Category Archives: Strategy

The Navy Needs to Do More Than Rebuild for the Future, It needs to Reinvent Itself

It is time for a Navy-wide campaign to rethink force strategy, design, and culture for competition in a digitized world.

By Frank T. Goertner

When paradigms change, the world itself changes with them.1

— Thomas Kuhn

Return to great power competition; revisionist powers; renewed capabilities; rebuild our military: such phrases feature prominently in recent U.S. national security guidance. They convey an imperative to look to the past as the nation prepares for a potentially volatile future. For American navalists in particular, they offer nostalgic optimism. Three times in the 20th Century, the Navy confronted rivals to U.S. sea power and prevailed. As the world returns to similar heights of geo-strategic rivalry, it is tempting for Navy leaders to approach the future via plans to rebuild past success. With concerted effort, the Service can revise known strategies, renew forgone capacity, and return to prior postures for the contests ahead. This approach would appear logical. It would also be a mistake. 

The world and its competitive landscape are changing in profound ways. The advance and proliferation of digital technologies among interdependent societies has established digitized information as a new global commodity of unprecedented strategic value. This development is upending competitive norms across and within human enterprises around the world and inspiring new paradigms that will reshape future contests between them. We see this in markets and geopolitics alike.    

For the Navy, one such enterprise, this implies that the approaches most pertinent to its future may not be behind it, but around it. This is not to say history is irrelevant. But alongside its lesson, Navy leaders should account for how commercial peers and maritime rivals are preparing their own enterprises for the contests ahead. As important, they should do so free of any assumptions that could self-constrain the Navy’s ambitions for its future within paradigms of its past.

A glance around at the Navy’s peers and rivals suggests that an approach to rebuild for the future is not enough.  Navy leaders should promote new competitive paradigms to fully leverage digitized information and harness its strategic value. They need a campaign to rethink force strategy, design, and culture for the contests ahead. In sum, the Navy needs to reinvent itself as a digitized enterprise for the digitized world.

The Market and Its New Norms

“Data [is] to this century what oil was to the last one. . . It changes the rules for markets and it demands new approaches.”2

-The Economist

Information has always been a source of competitive advantage in the market, but digitized information in a globalized and digitized economy is something new. It is a global commodity that can assume unprecedented levels of strategic value. In industries around the world, control of digitized information has become as – sometimes more – determinative of competitive outcomes than ownership of physical space or manipulation of material goods. 

It is a phenomenon that Chris Anderson of WIRED magazine terms 21st Century Free,3 and Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT call the new economics of free, perfect, and instant.4 Digitized information, for decades one of many resources used by firms to enable operating efficiencies or assist in corporate planning, is emerging in the 21st Century as a driver of new competitive norms. It can be accessed and transmitted at unparalleled scale, scope, and speed. With near-zero marginal costs to produce, it can grant firms extraordinary levels of efficiency as they shift from material to digital infrastructure. It can assume considerable monetary value and hold that value across traditional industry and national boundaries. It can be harnessed for innovation and expansion into new, often unexpected, sectors. In short, a firm that can effectively amass, manipulate, and control digitized information can achieve unprecedented levels of command over what Michael Porter of Harvard refers to as a new competitive landscape of smart, connected products.5

To account for these new norms, firms in an array of industries are promoting new competitive paradigms. They are migrating from 20th Century corporate thinking based in competition for profits within material manufacturing or services toward new thinking that prioritizes competition for access, manipulation, and control of digitized information alongside – often in place of – traditional sources of profit. Some go so far as to completely invert previous paradigms. Firms that once saw digitized resources as means to achieve ends within a competition for physical resources now see physical resources as means to achieve ends within the competition for digitized information.6

Commercial Peers and Their Race to Reinvent

“If you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly… you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.”7

– Jeff Bezos

The challenge is that paradigms don’t change easily.  Moreover, if they don’t change fast enough, a firm risks obscuring its vision for the future within lenses ground in the past. Therefore, executives of the most successful firms are promoting their new paradigms with campaigns to rethink corporate strategy, design, and culture for the market’s new norms. In effect, they are reinventing their firms as digitized enterprises for a digitized world.8 What does this entail?

First, it takes executive commitment to reshape strategic perspectives to account for the new competitive norms of a digitized market.9 From the top down, executives and their strategic planners must embrace the fact that digitized information is no longer merely a means to enhance value of current service or production techniques. As a strategic commodity, it can often be the source of new value and innovation.10

Second, it takes a disciplined effort to redesign platforms and operations, not only within existing functions, but also into new frontier functions that command of digitized information can make accessible.11 One approach that has gained prominence is the digital platform approach; focusing design efforts on platforms that integrate digital and material resources, re-aligning current operations and investments to support those platforms, and posturing both to outperform competing platforms by beating competitors to market to learn early and learn fast from the environment.12 This is often complimented by a digital journey approach to iterative platform re-design; mapping theoretical customer journeys across each platform of a firm in order to identify both efficiencies to improve value and options to open new competitive fronts along the way.13

Third, it takes planning to evolve a digital culture or digital DNA14 of the workforce to ensure they build human-machine teams to engage in a digitized world. This includes experimenting with organizational balance between minds and machines15 as well as talent management models to develop leaders to translate digitized information into human action – leaders Robert Reich of Harvard calls symbolic analysts.16

For an idea of how this looks in practice, Marriott is a firm driving to reinvent. For five decades through the 1990s, Marriott was a leading owner of lodging and dining facilities. As of last year, it owned just 22 hotels worldwide; yet still claimed control of “more than 6,000 properties in 122 countries and territories.”17 In the two decades between, Marriott executives promoted a new competitive paradigm that prioritized digitized information as a global commodity and strategic priority on par with – sometimes superior to – material sources of value. As evidence of how comprehensive this paradigm shift has been, Marriott’s 2016 acquisition of Starwood Hotels was the biggest deal in hospitality history. Yet consider what aspect of the deal Marriott flagged to investors in its annual report: “With the acquisition, Marriott now has the most powerful frequent traveler programs in the lodging industry.”18 For Marriott, the deal’s value derived at least as much from the digitized information gained as in material resources. Since the deal, Marriott’s focus has been to harness the strategic value of that commodity. They use a platform approach to integrate material and digital resources across reservation, financial, and management systems. Executives are envisioning Marriott customers as digital immigrants, with planners evaluating each immigrant’s digital journey, “from searching for a hotel room . . . through and then after the stay.”19 And Marriott personnel are retooling practices to align human talents and machine tasks across the merged digitized enterprise.  

General Electric (GE) and Boeing offer additional examples somewhat closer to the Navy. GE is racing to preserve its claim as the last original American industrial firm in the DOW by reinventing itself around its digital platform – PREDIX. Boeing, for its part, now refers to “data as fuel,” and is proactively exploring how to design future systems, platforms, and workforces around its own digital platform – Analytx.20 Both, like Marriott, are racing to reinvent themselves as digitized enterprises for the digitized contests they see ahead.

The Maritime Operating Environment and Its New Norms

“A war of ideas can no more be won without books than a naval war can be won without ships. Books, like ships, have the toughest armor, the longest cruising range, and mount the most powerful guns.”21

-President Franklin D. Roosevelt

As in business, information has always been an integral part of military competition. The quote above from one of the 20th Century’s great navalists highlights this poignantly. Yet reread it substituting FDR’s books with today’s equivalent, digitized information, and the quote rises to a whole new meaning.

In the 21st Century, digitized information has emerged as a global commodity of unprecedented strategic value in the competition for sea power among maritime nations. With maritime communication, transportation, and national service networks reliant on digital infrastructure, the information they carry has immense geo-political value. Employment of digitized information in automated battle management systems, operational analytics, and cyber operations could drive down marginal costs and augment cumulative effects of military operations at exponential rates. Finally, networked digitized information offers the prospect of widely disbursed forces operating with nearly free, perfect and instant command, control, and communications (C3) with coherency and precision.

As a result, a fight for sea power in an operating environment where digitized information is a global commodity is not just a faster fight or more multi-faceted fight. It is a completely different kind of fight. The contest for Volume, Velocity, Veracity, and Value of Information becomes paramount – so much so that the strategic ends in future digitized conflicts may no longer be control or destruction of physical combat forces and facilities, but rather control of digital devices, connections, networks, and perceptions of those engaged in the contest.22 Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, recent Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, calls it 5th Generation Warfare and the Cognitive Battle.23 Dr. William Roper, recent Director of DoD’s Strategic Capabilities Office, envisions it as digital blitzkrieg in which “whoever collects the most data on Day One just might win the war before a single shot is fired.”24 

In sum, digitized information in the 21st Century maritime operating environment is more than an operational enabler; it is a strategic resource that can be as – perhaps more – decisive to victory as the physical control of territory or the kinetic lethality of material weapons. These are the new norms of the digitized maritime operating environment, and navies around the world are taking note.

