Category Archives: Notes to New CNO Week

Kill the Darlings and Pet Programs

Notes to the New CNO Topic Week

By Lieutenant Commander Ryan Hilger, USN

For all the talk of being in great power competition, the OPNAV staff is not acting like it. The Pentagon is famous for slow rolling any senior officer who tries to disrupt the status quo, endangers pet programs, or pushes community-threatening systems. The lower echelons have a strong belief that their pet programs are exactly what the Navy needs to win a war, regardless of how over-schedule, over-budget, or incapable the systems are. They use arguments about great power competition and lethality to defend budget packages, but not to deliver capabilities rapidly. The capability of our fleet still largely looks like it did two decades ago.

Meanwhile, our adversaries are outpacing us in many areas. China will likely deploy unmanned systems in greater numbers than the United States, and far sooner than we can. China, in another example of intellectual theft, has stated that their stealth drone program, the CH-7, is on track for its first flight in 2019 and will reach Initial Operating Capability in 2021. By comparison, glacial acquisition processes and entrenched cultural resistance to change have reduced the U.S. Navy’s MQ-25 program from an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) to a humble refueling platform. MQ-25, whose X-47B predecessor conducted carrier flight operations in 2013, might reach the Fleet by 2024. The Chinese fleet of today is virtually unrecognizable from what it was two decades ago.

Should war break out, we must fight with the fleet we have, not the one we wish we had. In 1934, with global peace deteriorating, Congress passed the Vinson-Trammell Act to increase the Navy’s battle count to the London Naval Treaty limit—102 new ships in 8 years. This act provided the fleet that the Navy went to war with in 1941. Quantity matters. Under this act, the Pensacola-class cruisers were developed, optimized to the limits of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1920. 

The Navy had many Pensacolas in its inventory by 1941, but it had also continued iterating the platform, eventually arriving at the New Orleans-class. These two classes fought side-by-side in the Solomons. Yet the Navy would have been at a severe disadvantage early in the war had it waited to perfect a new large surface combatant in the 1930s. All ships were needed. A similar situation is playing out with the Large Surface Combatant program, and the Navy is making a mistake by waiting.

It is time to kill our darlings. We cannot deploy the Navy the nation needs with the many pet programs we have. Underperforming programs must go. Follow Secretary Esper’s lead and hold “Night Court” for the Navy—which freed $31 billion for major Army priorities. If the program manager could not articulate how his program supported the Army’s priorities, then funds were shifted elsewhere.

It is time to actually align our budget with our priorities, rather than allow dated legacy programs to dictate the conversation. CNO Gilday must sell Congress on his fresh priorities and make his signature on the Navy’s budget submission reflect them. The Navy and the nation desperately need it. 

Lieutenant Commander Ryan Hilger is an engineering duty officer with Strategic Systems Programs in Washington, DC. His views are his own and do not represent the Department of Defense. 

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (Sept. 17, 2018) The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) leads the Ronald Reagan Strike group, including the Ticonderoga-class missile cruisers USS Antietam (CG 54) and USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Benfold (DDG 65) and USS Milius (DDG 69), during a photo exercise for Valiant Shield 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kaila Peters)

Junior Personnel: The X-Factor in Great Power Competition

Notes to the New CNO Topic Week

By LT Adam Johnson, USN, and LTJG John Maslin, USN

Senior leaders in the Navy are currently working with a partial dataset, one that is missing an untapped information source: aggregated input from junior personnel. This can be provided by creating an organized communication network of junior personnel (officer, enlisted, and civilian) to serve as an active repository for senior leadership, providing vital insights from the base of the Navy’s hierarchy.

For the first time in in decades, the Navy is operating in a world of great power competition. Across the organization, Sailors are being told that each of us must do our best to ensure that our Navy retains its competitive advantages. One of the most effective ways to do so is by informing planning and strategy. We must ensure Navy leadership has access to relevant information to procure and program tax dollars effectively to best deploy forces, develop weapons systems, and ultimately win our nation’s wars at sea.

Just as a computer model is only as good as its data, a leader can only make a decision that is as good as the information they are utilizing. To paraphrase Mr. James Geurts (Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition), in order to win the fight, before the fight comes, the Navy needs to find new ways to be more agile, innovative, and collaborative. 

