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Sustaining an Intellectual Overmatch: Management Education for Our Naval Warfighters

By Dr. Mie Augier, Major Sean F. X. Barrett, Dr. Nick Dew, and Dr. Gail Fann Thomas

“The 21st Century demands American officers be far better educated and more capable of directing and integrating the Nation’s military instrument.” –Developing Today’s Joint Officer for Tomorrow’s Ways of War1

“The challenges of the twenty first century require holistic approaches to the changing character of conflict.” –Education for Seapower2

Introduction

The Joint Chiefs of Staff’s May 2020 vision and guidance for Professional Military Education (PME) and talent management states, “There is more to sustaining a competitive advantage than acquiring hardware; we must gain and sustain an intellectual overmatch as well.”3 Developing flexible, agile minds was also a major theme a century ago in the Knox-King-Pye report, which helped the Navy steer away from an earlier technical education focus and toward broader skills that helped produce the ideas and leaders that proved critical in WWII.

Fast forward 100 years, and we have reached another inflection point. Numerous studies point to a geostrategic environment that has shifted radically in the past decade toward a future that is filled with uncertainty. The Navy and Marine Corps have realized that key aspects of our institutions, war planning, training, education, and resource management are inadequate to deter and, if necessary, win against our adversaries when the situation arises.

We should look at how management education, with its interdisciplinary and integrative focus, is an essential tool for developing future naval warfighters who have the skills to draw out peak performance from personnel and maximize the effectiveness of a wide range of naval organizations.4 Most people know from personal experience the difference that excellent management makes to organizational performance. A recent study shows that workers who moved from an average boss to a high-quality boss improved their productivity by 50 percent.5 Leaders with high-quality management skills can really make an impact. And while the context of management varies, the practice of management across a broad range of situations fundamentally requires a similar set of core skills.6 Given the need for the Navy team to perform at its peak under challenging circumstances, the Navy would be well-served by incorporating more management education into PME for both officers and enlisted sailors.

The Human Element in High-Performance Organizations

Our naval forces do not operate in a vacuum and are oftentimes nudged by larger economic and societal trends. Therefore, it is worth looking briefly at some general trends in U.S. management before turning to what specifically might be relevant to defense management.

Industries throughout the U.S. have been grappling with issues similar to those facing the naval services. Technology is changing faster and faster. Attracting, engaging, and retaining top talent is an unrelenting task. In response to these challenges, corporations have recognized the need to create learning organizations that support high performance. Evidence of these issues in the Navy is apparent in recently retired Vice Admiral Luke McCollum’s 2018 report in response to the 2017 U.S. Navy ship collisions. The report, Industry Best Practices & Learning Culture – The Competitive Advantage of a Learning Culture, provided a series of findings after surveying 30 Navy-relevant corporations to learn how they build and sustain high-performing organizations. Human factors topped the list. 

The most important component of building a learning culture is inculcating these “human factors” into the organization. High-performance and mission effectiveness are dependent on the humanistic aspects of employees, teams, and leaders. This people-centric perspective dominates high-performing organizations.7

This human-oriented theme has long been recognized by our naval leaders. Admiral Arleigh Burke clearly understood the importance of developing the Navy’s leaders:

“There is one element in the profession of arms that transcends all others in importance; this is the human element. No matter what the weapons of the future may be, no matter how they are to be employed in war or international diplomacy, man will still be the most important factor in naval operations.”8

More recently, the Joint Chiefs emphasized the human factor in their May 2020 report:

“All graduates must possess critical and creative thinking skills, emotional intelligence, and effective written, verbal and visual communication skills to support the development and implementation of strategies and complex operations.”9

Given the centrality of the human element to our naval success, we must understand how to manage it well. This involves a shift in the kinds of skills, capabilities, attitudes, and values at the center of PME. Two central issues stand out.

An increasing need for generalist skills in an uncertain world. In his book, Range, David Epstein claims that cognitive flexibility is increasingly important in today’s world. Training in specific tools and techniques is efficient for mastering repetitive, well-structured problems. However, a world full of uncertainty, ambiguity, and ill-structured problems requires more diverse skills and knowledge (i.e., range and flexibility). Cognitive flexibility manifests in the ability to transfer knowledge between domains and apply knowledge to new situations, which is increasingly important in today’s specialized world. Teaching broad concepts rather than specific information is more advantageous to developing this ability, as well as instilling a broad intellectual preparedness and the ability for ongoing learning. Warfighters need to learn how to think rather than what to think about. As the Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon cautioned, “What we must avoid above all is designing technologically sophisticated hammers and then wandering around to find nails that we can hit with them.”10 An ability to think abstractly can be capitalized on across a range of problems as opposed to specific skills that are limited to particular types of problems. Thus, instruction focused on helping students make connections is more conducive to learning and later achievement than focusing on formulas and procedures.11 Such skills are very relevant to warfighters where there is a high need for flexibility and taking initiative in executing operational orders.

