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Classes for Nothing and Degrees For Free Pt. 2, or Knowledge (That’s What I Want)

By LCDR Adam Kahnke and LT Scott Cheney-Peters

In our first post Scott and I wrote about education opportunities available for those supporting the U.S. Navy, from reserve Marine Corps to active Navy to civil servants. We’ve updated that post with additional options thanks to RADM James Foggo, CDR Stephen Melvin, Chrissy Juergens, LCDR Vic Allen, and Tetyana Muirhead. In that article we focused on free courses that can be used towards degrees or certificate programs. But that’s not the only type of free training available.

Alternatively, you might find yourself in the situation “Degreed Out” (BSEE, MBA, CDFM, CISSP, OA Cert from NPS…), in which getting another master’s degree or certification may start merely seeming like alphabet soup. Also, if you’re like me and you find yourself on shore duty, it should be a time for professional and personal development, right? I tried something different and took a few classes through Coursera. Six classes actually, and I’m happy to say this was a very positive and rewarding experience. Coursera offers what are known as massive open online courses (MOOCs). In contrast with the courses in our first post, these typically have no limit on the number of seats in the class and some can be started at any time, although there are many variations on the set-up. While they too don’t charge for enrollment, a few have a small fee to test or “certify” you upon the course’s completion if that is something you’d like to pursue.

With Coursera each class ranged from 6-12 weeks in length and all required a different but not insignificant amount of work.  What did I get for my efforts you ask? All but one of the courses offered me PDF certificates of completion that don’t mean much to anyone but me. More importantly, I learned more than I thought possible in subject matters I chose (Cryptography, Reverse Engineering of Malware, Financial Engineering, Computational Finance, High Performance Computing and Guitar) by the experts in the field (Stanford, University of London International Programmes, University of Washington, Columbia University, Georgia Tech, and Berklee School of Music).

In my humble opinion, this is the future of education. I think this is the greatest invention since the public library system. It is the public library system and the internet combined, with guided direction of the world’s greatest instructors thrown into the mix. I am convinced that this is how the world will judge future academic institutions and decide where they will send their children to study full-time. It is also quite possibly, how future college students will prepare and choose their degree paths. I expect great things for the future due largely to efforts such as these. For Scott’s part, he believes the business model will allow MOOCs to count towards degree and certificate programs at “brick-and-mortar” institutions if they are individually partnered with that institution and upon the successful completion of testing on a fee basis (The Economist has covered the possible future of MOOCs in more depth, as well as even shorter, less-formal learning tools).

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

For an aggregation of MOOC courses across these and other sites check out MOOC-List.


courseraCoursera has 554 institutions offering course-work in various subject areas. Take the world’s best courses for free and earn a certificate of completion. Alternatively, pay a few dollars extra and earn a verified certificate. This certificate verifies your identity by using methods such as your typing patterns and using an online camera to verify your picture. One of the downsides for military members attempting to take Coursera classes related to your job is that the site is not compatible with NMCI’s old browsers.


iTunesU has a large collection of free podcasts in several knowledge areas.  Not surprisingly, if you want to learn how to write an iTunes App this is the place to go. It seems that may universities have their own portal on the iTunesU website.  In my opinion, Apple’s decision to host individual portals has left this site a bit of a mess and course material is slightly unorganized. However, once you find the content you are looking for, it could make your commute to work much more productive.


While I have yet to try this one, Udacity is the same basic concept as Coursera but with a twist. You can take the classes completely on your schedule. Although limited in number by comparison, the course offerings looked fairly attractive. I think I may just try the “Intro to Hadoop and Map-reduce” course if I can squeeze it in. With no deadlines it is much more likely that I will sign up, poke around at the most interesting content, and if I am not completely enamored put it off until another day.


edX_Logo_Col_RGB_FINALedX is another top-tier MOOC which at the time of this writing has 38 courses to choose from, provided in partnership with such institutions as Harvard, MIT, and Georgetown, spanning many subject areas. Most edX course videos are provided by means of YouTube and do their best to incorporate students into discussion groups on online forums. edX also offers certificates of completion, some requiring a fee for identify verification.