Incorporating a non-discriminatory dataset from the junior ranks into senior-level decision-making could be an ‘X-factor’ for several reasons. First, it would provide senior leaders with crowdsourced, deckplate-level data that, in many cases, they are currently not receiving. Harnessing these collective insights from a generation that has grown up in a technology-fueled world that is entirely dissimilar from the early experiences of our senior leaders could pave the way for new strategies for how the Navy conducts business.

Additionally, adding this dataset would empower junior personnel to think critically about big-picture Navy issues and get them more personally invested. Transferring the collection and initial assessment of data on issues that the Navy values would not only include junior personnel more intentionally in the decision-making process, it would create an immersive, self-organizing learning environment with a high return on investment, increasing critical business acumen, and paying dividends as junior personnel promote and assume higher responsibilities. The best way to implement these processes and gather aggregated information would be through a collective group that serves as a liaison between the junior ranks and senior Navy leadership. This is currently being tested at the officer level.

As generations undergo a “changing of the guard,” it is imperative that Navy culture adjusts to better embrace, capture, and exploit new ways of thinking. As the United States continues to operate in an increasingly fluid and rapidly changing global environment, it is imperative that we leverage all resources, including the insights of our junior personnel, to deliver combat-credible military forces needed to deter war and protect the security of our nation.

If you are interested in learning more about the officer test program, please email njoc@navy.mil.

LT Adam Johnson is a Supply Officer currently serving in an Integrated Logistics Support internship at Program Executive Office Aircraft Carriers. He previously served as an instructor at the Navy Supply Corps School in Newport, RI as well as Assistant Supply Officer on USS LASSEN (DDG 82) in Yokosuka Japan. He is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy.

LTJG John Maslin is a Supply Officer currently serving as the Shipbuilding and Conversion Financial Manager for New Construction Aircraft Carriers at the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. He is a graduate of the University of Colorado and is currently pursuing a Masters at the University of Cambridge.

These views are presented in a personal capacity. 

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (July 26, 2019) Gas Turbine System Technician (Mechanical) Fireman Cody Murray practices fighting a simulated fire with the Sailors from the flight deck crash and salvage team during a damage control training team evolution aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Toni Burton)

The Navy Reserve is Broken

Notes to the New CNO Topic Week

By LT Blake Herzinger, USN

Our Navy Reserve is crying out for attention. However, high retention may lull Navy leaders into thinking the system is working and Sailors are well-cared for, when in reality they are gritting their teeth to make it to 20 years of service. Administrative problems associated with reserve mobilization are critical and plague Sailors until the day they are demobilized and sent home, and sometimes beyond. The USNR’s vision of providing transparent and seamless administrative systems is unrealized, with gaps wide enough to accommodate a Carrier Strike Group and transparency on par with a Papal Conclave.

Reservists are being deployed into billets across the joint force that are not reviewed closely enough to reveal that many are jobs so unimportant that commanders are purposefully gapping them, choosing instead to fill them with “cheap” labor. Sailors arrive to service equipment that isn’t present, analyze intelligence that’s not being collected, and develop target packages for missions not being executed.

When reservists deploy, they are confronted with crippling financial complications, from unpaid travel expenses to salary issues rendering them incapable of paying their bills at home. Sailors are told in their first week of mobilization that they will not be repaid for travel expenses within the Congressionally-mandated timeline for reimbursement, but “not to worry, because the issue is receiving flag-level attention.” Sailors use personal savings and credit cards to settle the Navy’s bills. Some arrive home after nearly a year deployed still waiting on repayment.

Issues including non-payment of housing allowances, incorrect debts being assessed against Sailors, and checks held 100 days past the end of deployment are commonplace. In most cases, the Navy will eventually make its Sailors financially whole, but who will pay Sailors’ bills in the interim? I have yet to encounter the landlord that accepts IOUs, nor the utility company that provides power on the promise of reimbursement, nor the grocer that offers food on credit. Should Sailors tell their landlords not to worry, because the issue is receiving flag-level attention? Members are being plucked from homes and workplaces and placed into a position of financial instability, draining personal savings, and causing insecurity in families. Sailors’ minds are divided between their deployed duties abroad and ensuring their loved ones are not put out into the street at home.