An explicit focus on soft skills. Operating effectively in a world in which technology has connected individuals and organizations more than ever requires warfighters with sophisticated soft skills in addition to technological expertise. The President of the Naval Postgraduate School, Vice Admiral Ann E. Rondeau, USN (ret.), explains, “Employers today require the whole package when looking for people to hire and join their teams… They want individuals who have developed intangible skills not necessarily listed as part of a certificate or degree.”12 Today’s reality requires warfighters to have the soft skills necessary to manage organizational ecosystems where leaders do not necessarily wield formal authority but instead must build mutually aligned communities. As Richard Straub writes in the June 2019 Harvard Business Review, “To succeed in the era of platforms and partnerships, managers will need to change practice on many levels…Both practitioners and scholars can begin by dispensing with mechanistic, industrial-age models of inputs, processes, and outputs. They will have to take a more dynamic, organic, and evolutionary view of how organizations’ capacities grow and can be cultivated.”13 Soft skills have thus emerged as a key requirement for managing the performance of ecosystems of organizations.”14

By identifying the Navy’s requirements for high-quality management skills among its warfighters, we can invest in PME that equips naval warfighters with the skills they really need to lead a wide range of naval organizations to high performance.

Management Education for Seapower

Given the need for superior generalist and soft skills to match the challenges of the strategic environment the Navy faces, management education provides many key opportunities for warfighters to develop the right intellectual abilities. Some of the most relevant themes and approaches include the following:

Educating minds to be prepared for the unexpected. Retired Admiral Mike Mullen, who spoke at the Naval Postgraduate School’s first virtual SECNAV Guest Lecture, stated, “We live now in a tremendous time of great uncertainty and even greater ambiguity. We’re facing and will face a completely new, and in many ways unknown, reality where nothing will be the same in the future.”15 Management approaches and education can help in this instance. Management education is centrally concerned with anticipating and adapting to change. It develops proactive problem-solving skills. While the ability to analyze known problems using optimizing techniques has a place, it is important for the Navy also to focus on developing warfighters with skills in thinking through ambiguous and changing situations.16

Leading warfighting organizations to become more agile through change and transformation. In their May 2020 report, the Joint Chiefs observed, “We cannot simply rely upon mass or the best technology…Our job is to learn how to apply our capabilities better and more creatively.”17 Admiral Mullen similarly emphasized the importance of leading change.18 However, change is not easy. For example, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted in his memoir, Duty, that the greatest challenge he faced was changing organizations. Any change, to be effective, must be understood and communicated by people to be implemented in our organizations. In the DoD, this becomes even more complicated because it involves government civilians, military personnel, and contractors, and requires leading across generational divides and a diverse workforce. Given these complexities, warfighters need to use evidence-based approaches on how to best lead change.19

Excelling in communication skills. An intelligent workforce knows how to communicate clearly. Kline’s “Owl Speaks to Lion” humorously describes the detrimental results when an analyst does not know how to translate his findings adequately for the vice admiral who requires the results to make an important decision. Such skills are taught and honed over time and experience. One critical communication skill that must be fostered is writing. The writing process hones one’s thinking and helps one discover the real problem, define the root causes of the problem, and describe the costs and benefits of various courses of action.20

Building exemplary people skills. As the Department of the Navy’s Education for Seapower report explains, “[N]aval leaders must be just as ready to…solve a social problem below decks or in the platoon” as they are “to move against the enemy.”21 Research shows that emotional intelligence, coaching, and feedback upward, downward, and horizontally are key to high performing organizations. And these skills are not “one and done.” Each level of leadership presents new challenges concerning the types and complexity of the problems encountered and the number of people one leads. Social skills are developmental and change over the life of the leader. Additionally, there is evidence that leaders’ skills are directly related to retention. Most have heard the adage, “Employees don’t leave their organization; they leave their managers.”22 Good bosses not only contribute to the high performance of their employees but also increase employee retention because workers quit bad bosses.23

Understanding the influence of cultures. Complementary to (but different from) traditional international relations approaches, management and leadership education emphasize understanding how culture influences decision-making and how it affects collaboration. This is increasingly important to warfighters in an era featuring more and more “shared responsibility for security with other nations,” wherein “[s]trong global relationships and defense partnerships help mitigate the risks of…unpredictability.”24 Greater mutual understanding and mutual trust has enormous practical value in operational environments.

Developing meaningful organizational leadership skills. Vice Admiral Rondeau notes the essential connection between leaders and their organizations: “Leaders set the tone for the culture of their organizations. Meaning of the community, no matter how defined, becomes essential for interconnectedness, for bonding, and for understanding. It all has to do with the relationship between the organization and the individual.”25 The Navy’s PME institutions are uniquely positioned to develop warfighter skills in how to communicate and build essential interconnections using best practices from both civilian and military approaches to leadership development.

