The fortnight-long icy drama in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, is finally over and the two ice breakers, MV Akademik Shokalskiy of Russia, trapped since Christmas Eve, and Xue Long, the Chinese ship that came to rescue it, broke through the thick sea-ice and headed back to their routine summer deployment and scientific tasks.
It all began after Akademik Shokalskiy, carrying 74 people on board, made a distress call that it was unable to cut through the ice and was stranded. Xue Long, which was on its way to assist the construction of the new Chinese Antarctic station responded to the emergency, but could not break through the ice; it stopped six miles short of the distressed vessel. However, it successfully airlifted 52 passengers from the Russian ship but got trapped in the ice itself. In the early stages of these developments, two icebreakers France’s L’Astrolabe, and Australia’s Aurora Australis were also on deployment in the area but not expected to reach the scene quickly. However, it is Aurora Australis that ferried the rescued passengers to Hobart in Tasmania, Australia. During the course of the above events, the United States also dispatched its U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, but by then the two vessels had extricated from the sea-ice.
This rescue operation is a fine example of multinational effort, and the New York Times described it as a display of “unusual international harmony,” while the Global Times has glorified Xue Long‘s mission as an ‘epitome of China’s attitude towards its international obligations.’ It is useful to mention that Xue Long’s team includes scientists from Taiwan and Thailand.
The above event merits attention in India, which has a proactive polar scientific research programme including acquisition of a polar research vessel. India has set up three permanent scientific research stations in Antarctica: ‘Dakshin Gangotri’ (1983), ‘Maitri’ (1989) and ‘Bharati’ (2012); as well as ‘Himadri’ (2007) in the Arctic. Their activities are coordinated by the National Centre for Antarctic & Ocean Research (NCAOR) at Goa, India.
India’s polar expeditions are serviced by hiring or chartering ships for short durations from private parties in Germany, Russia, and Norway. India has announced plans to acquire a polar research vessel with specific requirements such as 45 days’ endurance, capable of cutting through 1.5-2 meter ice, accommodations for 60 scientists, a flight deck for helicopter operations, spaces for laboratories and instrumentation facilities for scientific research, and modern polar logistics support systems. Further, the vessel should be able to operate year-round in the Antarctic, Arctic, Southern, and Indian Oceans. The ship is expected to be in service by the end of 2016 and would cost about Rs 800 crore (U.S.$ 144 million).
Polar maritime activity is dependent not only on hi-quality ships, but also on competent human resourced. The ships’ crews have to be skilled and trained for navigation and engineering duties in sub-zero conditions. They also face a host of physical and psychological challenges arising from long periods of darkness, extreme cold, and fatigue, which could result in disorientation and can affect decision making. It is equally important to recognize that ‘a natural understanding based on experience of working in a cold environment cannot be assumed’ for Asian seafarers, unlike the seafarers from Scandinavia, Canada, or Russia, who are at less risk to cold injury than the Asians.
Likewise, the on-board helicopter and its crew must be competent handing air operations under treacherous polar conditions marked by blizzards, low-air temperatures, fog, low visibility, high-speed shifting winds, etc. Although chartered ships carry their own helicopters, between 1981 and 1995, the Indian Navy provided Chetak helicopters and the Indian Air Force deployed the Pratap helicopters for various duties including ferrying scientists, lifting stores, casualty evacuation and other shore tasks.
Another important facet of Antarctic deployment is voyage planning. The 2007 International Maritime Organisation (IMO) ‘Guidelines on Voyage Planning for Passenger ships operating in Remote Areas’ stipulate that any voyage planning through the Arctic or Antarctic must include a number of safety practices such as identification of safe areas and no-go areas, surveyed marine corridors, contingency plans for accidents, collisions, onboard fire, and search and rescue emergencies. Further, the voyage planning should also include information about icebergs and iceberg evasion procedures, weather, levels of darkness, safe speed, etc.
These material, human, and training requirements can potentially pose major challenges for India’s self sufficiency in its polar research programme and can be addressed through advanced planning and preparation including cooperative ventures with countries that have set up research stations and those which dispatch their research vessels to the polar regions.
