaponized information and influence operations are possible because of cyberspace. Defending forward means defending U.S. critical infrastructure from malicious cyber activity, individually or as part of a campaign, to prevent a significant cyber incident. Second, we must maintain persistent engagement. In cyberspace, this means the continuous execution of the full spectrum of cyberspace operations to achieve and maintain cyberspace superiority, including defending vulnerable networks through maintaining advantage in the electromagnetic spectrum.

Navy IW professionals use sensors, systems, and information to generate operational outcomes—passively and actively in all domains. While all those systems provide the tools to fight and win across the spectrum, people remain our greatest asymmetric advantage. We are fully using existing personnel policies and are constantly looking for new methods to attract and retain the best and brightest personnel. We need to maintain technical talent and personnel overmatch that includes our active and reserve uniformed personnel, as well as our civilian workforce. The Navy’s IW skillsets are needed more than ever in the daily fight of today as well as to be prepared for any potential high-end conflict.

How does information warfare fit into the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) concept and other future warfighting concepts?

DoD’s and, in particular, the Navy’s primary mission is to protect the nation by defending forward. In the IW domain, that means disrupting and halting threats before they reach our networks or our forces. In the current era of great power competition, the concept of Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) provides the ability for the fleet to maneuver effectively for advantage in a distributed manner, to create dilemmas for an adversary, while simultaneously maintaining the benefits of force integration. To accomplish that kind of maneuver across potentially multiple maritime combat formations requires all that IW delivers. The glue that pulls that all together is the collective set of IW capabilities.

Information warfare is a deeply cross-cutting discipline. How has the rise and establishment of the IW community elevated the understanding of IW more generally across the Navy’s communities? 

IW is a warfighting discipline, a set of warfighting capabilities, and a key enabler for all Navy mission areas. It underpins every warfighting domain from sea to land, to air, to undersea, to cyber, to space. It is a complex capability comprised of humans, machines, electromagnetic spectrum, and data that, when effectively combined, provides our force with non-kinetic options, increases the lethality of kinetic options, enables Distributed Maritime Operations, and delivers critical advantages in great power competition.

Over the past 10 years, the IW community has continued to further integrate fleet operations to provide vital decision space for our commanders. It is through collective IW capabilities that data from multiple sources are optimally transferred into actionable information to use for operational superiority.

One way the IW community has been elevated within the Navy is with the establishment of the Information Warfare Commander afloat. For several years now, the Navy has been operating with a senior, board-screened, post O-6 command tour IW captain as the warfare commander for information warfare on carrier strike groups, equal to other traditional warfare commanders. Based on value, the demand is expanding to amphibious ready groups and expeditionary strike groups.

We also have the Naval Information Warfare Development Center (NIWDC), established in 2017, that works with the other community Warfare Development Centers (WDCs) and the Naval Warfare Development Center (NWDC) to ensure our concepts, tactics, techniques, and procedures are fully integrated. This integration is critical, because the collective IW capabilities that assure command and control, provide predictive battlespace awareness, and deliver integrated IW fires are integral to all plans and operations.

What has been done to make IW capability and capacity more easily leveraged by sailors and commanders on the deckplate and afloat?

I’ve already mentioned the IW Commander Afloat role and the NIWDC, which bring the capabilities directly to the fleet, but I would also add that we have created an IW Training Group. This organization is analogous to and works closely with the long-standing Afloat Training Group structure to train individual ships and crews in IW capabilities at the deckplate level. This, along with NIWDC, is overseen by the IW Type Commander (TYCOM) – Naval Information Forces (NAVIFOR), which was established six years ago.

From the cybersecurity of the naval industrial base to hiring top-notch civilian talent, IW arguably demands an especially close relationship with the private sector. How do you view the nature of the IW community’s relationships that go beyond government?

Put simply, we could not succeed without our partners in industry. We work very closely with industry reps, at all levels, to ensure that the capabilities the Navy and Joint Force need to fight and win in the IW domain are available when needed. We feature significantly in a wide range of industry-focused forums, such as the annual USNI/AFCEA WEST Conference in San Diego, AFCEA EAST in Norfolk, and the Navy League’s Sea Air Space Symposium here in Washington, D.C., to build and maintain those relationships.

San Diego, Calif. (Feb. 13, 2019) Vice Adm. Brian B. Brown (center), commander, Naval Information Forces, speaks with Aerographer’s Mate 2nd Class Annalina DiMaggio (left) and Aerographer’s Mate 1st Class Deserae Laczniak (right) from Naval Oceanographic Special Warfare Center (NOSWC), at the Information Warfare Pavilion while attending WEST 2019.

