Every Marine a rifleman. This mantra resonates with the nation and highlights a fundamental fact about the USMC – no matter what a Marine’s primary job is, they are expected to be able to pick up a weapon and fight.
The CNO, having been a previous commander of U.S. Tenth Fleet/Fleet Cyber Command, should instill this same principle into his Sailors with a new creed, “Every Sailor a cyber warrior.” Given that the CNO is taking charge of numerous complex naval weapons systems that nearly all depend on the cyber domain to ensure their lethality, it is extremely vital that the CNO foster cyber literacy, programming skills, and robust cyber hygiene across the force. Similar to learning a new language, this process may appear difficult, but as a 2015 RAND study suggests, the impact could save the Navy billions of dollars and prevent critical network infiltrations.
This change will benefit the Navy in two primary ways, innovation and cyber defense.
First, naval innovation will be unleashed through advancing Sailor-driven programming skills and Sailor-driven coding solutions to improve computer-based weapons systems. The USAF has embraced airmen-driven innovation schemes with programs like the “Kessel Run,” while the Navy has continued to be beholden to expensive and slow contractor “solutions” to Sailor needs.
An emphasis on cyber will squeeze the most effectiveness and innovation out of fielded weapons systems by having the Sailors that run the systems manage an improvement cycle at little to no cost. A recent success story along these lines is seen in the Maritime Patrol community with a junior officer who drove innovation from the front while the contractors struggled to catch up. The CNO’s approval and fostering of similar types of programs across his weapons platforms at the Fleet level could unleash a wave of combat lethality and innovation unrealized since Eugene Fluckey created land-attack strike and special operations missions for the submarine force in World War II.
Second, cyber defense is critical to maintain if Sailors are trained and encouraged to make programming improvements for weapons platform software. This is where the CNO can generate outsized returns for his Navy. The current system of Cyber Awareness General Military Training alone does not cut it. The CNO must go further and inculcate more impactful and more frequentcyber training. This means cyber training that focuses on how the cyber domain specifically impacts the Sailor’s rating and the Sailor’s weapon system, not just their cellphone. While extremely important, social network operations security, personal electronics management, and other traditional “all-hands” cyber efforts are entry-level education that all Sailors are expected to understand. The next level of fleet-wide cyber education should show the Sailor how the domain impacts their lethality and arms them with the education to recognize, respond, and overcome adverse cyber effects.
Through the new creed of “every Sailor a cyber warrior,” the CNO will be able to leverage his experience at Tenth Fleet to arm the Navy with the foundational skills necessary to fight and prevail in twenty-first century network-centric warfare.
Lt. Douglas Kettler is a P-8A Naval Flight Officer and Weapons and Tactics Instructor in the U.S. Navy. He is an associate editor with CIMSEC. His views are his own and do not reflect the official position or policy of the U.S. Government, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. Navy.
Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (July 25, 2019) Operations Specialist 2nd Class James Martin, from Pennridge, Pa., plots surface contacts in the combat information center (CIC) aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Julio Rivera/Released)
In an era where the Navy is facing contested seas from challenges posed by China and Russia, history can unlock potential advantages with which to meet current and future threats. Gathering and preserving its operational records, in essence data, is critical. Unfortunately, in terms of such historical records, the Navy is in the Digital Dark Age. It retains only limited data and is losing access to its recent history – knowledge purchased at considerable cost. The Department of Defense and the Navy must consider a cultural and institutional revival to collect and leverage their data for potential catalytic effects on innovation, strategic planning, and warfighting advantages. This cultural transformation of collecting and preserving historical data within the Navy will be a long process, but leveraging its history to meet current and future problems will aid in maintaining global maritime superiority.
On 25 May 2006, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) formally established Riverine Group 1 and Riverine Squadron 1 to safeguard the inland waterways of Iraq. These lethal, agile forces executed over 2,000 missions and trained their Iraqi River Police successors to carry on after the withdrawal of major American forces. The experiences of the Navy’s Coastal Surveillance Group (TF-115), River Patrol Force (TF-116), and Mobile Riverine Force (TF-116) which operated in the Republic of Vietnam in the 1960s, facilitated the establishment of these forces. The records collected, organized, and preserved by Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) and command-published histories of the brown- and green-water force enabled NECC to expedite the efficient launch of a riverine force for the 21st-century Navy.1
History is one of the fundamental sinews of the American military establishment. Training is informed by “lessons learned” from prior experiences—historical data by another name—and every organization has senior members who contribute decades of institutional memory to solve contemporary problems. Synthesized into history monographs, these publications equip warfighters with insight and perspective to better guide their actions and decisions. Avid history reader and retired Marine General James Mattis acknowledges, “I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before.”2History’s importance to the present Navy is also reflected in Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral John M. Richardson’s Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, which states “we must first understand our history – how we got to where we are.”3 The CNO’s recently released professional reading program buttresses his statement with a rich and varied roadmap of texts which have influenced his leadership development.4
Today, the Navy finds itself returning to an era of contested seas with contemporary challenges posed by China and Russia. Throughout the Cold War, the Navy possessed a large body of veteran Sailors holding vast reserves of institutional memory, often stretching back to World War II, in all aspects of naval operations. Deployments from Korea to Vietnam and from the Mediterranean to the Arctic Ocean honed the Navy’s capabilities. The subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union provided the Navy with a period of uncontested naval supremacy, but also led to force reductions and a gradual loss of institutional experience with missions like hunter-killer groups, offensive mining, and large surface action groups. A dwindling number of active duty Sailors have operational Cold War experience, and they mostly occupy senior leadership positions.