Maritime Rivals and Their Race to Reinvent

“Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.”25

-Sun Tzu

It is hard to imagine a better resource than digitized information for a modern military in pursuit of Sun Tzu’s timeless ambitions. This is not lost on 21st Century rivals for U.S. sea power. Both Russian and Chinese military leaders are promoting new paradigms that effectively invert past thinking on military competition, migrating away from 20th Century doctrine focused on a digitally-enabled fight for control of the territory and infrastructure that have historically defined victory. Rather, they are strategizing for a materially-enabled fight to control the digitized information that could define victory in a future fight. In effect, like their commercial peers, each is racing to reinvent themselves as digitized enterprises for the digitized contests they see ahead. What does this entail?

First, Russian and Chinese leaders appear committed to reshape strategic perspectives to account for the new norms of a digitized operating environment. In both practice26 and in doctrine,27 Moscow has elevated manipulation and control of digitized information to an unprecedented level of prominence in their strategic planning. Information Confrontation is the Russian’s name for their new approach. Surpassing traditional information warfare, its ambition is to align missions and operations across digitized diplomatic, economic, military, political, cultural, and social enterprises such that national influence can be targeted with new levels of efficiency and precision, plus in new unprecedented ways.28 Similarly, China is advancing its sea power with a new approach the Department of Defense terms Low Intensity Coercion.29 Through precisely coordinated diplomatic, economic, and military ventures; they seek to integrate digitized and material resources under centralized command and control in what Admiral James Stavridis has called “a kind of hybrid war at sea.”30 Further, like Russia, their ambition is unconstrained by 20th Century concepts. In the words of Elsa Kania of the Center for New American Security, Beijing’s ultimate aim is to “fundamentally change the character of warfare” and thus seize “the ‘commanding heights’ of future military competition.”31

Second, both rivals are intent to redesign platforms and operations and evolve a digital culture to account for their new strategic perspectives and make best use of digitized information as a strategic resource. Russia’s hybrid social media tactics in Ukraine,32 emphasis on offensive cyber,33 development of deep-sea capabilities to hold sea-bed communications cables at risk,34 and alleged GPS-spoofing in the Black Sea35 offer a sense how they are retooling Russian forces, to include the Russian Navy, for the new norms of the digitized operating environment. Similarly, Beijing’s investments in unmanned air, surface, and undersea vehicles; advanced cooperative maritime surveillance and targeting systems; electromagnetic pulse weapons; and quantum technology offer an idea of how they too are retooling their military for digitized maritime contests.36 It also appears Russia and China have started to align toward a digital platform approach in designing for force-wide employment of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Russian President Vladimir Putin recently asserted that the nation and military that leads in AI will rule the world.37 The Chinese military sees it as their “trump card”  in leading progress from today’s ‘informatized’ ways of warfare to future ‘intelligentized’ warfare,” and Beijing has set a goal for China to be the premier global innovation center in AI by 2030.38 Both nations are aggressively investing in force-wide AI applications that range from surveillance and decision aids to fully automated lethal systems. Fully realized, a Russian or Chinese Navy redesigned around a force-wide AI digital platform could credibly overmatch rivals in employment of digitized information for unmanned systems; intelligence fusion, processing, and analysis; operational training, war-gaming and simulation; information warfare; and support to both strategic and tactical command and control. Perhaps of greatest concern, though, is that both appear intent on being first to learn early and learn fast in the operating environment.39 

The U.S. Navy’s Choice: Rebuild or Reinvent 

“The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented.”40

-Denis Gabor

With peers and rivals racing to define their futures, the U.S. Navy is presented with a choice for its own — rebuild or reinvent?

Some will read this as a retread of the classic force planning calculus of capacity versus capability, and they will claim it’s nothing new. Others will say that it is a false choice, with the decision already made to do both.  The Service has committed to grow its force structure, reconsider its force posture, and upgrade its systems and personnel. Either argument misses the point. Before the Navy strikes for new capacity, new capabilities, or both, Navy leaders must decide what kind of enterprise the Navy will be for the contests they see ahead. Even if the targets for capacity and capability are clear, what is not is the lens through which the Navy will sight them. And that lens matters immensely. It will shape the assumptions from which its leaders depart, the questions its planners ask in charting the course, and the criteria for prioritizing decisions along the way.

A choice to rebuild is a choice to retain current paradigms or adapt incrementally from those of the past. It is a choice to keep strategic focus on a fight for control of territory and infrastructure, knowing that rivals have shifted their focus to a fight prioritizing control of digitized information as much – or more – than the physical geography it passes through. It is a choice to grow the force within current fleet structure, expand concepts rooted in current functions and missions, innovate within current program and budgetary decision processes, and adjust current personnel models – all of which were designed for contests in a pre-digital world. Ultimately, it is a choice to return to the type of force that America knows how to build and how to fight.

How would a rebuilt Navy look? It would be a Navy of digitally augmented Carrier Strike Groups and Air Wings to sustain manned power projection missions, digitally enhanced submarines to sustain predominately nuclear deterrence missions, digitally assisted surface action groups to re-attain capacity for sustained geo-spatial sea control, and maritime security missions with more and better data but still processed through human constraints on how to use it. It would be a Fleet with new digital resources, but still postured to defend and secure maritime infrastructure, trade routes, and allies prioritized within a pre-digital terrain where maneuver and coercion played by different rules. Finally, it would be a workforce of Sailors and civilians enabled by digitized resources such as AI and robotics to execute today’s requirements, but not necessarily teamed with them to define and explore new frontiers – frontiers such as fully or semi-autonomous long-endurance strike groups, offensive sea-based cyber operations, or non-nuclear deterrence forces for digitized coercion. 

A rebuilt Navy is fine if the fight the Navy sees ahead is the fight it sees behind. The challenge is that the Navy’s peers and rivals, embracing new paradigms, are assuring that won’t be the case. The rebuilt Navy may be suited for the fight the U.S. wants to fight, but how well can it secure victory in a materially-enabled fight for digitized information? As important, how well does it deny rivals their access to this new strategic commodity?

In the end, a rebuilt Navy in contest with reinvented navies could be precisely the right Navy for precisely the wrong fight. If Russia and China are right, and victory in a digitized world rests as much – or more – on command of digitized information as it does material resources, then this approach cedes strategic aperture to rivals choosing to reinvent instead of rebuild. Even if hypothetical, this is a mistake the U.S. Navy cannot afford.                 

The Navy Should Aim to Reinvent – Here’s How

“For 240 years, the U.S. Navy has been a cornerstone of American security and prosperity.  To continue to meet this obligation, we must adapt to the emerging security environment.”41

-Admiral John Richardson, CNO

The U.S. Navy should set its sights beyond rebuilding and aim to reinvent itself as a digitized enterprise for a digitized world. Fortunately if it does, there are initiatives already underway that move in the right direction.

The quote above shows Navy leadership has a healthy appreciation for the need to not just grow, but to change along the way. They also acknowledge the imperative to leverage digitized information as it does. Over the past decade, the Navy has developed an Information Warfare Community, stood up Fleet Cyber Command, established a Digital Warfare Office, and founded a Center for Cyber Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy. It has established Navy Information Forces, created a Navy Information Warfighting Development Center, and issued a Strategy for Data and Analytics Optimization. Alongside these, the Service has promoted a series of strategic plans and roadmaps for science and technology as well as directives and initiatives to promote a data savvy workforce. Moreover, there is a growing voice that further efforts are warranted to ensure these efforts deliver faster – even “exponential” operational effects.42

However, the Service has yet to progress from individual calls to action and policy initiatives toward driving the type of holistic campaign it will need to truly reinvent itself. The Navy’s functions and missions remain defined by a maritime strategy rooted in paradigms and assumptions of the 20th Century. Its program management, budgetary decision processes, and doctrine development remain confined within an organizational construct of “N-codes” largely static for the past two decades. Finally, the majority of its people – both civilian and military – continue to be led, organized and trained with personnel models and mindsets built for pre-digital contests between pre-digital navies.  

To reinvent, the Navy must move beyond piecemeal programs and calls for change. The Service needs a campaign to holistically rethink force strategy, design, and culture for competition in a digitized world; a roadmap to guide every N-code, every program, and every fleet through a decisive and conclusive migration to a new paradigm. Judging from peers and rivals around it, three lines of effort would offer a solid start:    

(1) Reshape strategic perspectives with a new maritime strategy for the digitized world. 

