Reminder: NWDC Junior Innovation Symposium

With so much to read in the naval blogosphere this week, don’t forget about Navy Warfare Development Command’s Junior Leader Innovation Symposium. The event is this Wednesday, and all the other details are here. Importantly, you don’t have to be in Hampton Roads to attend – you can also do so virtually via Defense Connect Online.

Events such as these provide an opportunity to network with like-minded officers and Sailors and build the intellectual and social capital to advance the art and science of naval warfare, particularly at the operational and tactical level. The author of a recent USNI Blog post on tactics, LT Rob McFall, will be there as will many other important people. Don’t miss this opportunity!

If you can’t make it, I will definitely be writing up some thoughts in a post later this week.

Happy Birthday

Dos he come in Blogspot?

Information Dissemination is kicking off its 5th Anniversary Blogapalooza Month today with an impressive line-up of guest posters, including both American presidential campaigns and their visions for 21st Century seapower. Billed as a “virtual conference,” it’s certain to be an engaging and informative discussion. We’re a rather new endeavor here at CIMSEC, but we’ve already known the generosity and willingness to help of ID’s founder, Galrahn, aka Raymond. Here’s to 5 great years!

If you have time for a video, Al Jazeera English has a clip (below) on the background issues that led to violence in March between fishermen and Indonesian rangers. As some, mainly Western areas of the world recover their fishing stock, other parts of the globe will see patchier progress, and in places like Africa and Asia this will lead to an increased likelihood of maritime violence as nations who have sensibly managed their stocks seek to protect their grounds from the fishing fleets of less or foresighted or successful neighbors. 

Weekend Reading June 2nd

Weekend Round-up:

Future Tech:

Bryan McGrath posted his third in a series on Directed Energy/Electromagnetic Weapon Systems on Information Dissemination, discussing Chinese advances in the field and their possible parity with/lead over American developments.

Cyber Warfare:

Cyber warfare received prominent coverage this week thanks to Stuxnet, Flame, and revelations of backdoors embedded in Chinese-produced chips. A Washington Post’s article discussed the authorship of Stuxnet, which demonstrated the potential of cyber warfare to shut down industrial machinery (like a ship’s engines). DefenseTech reported on Flame, an intel-gathering piece of malware that can be reprogrammed to disrupt its target’s functions like Stuxnet. Another DefenseTech post claimed proof that military grade chips produced in China contain backdoors for future exploitation, and detailed their wide use in the hardware of Western militaries.

Conflicts:

The U.K. and Spain had row after a confrontation between fishing vessels and maritime authorities in the waters off Gibraltar. Like China and the Philippines in Cambodia this week over the South China Sea, both sides agreed to work towards a peaceful resolution.

Two Kenyan naval patrol boats shelled Kismayo a Somali town held by the Al-Shabaab militia, after the militia reportedly fired on the vessels with 106mm recoilless rifles.

U.S. Navy:

At USNI blog LT Rob McFall called for a focus on tactics among junior officers. LTJG Matt Hipple responded on the problem with learning and innovating tactics at the junior officer level. Questions raised in the discussions that ensued debated the incentive structure, formal structures to test and innovate tactics, and ability to capture lessons learned.

Seamanship:

gCaptain published an update on a European Commission-funded study on the effects of sleep deprivation on maritime watchstanders and some sobering findings from previous research.

Events:

4-7 June – Maritime Security Conference 2012

    • “Delivering Maritime Security in Global Partnership: Identify Cooperative Strategies for Future Maritime Security Engagement”
      • Sponsored by NATO’s Combined Joint Operations From the Sea (CJOS) Center of Excellence (COE). $250
      • Halifax, Nova Scotia, CA 

6 June – Junior Leader Innovation Symposium 2012

      • “Engaging and Empowering Junior Leaders to Regain our Innovation Advantage”
      • Sponsored by the Navy Warfare Development Command. Free and open to all U.S. Navy E-5s through O-4s.  
      • NWDC HQ, Naval Station Norfolk, VA, and via Defense Connect Online

Navy Tactics, Re-Finding our Purpose

By Matt Hipple

Where have the tactics gone? In his article at the USNI Blog, LT Rob McFall points out this deadly silence on a fundamental navy skillset. He suggests a combination of obsessions with certifications and a fear of breaching OPSEC as the culprits in the U.S. Navy. While I heartily agree with the former, I believe the problem goes much deeper; as a community, our mode of operation has changed our relationship with tactics for the worse.