This article was published in its original form at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies and was re-posted by permission. Dr. Vijay Sakhuja is Director (Research), Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), New Delhi. He is also Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore since 2006. A former Indian Navy officer, Sakhuja’s research areas include politico-strategic developments in the Indian Ocean, Asia Pacific security, Arctic politics, and maritime and naval developments.
The U.S. Navy’s Information Dominance Corps (IDC) is comprised of four major communities: Information Professional, Information Warfare (including Cyber Warfare Engineers), Intelligence, and Meteorology/Oceanography. Its enlisted members are some of the most well trained members of the military. There have been some efforts made to grow the active duty community into a mature force since its inception in 2009, and as a Naval community it collectively has the greatest understanding of using social media and the internet-although that may be damning with faint praise.
IDC’s reserve component is more interesting. Unencumbered by active duty career paths, the reserve IDC has members with a phenomenal amount of knowledge about network administration, network security, coding, software development, and a lot more areas of expertise that are often missing in our active component.
The reserve IDC should be a lab for innovation and a tremendous opportunity to bring true experts in the industry in for targeted part-time work and help that could keep the Navy at the leading edge of network dominance. Unfortunately, we’ve handcuffed them with bureaucratic nonsense that is sure to drum out the best and leave us with the rest.
I spoke to LTjg Kevin Schmidt last week for the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell podcast, and I was both excited and disappointed to hear how the Navy handles this group of experts. Excited because we’re hiring some amazingly talented people in the reserve, disappointed because their drilling weekends comprise of death by powerpoint.
My interviewee is a subject matter expert in Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), a network protocol. He’s expert enough to have written a book on it (two if you count the 2nd edition update). He’s had officers with PhD’s in his drilling unit. This is a cadre with deep skills and talents we don’t normally see in the military.
Naturally, we’re feeding them the same admin garbage we feed our 18-year-old new-accession Sailors.
Let me ask the reader this: should we ensure this 37-year-old O-2 gets through his annually required general military training (GMT) on his drilling weekends, or should we be flying him somewhere and giving him the opportunity to put his talents to productive use for the Navy?
Yes, it’s a loaded question. And yet, the IDC is shackled by the same checks in the box required by every community of our military.
Would an expert want to serve our country by applying specialized skills to battlefield situations, or by completing an administrative checklist comprised by somebody who’s forgotten what the point of the military is? Is it any wonder we’re going to lose the best and brightest professionals in the field? It’s time to drop the one size fits all requirements.
Take a look, for a moment, at the CNO’s Sailing Directions. Please click through (pdf alert) and look them over. Warfighting first-it’s a motto a lot of Sailors love, because it’s why a lot of us joined. He also speaks of a force “diverse in experience, background and ideas.” Are we setting up our reserve to be diverse, or simply a mirror (and therefore shadow) of our current active force?
The difficulty happens because military training has historically been specialized in a way that civilian training could not offer. In some communities, this is still the case: an airline pilot’s time spent on a 737 is only going to go so far in training him to fly an F/A-18. The concepts are similar, but the details are very different.
In the internet realm, however, there is a much greater blur between the two areas. As we continue the move into asymmetric warfighting, often against small groups or lone actors, the military will continue to look at the civilian sector for security certifications such as Security +, CISSP and CCNA. An officer can join the IDC reserve and already know more as an ensign than many active lieutenant commanders.
It’s not a knock on active duty folks, but a recognition that specialized training has its place-and the day to day life of a Sailor does not allow for much specialized training. Allowing our reservists to fill that gap would be a tremendous opportunity.
Also, two days a month, two weeks a year may not be the appropriate amount of time for a reservist to work through a project. Are we allowing for flexibility in days/hours served? Would you commission Elon Musk as a Commander if he were willing to work only five days a year? I would-that would be an incredibly productive five days (#draftElon!). To say no to him would be lunacy! How about Gary Vaynerchuk? If you don’t know that name, you’re extremely late to the party on social media and branding-two very important aspects to growing a top notch community of experts. And yet, we insist the system in place should remain in place…because we’re either too lazy, too overworked or too unimaginative to consider an alternative.
The Information Dominance Corps reserve component could be just as attractive a place to work as Google, Apple or Tesla Motors. And it should be-as its brand grows, the talent attracted to it can only grow and become more competitive. This would be a huge win for the taxpayers.