Navy Knowledge Online, MarineNet, and Joint Knowledge Online

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention these three sites, which are in fact long-running DoD-restricted versions of MOOCs. While they may not have the best reputation and are saddled with clunky, non-mobile interfaces, they do offer training on topics directly related to professional duties. Additionally, for those seeking to expand their knowledge beyond their designator or rate, there’s a range of interesting coursework available – from drone operations to intel “A” school to short cultural backgrounds on dozens of countries.

Defense Acquisition University (DAU), FEMA, DHS, Defense Security Service

Back in our first post we talked about (at least in the updated version) accredited courses and certificate options available through DAU, FEMA, DHS at NPS, DHS at Texas A&M, and the Defense Security Service’s Center for Development of Security Excellence. As a reminder, they have many online training options there for self-edification as well. Offerings typically focus on subject such as incident response management, cyber security, and counter-terrorism.


While Rosetta Stone used to be available free to servicemembers, that contract has since expired. However, there are still several options for beginning or furthering a language for free. Both NKO and JKO have several languages available, but they’re not the most interactive, and focus primarily on a few of the high-demand target languages and militarily useful skills. That said, if you’re already an intermediate speaker or going on a specific assignment and want to brush up on your ability to talk to your uniformed counterparts, these could be quite useful. iTunesU has a plethora of options, running from minute-long immersion to more structured serial listening podcasts. For those with smartphones there are a variety of free language apps that I have yet to try, but the Duolingo app comes highly recommended and takes an immersion and gamification approach to try and cram learning for fun into the nooks and crannies of your free time. Scott may have to put away The Simpsons Tapped Out and finally get back to his Spanish studies.

If you have any additional recommendations on language learning options, please let us know and we’ll perhaps come up with a part 3. In the meantime let us know what else we missed, and keep on learnin’.

This article was cross-posted by permission from JO Rules.

LCDR Vincent “Adam” Kanhnke is a Navy Campaign Analyst, submarine warfare officer, and runs the site www.cricx.org. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and the U.S. Naval Post-graduate School.

LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founder and vice president of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), a graduate of Georgetown University and the U.S. Naval War College, and a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. 

Follow @scheneypeters


Developing an Assessment for the IO Environment in Afghanistan

You may be wondering what an article about Afghanistan is doing on a site about maritime security. Well, I found myself asking a very similar questions when, within six months of joining the U.S. Navy and graduating from Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Pensacola, FL, I found myself in a land-locked country serving on a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) conducting counterinsurgency operations. The irony was not lost on me since I had joined very late in life (I was 35 when I went to OCS). The recruiter had said, “Join the Navy and see the world!” Little did I know we’d be starting in alphabetical order …

Meeting the requirements of an “individual augmentee” – (Fog a mirror? Check!) – and having just enough training to know how to spell “IO,” I arrived in Khost province in early 2008. I was fortunate to relieve a brilliant officer, Chris Weis, who had established a successful media and public diplomacy program and laid the groundwork for a number of future programs.

I decided that before setting out to win the “hearts and minds” of the local population, we needed to take stock of where we were and whether our efforts were achieving the effects we desired.

The goal of Information Operations (or “IO”) is to “influence, corrupt, disrupt, or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own.”[i] But how does one know whether the decision process, either human or automated, has actually been influenced in some way? We can assume or surmise that, based on the actions of the target of the IO campaign, some desired effect was achieved or not achieved. But how much of that was based on our IO campaign and how much on other factors, perhaps unknown even to us? We can also attempt to ask the target after the fact whether campaign activities influenced their decision making. But such opportunities might rarely arise in the midst of on-going operations. 

