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Ethics & The Military Profession – A Conversation with Nate Finney and Ty Mayfield

By Christopher Nelson

This past fall, I had the chance to talk with editors Nate Finney and Ty Mayfield about their book, Redefining the Modern Military: The Intersection of Profession and Ethics.Image result for Redefining modern military

From the publisher’s description: Redefining the Modern Military expands upon and refines the ideas on the role of ethics and the profession in the 21st Century. The authors delve into whether Samuel Huntington and Morris Janowitz still ring true in the 21st century; whether training and continuing education play a role in defining a profession; and if there is a universal code of ethics required for the military as a profession.”

We talk about their book, social media and the profession, and later we dive into a conversation about Colonel “Ned Stark” (who recently was revealed to be Col. Jason Lamb) and why they think it’s bad for the military profession to write under a pseudonym.

Nelson: Thanks for joining me guys. How did the book idea come about and why this book now?

Mayfield: The book started as a conversation on social media with Dr. Pauline Shanks-Kaurin who was prepping for an ethics class when she was teaching at Pacific Lutheran University. She was just asking questions on Twitter about the profession, what it means, and who might be in the military profession.

That went around on Twitter. I was engaged in that initial conversation. Nate and I talked and the idea for something more came up so we talked with the rest of the editorial team and decided to run a series at The Strategy Bridge, trying to answer those questions. What is the profession? What is our profession and ethics, and the role of both of those things in our institutions?

We published almost 20 articles on the topic and they were all really well-received. Then, we circled back from that and began to have a conversation about if there was enough for a book and whether or not we could take this to the next step. We contacted about a dozen of the authors, ended up with 10 of them, and then picked up two more to write on very focused topics just to round out the book. They went back and expended those initial journal articles to chapter-length pieces.

Then we pitched the book and got picked up by U.S. Naval Institute Press. Here we are three years later looking at the publication of the book. This has been really interesting to see something go from a conversation on social media, to a web-based professional journal, to a hardcopy book. I think that’s the story that is really interesting about this book.

Nelson: That’s great.

Finney: I think it shows a very deliberate attempt by The Strategy Bridge to go through different mediums. We pulled a lot of our articles from social media, conversations we have on Twitter and Facebook, and people that are talking about something that’s interesting. Whether it’s us as individuals or editors at The Strategy Bridge, we’ll hit them up and say, “Hey, that would make a great article. Send it along.” That stuff happens all of the time.

The example of turning it into a series instead of a single article, and then deciding to turn it into a book, is a model that the Strategy Bridge may do from time to time as topics that are of interest to the profession continue to bubble up in conversation.

Nelson: Alright, well let’s get right into it then. An Air Force officer and an Army officer edited a book. What is your take on each of your respective services and what concerns do you have about the profession? What’s good, what’s bad? Particularly, for Ty, I know the Air Force Officer, Colonel “Ned Stark,” writing some pieces for War on the Rocks, grabbed attention with his concerns about the USAF.

Mayfield: I think the Air Force is a unique service as compared to the others. I think a big part of the profession is cultural identity, who you are as an institution. The Air Force, being the newest of those departments, I think we struggle with culture and identity a lot. There are times that you want to be very much different than the other services and focus on our specific domains, but then there is a pullback to a core professional identity that unites all of the services. I think there’s a real cultural identity conflict for the Air Force. How to be different enough to maintain your own identity, yet keep a finger on that touchstone as military professionals.

I’d like to talk about Ned Stark, later on. I think it’s a separate question altogether.

I’ll let Nate speak to the Army. The Army has done a lot of work in developing their own ethic and their professional identity, but what they have done in that process is develop an Army ethic and an Army profession. That, in some ways, I think walls them off from the other services, and it misses the larger professional identity that I think all the services should try and sort out.

The Air Force has followed that lead and it has established its own Profession of Arms Center of Excellence, which is now taking roadshow trips out to different bases and talking about the profession. It’s not theoretical, it’s more applied leadership; which is good and important, but it’s different than what the Army has done with its Center for the Army Profession and Leadership program up to this point. I think that’s a good segue back to Nate.

Nelson: Before we jump to Nate, really quick, what would you recommend to your service chief or other seniors in the Air Force? What needs to change or what would you suggest, as far the identity of your particular service? What would you do to improve the identity of the Air Force?

Mayfield: I think part of the recommendation here would actually be to model the approach off of what the Army has done, which is not, obviously, going to be something that’s particularly well-received; but I think the Army did it well. I think Dr. Don Snider’s book, The Future of the Army Profession, was the groundwork for the Army ethic and for this Army professional identity. It was the theoretical piece. It’s a big book, it’s really dense, it’s hard to approach; but the scholarship is there that laid the groundwork for the Army’s successful development and, for lack of a better word, the doctrinization of their ethic. I think that’s important and that’s probably what needs to be done in the Air Force, at some level.

Nelson: Nate, over to you. Army good and bad?

Finney: First, I’ll say I think the Army’s furthest along when it comes to developing their perspective on the profession and trying to figure out where they fit. The previous works that we use a foundation for Redefining the Modern Military are Janowitz and Huntington, in particular. They were, essentially, writing about soldiers coming out of the Korean War and World War II, but particularly the Korean War. Of course, they’re applicable to all the services, but really it was a focus on the soldiers in the Army coming out of those wars, and what it meant for land power, and its citizen soldiers.

As Ty was mentioning, Don Snider’s work of the 2000s was chartered by General Martin Dempsey (who also was kind enough to write the forward of our book) when he was the Training and Doctrine (TRADOC) commander, and then the Chief of Staff of the Army, and then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs–all in pretty quick succession. As Ty mentioned, his focus was on the Army and he used Don Snider’s work and others to really push the profession, but also the Army ethic. He tried to convert that into a joint profession campaign on the profession and ethic when he became the Chairman. I don’t know how much it took hold. I think General Dempsey’s white paper on the profession, when he was the Chairman, is a good model for trying to have that conversation from a joint force perspective.

When it comes to the Army as a service – and what we can do better – I don’t honestly have a good answer. I think we largely get it right; we’ll never get it perfect. General Caslen, who retired out of West Point as the superintendent, really focused on character as a part of the profession and what types of characteristics our soldiers need to have to be professionals to embody that ethic.