We don’t need cyber officers who can drive a ship-we’ve got plenty of those already. We need cyber officers who can think outside the box and share their wealth of talent with Uncle Sam…at a deep discount to the usual consulting fees-which generally go to the well connected.
The IDC reserve component has the capability to be an innovation and consultation powerhouse at a fraction of the cost of traditional military contracts, saving the Pentagon hundreds of millions. Maybe that’s why this idea will never happen.
This article appeared in its original form at disruptivethinkers.org
ET1(SW) Jeff Anderson is the host of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell Podcast and military lead for Disruptive Thinkers San Diego. He also daylights as an Electronics Technician onboard USS Independence (LCS-2).
It has been 135 years since Alfred Thayer Mahan first became a published author. His 1879 essay on naval education won third prize in the inaugural United States Naval Institute “General Prize Essay Contest,” appearing in what was then known as The Record of the United States Naval Institute. Recently re-printed in LCDR Benjamin Armstrong’s book 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era, his words remain a prescient reminder of what it takes to educate young naval professionals.
Blinded With Science
In the late nineteenth century, the burgeoning fields of steam power and advanced naval armament had “dazzled” military thinkers. Failing to fully appreciate the scope of their power, Navy leaders instituted a strenuous, technically-focused curriculum at the Naval Academy that drove young men to become engineers or other technical “specialists” in order to harness the wonders of modern science. A midshipman’s schedule was heavy with science, engineering, and technical courses at the expense of English, foreign language, and other studies of the humanities.
This movement puzzled Mahan. He viewed the education of a naval officer as principally involving morals, duty, discipline, and general professional knowledge. Required technical knowledge was only “that which enables him to discharge his many duties intelligently and thoroughly.”1 Mahan eschewed the technical specialist role, writing “that the knowledge sufficient to run and care for marine steam engines can be acquired by men of very little education is a matter of daily experience.”2
Nearly one and a half centuries later, we still find ourselves dazzled by science. Drones, cyber warfare, and other transformational technologies have led Admirals and Generals alike to clamor for officers grounded firmly in math and science. In the October 2012 issue of Proceedings, Vice Admiral Nancy Brown, USN (ret), Captain Danelle Barrett, USN, and Lieutenant Commander Jesse Castillo, USN wrote that “to build the kind of force necessary to excel in the cybersphere, the Navy’s entire man, train, and equip paradigm must be revamped to produce a new kind of officer equipped for the task: a cyber-warfare officer.”3 This belief runs counter to the moral education advocated by Mahan. Again, we are “dazzled” by the complexity of the cybersphere, and feel that we must need a completely new set of officers to fill this role. Such drastic changes may create cyber specialists, but they do not necessarily create professional naval officers.
STEM or the Fruit?
As the face of naval education, the United States Naval Academy claims that their “academic program is focused especially on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), in order to meet the current and future highly technical needs of the Navy. Graduates who are proficient in scientific inquiry, logical reasoning and problem solving will provide an officer corps ready to lead in each warfare community of the Navy and Marine Corps.” 4
During the 1980s and early 1990s, the Naval Academy was required to graduate between 70% and 80% of officers with technical majors.5 After dropping this requirement for much of the 1990s and 2000s, Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Michael Miller announced the re-establishment of a STEM “benchmark” in 2011.6 For the Class of 2013, this meant that at least 65% of midshipmen had to choose a STEM major in order to satisfy “the needs of the Naval Service.”7
The number of STEM graduates will continue to dwarf other Naval Academy graduates—regardless of any specific percentage requirement—because the institution has developed one of the finest undergraduate engineering programs in the country. This is an academic success story, and it will rightly attract midshipmen interested in the field. However, scholastic achievement and professional naval education are often two different topics.
As in Mahan’s day, our enlisted sailors prove that the principles of aerodynamics, missile mechanics, and electrical systems can be learned without college degrees and officer commissions. By overemphasizing the technical knowledge necessary from her officer corps, “the naval system of our country has continued to surround a simple enough practical matter…with a glamour of science and difficulty which does not exist.”8
Not only that, but credence in cold calculation over tactical intelligence has led current naval officers such as LT Matthew Hipple to observe that “critical inspections are becoming choreographed executions of checklists, nothing more than theater to check blocks in a PowerPoint presentation.”9 When we trust formulas and checklists more than our own people, we are allowing our reliance on the wonders of science to erode our warfighting force.
