Category Archives: Seamanship and Leadership

Discover what qualities make a good leader and a good seaman.

Making High Velocity Learning Work For You

By Charlotte Asdal and Scotty Davids

On a recent Wednesday evening, fifteen midshipmen gathered in the company of a Maersk captain and a handful of Navy officers of all ranks. Their roles in the hierarchy seemed clear. However, over the course of two hours, dynamic exchanges about piracy, leadership at sea, and market efficiency had everyone on the edge of their seats. Conversation flowed freely between the experienced and the novice, and across a wide spectrum of professional interests. By the end of the night, what was left was simply a group of people eager to learn from one another. What happened? High velocity learning.

CNO ADM Richardson discusses his vision for a Navy that embraces High-Velocity Learning. Credit: Naval Post-Graduate School.

The Navy recently issued a Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority in which Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Richardson outlined an effort to “achieve high velocity learning at every level.” What does that mean? The concept of high velocity learning challenges us to reinvigorate a culture of assessment and strive to increase the speed of our learning cycle. This seems to have been confusing to many in the Fleet, especially for those of us many rungs down the ladder from the CNO. How can we implement his guidance?

Take Charge and Move Out

We think we have figured out one way to do it here at the United States Naval Academy. Taking into account the CNO’s call for seizing the initiative in achieving high velocity learning, we know that you don’t always have to wait for a program to be enacted and passed down to your command. You can execute immediately based on commander’s intent. In this case, we call it “Unplugged.”

Once a month for the past two years, a group of fifteen midshipmen, some junior officers, a few senior officers, a senior enlisted leader, a handful of civilians, and one discussion leader have piled into a living room for a conversation. Hosted at a senior officer’s home after hours, “Unplugged” is something different. It is a casual venue for focused dialogue and exchange of ideas. In the past two years, our discussion leaders have included an executive from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Mayor of Annapolis, a Maersk captain, submariners, and astronauts. “Unplugged” brings together people from different circles, with different levels of experience, and those who would not usually interact. The speakers are experts in their fields. Spots for participants are first-come, first-serve with no expectation of subject matter expertise. Officer and senior enlisted participants facilitate discussion of Fleet applications.

071029-N-1598C-028 PERSIAN GULF (Oct. 29, 2007) - Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Joe R. Campa Jr. enjoys a formal dinner in the wardroom with junior Sailors aboard nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65). MCPON and Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Gary Roughead are visiting Sailors in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility. Enterprise and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1 are underway on a scheduled deployment. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class McKinley Cartwright (RELEASED)
PERSIAN GULF (Oct. 29, 2007) – Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Joe R. Campa Jr. enjoys a formal dinner in the wardroom with junior Sailors aboard nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class McKinley Cartwright)

Making “Unplugged” Different

These key tenets of making conversation a success can be applied at any level and in any command that wants to engage its Sailors: dialogue, setting, and spectrum of experience. Midshipmen, more than many others, are afforded visits from former Presidents, Ambassadors, and senior executives. We crowd into Alumni Hall and, frankly, decide in the first five minutes of a presentation how much effort we will put into staying awake. What makes “Unplugged” special is the personal interaction. We listen to a speaker with years of expertise and then are asked, “What are you thinking?” It forces us to be inquisitive and thoughtful about the topic at hand. Participants leave with an opinion on the topic, a problem with which to grapple, and more questions than could be possibly answered in a two hour session. Processing new and challenging information while developing a questioning mindset are skills necessary for all future officers.

MIDN 2/c Zach Donnelly teaches fellow midshipmen about cyber security at the U.S. Naval Academy, October 2014. Credit: USNA
MIDN 2/c Zach Donnelly teaches fellow midshipmen about cyber security at the U.S. Naval Academy, October 2014. (U.S. Naval Academy)

The atmosphere created by a home-cooked meal in a living room takes midshipmen and senior attendees alike out of the monotonous classroom or lecture setting. It makes the event informal; there is less of an expectation to be taught a subject and more of an inclination to engage in discussion. This setting is effective at the Academy because the home-cooked meal is so rare, but this could be implemented anywhere that takes the attendees out of their normal environment.

It is also invigorating to sit down next to a Navy commander and share ideas and excitement about the night’s topic. As the discussion leader wraps up his or her points to start the discussion, there are no fewer questions from the senior attendees than there are from the midshipmen. Because of the range of experience, input can come from every possible interest in the room. This dialogue gives the speaker, midshipmen, and senior attendees a chance to relate the topic to their operational area, and to express both praise and critical questions. Senior and junior officers at “Unplugged” use their experiences to invaluably relate the discussion topic to how we fight and operate in the Fleet.

