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Should the U.S. Arm Ukraine with Anti-Ship Missiles?

By Mykola Bielieskov

When it comes to U.S. military-technical assistance for Ukraine in the context of Russian aggression, sharing the Javelin anti-tank guided missile with the Ukrainian Ground Forces is what is typically mentioned. And at the beginning of March 2018 the U.S. State Department gave its approval for the provision of this kind of weaponry to Kyiv. There is nothing surprising in this, since the land forces of Ukraine bear the main burden of confronting and deterring further Russian aggression. However, today it is necessary to start talking about the needs of the other branches of the Armed Forces of Ukraine given the challenges facing them.

A Navy Adrift

The situation in the Ukrainian Navy is close to a catastrophic one. The Russian Federation’s occupation of the Crimea in 2014 especially negatively affected the fighting capabilities of the Ukrainian Navy as nearly 80 percent of the fleet was lost due to capture and defection. In fact, four corvettes (Lutsk, Khmelnitsky, Ternopil, Prydniprov’ia), two minesweepers (Chernigiv, Cherkasy), the large landing ship Konstantin Olshansky, and the submarine Zaporozhye were captured by Russian forces. In addition, Russian occupants captured and never returned up to 15 auxiliary vessels.

The urgent need for platforms in the Ukrainian Navy could be solved by Western country transfers to Kyiv of older ships, which are decommissioned or near retirement. Actually, from time-to-time this idea is voiced by certain American experts. The U.S. government, among other things, is ready to provide the Ukrainian Navy with two coastal guards ships of the Island class. They, in contrast to Ukrainian artillery boats of the Gyurza-M class, have better seaworthiness and greater autonomy. However, the simple transfer of platforms can only partly solve the problems the Ukrainian Navy faces today. Getting Western ships can solve the problem with minesweepers or auxiliary vessels. However, the main question remains unaddressed: how could the Ukrainian Navy counter attempts by the Russian Federation to use its domination of the Black Sea for further aggression?

As the result of Russian aggression Ukraine lost in Crimea ground-based anti-ship platforms, which were armed with Termit anti-ship cruise missiles. Similarly, after the Crimea occupation, the missile boat Pryluky was returned to Ukrainian authorities but lacked its two Termit anti-ship missiles.

Today the Ukrainian Navy is not able to properly counteract possible attempts by the Russian Black Sea Fleet to carry out an amphibious landing operation. In this contest it is necessary to recall that in 2014-2015 the Security Service of Ukraine exposed and broke down covert attempts to create the so-called secessionist Bessarabian People’s Republic. This fictional republic was going to be based on territories of a southern part of the Odessa oblast. In the event of the establishment of this illicit territory, the Russian Black Sea Fleet would have had the opportunity to freely land the necessary troops and to maintain sea lines of communication with a new pseudo-state bordering western Ukraine along with occupied Crimea. Ukraine in this case could not have prevented such contingencies, since the Navy does not have the necessary anti-ship capabilities to destroy combat and landing enemy vessels.

Although Ukraine is developing its own anti-ship cruise missile Neptune, the first public test of which took place in late January 2018, the system is still nascent. The relevant sea-based risks and threats for Ukraine still exist. In addition, the question is how many Neptune missiles Ukraine will be able to purchase annually for their Navy, given that the entire budget for modernization and procurement of equipment is only $600 million this fiscal year.

As a result, it is urgently necessary to start a dialogue on the possibility of transfer to Ukraine of American Harpoon anti-ship missiles with the necessary equipment for guidance and data exchange systems. The U.S. military budget for 2018 FY provides for the allocation of up to $200 million to enhance Ukraine’s defense capabilities, including the possibility of using these funds for purchase of coastal defense radars, minelayers, minesweepers, and littoral ships. This document captures a change in the paradigm of thinking and awareness in the Pentagon of Ukraine’s vulnerability to threats from the sea. However, as has been said above, only vessels or even radar systems will not be enough to remedy the shortfall.

The U.S. Navy is currently developing new generations of anti-ship missiles (LRASM, Tomahawk, and SM-6 anti-ship variants) that have much longer range than the current Harpoon anti-ship missile. However, in the context of a closed sea like the Black Sea, it will be enough for Ukrainian Navy to deploy the latest modification of the Harpoon missile – the Block II ER+. The radius of this modification is up to 134 nautical miles or 250 km. It is notable that the Ukrainian anti-ship missile “Neptune” will have a similar range. It is also indicative that Finland is considering the Harpoon Block II ER + as the main weapon for the future four frigates of the 2020 project, which will operate in the similarly constrained Baltic Sea.

An F/A-18 carries the new Harpoon Block II+ missile during a free flight test Nov. 18 at Point Mugu’s Sea Range in California. The Navy plans to deliver the Block II+ variant to the fleet in 2017. (U.S. Navy photo)

The transfer to Ukraine of Harpoon Block II ER+ anti-ship cruise missiles and related equipment, together with their installation on future fleet and land-based anti-ship platforms, will not only eliminate significant gaps in the country’s defense capabilities. It will also help secure the safety of maritime trade, on which the economy of Ukraine depends critically. This decision will allow the United States to solve several important security issues in the Black Sea region at once. All this happens when the U.S. Navy has the smallest number of ships in almost a century (283 ships), and it faces the need for a permanent presence in numerous parts across the world’s oceans, including the Black Sea Basin. Strengthening the capabilities of the Ukrainian Navy will reduce the need for such presence. In addition, strengthening the anti-ship component of the Ukrainian armed forces will make its Navy a truly important component in any joint NATO Black Sea Fleet, an idea which has been discussed for several years. Today, the Ukrainian Navy cannot actually be an effective contributor to the joint efforts of the littoral states to contain the Russian Federation in the Black Sea basin. Ultimately, the presence of Harpoon Block II ER+ missiles together with the necessary radars and information exchange systems with other NATO countries will enable, in practice, to enhance the interoperability of the Ukrainian armed forces with NATO partners. In this way, it will contribute to the Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine and the fulfillment of the tasks of the Strategic Defense Bulletin.


Ukraine today, given the need of countering threats from the sea, is in a situation where the need for U.S. anti-ship missiles is much more important than obtaining Javelin ATGMs. The U.S. Defense Department’s budget for 2018 FY records the understanding that Washington should help Ukraine counteract not only land-based but also maritime threats that are actually much sharper, given the current state of the Ukrainian Navy. However, only the acquisition of appropriate anti-ship missiles such as the Harpoon Block II ER+ will enable the Ukrainian Navy to effectively counter the growing capabilities of the Russian Federation in the Black Sea. Such a bold decision will strengthen security in this part of the world, reduce the need for the United States to be constantly present, and make Ukraine a true contributor to Black Sea security.

Mykola Bielieskov is the Deputy Executive Director at the Institute of World Policy.