Commanders conducting counterinsurgency operations should have two primary IO targets: the insurgents and the local population. Retired U.S. Army officer John Nagl notes that “persuading the masses of people that the government is capable of providing essential services—and defeating the insurgents—is just as important” as enticing the insurgents to surrender and provide information on their comrades.[ii] A PRT is not charged with directly targeting insurgents. Instead, its mission is to build the capacity of the host government to provide governance, development, and these “essential services” for the local population.[iii]

Information Operations traditionally suffer from a lack of available metrics by which planners can assess their environment and measure the effectiveness of their programs. It may be impossible to show direct causation, or even correlation, between Information Operations and actual effects (i.e., did my influence program actually have its desired effect?). This often places IO practitioners at a distinct disadvantage when attempting to gain the confidence of unit commanders, who are tasked with allocating scarce battlefield resources and who are often skeptical of Information Operations as a whole.

Given these constraints it was clear that the PRT in Khost province, Afghanistan, needed a tool by which the leadership could benchmark current conditions and evaluate the information environment under which the population lived. We hoped that such a tool could help provide clues as to whether our IO (and the overall PRT) efforts were having the intended effects. As a result, we developed the Information Operations Environmental Assessment tool, which can be used and replicated at the unit level (battalion or less) by planners in order to establish an initial benchmark (where am I?) and measure progress toward achieving the IO program goals and objectives (where do I want to go?). 

Since my crude attempt was first published in 2009, the U.S. Institute of Peace (yes, there is such a thing) developed the metrics framework under the name “Measuring Progress in Conflict Environments” or “MPICE.” This project seeks to:

provide a comprehensive capability for measuring progress during stabilization and reconstruction operations for subsequent integrated interagency and intergovernmental use. MPICE enables policymakers to establish a baseline before intervention and track progress toward stability and, ultimately, self-sustaining peace. The intention is to contribute to establishing realistic goals, focusing government efforts strategically, integrating interagency activities, and enhancing the prospects for attaining an enduring peace. This metrics framework supports strategic and operational planning cycles.

No doubt the MPICE framework is far more useful today than my rudimentary attempt to capture measures of effect in 2008, but I hope in some small way others have found a useful starting point. As I learned firsthand, and as practitioners of naval and maritime professions know, what happens on land often draws in those focused on the sea. 

The author would like to thank Dr. Thomas H. Johnson and Barry Scott Zellen, both of the Naval Postgraduate School, for their professional mentorship and constructive advice, and for including my work in their book.

LT Robert “Jake” Bebber is an information warfare officer assigned to the staff of Commander, U.S. Cyber Command. He holds a Ph.D. in public policy from the University of Central Florida and lives with his wife, Dana and son, Vincent in Millersville, Maryland. The views expressed here are not those of the Department of Defense, the Navy or those of U.S. Cyber Command. He welcomes your comments at jbebber@gmail.com.


[i] Joint Publication 3-13 Information Operations, p. ix

[ii] Nagl, John A. Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002, p. 93.

[iii] Ibid.

Sea Control 22 – Behind the Curtain

seacontrolemblem(Download: Sea Control 22 – Behind the Curtain, the First.)

A. Denis Clift, former Naval Officer, president emeritus of the National Intelligence University, and Vice President for Operations of USNI, joins us to talk about his reflections on his time in the Antarctic, Cold War intelligence, life, and the United States Naval Institute. This is the first of a bi-monthly series that will be investigating his career during the Cold War.

We are available on Itunes, Stitcher Stream Radio, etc… Remeber to subscribe, leave a comment and a 5-star rating.

The Evolution of Air-Sea Battle

Just as history and past experiences have guided the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on a path towards the deployment of a robust anti-access/area-denial capability (A2/AD), Washington’s own historical narrative will guide its own counter response. Such a response, known as Air-Sea Battle (ASB), has gone through an important evolution–thanks mainly to an important and often times heated debate–over the last four years that many scholars and followers of this operational concept are quick to gloss over or are unaware of. Understanding such an evolution and tracking its progress is key not only for understanding ASB itself but also in monitoring how nations and non-state actors dependent on A2/AD might attempt to adapt or counter such efforts.