Stand down mobilizations until the processes are in place to pay Sailors what they’ve earned. Conduct a mission analysis for the USNR, and closely vet the list of mobilizations. Assume responsibility for the financial outlay of deploying sailors via centrally billed accounts. Modernize and optimize our pay system using existing commercial platforms that provide simplicity and transparency.

Navy reservists are ready and eager to serve, but what message do they receive when they arrive on deployment and are told the duties they have arrived to execute are unimportant or nonexistent? Administrative problems have administrative solutions, but without attention from above, they will languish and Sailors will suffer the consequences.

Lt. Blake Herzinger is an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, deployed to U.S. Fifth Fleet. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not represent those of his civilian employer, the U.S. Navy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. This piece was first published by Cdr. Salamander in a longer format titled “A Breach of Faith: The Navy Must Fix the Way it Pays Mobilizing Reservists.

Featured Image: NORFOLK (Sept. 14, 2019) Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Joshua Halford mans the rail aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Raymond Maddocks/Released)190914-N-IC246-0270

Tackle Force Dynamism and Administrative Structure For a Stronger Navy

Notes to the New CNO Topic Week

By Petty Officer Second Class Jacob Wiencek, USN

The new Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral Michael Gilday, is taking control of the U.S Navy in a time of transformation and reform. Not only has the strategic environment changed abroad but over the past several years the Navy itself has been undergoing serious, long-term structural reform. It is encouraging that he speaks of a Navy more adaptable to the realities of great power competition and about the challenges we face in the maritime domain. However, I cannot help but feel that the CNO’s focus should take a deeper, harder look at his own organization more so than the strategic affairs of the world. The CNO should focus on his role of training, developing, and administratively overseeing the U.S Navy, specifically in two key areas that are adversely affecting the fleet: administrative and personnel structure, and force dynamism.

Right now, the U.S Navy is suffering under a suffocating personnel and administrative structure. We are in a time of great power competition, with great power competitors who can ably challenge our maritime operations around the world. The U.S Navy needs a fleet and structure that rewards unconventional thinking and unconventional actions, crucial aspects of adaptability against near peer competitors. We need a less bureaucratic and risk averse Navy that is as responsive and adaptative to internal sources of innovation as it is to the outward strategic environment.

Similarly, we need a more accountable Navy as well. Within the last few years there have been repeated scandals and negligence that impact the whole fleet, often involving senior leaders. Whether it is the Fat Leonard scandal, the misconduct of the prior MCPON, or the lack of leadership and training in Seventh Fleet, clearly the fleet has been suffering from institutional malaise. If we are to have a less risk averse and more dynamic Navy, we need to improve how accountability and fairness works throughout the ranks. Encouraging the balance of a more dynamic Navy and an accountable one may be a demanding task, but it is feasible only with the right determination and cooperation to attain it.

By establishing a firm foundation of dynamism and accountability, the Navy will then be able to train Sailors better. Considering recent critical reports of Navy cybersecurity, it is imperative the fleet is trained for a fast-paced, technological fight. Our great power competitors certainly are not slowing down in the race for technological supremacy. But as our ships become more autonomous and crew size decreases we will need ever more highly-trained Sailors who can pace rapid technological change and be ready for any scenario.

Above all we must be ready for the uncomfortable fact that competitors, once again, have emerged that can challenge the U.S in terms of ability and capability. Not since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 have we faced such a competitor, and we have unfortunately lost the mentality that we can be equaled or even surpassed by other countries. Building a solid foundation to successfully defend against challenges from great power competitors requires investing in our fleet and in our Sailors. But without shedding the bureaucracy, holding Sailors to account, and investing in more high-tech training we will only be disadvantaging ourselves.

Jacob Wiencek is a Petty Officer Second Class in the United States Navy. The views expressed above are his own and do not necessarily reflect official views and are not endorsed by the United States Navy, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or any other body of the United States government. He can be reached at jacob.m.wiencek1@gmail.com.

Featured Image: SURABAYA, Indonesia (July 31, 2019) Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL) sailors watch as the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Montgomery (LCS 8) arrives in the port of Tanjung Perak as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Indonesia 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Christopher A. Veloicaza)