Featured Image: Day of the Ukranian Navy Ceremony, July 2016. (Ministry of Defence of Ukraine)

Leading Military Innovation, Past and Present

By Mie Augier and Wayne Hughes


Recently, senior decision makers and leaders, including the CNO, CMC, and SecNav, have expressed a belief in the centrality of military innovation and adaptation, and many commentators in think tanks and the press are promoting more military innovation for future readiness. Implicitly or explicitly, enthusiasms for innovation usually take one of the three following forms: emphasizing the nature of innovative thinking, the achievement of new innovations in military organizations, and establishing a culture of innovation.ii

These are overlapping issues. Recognizing their importance and talking about them is an essential beginning, because all three are needed, and they are intertwined. In this brief paper we intend to provide a discussion of, first, some aspects of the nature of innovation and why it is difficult; second, how successful organizations have innovated and adapted in the past; and third, the nature of thinking and action that undergirds innovation.iii

The Nature of Innovation

Doing things differently is difficult; but the heart of innovation is about first seeing things differently which is just as hard. Both involve making decisions under uncertainty and ambiguity, and embracing risk. There is a natural human instinct and inclination to want certainty about the future, but predicting a future is like “driving in the dark” as former Secretary of Navy Richard Danzig put it in 2011.iv If we base our decision-making on unrealistic assumptions about uncertainty, we are not likely to get things right. In addition, trying to base innovation on a predictable future can lead to endless debate because the discussions are unresolvable and will go on without end. Moreover, from the record of the past, the consensus of experts will be unreliable. N. N. Taleb in The Black Swan described the need to respond to unforeseeable events. P. E. Tetlock in Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? offered conclusive evidence that an expert’s power of prediction ten years in the future was “worse than that of a dart throwing monkey,” in other words, less reliable than a random choice.v 

Regardless, battle-changing innovations do happen. Here are three ways to help us cope with, perhaps even embrace, an unpredictable future:

Thinking about alternative futures. Thinking about alternative futures is a powerful way of enabling decision-making under uncertainty pioneered by Herman Kahn, and put into productive use by Andrew Marshall in many of his Office of Net Assessment studies. The reward of exploring alternative futures is the chance to uncover and adopt a strategy, new technologies, and new tactics suitable for all or most of them. For example, our future with China may be collaboration, competition, confrontation, or different kinds and levels of conflict. This has many implications, including that it may be possible to design one fleet that imperfectly supports an adaptive maritime strategy to keep the peace and support our East Asia allies.vi

Looking at historical trends. In addition to thinking about possible futures, looking at our pasts and our history to identify trends can be a useful way to navigate the seas of uncertainty. For example, the approach in Fleet Tactics and Naval Operationsvii  is to identify trends and constants in naval history. Because trends are likely to continue, they can guide the development of new tactics and technologies. For example, the trend toward smaller, faster, and more efficient computers and their growing applications is one that has a profound influence on information warfare. “COTS” (commercial off-the-shelf) technologies have had the biggest effect on computer technology. The same kind of influence and eventual dominance of commercially developed control systems is now affecting the growing power and flexibility of UAVs.

Studying successful innovations from the past.  Understanding the evolutionary processes enabling innovation can be useful indicators of what might work in the future, and how implementing innovation has proceeded, usually along a winding road. While it is tempting to look to business for learning how to innovate, there is much to learn from past innovation in many military organizations’ histories, indicating also that non-linear forward progress is the norm for effecting innovations.viii For example, aircraft carriers were developed before their coming dominance at sea was fully appreciated. Tanks had a checkered history: The British invented them; the French built high quality ones in large numbers; but the Germans exploited their tactical advantages with a new operational application, the Blitzkrieg. Vertical lift aircraft were notably inferior to propeller and jet-propelled aircraft, yet they revolutionized air and ground warfare.ix 

Note that great achievements at the combat level usually require both new technologies and new tactics, which are like two sides of a coin and often best enabled if guided by new concepts and new ways of thinking. Leaders must learn how to marry the quite different personalities of technologists and seagoing officers to accomplish big advancements.

Achieving Innovation in Military Organizations

Most innovations take place in organizations, or need organizations to generate new inventions. Organizations can help and encourage, but sometimes stifle, innovation. As organizations age and grow (and most military organizations are both quite large and old) they first develop routines, rules, and structures to improve efficiencies and get things done, but then the rules and bureaucratic processes often take a life of their own and multiply, resulting in organizational calcification.

As Secretary Gates perceptively noted in his discussion of why our bureaucracies often fail:  “[L]eaders … often encounter entrenched cultures that make real change difficult, as well as lower-level organizations resistant to guidance from the top, determined to preserve their piece of the cake and their status. Trimming organizational deadwood can be as challenging in the business world as in public institutions. It is a rare soul who has not been frustrated and maddened by multiple business bureaucracies—not to mention disastrous business decisions that cost jobs and create economic turmoil and heartache.”x

Commercial organizations and think tanks offer examples of innovative research (RAND in the 1950s and the early Bell Labs come to mind), and they can provide important inputs to military organizations and innovations. We can undoubtedly learn from how they organized and facilitated innovative research. But military organizations are not think tanks, whose product is thought and writing. Military organizations must also plan and act. Military organizations are different from commercial organizations, too. Both have an important competitive/interactive aspect. Businesses gain and maintain competitive advantages by making and selling competitive products. Military organizations need to gain and maintain competitive advantages too, but they are designed to destroy an enemy’s will to fight and his means of war. Despite the differences, there are things we can learn from studying the organizational mechanisms that have successfully supported innovation in different contexts, such as reducing administrative overhead, decentralizing the decision-making, and trying to avoid empowering middle managers with too many layers of approval. An example of the relevance of this approach in a military organization was Commandant and General Al Gray’s transformation of the USMC with a maneuver warfare way of thinking.xi He worked toward freeing up the people with ideas and protecting them from paperwork and bureaucracy. We also note that Secretary Mattis’ emphasis on combat readiness is intended to free people from unnecessary training and administration.xii

Organizations have adapted to changes in warfare in the past, as we suggested above with aircraft carriers, precision-guided weapons, and the atomic bomb. These innovations were not merely passive responses to change: many proactively created changes in warfare. Speaking about uncertainty and risk, someone once said, “If you can predict the future then I can’t change it.” Interestingly, many of the most important innovations helped shape a future by imposing change on the enemy, exploiting enemy weaknesses, and building on our strengths.xiii

Successful past innovations were often focused geographically with a specific enemy in mind. For example, the development of Marine amphibious assault doctrine and the vessels to achieve it grew out of Major Earl “Pete” Ellis’ study of the Pacific Islands and atolls the Marines knew they would have to seize in the event of war with Japan. The Israeli Navy swiftly developed small missile combatants armed with Gabriel missiles after the sinking (in 1967) of the destroyer Eilat with ASCMs fired from small, Soviet-built, Egyptian-operated, Osa and Komar missile boats. In just six years from a cold start, the Israeli Navy obtained the ships and trained crews to defeat the Egyptian and Syrian navies in the 1973 War. It was a great shock to the enemy and changed the nature of naval war in coastal waters.

The Importance of Nurturing Innovative Thinkers

Not everyone in the organization should be an innovative thinker. Many must excel in planning with existing capabilities and fighting. Most people prefer to do what they know they do best, and they can often easily measure and see the results of their work. Innovative thinking requires experimenting with what one does not know best and sometimes not at all. The fruits of such work are often more distant and uncertain. Organizations, to be adaptive, need both exploration with new ideas and ways of thinking (leading to new capabilities in the long run) and exploitation of existing ones. A problem arises when planners do not appreciate the necessary contribution of a few precious disruptive and innovative thinkers.xiv But if innovators alone dominate, then there is no one to plan the development, implementation, and tactics to exploit an innovation, often in ways quite different from the original intent.xv Leaders must know how to recognize, nurture, and listen to innovative thinkers and suppress bureaucratic impediments to “thinking differently.”

How do our organizations attract and make room for them, and cultivate innovators in organizations to help the constructive application of disruptive thinking? By attracting and fostering the careers of the future Arleigh Burkes, Al Grays, and Hyman Rickovers who have bold ideas. A few relevant aspects:

Recognizing and making room for disruptive talent. There is a great need to be open to creative individuals, those with ideas that may challenge the system and managers at times. As Colonel John Boyd noted in his testimony on military transformation: “First, we need to understand that throughout history the difference between brilliantly performing armies and mediocre ones has always depended on a small handful of combat leaders. Naturally, the military that manages to nurture a tiny handful of brilliant, innovative officers .. achieves great results… On the other hand, a military that suppresses said brilliant and unconventional young officers among them, who I might add tend to make life uncomfortable for seniors, is forced to grind out rigid, predictable battles with much blood and mountains of material.”xvi 

Creating unusual mixing. One can help fight against the organizational bureaucratic inertia by mixing teams of people in unconventional ways. Doing so demands creative leadership because there are centripetal forces at work. People gravitate toward those who are most like themselves, but we often learn more by interacting with those unlike ourselves. In academic and military educational institutions, leaders can take proactive roles in “mixing” people who may otherwise gravitate toward the institutional and intellectual comfort of those with the same beliefs.