Navy leadership should promote efforts to aggressively rethink 20th Century paradigms of sea power. This should start with a new maritime strategy focused on defining new national-level ends and means for maritime contests in which digitized information is a global and strategic commodity. A component of this should be an analysis of how sea power itself may be changing, addressing hard questions head-on about the evolving nature and character of the Navy’s traditional functions. What is the nature of deterrence in a digitized and automated multi-rival competition? How do definitions of power projection shift with new options for digitized escalation that precede the traditional material kill-chain? How does the Navy balance spatial, temporal, and cross-spectral dynamics of sea control in a digitized fight? What types of maritime security regimes should the United States promote in a digitized maritime domain populated with ever-growing numbers of both humans and machines? Should the Sea Services pursue a U.S. version of interagency Information Confrontation or Low-Intensity Coercion? Most importantly, the strategy should not evade a blunt assessment on which of today’s naval missions will endure, which could become superfluous, and what new potentially unprecedented missions our Navy and Sea Services will need in order to fight and win as a digitized enterprise in a digitized world.

(2) Redesign the Fleet around platforms and journeys of a digitized fight

Navy force strategists and planners should be encouraged to re-envision Fleet missions, structure, and posture as operational components of a digitized Fleet. This implies moving past benchmarking approaches toward digital solutions as either an enabler or alternative to existing programs. Instead, the Navy needs to think of the future Fleet as a system of digital platforms for the future and experiment with ways to fight that system in new missions and innovative ways. It should then align and prioritize its investments and analytic processes to optimize the digitized missions – or journeys – of its future forces and Sailors on those platforms. This should prompt Navy force planners to invert traditional planning inquiries and collaborate toward optimizing both digital and material solutions between, and not just within, their programs. For example, instead of asking, “how can the Navy employ AI to improve program ‘X’?”  They should ask, “how can the Fleet as a system of digital platforms leverage AI to counter the Russian undersea cable threat or Chinese drone swarming?” Then, in building architectures for these solutions, they should think through the journey of each applicable weapon or payload along the kill chain, each Sailor or system along the deployment cycle, and each ally or partner that could interphase for the mission. A key part of this should also be experimentation on precise levels of velocity and veracity of information that commanders will need to conduct future Fleet missions, whether they be at the strategic, operational, or tactical level of maritime contest. Existing Navy initiatives to build a Fleet Tactical Grid and define a Future Fleet Design and Architecture for 2045 are notable steps in the right direction. But they need to be linked to a broader effort for Service-wide reform of operational doctrine, programs, and structures for the digitized contests ahead. 

(3) Evolve a digital culture of human-machine teams, and equip them to lead the digitized Service. 

Navy personnel, both military and civilian, should be cultured to embrace the digitized force they will comprise – a force for which command and employment of digitized resources is more than just a means to win the fight at and from the sea; it might well be what the fight is all about. This means accepting that the optimal mix and dispersion of human and machine tasks within a digitized architecture may change dramatically from traditional models. How will the Navy recruit, train, distribute, evaluate, and ultimately co-evolve a workforce of human-machine teams? How will it tailor access and use of digital information for digitized operations? How will it grow and retain a cadre of symbolic analysts and innovators to drive it through the exponential change it seeks? And can they make use of digitized solutions to improve and accelerate learning and thinking along the way? In short, reinvention into a digitized force cannot give short shrift to the need to invest deliberately in tomorrow’s Navy Sailors, civilians, and the machines with which they will fight. 

For a Navy steeped in traditions, reinvention will not be easy. Even more challenging, it must beat two maritime rivals in a race to the future. It will therefore need to be deliberate, it will need to be fast, and it will need to be decisive. That calls for Navy leaders to launch a holistic campaign to guide the Service to the future it seeks to invent for itself and for its nation, without a moment to lose.    

Frank Goertner is a U.S. Navy Commander serving as a Strategic Planner in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Future Strategy Branch. The views and opinions expressed are the author’s alone and do not represent the official position of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Department of Defense, or U.S. Government.

[1] Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition (The University of Chicago Press, Chicago) 2012, 111.

[2] “Fuel of the Future:  Data is giving rise to a new economy,” The Economist, 6 May 2017

[3] Chris Anderson, Free: How Today’s Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing (New York: Hachette Books, 2015), 12-13.

[4] Andre McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, Machine Platform Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future (W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2017), 137.

[5] Michael E. Porter and James E. Heppelmann, “How Smart, Connected Products are Transforming Competition,” Harvard Business Review, November 2014

[6] Jacques Bughin, Laura LaBerge, and Anette Mellbye, “The Case for Digital Reinvention,” McKinsey Quarterly, February 2017.

[7] Jeff Bezos, “2016 Letter to Shareholders,” Amazon.com, 12 April 2017.

[8] Jacques Bughin, Laura LaBerge, and Anette Mellbye, “The Case for Digital Reinvention,” McKinsey Quarterly, February 2017.

[9] Thomas M. Siebel, “Why Digital Transformation is Now on the CEO’s Shoulders,” McKinsey Quarterly, December 2017.

[10] Jaques Bughin Nicholas Van Zeebroeck, “Six Digital Strategies, and Why Some Work Better than Others,” Harvard Business Review (online), July 31, 2017.

[11] Gerald C. Kane, Doug Palmer, Anh Nguyen Phillips, David Kiron, and Natasha Buckley, “Achieving Digital Maturity,” MIT Sloan Management Review, Summer 2017.

[12] McAfee and Brynjolfsson, Machine Platform Crowd, 166.

[13] Andrew Bollard, Elixabete Larrea, Alex Singla, and Rohit Sood, “The Next-generation Operating Model for the Digital World,” Digital McKinsey (online), March 2017.  

[14] “Building Your Digitial DNA: Lessons from Digitial Leaders” Deloitte MCS Limited, https://www2.deloitte.com/mk/en/pages/technology/articles/building-your-digital-dna.html.

[15] McAfee and Brynjolfsson, Machine Platform Crowd, 32-85.

[16] Robert Reich, The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st-Century Capitalism (Alfred A. Knopf, New York) 1991.

[17] “Marriott International, Inc. 2016 Annual Report,” Marriott International 2016.

[18] IBID

[19] Peter High, “Marriott’s Digital Chief On The Advantages Of The Digital Immigrants.”  Forbes (online) 15 May, 2017

[20] Ted Colbert and “Data as jet fuel: An interview with Boeing’s CIO” McKinsey Quarterly, January 2018.

[21] Franklin Roosevelt, “Letter to W. W. Norton, Chairman of the Council on Books In Wartime”, December 1942

[22] Linton Wells, “Prepared for the Battle but Not the War,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings Magazine. 143/11 Nov 2017.

[23] Kimberly Underwood, “Cognitive Warfare Will Be Deciding Factor in Battle.” The Cyber Edge (online), 15 August 2017

[24] Patrick Tucker, “The Next Big War Will Turn on AI, Says The Pentagon’s Secret-Weapons Czar.” DEFENSE ONE (online), 28 March 17.

[25] Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Translated by Thomas Cleary (Shambala, Boston, 2003), 108.

[26] Jim Rutenberg, “RT, Sputnik and Russia’s New Theory of War.

How the Kremlin built one of the most powerful information weapons of the 21st century — and why it may be impossible to stop.” The New York Times Magazine, Sep 13, 2017.

[27] “Russia Military Power: Building a Military to Support Great Power Aspirations.” Defense Intelligence Agency, 2017 www.dia.mil/Military-Power-Publications


[28] IBID

[29] “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2017.” Office of the Secretary of Defense, May 2017, 12.

[30] James Stavridis, “Growing Threats to the U.S. at Sea:  With Russia and China Expanding Their Naval Capabilities, What Can the U.S. Do to Prepare?” THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, June 2, 2017

[31] Elsa B. Kania, “Battlefield Singularity: Artificial Intelligence, Military Revolution, and China’s Future Military Power.” Center for New American Security, Nov 2017, 4-5

[32] Russia Military Power: Building a Military to Support Great Power Aspirations.” Defense Intelligence Agency, 2017

[33] IBID

[34] Rishi Sunak, “Undersea Cables: Indispensable, Insecure.” Policy Exchange, 2017.

[35] Elizabeth Wise, “Mysterious GPS glitch telling ships they’re parked at airport may be anti-drone measure.” USATODAY, Sept. 26, 2017

[36] Ronald O’Rourke, “China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Service, December 2017.

[37] “Putin: Leader in artificial intelligence will rule world.” AP News (online) 1 Sep 2017

[38] Kania “Battlefield Singularity: Artificial Intelligence, Military Revolution, and China’s Future Military Power,” 4-5

[39] Tom O’Connor, “U.S. Is Losing To Russia And China In War For Artificial Intelligence, Report Says,” NEWSWEEK (Online), 29 Nov, 2017.

[40] Dennis Gabor, Inventing the Future. (Alfred A Knopf, New York), 1963, 207.

[41] John Richardson, “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority,” U.S. Navy (online) , Jan 2016 www.navy.mil/cno/docs/cno_stg.pdf

[42] John Richardson, “The Future Navy,” Navy.mil (online), 17 May 2017.

