Category Archives: Interviews

Admiral Scott Swift on Leadership, Risk, and a Life in the U.S. Navy

By Christopher Nelson

I recently had the chance to sit down and chat with Admiral Scott Swift, the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.  In forty-five minutes we covered a range of topics, from leadership styles to discussions on risk, naval culture, and why he joined the U.S. Navy.

Sir, I’d like to start with a question about leadership. How would you describe your leadership style?

It’s an interesting question. I think if you want to understand my leadership style you have to ask a lot of other people. My experience is that when leaders are asked that question, they describe what they desire their leadership style to be as opposed to what it actually may be. But in a word, I would say the leadership style I try to emulate is to be inclusive. Leaders that I admire most are those leaders that have pursued an inclusive leadership style. As opposed to the opposite  an exclusive leadership style one that excludes other opinions, one that excludes ideas that don’t match with their view of the world. Part of that inclusive leadership is uncertainty, it’s an important element. And it’s not something that is to be diminished but recognized and accounted for.  

Anytime you are a leader in the military  or leader of any organization there is more uncertainty than certainty in the decisions you face. And yet I struggled for a long time looking for words to describe that uncertainty in a broader context. Someone mentioned to me, actually they walked up to me and gave me a little piece of paper with a word written on it, and the word was “vulnerability.” I think as a leader it is important to be vulnerable. I don’t hear anyone saying that. Rather, I hear people saying to be a good leader it is about toughness, it’s about courage; it’s about being demonstrative and committed. I don’t see people saying it is really important as a leader to be vulnerable. Now, I don’t recommend that approach either, but in a discussion about leadership, I think it is important to tie that vulnerability into an element of inclusive leadership.

For example, I don’t like sitting at the head of the table. I sit here, on the side of the table during meetings. I do it on purpose because it makes the circle bigger. More people can talk when you are sitting in this chair directly across from you rather than sitting at the head of the table. This is especially true for the people envisioned as having the most power and that are most relevant are those that sit closest to the head of the table, as opposed to the tail of the table. So being inclusive, I think, is important. I’d like to think if you talked to 100 different people that know me, the majority would agree that my style is inclusive.

Are there are any people from your career or from history that you emulate, or that you think are great at inclusive leadership?

I think we are shaped by the time we are 16 years old. And I think the largest shaping element is our parents in those 16 years. I say 16 because by that time you start to think you are out from under that umbrella our parents provide. Then at about 18, you are really start transitioning out. So the transition occurs between 16 and 18. And of course, it could be grandparents or another individual that you may be drawn to that provides that guidance.

My experience, mainly from a discipline perspective, is when I get most insights into a Sailor’s background. I’ve seen wonderful Sailors come from wonderful parents; I’ve seen wonderful Sailors come from terrible parents, terrible Sailors from terrible parents, and terrible Sailors from wonderful parents. I think it is troublesome to try and correlate what happens in those 16 years.

The examples of leadership that are most compelling, those clearest to me, are examples of bad leadership. I had a tyrannical commander during one of my first tours. The squadron that I went to was the worst squadron on the base everyone knew it and no one wanted to go there. But that’s where I ended up. I knew right away that I did not want to be a leader like that commanding officer. We thought the executive officer was exactly the same as the commanding officer because he was very loyal. He would say things like, “We need to support the CO.” But after the change of command, we realized he was a completely different leader. Two weeks later he was killed in an aircraft mishap. There was a direct input commanding officer that was put in that was just phenomenal, one of the best leaders I have ever worked with. But the leadership lessons that I got from him I never understood until, three, four, five years later. So the negative lessons are very clear in my mind.

The positive lessons are much more subtle. It goes back to what I learned from my parents, who had the largest influence on me. They were inclusive. And then I’ve had examples that have reinforced those experiences throughout my career.

Do you have any advice you would give to your younger self in the Navy? Any regrets?

I tell the same story all the time. I joined the Navy to get out of the Navy. I wanted to be an airline pilot. I couldn’t afford the certifications and the flight times that the airlines required. I joined the Navy because I wanted to fly, to get experience. At that time it was only a four-and-a-half year commitment from the time that you got your wings. And when my commitment was up, I was a week from leaving the Navy, I had all my paperwork, then I decided to pull my papers because I was afraid I couldn’t engender the same relationships outside the Navy as inside the Navy.  

In fact, it’s funny, I know you’re familiar with Admiral Stavridis’ book The Accidental Admiral. I wanted to sue him for copyright infringement because I have been referring to myself as the accidental admiral for some time [laughter]. I made some comment to a group of people back when I was a one-star, and I would refer to myself as the accidental admiral, and I’d tell people that no one was more surprised than I was when I made admiral. And then afterward there would be a big line of people lined up, I assumed ready to congratulate me on these incredible statements I made. But no, they were there to tell me that they were more surprised than I was when I made admiral. My ego couldn’t take it anymore [laughter].

I think along with leadership there needs to be a true sense of humility. You shouldn’t feel worthy of the job. You should be made to feel unworthy because of the quality and commitment of the people around you. I was just up in the N37, the operations directorate. It is a small group of individuals, and it’s just incredible what they do. I don’t think they totally appreciate what they do and the impact of what their day-to-day actions are having on the Fleet.

It leads me to the direct answer to your question: I tell people that I owe the Navy everything and I owe the Navy nothing. I got in the Navy to get out, and here I am a four-star. I used to ask myself, “How in the heck did this happen?” Everybody else would say, “Yeah, I know, we are trying to figure out the same thing, so quit asking that question as well.” But at the same time, when I say I don’t owe the Navy anything, I’ve never done anything just to get a job. So my advice to people is, for example, if you really don’t want to go to Washington D.C. for a job, but you know it’s the best thing for your career, well, then don’t go. I’ve had three tours in Washington. D.C.  I went back as the director of the Navy staff because the CNO said you have to come back to be the director because you don’t have a clue how the building works. I said, “Yeah, I don’t want to know how the building works” [laughter].

When I was a one-star I had a two-star come into my office. He was obviously down and wasn’t in that great of a mood. I said, “Hey, what’s up?” He said, “I just found out I’m going to this job.” I said, “I would love to go to that job. So where’s the bad news in this?” His comment was that no one that went to that job was promoted to a three-star. So, here I am a one-star, and this guy’s a two-star, and he’s worried about making his third star? He was worried about all the wrong things. The job he was offered was a great job that would have opened all types of doors inside and outside the military.

I have no regrets.  I always viewed every set of orders that I got as an opportunity.

A friend of mine once told me that he tries to balance work, family, and faith. I’ve seen your schedule, you are incredibly busy. How do you balance your work and family life?

When I was an O5, I was spending way too much time with work and not enough time with family. So we took a day out of the weekend and said this day is for us. We weren’t going to do anything that I didn’t want to do, and we weren’t going to do anything my wife didn’t want to do. We’d pick a day, a Saturday or a Sunday. The first day I grabbed a bucket sitting out in the garage, and she asked, “What are you doing?” I said, “Well, this is our day together.”  “I know,” she said, but “what are you doing?”  I said, “I’m going to wash your car.”  She then said, “That’s what you want to do, I don’t care what my car looks like.” Even then I was still too focused on the stuff that needed to get done. I have a hard time relaxing. That lasted for that tour and it lasted through my major command tour. Once I made flag officer it went out the window.  

So what we do now is on Saturday and Sunday morning we don’t set the alarm; we wake up when we wake up. We go downstairs and have a cup of coffee and sit in the living room and just talk about whatever is on our minds. It might be ten minutes or it might be two hours. Whenever work intrudes I have to go off and do the work thing. We go out on Saturday to either lunch or dinner. And then on Sunday, we’ll go out to lunch. My Sunday afternoon is committed to getting ramped back up for the week. Then one week out of the quarter I take leave. My wife said we can’t spend our leave on Oahu, we have to get off the island because work is always there. So I said, “How about the big island, you know, for distance?” She said, “Yeah, that would work.” I thought: that was too easy.  So we started planning our first trip. I said to her, “You said the big island was OK, so are you thinking about Kona?”  She then said, “No, no, I meant the big island  California or east.” That was a wakeup call [laughter]. But you have to find that time for yourself. It’s a sacrifice. You have to have the humility to ask yourself what are the things we need to do together.