The records needed to fill that gap must be preserved. Through the Vietnam War, the Navy’s historical data principally took the form of written correspondence in varied formats. The advent of digital computing has vastly transformed record generation and retention, both of which pose notable challenges to records management.5In a period of important fiscal and strategic decisions, the Department of Defense and the Navy must consider a cultural and institutional revival to collect and leverage data for potential catalytic effects on innovation, strategic planning, and warfighting advantages.
Gathering the Data
Several efforts currently exist to capture the Navy’s data. The lifecycle of records is governed by the Department of the Navy Records Management Program, which establishes all policies and procedures for records management. Under the Director of Navy Staff is NHHC, whose mission is to “collect, preserve, protect, present, and make relevant the artifacts, art, and documents that best capture the Navy’s history and heritage.”6 Naval Reserve Combat Documentation Detachment (NR NCDD) 206, established following Operation Desert Storm, assists NHHC personnel by providing uniformed teams for deployment to fleet units and other Navy commands to document and preserve the history of current naval operations during crisis response, wartime, and declared national emergencies. They are actively engaged in supporting NHHC’s mission objectives.7 Lastly, an essential tool for collecting the Navy’s historical data is Office of Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) Instruction 5750.12K governing the production of the annual Command Operations Report (COR).
First published on 8 November 1966, OPNAVINST 5750.12 governs creation of the COR, intended to ensure historical records are available for future analysis.8 As stated in the current version, the COR “is the only overall record of a command’s operations and achievements that is permanently retained” and provides “the raw material upon which future analysis of naval operations or individual unit operations will be based.”9The document primarily consists of a chronology, narrative, and supporting documentation. As OPNAVINST 5750.12 evolved, emphasis shifted from gathering information on specific subjects relevant to warfighters and combat operations to becoming a tool to gather specific types of documents.10
Unfortunately, compliance is erratic and the instruction’s importance was ignored (or unknown) by commands. From 1966 to the present, the submission rate of CORs for units and commands has never reached 100 percent; for CY15 the submission rate stood at 63.5 percent. Submitted CORs are often unevenly written and composed. The causes for these shortfalls vary and are undefined. The culprits are likely operational tempo, personnel shortfalls, and/or concerns about information security. Perhaps commanders opted to err on the side of caution and avoid objectively documenting an unsuccessful operation, intra-service conflict, or inadequate leadership. Without foreseeing the potential impact and importance a COR may have on tomorrow’s Navy, responsibility for the report is often assigned as an additional duty for a junior officer juggling a myriad of responsibilities.
These data gaps have an adverse impact on present and future actions at both the individual and institutional level. For veterans, a gap in COR submissions may result in the denial of a benefits claim with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, or in regard to awards or decorations with the Board for Correction of Naval Records.11For OPNAV, Fleet Forces Command, Pacific Fleet, or numbered fleets, lost CORs diminish the raw data needed for quality analysis, leaving analysts to generate products which may fail to accurately account for critical variables. What is lost is critical contextual information, retention of which is invaluable. “Solid historical record-keeping and analysis would help enlarge decision makers’ perspectives on current issues,” writes historian and retired Navy Captain David Rosenberg.12 Without rigorous records, historians such as Rosenberg cannot write books and articles to help leaders like Secretary Mattis and warfighters sufficiently learn about previous military endeavors. Consequently, past mistakes will inevitably be repeated with potentially adverse outcomes.
Current COR generation is arguably more difficult than ever. The information revolution has led to the proliferation of raw data without the benefit of summation or prior analysis. PowerPoint slide decks, rather than correspondence or memoranda, are all that an author or veteran might possess on a given topic. Rather than gathering critical teletypewriter message traffic from an operation, the author of a COR might need to collect email correspondence from multiple personnel throughout a unit bearing an array of security classifications. Gathering information from digital discussion boards, section newsletters, and untold quantities of data could be a full-time job.
Furthermore, the follow-on process of creating a coherent narrative from the raw data is a laborious process for a professional historian, much less for a Sailor fulfilling an additional duty and unfamiliar with the task. During World War II, the usual authors of aviation command histories were squadron intelligence officers. They understood how the information collected could be used for everything from operations to force development to technical improvements. Coupled with a familiarity of preparing narrative analyses and summary papers, the resulting command histories proved cogent and comprehensive. By comparing old and contemporary CORs, it is obvious that commanders must assign the COR responsibility to qualified individuals with the appropriate education, experience, and skills.
Increasing the operational tempo of naval forces naturally increases the generation of data. However, with limited time and personnel to gather and generate the data, it must come as no surprise that records about the Navy’s involvement in Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Iraqi Freedom (OIF) have been irretrievably lost, to incalculable impact. Valuable Navy operational records from OEF and OIF do exist, but the data belongs to the respective combatant commands and is currently inaccessible to Navy analysts and research specialists.