Building historical understanding to be decisive in the future. In an operational environment featuring a lack of combat deployments, we must increasingly turn to history to learn vicariously through others. The first President of Marine Corps University, Lieutenant General Paul K. Van Riper, USMC (ret.), reflected, “I wanted to impart a simple lesson: a properly schooled officer never arrives on a battlefield for the first time, even if he has never actually trod the ground, if that officer has read wisely to acquire the wisdom of those who have experienced war in times past.”26 A champion of PME throughout his career in Congress, Representative Ike Skelton also recognized the importance of an appreciation for history: “I cannot stress this enough because a solid foundation in history gives perspective to the problems of the present. And a solid appreciation of history…will prepare students for the future.”27 Management education has long championed these kinds of vicarious learning through the extensive use of case studies. The case study approach heightens students’ sensitivity to history, context, and the particulars of a wide variety of situations. It gives warfighters a reservoir of examples to draw on as they face an unpredictable future.28

These elements of management education can help naval warfighters improve their personal performance and create a higher-performing Navy team that is better positioned to cope with the unpredictability of the future operating environment. In an era when investment dollars are at a premium, these management skills should be emphasized to a greater extent in PME because they provide high return on the Navy’s investments. Management skills can be applied across a wide range of situations and roles, and they typically stay relevant longer than technical skills. Management skills are particularly valuable for warfighters that advance into higher-level positions that usually involve more complex organizational and leadership challenges, and less technical know-how.29 A recent study by Harvard economists David Deming and Kadeem Noray puts it this way:

“[High]-ability workers choose STEM careers initially, but exit them over time…[This] is explained by differences across fields in the relative return to on-the-job learning. High ability workers are faster learners in all jobs. However, the relative return to ability is higher in careers that change less because learning gains accumulate”(emphasis added).30

Return on investment explains why management degrees (principally MBAs) dominate lists of the most popular graduate degrees, since individuals know that as their careers advance, the returns on graduate education favor developing strong management skills.31 Investing in management know-how is also less risky than investing in technical knowledge because the general applicability of management skills means they never abruptly go out of fashion.

Conclusion

“Whoever can make and implement his decisions consistently faster gains a tremendous, often decisive advantage. Decision making thus becomes a time-competitive process, and timeliness of decisions becomes essential to generating tempo. Timely decisions demand rapid thinking, with consideration limited to essential factors. We should spare no effort to accelerate our decision-making ability.” –FMFM 132

The changing geostrategic landscape demands changes in the skillsets of our naval leaders. Because of rapid advancements in technology, the human element will play an increasingly important factor in future operating environments. While tactical naval warfighters need to be technically savvy, operational-level warfighters must excel in the managerial skills needed to get peak performance out of the human element. Fundamentally, this is a general management challenge that applies across a wide range of Navy organizations. The Education for Seapower study and strategy, and the remarks of our naval leaders highlight that this entails a paradigm shift in our approach to PME. The Navy should invest more in management education to develop the intellectual and practical competencies required for excellence in naval warfighting.

Dr. Mie Augier is a professor in the Graduate School of Defense Management at the Naval Postgraduate School and a Founding Member of the Naval Warfare Studies Institute (NWSI). She is interested in strategy, organizations, innovation, leadership, and how to educate strategic and innovative thinkers.

Major Sean F. X. Barrett is an active duty Marine Corps intelligence officer. He is currently the operations officer for the Headquarters Marine Corps Directorate of Analytics & Performance Optimization.

Dr. Nick Dew is a professor at the Graduate School of Defense Management at the Naval Postgraduate School. His research is focused on entrepreneurial thinking and innovation in defense organizations.

Dr. Gail Fann Thomas is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Defense Management at the Naval Postgraduate School. Her research focus is strategic communication and interorganizational collaboration.

References

1. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Developing Today’s Joint Officers for Tomorrow’s Ways of War: The Joint Chiefs of Staff Vision and Guidance for Professional Military Education & Talent Management, (Washington, DC: 2020), 2.

2. Department of the Navy, Education for Seapower (Washington, DC: 2019), 37.

3. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Developing Today’s Joint Officers, 2.

4. We acknowledge the difference between management and leadership. Both can be learned and contribute to peak performance for naval officers. See, for example, Bernard Bass, The Bass Handbook of Leadership:  Theory, Research, and Managerial Applications (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010); John Kotter, “What Leaders Really Do,” Harvard Business Review (Dec. 2001): 2; Abraham Zaleznik, “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?” Harvard Business Review (Jan. 2004): 1.

5. Kathryn L. Shaw, Bosses Matter: The Effects of Managers on Workers’ Performance: What Evidence Exists on Whether Bad Bosses Damage Workers’ Performance, Issue 456 (Bonn, Germany: IZA World of Labor, 2019).

6. Shaw, Bosses Matter.

7. Luke M. McCollum, Chief of Naval Reserve, Report on Engagement With Industry and the Competitive Advantage of Learning Culture, submitted to Secretary of the Navy, December 26, 2018.

8. As quoted in Rear Admiral P. Gardner Howe III, “Professionalism, Leader Development Key to Future,” Navy News Service, May 26, 2015, https://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=87319.

9. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Developing Today’s Joint Officers, 4.