Ethics or Equations?
Today, we are confronted by many allegations of corruption and impropriety from our officer ranks. A search of the word “fired” on the Navy Times website returns a plethora of reasons for high-ranking naval officers being relieved of duty in just the past two months:
-Poor command climate
-Forcing female sailors to march down the pier carrying bags of their own feces
The words of Alfred Thayer Mahan are truer today than they ever have been: “No amount of mental caliber, far less any mere knowledge, can compensate for a deficiency in moral force in our profession.”10
Midshipmen today are focused on Physics, Calculus, Electrical Engineering, Steam, Boats, and a host of other technical courses as part of their “core curriculum”; the level of accumulated knowledge required to achieve a bachelor’s of science degree is immense. Courses such as Naval History, Ethics, and Leadership are almost an afterthought in the average study day. Currently, midshipman are only required to take four credit hours of Naval History and Warfare, seven credit hours of Leadership, eight credit hours of Seamanship and Navigation, three credit hours of Ethics, and two credit hours of Naval Law during their entire four years in Annapolis.11 This amounts to an average of approximately 17% of a midshipman’s total credit hours—more of an annoyance than an actual course of study—but a majority of their professional responsibilities as officers.
In a February 2012 piece written for Proceedings, Commander Michael Junge, USN writes that, “[the naval officer’s] mind needs to be developed to see patterns in technology and human behavior, to understand that not everything needs to be (or can easily be) reduced to ones and zeroes, and to be able to draw on historical examples to inform the present.”12 Similarly, Mahan believed that “the studious and scientific intellect is not that which most readily attaches itself to a naval life…and the attempt to combine the two has upon the whole been a failure, except where it has succeeded in reducing both to mediocrity in the individual.”13
The failure of our leaders to be fully inculcated to the history and ethics of our profession has led to an embarrassing spate of public dismissals and a lack of trust in naval leaders. Overemphasis on technical knowledge—at the expense of a moral and professional education—negatively impacts the development of the kind of naval leadership our country deserves.
A Mahanian Fix
The need to reform naval education has been evident since Alfred Thayer Mahan first wrote that essay in 1879. The crux of academic thinking today centers around the notion that advanced warships and aircraft require deeply technical junior officers. However, as Junge points out, “While the civilian world once held the same idea that technical degrees were required in technical fields, recent research turns the concept on its head. In a survey of 652 U.S.-born chief executive officers and heads of product engineering at 502 technology companies, only 37 percent held degrees in engineering or computer technology, and only 2 percent held them in mathematics. The majority held degrees as diverse as business, accounting, finance, health care, and arts and the humanities.”14
The naval officer corps must return to a study of its roots. The surest way to do this is to turn our focus away from technical acumen as our primary undergraduate goal, and instead commission officers who are as savvy about their history, traditions, and tactics as they are about their Thermodynamics homework. There are three essential changes that must be adopted:
– Eliminate the requirement for specific percentages of STEM majors.
The Naval Academy already has a reputation for STEM excellence and will continue to attract some of the top technical undergraduates in the country. But a recent CNO dictate mandating “not less than 85 percent of incoming officers will come from [STEM majors]” places our focus on academic specialization rather than developing a lifetime of moral and professional learning in our officer corps.15
– Make Naval History, Ethics, and Leadership classes mandatory all four years.
Additionally, these courses should comprise no less than four credit hours per semester, accounting for approximately 33% of a midshipman’s total credit hours over four years. This sends the signal that these classes are essential to the development of naval professionals and a proud officer corps that is aware of its history.
-Make the final year’s Naval History, Ethics, and Leadership requirement an “Elective.”
In order to tailor the academic experience, offering classes on the history, ethics, and leadership specific to the warfare community each midshipman service-selects would be an excellent primer for their first fleet experience. This would serve as a fitting complement to the second-semester Practicum class already required for all 1/C midshipmen.