I think from induction in West Point, then PME throughout a career, the Army does it pretty well, if a bit dry. I think General Milley and others have focused on “re-greening” the Army on what it’s like to fight large formations in a conventional conflict. Yes, there’s a tactical/technical piece to that, but I also think there’s a professional piece. Whether it’s trying to balance what we learned in Iraq and Afghanistan with where we need to go in the future and what that means for soldiers as professionals. It’s not perfect, nothing’s perfect, but I think the Army does it pretty well.

Nelson: I didn’t read Huntington until, I don’t know, maybe around the fourteen-year mark in the Navy.  Do you think expectations are too high on the first ten years of your life in the service? You’re just trying to get the basics down and you don’t even know what the profession is or what it means, so do you think our expectations are too high for younger officers to have them really truly understand? They’re maybe not even committed to the profession. They haven’t even decided to say, “I’m in this for the profession.” What are your thoughts on this?

Mayfield: I think that’s a great question and that’s exactly why we wrote this book. When you pick up Huntington at your 14-year mark, that shouldn’t be the first time you’ve thought about the profession. I was at the Army War College last year, and I’m presented with Don Snider’s book, The Future of the Army Profession at the 19th year of my career, and I’m thinking “it’s too late to start this conversation; it’s too late to start thinking about this.” But at the same time, to your point, lieutenants, company grade officers, I don’t think they have enough exposure to the profession yet, and the development to really touch those documents; Don Snider’s work, or Huntington, or Janowitz, or any of that with any meaning or connection.

That’s what we tried to do with this book, with Redefining the Modern Military, is provide something to start with, a starting point that then preps you for that conversation to pick up Huntington, preps you to pick up Don Snider’s book. So that, when you get it in your 19th year, it’s not the first time you’ve thought about your role as a professional.

We used a multi-disciplinary approach in this book, so we have officers from all the branches of the service, we have academics, we have historians, we have people who are in civil service now, we have lawyers, we have former military officers who are now civilians.

I think there’s a focus on it being company-grade officers or senior company-grade officers or junior field-grade officers. I think that’s a really important niche because those are officers who are approaching this 14-year mark we’re talking about. They’re right at this transition and I think that’s where Don Snider would argue you become a professional.

You can be a member of the profession without being a professional. I think that’s the transition you’re trying to get to. This is the point that the question you’re asking, and Don Snider uses a term, “stewards of the profession” to define this. There’s a change in your approach to service and a change in your relationship with your institution.

I think for most of us, that probably happens at the command level. When you take command, be that in the Army, as the company-grade officer, as a captain company command; or in the Air Force, if your first command opportunity as an O-4 or an O-5, that’s a pivotal moment where you have to start looking back into your organization through a command lens that focuses your institution’s requirements and your institution’s desires and future.

The term, “company man,” it’s a bureaucratic term. It refers to a bureaucracy. These two things are in tension, and this is something that Dr. Snider talks a lot about. That tension between the bureaucracy and the profession. One is focused on effects, the other is focused on efficiencies. There’s a whole list of things that are in tension between these two institutions, and I think that’s why he uses the word, “steward”, and not “company man.” He uses the word, “steward” because stewards are people who do the care and feeding of the profession and that’s our role at this level as field grade officers. We have to become stewards of our professions to make sure that we teach our subordinates and those that come after us what’s important, because if we don’t teach them what’s important and why, it will evolve over time and people will lose focus.

It’s a long answer to your question, but I think that’s why we wrote this book; so that we have a stepping stone, so we’re not at the fourteen-year mark and just throwing Huntington at you and saying, “good luck.”

Also, to get to your question about when do you become a professional, it happens differently for all of us. I don’t think we always recognize it in the moment, but then, reflectively, we can see when our outlook changed. My second time in command here, I’m seeing that even more and I’m thinking more about that, about the future of my subordinates and their impact on the service. People want to leave their mark on the unit, but if you want to leave your mark on a service, on an institution, then it’s really through mentorship and development; you have to understand that your subordinates have much more longevity than you do.

Finney: Ty alluded to the fact that a profession is not an institution, it’s the people in the institution. As you get that transition into being a steward of the profession versus focused on the technical/tactical aspects as a junior-grade officer, you should probably not hand out Huntington and say, “hey guys, you need to learn this.” Instead, mid-grade and senior leaders should probably more embody the profession for their subordinates and embody those characteristics you want to see in professionals.

I look back, and sure I didn’t read Huntington as a lieutenant, but I could look back on my battalion commander, my battalion S3, the majors in my battalion, in the interactions they had with me and the way that they treated other people, were daily inculcating that profession in myself and my fellow junior officers.

While, intellectually, you’re not beating them over the head with the foundations of the profession, I think, at least in my experience, we certainly are focused on developing those professionals from the first moment they come in.

In my opinion, unfortunately, the way it’s built into PME, both leadership and the profession piece of it, it is almost like a lobotomy. It’s just, “here read these slides,” or “read the section, we’re not really going to talk about it,” so half the folks read it, half don’t. I think it’s less that we don’t do it, and instead that we do it poorly.

Nelson: I want to jump on social media because we started this conversation with the fact that your book was hatched on Twitter. And you’re both on social media quite frequently. How’s the profession doing on social media in the civ-mil sphere? Do either of you think we have an issue with service members being partisan when it’s clear that they identify themselves as military members in their profile?

Finney: I think the social media tools certainly put us in a place where it could become dangerous if we don’t self-regulate, but the beauty of being apart of a profession are professionals, like you, reaching out to people you know saying, “Hey, Jack that’s not something you should be saying in public. You want to have that conversation one-on-one over coffee or beers, that’s fine, but don’t put it on social media.” I certainly have seen the same thing. Honestly, I saw it more when I was on Facebook than I did on Twitter, and that might be the transitory nature of Twitter.

I think what it comes down to, is that it has to be about self-regulation. It’s peers, or if required superiors, coming in and saying, “Okay, you’re not supposed to be talking like that. Here’s why.” Have a good conversation about the profession. The other piece is, and I’m seeing more and more of this on Twitter these days, are senior leaders using social media in a positive way in order to help bolster the profession and provide an example. 

Nelson: Are you worried if Twitter is trending in a bad way?

Finney: I don’t…at all. I personally think, in particular, I see a lot of great stuff coming from the Army. General Patrick Donahue, Ty knows and interacts with quite frequently, General Mick Ryan from Australia, senior leaders who are using it for more than just a PAO push where they’re just pushing their agenda. They are interacting with other human beings. They are shaping what people are reading or thinking about through what they’re posting, as well as interacting with people across the board from cadets all the way up. In order to have those professional discussions, even if it isn’t “here’s Huntington,” they’re getting to “let’s have a conversation as professionals.” That’s essentially what’s happening and what we need on social media.