There’s a saying that a chaplain whispered in my ear as a reminder when I was talking to the Sailors at the Fitzgerald memorial, and I think it is originally a Morale, Welfare, Recreation (MWR) saying, but it’s “Mission First, Sailors Always.” I always thought that was backward. I changed it when I was a strike group commander. What I said was “Sailors First, Mission Always.” And then I changed it from “sailors” to “people.” So now what I say is “People First, Mission Always.” Because if you put the mission first there is never time for people. The mission will just consume all the energy and all the resources that you have. Show me a mission you can get done without people. If you focus on the people they’re going to get the mission done. People naturally gravitate toward getting the mission done. They don’t gravitate towards spending more time with their family. That’s the message we have to drive through the idea that you have to make time for you and your family.

I thought this was going to be a two-year tour, but when I found out this was going to be a three-year tour, I knew I had to make a change. When the CNO told me it was going to be three years, I sat down with my wife the next morning. I found out on a Friday, and that next morning, that Saturday, it impacted me and my wife the same way. Both of us knew we would have to change our lifestyle. We knew we had to take measured time off; we came to this conclusion independently.  

Sir, I want to shift the conversation to risk. And the anecdote that is often used as a comparison between today’s Navy and the Navy of the early 20th century is Admiral Nimitz grounding his ship, the USS Decatur, when he was an ensign. He turned out OK, even though he was court martialed and received a letter of reprimand. Behind this anecdote is the idea that years ago we would accept more risk and failures were forgiven. But today we simply don’t. Do you agree with that? Are we a risk averse Navy? Do we know how to fail and allow ourselves to learn from those failures?

Yes. I think we are a risk averse Navy and, not only that, a risk averse society. I think it is driven by a few things. 9/11 has something to do with it as does the numerous bombings and terrorist attacks over the years. Parents are nervous about where their kids are, and so on. I used to take off out of the house when I was a five year old. I was well beyond the confines of what my parents thought the neighborhood was. I didn’t give it a second thought; my parents didn’t give it a second thought. And I would be much more concerned about my kids doing that today after reading all these reports in the paper about crimes.  

So I don’t think the risk is any higher today, however, we are more informed as a society today, and because we are more informed we tend to be less tolerant. We are less tolerant of making mistakes. And unfortunately, the by-product of that is we are less tolerant of learning. In my mind we are caught in this loop: we don’t want to learn by making mistakes, so we have more mistakes, more mishaps. We try to manage risk directly as opposed to saying, as an example, letting a young child explore the world and make mistakes, it’s part of life’s learning. I think that’s true in the military. We do need to be more tolerant of risk. There need to be fewer implications with respect to making mistakes. And I mean regimented implications. You need to study each mishap as being unique. And then from what you learn you need to decide what measures need to be taken to prevent it from happening again.

Do you think this discussion about risk will be one of the biggest challenges the Navy will face in the next 5-10 years?

I don’t know if it will be the biggest challenge, but it is a challenge the Navy needs to take on. And its a culture change, so it is going to take a long time.  

The culture we need to change in the Navy is a 20-year culture. People that are going to leave before retirement, those people will be hard to change. The most compelling group to change is the group that is going to stay for 20 years. If you are trying to influence a group that has a 20-year lifespan within the organization, you’ve got to force the change as a commander and hold that change “lever” for 10 years. If you want to move the culture, and you hold that lever over, after 10 years, when you let go of the lever, it’s going to go to the middle. Half the people are used to where you held the new culture at, the other half remember how it was. And that half that remembered what it used to be like…well, they don’t like change, they don’t like uncertainty, they like that stability. They don’t like all of those elements that we characterize as risk.  

Risk aversion is part of our society certainly the world and American society and it’s part of our Navy. I think the experiences of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom were incredibly resourced from a financial and manpower perspective, so commanders drove risk to zero. We are not going to have those kinds of resources to face our future threats.

On the staff, we talk about how you like to say a polarizing statement, particularly in a brief or a small group discussion. Is there a reason why you use the polarizing statement?

Time. My most precious personal resource that I have is time. My most important professional resource is people. This is the danger of being inclusive. You can’t just sit around and have the big long conversation. That’s not what being inclusive is about. What’s being inclusive is the diversity of the group as well. You need to have a diverse staff. It’s not gender diversity, it’s not racial diversity, it’s none of those things it’s the diversity of ideas. We get to a diversity of ideas by seeking to include people within our spheres of leadership and organization that have had different life experiences than us. And we have to value them for those experiences, for who they are.

That is why I seek to surround myself with people whose life experiences are different than mine. Who are not white males, from southern California, who went to OCS, and flew jets. Otherwise, we end up as a group-think organization. But if you don’t create an inclusive environment, no one is going to bring those ideas in.  So if you don’t sit here at the table and invite people to put all their ideas on the table and then criticize the ideas without criticizing the individual that’s what’s being inclusive. But that takes time. To optimize the time I want to keep the dialogue going.  

If we start out on the margins of the issue, circling around until we finally get to the core issue, and it takes twenty minutes, we’ve just wasted twenty minutes. So if that is what the discussion should be about, well, put that on the table. This is what the discussion is, and drive the discussion out in an increasing circle from there. This additional discussion can happen after you have that polarizing statement. [FIG 1.]  

FIG 1. Admiral Swift on the Value of the Polarizing Statement

The other reason is, in order to be inclusive, people have to be willing to put their ideas on the table. I need to be willing to my put my ideas on the table and have people critique them, just like anybody else. So, who has the better idea, me or you?

It depends on the topic and the person’s expertise.

Absolutely. But I’ve got this bubble around me. People think that because I have four stars that somehow I am intellectually superior to them. That’s not the case. You’ve got to empower the group. That’s not a common response. That’s the response of someone that has been inculcated in an inclusive learning environment, in an inclusive leadership environment. So let’s have the polarizing statement first so we know what the goal is, and then people can say, “I don’t think that is central to the discussion.” Yes, the issue may be somewhere else. And I reserve the right to change my mind. Here’s what I think today, ten minutes later I might have a different thought. Leading is listening; it’s not transmitting, it’s not one-way communication.  

Sir, to be fair, as a four star when you change your mind, it has reverberations. Do you realize the unintended effects it may have on the staff?  

You have to be careful with what you say. Sometimes I don’t appreciate that enough. The best rank that I ever had was lieutenant. I had more authorities, more insights, and more knowledge about my specific weapon system. And I could get more things done as a lieutenant. But now that I am a four star, yes, I can get specific things done by throwing my weight into it, but I still think of myself as a lieutenant.  

Whenever I say something about work, my wife always says, “Here we go again, the staff is going to jump through hoops, they are going try and deliver on that.” She’s right. It’s just a comment that I make, so it does have an impact. In answer to your question: We should delay decisions until two points. One point is when you determine no more information is going to come into the situation, and then move on.  

If this is when you are aware of the problem, here (A1), and this is when the decision needs to be made (A2). You should not make a decision until this point unless you have sufficient information to make the decision earlier. If you do have that information, well, then make this decision at this point and give all this time back to others to focus on other things, then we are done with problem A. We’ve made a decision here, now let’s move on to the next problem which is problem B.

So now this is problem B solving time. You may get to the point where you don’t have enough information to make the decision, that’s when you go to the commander, and the commander says this is what we are going to do. The first decision point is when you have the knowledge to make an informed decision, the second decision point is when you have to actually make the decision.

FIG2. Admiral Swift on the Science & Art of Decision Making

Commanders lose sight of this because they want all the power that comes with the authority of command, but they don’t want the responsibility. Well, then why did you make that decision? I didn’t have enough information to make an informed decision, so I made an uninformed decision. How many people are willing to say that? That’s what command is. Nimitz made uninformed decisions all the time. The decision Nimitz made for the Coral Sea was absolutely uninformed. It was subjective. So we talk about the science of leadership and we talk about the art of leadership.

All the data and information is science decision space. You get to a point when you are not gathering any more information, and this becomes the art of leadership.

What’s the last good book you read?

It won’t surprise you, you’ve read it, but it’s Jim Hornfischer’s Neptune’s Inferno. There’s a whole raft of reasons why that book is compelling. It’s a book on the science of leadership and the art of leadership. It’s also easy to read. If I can’t figure out where the author is going on a subject within the first thirty pages, then it is difficult for me to continue with a book because rarely do I have the time.  

Neptune’s Inferno, by James Hornfischer (Google Books Images)

It is a compelling book because it gets at a strategic dichotomy between the Marine Corps and the Navy. It’s compelling from a leadership perspective, with Admiral Ghormley being stuck behind his desk and not being able to circulate through the battlefield. And the tyranny of distance the Nimitz picture with the HF radio in the background he’d listen to the communications and through those comms, he would try to patch together what was going on. He knew he had a problem with Ghormley, but he couldn’t figure out exactly what it was. It took him three months to come to the decision that he had to relieve Ghormley to get the campaign moving forward. So he had a decision to make: do I send Halsey or do I send Spruance? I like Spruance because I am a believer in inclusive leadership. (And another great book is The Quiet Warrior, by Buell. I am attracted to Spruance, so that is not an unbiased recommendation. I’ve read it several times.)  