10. Herbert A. Simon, “What We Know About Learning,” Journal of Engineering Education 87, no. 4 (Oct. 1998): 346.

11. David Epstein, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (New York: Riverhead Books, 2019).

12. Anne Rondeau, “Gen Eds – Are They Worth It?” HuffPost, March 29, 2017, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/gen-eds-are-they-worth-it_b_58dbc980e4b0f087a3041ea4.

13. Richard Straub, “What Management Needs to Become in an Era of Ecosystems,” Harvard Business Review, June 5, 2019, https://hbr.org/2019/06/what-management-needs-to-become-in-an-era-of-ecosystems.

14. Such soft skills include communication, teamwork and interpersonal skills, critical thinking, and problem-solving capability in complex, multidisciplinary situations. Casciaro, Edmondson, and Jang note that “the vast majority of innovation and business development opportunities lie in the interfaces between functions, offices, or organizations.” Similarly, Hagel and Brown observe the “productive friction” that results from transactions between companies. Strong interpersonal skills are needed for these results to manifest themselves. See Tiziana Casciaro, Amy C. Edmondson, and Sujin Jang, “Cross-Silo Leadership: How to Create More Value by Connecting Experts from Inside and Outside the Organization,” Harvard Business Review (May-June 2019): 132; John Hagel III and John Seely Brown, “Difficult Business Partnerships Can Accelerate Innovation,” Harvard Business Review (Feb. 2005), https://hbr.org/2005/02/productive-friction-how-difficult-business-partnerships-can-accelerate-innovation.

15. Admiral Mike Mullen, USN(ret.), “SECNAV Guest Lecture” (lecture, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, May 19, 2020).

16. In the context of business, Jeff Bezos notes, “For every leader in the company, not just for me, there are decisions that can be made by analysis…These are the best kinds of decisions! They’re fact-based decisions. The great thing about fact-based decisions is that they overrule the hierarchy. The most junior person in the company can win an argument with the most senior person with a fact-based decision. Unfortunately, there’s this whole other set of decisions that you can’t ultimately boil down to a math problem.” As quoted in Bernard Girard, The Google Way: how One Company Is Revolutionizing Management As We Know It (San Francisco, CA: No Starch Press, Inc., 2009), 118.

17. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Developing Today’s Joint Officers, 3.

18. Michael Mullen, “Admiral Michael Mullen: Wharton Leadership Lecture,” October 27, 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OD7AfDQhZbw.

19. Jeroen Stouten, Denise M. Rousseau, and David De Cremer, “Successful Organizational Change: Integrating the Management Practices and Scholarly Literatures,” Academy of Management Annals 12, no. 2 (2018): 752-788.

20. Carol Bekenkotter, “Writing and Problem Solving,” in Language Connections: Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, eds. T. Fulwiler and A. Young (Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1982), 33-44.

21. Education for Seapower, 15.

22. Lori Goler, Janelle Gale, Brynn Harrington, and Adam Grant, “Why People Really Quit Their Jobs,” Harvard Business Review, January 11, 2018, https://hbr.org/2018/01/why-people-really-quit-their-jobs.

23. Shaw, Bosses Matter.

24. Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly, “SECNAV VECTOR 8,” January 24, 2020.

25. Ann E. Rondeau, “Identity in the Profession of Arms,” Joint Force Quarterly, no. 62 (3rd Quarter 2011): 11.

26. Paul K. Van Riper, “The Relevance of History to the Military Profession: An American Marine’s View,” in The Past As Prologue: The Importance of History to the Military Profession, eds. Williamson Murray and Richard Hart Sinnreich (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 53.

27. Ike Skelton, “JPME: Are We There Yet?” Military Review 72, no. 5 (May 1992): 2-9.

28. This is complementary to a pure war college perspective in that it blends history with organizations and a strategic lens and is thus more broadly applicable and provides greater understanding for students who can learn from the process of developing and applying analogies to different contexts.

29. See, for example, a survey of Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumni, in National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, The Integration of the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Higher Education: Branches from the Same Tree (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2018), 44-45.

30. David J. Deming and Kadeem Noray, “STEM Careers and the Changing Skill Requirements of Work,” Working Paper (June 2019), 3, https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/ddeming/files/dn_stem_june2019.pdf.

31. For example, see “Most Popular Graduate Degrees,” Master’s Programs Guide, accessed May 26, 2020, https://www.mastersprogramsguide.com/rankings/popular-masters-degrees/.

32. U.S. Marine Corps, FMFM 1: Warfighting (Washington, DC: 1989), 69.

Featured Image: Facilities of the U.S. Naval War College (U.S. Navy Photo by Jaima Fogg/Released)

Innovative Thinking: The Role of Professional Military Education

By Mie Augier and Wayne Hughes

“The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”1

– Variously attributed to Thucydides and 19th Century British General Sir Wm. F. Butler

Introduction

Last year we reflected on the topic of innovation in military organizations,and hinted at the roles of education in developing strategic leaders of adaptive organizations. In the light of current debates and senior DoD/DoN emphasis on education and critical and strategic thinking (including recent Navy initiatives and the newly released Education for Seapower report), here we elaborate on some aspects of the role of professional military education in more detail.3 

Our military organizations must organize for innovation and adaptiveness such as recognizing disruptive ideas and preserving innovators who learn from failures. This emphasis has important educational dimensions: Our educational institutions must nurture and support the kind of thinking so central to any adaptive organization.