From year one of our existence, we have co-sponsored, with AFCEA and the Naval Intelligence Professionals organization, an annual IW Industry Day. This IW Industry Day provides a day-long series of briefs and discussions, in a classified venue, to allow us to discuss where the Navy and Information Warfare in particular, are focusing our efforts and what we need to fight and win. We have had up to 500 industry representatives attend our most recent event. And, of course, I and my fellow IW military and civilian leaders participate in various other industry breakfast, luncheons, meetings, and conferences throughout any given year.

With the advent of technologies like artificial intelligence and big data, some suggest we may be in the midst of an IW-driven revolution in warfighting. How do you view the potential of IW to transform the nature of the warfighter and warfighting going into the future?

These technologies bring significant capability, with increasingly more expected. We spend a good deal of effort focused on what those new technologies mean to us, and how they can improve our capabilities. These new technologies will continue to advance how we train and fight, not just in IW, but in every domain. We work hand-in-glove with the Office of Naval Research, and across the Navy staff and the fleet, to continually harness this revolution in technology to give the Navy and Marines Corps team the edge we need to succeed, across the spectrum of conflict and operations. We will be directly involved in developing and employing the advantages to be gained through the use of revolutionary technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Any final thoughts to share?

The recognition of the need for IW capabilities is now universal across the Department of Defense. We (the Navy) may have gotten to the table earlier, but all our sister services now have in place their own organizations aligned to the spirit of information warfare and are employing and building capabilities in the information domain. Each service may do it a little bit differently based on their own unique service cultures, but all understand the importance of harnessing these capabilities to fight and win today and in the future.

The Air Force, for example, combined their A2 (Intelligence) and A6 (Communications) directorates at the headquarters level here in the Pentagon as we did, while also creating the 16th Air Force at the next level down. Within the Department of the Navy (DON), the U.S. Marine Corps created a counterpart to OPNAV N2/N6, the Deputy Commandant for Information (DCI), with Lt. Gen. Lori Reynolds in the role. They call their effort “Operations in the Information Environment (OIE)” and include psychological operations and strategic communications in their OIE approach.

We work very closely together to provide the DON an integrated Naval IE/OIE capability – bringing the power of both the Navy and Marine Corps to bear.

Vice Adm. Brian Brown is currently serving as Commander, Naval Information Forces (NAVIFOR), and is a 1986 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. 

Dmitry Filipoff is the Director of Online Content for CIMSEC. Contact him at

Featured Image: Fort George G. Meade Md. (Sept. 27, 2018) – Sailors stand watch in the Fleet Operations Center at the headquarters of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet (FCC/C10F). (U.S. Navy Photo by MC1 Samuel Souvannason/Released)

Crafting the U.S. Marine Corps Mystique: A Conversation with Heather Venable

By CDR Christopher Nelson, USN 

Professor Heather Venable joined me to discuss her new book, How the Few Became the Proud: Crafting the Marine Corps Mystique, 1874-1918. It is a fascinating look at how the U.S. Marine Corps, struggling to define its role as a small fighting force in the earlier days of the republic, crafted a reputation and truly a mystique to ensure the service’s survival. 

Heather, if we could, I’d like to begin with the title of your new book, How the Few Became the Proud. I certainly recall the Marine Corps recruiting commercials from the 1980s. Some were on the TV, and some were run in movie theaters. And of course, the commercials ended with the same tagline: “The Few, the Proud, the Marines.” Who came up with that phrase?

Venable: “The Few, the Proud” slogan actually came out in the 1970s, coined by J. Walter Thompson, the Marine Corps’ ad agency. One slogan that a Marine coined during the span of my research, though, is “once a Marine, always a Marine.” The first reference I’ve found to this slogan occurred in about 1907, the invention of a creative recruiting officer. Recruiting officers had practical reasons for coining such a phrase—they really wanted former Marines to continue to identify with the Corps in order to encourage future Marines in their local communities to enlist. But it also marks a broader and intensifying effort to get all Marines to identify more actively and positively with their institution that really increased prior to World War I. 

What surprised me a bit was not that the Marine Corps was good at advertising, but how early and aggressively they advertised the Corps. And this was in the age before the big New York City advertisers, correct? 