So Nimitz decided to send Halsey down there because he needed someone to kick ass. He didn’t need a lot of theory applied; he needed a bunch of ass kicking, someone to get it done. That to me is compelling from a leadership perspective. That comes out in Neptune’s Inferno.

And then the technical piece is interesting. We had some young lieutenants that were involved in the design process of radars. They were providing advice to the task group commanders on how to use radar. But the task group commanders were putting the radar ships in trail. Information was the key to night fighting. So the radar pickets should have been up forward to give a better sense of what the Japanese were doing.  So we’ve got this technology piece which is a lesson as well. I’m a big believer in the Third Offset strategy, but I’m concerned we are going too far to technology as being the solution. The most critical weapon system that we own in the U.S. military is something that we all carry with us all the time it is right between our ears. That’s what we need to get focused on. That’s why that book resonates with me.

Along these lines, where do you go for your news? How do you consume daily news media?

I asked my PAO if there was a program out there that could sort through news and blogs. And I’ve found a news app, and I do a lot of reading with that application. But you have to be careful with an application like that because you tend to self-select stuff. So if you read stuff that you agree with you are reinforcing your own ideas. So you need diversity. And I don’t have a favorite news channel. I view all channels regardless of my personal view. You have to have alternate views, and you are not going to get them if you go single source. All of my personal reading is actually professionally based.  

Last question, what advice would you give to the next Pacific Fleet Commander?

Having that sense that there are going to be good people there, that they will help you through this process, is the advice that I would give. You need time ahead of the turnover to circulate through the staff to get a sense of what is going on. And you need time after turning over to circulate through the staff. After I took this job, a month was set aside for what I call listening. Another month was set aside for observing, and a third month was set aside for acting. The pass-downs are easier the more senior we get. The pass-down I got when I was the coffee mess officer as an ensign, well, that was a lot of accounting. The pass-down as the security officer as a lieutenant, that was a pain, no one had done an inventory for over two years. I was like “what!” Tracking down all the stuff that had been destroyed or not, that was hard.

This job, you know what the science is, the hard part is understanding what the art is. What are the personalities? Surveys are important here because it will help you understand where we are as a staff. That’s how I determine if we are making a difference. Do people feel empowered? Are they excited about coming to work?

Sir, thank you for the time. I enjoyed it.

Thanks for all you do.

Admiral Scott Swift was promoted to Admiral and assumed command of the U.S. Pacific Fleet on May 27, 2015. He is the 35th commander since the Fleet was established in February 1941 with headquarters at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Read his entire bio here.

Lieutenant Commander Christopher Nelson is a naval officer stationed at the Pacific Fleet Headquarters in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and the Navy’s Maritime Advanced Warfighting School in Newport, RI. The comments and questions here are his own and do not reflect those of the U.S. Navy or Department of Defense.

Featured Image: U.S. Navy Adm. Scott H. Swift delivers remarks as he assumes command of U.S. Pacific Fleet from Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. during the change-of-command ceremonies for U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Pacific Fleet in Honolulu May 27, 2015. (U.S. DoD)

Sea Control 140 – The U.S. Coast Guard with Admiral Charles Michel

By Matthew Merighi 

Join us for the latest episode of Sea Control for an interview with Admiral Charles Michel, the Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, for a discussion about his service’s unique role in ensuring international maritime security. From his vantage point at the intersection of military force and law enforcement agency, he discusses some of the emerging threats in the maritime domain, how cyber challenges affect the Coast Guard’s mission, and the enduring importance of protecting global supply chains.

Download Sea Control 140 – The Coast Guard with Admiral Charles Michel

A transcript of the interview between Admiral Michel (CM) and Matthew Merighi (MM) is below.

MM: We’re here with Admiral Michel, the Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Admiral Michel, thank you for joining us on Sea Control today.

CM: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.

MM: As is Sea Control tradition, please introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about your background, how you came to be where you are now, and what were the main events that happened along the way.

CM: Sure I’m the Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard, so I’m the number two person at the Coast Guard. I assist the Commandant. We’re in this great organization called the U.S. Coast Guard which has about 40,000 active duty members, plus reserve, plus a cadre of auxiliaries which help us out. Really, we are an agency with global responsibilities so the Commandant needs somebody like me to run this entire enterprise.

I’m the chief operations officer and also the chief acquisitions officer, and a bunch of other things that make this the world’s best Coast Guard. I think I’ve got an interesting background, and I know you have a naval officer audience, but the Coast Guard is kind of unique in that we can become specialized officers but also retain our line credentials at the same time. So I’m a lawyer for the Coast Guard as well as an operator. I spent about half of my pre-flag officer career afloat and the other half as a lawyer which is kind of unusual now. I’ve been able to work all the way up the organization. According to my bio I’m the only 4-star officer in all the armed forces who’s also a career Judge Advocate (JAG) which is kind of an unusual thing, just a consequence of what I do. So I’ve got kind of a unique background with operations afloat and legal, and I’ve done some other things for the Coast Guard.

MM: So let’s talk for a minute about your role since you mentioned you’re the only four star JAG who has managed to make it to that level. But you’re also the first 4-star Coast Guard officer who is not the Commandant. So in terms of your day to day role, in doing acquisitions and operations, how have you transitioned the role of the Vice Commandant to being a 4-star? Have you noticed it being different or how has that gone?

CM: It’s different and in a good way. I think Congress chose to elevate this position from what has traditionally been a 3-star to a 4-star in recognition of the Coast Guard’s prominence and the need for another senior officer for all the diplomatic and representational duties we share. I know you mentioned the COO and the acquisition officer which have external aspects, but our work with all the elements of the defense establishment, the 4-star elevation gets you into different levels of engagements than as a 3-star. Same on the international scene. Bringing a 4-star on the table has a different flavor. I know to junior officers there doesn’t seem to be a difference between a 1-star and a 2-star, but there’s a big difference between a 3-star and a 4-star in a lot of events and I think it’s a reflection of the prominence and the credibility of the Coast Guard within the congressional leadership.

MM: So let’s talk then about your work with the other services. What is the Coast Guard’s role in the maritime security space, particularly how it organizes and how it works with the other services? Also how does the Coast Guard pursue its unique mission set of being a military service and law enforcement agency?

CM: For your listeners who aren’t familiar with the Coast Guard we are a member of the armed forces at all times but at the exact same time we have the responsibilities of a law enforcement, regulatory, humanitarian, environmental protection, navigation, and communication agency and much more. These are all things we bring to the fight at the same times. So when you are talking about the world of threats we have an oar in the water on the symmetric threats such as nation state actors and on any given day a number of our ships are chopped to combatant commanders.

Today, without giving the numbers, we have a number of ships with U.S. Southern Command in a detection/monitoring mission. We have six patrol boats in the Persian Gulf who are chopped to CENTCOM. A lot of times we have an icebreaker chopped to PACOM for deep freeze missions. We participate in RIMPAC and other exercises with DoD. We’ve got responsibilities on the symmetric side and on any given day there are Coast Guard people on every continent. Some small boat units and some major units. We are required by statute to operate as a specialized service in the Navy during time of war when the president directs. So our equipment is interoperable with DoD partners. Many aspects of our operations are woven together.

At the same time the Coast Guard has the job of law enforcement agency, regulatory and many other things. A lot of our effort is engaged in that, regulation of shipping, making sure cargo entering the nation’s ports is secure, making sure inland waterways, which is a whole highway vital for economies to operate, works together. We deal with the navigation on the Great Lakes, we conduct polar operations, protect fisheries, you’ll probably see us on the Weather Channel rescuing people in storms and other things. And we’re a unique agency that operates in the whole threat spectrum from symmetric actors, to terrorists, to criminals, to regulator violations to mom-and-pop boaters getting in trouble, to natural disasters, hurricanes, earthquakes, and oil spills. All with 40,000 people, smaller than the New York Police Department.

MM: That’s obviously hard to accomplish with 40,000 people and a very broad mission set. One that many of our listeners know some of the aspects but not all. So from your position looking at those different challenges in maritime security and Coast Guard missions, which of those threats are the ones that interest you the most, that you think are going to be the most potent or the potential to evolve to be pressing to our national security? Is it terrorism, criminal elements, migration, what are sort of the things you’re keeping an eye on?