The concepts and words we use matter. Successful military slogans like “distributed lethality” applied by the Surface Navy today has shown the way to innovative development in an organization that leads to unified technological and tactical development. “Attack effectively first” is another simple slogan of naval warfare with many applications that have been verified by past success in battle. The slogan has many nuanced implications and is a clue to how to win at sea today. It can guide technological, tactical, and organizational development in the future. The Revolution in Military Affairs is another identifier of technologies and tactics that had profound effects on all modern warfare and a concept that was intended to also emphasize the underlying intellectual and organizational changes needed, not just the technology.xvii 

Achieving Innovation in the Navy 

Innovation cannot be reduced to a check-off list, a blueprint, or a manual to guide creativity. Military doctrine manuals provide for unified strategic planning and tactical cooperation. That is different from innovation. Contrast Edison’s development of the electric light bulb with the multifaceted development of the Polaris submarine and missile under the leadership of CNO Arleigh Burke, who had the inspired idea,  the actions by Red Raborn in developing the missile, and Hyman Rickover in developing the submarine. Contrast both with the strange history of the development the tank in 1917 and its several applications to armored warfare. There is no one single process to guide success.

However, there are things naval leaders can do to foster innovative thinking and make their organizations more prepared to adopt new tactics and technology, including:

Guard against a no-defect mentality and fear of failure. The only way never to make a mistake is to never make a decision, in other words to do nothing perfectly. Innovative thinking will never be right all the time, so there has to be a system that encourages variations in ideas in order to swiftly accept, adopt, and assimilate the good variations.xviii Ironically, avoiding failures can lead to loss of opportunities to learn from failures and evolve. The advancement of naval aviation in the 1920s and 1930s is a case study in learning from false starts and failures while rapidly progressing to readiness for World War II. Senior leaders must also actively protect disruptive thinkers.

Have organizational structures in place to recognize innovative thinking that doesn’t fit the mold of preconception. The common mistake is preparing to fight the last war. Instead when a promising advancement is discovered, create shortcuts under a sense of urgency to get around the bureaucratic system. The early success of Navy Special Projects offices in the 1950s illustrates this, and so does the empowerment of Rear Admiral Wayne Meyer to develop the Aegis combat system by the Surface Navy leadership of Vice Admiral James Doyle.  

Emphasize that the most important characteristic to foster innovation is people. Advancement comes not from processes; or disciplinary lenses, or the “how to” manuals, or even advances in technology. The most important element in organizations and in warfare is the human element. As former Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Barrow noted, “In any institution or undertaking, the importance of people transcends all else.”xix Marine Combat University President General Bowers also noted (in his discussion of Wilson and Barrow), “You can get everything else wrong, but if you get the people right, you will be all right. Whereas you can get everything else right, but if you get the people wrong, you are going to be in trouble.”xx Leaders must proactively constrain middle managers who maintain the status quo with a “spreadsheet” mentality. 

Recognize and reward the best leadership styles. In addition to realizing that the most important element is the people chosen, we need leaders who stick their necks out for those willing to experiment and do things differently and provide top cover for the people who are implementing the new ideas, technologies, and tactics. In particular, leaders can help on issues such as: 

Experimentation. Experiment at sea with prototypes and first generation designs in the full expectation that second and third generation designs must be built to correct the early mistakes and smooth out shortcomings. Experiments can also lead to innovative ways in how organizations think and fight. Marine Generals Al Gray and Charles Krulak led many experiments in the early days of maneuver warfare before the concept was fully developed and adopted, experiments that were both intellectual, organizational, and operational.xxi 

Exploiting the creativity of youth by “getting out of the way.” Here are wise words regarding cyberwar from a Navy lieutenant: “The most talented graduate students at the best U. S. computer science and engineering schools are said to be those who leave before graduation in order to pursue venture capital or other commercial opportunities . . . [to pursue excellence in the Navy] administratively and organizationally reduce the various forms of friction that would inhibit those [young] individuals and teams within their cyber forces from innovating, developing, and deploying capabilities faster than the adversary force.”xxii Talented youth will be prominent in cyber war evolution, just as they rose to prominence in computer technology, as youthful combat leaders like William B. Cushing and J. E. B. Stuart in wartime, or as youthful classical music composers like W. A. Mozart and Felix Mendelssohn.

Building an organizational culture to support innovation and reward risk takers. It goes without saying there are limits and achieving a balance is one of the most challenging skills of leadership. Nevertheless, it is a lot easier to suppress innovation and risk-taking than to grow it. Leaders must be particular attentive to the handful of people who are willing to take risks and protect the intelligent risk-takers from thoughtless suppression because they are willing to dare.

Broadening peoples’ minds. Foster curiosity in the midst of good discipline. Cultivating open minds is a key responsibility of our military educational institutions. Retired VADM Patricia Tracey in an interview noted last year, while reflecting on her exceptional career, extolled her time in graduate school: “[E]ducation is about how does it all fit together? . . . How might you think about doing things differently?  . . .  I say just that time out in a thought-provoking environment to consolidate everything that you’ve experienced and draw meaning from it and expectations for what’s next . . . is invaluable to somebody who’s at some point going to have to deal in massive uncertainty.”xxiii The University of Chicago under Robert Hutchins actively promoted broad reading that helped broaden civilian minds. Military innovative thinkers such as General Gray and Secretary Mattis are famously avid (and broad) readers. Mattis said in 2003 when asked about the importance of reading, that while reading doesn’t give you all the answers, it lights up the path ahead and enables us to understand and learn from the past.xxiv


Secretary Danzig’s metaphor of “driving in the dark” is very relevant to the road to improve innovation amidst uncertainty, and it will not be a straight highway. Yet, notwithstanding the difficult nature of innovation and the inhibiting organizational processes that often suppress it, past successes suggest that we can indeed nurture innovators and grow innovations in the U.S. Navy. This will unavoidably accompanied by bruising the status quo ways of thinking. We have not discussed every aspect of success. Further dimensions to explore include how our educational institutions must help build more innovative and interdisciplinary thinking, and examining past attempts to innovate, including the failures, with an eye for their strategic, organizational, and tactical implications. 

Dr. Mie Augier is associate 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 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.


i We dedicate this paper to Andrew W. Marshall, who continues to inspire us and who has tirelessly worked to improve innovation and innovative thinking in our organizations. We are grateful for the comments from Jim March, BGen William Bowers, VADM Ronald Route, and Andy Marshall on an earlier draft. Any remaining errors were produced without help.

ii We should also mention that while we draw mostly on Navy and USMC examples, other services have also begun important discussions on the topic, see for example: https://www.army.mil/article/173386/making_innovation_happen

iii Although our paper is largely conceptual in order to provide insights into the dynamics making innovation difficult but possible, we also include some practical examples / anecdotes on the basis of past success. Obviously, more research and reflections on the topic is needed, but we hope to indicate at least part of foundation and some fruitful lines along which progress can be made.

iv See, R. Danzig : “Driving in the Dark”, available here: https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/driving-in-the-dark-ten-propositions-about-prediction-and-national-security

v Military leaders have also made similar points. Robert Gates for instance noted to West Point cadets: “When it comes to predicting the nature and location of our next military engagements, since Vietnam, our record has been perfect. We have never once gotten it right, from the Mayaguez to Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti, Kuwait, Iraq, and more — we had no idea a year before any of these missions that we would be so engaged.” Secretary Jim Mattis (then General) also noted in a testimony to the arms services committee in 2011: “I think, as we look toward the future, I have been a horrible prophet. I have never fought anywhere I expected to in all my years.” These (and other) examples of our prediction capabilities noted here: http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/10/16/100-right-0-of-the-time/

vi Forces for such a strategy must demonstrate that we can deny China’s commerce and sink the PLA’s warships in its own home waters with a capability that takes the offensive in China’s Seas with highly distributable forces.