The Past is Prologue
No individual or organization is infallible—errors can be extremely costly, and for military organizations they lead to the loss of blood and treasure. The operational records generated in peace and wartime provide raw materials for historical analysis, which distill lessons learned and generate studies to educate uniformed personnel. Mistakes always happen, but historical analysis can prevent the repetition of old errors. Incomplete data yielding subpar analysis will affect the resultant knowledge products and undermine history’s influence on future decisions. For example, in 1906, Lieutenant Commander William S. Sims incorporated battle observations and gunnery data to challenge the conclusions of Captain Alfred T. Mahan regarding gunnery at the Battle of Tsushima and advocated convincingly for a future fleet design dominated by all-big-gun battleships, thereby ushering the Navy into the “Dreadnought era.”13If the operational records of current efforts are being lost, are we not again jeopardizing future fleet designs?
Analysis of combat operations has proven instrumental in improving the warfighting abilities of the respective services. Combat provides the only hard evidence on the effectiveness of military doctrine and the integration of platforms and weapons. For example, the Battle of Tarawa (20-23 November 1943) tested the doctrine of amphibious assault against a fortified position. As historian Joseph Alexander details in his book Utmost Savagery, success in the amphibious invasion remained an “issue in doubt” for the Marines for the first thirty hours. The documentation and analysis of the battle prompted the Navy and Marine Corps to increase the amount of pre-invasion bombardment and to refine key aspects of their amphibious doctrine, among other changes. With evidence-turned-knowledge gleaned from Tarawa, the Navy and Marine Corps continued unabated in rolling back the Imperial Japanese Empire, assault by bloody assault.14
Similarly, the Vietnam War demonstrated how technology does not always triumph in an asymmetric clash of arms. In the skies over North Vietnam, American aircraft armed with sophisticated air-to-air missiles met cannon-firing MiG fighters. Neither the Air Force nor Navy enjoyed a high kill ratio, which at best favored them two-to-one until the cessation of Operation Rolling Thunder in November 1968. Disturbed by the combat results, CNO Admiral Tom Moorer tasked Captain Frank Ault to examine the Navy’s entire acquisition and employment process for air-to-air missile systems. After examining reams of available historical data, Ault’s May 1968 report recommended establishing a school to teach pilots the advanced fighter tactics of a seemingly bygone age of machine gun dogfights. This recommendation gave birth to the Navy Postgraduate Course in Fighter Weapons Tactics and Doctrine better known as TOPGUN. Using a curriculum developed by studying operational records, TOPGUN’s first graduates entered air combat over North Vietnam after the resumption of bombing in April 1972. When American air operations ceased in January 1973, the Navy enjoyed a kill ratio of six to one, due in large part to TOPGUN training in dogfighting and fighter tactics.15
Carrier aviation’s successes in OEF and OIF came in part due to the lessons gleaned from Operation Desert Storm (ODS). With carrier doctrine designed for blue water sea control against the Soviet Navy, the force was not tailored for sustained combat projection onto land. In the waters of the Persian Gulf and Red Sea in 1990-1991, however, six carrier battle groups found themselves operating in a coalition environment. Despite the lofty hopes envisioned with the passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986, naval aviation found itself unprepared for joint and coalition interoperability. From the lessons of ODS, the Navy modified its F-14s to carry the Air Force’s LANTIRN targeting system, began purchasing precision-guided munitions, and modified the carrier air wing composition to better support operations on land per joint recommendations. From Operation Allied Force in 1999 to the launch of OEF and OIF in 2001 and 2003, respectively, naval aviation flew substantial numbers of deep-strike missions, fully integrated into joint and combined air operations.16
The History You Save Will Be Your Own
In terms of historical records, today’s Navy is in the Digital Dark Age, a situation drastically accelerated within the past twenty years by the immense generation of digital-only records. It retains only limited data and the service is actively losing access to its recent history, knowledge purchased at considerable cost. Valuable Navy operational records from OEF and OIF do exist, but the data is unobtainable from the combatant commands. Although COR submissions in the first year of each conflict were higher than in peacetime, they thereafter fell below a fifty percent submission rate. In some cases, there are no records of warships assigned to carrier strike groups for multiple years. While some data was captured, such as electromagnetic spectrum or targeting track information, the records involving “who, what, where, when, why, and how” are lacking. NR NCDD 206, together with NHHC staff, conducts oral histories with Sailors to collect data that researchers can use to capture information not included with CORs. Oral histories, however, supplement but do not completely substitute for textual records.