CM: On the symmetric side of the house, not counting DPRK, let’s take a look at the threats to freedom of navigation that are being asserted by nation states right now, whether its Russian navigation restrictions in the Northern Sea Route or things going on in the South China Sea. That increasing world of these unlawful navigation restrictions concern me quite a bit. I think freedom of the seas for national security and movement of commerce is absolutely critical. The Coast Guard plays a role in all those freedom of navigation assertions whether being the lead role of the international maritime organization where we champion these rights or others. Those concern me a lot on the symmetric side.

On the asymmetric side, we have a lot of terrorists out there doing a lot of bad things. Some of them have shown the ability to operate in maritime spaces. Maritime is also a logical route for moving goods or terrorists themselves, we monitor that extremely carefully. Post September 11th, we have established a layered security regime that involves ports, ships, and a whole network of connections as we deal with those asymmetric threats that may harm this nation. Then we have a bunch of other challenges such as competition for resources whether it’s unlawful claims to hydrocarbon jurisdiction, fisheries poaching, or a whole other world to work with. I get concerned with transnational criminal organizations in the Western Hemisphere due to their increasing sophistication. They put out semi-submersible vessels with over 3000 mile ranges. That means they can carry 7-10 metric tons of any product from South America to Africa almost undetected. Their ability to impact the lives of people in the Western Hemisphere, they create a large homicide rates, instability which is driving migration which is driving instability. I worry about that whole problem set.

Then when is the next black swan event such as an oil spill or a major hurricane or earthquake which we have responsibilities for. It really is a world of threats and it requires a very agile agency to have the capabilities and capacities and authorities to deal with this range of threats. Whether symmetric nations, law enforcement challenges, terrorists, and then the big one in my wheelhouse that surprised me the most is cybersecurity. You wouldn’t think the Coast Guard wouldn’t be that involved but we are. We are a member of DoD Information Network, so we have own cyber defense challenges. We also explore how to use cyber to better enable our mission sets. And lastly, we are the agency charged with the regulatory responsibility for an increasingly automated port and shipping industry.

You may have seen that we had a major attack on Maersk shipping and ports that shut them down for a while. The entire delivery chain was subject to a cyber attack and that concerns us because that industry is a model of efficiency; because it is reliant on the internet and all the goodness of that. And every time you bring in a new navigation, communication system, etc. that replaces a human which you plug into the internet, it creates vulnerabilities. That is probably my most challenging task to create an agency that can operate in that space while that space is an active operational battlespace.

MM: Let’s dive deeper into the cyber issue. When I was doing some research before coming here, I saw you had given some talks on cyber and it surprised me just as much as it did about how crucial that realm is to the Coast Guard. Can you walk us through what happened to Maersk, it was Petya right?

CM: Yes, it was a Petya variant.

MM: So walk us through what happened, not just the basics but how the Coast Guard got involved and what you learned about how the Coast Guard needs to prepare for and how you’re going to get in front of it.

CM: First of all, we’ve got a good partner in Maersk. We do have authority to mandate reporting from certain partners, but they are a responsible party who brought this to our attention. They actually sit on a lot of our Area Maritime Security Committees (AMSCs). The Coast Guard Captain of the Port for each of the nation’s 361 major ports is designated as a Federal Maritime Security Coordinator. He chairs a committee that brings together all federal, state, local and private entities to deal with maritime security because ports are very integrated. If you deal with one portion of the port it will impact another. So getting a holistic approach to this problem set is critical. Most AMSC’s perform that function.

So this report was brought through the AMSCs. We took a look at it from a security perspective with Maersk. This was not a government-owned system. It was privately owned. The Coast Guard has mandatory security regulations on the physical security side, such as access control. On the cyber side we have some voluntary guidance but we have no imposed standards for shipping or port facilities. So we are operating against that kind of legal backdrop. But we reached out to help Maersk as much as we could, to try and get their arms around what kind of attack they were dealing with, what kinds of systems, business, or industrial control systems. Without going into great detail, a large portion of their remediation was done by their business people.These were their business systems by and large. But that split between what is the responsibility to a nation from cyber attack is really complicated.

For example, for a Maersk port facility, they have certain requirements for access controls. And typically those are to keep trespassers off their property or maybe a terrorist or a criminal or something like that. But it’s typically not to keep out nation states. If a nation state wanted access to that port facility, we do not require them to hold off nation states. But think about this from a cyber perspective. That exact same security posture for that Maersk port facility. If a nation actually attacks their cyber infrastructure, who has the responsibility to defend against that? A private citizen, the government, an insurance or regulatory problem? There’s a bunch of ways to skin that cat, we’re gonna have to get our arms around this, where on the physical security side we have that pretty much covered.  We know what territoriality is, we know what a nation state attack is, we know what international law is on that. It has a physicality aspect that were comfortable with and cyber is a different animal.

Every time you turn on your cellphone it’s not just your friends and family; it’s hacktivists, criminals, nation states, all types of different actors, and what is your level of responsibility for that access system. It’s much broader, but as a lawyer I can tell you what I think will make a difference is creating common definitions and defining terms in this space then we can develop the norms we have in the physical world and get those into the cyber side. But we’re building this plane as it’s flying, there are real operations occurring in this space, good and bad.

The Coast Guard is kind of unique on this side, I think we talk from a position of not a large organization but authority-rich and when the Coast Guard was created it was not only for symmetric threats, i.e. nation states; the Coast Guard has been in every single war in the U.S., since the founding of the country, that has had a maritime component. But we also have this basket of other authorities that deal with law enforcement and regulatory and insurance challenges and all these other things. And you’re going to want to convert that same type of flexible nimble organization to cyber because when you get a cyber attack, where is it coming from? In the past if we knew it was from a nation state you know what the authorities were, if it was a criminal you know what the authority was. But now many times you get ambiguous threats. So when you need to align your authorities or responsibilities, you need a nimble agency like the Coast Guard, or the National Guard who also has nimble authority to deal with these types of threats. I know that Alexander Hamilton founded the Coast Guard in 1790, but in many ways he was very cyber aware because he founded an organization that was very nimble with all these authorities.

MM: So a parallel challenge to that that you alluded to in the cyber domain which is the Coast Guard has a role in is protecting supply chains. There’s the cyber dimension but there are also similar challenges to physical aspects too. Tell us a little bit about what the Coast Guard’s role is now and will be in the future for U.S. supply chain security

CM: So it’s related to what I said before. We built this wondrous supply chain that is the marvel of the world, and it gets better every day, with the just-in-time delivery of products, all overseen by this integrated IT that makes all this stuff happen. Monitoring containers from the time it’s loaded, where it gets on, where it’s trans-shipped, all the way here. Its sequenced to get on the automated truck that carries it to the rail yard. The Coast Guard doesn’t own that entire supply chain. We basically own the part where it gets loaded and where it gets off and we have responsibilities for a certain amount reaching the port.

When you look at negotiation in international ship port facility security code at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), it was revolutionary for the IMO to reach off of the ship onto the port. Bringing that port infrastructure into the security realm and our domestic legislation does the same thing. But other agencies such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with their lading rules and their electronic manifesting, cargo tracking, container security initiative, CTPAT, basically a partnership against terrorism that is voluntary and allows shippers to become trusted shippers. It’s a combination of things that’s going to protect this security chain. A lot of it resides on the side of the shippers but part of it is the government too. Where they are ladened on the ships, what the security arrangement at the port, on the ship and on the other end, how it reaches its intermode of transportation, all of which has a cyber element because it is all on network IT. So it’s a combination of both physical and cyber security.

I deal with issues like, should all containers be physically opened? I think if anyone who has asked that question has never been to the port of L.A.-Long Beach (LALB) and seen the vastness of the operation, and the majority of it brings goodness and essential economic strength, and what I will say is  reduction techniques can be used to decrease the amount of physically going in and opening containers. But you can smartly address risk in that system through some more sophisticated methods.

MM: One of the most unique things I’m seeing about the Coast Guard is that you are referencing actions from private organizations and international partners which are done seamlessly with your own work. So what does the Coast Guard do that makes it able to effectively operationalize these public-private partnerships and international cooperation?