Nelson: I guess what I’m alluding to is the retired admirals and generals. For example, retired admirals writing opinion pieces on political topics–like the McRaven op-ed that was published last year. There are two completely different thoughts on this. Some admirals and generals remain quiet, and urge others to do the same–some, obviously, do not. What are your thoughts?

Mayfield: Let me dip back into the social media question, and then I’ll circle and address the McRaven piece. I tend to agree with Nate on the social media piece. I think senior leaders in the military are late to the game on social media, and I think a lot of it is because they don’t understand it.

There’s always been an effort to manage the narrative of our senior leaders. That’s why they impose restrictions on their public affairs officers–who they also don’t understand or trust–and spokesmen, everything. They get talking points, everything is very scripted, and when you put a hand-held, you put a phone in a four star’s hand, and he’s got an hour to burn at the airport that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I think it can be done well, but I think the access, immediacy, and unconstrained environment made our senior leaders uncomfortable to do it.

Social media is social, you can’t just push the thing you want, it won’t get picked up. That’s not how it works, it has to be interaction. Twitter, in particular, I think is a really good tool for those quick interactions that can fall into the realm of mentoring, and you can build relationships that last long term. I think that’s the thing General Mick Ryan out of Australia does really well, General Patrick Donahue does this really well too.

Those short interactions over time, and this falls into what Ray Kimball, one of the chapters in our book, talks about and that’s mentoring. That mentoring does not have to be done within your chain of command. Your rater may not be the right mentor for you. I think social media gives junior officers an opportunity to engage with an officer of their choice, who they want to be a mentor. It has to be a mutually agreed upon relationship.

I count General Ryan and I count General Donahue both as mentors at this point in time. I’ve had enough interactions with them. We haven’t always agreed and that’s okay. That’s the other thing we have to get to in social media, you have to figure out how to do that. How to disagree publicly with each other, with subordinates, with superiors. There’s that fine line in the profession.

To the point about the politics, I’ll just leave it at this, I think the profession must be self-policing. It’s got to be self-correcting, otherwise what you’re going to get is congressionally-mandated reporting requirements or congressionally-mandated direction on what you can and cannot do. Those limitations are an infringement on your autonomy as a professional. If you’re not self-policing, someone else will police you. That’s where we have a role to address our peers when we see this stuff. Some of them are not reconcilable, and I’m a little bit worried about that, frankly, as a professional.

We come into the service with our own ethics, and our own morals, and our own values, and we have to put all those aside. We have to assume the ethics and the morals and the values of our service, and one of those is we are an apolitical institution. There’s tension there. People have deeply-held political beliefs and we can all agree on that, but the service doesn’t. That’s the core the profession.

The McRaven piece, I didn’t read it. I just stay away from the op-ed stuff. I don’t find it of much utility and I say that getting ready to write an article, maybe an op-ed, so I recognize the tension in my own statement. To be fair, I’ve been getting ready to write this op-ed for six months because I just don’t want to do it. I’m trying to find a better way to approach the problem than meeting him on his own terms.

Nelson: What’s the op-ed on?

Mayfield: I want to talk about Ned Stark. I want to talk about why I think Ned Stark is wrong, frankly. He might have good ideas, but I think the idea is not correct. It’s not a good pitch.

I didn’t read the McRaven piece, so I’ll have to defer to Nate to answer on that, but I’m looking forward to talking about Ned Stark because I just wrote it on my white board before we sat down.

Nelson: Excellent, okay.

Finney: Let me re-attack the Admiral McRaven stuff, and then we’ll go straight to Ned Stark. I’ll let you have that one completely, Ty. Other than having read it and then you and I having some conversations over Twitter, I have no bone in that fight, so I’ll leave that to you. The McRaven retired general officer piece…

Nelson: This is not a new phenomenon, right?

Finney: No, absolutely not in any way, shape, or form. The “revolt of the admirals” and all that stuff, even earlier than that. Senior leaders who put out op-eds, for the most part, including, in my opinion, McRaven, very much weighed what they were going to say and whether they were going to say anything or whether it was going to be of a benefit to their profession and to the people that they were standing up for, versus the detriment of a retired officer playing into politics.

Whether you agree with it or not, he didn’t do it in order to harm the profession. He did it to enhance the profession and try and uphold a norm. I think that is generally the case; some obviously being more political than others. There is nothing against those in our profession, particularly those who have retired, standing up for things that they believe in the public press.

The issue is the knock-on effects to the profession and, in particular, the civ-mil relationships going forward from somebody standing up and doing something like that. I think the professionals weighing into these types of conversations weigh that very heavily, and have decided that it makes more sense for them to speak out than not; and that whatever detrimental effects will come from it, will be minor compared to whatever benefits they think that they receive.

Finney: Let’s talk about Ned Stark.

Nelson: So for background, “Ned Stark” is a pseudonym for a senior USAF Colonel (who was revealed to be Col. Jason Lamb). War on the Rocks granted him a (rare) pseudonym out of concern that his writing might endanger his professional career. He has written numerous pieces for War on the Rocks outlining issues with the Air Force. He got the attention of the Chief of the Air Force, who asked “Ned” to come work for him. So, Ty, what’s wrong with Ned Stark and his approach?

Mayfield: I read Stark’s initial piece in the Air Force Times, begrudgingly, after I see everybody talking about it. I read it, and I think what frustrates me with Ned Stark is that he doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know as a profession.

It was the approach and the use of a pseudonym that really frustrates me because even if I agree with Ned Stark, I don’t know who he is and I don’t know how to help him change the service. His focus is on positional leadership, not relational leadership. There’s no way to have a relationship with Ned Stark. I can’t help him achieve what it is that he wants to get done, which, frankly, are things I want to get done, too.

There’s a level of hypocrisy in his use of a pseudonym that really touched a nerve with me. His own self-identification as one of these high performing officers who gets pushed along whether they’re ready or not because they have access to general officers and they have the right things in their records, and whether or not they’re ready for leadership or not, these guys are pulled through the system. He’s railing against this, stating “that’s not the way the Air Force should go,” but he’s one of them.