ASB: Core Foundations

American planners over the last several years have sought techniques to continue to deploy a superior conventional military capability in spite of growing A2/AD capabilities, retain the ability to mass forces and enter a combat zone decisively while controlling the global commons across all domains (land, air, sea, space, and cyber). Despite carefully worded statements, Washington is clearly trying to negate PRC and in some respects Iran’s A2/AD capabilities along with non-state actors.  The most widely discussed option when it comes to defeating A2/AD strategies is the highly controversial operational concept known as AirSea Battle. Many times confused as a war fighting strategy, in its simplest form, ASB is an effort by America’s military to ensure access to the global commons from any adversary that would contest such access across any and all domains.

The initial phrase ASB is a most likely a borrowed one. It derives its likeness from the Cold War concept of AirLand Battle (ALB). ALB was its own joint warfighting concept; however, that is largely where the similarities stop. As Robert Farley has noted, ALB succeeded Active Defense as U.S. Army doctrine in the early 1980’s. The doctrine primed NATO forces for  combat in Central Europe against the Warsaw Pact, although many of its basic precepts could also apply to other scenarios (like the 1991 Gulf War, for example). Farley explains that “ALB represented an accommodation between the Army and the USAF, providing a respite to the decades of intra and inter-service strife…” The Air Force essentially set aside its own strategic concept in order to provide operational and tactical support for army forces in a protracted struggle with a much larger conventional adversary.

CSBA Version of Air-Sea Battle: ASB 1.0?

The first comprehensive study of ASB and what it could offer U.S. war planners is a widely cited 2010 report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) entitled: AirSea Battle – A Point of Departure Operational Concept. To this day, the report is one of the most authoritative documents concerning ASB, even though the concept has evolved dramatically since publication. While the document was developed without Department of Defense support, it provides important detailed operational and strategic guidance of how ASB could be moved from an operational concept into a war-fighting strategy to defeat A2/AD battle networks.

While the CSBA version addresses ASB capabilities at the tactical and strategic levels, it is the operational level that is most important, as ASB is an operational concept—which many scholars confuse. As the CSBA report notes:

Air-Sea Battle must address the critical emerging challenges and opportunities that projected Chinese A2/AD capabilities will present, and to which currently envisioned US forces do not appear to offer a suitable response. In general, since A2/AD capabilities seek to impose ever-greater constraints on US operational freedom of action, an AirSea Battle concept must address how the challenge can be offset or, failing that, how freedom of action can be regained in at least selected temporal/positional aspects for purposes of power projection.

The CSBA version of ASB would see combat take place in two stages. The first stage is detailed as an initial stage, comprised of several distinct lines of operation.  U.S. forces would first withstand an initial attack and limit possible damage. Next, a “blinding campaign” would commence against PLA battle networks. Next, a “suppression campaign” would then commence, focusing on PLA long-range ISR and strike systems. Focus would also be placed to ensure “Seizing and sustaining the initiative in the air, sea, space and cyber domains.” Emphasis would also be placed on “distant blockade operations,” and increased procurement and production of precision guided munitions—among other goals.

ASB would rapidly find acceptance and quickly be adopted by official U.S. war planners as part of an overall strategy to shift U.S. thinking away from COIN based operations to future military challenges—specifically operating in A2/AD environments. During late fall of 2011, it was announced that an Air-Sea Battle office was in the process of being formed to “oversee the integration of air and naval combat capabilities in an age of smaller budgets and leaner forces.”