CM: First of all, the Coast Guard from its design in the very beginning, was made to operate with others. It started out as an anti-smuggling organization, but even then it was reaching to people on shore and to international components, so we have a great organizational reputation. Each one of our Coast Guard folks here has as part of their organizational DNA a natural bent to work with partners. We want to leverage our partners and I think it comes down to us being such a small organization with a lot of responsibilities. Authority rich with great people but not a lot of Coast Guard to go around. So we aren’t afraid to get our hands into cooperation at all.

Rarely do we reach for a fully organic Coast Guard solution which I think is rarity in government. Most government organizations say how are we going to build this, how much is it going to cost, etc. The Coast Guard mentality is: who can we work with to fulfill our goals? We’re more than comfortable with working with people. We have Coast Guard people in small numbers scatter around the government and around the world and they bring that organizational DNA of connecting with others. They bring that basket of authorities and they bring that organizational reputation of being a good organization and partner.

Private industry loves it. Many times they don’t want regulations; they want assistance and they want a level playing field so that they can remain competitive. Many times they want to shoulder that responsibility themselves. In cyber, I think many of the solutions are going to come from private industry with government guidance. And I think that softer approach is how the CG solves problems and thats the way we’ve been from the very beginning. We’re a natural integrator and typically our first grab is not to build our own organization, which is unusual for a regulatory organization.

MM: One of the challenges I’ve seen personally, one which Admiral Stavridis at the Fletcher school has talked about and the Stimson Center has been doing some work on, is the role of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing as an economic and national security threat. Walk us through what you see the future of fishing enforcement will look like and what the Coast Guard’s role will be.

CM: For many people, protein from the ocean is their main source of food. And I can tell you when people can’t eat then bad things happen. For a lot of countries it is an existential threat, especially these small Pacific island nations that rely on fishing for sustenance. This is a huge challenge and I can tell you there is a huge competition for resources.

Fisheries is just one example. Fishing technology has advanced so fast that boats can clean out all the protein they need and then get out of dodge and sell their products with no eye on sustainable fisheries, which really is a tragedy of the commons. Part of the reason they can do this is that there is no eye in the sky on oceans with maritime awareness. So it is a governance challenge too, the legal regimes. And legal regimes have been put into place. In fact, Congress recently took some action. One of the unique challenges of IUU fishing that makes it particularly difficult to deal with is you have to have a viable at-sea enforcement regime. You can’t deal with it through ports. A fisherman can choose where to put his catch or where he wants to trans-ship it, so by the time it gets to a port official, it is hard to be able to take action. I’m not saying port enforcement officials don’t have that in place; but if you don’t have that enforcement presence at sea to catch them in the act, take their boat, take their catch, you’re just not going to get there. There’s not enough law enforcement assets, so it’s a awareness challenges. I think that is where you’re going to see some of the most innovative things done will be in maritime domain awareness.

So the use of commercial overhead is something we’ve talked about before with sophisticated sensors to alert law enforcement regarding closed areas. To provide countries with some ability, even if it’s a shared ability, to do at-sea law enforcement. Some will get together to share an asset or maybe use a ship-rider program which we’ve done before to spread their authorities. I think that in combination with a smart look of the space itself is going to be a major way forward. I think transponders offer a lot too; to use transponders to sort out legitimate fishers from illegitimate fishers, deal with dark vessels and non-emitters, which we’re getting better at every day with sensors becoming cheaper. That is something else that we can do.

I’m of two minds of this thing. There are lots of countries where their fishers are doing illegal activities and I’m not convinced that all of them are doing everything they can to police their fishing fleet. At the same time, I’m optimistic about technology, more sophisticated law enforcement regimes that may balance this. And I think there is a place for port enforcement on this, although as I said you really can’t completely deal with it without at-sea enforcement.

MM: Since we’re reaching the end of our interview, we will conclude with the same conclusion with most of our episodes. Tell us about what you have been reading recently, what are the main articles and books that have caught your eye.

CM: This is going to sound pretty boring, but I’ve been reading a lot of energy-related publications because I believe the world is undergoing a geostrategic shift in the balance of power in energy and related products. Although it wasn’t covered very well in the press, President Trump mentioned not only energy independence for this country but also energy dominance. I would encourage people to examine that topic because that is super important.

This country has been energy dependent, in varying degrees, on lots of different players in the past, but it may not be in the future. We have liquefied natural gases leaving this country in export quantities both through the expanded Panama Canal to Asian nations which are consuming that. President Trump in his speech to Poland highlighted that a cargo of U.S. liquefied natural gas was delivered to Poland for the first time, which has huge geopolitical ramifications in regards to Russia. The combination of two simple technologies, horizontal drilling and fracking, has the potential of becoming a major energy supplier which will impact the world geopolitical climate. Whether it’s countries in the Middle East or South America who’ve relied on their own version of energy dominance, I see that being chipped away.

As a Coast Guardsman this is hugely relevant, because if energy is being exported by any means other than pipelines, it is moving by water and through the sophisticated shipping industry that moves products around in a global market. Once again, a just-in-time market, and we get movement of energy products in this country on inland waterways, offshore, arctic, you name it. These energy trends have the potential of reshaping the geopolitical globe that I grew up with. And I’m watching it very carefully and the Coast Guard is right in the middle of it because a lot of these products, unless they go by pipeline, move by water. And when you talk about products moving by water, you have the Coast Guard right in the middle of all that stuff.

MM: Thank you so much for your time, Admiral Michel. Best of luck with all of those diverse security challenges you have to deal with, and we’re all rooting for you.

CM: Great, proud to serve. Semper paratus.

Admiral Charles Michel is the 30th Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer of Sea Control.

Sea Control 138: CAPT Klaus Mommsen (ret.) on Russia’s Navy: Potemkin or Power Projection?

By Matthew Merighi

Join the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Captain Klaus Mommsen (ret.) of the German Navy to talk about the Russian Navy and its latest developments.

Download Sea Control 138 – Russia’s Navy: Potemkin or Power Projection?

The transcript of the conversation between Captain Mommsen (KM) and guest host from the University of Kiel, Roger Hilton (RH), begins below. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Special thanks to Associate Producer Ryan Uljua for helping produce this episode and Assistant Producer Valtteri Tamminen for creating the transcript.

RH– Hello CIMSEC listeners and readers, my name is Roger Hilton, a nonresident academic fellow for the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel, welcoming you all back for another Sea Control episode. Before diving into our material today, it is my pleasure to introduce our listeners to the Kiel Seapower Series, with a wealth of information and resources, be sure to visit their website at kielseapowerseries.com for all your information on maritime security.

If you are an enthusiastic follower of international relations, or even a fair weather observer, it is hard to ignore the success being heaved on Russia’s current foreign policy, and of course it’s grandmaster, President Vladimir Putin. From their cyber prowess, to their acute intervention in the middle east theater, it seems the Kremlin is unbeatable at the moment. Amidst the blitz of publicity, any survey of Russia’s power projection would be incomplete without a survey of their naval forces.

Here with us today is retired German Navy Captain Klaus Mommsen, who will help us establish if Russia’s navy is a force to advance their great power aspirations, or merely a Potemkin projection. His contribution in the Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security provides a succinct description of Russia’s naval history, as well as an analysis of its strengths and weaknesses.  

Captain Mommsen is a graduate of the Military Academy of the German Armed Forces as well as the Canadian Command and Staff College, after which he spent most of his career in naval intelligence, both as an analyst and in leading staff functions. He has also contributed to Marine Forum, the monthly magazine of the German Maritime Institute for 25 now. Finally, he’s also the author of a book on the history of Israeli Navy. Klaus, it’s a pleasure for you to be with us today.

KM– Good morning Roger, thanks for having me on your podcast.

RH–  Based on their impact and growing geopolitical influence abroad, your piece in the Routledge Handbook contrasts this with a sobering perception of their naval capabilities, both in piece and war time, and frankly provides a bleak outlook for the future. History confirms that Russia’s stage prop is a mixture of a siege mentality perception toward foreigners and the need to dominate their near abroad to guarantee their security. Which is manifested with the use of hard power tactics as we’ve seen recently in Georgia and Ukraine? And before diving into more detail, could you briefly describe how the current military maritime order is divided?

KM-Well the Russians can certainly navigate beyond the green water which means inland waterways or brown water which means coastal waters, to the blue oceans, so they have a blue water capability that makes them a blue water navy. They can send task groups or forces all around the world, even come back to combined exercises with friendly navies such as India. So they have a global reach but they do not have the capabilities for power projection. Russia in my opinion, and to my definition, is not a sea power, not using the navy to protect its global trade routes, its sea line of communications outside its regional borders, and with the exception of Syria, has never used the sea beyond mere presence and to actively intervene in conflicts abroad.