What exactly is being lost? Why does this matter if weapon- and platform-related data is available? The intangibles of decision-making and the organizational culture are captured in data generated through emails, memoranda, and operational reports. For example, as the Navy evolves its doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) to maximize the potential of the distributed lethality concept, issues of decentralized command and control must be addressed.17 The ability to draw upon historical data to inform TTPs, training systems, and cycles is paramount to prepare commanding officers and crews for potential challenges over the horizon and to close learning gaps. As retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Frank Hoffman notes, the World War II submarine community drew extensively upon the after-action and lessons learned reports to improve TTPs and promulgate best practices to educate the entire force.18
Navy culture successfully adapted to close learning gaps in World War II, and it can adapt to escape the Digital Dark Age. In the 1920s and 1930s, budgetary and treaty restrictions limited fleet design but the Navy experimented, evaluated, and used its data to improve its platforms and TTPs. One notable example was the evolution of how ships processed information at sea, culminating in 1944 with the Combat Information Center, an integrated human-machine system which Captain Timothy Wolters documents in his book, Information at Sea, as an innovative example of decades of research and development informed by history.19
Preserving critical historical data is the collective and legal responsibility of every Sailor and Department of Navy employee. Digitization poses challenges that cannot be met by only a small group of historians and archivists, a form of “distributed history.” If distributed lethality enables every ship to be a lion, digitization and computer-based tools enable every Sailor to take ownership of their unit’s accomplishments and play an active role in the generation of the COR. Command leadership must advocate for the COR rather than considering creation as merely an exercise in annual compliance. Responsibility and management of the annual COR must be a team effort. Include chief petty officers and junior enlisted and empower them to take an active role in collecting data and drafting the chronology and narrative. Not only must the COR be an objective, factual account but an inclusive report with contributions by officer and enlisted communities to ensure preservation of a thorough record of all actions, accomplishments, and key decisions.
Furthermore, data is generated continuously. A quality COR is rarely written following a frantic flurry of electronic messages requesting people forward files to the designated COR author. Assembling a dedicated COR team of officers and enlisted personnel to gather and organize records throughout the year will prove more beneficial. This team in turn can provide a valuable resource for an entire crew and commander, either to provide information for public relations, morale purposes, award nomination packets, or operational analysis.
Classified material poses an immediate concern when proposing this distributed history approach for COR generation. Such digital records, located on a variety of computer networks, rightfully pose challenges regarding operational security, either via aggregation or unauthorized access. Such concerns should not, however, jeopardize the overall effort. Generating classified CORs is encouraged and detailed in OPNAVINST 5750.12K; as thorough a narrative as possible is essential. Archivists at NHHC, trained to process and appropriately file classified material, can provide guidance to ensure the security and integrity of the data. When concerns over security result in a banal, unclassified COR, data about that unit’s activities is forever unavailable to the Navy for use in addressing future innovations, conflicts, or organizational changes, and the report’s utility to OPNAV, researchers, and veterans becomes essentially nil. With budgetary difficulties affecting the Navy, data—classified or not—serve as an intellectual, institutional investment for the future. In explaining to the Congress and the American people how and why the Navy is responsibly executing its budget for the national interest, availability and utilization of the data is paramount for the task.20
Transforming the Navy’s culture of collecting and preserving its historical data will be a long process. Digitization and the increasing volume of records will continue to pose challenges. These challenges, however, cannot be ignored any longer and require a unified front to ensure records are preserved and available for use. The Navy is not alone; its sister services experience similar problems in collecting data and using it to benefit current operations.21 In an era where reaction and decision times are rapidly diminished through advances in machine-to-machine and human-machine interactions, today’s data may help equip the warfighter with future kinetic or non-kinetic effects. As fleet design and tactics evolve to face new threats, the Navy can ill afford to ignore its past investments of blood and tax dollars. It must leverage its historical data to find solutions to current and future problems to ensure continued maritime superiority.
Dr. Frank A. Blazich, Jr. is a curator of modern military history at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. After receiving his doctorate in modern American history from The Ohio State University, he worked as a historian for Naval History and Heritage Command. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, he served as historian for Task Force Netted Navy.
1.Robert Benbow, Fred Ensminger, Peter Swartz, Scott Savitz, and Dan Stimpson, Renewal of Navy’s Riverine Capability: A Preliminary Examination of Past, Current and Future Capabilities (Alexandria, VA: CNA, March 2006), 104-21; Dave Nagle, “Riverine Force Marks One-Year Anniversary,” Navy Expeditionary Combat Command Public Affairs, 7 June 2007, http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=29926; Matthew M. Burke, “Riverine Success in Iraq Shows Need for Naval Quick-Reaction Force,” Stars and Stripes, 29 October 2012, http://www.stripes.com/news/riverine-success-in-iraq-shows-need-for-naval-quick-reaction-force-1.195109.
6. “Who We Are,” Naval History and Heritage Command, https://www.history.navy.mil/about-us/organization/who-we-are.html.
7. Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, OPNAV Instruction 1001.26C, “Management of Navy Reserve Component Support to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations,” 7 February 2011, https://doni.daps.dla.mil/Directives/01000%20Military%20Personnel%20Support/01-01%20General%20Military%20Personnel%20Records/1001.26C.pdf.
8. Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, OPNAV Instruction 5750.12, “Command Histories,” 8 November 1966, Post-1946 Command File, Operational Archives, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington Navy Yard, DC.
9. Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, OPNAV Instruction 5750.12K, “Annual Command Operations Report,” 21 May 2012, https://www.history.navy.mil/content/dam/nhhc/about-us/instructions-and-forms/command-operation-report/pdf/OPNAVINST%205750.12K%20-%20Signed%2021%20May%202012.pdf.