vii Naval Institute Press, April 2018

viii In particular given that the organizations ability to experiment and adapt to new innovations may be quite different in business and military organizations. This is not to say that we don’t think there is plenty to be learned from business organizations – for example, minimizing red tape, bureaucratic chain reactions and paperwork is clearly something business is better at. But when it comes to understanding how to implement innovations, as well as understanding the dynamics of the larger strategic environment and the adoption of innovations, studying military examples from the past might provide useful information (see, for instance, Williamson Murray and Allan Millet’s book on “Military Innovation in the Interwar Period”).

ix Other examples include: Nuclear ICBM’s changed all aspects of warfare. Cruise Missiles are teaming with and sometimes replacing strike aircraft because of their great range and endurance. UAV’s and Autonomous Aerial Vehicles combined with cyber warfare technologies are changing the nature of warfare as we write.

x R. Gates (2016): A Passion for Leadership, p. 5.

xi A discussion of the USMC maneuver way of thinking and its history is available here: http://grc-usmcu.libguides.com/c.php?g=756767&p=5426039.

xii https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2017/07/25/mattis-get-unnecessary-training-off-warfighters-backs/

xiii This also implies that we must spend a great deal of time trying to understand how our opponents think and how their organizations work, in addition to observing what they do.

xiv Organization scholar James March has long warned that this is a typical ‘competency trap’ of organizations and that we should pay particular attention to trying to nurture and nudge those willing to explore (see J. March, “Exploration and Exploitation in organizational learning”, Organization Science, 1991).

xv Designer of Predator, Abraham Karem, noted that his drones were built for the cold war, but its various employments has expanded seemingly without limit. https://www.airspacemag.com/flight-today/the-man-who-invented-the-predator-3970502/

xvi As Colonel John Boyd noted in his testimony on military transformation: “First, we need to understand that throughout history the difference between brilliantly performing armies and mediocre ones has always depended on a small handful of combat leaders. Naturally, the military that managers nurture a tiny handful of brilliant, innovative officers combat command achieves great results. … On the other hand, a military that suppresses said brilliant and unconventional young officers among them, who I might add tend to make life uncomfortable for seniors, is forced to grind out rigid, predictable battles with much blood and mountains of material.” The testimony available here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?17753-1/us-military-reform-oper-desert-storm

xvii Another example is the maneuver warfare of ideas, for years debated and discussed among Marines including writing (in a series of Gazette articles), to help clarify important dimensions of the concepts and ideas.

xviii As recognized for instance in the USMC Commandant’s call for innovative and disruptive thinkers: https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2016/03/04/commandant-looks-to-disruptive-thinkers-to-fix-corps-problems/

xix As quoted in “Commandants of the Marine Corps”, edited by Allan Millet and Jack Shulinson, US Naval Institute Press, 2004, p. 456.

xx See BGen Bowers lecture on USMC commandants Wilson and Barrow and the reforms they led: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJZCBg_SDLY

xxi A panel discussion of the history and some relevant aspects of maneuver thinking is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RL4__NVYByw

xxii LT. T. B. Meadors (USN), First Gain the Victory: Six Strategic Considerations for Naval Cyber Forces, 2017, prepared for and disseminated by VADM Jan Tighe, USN, Deputy CNO for Information Warfare and Director of Naval Intelligence, p. 7.

xxiii Military Operations Research, V22, N1, 2017; page 75.

xxiv http://www.strifeblog.org/2013/05/07/with-rifle-and-bibliography-general-mattis-on-professional-reading/A great discussion of the importance of broad reading in the military profession in general is P. v. Riper (2006): “The Relevance of History to the Military Profession: An American Marine’s View”. In W. Murray & H. Sinnrich (eds): The Past as Prologue. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Featured Image: The X-47B on the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) on Nov. 10, 2013. US Navy Photo

Insights from the National Training Center’s Opposing Force, Pt. 2

Read Part One of this series here.

By Colonel John D. Rosenberger

It Is How Commanders Become Masters of the Art and Science of Battle Command

The OPFOR regimental commander (alternately the 1st and 2nd Squadron commanders), the regimental staff, and motorized rifle battalion commanders set conditions for effective employment of the regimental combined-arms team. Their ability to do it is a function of their mastery of the art of battle command, as we now call it. Indeed, the regiment can fight no better than the regimental commander’s ability to see the terrain, see the enemy, see himself, and see the battle unfold in his mind. Granted, the ability to inspire and motivate soldiers, the ability to impose his will, tenacity, compassion, patience, and so forth are also important. But these are elements of effective leadership, not tactical competence.

Commanders and battle staff in the OPFOR quickly develop the ability to see the terrain and its effects on combat operations. By that, I mean the map talks to them. They see more than the Go and No Go terrain, key terrain, or decisive terrain. They see and envision the effects of terrain on the enemy’s ability and their own ability to move, generate momentum, disperse, mass, observe, deploy, shoot, or protect the force. They can envision, at a glance, where the enemy would be most vulnerable to the diverse capabilities of their force or where terrain provides them an opportunity to seize the initiative or control the tempo of the battle. Equally important, they can perceive where terrain would restrict or constrain the employment of their combined-arms team.

On a higher plane of thinking, they can see how to use the terrain to create conditions where the enemy would be vulnerable to the fires they can bring to bear. In other words, they can see, within their battlespace, where the enemy would be most vulnerable to destruction by close air support, delayed by artillery-delivered minefields, vulnerable to antitank fires, blocked, turned, disrupted or fixed by obstacles, disrupted by jamming, or where terrain would provide them a relative firepower advantage in the close fight. Armed with these skills, they can shape the battlefield to set conditions for success – the adept use of terrain to control the tempo of battle, create favorable force ratios, create vulnerabilities, optimize the effects of their own capabilities, control the enemy’s direction of movement, and protect the force.

Additionally, OPFOR commanders develop a masterful ability to see the enemy. They can envision with remarkable clarity how the enemy commander would employ his combined-arms team. They can envision the sequential and simultaneous actions and combat systems the enemy commander would use to shape his battlefield for success. They can perceive the critical tasks the enemy commander has to accomplish, how he will probably employ his combined-arms team to accomplish the tasks, or how the enemy commander will seize and retain the initiative. As the battle unfolds in their minds, they can immediately recognize the high-value and high-payoff targets and when those targets would be most vulnerable to attack by the capabilities of the OPFOR combined-arms team. They can easily visualize the rate of enemy movement, the organization and depth of his formations, and the location of high-payoff targets. Even more important, they can see which combat functions or capabilities have to be attacked to disrupt the synchronization of the enemy’s combined-arms team – the first step to victory under combat conditions.

Commanders can also see themselves. By that, I mean they are expert in the capabilities and limitations of every system in their combined-arms team. They have mastered the science of warfighting. Moreover, they know how and when these capabilities can be used most effectively against the enemy. For example, they know the type and volume of artillery munitions required to achieve the effects they want, the range of various artillery munitions, and every gun’s sustained rate of fire. Consequently, they know how many batteries are required, where they should be placed relative to the target, and the time required to shoot the munitions necessary to produce the desired effects. They also know the time required to shift a battalion of artillery from one target to the next, the actual occupation times of their artillery battalions, and an artillery battalion’s rate of movement relative to the terrain. Consequently, they can create effective sequential and simultaneous engagements throughout the depths of the battlefield and decide when to move to protect the force and when to move to sustain fire support through the depth of the operation.