RH– When you talk about pure power projection, obviously the only country that has true global reach is the United States. But within this different category you have multi-regional power projectors, like Russia, India, Italy, Spain, and Brazil. Could you go into a little bit more detail about multi-region power projection?

KM– The Russians are forced to be a multi-region power projector because Russia spans several regions, but the are not connected regions. Some people would argue that the recent deployment of the carrier Kuznetsov, was a power projection from the sea. It was not. It was totally redundant. Ground based aircraft did the work. They flew much over 10,000 sorties over Syria, but the Kuznetsov only a couple of hundred during the whole three months.

Just take the sortie rates of other navies, aircraft carriers, the new U.S. Navy carrier Ford will allow for a sortie rate of up to 207 sorties a day. The Nimitz in one exercise managed 197, the French carrier Charles de Gaulle is capable of 100. The Kuznetov, some analyst say that they might generate up to 30 sorties a day and not on a sustained level.

Other navies are operating globally and are also during power projection, the French do it, the British Royal Navy does it, the Indian Navy is just a regional navy, they are not really operating out of region. The same goes for some navies in South America which have blue water capabilities just because they have to deal with large areas of the Southern Atlantic or the pacific. That is not for the region, and not for the Russians.

RH- Klaus, thank you so much for actually distinguishing that a lot of their power projection in Syria was as a result of their Air force sorties and not their naval capabilities. It is often lost in the discussion. Can you quickly get into the organization of the Russian Navy? Specifically what are its priorities and areas of interest, and its current capabilities?

KM– It is currently organized into four fleets. The Northern Fleet in the Kola Peninsula, the Baltic Fleet based in the Gulf of Finland and in the Kaliningrad oblast. The Black Sea Fleet focused on Sevastopol, in now Russian Crimea and Novosibirsk and the Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok and Petropadstok. And then they have a fifth fleet which basically is a flotilla, they call it the Caspian Sea Flotilla, which is locked in the caspian sea. There are some inner water ways where they can transfer ships back and forth, but it is basically not out of region. The current focus is on the Arctic, with its vast resources, and on Western Europe and NATO. And in the southwest with the Black Sea being a jumpboard to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. That is also the only area where Russia sees wide possibilities to strengthen it political or military influence.

RH- With that goal in mind of strengthening its influence, what kind of hardware and capabilities do the four fleets and the Caspian flotilla utilize right now to pursue their objectives?

KM– They have very old warships and weapons systems, and very modern ones. Most of their arsenal is more or less outdated with many ships 30 or more years old. Modernization efforts are underway with emphasis on blue water capable vessels, such as frigates and submarines, which also are useful in regional waters.

The future sees new destroyers, cruiser refurbishment and even a new aircraft carrier, but we are talking decades to come. Progress is slow. The weapons systems are being modernized, currently they have new missiles in their arsenal. We all noticed the test firing and demonstration of their Kalibr cruise missiles from the Caspian sea or the Mediterranean to Syrian targets.

Generally the progress of modernization is very slow, and you mentioned Potemkin. The government announces huge progress with more than 80 warships commissioned in 2016. That was meant for the Russian people, with more than 70 of those warships being auxiliaries such as harbor tugs or diver support vessels, small boats. And some tend to just mention numbers in comparing navies, say they have 11 aircraft carriers vs just one. They have 60 destroyers, the Russians have just eight, yet these numbers do not count, it is the capabilities that count.

RH– Again Klaus, an excellent observation that it is not the numbers that are important as much as the modernization and capabilities at the disposal of the Russian navy. Moving on to their naval history, anyone who’s ever visited Russia knows that it’s known for its harsh winters and frozen waterway paths which proves to be a strategic disadvantage. Could you go into detail a little bit about how the geography has vexed the composition of the Russian Navy?

KM- The whole geography makes Russia landlocked. It is only a few months where sea passage is viable. Under St. Peter, the only viable seaport was Arkhangelsk at the White Seas, accessible only a few months a year. With inland trades, very little developed, you can imagine that no one is going by horse from Moscow to the far east. Czar Peter naturally focused on sea trade. He founded St Petersburg, he saw the Baltic as an access route to sea trade. He had a large commercial fleet, and a new Baltic sea port built at St Petersburg to and to protect these new assets he established a Russian Navy. By the way that is exactly what Mahan had in mind, he said to be a sea power you have to have a commercial fleet and a navy to support it, protect it. So Czar Peter followed Mahan’s aspect.

And going further down in history, 50 years later, Catherine looked south. She secured Crimea, founded Sevastopol, and got an access to the Mediterranean. Ice free all year, though she never managed to get hold of the Turkish Strait, we will come to that later. In 1860, Vladivostok in the far east was added and became a major Asia hub for trade. And only in 1916, Murmansk, mostly ice free due to the gulf stream, was available to the Russian commercial fleet and naval fleet. All these naval fleets created at these directions, to the west, to the north, to the southwest to the east, fulfilled merely regional missions. It’s huge distances forbade any combined operations, they tried it once during the Russo-Japanese war but failed, they deployed the Baltic Fleet all the way to Japan.

RH– I mean there is no doubt that it was a cataclysmic failure for the Russian Navy in the early 20th century when they embarked on that mission. We’ve established the principal reason for the expansion of the Russian Navy was primarily financial gain under Peter. On the Treaty of Montreux which regulated the Turkish straits, could you go into detail a little bit about why this is so important and how it impacts Russian Navy posture?

KM- Some people said that the Treaty of Montreux gives the Turkish control of the Turkish straits. It controls whoever is going in or out of the Black Sea, and regulates the passage of warships. It also restricts the numbers and times that goes for non-Black Sea residents as well as those inside the Black Sea. So Russia also has limitations in deploying its fleet. For example, no submarines may pass submerged, and no aircraft carriers are allowed to pass, even Russian ones. Which by the way lead to the designation of the Admiral Kuznetsov, which was built in the Black Sea in Ukraine, as a flight deck cruiser, not an aircraft carrier. Right now, the Russians stick to the Treaty of Montreux, even though it is restricting their own moves. They see it as a tool to protect their own territory. It is more important to them to keep others out of the Black Sea than to use it for themselves for out-of-area deployments, into the Mediterranean or elsewhere.

RH– Undoubtedly Klaus, everything you mentioned is valid but it is important to also assess the redistribution of maritime power with new NATO states including Romania and Bulgaria, and obviously Georgia aggressively looking to join NATO. So it puts a lot of pressure on the Russian Navy in Sevastopol due to these geopolitical factors. One last analogy that would be interesting to listeners, is the comparison between as Rome as a land power and Carthage as a sea power. Is this an accurate comparison at all of Russia?

KM– Not really, Rome acted as a land power, but geographically it was not forced to do so. Rome had an outspoken maritime geostrategic location with the Italian peninsula dominating the Mediterranean, they could have dominated the Mediterranean but they focused on land power. Russia on the contrary is landlocked with very few access points to the open sea.

RH– It’s beneficial for you to clarify as it is an analogy that is often promoted inside of Russian media sources. Moving on to the USSR, the emergence of the Soviet Navy and its red fleet, apparently from your text did not change or waiver that much from Imperial Russia. Again what was its existential purpose moving forward?

KM– Primarily to support land forces and for securing sea supply routes and protecting the seaside flank.

RH- So like you said, even during the Soviet times, at its nascent beginning, it didn’t possess the capability to assume a more defensive posture?

KM- An offensive posture, yes, but for the navy just posture. Except for the developments of the nuclear ballistic missile submarines, the so called bastion concept, defense of the homeland was dominating and has been dominating today. Increased naval presence abroad is part of that but just that presence is not combat presence. Once in awhile they use it for political bullying.

RH- Its great you were able to bring up the bastion concept because it really reinforces Russia’s siege mentality perception of foreigners as well as their need to dominate in the near abroad. An interesting focus comes with the major changes that took place under Admiral Sergei Gorshkov who was in charge of the Soviet Navy from 1956 to 1985. Its referred to as the golden age, could you provide details or elaborate on what major reforms took place under his tenure?

KM- Some people tend to see this as the Soviet Navy, the red fleet moving from the home waters to the oceans as an offensive posture. Basically, the thought behind it was still defensive in nature, with increasing range of weapons developed, nuclear missiles, submarine launched nuclear missiles, aircraft carriers, they could not wait in home waters for the enemy to arrive there. They had to leave home waters to challenge the enemy already embarked, the enemy meaning the U.S. and NATO. This could be understood as the strengthening of offensive capabilities.