10. Based on a review of OPNAVINST 5750.12 through OPNAVINST 5750.12K, in the holdings of Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington Navy Yard, DC.
11. Eric Lockwood, “Make History: Submit your Command Operations Report,” Naval History and Heritage Command, 10 February 2016, http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=93031.
12.David Alan Rosenberg, “Process: The Realities of Formulating Modern Naval Strategy,” in Mahan is Not Enough: The Proceedings of a Conference on the Works of Sir Julian Corbett and Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond, eds. James Goldrick and John B. Hattendorf (Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 1993), 174.
13.William Sims, “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One-Caliber Battleships of High Speed, Large Displacement, and Gun-Power” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 32, no. 4 (December 1906): 1337-66.
14.Joseph H. Alexander, Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995), xvi-xvii, 232-37.
15. Marshall L. Michell III, Clashes: Air Combat over North Vietnam, 1965-1972 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997), 185-88, 277-78; John Darrell Sherwood, Afterburner: Naval Aviators and the Vietnam War (New York: New York University Press, 2004), 219-21, 248.
16. Benjamin S. Lambeth, American Carrier Air Power at the Dawn of a New Century (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2005), 1-8, 100-01; Edward J. Marolda and Robert J. Schneller, Jr., Shield and Sword: The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf War (Washington, DC: Naval Historical Center, 1998), 369-75, 384-85.
17. Kit de Angelis and Jason Garfield, “Give Commanders the Authority,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 142, no. 10 (October 2016): 18-21.
18. Frank G. Hoffman, “How We Bridge a Wartime ‘Learning Gap,’” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 142, no. 5 (May 2016): 22-29.
19.Timothy S. Wolters, Information at Sea: Shipboard Command and Control in the U.S. Navy, from Mobile Bay to Okinawa (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2013), 4-5, 204-21.
20. Prior to World War I, the Navy recognized the need to secure public support for its expansion plans. See George W. Baer, One Hundred Years of Sea Power: The U.S. Navy, 1890-1990 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993), 35-48, 54-63.
21.Francis J. H. Park, “A Time for Digital Trumpets: Emerging Changes in Military Historical Tradecraft,” Army History 20-16-2, no. 99 (Spring 2016): 29-36.
Featured Image: Sunrise aboard Battleship Missouri Memorial at Ford Island onboard Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Katarzyna Kobiljak)
So far this year, we have seen the effective termination of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) and the announced ending of the Strategic Studies Group (SSG). Recently, we have also learned that Navy Warfare Development Command’s (NWDC) popular site “Navy Brightwork” on the joint website MilSuite (which has +500,000 users) will cease to be supported by an official Navy command.
We are more than one year from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’ “Task Force Innovation” announcements at the 2015 Sea-Air-Space conference. Nearly two dozen action memos have led to high-level documents on important topics such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, and Big Data. They are an essential reading of the coverage while our service continues to pound away against ISIL at the line of scrimmage.
But sailors and civilians at the deckplate level have seen only a string of perceived losses this year. The concept of the CRIC, SSG, and Brightwork are exactly what our Navy needs. But rather than support, there seems to be a shopping-around for something newer and shinier, or an inability to stand up and fight for the things that will help us win the conflicts of tomorrow.
The end effect for sailors is an innovation and strategic communication shell game that heightens the barrier of entry into naval innovation communities. As soon as our sailors learn of such outstanding innovation communities like CRIC, Brightwork, and SECNAV’s “Hatch,” the pea has passed on, hiding elsewhere. It shouldn’t be a surprise then, when you see the same familiar faces showing up in innovation circles.
More importantly, what will happen to the dozens of junior enlisted and officers who were excited about CRIC, the 1,220 users of Navy Brightwork, and more broadly, the thousands of Navy officers, enlisted, and civilians with both the ideas and the drive to help us fight and win as a service? Are we alienating the very future innovators we seek to enable? Or are we onboarding them into successful communities of practice?
Who We Are
Sailors seem to come in three varieties when it comes to naval innovation:
Not much can be done with the folks in the first category; there will always exist a sizable population seeking to expend the minimum required effort to do their job and go home.
The highest potential for the Navy comes from Categories Two and Three. “The Unknown” sailors are those with great ideas, or a great deal of care, for the service, but who might not know where to pitch and refine their idea, or how to channel their fire.
“The Under-Utilized” sailors are those already active in the remaining innovation spaces, or those left behind by the dissolution of the CRIC and other such organizations. They are those who have pitched at ATHENA Projectevents, submitted white papers and project proposals, or have been members of various innovation cells and quasi-red teams.
These are sailors who have a more informed view of the lay-of-the-land when it comes to project management, requirements, Research, Development, and Acquisitions, and the like. These are sailors who work full-time day jobs, and in their spare time devote countless hours to projects they believe will make the Navy a better fighting force. These are sailors willing to go the extra mile for a good cause and committed leadership.
What We Need
In September 2001, days before the terrorist attacks of 9/11, then-Rear Admiral James Stavridis wrote that we must “[be] open to ideas and protective of those who advocate disruptive technologies.” More than platforms and payloads, our “Unknown” and “Under-Utilized” sailors are the Navy’s asymmetric advantage today.