This leads to more conversation, spreading from class, to company, to the Brigade. Those who are most engaged, most thoughtful, and most inquisitive are invited back to help lead the next conversation. Walking out of an “Unplugged” event, participants are buzzing with ideas. They are energized about their futures and are itching to continue the conversation. Participants all interact with people whom they thought were out of reach. But in these challenging conversations with senior level experts, their ideas and questions are entertained, explored, and given credence.

The “velocity” in High Velocity Learning implies both a speed and a direction. We incorporate not only an energizing discussion, but also seek an endstate. At USNA, our endstate is getting as many midshipmen involved as possible, building confidence in them to engage in these discussions, and encouraging the thoughtfulness to ask more challenging questions. After “Unplugged” with the ONR executive, we asked, “How does the Navy’s risk calculus affect its ability to innovate?” After the Mayor, we asked, “What can we learn from local leaders about how to manage a team?” After the Maersk captain, we asked, “How might we work better with our commercial shipping counterparts?” Every participant offers unique value to the discussion.

An example of a High Velocity Learning event. Credit: Authors
An example of a High Velocity Learning event. (Authors’ Image)

Conclusion

We have taken Big Navy’s objectives to heart and made them successful on a small scale. To us, high velocity learning means a problem solving mindset. It is the ability to frame the problem, evaluate what we do and do not know, and devise and act on a way forward. “Unplugged” is a forum through which we develop this method of learning. The goal is to continue the momentum of the conversation and spread the excitement about thinking, reading, and discussing relevant challenges to the Navy team. As midshipmen, we often do not have access to these conversations that are so critical to our future careers. It isn’t that we lack interest, but rather some discussions are not accessible to us or we don’t know where to look. “Unplugged” bridges this gap and gives midshipmen confidence and access to the dialogue.

Try it within your peer group. We guarantee you will walk away invigorated and ready to continue the conversation. This is high velocity learning.

Charlotte Asdal and Scotty Davids are both first-class midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy. Charlotte is studying Chinese and from Chester, NJ. Scotty is a mechanical engineering major from Boulder, CO.

Featured Image: Bangor, WA (May 20, 2014) – Adm. Harry Harris chats with USS Louisiana (SSBN 743) Gold Crew officers in the boat’s wardroom. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ahron Arendes/Released) 

Farsi Island: Surface Warfare’s Wake-Up Call

By Alan Cummings

LT Daniel Hancock wrote an article in 2008 titled “The Navy’s Not Serious About Riverine Warfare.” The U.S. Navy had ample opportunity to prove him wrong, right up until 2012 when the Riverine Force was subsumed under the Mobile Expeditionary Security Force (MESF) to create the present-day Coastal Riverine Force (CRF). Four years later, an incident like Farsi Island was the inevitable outcome of this ill-conceived and poorly executed merger. Both Farsi Island and the infamous merger were the manifestations of a culture that has lost its warrior spirit and has adopted an attitude to “man the equipment” rather than “equip the man.”

In the Beginning, There Were Riverines

The Navy re-established a Riverine Force in 2006 to pick up the mission from the Marine Corps’ Small Craft Company, who in turn traced its lineage through the Special Boat Teams back to the Navy PBR squadrons of Vietnam. These predecessor units proved themselves well in combat, with Sailors like BMC James E. Williams and HM2 Juan Rubio exemplifying the warrior spirit of small combat units.

Combat experienced SEALs, SWCCs, EOD techs, and Marines who were intimately familiar with the requirements of close combat guided the SWOs who were tapped to command the 2006 re-establishment. Riverine training requirements were not only relevant, they were tough and they were enforced. Sailors attended a minimum of four months of training (1 month for Riverine Combat Skills plus 3 months of Riverine Craft Crewman, Riverine Security Team, or Riverine Unit Level Leaders) before being assigned to a detachment that stayed together through the training cycle.

That training cycle was intensely busy but it was focused, repeatable across the squadrons, and offered a predictable sequence of development. Months were dedicated to training boat crews to work together on their individual craft, then with a buddy boat, and finally as a multi-boat patrol. Tactics were matured from live fire training at a static range ashore through underway maneuver with blank cartridges, and culminated in numerous live fire underway exercises where crews were engaging targets within 50m of troops being extracted from shore. It was challenging, dangerous, and realistic.