Featured Image: United States Navy sailors monitoring radar and other instruments aboard the guided-missile cruiser Chancellorsville in the South China Sea. (Bryan Denton for The New York Times)

Reconsidering the American Way of Strategy

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By John T. Kuehn

Introduction

The ship of state that we call the United States is adrift at the political-strategic level or what some may call the grand strategic level. 24-hour news cycles, a president (and Congress) addicted to tweeting and posturing, an ambivalent and often ignorant public, and a complete failure by the national and sometimes international media to discern what is of value from what is pabulum has led to strategic gridlock in the foreign policy of the United States.

First, there are two caveats that must be addressed. The first caveat acknowledges that these ideas regarding a strategy for the United States of America are wholly unoriginal and derivative from those of Barry Posen, principally those in his article “Command of the Commons” (2002) and his book Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy (2014), and similarly focuses on concepts like grand strategy, command of the commons, and “liberal hegemony” (defined below).1 Secondly, ideas “on strategy” comes from Carl von Clausewitz’s On War. Book Three of that work addresses what we today call operational art more than it does grand strategy, but the elements of thinking about strategy at that level are not significantly different from thinking about it at the higher levels.2

On Strategy

A cursory structural examination of On War’s section “on strategy” reveals that when one turns to the index the first thing one reads is a list of topics, including a discussion of just what strategy is, or strategy as Clausewitz defines it. In today’s terminology Clausewitz expounds on campaign strategy, i.e. operational art at the operational level of warfare. Next, Clausewitz addresses some factors one does not normally associate with strategy writ large: virtue, moral factors, and things like boldness and “perseverance” (patience). Clausewitz is really discussing the attributes of the military strategist, although perhaps his comments can be extrapolated up the levels of war to the policy strategist in charge of overall events and national well-being or even survival. It closes, after a review of essentially Jominian operational considerations, on what might seem an odd pair of notes: “the character of contemporary war” and a discussion of “tension and rest.”3

These last two have particular importance for today because they get us from the operational level to what is normally now thought of as the strategic, or even grand strategic, level—the levels where ends are decided and acted upon. First the issue of tension and rest: “…in most campaigns, periods of inaction and repose have been much longer than periods of action.”4 This supports the claim made here that Clausewitz’s strategy here is really minor strategy, or campaign strategy. He is referring to the concept of culmination of action in war and that sooner or later exhaustion occurs at which point overt military activity (combat) diminishes or ceases while the protagonists build up combat power, will, political will, or all of the above to resume active operations. This has real implications for American policy today since the U.S. military has figured out how to keep the operational train moving with little suspension of action in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Syria and Yemen. It has also figured out how, by using an all-volunteer force, unmanned aerial systems (i.e. “drones”), long range missiles (Tomahawks), and Special Forces to continue to get around this “dynamic law of war.” The naval aspect here is particularly important because U.S. naval forces have, since World War II, been primarily used for the purposes of power projection, not sea control or large scale fleet actions. This in turn has caused the application of naval power to be “a part of the problem” of maintaining the status quo of “permanent war for permanent peace.”

The U.S. military – and one must include CIA drone warfare and naval forces as mentioned above – keeps operations relatively constant, albeit at low levels, but still lethal. Interestingly, this steady state of activity does little to achieve long term political results and in Afghanistan in particular has led to what may be called a “declining status quo.” That is, a situation that over time gets worse. This is because the enemy – the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Al Qaeda, and the Islamic State (ISIS)—all in Afghanistan, do not violate this law. They suspend operations and rest and then apply the tension at times and places of their choosing, slowly sapping the political will of their much more powerful, but ironically impotent, foes. They fight each other, too, but nonetheless they obey the law while “we” violate it. A similar dynamic is also witnessed in the ongoing conflicts in East Ukraine as well as the Syrian Civil War and a number of other conflicts around the globe in Asia and Africa.

Which brings us to Clausewitz’s second-to-last, and perhaps most compelling chapter in his book on operational strategy—which is what we can now properly characterize it as. He discusses the “character of contemporary warfare” in his day. The lesson here is not to draw lessons from Bonaparte’s 1812 Russian campaign, as he does in order to set up his law of “tension and rest,” but rather to tell the prospective operational artist or strategist that he or she, too, must assess the contemporary character of warfare as they craft a campaign strategy. He contrasts the nearly absolute wars of his day with those more limited wars of previous times: “Wars waged by both sides to the full extent of their national strength must be conducted on different principles from war in which policy was based on the comparative size of regular armies.”6 The lesson for today is that the character of contemporary wars must be assessed, on all sides – not just both sides since most wars these days have multiple protagonists, not a clearly delineated Axis versus Allies paradigm as in World War II.  

The strategist must study contemporary warfare along with the other things Clausewitz says he must develop (patience and boldness) or study of the enemy (threats). This means understanding not just warfare locally, but one’s own cultural context for war. Perhaps the key character of contemporary American warfare — as opaque as it is to the majority of the American public — is that it is maintained by a political will unconnected to most Americans, in other words they are choices made by policy elites, choices most Americans either feel unable to affect or simply do not care about. This is dangerous. It cedes the initiative at the strategic level to the enemies we have chosen to engage with. Simply, policy elites have more skin in the game. It also increases the chance that the strategist will make choices disconnected from national interests and policies and more narrowly focused on the biases and preferences of the strategist himself. This also opens the door for irrational forces associated with emotions and neuroses of the strategist, rather than rational policy considerations, to influence decision-making. As Clausewitz emphasizes in his “fascinating trinity,” war is a team sport, not a solo event or just for a group of special insiders.7

Strategic Restraint

Here is where we bring in Barry Posen’s ideas about grand strategic restraint. First we must understand what he argues against. He does this by clearly outlining the existing grand strategy of the United States as something he calls liberal hegemony — and not a mild form either, but an aggressive, proactive form that emerged with the end of the Cold War. However, in the 1990s it was a more moderate form of what we have today. 9/11 caused a group of policy makers known as neoconservatives to adopt the more extreme elements of a liberal hegemonist agenda: muscular cooperative security and something Posen labels “military primacy.”8 Cooperative security was manifested, especially during the Clinton Administration, by the expansion and employment of NATO in the 1990s. Those who doubt this should consult Operations SHARP GUARD (Adriatic Sea 1993-1996), DELIBERATE FORCE (Bosnia 1995), and ALLIED FORCE (Kosovo 1999 ). More recently the implications of NATO’s expansion to include nations along the Baltic littoral have influenced how U.S. naval officers have had to think about meeting NATO obligations in that body of water with U.S. naval forces to continue the status quo of power projection. This has further stressed the capabilities of the U.S. Navy in ways that policy elites had not anticipated, nor adjusted force structure in the long term to address.

The NATO 1990s air campaigns highlight Posen’s second component—military primacy. But this primacy most forcefully manifested itself after 9/11. It was then demonstrated again with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Even so, it had been conceived of years earlier, by President George H.W. Bush:

“Our first objective is to prevent the reemergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration…and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.9

Liberal hegemony characterized by the maintenance of military primacy is the source of many of our problems vis-à-vis contemporary warfare. As long as this remains the policy of the United States, and there is nothing coming out of the current Trump administration to indicate otherwise, this is the United States’ strategy, like it or not.

So what is the way ahead? It all begins with persuasion. People made these decisions and people will make decisions that can ameliorate and perhaps get the United States to a position of relative “rest” in the current global system. Current moderation of strategy may be temporary and we could only be one crisis away in today’s 24-hour news cycle from another iteration of the more extreme approach in use since the end of the Cold War. Making restraint a habit takes time and practice.

Good News Bad News

A position that has merit is to return to the policy of Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) of the 1930s, armed neutrality with a build-up of naval and air forces to dominate the air and sea commons around the North American continent. Additionally, he was willing to make America serve as the “arsenal of democracy” to support those states who needed it against totalitarian and militaristic regimes.10 It was not his fault those states badly mismanaged the problem posed by the Axis causing FDR to more forcefully plan for war. Yes, FDR did not have to deal with intercontinental ballistic missiles, but during the Cold War the U.S. had some “good enough” strategies in place to manage this very scary scenario. But it is best managed by engagement with Russia, China, and even North Korea. Setting aside the nuclear case, let us return to the idea of “command of the commons” by primarily naval and air forces.11 That means efforts to better command, or influence, the space, air, ocean, and cyber commons. There is plenty to do in these domains, little of which requires “boots on the ground.”