To reach these sailors, the Navy must do two things:
Create innovation pathways that are simple and intuitive
Develop a strategic communications and outreach plan that is clear, cogent, concise, and backed by the highest level of leadership
First, pathways for innovative ideas and individuals are required today for our Navy to win tomorrow. When the enemy denies us use of multi-billion dollar platforms, systems, or satellites, the difference between victory and defeat will be those who can think, adapt, act, and inspire quickest. We cannot afford to build these pathways after the first strike; we must build this culture now.
Organizations like the CRIC leave such a gaping void because they allow sailors to practice both initiative and leadership. They are an empowering construct that clearly communicates trust between senior and junior leaders. They are a proving ground for new policies and technologies that would otherwise take us decades to bring to the Fleet. We need more outlets like this in our Navy, not less.
Funding, however, is a constraint. Junior sailors do not have a hand in programming or budgeting decisions that will affect the forces they lead in the future. They cannot advocate before Congress the absolute necessity of robust pathways for innovation from the deckplates.
Yet, as they have been doing since before the days of the Naval Lyceum, committed sailors come together in the margins of our service to support one another and share ideas. Today, CRIC[x], the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, and the Naval Constellation host a vibrant “shadow Navy” of officers, enlisted, and civilians of every rank, fleet area, and background.
In order to capitalize on the talent of these groups, the Navy must develop pathways for individuals to lead their own projects or actively influence policy throughout the fleet. If Congressional marks preclude us from funding organizations like CRIC, commands in DC, Millington, and every fleet concentration area should develop local innovation cells and red teams.
Precedence for these moves can be found in the first innovation cells started by Admiral Stavridis more than 20 years ago, and more recently, by Pacific Fleet’s“The Bridge” innovation group. These small pockets of dedicated sailors can be a command’s competitive advantage, helping adapt to both dynamic wartime circumstances and common-sense reform to improve quality of life for all sailors.
Second, we must define what we mean by “innovation,” communicate our intent, and back it all up.
Innovation is defined differently by different people. Sailors ask, “Do you want me to build something? Or think something?” As a service, our answer should be, “All of the above, if you can!” Whether it is a product, a policy, or inculcating a different way of thinking, we should seek to empower and connect those who boldly and constructively work to make our Navy better.
However, we need to communicate this in a way that sailors can recognize, remember, and repeat. Apple’s “Think Different” advertising campaign defined their brand in just two words; our Navy should be similarly brief.
Despite the CNO’s call for “high velocity learning” in the force, rampant misunderstanding abounds. There are still commanding officers and staffs that snuff out or disparage innovators in their ranks.
One thing is clear: whether it comes from SECNAV or CNO, innovators need top-cover from the highest level to succeed. While many COs and mid-level staff officers are part of the solution, there are a significant number of officers, enlisted, and General Schedule workers who comprise the “frozen middle,” stultifying progress for any number of reasons. If we want to do things faster, and better, we need both leadership from the very top to “have our backs,” and the groundswell of energy from below that already exists.
Where We’re Going
These are not new ideas. In the same September 2001 Proceedings article, Admiral Stavridis advocated for the service to “[create] an idea factory on the sea service staffs,” “build a cadre of innovators,” “emphasize prototyping and leasing,” and “explore a ‘dual track’ procurement system,” among other recommendations.
Fifteen years has passed since his writing. Innovation from the deckplates is still imperative for the Navy. Yet we are stuck steaming in circles, instead of making way towards the horizon. We may be able to gap billets and programs, but we cannot gap ideas, and we cannot gap leadership.
We are a service of command by negation and, more recently, distributed lethality. Let us also innovate by negation, and distribute our ideas, trust, and ingenuity. If we fail to unfurl our sails as such and set a bold course, we may find ourselves asking:
What happens when naval innovation from the deckplates is deferred? “Does it dry up, like a raisin in the sun?”
LT Roger Misso is an E-2C Naval Flight Officer. He is currently working at the Pentagon, and in the shadows to advance naval innovation. You can find him on Twitter @rogermisso. The views express herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity on his own initiative. They do not reflect the official positions of the Department of Defense, or any other U.S. Government agency.
Featured Image: U. S. Navy recruits study using electronic tablets (e-tablets) in the USS Hopper Recruit Barracks at Recruit Training Command (RTC).
After more than a decade of overwhelming success in combat operations ashore, the United States Marine Corps is mounting a very public return to its sea faring roots—and the timing could not be worse. The defense budget is shrinking by billions of dollars each fiscal year, impacting everything from amphibious ship maintenance / readiness / modernization and interoperability to Marine acquisitions and end strength. In the midst of all this fiscal turmoil, the Department of the Navy (DoN) is further handicapped by an absence of Department level strategic communications coordination evidenced by the distant narratives being communicated from the Blue and Green sides on amphibious operations. With America’s largest Global War on Terror land campaigns wrapping up and with it a shrinking appetite to maintain two land armies, the lack of a coherent, unified justification for the future employment of Marines aboard Navy shipping existentially threatens the Marine Corps. Below are eight major items that the DoN must internally reconcile in this budget cycle to further guarantee future relevancy of the US Marine Corps:
1. DOCTRINE: Reconsider the Marines new Capstone Document, Expeditionary Force 21 (EF-21).
“EF-21 will not change what Marines do, but how they do it.” To this I would add “and when they will do it, and why they will do it.” EF-21 represents a unilateral, fundamental paradigm shift in Joint Forcible Entry Operations (JFEO) doctrine that disconnects with existing concepts such as the Joint Operational Access Concept and the Army – Marine Corps Access Concept. EF-21 asserts the Marine Corps’ preeminence in conceiving Amphibious Doctrine and announces dramatic changes in USN shipping standoff ranges during landing operations (an almost unfathomable 65 nautical miles) as well as a novel sequencing of operations—landing Marines prior to cyber, naval, or air preparation of the battle space in order to conduct USMC counter anti-access and counter area-denial operations. The Marines have blazed a new doctrinal path, replete with unique assumptions on surface ship missile defense capabilities (underestimated) and surface connector capabilities (overestimated). With EF-21 they have created a schism that—left unreconciled —will call into question Naval / Joint doctrine and acquisitions to support amphibious entry operations.
2. ORGANIZATION: Re-evaluate the ARG MEU and MAGTF
For well over a decade, the Amphibious Ready Group / Marine Expeditionary Units (ARG MEU) have been operating outside of their normal 3 ship formations. “Split Force Operations” and “Distributed Operations” have been directed by Geographic Combatant Commanders, thereby breaking up the traditional ARG MEU formations in order to distribute the ships and personnel where operationally required. While the ARG MEU has been historically conceived as an amphibious, expeditionary rapid reaction combined arms force capable of self-sustainment, the proliferation of lesser contingency operations has resulted in the placing of greater preeminence on the pieces parts vs. the whole. This trend of separating not only ARG-MEUs but also and their Marine Corps combined arms Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTF) will likely only increase in the future (especially with game changing acquisitions like the 5th Generation F-35B Lightning II coming to the Fleet in FY-17). The cross domain synergy envisioned in the JOAC—“…the complementary vs additive employment of capabilities which enhances the capabilities and compensates for the vulnerabilities of others”—will drive independent elements of the MAGTF further into the Joint arena, and may precede a paradigm shift fundamentally altering the current ARG MEU and MAGTFconstructs. Getting in front of that bow wave will be essential to maintaining both the MAGTF’s integrity, its capability set and its Joint Force relevency in both fully integrated and split/disaggregated instantiations throughout the range of military operations.
3. TRAINING: Refine the agility instead of preparing for Tarawa II
Exercise BOLD ALLIGATOR is as much about domestic and international strategic communications as it is a Marine Expeditionary Brigade level exercise. The Navy – Marine Corps team has used the exercise to host many distinguished visitors (DVs) to demonstrate the capability of amphibious forces to conduct forcible entry operations even after a decade spent waging two land wars and a significant curtailment of practiced amphibious landings on both coasts. MEB level landings haven’t been employed operationally since the Gulf War—and in that case it was a pump fake at Ash Shuaybah. What the Navy-Marine Corps Team has done plenty of is split/disaggregated operations, and despite their prevalence over the last decade, there has not been enough concept refinement and exercises to perfect the planning, combat cargo loading, disaggregating and (most importantly) re-aggregating of the force in order to conduct larger scale operations. Real emphasis on these modern deployment dynamics have to become a priority so that Navy-Marine Corps amphibious forces can maintain their relevance as a scalable, agile force capable of deploying to conduct both distributed, lesser contingency operations and focused, combined arms major combat operations.
4. MATERIEL: Preserve the Assault Echelon by ensuring that the ACV does not become a “Ship to Objective Commuter”
With the current Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) fleet nearing 50 years of age, the Marines are in desperate need of a replacement. The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle—previously the heir apparent to the AAV—was cancelled in 2011 after $3 Billion was spent and $15 Billion more required. The successor to the EFV, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), is reported to lack an amphibious capability (it will not swim unlike its predecessors) and will instead rely on US Navy surface connectors (Landing Craft Air Cushion [hoovercraft] and Landing Craft Utility [regular displacement craft]) to get ashore. As stated by LtCol Howard F. Hall in the Marine Corps Gazette, “… regardless of its land capabilities, the [non amphibious ACV] lack of personnel carrying capacity, reliance on connectors, and delayed transition from those connectors once ashore exacerbate operational risks.” Those risks include surrendering the assault echelon writ large: without amphibious capability, the connectors—which are very vulnerable to small arms, coastal artillery / mortars—would be stuck depositing ACVs instead of follow on logistics and supplies. Once ashore, the ocean becomes a brick wall to Marines embarked in ACVs instead of maneuver space. EF-21 envisions a 65 nautical mile standoff between Marines on the beach and Sailors on the amphibs. If that distance is to be honored, an “amphibious combat vehicle” that lives up to its name must be fielded.