A “moto video” illustrating the live fire culmination exercises required of every Riverine detachment prior to the 2012 merger. (RIVRON THREE)

While the tactics themselves were important, greater value came from the emphasis on teamwork and discipline mandated by operating under these legitimately dangerous conditions of simulated combat. There was no room, nor tolerance, for a coxswain who failed to follow the orders of the boat captain or patrol officer (USN Investigation into Farsi Island Incident, Para IV.H.59). Such strenuous demands developed a sense of professionalism, ownership, and esprit de corps in each Riverine squadron. E-4 and E-5 Sailors who would have been given the barest of responsibility elsewhere in the conventional Navy were accountable for the men, performance, and tactics of their craft. Instead of being a grey-hull navigator in charge of 5 quartermasters, Junior Officers were detachment OICs and AOICs with 30-50 men, $4 million worth of equipment, and enough firepower to make Chesty Puller blush. The professional growth spurred by these responsibilities cannot be understated.

Death by Merger

The merger of the Riverine community into the MESF was a fundamental mistake driven by budgetary, rather than operational, considerations. The MESF provided a needed service to the Navy, but did so with a vastly different culture that bore the traditional defensive and risk-averse hallmarks of Surface Warfare, Inc.

First, the decision to disperse riverine capability across multiple commands complicated the manning, training, and logistics requirements later cited as contributing factors to the Farsi Island incident. The realities of budget constraints are unavoidable, but a reduction from three RIVRONs to one squadron would have met similar force reduction goals while maintaining standards and capabilities. The Navy decided against recommendations to consolidate the force around Riverine Squadron THREE in Yorktown, VA where it could have taken advantage of more than $3 million of purpose-built facilities, easy access to the York and James river systems, as well as a wealth of training support spanning from Camp Lejeune, NC to Fort A.P. Hill, VA, and Fort Knox, KY.

A 34' SeaArk assigned to CRS ONE escorts USS DE WERT (FFG 45) as she gets underway from Djibouti in September 2013. Credit: USAF Photo by SSgt Chad Warren.
A 34′ SeaArk assigned to CRS ONE escorts USS DE WERT (FFG 45) as she gets underway from Djibouti in September 2013. (USAF Photo by SSgt Chad Warren)

Second, a doctrinal comparison of the post-merger CRF Required Operational Capabilities and Projected Operational Environment (ROC&POE) to that of the pre-merger Riverine Force reveals a striking deletion of numerous warfare requirements, including:

  • AMW 14.3/14.4: Conduct: direct/indirect fires.
  • AMW 23.1/23.2: Plan/conduct/direct: advance force operations for amphibious assault.
  • AMW 23.3/23.4: Plan/conduct/direct: direct action amphibious raids.
  • AMW 35.1/35.2: Plan/conduct/direct: limited objective night attacks.
  • INT 3.3: Conduct: clandestine surveillance and reconnaissance operations.

These warfare requirements defined the essence of the Riverine community. Their deletion is clearly indicative of a climate averse to combat missions, and an intention to relegate the CRF to the MESF-style defensive missions.

A member of the CRF provide embarked security to USNS SPEARHEAD as it gets underway from Cameroon in February 2016. Credit: MC1 Amanda Dunford, USN
A member of the CRF stands watch as embarked security aboard USNS SPEARHEAD as it gets underway from Cameroon in February 2016. (MC1 Amanda Dunford, USN)

Finally, consider the following merger-era anecdotes illustrating the nature of the MESF community that assumed responsibility for Riverine operations:

  • May 2012: While discussing tactics, Riverine detachment leaders asked MESF personnel about the particular behavior of their 25ft escort craft while conducting live fire drills. The MESF personnel responded that they had never fired weapons off those boats, despite routinely deploying them to operational settings.
  • March 2013: During a company formation with personnel from a disestablished Riverine unit, the CO of the now-merged CRS tells them, “Stop looking for work. The Navy doesn’t need Riverines anymore.”
  • April 2013: The CORIVGRU ONE N7, a civilian with minimal expeditionary experience, instructs squadron training team members that the primary reason for using blank cartridges was to catch negligent discharges. He categorically dismisses points of opposition that blanks provided enhanced realism for the trainee (sound, flash, reloads, malfunctions, etc).
  • May 2013: CRS THREE (the parent unit of the captured RCBs) damaged a Riverine Patrol Boat (RPB) while returning from a static display in San Diego. The craft was damaged when personnel failed to lower its arches for overpass clearance. No personnel stationed in San Diego during this time were qualified on RPBs, but they chose to take it out despite objections of the qualified personnel in Yorktown.
  • April – December 2013: Three Sailors from CRS TWO commit suicide, with 14 more admitting suicide-related behavior. According to the Virginia Pilot’s review of the investigation, “Sailors told [investigators] the stresses of the merger were enormous, exacerbated by poor communication down the chain of command and junior sailors’ mistrust of their commanding officer.” The departed were all members of the pre-merger MESF unit and under unacceptable leadership.
  • April 2014: The CRF publishes a ROC&POE that misidentifies Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) as the non-existent ‘Joint Tactical Area Communication Systems’ and the Foreign Internal Defense (FID) mission as Fleet Intelligence Detachment. These typos illustrate a fundamental failure of CRF doctrine writers to understand the context in which their forces operate.

Don’t Just Man the Equipment, Equip the Man

The unwritten theme weaved through the post-incident investigation is that Sailors up and down the chain of command failed to take their mission seriously. They failed to train adequately before deployment. They failed to operate professionally in theater. In the face of the enemy, they failed to act.

These systemic failures and the willful neglect of higher echelons are indicative of a culture that sees program management and certification as ends to themselves, rather than the means by which we prepare for combat. This is a culture that raises personnel to be technicians and managers first, leaders second.

Indeed, the officer in this situation “lacked basic mentorship and development from his entire chain of command. Left to his own devices, he emulated the poor leadership traits he witnessed first-hand…” (Para VI.K.6). The Farsi Island incident and the case study of the Riverine-MESF merger must be wake-up calls to the surface community. It is not enough just to man the equipment. We must equip the men and women who lead our fleet.

These leaders must be raised from the beginning of their careers, whether enlisted or officer, and enough responsibility must be delegated down the chain of command to enable this development. A combat mindset requires time and hard work, not budgets. Cultivating that mindset will require generational change, and a fundamental pivot away from our business and technology-centered force to one that embraces the concept of Sailor as Warrior.

Petty Officers 3rd Class Raymond Delossantos (left) and 2nd Class Jeremy Milford (right) of Riverine Squadron 3 instruct Paraguayan Marines on establishing security after debarking riverine craft during UNITAS 2012. Credit: Cpl Tyler Thornhill, USMC
Petty Officers 3rd Class Raymond Delossantos (left) and 2nd Class Jeremy Milford (right) of Riverine Squadron 3 instruct Paraguayan Marines on establishing security after debarking riverine craft during UNITAS 2012. (Cpl Tyler Thornhill, USMC)

But there is hope. There are Officers and Sailors out there who harbor the warrior spirit, ones who can serve as the example for others. For instance, the anonymous “RCB 805 Gunner #2” was the sole member of the captured crews to receive praise for “activating an emergency beacon while kneeling, bound, and guarded at Iranian gunpoint, at risk to her own safety.” Of those involved in this incident, she alone is worthy of the title Riverine.

Alan Cummings is a 2007 graduate of Jacksonville University. He served previously as a surface warfare officer aboard a destroyer, embedded with a USMC infantry battalion, and as a Riverine Detachment OIC. The views expressed here are his own and in no way reflect the official position of the U.S. Navy. 

Featured image: Patrol craft belonging to the USN CRF are held captive by Iran in 2016, one of which displays the blue flag of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps- Navy. (IRIB News Agency via AP)

Ten Principles of Ethical Conduct

By Captain Mark Vandroff, USN

I recently read Dale R. Wilson’s well-written piece “Character is Crumbling in Our Leadership.” I was left, however, wondering about a definition of ethical behavior. Lockheed Martin lists “Do The Right Thing” as the first of its three core values.1 This is a noble sentiment, but how does one determine “The Right Thing?” To be fair to Lockheed Martin, their ethics webpage, on which their value statement is clearly articulated, provides links to several different company publications with more detailed rules for the conduct of company business and training with examples of good and bad ethical behavior. 