However, liberal hegemony in its current state is looking more like “illiberal hegemony”—a reference of course to the rise of demagoguery and authoritarian personalities in traditionally democratic states. Said another way, U.S. grand strategy is on autopilot because of the current, self-induced presidential crises. Thus, the diplomatic-military-congressional-industrial complex continues doing what it was doing—maintaining liberal hegemony via primacy and cooperative security— and keeping its head down in Washington while servicing its agendas abroad.12 Meanwhile, policy elites bemoan a false change in U.S. strategy, claiming that restraint, or neutrality, or whatever one wishes to call it, has lost ground for the U.S. globally, first under President Obama and now accelerates with Donald Trump’s election.13 What has lost the U.S. ground globally is 16 years of indecisive and expensive military operations combined with an ongoing leadership crisis in Washington, not that leadership’s change of the current strategy. Posen himself has said as much in a recent interview.14 

A metaphor will help explain the situation. The current “ship of state” for the U.S. is like an aircraft carrier that has lost the ability to control its steering from the bridge, and changing course from the bowels of the ship in auxiliary control (auxcon) has not occurred, thus the momentum of the current strategy continues to keep the ship on its last commanded heading — the failing and failed strategies of the past. There is no way to give orders to the helm to change the course of the ship of state on the bridge by the captain (president) — and no one has any idea how to regain control, some in fact prefer the rudderless ship.

Now for some good news — ironically, the ongoing loss of presidential power is a positive force for actually empowering changing the course from below.15 But there must be a will to change course “from below,” that is by the people executing (and making) policy in Congress as well as in the various executive bureaucracies. Donald Trump’s loss of power undermines effective execution of the strategy to some degree, but it does not change it. First we must admit that the overall strategy is misplaced. That is going to take some doing and it is not going to happen quickly. Thus, today’s strategists in America must get their heads out of the operational sands overseas, and turn their attention to the policy debates and battlefields back home.

Conclusion

Deploying three aircraft carrier groups into a sea-denial environment in the Sea of Japan—as was recently the case vis-à-vis North Korea—is not the best use of U.S. resources. Never, at any point in time has the leadership of the Navy been in a better position to drive strategy from below by dissenting on these meaningless, some might even call them reckless, displays of naval power. Admirals John Richardson (the CNO) and Admiral Harry Harris (PACOM) could set an example, and perhaps educate the civilian leadership (Jim Mattis and H.R. McMaster) in shepherding liberal hegemony by “just saying no.” They may be relieved in any case because of all the high profile Navy accidents, so why not make it count for something?16 Perhaps the Navy, and the nation, need another “revolt of the admirals,” as was seen in 1949 when the strategic ship of state was on the wrong heading.17 We do not need to create new frameworks and theories of strategy. We do need to think through the wisdom that is sitting already on our bookshelves and in the past. It is not too late to change course, if only we would. A good place to start is with naval forces. Someday, perhaps sooner than we think, this might no longer be true.

Dr. John T. Kuehn is a former naval aviator, retiring as a Commander from the U.S. Navy in 2004. He is professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Dr. Kuehn was awarded the Society of Military History Moncado Prize in 2010 and is the author of Agents of Innovation (2008) Eyewitness Pacific Theater (2008) with D.M. Giangreco, A Military History of Japan (2014), and Napoleonic Warfare (2015). His latest book is America’s First General Staff.

The views are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

References

[1] Barry R. Posen,  Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014), xii; see also Posen, “Command of the C)ommons, The Military Foundation of U.S. Hegemony,” International Security, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Summer, 2003): 5-46.

[2] Carl von Clausewitz,  On War, edited by Peter Paret and Michael Howard (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), 175; see also Clausewitz, “Two letters on Strategy,” located at http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/download/csipubs/carlvonc.pdf (accessed 11 June 2017).

[3] Clausewitz, On War, vi, 177, 184, 186, 220-221.

[4] Clausewitz, 221.

[5] This discussion based on recent scholarship by the author on the organizational culture of the US Navy, soon to be published as a chapter on the Navy since 1941 in anthology edited by Peter Mansoor and Williamson Murray by Cambridge University Press; the permanent war for permanent peace reference comes from Michael Howard’s discussion of Immanuel Kant’s ideas on collective security in War and the Liberal Conscience (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994), 25-26.

[6] Ibid., 220.

[7] Clausewitz, 89.  “Fascinating” is a better translation, according to Christopher Bassford, than “paradoxical.”  See Clausewitz Homepage, https://www.clausewitz.com/readings/Bassford/Trinity/TrinityTeachingNote.htm (accessed 10/02/2017).

[8] Posen, 6-7.

[9] Defense Policy Guidance of first Bush administration, cited in Posen, 8.

[10] See David Kaiser, No End Save Victory (New York:  Basic Books, 2014), 25-30, 155. Kaiser also highlights how FDR’s “four freedoms” contributed, via the crucible of war, to the adoption of liberal hegemony (157), although he perhaps did not intend to do this.

[11] Posen, “Command of the Commons,” passim.

[12] Andrew Bacevich, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010),   32; Bacevich implies the Congressional component on page 228.

[13] See for example Ben Miller, “Will Trumpism increase the Danger of War in the International System?” at https://networks.h-net.org/node/28443/discussions/176888/policy-series-will-trumpism-increase-danger-war-international (accessed 14/06/2017); see also Kyle Haynes, https://networks.h-net.org/node/28443/reviews/183005/haynes-lieber-retreat-and-its-consequences-american-foreign-policy-and (accessed 14/06/2017).

[14] See, http://cimsec.org/barry-posen-draft/30281 (accessed 14/06/2017).

[15] See John T. Kuehn, “Problematic Presidencies” at Proceedings Today, https://blog.usni.org/posts/2017/08/18/problematic-presidencies-are-not-necessarily-a-bad-thing (accessed 10/03/2017).

[16] The reference here is to the USS McCain and USS Fitzgerald collisions, among others, “Previous Collisions Involving U.S. Navy Vessels,” by May Salam, 21 August 2017 in New York Times, see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/21/us/navy-collisions-history-mccain-fitzgerald.html (accessed 10/27/2017).

[17] The CNO Admiral Louis Denfield dissented from existing Administration strategy and policy and was relieved by the Secretary of Defense.   See Jeffrey G. Barlow, Revolt of the Admirals (Washington, DC, 1994), p. 288; Love,  History of the U.S. Navy, p. 379.

Featured Image: Secretary of Defense James Mattis meets with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Jan. 23, 2017. (DOD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

We Want Your Input – From the U.S. Naval War College’s Institute for Future Warfare Studies

By Dr. Sam Tangredi

CIMSEC readers,

You may have heard the President of the Naval War College established an Institute for Future Warfare Studies (IFWS). 

Recently, IFWS was brought under the Strategic and Operational Research Division (SORD) of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies (CNWS) – the Naval War College’s research arm.

As per the charter:

The Institute for Future Warfare Studies (IFWS) was established in 2017 to serve as a focal point for research and analysis on future warfare trends and challenges, the future operating environment, warfare innovation, and future strategy and force structures.

However, we are very cognizant that there are at least 30 other organizations in the Department of Defense such as Federally-Funded Research and Development Centers and associated think tanks that research “futures.”

In organizing the Institute, the obvious questions were: What makes IFWS different? How can IFWS add value? How can it gain credibility and have an impact?

To be different, add value, and have an impact, we have adopted a research agenda that is stated thus:

The current IFWS research program focuses on the options, assumptions, costs and risks of near-term decisions that will affect the Navy and the Nation in the years to 2050 and beyond.

Our primary products will include a series of specific-issue working papers. The working papers are designed to analyze an existing or potential issue impacting the Navy/DoD into the future that is NOT being examined by the Navy staff, Joint Staff, or other DoD organizations. We are trying to avoid duplicating other efforts.

CIMSEC has kindly posted the first working paper, A Preliminary Examination of the Proposal to Add Sea-Based Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missiles to the U.S. Navy Future Fleet.

Sea-Based IRBMs – IFWS Working Paper 1a

You will notice that it has a very particular format – although written in full sentences and paragraphs, it is bulletized so it can be quickly absorbed by section. There is a narrative, but it is added as an appendix and our intent is to also publish the narratives separately. (In the case of the first, the narrative happened to be published before the working paper.) You will also notice there is no advocacy – it is a balanced analysis: statement of problem, proposal, arguments for, arguments against, costs, risks, and alternatives. Again, designed to have an impact on staffs and decisions-makers by making them consider (in a non-threatening way) issues they are not analyzing.

The reason I am detailing this is because I would like to invite all CIMSEC readers to comment on this working paper… and perhaps even participate as an outside member of IFWS and produce a working paper for this series.

We intend to keep future working papers in the same (or very similar) format and standards will remain very high. But if you have an interest in participating, have a suggestion for an issue we should address, or simply have a comment on the first working paper, please feel free to contact us at IFWS_DIRECTOR@usnwc.edu.

Thank you for your interest in international maritime security.

Dr. Sam J. Tangredi is Professor of National, Naval and Maritime Strategy and Director of the Institute for Future Warfare Studies at the U.S. Naval War College. 