Frankly, I don’t understand what career risks a colonel in the United States Air Force faces. He’s a colonel, in the Air Force, it’s right at one percent of the total force, so what are we protecting Ned Stark from? What is Ned Stark protecting himself from? He’s asking the same process which built him, which he’s railing against, to continue to protect him, and I, frankly, I can’t get behind that. I was disappointed in him. Disappointed it got published, disappointed that it drew so much attention.

Nelson: What if it’s just, frankly, brilliant that his pseudonym generates this amazing amount of intrigue? In the cacophony of voices, of the many people writing about their concerns and issues with their military service, it’s this unknown colonel who breaks through to touch a nerve?

Mayfield: Here’s the question, and this was something that when I was having this conversation on Twitter, Rich Brennan actually brought up. This is his tweet, “The point isn’t the validity of the argument, but the strength of character. If the problem’s so severe, then, as a senior officer, you should be willing to stand up for what you believe in. Put something at risk to accomplish the change you want to see.”

I have a hard time buying the brilliant intrigue approach. Now, he’s got General Goldfein’s attention, so maybe your argument is that it worked. I read General Goldfein’s piece on War on the Rocks and it’s like, “Ned, I’d love to have you on my team,” and that makes me want to bang my head on a desk because Ned is already on the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s team, he’s in the Air Force. How is he not already on the team? We can’t look Ned up in the global email address book, and start working his orders because Ned Stark is a fabrication and he’s not helping anyone.

There’s the whole piece about him essentially benefiting from the hypocrisy by being offered a job by the Chief. It doesn’t support guys, like you, who write under your own name, other Air Force officers who are focused on bettering the profession slowly but surely, versus moaning on War on the Rocks under a pseudonym. That’s not helping anyone. It’s not responsible, it’s not authentic, and it’s not professional.

Finney: It’s the incentives. You’re going to incentivize your soldiers in an adverse manner. It’s going to take away from their character, not build up their character in the profession.

Nelson: He apparently passed on the opportunity to work for the Chief of the Air Force. But do you think he would have even gotten that offer he hadn’t written the op-ed, or if he didn’t use a pseudonym?

Finney: I think it’s more on the hypocrisy of “senior leaders need to stand up and change their service for the better, but I’m going to use a pseudonym because I don’t want to stand up and do the same thing.”

Then, the arrogance of choosing Ned Stark, like “I’m sacrificing myself for the good of the service.” No, you’re not. You’re using a pseudonym.

Nelson: This is a good discussion. I think it’s a fascinating conversation.

Mayfield: I think there’s a lot of tension here. I don’t think that Ned’s Stark’s peers know who Ned Stark is. Ned Stark is setting himself apart from his peers in a way that’s going to be really hard to reconcile under his true name.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this and I’ll acknowledge that I’m on one side of this issue. I went through the same thing when I started running my own blog. I asked this question, “Do I write under a pseudonym, or do I write in my true name?” and I went to my mentors and my professors, I talked to my peers, and I decided to do it in true name which put a lot of checks on me.

To Nate’s point about the use of pseudonyms. We don’t allow the use of pseudonyms on the Strategy Bridge anymore and that was an editorial decision. We also don’t write op-eds, we don’t publish op-eds, so we get those and we send them to other outlets. We don’t publish op-eds, that’s just our position, because what we want is a fact-based, cited, academically-approached argument that removes emotion and the personal positions.

Nelson: Where were you going to publish your rebuttal to the Ned Stark’s piece? I’m sure there’s some emotion behind it, you’re very passionate about your opinion on Ned Stark.

Mayfield:  What I want to do is address it through the lens of a conversation about our profession, and about the status of it, and about us being self-policing, and it being a goal of lifelong learning and mentorship and leadership; and it’s hard to do those things from behind a curtain. I’m not saying it can’t be done, I just think there’s a better approach to it.

We started this conversation by talking about the status of our profession. I don’t think Ned Stark is advancing our profession.

Nelson: Let’s transition to the personal a little bit. I know Nate’s a father. Ty, I don’t know if you have kids or not. But neither of you shut off when you go home – the profession comes home with you. What are things, Nate, as you’re a father, character things that you instill in your children that the profession’s shaped you; and vice versa? How does your profession affect your personal life? And how does your personal life affect the profession?

Finney: That’s a good question, it’s interesting. I don’t know if the profession has affected my personal approach to life, the way that I live my life, and the way that I raise my kids, but I assume it has.

I think a better way to look at it, maybe, is by my children’s choices. My 15-year-old daughter chose to join the sea cadets program here in Hawaii. She’s always been a great kid, very smart, very respectful. She’s always wanted to be in the military; to be like her dad and be in the military. When she joined sea cadets, I could see that transformation as she started putting on the uniform, as she started understanding what being in sea cadets and being in the Navy was like. Her respect for others increased, her responsibility to get up and get things done and to focus on school work for sea cadets, and even outside of sea cadets, just getting her school work done, everything. All of that increased as she was a part of sea cadets. Part of that is her getting older, but I think part of that is being a part an organization, a team, a group of people who has certain standards, has certain expectations, and having to live up to those.

I think most of those things were there in our household. My dad was in the Navy. Got out right before I was born, but he carried that through his life. My kids have seen me go into work on Saturdays or late at night, and taking the approach that, “Hey, that’s what I do. That’s my job, that’s what I need to go do.” Deployments, same thing. This understanding of what the profession is, what living up to standards and expectations and being a part of a team is – I think all of those things come home from work. I certainly take aspects of my home life into work. Respect for others. All these things I would like to see in my daughters, I try and model those. Whether I’m good at it or not. Ty, you have any thoughts on that?

Mayfield: Yes, I think it’s an interesting question. I don’t have kids, so I have a different outlook on that; but I think what this question raises, for me, is the separation of personally-held values and beliefs from those of the institution.

We are the sum of our experiences. I grew up in a military family. I’m sure that influenced my own decisions, absolutely it did; but that’s the challenge that we face as military professionals is putting aside how we, Nate’s example, how he raises his kids. People that are under your supervision or under your leadership are not your children, they’re members of the same institution that you are.

We all agree that we want our kids to grow up and live long and full lives, but as members of the profession that’s not the outcome that we’re responsible to pursue. Sometimes, personal sacrifice is required to achieve mission accomplishment–and that’s not just us as professionals, but the potential requirement to sacrifice others who we lead as well. This is the concept of unlimited liability–it’s unique to our profession. In the end, effectiveness, mission accomplishment is what we’re charged with and that could very well come at the cost of people’s lives. It’s one of those unique aspects of our institution, and that’s a professional challenge. To acknowledge those things that you hold dear and believe, personally and to be willing to set them aside to advance the cause of your profession.