The federal government, including the Department of Defense (DoD), provides much of the same. For example, the Naval Sea System Command (NAVSEA) is attempting to make its sailors and civilian employees more ethically aware with its “Anchor Yourself In Ethics” campaign.2  This campaign focuses on awareness of the federal government’s “14 Principles Of Ethical Conduct.”3 In both cases, leaders seem to equate ethical behavior with compliance with an established set of rules. While related to the concepts of rule sets and professional conduct, ethical principles are something separate. It would certainly be unprofessional for an Assistant Secretary of the Navy to show up to work at the Pentagon in flip flops or for his Military Assistant to have his warfare pin on upside down, but neither would be unethical. I know of a Major Program Manager who knowingly violated the contracting rule on unauthorized commitments. Because he broke this rule, needed repair work was accomplished on a Navy ship in a timely manner allowing the ship to begin it basic training phase on time. The commitment was later ratified by an authorized contracting official. The program manager did not benefit financially, immediately informed his chain of command, and in the end the government did not suffer financially. His action broke rules, including one of the 14 Principles above; however, I would find very few who would describe his conduct as “unethical.”

If ethics is not merely following the rules, what is it? A good working definition might be that ethics are the processes and principles used to determine if an action is right or wrong. Even the words “right” and “wrong” are problematic. Using them in this context assumes the existence of some universal standard against which an action may be judged. Theologians and philosophers debate the origins and existence of such a standard.  Practitioners take a different stance. As the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart described pornography in “Jacobellis vs. Ohio,” they “know it when they see it.”4 Apart from following established rule sets, ethical action involves honesty, transparency, compassion, dignity, and courage. As the Chief of Naval Operations put it in his recent letter to Flag Officers, “Words about values, no matter how eloquent, can only go so far. My experience is that, like so many parts of our language, these words have become overused, distorted, and diluted. Our behavior, as an organization and as individuals, must signal our commitment to the values we so often proclaim.”5 The question that I believe the CNO raises is how to take noble ideals and from them craft a usable set of principles people can use to evaluate their actions.

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CNO Admiral Richardson’s letter on core values and attributes. Click to read.

Roughly 2,300 years ago, Aristotle wrote ten enormous volumes of The Nicomachean Ethics. While it remains an important work on ethics to this day, it does have a certain lack of brevity. 1,400 years later, Moses Maimonides, a Jewish philosopher who was heavily influenced by Aristotle’s writings, did have the gift of brevity. He synthesized the theological implications of the Hebrew Bible and all the attendant writings of several hundred years of revered Rabbis into 13 principles of faith. While his principles were praised by many and criticized by some, their very publication sparked a healthy and needed debate within the Jewish thinking of the day. In the spirit of both Aristotle and Maimonides, I offer the following 10 principles of ethical conduct. They are not rules but principles, ways of measuring the rightness and wrongness of a given act. They are designed to apply to all whose profession involves the common defense, not solely to military personnel. I offer these 10 principles to the Pentagon bureaucrat, the defense industry executive, the Congressional staffer, and the journalist whose beat covers national security as well as to the Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine. My hope is that a spirited public debate of these principles will lead to a healthier understanding of what constitutes ethical conduct.

1. Actions must align with the legitimate interests of the stakeholders.

Everyone in the world of defense acts in the interest of someone else, often multiple people and/or groups, and only rarely is it a direct supervisor. A journalist has a responsibility to the owners of their media outlet to produce publishable content and an additional, sometimes competing interest, to their readers to provide content that is factual and relevant. A DoD Program Manager has a duty to produce items of military usefulness to the warfighter and also has a responsibility to the American taxpayer. A stakeholder is the entity in whose interest a person is bound by their position to act.  (In the law, this would be called a fiduciary/principal relationship.) When judging the ethics of an action, ask first, “are these actions furthering the interest of one or more legitimate stakeholders?”

2. Conflicting interests of various stakeholders must be balanced transparently.

An infantry officer calling for artillery fire must balance the need to protect the soldiers under their command (those soldiers are one legitimate stakeholder) with the need to prevent potential civilian casualties (those civilians are the unwitting other legitimate stakeholder). A Service Chief will have to balance the need to invest in the equipment of tomorrow’s force with the need to fund the operations and maintenance of force he leads today. Many situations will have rule sets for the balancing of these interests, from Rules of Engagement in the field to the Federal Acquisition Regulation in a contract award.  Beyond merely following the appropriate rule set, the decision-maker must be open and clear with themselves, their chain of command, and possibly others outside their organization about who the stakeholders are and how he or she is balancing their interests.