They created a deeply layered line of defense. Starting in the open Atlantic with submarines and aircraft, antisubmarine warfare aircraft and cruisers with long-range missiles. All these assets were to counter U.S. carrier strike groups and the ballistic missile submarines to keep them away, out of reach of the Russian homeland, to protect the motherland’s coasts, ports, and naval bases. The first layer out in the Atlantic, the second layer just north of the North Cape, then came the Barents Sea, and then came protection of their own ballistic missile submarines as a second strike capability, which were basically holed up in the Kara Sea in the arctic waters, out of reach for the U.S. forces.

RH– I think we would both agree that Peter the Great would be  envious of Russia’s ability at this time to create such strategic depth while encountering a much more advanced western adversary. Against this backdrop, what would you suggest is the main takeaway from the USSR’s experience at sea?

KM- Their main mission was to protect the core of Russia. They had no real responsibility for maritime offensive operations. The flank protection of land operations was dominating. Offensive concepts of operations were part of the game. Submarines had to cut off NATO’s supply lines, again with the aim to favor their own land forces in Europe. In previous operations to gain the Baltic approaches, they were meant to open up lanes to the North Sea and North Atlantic and use Baltic rear facilities for logistics and repairs for ships of the northern fleet operating there. Ships like Kiev-class aircraft carriers were to facilitate quick shifts of focus in amphibious operations, just operations off the coast.

They were not meant for power projection in other reaches of the world. The overall aim was not to expand their operations to the world oceans, they were just integrating the oceans into their own homeland defense.

RH- Klaus, the last thing as we dive back into history, as they routinely say we’re entering a new Cold War. Would you say that the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 was arguable was arguably the greatest success of the Soviet Navy?

KM- It was definitely the greatest achievement in logistics operations. 86 navy civilian ships made 183 trips, transported 42,000 soldiers, and 230 tons of cargo to Cuba. That was a logistic operation. Again, they avoided military confrontation, the navy was insufficient to challenge the U.S. at sea. Especially when far away from home. So with only the nuclear option left, tThey eventually withdrew and backed down.

RH- Moving on now to the post- Soviet Navy, obviously a lot changed with its collapse and the Russian Navy was left in a dilapidated state. With the emergence of the new independent republics came the loss of basing rights, for example. What were some of the major operational consequences that the Russian Federation had to deal with as a result of the loss of basing rights and territory?

KM- They have to just look at the map to see that they lost major parts of the Baltic and Black Sea coast. In the Baltic they were driven back to the Gulf of Finland which is the most eastern part and the Kaliningrad enclave, that is all that was left. All of the Baltic state coast was gone. The same happened in the Black Sea, the Crimea went to the Ukraine and Georgia became independent. That left Russia a small portion of the Black Sea coast focused around the Novorossiysk. For two decades they made a deal with Sevastopol leasing agreements with Ukraine so they could stay and use Sevastopol in the Black Sea. What was gone also was all the shipyards in Ukraine. That was where large combat ships, including aircraft carrier,s were built. They were gone, and Russia was financially broke. The shipyard industry had completely refocused, they had no more subcontractors in former Warsaw pact states, except Ukraine which remained the sole manufacturer for gas turbines. A serious mistake to be felt after 2014.

What augmented it was the access to western technology and lack of funds, along with neglected indigenous development. More than half of their submarines were decommissioned, and large surface ships had to be laid up. They had no money to keep them afloat, no personnel to man them. Most ship engineers came from the Baltic soviet republics. They were gone out of country. They were forced to make due with a small combat corps. Just a few ships which they put all effort into keeping them combat ready. But basically they remained merely for coastal defense.

RH- There is no doubt after reading your text that after the collapse of the USSR, their competency to build ships vanished completely. But what is more exposed today I think you’ll agree is the indigenous development program and their overt reliance reliance on foreigners for both equipment and experience. Before we get into the strategic considerations and their objectives, there was a brief moment of rapprochement of former enemies joined in multilateral naval exercises. Today this is something that seems so far fetched, but maybe you can go into detail about this initiative that was taken immediately after the collapse of the USSR.

KM- The Yeltsin Russia was wise enough to see that it had no chance to survive in continuing confrontation with the west. Confrontation with the west had ruined it financially. Reagan had said that the Star Wars program had brought them to their limits and over their limits. So Yeltsin sought to engage with the west. The navies also did some programs, combined annual exercises with France, the U.K. and the U.S., where they rotated posting these exercises through the four countries. They had polar exercises with Norway, and they even joined the BALTOPS exercise, which before had been a U.S. hosted exercise for only NATO partners. They even joined NATO counter-terror operation Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean until approximately 2008.

RH- The third section of your piece talks about the strategic reconsiderations of Russia, the Russian Navy, and their motivation to get back to the oceans. You single out two seminal moments for this reformation of doctrine. One is the March 2000 assumption of the Russian presidency by Vladimir Putin and the subsequent introduction of the 2010 Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, which put an emphasis on transport routes for energy resources. What should be known about these two elements?

KM-When Putin came to power in 2000, he first continued the friendly relationship with the west, including all the naval programs. The 2010 military doctrine was after Georgia, which was in 2008. The doctrine puts an emphasis on the arctic. Other sea lines of communication are out of reach for the Russian Navy, at least for sustained operations under real threat. They did do anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa, but with the emerging Mediterranean squadron, they had to skip that due to a lack of ships. Controlling sea lines of communication until today is not a mission for the Russian navy. They do not have the capabilities to do it globally. The arctic yes, because that is off their own coastline, some chokepoints possibly, but with limits to resources.

RH-  What then was the overarching objective of the Putin regime’s strategic reconsideration?

KM- To paraphrase, to make Russia great again. He does not like Russia to be called a regional power with just nukes. He does not want to be junior partner in multinational U.S.-led operations or world politic. He wants Russia accepted as a superpower, also at sea on the oceans. By the way, that was the main reason for the Kuznetsov deployment to Syria. To demonstrate they have the capabilities in a conflict, Syria, that has no maritime dimension at all. Together with the Admiral Kuznetsov, the missile cruiser Pyotr Velikiy was deployed to Syria. But it was not mentioned a single time in any general staff briefings. Even the Kuznezov after flying some initial sorties, combat sorties, was totally out of reporting from general staff briefings for two months.

RH- Klaus, everything you said is very valid, anybody who was following Russia’s naval intervention must take the deployment of their aircraft carrier with a bit of salt, as photos of it around England with a tug for in the event that it would break down really demonstrated that maybe it wasn’t such a power projection tool as we thought, and how outdated it was to shoot off its planes for its sorties. Do you have any commentary about the flotillas and their less-than permanent presence far from home bases?

KM- The new flotilla concept for out-of-area presence was announced in 2012 and said it would create permanent squadrons in several places around the world. The first one was the Mediterranean squadron to be set up and commanded and controlled from the Black Sea Fleet. They had in mind that the Mediterranean squadron would be comprised of new frigates and submarines that were under construction then and were thought to be delivered and commissioned around 2014 or even earlier. They were centered around the Syrian base of Tartus for logistics. At that time they did not see the detrimental effects of the Ukraine crisis, which only developed in 2014.

And the embargoes, which combined with homemade deficiencies in naval shipbuilding, wrecked all of their ambitions for out of area deployment. Officially they even had to use other fleets to back up for the lack of the Black Sea Fleet. Northern Fleet and Baltic Fleet units had to deploy to the Mediterranean just to act with the Mediterranean squadron which did not do any operations. They just sat there with naval presence. Even the Pacific Fleet had deployed its missile cruiser Varyag for some time to be part of the Mediterranean squadron. In official statements I do not see a limited Black Sea Fleet. For them, the required use of Northern Fleet, Black Sea, Baltic Fleet, and even Pacific ships was just another demonstration of the growing capabilities for interfleet operations.

RH- Despite all of these official statements you would assume it’s very misleading to describe them as having high operational interfleet operations though right?

KM- Yes.

RH-  It’s still another example of Potemkin projection. As you said in principle, the potential creation of the standing task force for out-o- area operations has great merit. But unsurprisingly it appears that Russia is far removed from this capability. What has contributed to this impotent initiative?

KM- The permanent out-of-area squadrons are great for political purposes including propaganda meant for the Russian people, not the whole world. Naval presence as they had exercised it in the 1960s and 1970s in the Mediterranean was again to become a tool for strengthening political influence, especially in an unstable region as the Middle East after the Arab Spring. That’s why they chose the first permanent squadron to be set up in the Mediterranean. In theory the combat capabilities don’t matter there. It does not matter if three or four or five destroyers are there or just one. The problem for the whole permanent squadron concept is that they have no sea basing concept. They need access to shore facilities and they lack, of course, the required number of ships.