Think about Nate’s daughter’s change in behavior when putting on a uniform. The uniform is that exterior example. We act differently in civilian clothes than we do in our uniform. It changes how you walk across the parking lot. It changes how you interact with people. You can’t deny that it changes people. I’ve spent a good part of my professional career as a field-grade officer, actually, in civilian clothes, in a suit and tie; and it changes how people approach you, interact with you. Believe me, it changes things. That was a real shock for me.

I should have said our manifestation of our values and our ethic and how we approach people as professionals, so I think that’s a really important point to make. It’s a difficult transition, it’s a difficult thing to do; and the further along you go, the more you have to be very clear about what your personal desires are, what the requirements are because there are larger implications.

Nelson: Lastly, I’ll turn over to you guys for any last thoughts or words you want to say to close out our discussion.

Finney: Just to get back to the book, Ty mentioned we had many different perspectives from the team that wrote Redefining. Authors included lawyers, uniformed practitioners, folks from other countries like Sweden, Australia, the UK. The beauty of the book project was, at least for me, working with that diverse group of people and trying to weave all of those threads throughout the book. It just showed how some of the more important aspects of the profession are not just across the services, but it’s also across the national security realm.

While everybody views the profession differently, maybe it’s manifested differently in the different services in different militaries, those threads are all there. They were captured well by Huntington, Janowitz, and others, and I think as we move into the 21st Century and we’re trying to see if there’s a different character of war, and if the way we conduct conflict in the future is going to be different, does that mean our profession needs to change as well?

Nelson: Ty, closing thoughts?

Mayfield: First of all, I appreciate your time and the opportunity to discuss the profession and to talk a little bit about the book. I think it’s an important time, and this goes back to your very first question about why this book is important and why now. History tells us that the profession goes through cycles. We have a prolonged conflict, we have a peace pause, this period of reflection, introspection, and then we redevelop and redefine ourselves, and then we go forward again. It’s cyclical.

Huntington and Janowitz wrote at the end of the Korean War catastrophe. That set the stage going into Vietnam, and then we have the all-volunteer force that comes out of that. The all-volunteer force has now been at war for two decades without respite, and I think that the time is now for this introspection, this reflection to occur.

Dr. Snider’s book came out early 2000s, the ideas are foundationally sound, but the officers which are now practicing these ideas in the profession and this idea of an ethic have changed. We’ve come to the table with a new generation of officers and a new generation of enlisted personnel, all volunteers, which I think is unprecedented and extremely important; and I think the time is now for us to begin to redefine as we move into the role as stewards and leaders of our profession, to set the groundwork for what we want the profession to be going forward. That’s the answer to your question about why this book and why now.

We hope to see this book out there at ROTC programs, at commissioning programs, at company-grade officer education, and in the civilian community as well because it’s essential to our role as well as our constituents, to all those Americans represented by the Constitution. I am really excited about the book, but really I’m excited about the conversation; and I’m looking forward to the points of agreement, but most importantly, I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation. I think that’s the essential role, that’s the thing we have to do. We have to start the conversation or somebody will start it for us.

Nelson: Thanks guys, great talking with you. All the best.

Nathan K. Finney is an officer in the U.S. Army with a focus on planning and strategy. He is also a founder of three non-profits – The Strategy Bridge, the Military Writers Guild, and the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum – and has been a visiting fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a term member at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Non-Resident Fellow of the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point. Nathan is a doctoral student in history at Duke University and holds masters degrees in Public Administration from Harvard University and the University of Kansas, as well as a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Arizona. You can find Nathan on Twitter @nkfinney.

Tyrell O. Mayfield is an officer in the U.S. Air Force and a co-founder and board member of the non-profit The Strategy Bridge. Ty has published photography and written work in a number of online forums, magazines, newspapers, and peer-reviewed journals. Ty is a graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School and the U.S. Army War College and holds masters degrees in International Relations, National Security Studies, and Strategic Art. Ty is currently writing a memoir about his time in Kabul. You can find Ty on twitter @tyrellmayfield.

Christopher Nelson is an intelligence officer stationed at the Office of Naval Intelligence in Suitland, MD. He is a graduate of the US Naval War College and the Navy’s Maritime Advanced Warfighting School. He is also a regular contributor to CIMSEC. The views here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Featured Image: Joint-service honor guard members representing all five military services stand in front of the audience before the outdoor portion of the POW/MIA ceremony Sept. 16 at the Air Force Armament Museum. The ceremony paid tribute to those military members who have yet to return home from defending America. The event was hosted by the 46th Test Wing and featured guest speakers, honor guard procedures and a flyover by the 53rd Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

I Held an Amazon “Flipped” Meeting At My Squadron and Here’s What Happened

By Jared Wilhelm

The Innovation Imperative

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson frequently talks about High Velocity Learning (HVL) and Innovation. You can tell his focus on this topic is working thanks to one clear litmus test: eye rolls and mocking from some of the Fleet’s junior officers. The CNO has spread the gospel so well on this topic that is has become a buzzword throughout wardrooms and squadrons around the world, and now “Innovation” has achieved just enough notoriety to be misunderstood.

The eye-rollers are often resistant to change, cling to the status quo, and most importantly have an ahistorical perception of innovation within the naval service. What they don’t quite comprehend is that innovation is nothing new. Commander BJ Armstrong enumerated the proof of our rich innovation history in consecutive years at the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, first in 2013 with his lecture on Admiral William Sims that led to the book 21st Century Sims, and then followed by a look at Marine Corps’ forward-thinking embrace of the helicopter in the post-WWII era

We have innovated before, and we will innovate again. But the CNO makes the case that the quadrupling of worldwide maritime traffic in the last several decades, combined with the free and fast flow of technology and information, creates an innovation and learning imperative like we have never seen. Our maritime superiority, our relevance, and potentially even our Sailors’ survival all depend on it.

Just Do It

It can be a daunting task for an operational leader to lead innovation efforts in the context of the worldwide rise of near-peer adversaries and vague direction from the Pentagon to learn, rapidly iterate, and embrace risk.  Where can you even start?