Venable: A fundamental transformation occurred in American society between the Civil War and World War I in terms of what society deemed acceptable in regard to marketing. Before, if you wanted to sell oranges, for example, it was not polite to say something like, “We have the biggest, juiciest oranges of all the competitors.” Rather, you said something like, “A new shipment of oranges have arrived. Come get a dozen for 5 cents.” So some nineteenth-century Marines wanted to brag about their Corps, but they believed it to be impolite. When these sentiments began shifting in society as a whole, Marines seized the initiative and began actively promoting the Corps, largely without any interaction with the professional advertisers. 

Of all the commercials — the one where the Marine slays the dragon is the most memorable to me — but I also remember the commercial with the knight turning into the Marine. Apparently there’s even a ranking of all Marine commercials. Do you have a particular favorite? Is there a consistent theme in this advertising that goes back to the 19th century? 

Venable: I love the knight commercial as well. I don’t see a consistent theme going back to the nineteenth century. But I do see links between the idealism of Marines—especially recruiters—that really began solidifying prior to World War I. And there is a chivalry celebrated and a love for a brotherhood (and it was, at this point, a brotherhood solely) that echoes in the Corps’ most compelling commercials. Whereas the Army has tried many different approaches, the Corps has stuck more consistently with the idea of serving for the sake of serving. It could be argued that those knight commercials of the 1980s were even more idealistic than their predecessors, the early twentieth-century recruiting posters. (An interesting outlier to this general trend is this commercial from the 1970s.) 

In your book, you say that the Marines, early in their history, referred to themselves as soldiers. It’s how they described themselves to others. But that changes over time. How and when did that change take place? 

Venable: It still had not taken place fully by the end of World War I, which I was surprised to find. In World War I memoirs written by Marines, for example, I noticed how it was more natural for most Marines to refer to themselves as soldiers more frequently than Marines. Thus individual Marines who enlisted during the war did not buy as fully into the rhetoric as longer-serving Marines. But in terms of representing themselves to the public, Marines had solved the essential problem of making it mean something to be a Marine where they did not necessarily have to explain what a Marine was, which had been a problem for decades. 

You end the story, as your subtitle notes, around 1918. If you had more time and space, what is the biggest addition to this story? Does the mystique build through Korea? 

Venable: I would want to talk about the idea of every Marine being a rifleman, because I think that is a key addition to the Corps’ identity that I did not see in the time period I researched. I assume that as the Corps increasingly professionalized and evolved after World War I, it differentiated its roles and specialties, thus necessitating some adjustment to seek to keep the overall institutional culture cohesive. 

And how was the mystique challenged in Vietnam? Obviously, it survived that war. Any thoughts on how it did so? 

Venable: Amidst the recent social distancing and a lot of seniors in high school having to miss proms and graduations and other celebrations, I saw someone post on social media something like, “Imagine graduating from high school and knowing you were going to Vietnam.” My dad went to college for a few years before he enlisted in the Corps, so he didn’t have that exact experience, but I can still appreciate the intense feelings provoked by knowing what they would soon be doing overseas. And, like my dad, many of them chose to serve in the Corps rather than get drafted into the Army. You see the same kind of sentiments within the World War I timeframe. You want to serve alongside and with those people you perceive to be the best for a whole host of reasons. And, as long as the institution has leaders at all levels who uphold the institution’s most positive traits of identity and leadership, you’re going to do better no matter the state of social upheaval. In World War I, many Marines were disappointed by some of their leaders. I would assume that this same reaction factored into the experiences of Vietnam Marines. 

I want to move on to a chapter you wrote titled “Hypermasculinization.” What are you tackling in that chapter? And was the USMC (and is it still) disposed to hypermasculinization over the other U.S. military services? 

Venable: I really wanted to understand some of the rhetoric produced by the first female Marines that did not make sense to me initially. They really undercut their own service. Everything fell into place for me when I realized that the first female Marines had not actually freed male Marines to fight. Indeed, those male Marines had already been declared unfit for overseas service. So the Corps’ reaction to this, I think, was similar to the impetus behind “every Marine a rifleman.” The greatest contribution of the first female Marines was ironically strengthening the Corps’ masculine identity by promoting the idea that all male Marines were fighters and female Marines were there to support them with clerical and other types of work.

I am absolutely convinced that the Corps is still the most hypermasculine of all the services. In talking to Army officers as long as a decade ago, I have been surprised how much more open they were to incorporating women into combat than men.

And the current Commandant seemed to fall into that tradition based on some comments he made last summer. Since then, though, he has taken some steps in the right direction that, frankly, have surprised me positively in regard to integrating training, because I agree with the argument that if you don’t integrate Marines from the very beginning, you can’t ever really integrate them if women aren’t visibly present during foundational experiences like the Crucible. I’m also excited to see major improvements on the Marine Corps’ website that was pretty disheartening about six months ago in the marked absence of females on the site. 