Two of the most important roles of education are to help students learn how to think, not what to think, and appreciate that learning is a lifetime activity. Fostering innovative thinking and broad understanding will help them adapt to (and shape) the future as well as fight smart if conflict breaks out. Our PME institutions can learn from their own pasts in thinking about how to educate future strategic leaders. In addition, we now have key strategic documents (National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and the Education for Sea-power report) that PME institutions can orient toward when revising their educational programs and research to help undergird the national strategy in the future.

The Past as Prologue: Lessons from PME Institutional History

“War colleges … broaden the intellectual and military horizons of the officers who attend, so that they have a conception of the larger strategic and operational issues that confront our military and our nation.”4

– Admiral Stansfield Turner

“History for history’s sake is of no value to us. What is of value is the ability of our faculty to use whatever is necessary to educate officers to solve complex problems, manage change, and execute their decisions. This demands an extraordinary degree of mental flexibility and intellectual agility on the part of our faculty, whether they come from the world of practitioners or from the more traditional academic environment.”5

-VADM Ronald Route, former president of the Naval War College, 2004

Our PME institutions have rich histories and there is much to learn from studying them and incorporating them into our education.6 A major lesson is the tension between emphasizing “ready now” and “educate for future environments.” Such tensions also exist in other professions and professional schools; Herbert Simon saw the problem as one that needed constant attention because it involves integrating different (and sometimes opposing) forces, like mixing and stirring oil and water.7 Medical schools educate for medical practice while also doing fundamental research to improve the broad knowledge central to the future of the medical profession. The two sides – rigor and relevance – should not be thought of as opposites, but instead must be seen as two sides of the same coin when dealing with professional military education in order to facilitate interdisciplinary, empirically driven insights and understandings, concepts, and practice. Such integration can be achieved through emphasizing thinking and judgement. We need officers and enlisted to be able to conceptualize competition, conflict, and battle with active and open minds.

A brief overview of some major events in the institutional history of PME will be helpful:

PME began in Europe but by the late 19th Century it came to the U.S. with the founding of the Naval War College (1880). The establishment of the Army War College (1901) and Naval Postgraduate School (1909) helped channel the educational upgrading of officers.8 For instance, the first NWC president, Stephen B. Luce, saw his institution as a “place of original research on all questions relating to war, and to statesmanship connected with war, or the prevention of war.” Its early curriculum combined intellectual rigor and practical relevance.

Changes in the 1980s and 90s were fostered by the Goldwater Nichols Act and the Skelton Panel. The Skelton panel in particular recommended that despite finding many courses and programs and faculties to be “excellent,” “the existing PME system must be improved to meet the needs of the modern profession at arms.” Ike Skelton saw officer learning and education as a lifelong process, and that studying military history was central to it.9 The report’s recommendations included upgrading the quality of civilian and military faculty and improving thinking and jointness.

Each PME school evolved and adapted differently to societal and institutional changes. General Van Riper describes how the Marine Corps, led by the Commandant General Gray, underwent a comprehensive transformation to reemphasize education, including reading and learning outside one’s specialty, and building strategic and critical thinking into the organization.10 Gray noted the importance of ideas over rank or titles in the debates, aiming to instill in young Marines the courage to think differently, and to learn from failures, not fear them.11 Gray’s educational vision also led to the founding of the Marine Corps University, intended to emphasize thinking and judgment. The recent Education for Seapower report fittingly begins with a quote from General Gray, and it also notes the importance of his educational efforts as relevant today.

We mention this not to show that all was great in the past but to indicate that there is much we can learn from institutional experiences in focusing on the future. With this in mind, here are two observations to aid educating and retaining innovative thinkers:

  • There was room for innovative and strategic thinkers in the past in our PME institutions; both from inside and outside the system (without trying to imitate businesses such as Google). For example, John Boyd’s “Patterns” briefings as well as Bill Lind’s efforts and writings influenced the development of maneuver warfare in the USMC and somewhat less directly, AirLand Battle in the Army.
  • Cultivating and retaining innovative thinking requires forceful leaders. They challenge the status quo, and are vital to an organization’s ability to adapt. They are also not always right. Creativity includes the ability to fail, and learn, and not be punished. No-defect cultures kill creative thought.12

Over time educational institutions (like all institutions and organizations as they grow and age) tend to become routinized. A culture of normalcy crowds out ideas and people that “don’t fit.” Having discussed some of the institutional aspects needed to improve education for strategic and innovative thinkers, the next section touches on some of the intellectual and methodological aspects.

Successes from the Past as Lessons for the Future

Developing active minds is best done through active learning. Mental agility is cultivated through case studies of military history and participatory learning, for instance through free-play exercises and wargames in order to help teach thinking and judgment. Case studies and gaming are examples of active learning methodologies to help students think through uncertainties and ambiguities of the future, helping to create an organizational culture for continuous innovation and adaptation in peace and in war.