Featured Image: SOUTH CHINA SEA (Jul. 14, 2010) – U.S. Coast Guard Seaman Michael Luna stands lookout watch as two Republic of Singapore amphibious dock landing ships pass by U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mellon (WHEC 717) during an exercise as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Singapore 2010. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class David A. Brandenburg)

Educating Naval Planners – A Conversation with the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School

By Ashley O’Keefe

Recently, CIMSEC interviewed three leaders at the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School (MAWS) at the Naval War College in Newport, RI – Captain Brian Koehr, USN, the Director of MAWS, Colonel Rob Gardner, USMC (Ret.), the Deputy Director, and Commander Mike Croskrey, USN (Ret.). Our conversation covered the basics about MAWS, how MAWS students are impacting Fleet planning, and how future capabilities will affect operational planning.

An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

O’Keefe: Tell us a bit about yourselves and how you ended up at MAWS.

Captain Brian Koehr, USN: I’m a career carrier fighter pilot. My connection with MAWS started when it was called the Naval Operational Planner Course (NOPC). I was in the second graduating class of 2001. After I was finished flying, I had a series of staff jobs at PACOM, NORAD/NORTHCOM, and then on 6th Fleet staff before I reported here two years ago to lead MAWS.

Professor Rob Gardner, Col, USMC (Ret.): I was a career Marine officer, and retired as a Colonel just shy of 28 years in order to take this job. I’ve been with this program for almost 5 years. My background was artillery, although my career path was described by one of my students as something akin to the life led by Forrest Gump in terms of the things that I stood witness to over the course of my career. My initial planning background is that I actually went to the Marine Corps version of MAWS – the School of Advanced Warfighting – so I look at MAWS through a little bit different lens because I’ve seen one of its sister schools up close and personal.

Professor Mike Croskrey, CDR, USN (Ret.): I am a retired Navy Commander, where I served as a Naval Flight Officer in S-3 Vikings. My connection to MAWS started when the program was still called the Naval Operational Planner Course. I was detailed into the Naval War College as an instructor while I was still on active duty, and I had come straight from 7th Fleet having just completed a tour as the future operations officer. I had done a year-plus of crisis action planning, and that experience enabled me to start teaching here at the NOPC, which became the MAWS. I’ve been doing this since 2005.

O’Keefe: What are the main things everyone should know about the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School?

Koehr: MAWS is on par with the Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS), the Air Force’s School of Advanced Air and Space Students (SAASS), and the Marine Corps’ School of Advanced Warfighting (SAW). Our graduates get similar credit. We generally have a DIA representative in the class as well, to learn their perspective on planning and how other agencies integrate into planning.

The primary difference between MAWS and the other peer schools is that the others do the intermediate-level war college for a year and get their master’s degree, and then they attend for an additional year in their respective schools, whereas our students leverage the War College curriculum for the intermediate-level course concurrent with the MAWS course load. Our graduates earn a master’s degree through NWC, and Navy graduates also receive JP-1 designation. It’s a unique opportunity for us to leverage all the NWC faculty and expertise to teach these core educational items to our students while we also teach a very robust planning/operational art and campaigning side to them throughout the year. Beyond the extra length of the course, MAWS students put in a higher level of work. What for a normal student would be considered an elective, our students participate in MAWS, at twice the frequency per week. In the spring, we have them entirely to ourselves for a tailored Joint Military Operations core course as well as for an elective, so we have them as one closed group for the whole spring.

Another unique thing about MAWS is what we do at the end of the program. We call it a capstone summer planning project, and it is a Fleet- or Combatant Command-sponsored project that serves as a final synthesis event for our students. This is really the icing on the cake of their education here. Since we’ve gone up to 3 seminars – a capacity for 45 students – we execute 2 summer projects. These are requested early on by higher level headquarters throughout the world. If they have a planning problem they want to put our students on, we talk to them about how to best meet our educational needs but also give back to the Fleet or other sponsor with very dedicated expertise from our students to tackle some tough problems.

We’ve seen dramatic success out of those projects. At the end of the summer, we travel to brief the commanders of these respective units. This past year, we briefed Admiral Swift at Pacific Fleet (PACFLT), and he thought highly enough of the brief that he was trying to get us on the CNO’s calendar to brief him as well.

The second group went out to 6th Fleet and briefed Vice Admiral Grady. Both of those briefs got rave reviews from 3- and 4-star admirals and their respective staffs. This past summer we also did a third project embedded with the PACFLT one, more of a concept development piece.

So, these summer projects are where our students really come together as a group and the education really forms in their heads. I think what it really gives them is the confidence to go forward and contribute in the Fleet. They’re like a move-in ready house at that point. They can be plugged in right away, and they often are plugged in as Operational Planning Team (OPT) leads for the biggest plans that that staff has cooking at the time. To date, they’ve been performing superbly in all those roles.

O’Keefe: That sounds like a terrific way to keep yourselves at MAWS connected with Fleet needs. How else do you get feedback from the Fleet, and how do you act on it? Specifically, what are people looking for in a planner, and what makes someone a great planner?

Gardner: You’re right in that the summer projects keep us well-connected with the Fleet and with the joint headquarters that we support. A lot of the lessons or experience that we as a faculty gain from working with them, we incorporate back into our curriculum to keep it current.

In terms of what makes a good planner, there’s a belief in some fairly-senior circles that if you adhere to the planning process, good plans will result. I think that’s a false belief in that the process doesn’t guarantee anything, other than that you went through the process. What makes good plans is people who can think. From my perspective, the thing that we instill in our students over the 13 months that we have them is a deep belief and understanding of critical thinking and creative thinking in solving operational, tactical, and strategic problems. So, when our students leave, they are familiar with the planning process, but more importantly, they are familiar with critical and creative thinking. The bottom line is that our program is designed to expose students to the planning process, but more importantly, we give them a critical and creative thinking skill set that will ensure they have a good plan when they’re done.

Croskrey: Just one thing to add, our graduates often stay in touch with us when they leave. They’re out in the Fleet and in the planning community, and we’re able to keep connected with them on some of the projects that they’re working on. Often, they’ll ask questions, or share a bit about what they’re doing. That helps our program keep informed as well. And often, those connections enable us to shape a capstone project, because we can see what projects are within the visibility of the commander by what kind of projects our graduates are working on at the time.

Koehr: What Rob was saying about thinking being important was absolutely right. One thing we say around here is a good plan will come from the process, but a great plan comes from thinking. I think the proof in the pudding there is when our students in small briefing teams go forward to brief these commanders. The 4-star would be enough to put them on edge, but the room is full of 1- and 2-stars too. When the questions are flying to our students, and they’re just backhanding them back to the admirals, it’s eye-watering to see because they’ve already considered and thought through the questions that the flag officers have. It’s a proud moment when we see them perform during these briefings.

On feedback, Professor Croskrey hit it on the head – student feedback is where we get the most conversation. They are also helpful in shaping future capstone projects because they are active on the staffs. There is usually a rush from these commands to get us on their dance cards to do these summer projects, because you don’t often get 15-20 expert-level planners dedicated for 10 weeks, not being pulled away for collateral duties, just focused to sit down and work on their problems. The biggest feedback we get from the leadership out there is “make more MAWS graduates.” They want more, and there is a competition among the headquarters to get our graduates because they see what they can do. It’s unlike any other program you might see at the Naval War College here. Our graduates are truly unique and gifted in what they do.

O’Keefe: Often we’ll hear at the tactical, ship-level that the Fleet is very short-term focused, that we don’t think through long-term planning challenges. Is there something in the MAWS graduate that helps them promote a better, longer-term planning process? Do we structure our teams better when we know we have teams that can manage longer-term planning? It’s often very hard at a tactical level to get out and look past three months. Do you think your graduates have a better ability to think longer-term and more strategically?

Gardner: As the lone Marine in the room, I’ll take this on – I think everyone else might feel some loyalty to their service. When you look at the Navy, by-and-large the Navy is ship-focused. Up through commander, most folks are at the ship-level. Their perspective is often tactical in nature. One of the things we see with our students here is that we take them out of that comfort zone and don’t just expose them to other ships and fleets and things like that, but we take them up to the strategic level where they’re looking at the interplay of nations. What we see is that the students over time, and I think some of them would describe it as an unnatural act, trying to do that mind expansion, but they recognize over time as the course continues that when you’re at that higher level, things take longer. Whether it’s a military plan or political negotiations, you see the students start to gain an appreciation for a longer-term view.

The tactical stuff happens fairly fast, and in a naval battle it’s a matter of seconds in some cases. But when you start to look at how nations interact with one another, that may be on the order of years or even decades. We see it over the course of 13 months. The students’ perspectives grow with that expanding view of time that comes with that higher-level exposure. In terms of changing things out in the Fleet, that’s a cultural thing. I think the only way that’s going to happen is if we continue to grow the population of folks with that perspective. Or, the Navy could send more students through educational courses, like the courses here at the Naval War College.