Would you discuss the artist Chandler Christy’s famous recruiting poster — and how does it tie into that chapter?

Venable: I find it interesting that depictions of women in Marine uniforms tend to be more complex than women in Navy uniforms, at least around the World War I timeframe. The Chandler Christy poster features a woman dressed in a naval uniform as a simpering, flirtatious creature, intended to convey to a man that she is clearly not capable of military service, but he is. Thus images of women wearing Navy uniforms tended to avoid depictions of combat, like most of the Navy’s recruiting imagery at the time. But the Corps’ imagery is more complex and, indeed, conflicted. So a poster like “If You Want to Fight, Join the Marines” has some edgy elements to include a woman with her hand on a weapon, unlike the competing Chandler Christy poster for the Navy. But the Corps poses a more forthright challenge to potential recruits, asking them not just to “join” like the Navy but to “fight” and to consider why a woman is wearing a uniform and holding a bayonet but they aren’t. 

Howard Chandler Christy’s 1915 poster, “If you want to fight! Join the Marines.”

Heather, last question, is Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men overrated or underrated? Regardless, I think Aaron Sorkin nailed that script. 

Venable: Great question. I think that Jack Nicholson appeared to be even more extreme than the characters in something like The Great Santini. I’ve been privileged to meet many Marines in my life, and none of them has been that extreme in personality. And so he was too stereotypical. Marines are normal people, not caricatures. Sorkin stressed the “warrior” aspect of the Corps’ legacy, not its highly idealistic vein captured so well in those 1980s commercials. So Nicholson’s character is overrated because he’s not subtle enough and certainly not human enough. And that’s consistent with the perceived warrior culture in the U.S. military as a whole that has really taken hold over the last few decades. It’s too simplistic and neglects the whole person.

Heather Venable is an associate professor of military and security studies in the Department of Airpower at the United States Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College. As a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, she taught naval and Marine Corps history. She received her Ph.D. in military history from Duke University. The views here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Air Force, the Command and Staff College, or the U.S. Department of Defense. You can follow her on Twitter @Heather_at_ACTS and Linkedin

Commander Christopher Nelson is the Deputy Senior Naval Intelligence Manager for East Asia in the Office of Naval Intelligence in Suitland, Maryland. He is a naval intelligence officer and graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School in Newport, Rhode Island. The views here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Department of Defense.

Featured Image: Three noncommissioned officers from Marine Barracks, Washington at 8th & I, perform during a Tuesday Sunset Parade at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., July 30, 2013. (Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dan Hosack/Released)

A Conversation with Trip Barber on Fleet Design, Budget Analysis, and Future Warfighting

By Dmitry Filipoff

Capt. Arthur “Trip” Barber (ret.) served in the Navy for 41 years, ultimately capping his career in the civilian Senior Executive Service as the Navy’s Chief Analyst for the last 12 of those years. In this wide-ranging and candid conversation, Barber discusses major challenges with ongoing force structure assessments, how he helped lead the Navy’s Assessment Division (N81) in shaping the budget, and what it will take for the Navy to make some of its most ambitious warfighting concepts a reality. 

The Navy is at an inflection point as it conducts force structure assessments to determine what the future fleet may look like, including along the lines of an integrated force that more closely involves the Marines. How do you view the challenges of force structure assessment and fleet design in this modern age of rapid change?

Force structure assessments should be based on some form of analysis of steady-state and wartime capability requirements that uses specific types of units to meet these requirements, and that uses a specific set of military objectives to be achieved, and a concept of operations for the units’ employment against specific threats when doing so. If the design of the force is stable and the characteristics and employment concepts of its units are mature, this is a pretty straightforward task. That is not where the Navy is today.

When major changes in unit characteristics and force employment concepts are underway but have not yet stabilized and the threat is evolving rapidly, the task of doing a force structure assessment that produces specific provable numbers as the “requirement” for each type of unit becomes an unbounded problem. That is the situation the Navy is in today. It does not help that the whole process has become politicized and that the Navy is operating with a force structure requirement number that is unaffordable with current ship types, but is being told that the number must be achieved anyway, and soon. Force structure assessments are actually a set of about ten separate assessments of the requirements for that many different specific types of ships, so the aggregate number of 355 or whatever is misleading. If a requirement for 62 submarines is part of the 355 and the Navy has 42, but has 20 extra ships of some other type above the requirement for that type, the aggregate fleet number may be 355 but it is not the right fleet. That nuance is lost in the political process.