Gaming helps to imagine possible futures that participants and students live through and learn from. Wargames do not produce precise predictions of what will happen, but they expose officers to similar patterns, supporting their understanding of expected or unexpected situations and their intuitive decision making. As Nimitz said about the value of wargames: “The war with Japan had been [enacted] in the game room here by so many in so many different ways that nothing … was a surprise except Kamikaze.” Nimitz said wargamed conflicts during his NWC years “more than any other experience” prepared him for wartime command; as he noted: “The enemy of our games was always Japan, and the courses were so thorough that after the start of WWII – nothing that happened in the Pacific was strange or unexpected. …I credit the Naval War College for such success I achieved in strategy and tactics in both peace and war.” There were, of course, many surprises at the operational level such as the attack on Pearl Harbor, but Nimitz wanted to emphasize how vital wargaming was to prepare the fleet to adapt to Japanese success while preparing the USN and USMC to take the offensive.

Wargames have played a crucial role in experimentation and testing new ideas without going to sea; thus they serve as a first step beyond innovative thinking toward adoption and implementation.13 Gaming and experimenting at sea both contribute to adaptiveness of military organizations, allowing them to perform with existing capabilities and learning what new ones must be added.

PME applies at all levels. Although most commentators implicitly or explicitly emphasize PME for mid-level and senior officers, professional military training and education is also important for junior officers and petty officers. By far the biggest part of CNET and the Navy training establishment is devoted to current effectiveness. Seamanship and safe navigation are an important part of the effort. We believe, however, that attention should be devoted to how to think: To stimulate curiosity, broaden minds and help develop innovative thinking to anticipate future environments of conflicts, the attributes of new enemies, and anticipated technologies to employ or confound. An advantage of training and educating the best junior officers and enlisted men is that they have not yet become encumbered by the cautiousness embedded in many senior officers. The Navy and Marine Corps must nurture innovative thinking at all levels. The graduate education program at NPS is for junior officers. Here educating for future change is an important part of education.

PME for senior officers is centered on mental activity. Combat is in the domain of physical activity. A characteristic of current combat is its very short time constant, which is wholly different from the more leisurely pace seen in strategic planning and technological development. Response to a missile attack must be almost instantaneous. Preparation for swift deployment takes thoroughness and foresight.

Because this preparation for operations in peace and war is mostly in the domain of physical activity, education extends beyond the schoolhouse. Shipboard training, wargames, and training on simulators, all can help shape the mental and intellectual ability to understand and conceptualize conflict. One of the first applications of simulations was the early development of flight trainers.

Because PME education must foster curiosity it cannot be reduced to recipes or checklists. Its benefits are often intangible—instilling attitudes of inquiry and curiosity that include:

  • The development of future strategic leaders. There is now a recognition that the education of strategic and innovative leaders is paramount. Our recent Defense Secretary James Mattis is a product of this; as General Van Riper noted, reflecting on his own time as president of MCU and the educational reforms General Gray launched “the work to overhaul professional military education continued under the sure hands of others …. Perhaps no better manifestation of the results the Commandant anticipated exist than the performance of the senior Marine commanders, Lieutenant General Jim Conway, and Major Generals Jim Mattis and Jim Amos, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.”14
  • Identifying innovative leaders. There is rarely room in large organizations to cultivate creative thinking by everyone. Some officers are better at reliable execution. It is hard for both to shine, and for leaders to become aware of the contrasting talents. PME can both help enable students to sharpen their thinking; stimulate their curiosity and creative instincts; and help them think how to use this to make their institutions more innovative, for instance through thesis work. It can also help them recognize the uses (and limitations) of analytical thinking versus critical and innovative thinking and how to apply both in appropriate ways in the strategic and operational contexts in their futures.

Having discussed some chronology and themes relevant in the past for the present debate, we turn now to a few specific actions to refocus PME toward the future.

The Education of Future Innovative and Strategic Leaders

“PME has stagnated, focused more on the accomplishment of mandatory credit at the expense of lethality and ingenuity. We will emphasize intellectual leadership and military professionalism in the art and science of warfighting, deepening our knowledge of history while embracing new technology and techniques to counter competitors. PME will emphasize independence of action in warfighting concepts to lessen the impact of degraded/lost communications in combat. PME is to be used as a strategic asset to build trust and interoperability across the Joint Forces and with allied and partner forces.”

– National Defense Strategy

Educating leaders who understand the changing challenges and can adapt to them requires an educational environment that enables growth intellectually and professionally through rigorous and relevant education and training. While the National Defense Strategy recognizes problems in current PME, it also gives us commanders intent for how to improve PME to make it a national strategic asset again. Together with the National Security strategy, as well as the Education for Seapower report, these documents provide themes and insights into the likely trends in the future security environment for our PME institutions to orient toward in both research and education. Themes should include the following elements.