3. The financial benefits of an office can only come from legitimate sources, and must be openly communicated to all stakeholders.

This principle covers the innocent gift, the outright bribe, and everything in between. In most cases, there are easily understood rule sets to govern this behavior. However, even in a complicated case, the main principle is to take no money or other item of value in a manner not clearly known to all the relevant stakeholders. As an example, many journalists will earn additional income working as a ghostwriter. If a journalist covering the DoD and the defense industry ghostwrites a book or an article for a DoD or defense industry leader, that journalist’s readers have a right to know about how that may affect his or her reporting.   

4. Gain, in any form, personal, institutional, financial, or positional, only legitimately comes through excellence.

It is fine for colonels to want to become generals. There is no ethical violation in a business wanting to maximize its profit. Investors are one of the key stakeholder interests an industry leader must serve. However, gain must never be achieved by trick, fraud, or exploitation of personal relationships. Gain is achieved ethically when a competitor outperforms the competition. For example, many large acquisition programs fund government activities outside their program that advance the state of technology with the intent of eventual incorporation into that program. An O-6 major program manager might be tempted to fund projects favored by an influential flag/general officer even if the potential for program benefit is relatively low compared to other possible investments in an attempt to win a friend on possible future promotion boards. This action would violate no rules. It would be unethical because the major program manager is using the program’s resources for personal gain instead of acting in the interests of the program’s legitimate stakeholders.    

5. Established rule sets must be followed unless they are either patently unjust or are interfering with achieving a critical stakeholder need that cannot be fulfilled by acting within the rule set. When violated, they are always violated openly and transparently.

This is the encapsulation of the “Rosa Parks” rule; the defense professional’s guideline for civil disobedience.  Rules exist for a reason. An ethical person follows established rule sets unless extraordinary circumstances compel deviation. When those circumstances exist, the ethical person does not break rules in secret, for that would defeat the purpose of exposing the unjust or mission obstructing rule. If a person is breaking rules without telling anyone about it, that person may be presumed unethical. 

6. When people have been placed under a leader’s authority, that authority may not be used for personal gain.

This covers the proper interaction of a leader with their team. The leader’s team exists for the accomplishment of stakeholders’ interests, not the leader’s personal interests. For example, commanders of large activities have public affairs staff. That staff is there to promote the public’s knowledge of the organization, not the Commander personally.

7. Respect is due to the innate human dignity of every person.

This principle forms the basis of all personal interactions. People may be tasked, trained, hired, fired, disciplined, and rewarded only in ways that preserve their inherent dignity. Because all human beings possess this dignity, its preservation crosses all racial, ethnic, gender, and religious lines. It does not preclude intense training, preparation for stressful situations, or the correction of substandard performance.  It does, however, require that no person be intentionally humiliated, denigrated, or exploited. 

8. The truth must be provided to any stakeholder with a legitimate claim.

It would be too simple, and even inaccurate, to proclaim a principle like “never lie.”  Both war and successful business often require the art of deception. As an example, it has always been a legitimate form of deception to disguise the topside of a warship to make it appear to be some other type of vessel. In a business negotiation, there are legitimate reasons for keeping some items of information private. However, stakeholders that have a legitimate claim on the truth must be given the full, unabridged access to the best information and analysis when requested. Other stakeholders, with a lesser claim, may not be lied to but do not always have to be answered in full.  As an example, a DoD program manager cannot tell a Congressional Defense Committee staffer that “testing is going great” when asked about testing on a program that is suffering serious delays. That program manager may tell a reporter, “I don’t want to talk about that” or, “I have confidence in the contractor” when asked the same question. 

9. Do not assume bad intent without evidence.

The unethical person judges others by their actions and himself by his intent. The ethical person judges himself by his actions and other by their intent. Ethical people will understand that there will be honest differences of opinion among even seasoned practitioners. Just because someone comes to a different judgment does not mean that person is less competent or under a bad influence. For example, an investigator with an inspector general organization is assessing whether or not a trip was legitimately official, to be properly paid for with government funds, or a personal trip on which business was done only incidentally, such that government funding would be unauthorized. The given facts could logically support either conclusion. The investigator may have a personal interest in a finding of wrongdoing because it would be a demonstration of the investigator’s own thoroughness. Nonetheless, an ethical investigator will decline to find wrongdoing when the facts support either conclusion.               