Until the new types of units and concepts of operations for these units are decided upon that will best meet our projected warfare challenges, including the newest one of operating as an “integrated” force with the Marines as they implement their new Commandant’s brilliant and disruptive force-planning guidance, it would be nice if the Navy could stop throwing force structure assessment numbers around. It would be ideal, although probably politically unrealistic, to take a pause in such assessments while a whole new design for the future fleet is worked out in detail. This could and should have been done over the last three years since the last force structure assessment, but it was not because the amount of change required was simply too disruptive for the institutional Navy to handle at that time. I think it is underway now, finally, but it will take a couple of years to settle out to the point where a force structure assessment is meaningful.

The Navy is looking to move toward a Distributed Maritime Operations concept for how it employs its forces. What do you make of this warfighting concept, and what could it take the Navy to get there?

Operating as an aggregated and concentrated force against an adversary like China with a massive long-range precision reconnaissance-strike system is not a survivable concept. Distributing the force is essential, but the distributed units need to be able to support each other and concentrate their effects when and where necessary. This requires a significant degree of connectivity and data movement between units at beyond-line-of-sight ranges, in an environment where the adversary is attacking that networking capability as their principal line of military effort. If a distributed force is not connected, it will be defeated in detail.

The concept for executing this connectivity is the “naval tactical grid” or whatever the equivalent joint term of the moment may be. It means everybody can communicate what they need to, when they need to. This aspiration began with Vice Admiral Art Cebrowski’s FORCEnet concept in the 1990s, but it has not made the implementation progress that it should have. Engineering this without ripping out every radio on every unit and starting over is really hard technically, and expensive. Nobody wants to own and pay this bill. Enforcing conformance of all systems and units to common and truly interoperable data and communications protocols is very difficult organizationally. But until we do both, distributed operations will not work very well. Achieving this connectivity vision is as disruptive a change as changing the design of the units that make up the fleet, and this is another change that I do not think is going on at the pace that is appropriate to the strategic situation we are in.

You served as the Navy’s Chief Analyst for 12 years at the Assessment Division, OPNAV N81. During that time you sought to change the relationship N81 had with other organizations, namely from being a so-called “honest broker” and more toward an analytics service provider. What exactly does this change mean and what effect did it have on those relationships?

This operating model that I built for the Navy’s analytic enterprise during my 12 years was dismantled after I retired, so my comments on how it used to work are not too relevant anymore. The Navy’s analytic resources are no longer concentrated in N81, they have been distributed back across many sponsors who are now largely on their own to conceive and execute whatever analysis they think they need, subject to some review of the proposed topics by the Navy Analytic Office. This is essentially a return to the situation of the 1990s. No other Service today operates their analytic enterprise in this manner. N81 is no longer a “service provider” of analysis to other sponsors, although they remain the only Navy line organization with professionally-trained operations analysts who know how to conduct and supervise analytic projects, and the only organization that does not own the programs that it analyzes.

The freedom from program ownership lets N81 be a “dispassionate” analyst of capabilities. I never liked the phrase “honest broker” to characterize this, because it implies that all others are “dishonest,” which is simply not true. But a dispassionate provider may not choose to analyze issues that are not going to drive major areas of force capability, and the answers provided may not be those that the sponsor with the issue wants to hear. Both of these factors made the N81 service provider model a bit unpopular.

In recent years the OPNAV staff saw some restructuring that sought to give the strategists a greater ability to provide inputs into developing the budget, and where before the strategists were often viewed as relatively weak influencers when it came to developing budget builds. How do you see the evolving relationship between strategy inputs and the POM process?

“Strategy” is the purview of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense, not the individual services. What the services call “strategy” and own is the concepts of force employment that they plan to use in execution of the strategy. The Navy’s strategic expression that counts is the budget it builds that funds and delivers specific forces and capabilities. That determines what the Navy can do, and more importantly what it cannot do. Navy strategists have generally been unable to articulate timely guidance that made strategic choices about what to not do in order to focus the available resources on the most critical things that must be done. When resources are constrained, you cannot have one without the other. Their guidance said everything was important, few things could be cut, and it usually came out late, so far into the POM-development timeline that funding decisions had already been made. Time, tides, and POMs wait for no man.