The OPFOR commanders also know the capabilities and limitations of their collection and jamming teams, comprised of soldiers with an unparalleled ability to protect the force and change the outcome of battle. Consequently, they know how and where to establish a baseline to obtain accurate direction-finding, radio intercept, and effective jamming. More important, they master the ability to focus and use these capabilities to answer their priority intelligence requirements and to jam the enemy when he is most vulnerable to its effects.

Commanders are also expert in the employment of obstacles. They have a keen sense of what their engineers can realistically accomplish. For example, they know how long it takes their engineer company, given their manning and level of training, to install an effective blocking or turning obstacle, the quantity of material required, the man-hours required, the transportation involved, the number of fighting positions they can realistically dig in the time available, and so on. Armed with this mastery of the science of warfighting, they can easily envision how to effectively employ these engineer capabilities to shape the battlefield, protect the force, and establish conditions for success in the deep and close fights.

At the same time, commanders develop and possess the ability to see themselves from the enemy commander’s perspective. They can almost read their opponent’s mind. They have the cognitive ability to recognize where they are strong and where they are weak from the enemy commander’s point of view. Moreover, they are adept at perceiving their own vulnerabilities and recognize their exposure. Coupled with real-time human intelligence (HUMINT), this ability lifts the curtain of uncertainty off the battlefield, exposes the enemy’s most likely course of action, and illuminates weakness and vulnerabilities in their opponent’s fighting posture. Finally, OPFOR commanders learn to think in terms of force protection. By that, I mean they learn to fight the battle in their minds and immediately discern the active and passive measures necessary to protect the force. They do not think simply in terms of safety, radio listening silence, raising the air defense warning status, repositioning of reserves, and so forth. They take passive and active measures to protect their forces from observation by air and ground reconnaissance systems, electronic location, thermal detection systems, the effects of enemy indirect and direct fire systems, special munitions, fratricide, and the effects of weather, disease, and injury.

When you are up against combined-arms commanders like these, it doesn’t get any tougher. The point is that it takes these kinds of commanders and staffs to bring a unit to its full combat potential. They are simply indispensable. The problem is that conditions required to develop combined-arms commanders and staffs of this caliber do not exist within the remainder of our Army. These kinds of commanders and staffs are developed through constant study and application of the art and science of warfighting, terrain walks, situational training exercises, repetitive opportunities to fight and learn from their mistakes in the field, not in simulations, and most important of all, repetitive combat-like experiences which develop battlefield intuition – an immediate feel for the battlefield situation and what must be done to win. Unfortunately, these conditions don’t exist for soldiers and leaders anywhere else in the Army today. This is an insightful lesson the OPFOR provides as we ponder how to maintain landpower dominance in the Army of the 21st century. But again, this is only a partial answer to the questions. Here’s another reason.

It Is How the OPFOR Plans Combat Operations

The truth be known, the OPFOR wins its battles before it fights them. Very few battles ever unfold in a way substantially different from what the OPFOR team envisioned or planned to accomplish. Moreover, the incomparable ability of the OPFOR to get every dog in the fight at the right time at the right place is legendary. The reason? The OPFOR has learned how to set conditions for synchronization of the combined-arms team in the planning process, and learned how to preserve it during execution of battle as the situation evolves. The conditions for victory are set by their planning process. It’s safe to say that no leader in the OPFOR would agree with the old adage that plans change at the first contact with the enemy, or that planning is a rather useless endeavor and performance in execution is really what matters.

The regimental orders process is a disciplined battle drill, characterized by strict time management. It follows the same military decision-making process outlined in FM 101-5 Staff Organization and Operations. Complete METT-T (mission/enemy/terrain/troops/time available) analysis is the foundation, and no shortcuts are taken. The regimental staff, working as a team, prepares detailed enemy situational templates which graphically depict the enemy’s most likely course of action, array, and presentation of forces on the battlefield, and probable locations of high-payoff targets, such as fire direction radars, artillery units, command posts, aircraft rearming and refueling points, or reserves. Once this analysis is presented, the regimental commander conducts his own commander’s estimate of the situation, visualizes the battle unfolding in his mind, sees it unfold on the terrain, then develops several courses of action for employment of his combined-arms team that will ensure defeat of his opponent.

From this analysis and visualization, the commander develops his commander’s intent, and he spends a lot of time ensuring he gets this right. He issues his intent by first stating the task and purpose the regiment must achieve. Next, he describes in clear doctrinal language the few critical tasks which must be accomplished sequentially, some simultaneously, in order to win. He wraps this up by describing the end state he wants the force to achieve – what success looks like when the fight is over.

Next, he issues planning guidance to his staff – guidance which clearly describes how he wants the combined-arms team employed, his critical information requirements by phase, how he wants to shape the battlefield for success, the means he wants to use to control the tempo of battle, and the effects he expects at critical times and locations in the fight. After just a couple of months in the saddle, a regimental commander can do this in minutes. It becomes intuitive. As a minimum, he will direct his staff to deliberately wargame three courses of action, sometimes four.

With these things in hand, the chief of staff assembles the staff and conducts a detailed, deliberate wargame of each course of action – the most important step in the planning process. Why? The deliberate wargaming process sets conditions for employment and synchronization of the combined-arms team to produce the effects and outcome the commander expects. Moreover, the wargaming process produces the few critical products necessary to employ and control the force: the operations order, with specific task and purpose assigned to each unit; the reconnaissance and surveillance plan; a synchronization matrix for each course of action (the score for the orchestra); movement and positioning plans for the artillery groups; and operational graphics. Interestingly, the targeting process is embedded in the wargame, so as another outcome, the staff produces the plan for simultaneous and sequential attack of enemy high-payoff targets through the depths of the battlefield.

A distinguishing feature of this planning process is the control imposed by the plan, and the synchronization which stems from it. At the regimental level, the plan tells every member of the combined-arms team what to do, when to do it, and where do it – but never how. As the OPFOR has learned, synchronization cannot be achieved any other way. Synergy of the combined-arms team cannot be created in other way.

The process used by the OPFOR is much like writing a score for an orchestra. In an orchestra, if the trumpets, the flutes, and the violins play whatever notes they want, when they want, you get nothing but noise. The musical score (synchronization matrix) specifies which instruments will play what notes, when in relation to other instruments, and where in the sequence of time. If done properly, you get Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. The same goes for military operations. Consider motorized rifle battalions, artillery groups, close air support, and jamming systems as instruments of war. Firm control is required at regimental level to ensure all capabilities are employed at the right time and place for maximum effect. On the other hand, down at the maneuver company level, much less control is imposed and initiative is prized, once the unit makes direct fire contact. In short, this planning and synchronization process is how the OPFOR achieves its full combat potential during the execution of battle. But there are other significant factors that differ from most units they oppose.

Take the operations order: Only one written operations order is published for the regimental combined-arms team which addresses multiple courses of action. Tasks to subordinate units are always expressed in the form of task and purpose. Only one set of graphics is produced and every leader in the regiment, from top to bottom, uses this one set of graphics. Subordinate units do not develop their own, unique graphics. In other words, every member of the combined-arms team is looking at the same sheet of music. Subordinate commanders issue oral operations orders, based on a clear understanding of what they have to do, when they have to do it, and where they have to do it.

The graphics are a wonder of simplicity. Only a few graphic control measures are used: report lines, lines of maneuver, artillery/rocket fire boxes and targets, smoke lines, firing lines, and air battle positions. That’s it. Fire boxes, or firing lines, are used as battlefield reference points to adjust direction of maneuver, identify current locations, or shoot artillery. This technique of controlling forces is the source of the impressive flexibility the regiment is able to achieve in every battle. It’s the principal reason the regiment is able to quickly change direction and shift the main effort, sustain common situational awareness throughout its battlespace, and preclude fratricide. In sum, the regiment’s planning process lies at the heart of its ability to achieve its full combat potential. Nonetheless, it is only a partial answer to the questions at hand. There is another good reason.