10. An ethical person does not stand idle in the face of wrongdoing.

Great thinkers, from Aristotle, to Sir Winston Churchill, to Maya Angelou, recognized courage as the primary human virtue, because it is a necessary precursor to all other virtuous acts. Theoretically, a person may be able to behave ethically without courage in an environment free from temptation. However, such environments don’t exist in the world of the defense professional. To be ethical, to follow the first nine principles, one must have the courage to do so even when such action might be unpopular or dangerous.

At the end of The (seemingly endless) Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle observes that both virtue and laws are needed to have a good society.  Similarly, ethical principles are not a replacement for solid, well understood, and faithfully executed rule sets.  A wise ethics attorney once counseled me, “there is no right way to do the wrong thing, but there are lots of wrong ways to do the right thing.”   These ethical principles are, for our actions, like a well-laid foundation to a house.  They are the necessary precursor to a sound structure of ethical conduct.  

Captain Mark Vandroff is the Program Manager for DDG-51 Class Shipbuilding. The views express herein are solely those of the author. They do not reflect the official positions of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or any other U.S. Government agency.

1. Lockheed Martin Corporation, “Ethics – Lockheed Martin,” 6 July 2016.

2. Vice Admiral William H. Hilarides, “Anchor Yourself with Ethics – NAVSEA Ethics & Integrity,” Naval Sea Systems Command, 22 June 2015.

3. “The 14 General Principles of Ethical Conduct” 5 C.F.R §2635.101 (b).

4. Jacobellis v. Ohio. 378 U.S. 184 (1964).  The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.

5.Admiral John M. Richardson, “Message to Flag Officers and Senior Civilians,” Department of the Navy, 12 May 2016.

Featured Image: MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (June 1, 2016) Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) employees learn about Character from U.S. Naval Academy Distinguished Military Professor of Ethics Capt. Rick Rubel, guest speaker for the NAVSUP leadership seminar series. (U.S. Navy photo by Dorie Heyer/Released)

The End of Uniformed Naval Strategic Study?

By Steve Wills

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson’s recent decision to dissolve the long-running Strategic Studies Group (SSG) has prompted questions regarding the group’s recent viability, and whether it has made measurable contributions to naval strategy or national security. The answers to these questions are debatable to be sure. The real questions to ask are does the U.S. need mid grade and senior uniformed naval officers to think seriously about naval strategy? Should that “strategy” be something more than mere platform numbers, 30-year shipbuilding plans and associated budgets? What processes best inform and support generation of usable strategy, and how can Navy uniformed personnel, civilians and supporting contractors best support a strong, 21st century U.S. Maritime Strategy. An SSG that is returned to its 1980’s roots is the best process to achieve that goal.

The SSG was founded by CNO Admiral Thomas Hayward in 1981 with the specific mission of supporting a new era of strategic thinking by uniformed naval personnel in how to counter the rising Soviet Navy. A short review of the works of John Hattendorf, Peter Swartz, and John Hanley details the SSG’s significant influence on the development of naval strategy in the 1980’s. The efforts of the SSG were crucial to making the Maritime Strategy work at the operational and even tactical level of execution. It was a “disruptive” organization in that it had direct access to every senior officer in the Navy cosmos of that era. It had a number of innovative individuals within its ranks who later made flag officer rank. This organization was one where the people were as much the product as the concepts they created.

The SSG’s success was perhaps based on its direct association with the 1980’s era Maritime Strategy. The conditions for the SSG’s work and its own charter have considerably changed since the 1980’s. The Cold War ended in 1991, and with it the focus on defeating a global opponent. CNO Admiral Mike Boorda changed the SSG’s charter in 1996 to a focus on “revolutionary naval warfare concepts” rather than “Grand Strategy.” The group is now larger, more “joint” in construct and includes more junior personnel. Perhaps this is the wrong mix for supporting strategic thinking and development?

The SSG may not now seem to be as working well because it does not have a similar grand strategic construct to guide it it as it did in the 1980’s. In his 1990 Senate Armed Services Committee hearings, CNO Admiral Frank Kelso said a nation “didn’t need a strategy if it did not have an enemy.” The Maritime Strategy was soon placed “on the shelf” and was never really replaced. White papers such as “From the Sea” and more detailed concepts such as the 2007 and 2015 Cooperative Maritime Strategies have appeared, but none are in the same league as the 1980’s Maritime Strategy, a concept described by former Dean of Naval Warfare at the Naval War College Barney Rubel as one that could used as a “contingent warfighting doctrine.”