Recent CNO guidance documents from the Navy strategists have been better than I have seen for several decades, but they still cannot seem to bear to identify the full scale of things to not do in order to maximize the strategic contribution of the Navy within actually available resources. In the end, if strategists cannot make such hard calls on the relentless POM timeline, then programmers must. It has typically been the job of N81 to use results from analysis to help the programmers make these calls; that is why I found working in N81 so professionally rewarding and why having it within N8 was so important to the Navy. Unfortunately, the current political imperatives of sustaining and even increasing force structure size without a corresponding top line increase have limited the effect of strategic focus and analysis on what actually gets funded in the POM.

There is debate on how well wargaming has been employed to inform decision-making, particularly with respect to analytic rigor and ownership. How could wargaming evolve to have greater analytic clout within DoD?

Wargaming can have a distinct and important role in shaping the Navy’s direction, particularly in times of disruptive and rapid technological change, such as we are now in. If wargames are structured in a disciplined manner with realistic assumptions about event timing, logistic feasibility, threat behavior, and technology; are focused on the most critical issues; and have the right participants, they can be very useful. They can provide insights about which courses of action, technologies and concepts of employment are promising, and which are unlikely to work in a specific scenario. Wargames are human-in-the-loop activities whose outcomes change with each set of humans that do them, they are not rigorous repeatable analysis. Their best role is to shape the assumptions that are used by quantitative analysis before that analysis is applied against new operational problems. This analysis should then ideally be tested through operational experimentation that puts hardware (real or virtual) in the loop to see if things work out the way as predicted.

This “virtuous cycle” of wargame-analyze-experiment is the ideal way to design a force, but each step of this cycle is today owned and operated by a different organization, and it is fairly rare that the full cycle is actually executed in a coherent, end-to-end manner on a specific operational challenge. It takes time, focus, and patience to achieve this end-to-end coherence, and with organizational leadership rotations being what they are in the U.S. military, this is hard to do. There are a few areas where this happens fairly well, such as in air and missile defense, but the Joint and Navy future-force planning processes could and should do this more broadly and better.

You once described your role as N81B as not necessarily being focused on the specific analytic techniques being employed, but on being the expert on what is worth studying. Among the many demands for studies and analysis across the Navy, how does one determine what is truly worth studying?

Uniquely within the Navy the N81 staff knows how to structure an issue into an analytic problem, how to select the appropriate techniques to apply to it, and how to either do the work themselves or find the right outside provider to apply those techniques. My job (and that of the admirals who were my bosses in N81) was really to have as many interactions with senior leaders as possible and pay close attention to the bigger picture of what Navy leadership was trying to achieve, what the key problems were in getting there, where they needed (whether they knew it or not) analysis to help them understand the value or risk of the alternatives before them, and what analysis had been done before on that issue.

Senior leaders often do not know how to break a problem down into specific issues where analytic techniques can be applied, nor what issues have been studied before. That is really not their job anyway; that is what they expect a “Chief Analyst” to be able to do. I saw it as my job to recognize and make that connection, then bring back to the N81 staff the key new issues to go work their analytic skills on. Fairly regularly I initiated analytic projects in anticipation of issues that I saw coming months in advance. My experience of being deeply involved in 26 POM cycles in the Pentagon gave me pretty good intuition about what issues were likely to be coming up.

The issues worth studying are the ones that will potentially have a significant impact on warfighting outcomes or on the cost of buying, operating, or maintaining the force; and that are susceptible to analysis. Many issues are interesting, some are important, and some of the important ones are not really amenable to analytic techniques. It was N81’s job when I was there, and it is now instead the Navy Analytic Office’s job to recognize which was which.

Arthur H. (Trip) Barber is a retired Navy Senior Executive Service civilian, a retired Navy Surface Warfare Captain, and an engineering graduate of MIT and the Naval Postgraduate School. He was the Navy’s chief analyst of future force structure and capability requirements on the OPNAV staff as a civilian from 2002 to 2014.

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

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (Jan. 25, 2020) The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group transits in formation, Jan. 25, 2020. The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group is on a scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony Rivera/Released)

Sea Control 158 – COVID-19’s Impact on International Maritime Industry with Dr. Sal Mercogliano

By Jared Samuelson

Dr. Sal Mercogliano (@mercoglianos) joins Jared Samuelson (@jwsc03) to discuss the impact the COVID-19 virus is having on the maritime industry and the Chinese economy. The two discuss petroleum/LNG, container shipping, fishing, cruise ships, and the Baltic dry index.

Sea Control 158 – COVID-19’s Impact on International Maritime Industry with Dr. Sal Mercogliano











Jared Samuelson is the Senior Producer of the Sea Control podcast. Contact him at