Croskrey: Two elements come to mind. First, the MAWS graduate, if we look at a couple of capstone projects that we’ve done, they’ve developed a three-year or longer campaign. That planning horizon extends well outside of what you’re referring to – that 1-3 month mark that oftentimes the Fleet staff is looking at. So, I think that MAWS education enables those officers to be able to ask those kinds of questions. It’s a strategic look, an interaction among nations, a “how do we terminate this fight” kind of question, and that begs questions about military end states versus political end states. MAWS educates the students toward that end.

The other piece to that question that’s really insightful is where in the Navy are we addressing long-term planning challenges? How does a MAWS graduate impact that ability to go out there at a Fleet level and do that? I’m not sure he or she can at the Fleet level. But there’s more of a systemic nature to that question – the theory/doctrine/practice piece. Your question looks at extending thought about the future of the Fleet, and where the Fleet needs to go in its thinking about fleet tactics or longer-range planning. There is a cultural and even systemic nature to that question that probably needs to be addressed above the Fleet level, in my opinion.

O’Keefe: We’re talking at some level about how nation-states interact in certain ways. We hear a lot at the War College about our partners and allies, the CNO has his purple line of effort in the Design, so how do you think about our allies and how they plan? Do their planning styles affect our ability to execute coalition operations? Do you think about that at all in the course of planning your instruction?

Croskrey: Yes, we do. It’s almost pervasive throughout our syllabus. We do a lot of historical case studies, and almost every one of them is a combined effort, an international effort. In our planning syllabus, almost all of the exercises are combined. So, that’s a heavy emphasis from a curriculum standpoint.

Gardner: The one thing we don’t have is international students in our program, though they are at the War College. MAWS students are embedded with international students in their seminars (in some of the regular War College courses that they take) but we don’t actually have them in our program. That’s mainly because of the summer projects, which can go up to the Top Secret level. We also have some constraints in terms of being able to have coalition partners in our spaces. We’ve looked hard at it several years in a row, but regulatory restrictions have held it back at this point. But to make up for that, I can’t think of any portion of our curriculum that doesn’t have a coalition flavor to it, and our summer projects certainly have a coalition aspect that the students have to think through. I’m pretty confident that we have it embedded into the curriculum. The only exposure that they don’t get (and it’s not because we don’t want it, we just haven’t figured out how to do it) is having a coalition partner planning side-by-side with them.

O’Keefe: We talked about the fact that most of our planning and operations focus is at the ship level. In general, the carrier strike group (CSG) is the fundamental unit of issue for naval forces. So how has the drive towards distributed operations affected what you’re doing at MAWS, if at all?

Gardner: We are not carrier strike group-centric in our approach. While the Navy may be like that, because we’re trying to elevate the students’ perspective, the CSG is just another unit out in the battlespace for the students to plan for. Normally, we’re planning at the Fleet level. Oftentimes, they’re worried about how to plan for multiple strike groups, and how to integrate the operations of those strike groups in a naval fight. So, I think from our perspective, we walk through that in terms of what the CSG capabilities are early in the course, but that’s not the focus of what we’re doing. It’s higher than that.

O’Keefe: We have tons of new technologies out there – autonomous systems, people thinking about electromagnetic maneuver warfare, the cyber domain. So how if at all are you teaching your students to think about those as tools in their toolkit, and do those change your planning processes and the ways you might get to an answer for a military problem?

Koehr: While we don’t have a dedicated class, per se, on the electromagnetic spectrum, etc., we have the advantage here of leveraging the core curriculum at the War College, where there is a little bit more depth to learning about some of these newer technologies. We do get subject matter experts in to talk to our students. In particular, for the summer project we always have a lot of people from the Office of Naval Intelligence, the CIA, and DIA come in and tell us what’s in the realm of the possible as a planning consideration. They talk about what kinds of effects we might see out of these things and what advantages we can take from them. Also, what are the disadvantages and the drawbacks? A lot of the new technologies are viewed as panaceas and they’re just not quite that. So, getting to the ground truth of what the new technology means in the process of putting together a plan is very important. We get outside experts who are studying this all the time to come and speak with the students to bring them up to a baseline from which they can start their efforts.

The MAWS faculty and class of 2017 at Correnti Island, Sicily, Italy during the OPERATION HUSKY staff ride. Staff rides are an integral component of the MAWS curriculum as they help students tangibly relate theory, doctrine, practice, and terrain together in a manner that cannot be accomplished in a classroom.

Croskrey: I would add that to help the students understand the constant dynamic of technological development in naval warfare, we help them to understand the changing character of war aspect that will need to be addressed, but that the nature of war is going to remain relatively stable. I think that helps them. Let’s say you start to look at UAVs being implemented into the fight. It helps to not look at the technology and rely on it as a way to win, which can get you into trouble very quickly. It is more of a “how can I leverage the technology,” this character of war, in order to win this fight. Like CAPT Koehr said, we bring in the experts to help inform us on what’s in the realm of the possible. But we, I think, have a level-headed approach to that technological input to our planning.

Gardner: I think the way I would put it is whether it’s unmanned systems, cyber, whatever, those are capabilities. Those capabilities change, in some cases very rapidly. But that’s not a new phenomenon in war. For example, from bows and arrows, to muskets, to rifled guns, to machine guns… that progression is seen across all aspects of warfare. Like Mike was saying, we emphasize that changing character of war so that the students are ready for what we don’t even know is coming. They must incorporate those new capabilities that no one’s even mentioned yet when they show up. The idea is that it’s not a war-winner, necessarily, but it’s an enabler for better operations. So, their ability to think through the question of, “these are the capabilities, how do I best employ them to greatest effect?” – that’s where we put a lot of our focus.

O’Keefe: Continuing in this vein of new capabilities, are there any relationships or feedback loops between the results of your courses and planning exercises and the work of the Navy’s Warfighting Development Centers as they look to develop new tactics, techniques and procedures, and doctrine? Is that a place where you tie in, or is it strictly into the Fleet level where you’re doing the summer programs?

Gardner: The development of the WDCs by the Navy was a long time coming. The War College is a supporting activity to all the WDCs, so the College as a whole is well-connected to the various activities. The way the College has approached that is to ensure that the WDCs know that we’re here and available to support, and we provide the expertise that they need, whatever that might be. We also try to monitor, as a College, what’s going on out there so that we can anticipate what the requirements might be in the future. The school’s done a pretty good job at establishing the connections as a whole. From a MAWS-specific standpoint, we’re monitoring those conversations but we’re not actively out there beating down doors at the WDCs. We’re siphoning off the activities of the rest of the College.

O’Keefe: If someone was interested in becoming an Operational Planner, how do they get into your program? Who are you looking for and where do you find them?

Koehr: Mostly through the Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS), as you would expect. Our goal is to make sure that young officers are aware of the program. Typically, it’s the direct customers at the flag-level who are responsible for these plans, who know all about MAWS. They know what they’re getting in a MAWS graduate. The opportunities need to be spelled out better for the junior officers. We want a career-viable officer. We provide an education, they work for that education, and they gain experience through that education. When they go to the Fleet, we want this expertise to have accessibility to the commander. That accessibility usually comes with increased rank. Typically, our graduates become the go-to guy for the commander. In a perfect world, they’ve got the commander’s full trust and confidence. We’ve seen this play out, where the MAWS graduates are called into the big office and queried about any kind of topic, and end up working on thought pieces for the commander on the side, but they certainly are getting the visibility.

We do want to get bang for the buck for the Navy. That means that officers who graduate from our program should go out and serve in planning billets. To dispel one myth, some students come in and think that they’re being pigeon-holed as a planner, that they’re not going to get to drive their submarines anymore or fly their jets. That’s just patently false. The one thing that always takes primacy for our students is career progression. So, milestone tours will not be deferred to go serve in a planner billet. If they are leaving here to go serve in an XO/ CO billet, they’re going to go do that. Where those staff jobs happen, they go serve in a planning capacity, whether in a J3/J5/N3/N5 directorate, bringing all those skills to the table.

Another good thing for the students there is that face time with the admiral is very important for a viable career. Break-out opportunities on a big staff are heightened for a MAWS graduate because they are going to be out there in front-leading planning teams, coming up with the great plans, becoming the go-to guy for the commander. It’s a career-enhancer in my view. I did NOPC and had command of my fighter squadron down the road. No impact, and if anything it’s a tie-breaker and another arrow in your quiver of accomplishments in the Navy. It shows another specialty that you possess.