RH- As you said earlier, correct me if I’m wrong, but the only permanent base that Russia has access to is in Tartus, Syria, which is essentially a vassal state now of the Kremlin. In principle Vietnam has agreed, but there are other states who are hesitant about providing permanent presence for the Russian Navy. Do you have any commentary to add to this?

KM- Vietnam is the strongest candidate and they have no problems with the Russians replenishing in Cam Ranh Bay. Only they are not interested in the sharing of sovereignty, which the Russians want. They want their own part of the port where they have full control. All permanent squadrons would need some logistical support in the region where they are to operate, so they have been courting Vietnam. They talked to Cuba, they talked to equatorial Guinea, they talked to Mozambique, they talked to Yemen, even contemplated setting out on a port on the island of Socotra. They are even looking now, in my opinion, at a possible Syrian post asset option. They even courted Cyprus which said “no, no we don’t like it.” Currently in recent weeks they focused on Libya, in Benghazi or Tobruk, and are courting the east Libyan renegade government of Field Marshal Haftar. 

RH- Obviously their mediation with the potential government in Haftar reinforces their delinquent activity in the political process about assuming peace. As you said I think it’s most likely that that might be the second best option after Tartus if Assad is able to hold on.

KM- When the Kuznetsov had ended its deployment to Syria, it even made a short stop off Tobruk to welcome Haftar on board.

RH- If I remember correctly I think he had a video link with Defense Minister Shoigu. Getting back to the countries they have been courting, it’s not exactly the most attractive list of modernized and well-funded countries.

Back in the post Georgia conflict in 2008, obviously with their intervention they now occupy 20 percent of the territory, especially in Abkhazia and the port of Sokhumi, do you have any commentary to add to that rapprochement that was officially terminated?

KM- Yes it was officially terminated, but the problem was there were not real sanctions. We said we will not exercise with you anymore and military cooperation programs were terminated. But after two or three years relations were slowly returning to normal, when Putin came to power again. After that lack of Western response to the Georgian crisis, Putin probably thought that he could get away with Crimea. He just had to overcome a 2-3 year lean period and everything would slowly return to normal. He would have Crimea and would have won.

RH- It was definitely a dangerous precedent set by the international community not responding more forcefully to the centrally annexed territory of Georgia. As we established now, financial resources are scarce in Russia, they lack competency to manage shipbuilding, and there is rampant misuse of the budget. What would you say is the current state of affairs and progress of the 2020 state-sponsored shipbuilding program?

KM- The current state is in dire straits. They lack money, they have sanctions in place, the shipbuilding industry is down, subcontractors are not working anymore. While everyone is focused on non delivery of Ukrainian gas turbines, there are many other items lacking. It goes from air conditioning, convenience items, diesel engines, they got German engines from German MTU, now they are looking for China which has been building MTU engines under a license agreement. But those engines are 1980s technological standard so nobody cares whether they get them or not.

RH- Hardly a powerhouse on the sea if they are searching for 1980s engines…

KM- Yeah. Subcontractors cannot deliver systems, but that is not sanctioned necessarily. Just recently there was a report that the commissioning of two modern frigates has been delayed because a subcontractor cannot deliver the Russian-made air defense systems for them. They lack skilled workers. The shipyard infrastructure is degrading. There is confused planning. They use overly confident data brought in to save money or to get contracts, and then afterwards have to say “we calculated all wrong” which leads to more delays. They have corrupt and incompetent bosses, managers. And the Russian Ministry is very reluctant or not at all paying for military contracts. They have no quality controls. Just today there was news that Vympel shipyard has to pay fines for delivering faulty diesel engines for interceptor craft. Once in St. Petersburg one of the most renowned shipyards had to fire its director for inability to complete 3 arctic support ships. And completing them in the other shipyard, Kaliningrad, where the situation is not much better by the way. On the other hand. The Admiralty shipyard in St Petersburg delivered all six Kilo Submarines to Vietnam on time. One reason was most probably they had been paid on time.

RH- One sliver of hope most likely in the native shipyard industry, as we said the shipyards are incapable of producing indigenous replacements that substitute for sanctions post Crimea. Despite the apparent amicability between President Trump and President Putin, it looks as if the honeymoon is over. What could they take away in terms of the shipyard industry with this relationship?

KM- They used to announce great achievements, saying that in 2017 we will have new gas turbines to build into our new frigates, but only very few indigenous systems have made it to serious production. There are year-long delays, the gas turbines announced for this year are more likely to be available in 2019. And the problem is not only to replace sanctioned goods, but lack of quality with their very own weapons systems.

RH- Klaus, the sum total of your analysis paints an ugly picture moving forward for the Russian Navy. Despite this, you stated in the book that the Navy can expect greater autonomy, flexibility with higher sea endurance, and better sustainability with out -of-area operations. Based on the given strengths, financial resources, and less-than capable industrial complex, what is the likelihood that this will be achieved?

KM- I do not see them out of the doldrums anytime soon. To the contrary, in my opinion, economic shortfalls will continue to limit defense spending and delay nearly all shipbuilding projects. Just have a look at the oil prices. They are much too dependent on oil exports and natural resource exports and energy exports. The prices are much below what they need to sustain their economy. Just recently they announced slashing the fiscal year defense budget by 25 percent compared with 2016. Certainly this is not driven by a goodwill signal for arms reduction, but by economic shortfalls. We will continue to see several year delays to nearly all shipbuilding programs, at least complex major combat ships. They will roll out small port/harbor tugs and small boats. Publicly, meaning to their own people, they will claim huge successes. In reality they will basically stay where they are.

For the Russian Navy that means that they will stay in the marginal seas, they will be defending the motherland, and that will remain the main mission. There will be out-of-area operations, but merely in the form of cruises, no power projection from the sea. Programs do not perceive a major seabasing capability, which is required for projecting power from the sea.

RH- Well Klaus, based on our working hypothesis about if the Russian Navy was either a Potemkin or power projection, it seems quite evident that it is more Potemkin than anything. If you were advising Russian President Putin, what priorities would you set, and the final operational takeaway for assessing the Russian Navy with great power aspirations?

KM- If I were Putin, I would for the Navy focus on homeland defense and marginal seas. I would stop bullying neighbors, which can only lead to an arms race that Russia has no chance to win. I would try to mend broken ties. The instruments for dialogue with NATO are still in place, and in some fields, far from public view, Russia is even talking to NATO nations. Just yesterday, in Boston in the U.S., the Arctic Coast Guard Forum which includes Canada, Finland, Greenland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S. signed a doctrine of tactics and information sharing for operations in arctic waters. So Russia is signing a document, a protocol for combined operations with NATO nations. That is worthwhile remembering. Putin, and we all should realize that Russia is a political superpower with its role in the the UN Security Council, militarily is a regional power, spanning several regions from the Pacific to the Atlantic and to the south. It is made a global power only by nukes. Except for maybe shows of force with global deployments, you will not see any power projection from the sea by Russia.

RH- Just to clarify for readers and listeners regarding the recent contract signed with arctic powers, both Finland or Sweden aren’t NATO members. Klaus, again, undoubtedly the current Russian statecraft shows no sign of being diminished. it is critical to never overlook their Potemkin posture on the high seas. There’s a litany of facts mentioned that range from a lack of competencies, insufficient funds, and incompetent management just to name a few. Captain Mommsen, thanks again for providing such a timely description on the Russian Navy. If you want to follow up on this podcast or other pressing maritime issues, you can find the Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security online, and most importantly don’t forget to check out the official Kiel Seapower website for all the latest updates on marine security issues. As usual, listeners, I will be back shortly to discuss more maritime issues. From the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel, I’m Roger Hilton saying moin moin and farewell. Thanks everybody.

Klaus Mommsen was born in 1948. In 1968, he joined the German Navy where after graduating he became a naval aviator. In 1982, he attended the Canadian Forces Command and Staff College. His subsequent career saw him mostly employed with military (both naval and joint) intelligence. In 2002, he retired as Captain (Navy) from his last posting as Deputy Chief of Staff (Intelligence) of the German Fleet. As early as 1992, Mommsen started writing for the German naval magazine MarineForum (which until today lists him as editor foreign navies) and since has become a renowned German columnist for international naval affairs. He is married and lives in Germany, near Bonn.

Roger Hilton is a nonresident academic fellow for the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel.

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.