(Oct. 5, 2015) Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson meets with the fellows of the CNO Strategic Studies Group (SSG) at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC). Richardson visited NWC to address the students and faculty and to meet with the SSG. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Laird/Released)
(Oct. 5, 2015) Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson meets with the fellows of the CNO Strategic Studies Group (SSG) at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Laird/Released)

The disestablishment of the SSG is also, in effect, a dismissal of the efforts of the U.S. Naval War College; the home base of the SSG since its commission in 1981. The SSG was originally anchored to the War College to physically remove its members from corrosive Washington D.C. politics and to leverage the traditional capabilities of the College as a center of strategic excellence. Is the Naval War College now just another Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) degree production location? This decision seems to entirely separate the War College from its traditional role as a center of deep strategic naval thinking. Is it really so difficult and costly to move a dozen Commanders and Captains to Newport, as the 1980’s-era SSG did, so that they can think about big picture ideas without the usual distractions inherent in basing them in the National Capitol Region (NCR)?

The death of the SSG may be indicative of a larger lack of historical self-examination by naval leaders when making significant strategic decisions. The 2003-2012 process where the surface Navy closed the basic training school for new Surface Warfare Officers (SWOSDOC) at Newport, RI, tried to replace it with computer-based training and then subsequently returned to schoolhouse training could have been avoided had people looked at why the surface warfare school training program was instituted. New technology and a desire for greater professionalism caused ADM Zumwalt to implement a more regimented training program for surface officers. It was recognized that the previous, “journeyman” training program of the 1950’s and 1960’s was not sufficient to provide operators for then new ships like the DD 963 class, or deal with the increasing complexity of surface warfare. Those same conditions were in play in the early 2000’s as the fleet decreased in size, but was beset with greater responsibilities, made greater use of commercial off the shelf (COTS) material, and was developing whole-ship computing environments through programs like “smart ship” and IT21. In killing SWOSDOC, the Navy in effect steamed over its own towline and needlessly weakened its junior surface warfare training program. Sadly, the dissolution of the SSG may be following a similar pattern to that of the basic Surface Warfare Officers School. Excellence in a process has become more important than the product that is created.

The Navy seems to be groping again toward a concept of real geopolitical strategy as it did in the 1970’s. The 2015 Maritime Strategy is a step in that direction. The 1991-2010, “strategy” of 30-year shipbuilding plans, force structure, and budget management is no longer sufficient for the current environment that again features peer/near peer competitors in addition to non-state actors. The Navy needs uniformed personnel (preferably with a defined career path such as CNO’s operations analysts) to examine and recommend grand strategy. The global maritime battlespace has always made naval leaders deep strategic thinkers. The other services do not think along the same geographic lines. The U.S. has no strategic land frontier such as the Franco-German one of 1870-1945 where the Army might build grand strategy. The Air Force alternately operates in support of operational Army requirements or ignores geography altogether in its strategic bombing efforts.

The post 1986 Goldwater Nichols era of geographically isolated combatant commanders “drawing lines in the sea” and overly focused on land-based events disrupted the ethos of strategic naval thinking. Naval leadership must support the idea of the naval officer as a strategic thinker. Sadly, dissolution of groups like the SSG makes this more difficult to achieve. The Navy seems to have returned to the conditions of 1981 when incoming Secretary of the Navy John Lehman said that naval officers “did not do strategy.”

There is hope, however, to correct these deficiencies within the CNO’s “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority.” It states that, “history should be studied so that old lessons do not have to be relearned.” History suggests that the SSG in its pre-1996 format provided excellent support to the creation and implementation of the Maritime Strategy of the 1980’s. Learning-centered technologies, simulators, online gaming analytics and other tools not available in the mid 1980’s could further expand the reach and impact of 22 mid grade officers working on big picture ideas in the relative quiet of Newport. Such an organization for a new SSG would do much to maximize combat effectiveness and efficiency. It could be a team effort across the Navy’s strategic enterprise and would do much to reinvigorate an assessment culture and processes. An SSG that returns to its pre-1996 roots and adopts the best practices as recommended by “high velocity learning” can have as great an impact in building 21st century maritime strategy as did the SSG of the mid 1980’s.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD candidate in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941. 

Featured Image: Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson speaking at the Naval War College. (Photo: MC1 Nathan Laird, US Navy)