ASB and the JOAC

ASB continued its evolution as part of a much wider Joint Operational Access Concept, or commonly known as JOAC, in early 2012. Signed by U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, the goal of this document is to show how U.S. “joint forces will operate in response to emerging anti-access and area-denial security challenges.” The JOAC places the first official U.S. definition of ASB into the public domain:

The intent of Air-Sea Battle is to improve integration of air, land, naval, space, and cyberspace forces to provide combatant commanders the capabilities needed to deter and, if necessary, defeat an adversary employing sophisticated A2/AD capabilities. It focuses on ensuring that joint forces will possess the ability to project force as required to preserve and defend U.S. interests well into the future.

Enter The ASB Office

ASB would again be refined and further sculpted once more in U.S. government documents for public disclosure, this time by the newly formed AirSea Battle office itself. On May 12, 2013, the ASB office released an unclassified version of what was dubbed a “summary” of the ASB operational concept:

A limited objective concept that describes what is necessary for the joint force to sufficiently shape A2/AD environments to enable concurrent or follow-on power projection operations. The ASB Concept seeks to ensure freedom of action in the global commons and is intended to assure allies and deter potential adversaries. ASB is a supporting concept to the Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC), and provides a detailed view of specific technological and operational aspects of the overall A2/AD challenge in the global commons. The Concept is not an operational plan or strategy for a specific region or adversary. Instead, it is an analysis of the threat and a set of classified concepts of operations (CONOPS) describing how to counter and shape A2/AD environments, both symmetrically and asymmetrically, and develop an integrated force with the necessary characteristics and capabilities to succeed in those environments.

Confusion, Evolution and Revolution?

Even after the ASB offices authoritative documentation, many still confused ASB for a war-fighting strategy against China. Many mistakenly continue to this day cite and attack the CSBA version of ASB. The area of the document that draws the most attention is where it calls for controversial kinetic strikes on mainland China to disrupt important A2/AD C2 and C4ISR that would control PLA A2/AD combat capabilities. Because of this confusion, members of the House Armed Services Committee held a special session on October 10, 2013 in an attempt to remove any ambiguity (I was able to attend). The meeting was described as “for the first time ever, senior leaders from the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Army and Joint Staff discussed the Air-Sea Battle Concept in an open hearing.” As U.S. Navy Rear Admiral James Foggo testified, ASB is:

Designed to assure access to parts of the “global commons” – those areas of the air, sea, cyberspace and space that no one “owns,” but which we all depend on – such as the sea lines of communication.  Our adversaries’ anti-access/area denial strategies employ a range of military capabilities that impede the free use of these ungoverned spaces. These military capabilities include new generations of cruise, ballistic, air-to-air, and surface-to-air missiles with improved range, accuracy, and lethality are being produced and proliferated. Quiet modern submarines and stealthy fighter aircraft are being procured by many nations, while naval mines are being equipped with mobility, discrimination and autonomy. Both space and cyberspace are becoming increasingly important and contested. Accordingly the Air-Sea Battle Concept is intended to defeat such threats to access, and provide options to national leaders and military commanders, to enable follow-on operations, which could include military activities, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster response. In short, it is a new approach to warfare.

In many respects the debate and confusion around ASB has played a critical role in its evolution and definition in publicly available sources of information. While scholars will surely battle over the abilities of ASB to provide effective solutions to confront the challenge of proliferating A2/AD technologies and strategies, having a correctly understood definition of ASB are crucial to such a debate. As ASB has been misinterpreted, misunderstood, or mistaken for something it is not, those who look to the benefits of ASB have been forced to refine and develop the motivations and aspirations of this operational concept. While issues of national strategy, budgetary politics and public opinion may ultimately cause ASB to become nothing more than an historical curiosity (for the record, I sure hope not) its evolution continues on for those who wish to see it.

Harry J. Kazianis is a non-resident Senior Fellow at the China Policy Institute (University of Nottingham) as well as WSD Handa Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies: PACNET. Mr. Kazianis also serves as Managing Editor for the National Interest. He previously served as Editor of The Diplomat. The views expressed are his alone.