Gardner: To more specifically answer your question, if an officer’s interested in becoming a planner, the first thing he or she needs to do is talk to their detailer. Our Navy students are detailed to us by BUPERS, so that slate of students is built there with the understanding that all the students are coming to the War College for the intermediate-level course. So, they have to do the resident education here at that level in order to get to MAWS.

Croskrey: If an officer would like to be an operational planner, then MAWS is a great place for them to come. Our curriculum is actually tailored and set up for officers who want to, and who are progressing toward future warfighting leadership roles. If they want to learn their profession of warfare, the study of war, one of the best places to do that is MAWS. Those officers will also become expert planners. The plans that they produce help commanders make decisions. In effect, MAWS graduates gain experience in their own ability to make better decisions about the warfight through the planning that they learn how to do, and the advising that they do, for the commander. So, we’re really highly tailored toward that kind of officer. MAWS produces planners, yes. But MAWS also produces future leaders, future fleet commanders, even.

Gardner: MAWS is a leadership course disguised as a planner course. Our students, through the effort of planning and discussions about advising commanders, learn an awful lot about senior-level leadership. So, when they leave here, they are much better prepared to step in in that role later on in their careers.

O’Keefe: Let’s say a planner has graduated from your course and they’re out in the Fleet. How would you advise them to maintain their skills in operational planning?

Koehr: Reading is obviously a very good way to stay connected, any kind of publication they can get their hands on, to read what is going on in warfighting. That will spark their planning instincts on how they would tackle issues as they go forward. Reachback here to us at MAWS is also a great way to stay connected – come back, tell us what they’re doing. But don’t shy away from the skill that they have and look for opportunities to use it after their CO tour, if they go to a staff and it’s a good career move. It’s a good opportunity for them to get back in the game.

O’Keefe: I think that wraps us up for this interview. Is there anything else you think we’ve missed or wanted to touch on?

Croskrey: I appreciated your question on the carrier strike group versus the fleet question. How do we fight the Fleet? I think that is a fundamentally important question that the Navy needs to ask. It’s one that we have asked here. As you probably know, there is very little doctrine that describes how to fight the fleet as a maneuver element. There is probably room for work on what the theories say, and how we implement those theories into practice. How do we think about the tactics of fighting the fleet? That is something that we took on a couple of years ago. We asked that question and found that there was very little out there. One of the things that we have really begun to leverage is Fleet Tactics by Captain Wayne Hughes. We have leveraged that a lot in our curriculum to try to understand how do we, through major tactical actions, achieve strategic objectives? That question is so fundamentally important about the fleet and the warfight, and we spend a lot of time on that now. Where is that taught in the Fleet? I don’t know of anywhere in the Navy outside of the MAWS where that’s really looked at.

Koehr: Mike’s being humble here. He has developed a new way of looking at relative combat power assessment, based on the salvo equations in the book, and it’s making the rounds to all the big thinkers. There is a lot of goodness involved in all the hard work he’s put into this. Our students get taught this technique, and we’re seeing it work for them to understand what a fleet can do against a fleet. That’s just one small example of where this does potentially tie into a future relationship with one of the WDCs.

Gardner: I think one of the things to recognize about MAWS is our program is very different from our sister schools’. Not just because we ride the backbone of the intermediate level course, but because we do a couple things they don’t do. On top of the summer planning project, which really puts everything in the course together for the students, the other thing we do is re-designs of historical campaigns. We study what happened, then have the students go back and do it again. When we study what happened, usually the students badmouth the decisions like crazy – with comments like “why would they do this, they were so dumb” – then we turn them loose and have them re-do it. They come up with their own plan for how to do the same thing. Often we then hear comments along the lines of, “Wow, this is hard.” What these redesign efforts give our students is an appreciation for the learning that comes from history. It gives them a different way to view history, rather than just studying what happened, it gives them the ability to ask, “What might have been?”

We have a number of case studies built into our curriculum. I think our students leave here mini-historians when we get done. That perspective of history they depart with… not all the schools take it to the level we do because they don’t have those re-design efforts. So, when you look at the Navy today, we’re the youngest of all the advanced planning schools. But, I think our program better prepares our students for planning positions and leadership because we’re not wedded to what’s already been done. Our program changes fairly frequently to keep it current, and because we have so many real-world and historical pieces, it establishes a foundation for our students that they can apply when they leave that adds value to their careers and services.

Because we’re relatively small and because the Navy isn’t filling all their seats, we also are the most joint in terms of student mix of all the planning schools. Normally about a third of our students come from sister services, sometimes as much as half. Our students get a phenomenal exposure to their sister services in a tangible planning perspective that I would argue is pretty valuable and is particularly unique in that the Navy is probably the least joint, culturally, among the services, because of the domain they fight in. So, if you look at a MAWS graduate, when they leave they have a very joint perspective but they go back to a service that has only in the last 10-15 years embraced the idea of jointness.

Koehr: To echo what Rob said about the leadership aspect of our school, I’ve come to his way of thinking. This is very much a leadership school. One of the biggest leadership challenges is leading your peers. Throughout the whole curriculum, we grab one person and have them be OPT lead. Put yourselves in the shoes of a supply officer who’s OPT lead in charge of a bunch of line officers. It’s uncomfortable, but they learn how to do it, in addition to briefing up to 4-star admirals. That’s a whole lot of leadership information that is cooked into the curriculum without us really making it a focus item.

Also, just a clarification of this characterization of “becoming a naval planner.” I look at it as you’re still that ship driver, but you’re leaving with an expertise you didn’t have before. For an extra 3.5 months in MAWS, you’re leaving with an AQD of JP1 on top of your Master’s degree. “A” stands for additional. It just means you have one more skill to go back to the Fleet with. You’re not suddenly “I’m Operational Planner LCDR Smith,” you’re still Fighter Pilot LCDR Smith, but you have expertise in operational planning. That’s our goal. That’s why we want, the upwardly mobile and career viable officers hitting all the milestones, because in the perfect world, all the leaders are MAWS graduates and understand the planning process inside and out. The commander has a lot to say about this whole process. If we have a bunch of senior leaders who really understand, we’re going to get some good things done out in the real world. We want those kinds of officers in the program. They just will have an additional skill that a lot of others won’t have in the Fleet.

CAPT BRIAN KOEHR, USN commissioned in 1988 through the NROTC Program with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the U of Notre Dame. He has multiple deployments to the Med Sea and Northern Arabian Gulf flying the F-14. He was the CO of VFA-103 flying the F/A-18F Rhino when the squadron was awarded the Atlantic Fleet Battle “E” and he was presented the 2005 Naval Air Forces Leadership Award. He has served on the staffs of the US SIXTH Fleet as Air Operations Officer, US Pacific Command as acting Director of the Joint Interagency Coordination Group and US NORAD / Northern Command as Dep Command Center Director. Most recently, he was the CO of the NROTC Chicago Area. He holds a JP-3 AQD.

COL Rob Gardner (Ret.) served as assistant Chief of Staff, G-3 Operations Officer for the 1st Marine Division, where he deployed to Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM. Served in artillery units, as a Naval Gunfire Instructor; a Marine Expeditionary Unit FSO; an instructor with MAWTS-1; speechwriter for the 32nd Commandant of the Marine Corps and Senior Aide de Camp to the 32nd and 33rd Commandants; Chief, JPG, CJ-5, CJTF-HOA in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM; Deputy Chief of Combined Policy, C5, for Combined Forces Command and the Chief of Policy, U5, for United Nations Command in the Republic of Korea; and Team Chief, Regional Border Team – North in support of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM.

Professor Michael Croskrey is a faculty member of the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School. He served in the Navy as a Naval Flight Officer in the S-3 Viking aircraft deploying several times throughout the Pacific Ocean and the Arabian Gulf. He has conducted flight operations from six carriers and accumulated significant warfare area experience in anti-submarine, anti-surface warfare and as an air wing strike leader for war-at-sea missions.  While forward deployed on Seventh Fleet’s staff he conducted both tactical and operational level planning from the numbered fleet, Joint Force Maritime Component and the Joint Task Force Commander’s perspectives. Professor Croskrey’s teaching concentration is operational level planning. He has orchestrated numerous planning support efforts for MAWS students with various numbered fleets, naval component commands and combatant commands. His research interests include current and historical application of operational art in the maritime environment. Professor Croskrey retired from active duty with 21 years of service. He holds a graduate degree from the Naval Postgraduate School where he completed the Naval War College JPME program, and an undergraduate degree from Iowa State University.

Ashley O’Keefe is the Secretary of CIMSEC and a Surface Warfare Officer. She is currently assigned as the Plans and Tactics Officer in USS LASSEN (DDG 82).

Featured Image: August 1944, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt meeting in Hawaii with General Douglas MacArthur (left), Admiral William D. Leahy (center), and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz (standing), who is pointing to Tokyo on a large map. (Wikimedia Commons)