Colonel Rosenberger is currently serving as Commander, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Irwin, CA.

The above was originally published by the Association of the U.S. Army’s Institute for Land Warfare Studies as a part of its Landpower Essay Series. Read it in its original form here.

Featured Image: Soldiers use the M777 howitzer to fire high explosive munitions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2008. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo)

Sea Control 150: Former Secretary and First Lady of the Navy, John and Margaret Dalton, Pt. 2

By Travis Nicks

We were honored to speak with former Secretary of the Navy John Dalton and his wife, Margaret Dalton, about their service during the Clinton administration. Read or listen to Part One of this two-part interview here.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 150: Former Secretary and First Lady of the Navy, John and Margaret Dalton, Pt. 2

TN: You served as a leader for essentially your entire life. You started as a naval officer. We’ve talked about your business career, where you were a leader in every organization you worked for – from Goldman Sachs up to your post at the top of the banking industry in the government. And of course, you became Secretary of the Navy. I’m just wondering what your advice would be to Sailors and junior officers that want to serve their country in the same capacity that you have, or to the same degree that you have.                                             

JD: I got unsolicited – shortly after I became Secretary, I received “The Timeless Traits of Leadership” that this minister had sent me from California. And I never had heard of him or knew him. But he and his staff did a retreat, and they came up with these eight traits of leadership. And I tried my best to live by those. And they are: a leader is trusted, a leader takes the initiative, a leader uses good judgement, a leader speaks with authority, a leader strengthens others, a leader’s optimistic and enthusiastic, never compromises absolutes, and leads by example. And I think those traits of leadership were very helpful to me when I was in office.

In terms of my prior career, I think you can summarize those eight traits of leadership in another leadership program –basically, know your stuff, be a person of character, and take care of your people. And, you know, I think if you do either of those eight traits or following the summarized version that was very helpful to me. But I want to emphasize the fact, Travis, that I had some success in business and in government, and I had some failures in business and government. And so you know, everything’s not pretty and rosy. I mean, I’ve had a business one time where I thought I was going to face bankruptcy, I avoided it, but there are ups and downs in business and in government. And I tell midshipmen when I talk to them, and I tell interns when I talk to them, the three things that you have to rely on when things go badly (and they will go badly for all of us)… I talk about having a lot of balls in the air, but three of those balls are crystal and those are you family, your faith, and your friends. And I think relying on those kinds of things had been very helpful to me throughout my career – are things that should be emphasized in nurturing all of those things.

TN: So, Mrs. Dalton, if we could transition over to asking you some questions.

MD: You may do that.

TN: So, Mrs. Dalton, how did you find being the First Lady of the Navy?

MD: I loved every minute of it. It was a great, great experience. It opened my eyes so much. We had not been married when my husband was in the Navy – he was in graduate school when we married. So it was my first experience in any kind of Navy life. I just, I loved every minute of it. As you said, there were some tough times that he had that I was there for, but he loved every minute that he was in that position. Every day, it could be a hard day, but it was a good day. And he looked forward to going in every day. And that made happy. That made me really happy.

TN: So what kind of experiences do you feel like you had before you became the First Lady of the Navy that contributed to how well you were able to help the Navy after you became the First Lady of the Navy?

MD: Well, I’ll have to say that people all my life have told me that I was a good listener. And every time people had issues, you know, they would come and talk to me. Every now and then Johnny would say to me, “Your shingle. Did you have your shingle out today?” And so that was one thing that was helpful to me – that I was able to listen to what I was being told.

And when he first became Secretary, I was asked what kind of Secretary’s wife I wanted to be, whether I wanted to be active or whether I just wanted to go to social things. And I said, “No, I really wanted to be active.” And the quality of life issues and working with the wives and families became my bailiwick. And I have never had any trouble talking with people. All our married life we’d been in a lot of social situations, and I always felt comfortable, and so I was never uncomfortable with new groups and visiting with new groups. And I think that that prepared me – having had those experiences in the past, and just knowing that I have to be aware of what people are telling me and listening and being able to respond, or being able to pass them on as they need to be passed on.

TN: Alright. So what got your eye about quality of life issues in the first place that made you want to focus on quality of life issues?

MD: Well, the first time we ever took a trip alone, we went to Hawaii. One of our first travels was to Hawaii. And the women picked me off and Johnny went to meet with Sailors and there were ships. And I went to look at housing and schools and, you know, medical things. And the first thing they did was to drive me to look at housing. The first place we went was to see the Air Force housing, which was just lovely – and I thought this is a great, great way – I’ve never looked at how people in the Navy lived.

And then they said, “Now we want to show you the Navy housing.”

And I said, “Where?” And they were telling me where it was, and they said where it was. And I said, “Well, is it near that slum area that we saw?”

And they said, “That is the slum area.”

And I knew that right away – I said, “That can’t be.” We went to look at the houses and I was appalled. I said, “We can’t have anybody living like this. Why would anybody be in the Navy – why would anyone want to be married to someone in the Navy if this is how you live?” I mean there were terrible termite problems, there were holes in roofs. I’ll never forget this house – they had a sort of porch. It wasn’t necessarily some sort of porch or some additional thing. And there was a big space between the roof lines. And any time it rained, which was every day, rain came down between those two rooms. You can’t live like that. It was awful, it was just awful.

I was always interested in the medical things, and when they had issues with medical things and how could they get such and such when they were too far away. And the educational things were pretty well taken care of because the schools were good. But the housing was a real issue. That sort of kind of became my thing.

JD: If I could interrupt, on the housing thing. When she went to see that Navy housing in Pearl Harbor, she did her thing and I did mine. We came back and we were changing clothes for dinner, and I said, “How was your day?”

And she started telling me about it and how bad it was, and literally teared up talking about how bad Navy housing was. And she said, “You can’t let Sailors live like this.”

And I said, “Okay, Margaret, when I get back to Washington, we’ll ask for a briefing on the housing, and I want you to come.”

So, we had this briefing which was scheduled for 30 minutes, and it lasted about an hour and 20 minutes. And the civil servant who was leading the briefing said, “Mr. Secretary, thank you for asking for this briefing. I want you to know that I’ve never met a Secretary of the Navy before, and I’ve certainly never given a briefing, but I’m happy to tell you about Navy housing.” And so she went on to talk about Navy housing.

And I realized that we had a big problem, I mean, Margaret had already told me about it, but I could see that it was a bigger problem than I thought. And we did some more homework on it, and I asked for a meeting with Bill Perry, Secretary Perry, who was the Secretary of Defense at the time, and a very outstanding leader. And I asked for a meeting with him, and I went in to see him, and it was just the two of us. I guess somebody told me – our office not to bring any staff, and he didn’t have anybody there. And so I laid it out for him. I said, “Here’s what the Air Force spends per capita. This is what the army spends per capita. This is what the Navy spends per capita. And this is what the Marine Corps spends per capita.” I said, “Mr. Secretary, retention is going to be a major problem if we don’t correct this.”

He asked a few questions and we went back and forth. And I wasn’t there more than half an hour, you know, I finished and he got it. And he said, “Let me look at this and I’ll get back to you.”

Before the day ended, John Deutch called me. He was the Deputy Secretary of Defense at the time, and said, “You’ll have 100 million additional dollars to spend in the next two fiscal years – the remainder of what’s left this year and next year on Naval housing.” And he said, “Do you want it all to go for Navy Housing?”

TN: It really is just amazing how you can affect so much change by listening and noticing what are clear problems to the people experiencing them, but would otherwise never be recognized.

MD: The other thing, too, about that, is that these women… I don’t think their husbands would have liked it if they had gone and told the Secretary because of their careers. But they didn’t feel at all hesitant to tell me things. And I could tell my husband without giving any names. But I know that if they’d gone up person to person and said something, then that would have been an issue for the husband for sure. The husband would have perceived it as a big issue. But they could tell me things, and they told me a lot of things. I heard a lot in five and a half years.