Organizational adaptiveness. The ability to respond to the unexpected is central to organizational resilience (as is emphasized in the NSS). History, case studies, broad reading, and wargaming help deal with unexpected futures. Together with the cognitive and attitudinal skills needed to think critically, students will widen their horizons, learn to recognize trends, and anticipate changes in the security environment and adapt to them.

Peace through Strength. There is an emphasis in the NSS to preserve peace through strength as well as ability to achieve surprise if needed.15 Our PME institutions must teach future strategic leaders to understand how our competitors understand the world through their eyes. This often means leaving the comfort of our analytic frameworks and theories; but what we lose in analytic application, we gain in insight.

Organizational and operational capabilities. Long-lived forces must be adaptable in time of cooperation, competition, confrontation, and conflict. They must be able to confront competitors of various sizes and in various kinds of unfriendly territory. Future leaders and decision-makers must know both how to contain intense but short conventional wars as well as fight in extended, low intensity conflicts.16

Avoid over-dependence on high tech. As an example, GPS jamming is likely if we face near-peer competitors so old school tactics must be part of combat training. We must also prepare for cyber warfare. As another example, artificial intelligence will be embedded in future near-peer warfare, but its methods are best inculcated as an extension of human intellect, not a replacement for it. Third, in exploiting unmanned and robotic vehicles, high technology should be avoided when tasks can be accomplished by small, inexpensive, single-purpose units deployed in large numbers.

Heretofore we have shown ways PME rewards students. Other lessons apply to faculty activity and curriculum development. For example: interdisciplinary and holistic problem solving and collaboration is increasingly relevant (as is the need for faculty research across disciplines and departments with an eye for applying their research and teaching to issues relevant to national defense).17 This is increasingly so as the problems we confront become more complex and ill-structured (‘wicked problems,’ in the jargon of the day). Our best leaders emphasize and understand unstructured problems. Understanding them (and their possible solutions) usually entails cooperation between faculty in several departments or teams of officers from several different professional disciplines and perspectives. The emphasis on interdisciplinary research echoes insights expressed earlier by Herman Kahn, Andrew Marshall, and James Schlesinger that emphasized interdisciplinary strategic thinking with warnings against “modelism” and “toolism” approaches. They also recognized the importance of history and of educating and researching for national defense, not contributing to textbook civilian approaches.

Actions to help achieve PME Excellence

“The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”

– James Mattis

PME must foster broad thinking and encourage curiosity.18 A fundamental aim of graduate education is to provide mental frameworks that foster wide-ranging exploration, a willingness to take risks, and a resolve to learn from and overcome failures. Top Navy and Marine leadership must promote innovators in peace and war.

In addition to helping to achieve the education of innovative leaders, military education must help re-invigorate all military institutions and re-energize Service culture. PME should support the National Defense Strategy that emphasizes readiness to execute now at the same time it explores alternative futures and possible future changes. One must build forces that operate in the present, but because most Navy ships and aircraft have 25 to 40-year service lives their long-term suitability must be checked against prospective geopolitical and technological futures.

Our recent Secretary of Defense had a clear vision to foster change, providing inspiration for the decades to come. He wrote, “we must shed outdated management and acquisition practices, while adapting American industry’s best practices. Our management structures and processes are not engraved in stone” (Mattis, 2018). Military administration and educational motivations need to be as adaptive and flexible as the most successful, swiftly changing, private corporations.19

Successful education inculcates attitudes and a talent for lifelong learning. As the Education for Seapower report notes: “a most urgent national security task before us today is to intellectually prepare our leaders for … uncertainty by equipping them with a strategic framework of how to think about the future … gained through a continuous, lifelong process of learning” (p. 9).

Finally, education of our most innovative leaders is important both for executing the current national security strategy today, and for preparing future generations to adapt quickly and effectively so we won’t be caught in a catch-up mode.

Dr. Mie Augier is a professor at the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School. She is interested in strategy, organizations, innovation, leadership, and how to educate strategic and innovative thinkers.

Captain Wayne Hughes, USN (Ret.) served thirty years on active duty, commanding a minesweeper, a destroyer, and a large training command. In retirement he has taught, done research, and served as a Dean at the Naval Postgraduate School for over thirty years. He is a distinguished author of the U.S. Naval Institute.

We are grateful to VADM Ronald Route (ret.), Andrew Marshall, Chris Nelson, and General Alfred Gray for comments on early drafts, and helpful suggestions. Any remaining errors were produced without help.  

References

1 Variously attributed to Thucydides and 19th Century British General Sir Wm. F. Butler

2 See http://cimsec.org/leading-military-innovation-past-and-present/37073

3 See, for instance, “Service Leaders Rethinking Navy and Marine Corps Education” (USNI news; https://news.usni.org/2018/04/23/33115). Other recent documents discuss the need for critical thinking skills as requirement for Navy officers. We shall refrain from trying to define critical thinking here; though we do want to note the importance of not defining it as “kind of like” one’s favorite topic or approach or discipline. There are decades of research on critical thinking and how it helps facilitate learning that we respect. In the context of PME, the most important aspect of critical thinking is the ability to think critically about strategy and strategic thinkers in order to develop better leaders. General Gray’s founding of MCU (Marine Corps University) and overall vision for PME was very much in the spirit of education for critical thinking and the importance of judgment. Additionally, when applying critical and strategic thinking to educating for seapower it is essential to not just ‘import’ a civilian approach and/or study well structured problems (Van Riper has elaborated on this).