Using the old mantra, “Think Globally but Act Locally,” I decided to tackle something that everyone in our squadron, officer and enlisted alike, always unite to grumble about: meetings. You know them–they pepper the plan of the week like the last pieces of candy in a box of chocolate that no one wants to eat; they draw scowls of dread when you see another two, three, or four in your future. They all start the same with a PowerPoint slide deck, introductions, rules of engagement for the presentation itself, proposed courses of action, “quad slides,” and graphs with labels so small you have no idea what is going on. 

tailhook-ppt
Figure 1: An actual PowerPoint slide from a Bureau of Naval Personnel briefing at Tailhook 2016 that a Captain attempted to explain to the crowd.

Several months ago I heard about a best practice from the civilian industry that caught my attention: the “flipped meeting” utilized at Amazon by billionaire innovator Jeff Bezos. Could the Amazon model work at a Naval Aviation squadron? Would the time continuum explode if officers filed in to the wardroom and didn’t see a standardized PowerPoint screen projected on the wall? I walked to OPS, asked for a meeting to be put on the schedule, and decided to find out.

I used the Navy’s HVL model based on Dr. Steve Spear’s “High Velocity Edge” framework to approach the flipped meeting:

1. Define the problem: Too many meetings in our squadron are dependent on low-learning-level presentations, and almost all exclusively use Power Point.

2. Postulate a solution – and what you think its effects will be: There are countless solutions in other organizations and the corporate world on how to increase learning and co-working levels in meetings. One specific solution is the Amazon flipped meeting, which I guessed would increase learning levels at my squadron.

3. Try out a solution: We did!

4. Do a gap analysis between what you saw happen and what you thought would happen.

5. Update your approach/solution and run it again.

One Specific Solution: The Origins and Upsides of a Bezos “Study Hall”

Fortune Magazine revealed the secrets of an Amazon executive team meeting in their 2012 profile of Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of the tech and retail giant.  Reporter Adam Lashinsky explains:

Before any discussion begins, members of the team—including Bezos—consume six-page printed memos in total silence for as long as 30 minutes….  They scribble notes in the margins while the authors of the memos wait for Bezos and his minions to finish reading…. Writing a memo is an even more important skill to master. “Full sentences are harder to write,” he says. “They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

So instead of building PowerPoint slides and sweating font consistency, proper margins, bullet styles or punctuation uses, those privileged to brief Bezos focus on the ideas and content themselves. The genius of it is in the simplicity: the purpose of the meeting is to work together on the ideas or content, and the “flipped” meeting allows the ideas or content to be the focus, not the slide deck.

Blogger Walter Chen also identifies a second order effect of these type of meetings, one that Bezos surely intended: 

The real magic happens before the meeting ever starts.  It happens when the author is writing the memo. What makes this management trick work is how the medium of the written word forces the author of the memo to really think through what he or she wants to present.  In having to write it all down, authors are forced to think out tough questions and formulate clear, persuasive replies, reasoning through the structure and logic in the process.

Bezos calls the memos “narratives,” and in his opinion they have many advantages over PowerPoint, as he told Charlie Rose in 2012

The traditional kind of corporate meeting starts with a presentation. Somebody gets up in front of the room and presents with a PowerPoint presentation, some type of slide show. In our view you get very little information, you get bullet points. This is easy for the presenter, but difficult for the audience. And so instead, all of our meetings are structured around a 6 page narrative memo.

Some other advantages include:

1. Silence is golden. How many times have you presented an issue, only to see several egos in the audience try to take over or derail the brief based on their own interests? Everyone reads the narrative in silence and the discussion comes after in the Bezos “Study Hall” model. 

2. No read-ahead required. Bezos believes “the act of communal reading guarantees the group’s undivided attention.” Several times in my career, I have wondered if the person I was briefing had time to review the read-ahead, or if they were getting the message I was trying to convey during the PowerPoint. In a flipped meeting, the audience has no choice but to read the narrative (unless they want to daydream).

3. Eliminating premature questions saves everyone time. “If you have a traditional PowerPoint presentation, executives interrupt,” says Bezos.  “If you read the whole six page memo, on page two you have a question. By page four that question is answered.” 

4. Ideas and content trump presentation polish. Sometimes, the best ideas come from those who are nervous or just-plain-bad public speakers. Other times, polished presenters with million-dollar-smiles can sell bad or incomplete concepts because they can manipulate the audience into what they want to hear. With the Amazon narrative, the content speaks for itself.

5. The meeting leader is a coworker, not lecturer. The concept of a “flipped classroom” revolutionized education, and Bezos is trying to do the same for the business world. Normally a presenter lectures the audience. An Amazon lecturer is no longer verbally “pushing” communication to the audience; instead the content is “pushed” through the narrative, and then readers can “pull” knowledge from the presenter with informed questions. This creates high rates of learning compared to the traditional model.

It seems that a flipped meeting is effective based on Amazon’s stock price and global reach. But could such a meeting work outside the confines of Silicon Valley boardrooms? Would a bunch of flight-suit wearing naval aircrew be receptive to something so far from the norm?

That Awkward Silence

My unsuspecting teammates filtered in and took seats at the conference table. I hadn’t posted “Amazon-Style Flipped Meeting” on the flight schedule because I thought it might create some sort of bias or discourage full attendance. I simply listed the topic: “Squadron Innovation Culture Workshop.” This subject especially lent itself to a flipped meeting because it was difficult to summarize our squadron’s innovation culture in a deck of PowerPoint slides. 

The junior officers filled the dead space before the kick off with the usual banter and jokes. I noticed several check the clock and glance toward the powered-down and blank presentation screen as I passed out copies of the six-page narrative I’d spent the previous week perfecting. It was apparent that several were wondering why there was no laptop connected and no PowerPoint. 

The top of the hour arrived and people started leafing through the document. We were still missing two important players who I knew had planned on attending.  I decided to give them the usual five-minute grace period in a normal day filled with other tasks and meetings. One finally arrived, so I ventured out to the office of the last straggler, one of my fellow department heads. I told him we were about to start, but he was justifiably delayed in the midst of “putting out a fire” with an urgent travel issue requiring his attention. “I’ll be there in a few!”  I knew he probably thought he could catch up with the PowerPoint when he walked in. “We can wait a couple minutes more for you before we start off…” I offered.  “No, go ahead.  I’ll be down there soon.”

I returned to the assembled group and quickly explained the flipped meeting, the “study hall” reading and the 20 minutes of silence. Everyone nodded in agreement and began. The most awkward part for me was the wait. In this context, 20 minutes felt like an eternity. I already knew the narrative well as the organizer and author. I read through it again while I scanned the faces of my coworkers as they made notes or flipped pages. I found a couple of punctuation errors that I had missed. And then I waited.