TN: One question that I was curious about is that over the time that you all served as the Secretary and First Lady of the Navy, there was quite a few scandals and tragic periods – to include to tragedy from Tailhook, we talked a little about budgeting but it had some real dramatic implications for the fleet. And then I think it was 1995, CNO Admiral Borda took his own life tragically. And there was just a series of very public and sad experiences for the Navy family. And I’m curious how you felt, or how you responded to that, and how you were able to console and help recover the Navy in that time.

MD: Well I do think that the people were really affected by that, and I think – I didn’t hear as much as I thought I would have hear about that when we would travel about that. I heard more around here about it.

TN: Around here in D.C.

MD: Yes. And I think that probably, an awful lot of the people here knew Admiral Boorda – the wives and, of course, the officers enlisted. But the wives, many of them knew Admiral Boorda. And so it was a personal thing for an awful lot of the people around here. And I think that, you know, you deal that the way you deal with the death of any friend or any associate. I think probably, you had a lot more backlash.

JD: Well, I recommended to the Secretary of Defense, after interviewing four or five or six – I don’t remember how many people I interviewed to be the CNO, all three and four star admirals. I don’t think I interviewed anybody who was less than three star. But I interviewed a number of people and you know, recommended to the Secretary of Defense that Admiral Boorda be selected. And we talked about the morale problem. And Mike Boorda was a people person. And he was the first enlisted Sailor that made it to four stars and I thought with the morale problem that we had, that he would be good for the navy. You know, there were those who disagreed with that. I think he was a good CNO. He had his faults like we all do, but I remember being with him the day before he committed suicide. And he was as happy and as full of life and, you know, vintage Mike Boorda, the day before.

As a matter of fact, you know, I have a budget that includes the Navy and Marine Corps, and there’s always a tousle between the two services in terms of, well, how the pie’s going to be split. But, you know, I only have so many dollars for the Navy Department, and we have to fund two services. But, the CNO, Mike Boorda, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Chuck Krulak, asked for an appointment with me and they came in to see me the day before the budget was released, for me to send it down to Bill Perry. And he’s, the controller for the Department of Defense. And they came in and did a high five in front of my desk, and they said, “We got a recommendation for you that we think – we’re both happy with and we hope that you’ll support.” You know, for them to give, you know, a high five in my presence – I mean, they just wanted to show me…

TN: I don’t think a lot of Marines would believe that General Krulak was capable of giving high fives.

JD: But he did. He did that day, and the next day, I was in a meeting with three or four people. And typically, if the CNO needs to see me, or the Commandant, his aide will come in to see my aide and say, “I hate to interrupt the Secretary, but my boss needs to see me right away.” And that didn’t happen. Chuck Krulak came busting in. I mean, I can remember how the door opened. And he came in, he said, “Admiral Mike Boorda has been shot. And, he was at his home, and we have circumvented that the Navy Yard with Marines, and we are going to find the perpetrator.”

You know, he committed suicide. And so I went immediately to the hospital. I asked, we had a press conference and so on, and I just said, you know, “This is a terrible tragedy.” And they asked me a lot of questions, and I said, “I really don’t know any of the details at this point.”

At that point, it wasn’t even confirmed that it was a suicide. But, the next day, in asking questions, I talked to Admiral Pease, who was CHINFO. I said, “I know you had a meeting with Mike Boorda that morning. Tell me about it.”

Well he said, “We had finished this other meeting,” And then he said. “‘You know, you have this meeting this afternoon with a reporter from Newsweek,” he said. Admiral Boorda said, “What does he want to talk about?’” And he said, “He wants to talk about the medals.” And he said, “We’ll just tell him the truth.” And then, it was about lunchtime, and he said, “I’m going home to lunch.”

And he took the keys to the car – normally, the driver, you know, would – and he said, “No, I don’t want you to drive me. I’m going to drive my car home.” And so he drove his car home. And he’d said he was going to go have lunch with his wife. Well, he knew his wife was not there. She was on some social function, and so she was not there. And so he went home and wrote two suicide notes: one to the Navy personnel, and one to his family. And walked out in the side yard and killed himself.

It was a tragedy, and I’ll tell you, I know that President Clinton went to Mike Boorda’s home, I believe it was that evening, and met with his wife and his other – his children, and spent like an hour and a half visiting with them. And that was never reported. But I know that’s, you know, the family members have told me that’s what he did. And he really empathized with people and spent quality time with them, when things like this happened. It was a big blow to the Navy, you know, when this happened. It really was.

TN: How did you all, as a team, go about getting the Navy back on track, and making the leadership transition happen smoothly, and recover from the emotional toll of the situation as an institution?

JD: It was, you know, one step in front of the other. I mean, it was a tragedy, but you know, we had a job to do, and my job was to name a new or recommend a new CNO. And, you know, I talked to several people and recommended Jay Johnson. And the Navy, you know, had a job to do and had to move on. I mean, it was a tragedy, and there was a wonderful service at the National Cathedral, and the President spoke, and I spoke. But anyway, I talked about what a fine – I read the true gentlemen that was back in, and I said this depicts Mike Boorda, you know, he was a gentleman. A true gentleman. And I also told a story about what a great ship-handler he was. One time, we were at sea, and they did a man overboard drill. And, you know, Mike Boorda said, “I’ll take the con.” And so you know, the CNO is the officer of the death, the conning officer for this man overboard drill.

TN: I’m not sure if I’d be mortified or enthused.

JD: Well, you know, he pulled that ship around, and I mean, you know, you could look over the side, and there was the life preserver – the lifeline, floating…the man overboard. I mean, it was… And Admiral Boorda said, “Mr. Secretary, do you want to do one?”

I said, “No, thank you.” I mean, I knew where my skills were, and they weren’t – I mean, ship-handling to that level? I couldn’t compete with that.

TN: That would be fun to watch.

JD: But that was, that got a big laugh from the congregation when I said no thank you. But anyway, you know the Navy and Marine Corps are resilient. And they marched off and continued to march. They got the job done and they had a job to do, and it was an unfortunate incident, and it really was a terrible tragedy.

TN: Mrs. Dalton – did you see an emotional toll having an effect on leadership morale in D.C. at the time?

MD: I did not. Yeah, I mean, it was sad, and it was a shock, and people talked about it. But I really don’t remember it as – as he said, there was a job to be done. And I understood there was a lot of talk, but that was pretty much what it was. But we all, everybody tried to be supportive of Betty Boorda. I was just saying, one of the great things about Mike Boorda was the enlisted just loved him. I mean, he was so close to them.

JD: He was the Sailor’s Sailor. I mean, you know, he really was.

MD: Yes, he really – that was one of his great, great things. They – all over the Navy – they all thought he was wonderful. And they were so proud that somebody who had started out as an enlisted had risen to that rank.

TN: As the first person to be prior-enlisted and then become a four-star admiral – you alluded a little bit to controversy about that kind of ascension. I’m just curious how that played out, and how that was taken into account in his selection as CNO.

JD: Like I said, we, earlier, we had a morale problem, and you know, Mike Boorda was the Sailor’s Sailor, and you know, there wasn’t much pushback when he was named. I mean, he got confirmed easily. I mean, he had been Chief of Naval Personnel and been on the Hill a lot and had a lot of friends on the Hill, and they were very supportive of his nomination.

MD: He made friends very easily.

JD: Yeah.

MD: He was a real easy person to like.

JD: He really was.

TN: With three people in leadership – in Navy leadership – at the time that had people on the mind and had quality of life as a focus (the two of you and Admiral Boorda), I’m curious how you found the quality of life issues to be taken by the fleet if you found that Sailors and Sailors’ families were receptive to the kinds of changes that you were making with housing and with a restored focus on people, or if that was taken strangely.