The navy’s process-driven culture has changed the value of tactics to a junior officer in the fleet. In a process-driven organization, there is always a right answer. There is a correct form with a correct format for every fault. For the junior officer, boards become much the same process as any certification, and the tactical learning meant to accompany those boards is likewise transformed.  An “understanding and adapting” of tactics is replaced with the “memorization and application” of tactics. This becomes especially true with the dearth of training on enemy capabilities. The memorized lists of gouge are de-coupled from any real purpose when an understanding of an opponent’s capabilities does not accompany it. It is hard to discuss new tactics against an enemy one is unfamiliar with. Tactics become rote retention of the prescribed courses of action in the prescribed situations. Ideation is lost in behind the “proper answer.”

 We also prioritize material condition and engineering over tactical proficiency. As most junior officers know, to gain a prized billet at a riverine squadron, as Naval Gunnery Liaison Officer, or even as an individual augmentee to Afghanistan, one must certify as an Engineering Officer Of the Watch. Such opportunities do not exist for officers qualified as Tactical Action Officers (TAO) or Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) Boarding Officers. While engineering is important, LT McFall mentions a “high-low mix” necessary to create a proper balance. In this case, that high-low mix would include conventional and irregular capabilities as show in TAO and VBSS respectively. Unfortunately, the emphasis on the engineering side is an absolute. This creates a situation where, at the end of their first division officer tours, many motivated junior officers gorge on engineering knowledge with no real option to pursue the “tactically oriented” high-end billets. This emphasis engenders natural career incentives against initial tactical pursuits in favor of engineering.

 However, tactical innovation is not dead. At the junior level, there are still places where it gasps some breaths of life. Particularly, in higher-level security force schools like Ship’s Reaction Force-Alpha and VBSS. A constantly taught concept is “IBT”, or initiative-based tactics. The idea is that no choreographed tactic will save you, that mistakes will be made, and more important is the ability to quickly adapt and execute. Rather than memorizing a scenario’s worth of reactions, each boarding team member is given a set of capabilities and priorities to which he can apply them. It is a refreshing contrast to the checksheet mentality.

 If the navy is to regain our original sense of purpose as warfighters, that appreciation of and incentive for tactical thought must be reclaimed. JO’s should be encouraged to actively question and develop tactics; boards for qualifications should value far more the ability to adapt capabilities and skills to scenarios, rather than merely repeat the approved responses. In the proper context, discussions on how and when to employ a ship in combat can be as engaging as discussions on taking down a room.

 To create a systemic incentive for tactical thought, prime billets should also be offered to those who have accomplished first tour TAO qualifications or who have served extensively as VBSS boarding officers.The navy’s material conditions issues and need for engineering-oriented officers cannot side-line it’s end purpose, to build warfighters. No matter how well a weapon is maintained, knowing how to use it will always make the difference.

 

The last heyday of wide-spread tactical innovation in the U.S. Navy was during the Vietnam War’s riverine operations. A cunning enemy, a challenging environment, and a difficult mission did not give the black berets much choice in the matter. From interdiction operations to supporting delta amphibious movements to conducting flight ops on garage-sized boats, all and more showed an incredible level of adaption on the tactical and operational level. A navy in a time of relative maritime peace and stability must struggle against the institutional inertia it produces to find that hunger. We need to shake ourselves out of our comfort zone, because an ounce of that innovative spirit now will save a pint of blood later.

Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy. 

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.

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