The most interesting thing was the late arrival of the last participant 10 minutes into the study hall. He was a bit confused to walk into a room of us all sitting there silently with no PowerPoint in sight. He then tried to catch up on reading the narrative. In the future to help all attendees get the highest rates of learning, I think it would be best to notify everyone in advance it will be a flipped meeting and that study hall will start on time.

Next, I facilitated the discussion. At first people were hesitant to express their opinions, but after a few questions by some of the other forward-leaning members of our squadron, we were well on our way to a 40-minute co-working session. By the tail of the hour the discussion was going strong and we could have continued for another thirty minutes. We decided on a collective course of action to take on the meeting’s topic and agreed on another future meeting.

“PowerPoint Makes Us Stupid.” -Gen. James N. Mattis, USMC, 2010

The backlash against PowerPoint is well documented.  This repository of articles compiled by Small Wars Journal counts more than twenty leading media or blog examinations of the detrimental effects of its use. Many leaders like the now-retired General Mattis either loathe it or outright ban it; others see it as a necessary evil.

Reporter Elisabeth Bumiller’s piece about the U.S. military’s use of the program in the New York Times in 2010, titled “We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint,” seems to foreshadow the rise of Bezos’ corporate use of the flipped meeting: 

Commanders say that the slides impart less information than a five-page paper can hold, and that they relieve the briefer of the need to polish writing to convey an analytic, persuasive point. Imagine lawyers presenting arguments before the Supreme Court in slides instead of legal briefs.

The most compelling defenses I’ve heard for military innovation do not involve completely new ideas or inventions. Instead they focus on finding creative best practices in sometimes-unexpected places that could be applied to military problems. Maybe “flipped meetings” won’t catch on to replace old methods completely, but they could become one tool for leaders to use when an occasional respite is needed from the groundhog-day-monotony of PowerPoint briefings.

I would encourage other leaders to challenge the status quo in your unit’s meetings. These resources by Fred Zimmerman and Walter Chen can guide you to figure out how to best write your own flipped meeting narrative.

There are myriad other ways to shake up a meeting, like using the “design thinking” approach or an organizational retreat made famous in Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The solution you use will depend heavily on the topic and purpose of the meeting. For example, it is difficult and counterproductive to attempt to give chart-centric “course rules” brief using thousands of written words when visual aids are most appropriate. Even if your first instinct is to use PowerPoint because of the visual nature of the topic, there are several alternative programs like Prezi or Haiku Deck that could bring extra engagement to your audience. The most important concept to remember is that PowerPoint is just a tool, not something good or bad. We need to focus as leaders on using whatever the appropriate tool is for the specific job, not simply revert to the familiar tool just because it is habitual or easy.

Gap Analysis

So how did my flipped meeting experiment match up to what I thought would happen when I postulated the solution? I think it was worthwhile and I’m looking forward to doing it again. I wasn’t laughed out of the squadron or told by my bosses to go back to exclusively PowerPoint meetings. I saw the light in several of my coworkers’ eyes (despite some initial uncertainty) as they scribbled on parts of the narrative and debated sections they had pulled from it. We had an in-depth discussion about our innovation culture that could have been brought about with a PowerPoint brief instead of the “study hall,” but the discussion would have been less nuanced and with less time to collaborate. Usually presentations are designed for 45 minutes with 15 minutes of questions and discussion at the end. We invested 20 minutes up front during the flipped meeting to silently immerse in the topic, leaving us more than double the discussion and co-working time.

The flipped meeting can’t be considered a complete success, though, until we are achieving high learning rates from our gatherings on a consistent basis, no matter what tool is used to get there. If I started a conversation or sparked an idea in the wardroom, it was worth it. 

Every meeting I’ve gone to since, I enter the room and look at the briefer, the table and the wall. One of these days there will be no PowerPoint and a stack of six-page narratives waiting for me to pick up. Here’s to “study hall!”

Jared Wilhelm is a U.S. Navy officer and Maritime Patrol Instructor Pilot with experience in four operational theaters flying the P-3C Orion. He is a passionate writer focused on innovation and meaningful reform, all to help maintain the U.S. military’s superiority over adversaries in the short and long term. He served in Argentina as an Olmsted Scholar from 2014-2016 and won the U.S. Naval Institute’s 2015 General Prize Essay Contest. He is a Department of Defense Spanish linguist who holds masters degrees from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School (Systems Engineering and Analysis) and the U.S. Naval War College (National Security and Strategic Studies), as well as a B.S. in Systems Engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy. The opinions expressed are his alone and do not reflect the official position of any other entity or organization.

Featured Image:  U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jackie Hart.

Distributed Lethality: Old Opportunities for New Operations

Distributed Lethality Topic Week

By Matthew Hipple

The BISMARCK, a single ship capable of striking fear into the heart of an entire nation.
The BISMARCK, a single ship whose threat was sufficient to muster an entire fleet for the hunt.

The essence of naval warfare has always been opportunism – from the vague area of gravity generated by an in-port “fleet in being,” to the fleet-rallying threat generated by even a BISMARK or RANGER alone. The opportunity is generated by forces more mobile and self-contained than any army, more persistent than an air force, and empowered to act with no connection to higher authority in a domain that leaves no trace.  It is that ability for a small number of independent ships, or even a single vessel, to provide opportunity and create, “battlespace complexity,” that is distributed lethality’s core. Distributed lethality is not naval warfighting by new principles; it is a return to principles.

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The best defense is not an overwhelming obsession with defense.
The best defense is not an overwhelming obsession with defense.

Unfortunately, the virtuous autonomy of the past was, in part, only protected by the limited technology of the day. As technology allowed, decentralized execution was replaced by the luxury and false confidence of constant connection to higher authority through an electronic umbilical. It is the kind of devolution that turned into Secretary Gates’ nightmare, “I was touring a [Joint Special Operations Command] in Kabul and discovered a direct line to somebody on the NSC, and I had them tear it out while I was standing there.” In parallel, America began the ahistorical project of investing all offensive opportunity not even in a single class of ship, but a single ship surrounded by a fleet obsessed with its defense.  As early as 1993, President Clinton stated that when a crisis broke out, his first question would be, “where is the nearest carrier.” Sorry, other ships! For the Navy to sensibly rebalance, distributed lethality must succeed. For distributed lethality to succeed, we must decentralize and de-tether mission command, weapons release authority, and weapons support systems.