5. LEADERSHIP: Challenge convention, support the Joint Force and the Corps will continue to thrive
The Marines are famous for their institutional paranoia on both Navy support and Army efforts to subsume them. This paranoia, however, is detrimental to effecting needed change, and often causes a reflexive opposition to anything which threatens existing Marine Corps doctrine—seen as the Corps’ existential guarantor. The Corps is not without their own innovators, however. Earl “Pete” Hancock Ellis, as a Major in the Marines, conceived and developed the innovative Operations Plan 712—the basic strategy for the United States in the Pacific that led to the Corps’ modern day monopoly on Amphibious Assault (and in no small part its survival through the twentieth century). If not for Ellis’ own benefactor, General LeJeune, OPLAN 712 may never have received the vetting that drove it to become foundational to the Pacific Campaign. This same kind of innovation and support, and not just doubling-down of core competencies in more difficult settings, must take place with Marine leadership going forward to ensure that the Corps is positioned strategically to act when the Joint Force requires.
6. PERSONNEL: Bring back Marines assigned to Navy ships at the platoon level to augment Navy VBSS, security, small arms, ATFP capabilities
The Marines had an illustrious 223 year run on Navy capital ships, which ended in January 1998 as the defense department drew down its end strength as part of the Clinton era peace dividend. Today, as the Corps is set to shrink once again post Afghanistan and Iraq, there is ironically a pressing need for Marines to return to Navy ships. Anti-terrorism / Force Protection (ATFP) requirements—sentries, crew served weapons and quick reaction forces—have been on a steady rise since the 2000 USS Cole suicide bombing in Yemen. These watch stations strain Navy crews and are manned by personnel whose primary responsibility is not the handling of small arms. Likewise, Navy Visit Board, Search and Seizure teams—while more proficiently trained than their ATFP counterparts—are principally manned and trained for inspection and self-defense; they do not have an assault / counter-assault capability and therefore usually rely on heavily tasked special operations forces (SOF) to conduct opposed boardings. Returning Marines to Navy ships will bring additional ATFP and VBSS capabilities to the Fleet while insulating the Marine Corps from additional manpower cuts.
7. FACILITIES: Prepare special units to embark non-traditional shipping (and keep them light)
Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos testified in front of Congress on 01 October on his initiative to form a Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SP MAGTF) in Kuwait to provide regional Quick Reaction Force (QRF) capability. Retired Captain Jerry Hendrix of the Center for a New American Security endorsed the innovation in the Wall Street Journal.
“Looking at the Marines as a crisis response force is good in the sense the Corps knows it must develop an alternative mission and a new future.” 
However, Amos believes that his efforts are being hamstrung by the lack of amphibious shipping.
“In a perfect world we would rather have these teams sea-based, but we don’t have enough ships.”
Not every contingency warrants a warship. For lesser contingency operations—everything from embassy reinforcement, snatch-and-grabs to theater security cooperation—the Navy is looking towards employing ships from its “Moneyball Fleet”. Joint High Speed Vessels, Afloat Forward Staging Bases, Dry Cargo Logistics Ships and Littoral Combat Ships are considerably cheaper to build and operate than their USS cousins, boast considerable cargo space, have sufficient flight deck / boat deck facilities while operating with a considerably smaller “signature.” In order to ensure that these vessels do not become the exclusive domain of lighter / sexier Special Operations Forces (SOF), Marines must build tailored, scalable packages that can rapidly deploy, integrate, conduct operations and debark as cheaply and as expeditiously as possible. Throwing down similar communications integration, berthing, and command and control requirements on non-traditional shipping as amphibious shipping is a surefire way to get priced out and left on the pier.
8. POLICY: A greater role for the Secretary of the Navy in ensuring unity of effort / purpose within DoN DOTMLPF
At the end of the day, Title 10 authority to man, equip and train the members of the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps is invested in the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Ray Mabus. The department’s strategic vision must be clearly defined and communicated at the Secretariat level. There is no room for competing narratives, especially in an era of ever shrinking fiscal resources and ever expanding operational requirements. It must become the policy of the Department of the Navy that all Navy / Marine Corps Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership, Personnel, Facilities conform to the department’s strategic vision and serve in promoting its unity of purpose. Anything less introduces risk and presents an existential threat to the Marine Corps.
Nicolas di Leonardo is a member of the Expeditionary Warfare Division on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations and a student at the US Naval War College. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Expeditionary Warfare Division or the Naval War College.
 Amos, General James E. et al. “EF-21,” Headquarters Marine Corps, 04 March 2015, p.5
 Disaggregated Operations are defined in EF-21 as “…requiring elements of the ARG/MEU to function separately and independently, regardless of time and distance, with elements under a command relationship that changes/limits the ARG/MEU commanders’ control of their forces. Distributed Operations / Split Force Operations are defined as “…requiring elements of the ARG/MEU to function separately for various durations and various distances with the ARG and MEU commanders retaining control of their forces under the Geographic Combatant Commander.”
 Hall, LtCol Howard F. “Ship to Objective Commuters: The Continuing Search for Amphibious Vehicle Capability.” The Marine Corps Gazette, August 2014
 Barnes, Julian E. “Marines Deploy New Quick Reaction Force in Kuwait.” The Wall Street Journal, 02 October 2014.
 Barnes, Julian E. “Marines Deploy New Quick Reaction Force in Kuwait.” The Wall Street Journal, 02 October 2014.