MD: Oh no. They were thrilled. They were thrilled with the improvements that were being made. I mean, I have people to this day who come up and thank me. They really do.

JD: Well, I tell you what. I have an email from a three-star Army general, just in the last couple of days, and he said, “Please give my regards to Mrs. Dalton, the best First Lady of the Navy the Navy ever had.” I mean, you know, this is an Army three-star who said that about her.

MD: Well, I think it became apparent that morale and quality of life and the families were high on his mind, in addition to what their husbands were doing and that kind of thing. And they knew that I was there to speak up for them. And I’d pass on whatever I saw and whatever I heard. Like I said, it’s amazing that people will still say something, you know, all these years later. And they’re out, their husbands are out, and they’ll just say, “Oh, I remember X, Y, you know.”

JD: I mean, we left office in ’98, I mean, that’s been almost, 20 years ago.

MD: And I think it’s been a very long time since anybody’s paid attention to the family life. I mean, I could be wrong, but I think it had not been a priority.

JD: Particularly in the Navy Department. I think the Air Force and Army, they had emphasized those issues more than we have.

TN: Navy families are notoriously resilient and famously tough. I’m just curious if you found that in your listening to the families talk, if there was any resilience to bring up issues, or if…

MD: Not to me. Not to me. They tell me everything. I mean, I know if they told their husbands they had told me these things, they might not be happy, but they would tell me anything. I’d go in and we’d have these meetings, and every time we’d go someplace, I’d meet with a good sized group of ladies, and they never held back. They knew that I would pass it out, that I was genuinely concerned about it, because I really was. As I said earlier, I had no prior knowledge of Navy life at all. My father had been in the Army during the war, but he was long out before I was born. Or he was out shortly after I was born. And so I never knew anything at all about military life, and certainly not about family life in the Navy. This was my first experience with it, and it was a huge eye-opener.

TN: How so? How was it an eye-opener?

MD: Well, first of all, I thought that the deployments – I can’t imagine having my husband gone all the time. And I found that everybody just rolled with it. They knew that that was their life. And I found two – it was great how they all just sort of knew each other. They’d been stationed someplace with someone else – we were together in Iceland, or we were together wherever it was, you know. And the family feeling within the Navy is just phenomenal. It really is. There’s so much support, which I had no idea about. I mean, I didn’t have a reason to know. So I’d go, and anything I learned about any kind of Navy life or Marine Corps family life was new. And it was generally, for the most part, it was wonderful. And nobody seemed to complain. At that time, as you said, they had six month deployments and it was a pretty regular thing. You knew your husband was going to be gone for six months before he’d be home. The one thing I did here was that, when they were coming home, the wives that were used to being in charge of everything, and the husbands that would come in and decide that would be in charge – and that point was always a hard breaking in for them, but for the most part, they knew that.

But now, it’s very different. And with – as you were talking about with the drawdown a while ago, now it’s very different. The Navy is so small now, you know, spread so thin, you have to be all things to all people and be all places for anybody, anything – whether it’s a conflict, or whether a potential conflict, or it’s a tsunami, or an earthquake – whatever. We’re there. You know, the active duty person is gone – and a lot. And they come in, and just because they’re back home, it doesn’t mean they’re really home because they’re training for the next deployment, or they’re out doing something else that’s so they’re not necessarily home. And I applaud the recommendation to increase the size of the Navy and Marine Corps because I think it’s very difficult for families now.

TN: You really get it.

MD: Well, it’s what I did. I mean I just think it’s got to be. And I think that living conditions now – I’m so pleased that the living conditions are better now. That’s so great because I can’t imagine leaving even for the six month deployment and leaving your family in these terrible conditions if they were 25 years ago – in a lot of places – not every place, but a lot of places – and being gone, and knowing that your family was living like that. Now you know that they’re in good, substantial, nice housing, have access to whatever they need – good medical care, good, you know. I think that’s a good reason for having people stay in. I think there are a lot of enlisted people who now stay. They got good housing, affordable housing, a good situation for schools – I think that helps with retention a lot.

But the fact that we’re so small and we have to be everywhere all the time, and there’s just not enough of us to do that without being deployed an awful lot of the time. And that’s – that is a hindrance to retention.

TN: For the Navy families that you’ve conversed with since you’ve left the Department of the Navy, I’m curious if you hear the same discussion – I don’t want to say complaint, but criticism, that the quality of life issues are sort of streaming back up again, because of the length in deployments and the reduction in maintenance budgeting.

MD: Well I don’t have a reason to hear that now. The people that I’m normally with are people who are in that sponsors group that I told you about, and they are far enough removed from that. They’re all – their husbands have been out for a long time. And so I don’t hear that much anymore. But the one thing that I do know is that they’re not enough. We do need to build up the size of the Navy and the Marine Corps so that the active duty person is not gone, all the time.

I have something else too, on that. I was talking to somebody and she said, “You know, the veterans have been great in really working on wounded warriors and that sort of thing.” But the veterans are particularly the ones who have not been out that long and who are pretty close to the situation. They could also be really beating the drums for increasing the size of the Navy and the Marine Corps. Cause they’re right there, they just left there and they haven’t been away for that long.

TN: Might be the reason they left.

MD: Very well could be. Could be unhappy wives who never saw their husbands, or unhappy husbands who never saw their wives who were deployed.

TN: So on a little bit of a lighter note, will you tell us about the sponsor program you’re involved in?  

MD: Oh, I will, I will indeed. I have the privilege of being the sponsor of the Seawolf submarine. And women who hves that privilege of cruising a ship and being the sponsor, is invited to join the Society of the Sponsors. And what that means is that anyone who has christened a ship can join this, and we’re kind of a – it’s a very unique group of people. And a sponsor of a ship is, as just about anybody knows (anybody within the Navy), the one person who is with that ship forever. There’s lots of different crews and lots of different captains, but there’s only one sponsor. It’s really a special bond between not just the ship and the sponsor but between the other people who are sponsors and who’ve had that experience. And it’s a good group of ladies and it’s a good thing to be – to be a sponsor.

TN: I had the privilege of going to the christening of the USS Tulsa is the first time I’ve ever had that opportunity. And seeing that whole ceremony, and the seriousness with which our sponsor, Kathy Taylor, took it was just a really cool experience.

MD: I’ll tell you… When I was president of the Society of Sponsors, and as president, I went to every ship that was – well, I was supposed to be. There were a couple I couldn’t go to. The christening and the commission of every ship that was, you know, in that group during the two years I was president of the organization. And it was great. It was just, they make you feel so special, and you just think, you know, you’re queen for a day. It’s a great experience.

TN: Well, Secretary Dalton, Mrs. Dalton, thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation with CIMSEC. Are there any last things you wanted to convey to our listeners?

JD: I loved my service as Secretary of the Navy and wouldn’t take anything for the experience and you know, our Sailors and Marines are special people and they get the job done. I’m very proud of them and grateful to them for what they did and wearing the cloth of our nation. They’re great people.

MD: And I will say people ask me what the best thing about being the Secretary’s wife was. And there were lots. We had the privilege of doing an awful lot of very wonderful things. But the best thing were the women, the wives, the families that I had the opportunity to meet and associate with during that time from all over the world. They really are special, special women, and I applaud them for everything that they day.

TN: Well, Sir and Ma’am, thank you so much for your time, and this unique opportunity to get your perspective and your insight. Thank you so much.

MD and JD: You’re welcome.

JD: Thank you.

John Dalton served as the 70th Secretary of the Navy from 1993 to 1998. 

Mary Dalton is Secretary Dalton’s spouse.

Travis Nicks formerly served as the Vice President of CIMSEC. These questions and views are presented in a personal capacity.

Cris Lee is Senior Producer of the Sea Control podcast.