4 Cited in Sinnrich & Murray (eds): The Past is Prologue (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 9.

5 Naval War College Review, 2004.

6 Many of those echoes of past debates are as relevant now as ever. For instance, Scales; question on ‘are we too busy to learn’ (USNI Proceedings, Feb 10, 2010), and his recent book, “Scales on War”, also taking on important discussions on the human dimension in war.

7 See, Herbert A Simon (1967): The Business School: A problem of Organizational Design. Journal of Management Studies.

8 Our PME institutions have not been without flaws; sometimes too drawn to the lure of the individual disciplines (which, as Andrew Marshall reminds us, can produce “trained incapacity” for strategic and innovative thinking). Another danger (which Scales reminded us in his piece ‘too busy to learn’) is that war is “not a science project”; calling attention to the need behavioral and social science in thinking about war and conflict (also see Scales, “On War” book for elaboration).

9 Skelton said: “It is a process of education, study, reading and thinking that should continue throughout an entire military career. Yes, tactical proficiency is very important, but so too is strategic vision. That can only come after years of careful reading, study, reflection, and experience”.

10 Paul K. Van Riper (2006): The relevance of history to the military profession: An American Marine’s view. In Murray and Sinnreich (eds) (2006): The Past as Prologue: The importance of history to the military profession. Cambridge: Cambridge  University Press.

11 Van Riper (2002) noted in looking back at the importance of this emphasis: “Leaders at all levels welcomed ideas; ranks of the authors of innovative notions mattered little. What counted was the ability of new thoughts to prove their merit in wide-ranking, open debates in service schools and journals” (Van Riper, “Preparing for War takes Study and open Debate”, Proceedings, Nov. 2002).

12 Another trap to avoid is excess supervision; as the Marines recognize in FMFM-1: “We cannot rightly expect our subordinates to exercise boldness and initiative in the field when they are accustomed to being over-supervised in the rear” (p. 65).

13 Though we don’t elaborate on it here, equally important as an active learning tool is case studies, as emphasized by Gen Gray, including in his upgrading of USMC education, and founding of MCU.

14Van Riper, 2006, p. 51. The emphasis on active learning and thinking is also embodied in core documents / ‘how the organization thinks’ too. E.g. “Professional Military Education is designed to develop creative, innovative leaders” (FMFM-1)

15 As noted: “China and Russia challenge American Power, influence and interests attempting to erode American security and prosperity. … at the same time, dictatorships of DPRK and Iran are determined to destabilize religions, threaten American people and our allies, and brutalize their own people”.

16 There is a need to think about the possible big changes coming, not just militarily but the larger shift towards Asia in terms of economies. Another possible big change is the likely far away areas of possible conflict (further away than Europe was our earlier focus), together with possible widespread use of anti ship ground based missiles. If over time, there are more areas where our surface ships will be in danger. How does that influence the balance of power between competitors, large and small?

17 At NPS, interdisciplinary problem solving and understanding is emphasized, for instance, through individual curricular and active learning approaches (including case studies and war gaming); faculty collaboration across specialties; research on department of defense problems; thesis work, and special initiatives (such as the CRUISER program) that have rapidly and efficiently advanced the state of the UAV technology and tactics. A national defense focus can be encouraged even more by having faculty focus their research and educating to focus on supporting E4S/NSS/NDS.

18 As the Education for Seapower report notes: “we must educate leaders who have the skills required to solve problems that cannot even be imagined today” …. “This will require an educational system that looks to the future as well as the past, which is agile enough to adapt as new problems are identified, and that will help us understand them. It is a system that must be built on the insatiable curiosity of naval professionals, both operators, professors, and researchers alike” (p. 13).

19 As also noted in the Education for Seapower report: “As an organization, we must anticipate changes in the operating environment and adapt to maintain an advantage. This can only be done by eliminating outdated personnel practices, adopting agile processes and continuously improving how we operate and fight, It is highly unlikely that the greatest naval strategists and leaders of our past … would be successful in todays’s bureaucratic environment. Simply put, the best naval strategists that our naval education enterprise can produce today will fail without improving the organization in which they operate” (p. 11-12).

Featured Image: The Thinker in front of the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia. (Wikimedia Commons)

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

By Ashley O’Keefe

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

An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sea Control 47 – British and American Surface Warfare Officers

seacontrol2Jon Paris joins us to discuss his article, The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 1: A Day in the Life of Sub Lieutenant Snodgrass. We compare the Royal Navy and US Navy processes of creating officers for their surface fleet, the nature of being a maritime “professional,” improvements for the American model, and generally gab on for about 36 minutes.

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