Decentralized and disconnected methods of command must be embraced, as centralization is only an imagined luxury. Modern centralization is based on the assumption we will have the connectivity appropriate for it. This is no longer tenable in a world of increasingly advanced peers and hyundaized lesser adversaries. Anti-Access, Area-Denial (A2/AD) depends on opponents making themselves visible, of which electronic emission is critical. A2/AD will also inevitably seek to disrupt our C2 connections.

doyle-dday
“Permission? We don’t need no stinkin’ permissions.” “The Battle for Fox Green Beach,” watercolor by Dwight Shepler, showing the Gleaves class destroyer USS Emmons(DD 457) foreground and her sister-ship, the USS Doyle, to the right, within a few hundred yards of the landing beach, mixing it up with German shore batteries on D-Day.

The current major-node CWC concept will need to be broken down to a more compact, internal model designed around the Hunter Killer Surface Action Group. Rules of Engagement must be flexible to the point that American commanders need not look over their shoulders to a higher OPCON. Consider, the destroyer CO’s at Normandy didn’t consider waiting for direction or requesting approval before shifting from small boat screening to shore bombardment from the shoals. They recognized the opportunity – the necessity – and executed of their own will.

In contrast, today it might be a regular occurrence to double-and-triple check our actions with American OPCON while operating with NATO in TACON off Somalia. American CO’s could use the freedom to make pragmatic, on-the-spot decisions not only for immediate concerns of mission effectiveness, but as representatives of their higher military command and, potentially, the state. Coalition commanders would have greater trust in the spot decisions of their American counterparts, rather than worry they sit precariously atop a changing several-step staffing process.

Though encouraging equivalent RoE flexibility for coalition partners may be challenging, our autonomy may encourage our partners to interpret their home nation guidance in a flexibility equivalent to their trust in the US commander they fight beside. That lack of hesitancy will be critical during a conflict, and in that sudden moment in the South China Sea or Mediterranean when a small SAG of coalition partners find themselves in the midst of a conflict that has just begun. Imposing the peacetime discipline necessary to trust the CO’s we have trained, prepared, and empowered to do their jobs is the only thing that will jump-start a shift in a mind-set now dominated by subordination. 

In the execution of more flexible orders, ships must be re-invested with control of their own weapon systems. CO’s oversee non-nuclear weapon systems that they do not control – that are solely the purview of off-ship authorities. In particular, as weapon systems like Tomahawk become deployable for ASuW, off-ship authority’s iron grip on their control must break.  This decentralization also matters outside the stand-up fight at sea. The organic ability to program and deploy Tomahawk missiles for land strike allows surface ships to execute attacks of opportunity on land infrastructure, or execute and support opportunistic maritime raids as groups of marines harass adversaries, or turn isolated islands into temporary logistics or aviation operations bases. For winning the sudden-and-deadly fight in the littoral environment but integrating with opportunistic amphibious operations, the surface fleet could find some inspiration from the USS BARB, the only submarine in WWII to “sink” a train with its crew-come-amateur-commandos. From Somalia to the South China Sea, naval commanders should be told what to do, not how – and be allowed to do it. The less reliant the force is on these ephemeral links and the less these links are unnecessarily exercised in peacetime, the greater a force’s instinct to operate independently and with confidence in an imposed or needed silence. 

CAPT Ramius, relieved to discover he is not dealing with "some buckaroo."
CAPT Ramius, relieved to discover he is not dealing with “some buckaroo.”

There may be a level of discomfort with decentralization and disconnection. If leaders fear the impact of a “strategic corporal,” surely a “buckaroo,” as  CAPT Ramius would call him, that would be truly horrifying. That fear would be a reflection of a failure of the system to produce leaders, not the importance and operational effectiveness of independence. There is a reason the US once considered the Department of the Navy to be separate and peer to the Department of War – noting the institution and its individual commanders as unique peace and wartime tools for strategic security and diplomacy. Compare today’s autonomy and trust with that invested in Commodore Perry during his mission to Japan or Commodore Preble’s mission to seek partnership with Naples during the First Barbary Pirates War. Reliance on call-backs and outside authority will gut a naval force’s ability to operate in a distributed manner when those connections disappear. Encouraging it by default will ensure the muscle memory is there when needed.

Finally, Distributed Lethality requires the hardware to allow surface combatants to operate as effective offensive surface units in small groups. The kinetic end of the spectrum, upgraded legacy weapons and an introduction of new weapon systems has been extensively discussed since the 2015 Surface Navy Association National Symposium when VADM Rowden and RADM Fanta rolled out Distributed Lethality in force. However, weapon systems are only as good as the available detection systems. Current naval operations rely heavily on shore-based assets, assets from the carrier, and joint assets for reconnaissance. In the previous Distributed Lethality topic week, LT Glynn argued for a suite of surveillance assets, some organic to individual ships, but most deploying from the shore or from carriers.  Presuming a denied environment, and commanders empowered to seek and exploit opportunities within their space, the best argument would be for greater emphasis on ship-organic assets. They may not provide the best capabilities, but capabilities are worthless if assets cannot find, reach, or communicate with a Hunter-Killer SAG operating in silence imposed by self or the enemy. They also prevent an HKSAG from being completely at the mercy or limitations of a Navy or joint asset coordinator – while simultaneously relieving those theater assets for higher-level operations and opportunity exploitation.

Ultimately – distributed lethality is the historical default mode of independent naval operations given a new name due to the strength of the current carrier-based operational construct. Admiral Halsey ordered CAPT Arleigh Burke to intercept a Japanese convoy at Bougainville, “GET ATHWART THE BUKA-RABAUL EVACUATION LINE ABOUT 35 MILES WEST OF… IF ENEMY CONTACTED YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO.” The surface fleet must embrace a culture assuming our commanders “KNOW WHAT TO DO.” We must build an operational construct in which acting on that instinct is practiced and exercised in peacetime, for wartime. The operational and diplomatic autonomy, as well as the OLD IRONSIDES style firepower of single surface combatants, is necessary to rebalance a force gutted of its many natural operational advantages. Distributed lethality must return the surface force to its cultural and operational roots of distributed autonomy, returning to the ideas that will maximize opportunity to threaten, undermine, engage with, and destroy the adversary.

Matthew Hipple is the President of CIMSEC and an active duty surface warfare officer. He also leads our Sea Control and Real Time Strategy podcasts, available on iTunes.

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