Several centuries before Mahan, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote, “a man then must stand erect, not be kept erect by others.”16 The moral fiber of our officer corps—not the stealth of our warplanes or the accuracy of our weapon systems—is the most important aspect of our Navy. A rigid focus on engineering and science, though both upstanding fields of study, cannot alone produce officers of “a very high order of character.” At the undergraduate level, simply graduating technicians is not in line with the Naval Academy’s stated mission “to develop midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically.” An emphasis on Mahan’s moral and professional education, with a firm grounding in history, ethics, and leadership, can drastically improve our officer corps.
LT Roger L. Misso is a Naval Flight Officer (NFO) in the E-2C Hawkeye and former director of the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference (NAFAC). The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of his squadron, the Navy, or the Department of Defense.
1 Mahan, Alfred Thayer. 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era. Ed. Benjamin F. Armstrong. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013.
9 Hipple, Matthew. “’Choreographed’ Training is Dancing with the Devil.” Proceedings. April 2012. http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2012-04/nobody-asked-me-%E2%80%98choreographed%E2%80%99-training-dancing
14 “So Much Strategy, So Little Strategic Direction.”
15 Smith, Alexander P. “Don’t Say Goodbye to Intellectual Diversity.” Proceedings. Dec 2013. http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2013-12/nobody-asked-me-don%E2%80%99t-say-goodbye-intellectual-diversity
International Maritime Satire Week Warning: The following is a piece of fiction intended to elicit insight through the use of satire and written by those who do not make a living being funny – so it’s not serious and very well might not be funny. See the rest of our IntMarSatWeek offerings here.
It’s a classic from your childhood, but in the cut-throat board game business nothing is sacred.
In a surprise move the board game manufacturer Hasbro announced a series of changes to their stalwart wargame classic, “Battleship,” that would bring it into the 21st century. Their name of choice: “LCS,” referring to the Navy’s recently introduced Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).
“We thought it was time to bring ‘Battleship’ in line with the modern U.S. Navy,” said Martin Sawyer, the spokesman for Hasbro game, at a press conference on Friday afternoon. “When you think of the missions of a modern navy, you immediately think of the LCS.”
Hasbro officials believe that, while the image of a massive capital ship with unquestioned firepower was enough to carry the franchise over the past five decades, the name “Battleship” no longer resonates with their young target demographics.
“The age of the battleship has clearly passed. Heck, it was gone by the time we made the game. It’s time to make this a modern game.” Off the record, sources say the real reason for the change may be that the rare earth metals used to make the aircraft carrier pieces became exhorbiantly expensive, scuttling the move to rebrand the game “Carrier.” Officials also say the fact that ‘LCS’ contains 3 syllables played a role – enabling players to bemoan in the traditional “you sunk my….” phrasing the sinking of their vessels, over and over again.
Battleship, which first started as a pen-and-paper game in the 1930s, has been a Hasbro mainstay since it was first released in its present form in 1967. In the game, two would-be fleet commanders square off in a battle of wits, vigor, and dumb luck by blindly firings at points on a grid to damage their opponent’s navy. Ships “sink” when they receive a requisite number of hits. Smaller ships, like the destroyer, take up fewer spaces on the grid and are thus harder to hit. This leads to real-life situations where the destroyer is more valuable than other, larger ships such as the cruiser, submarine, and aircraft carrier. “LCS” will build off this trend by replacing the ships in each navy exclusively with LCS destroyers.
The U.S. Navy was quick to praise the changes. “The LCS is a testament to the future of the low-observable Navy,” said Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Michael Fabian. “It stands to reason that a game like ‘Battleship,’ where navies wildly shoot at empty water in an attempt to hit something, perfectly reflects the capacity of the LCS in the naval domains of the future.”
After battling aliens, pirates, and G.I.Joe, Battleship is moving on
Others, though, are not convinced. Some members of the surface warfare community that were allowed to playtest the new version have instituted the “Fire Scout” rule, referring to the shipboard UAV, which allows a player to look at the opponents board before declaring their shot. “Even if LCS is low-observable we still have eyes and flying robot cameras with persistent-loiter capability,” said one surly surface warfare officer.
“Seriously,” he said, “we can still see them with our freaking eyes.”
Members of the Air Force also added their own ruleset “Rods from God.” In the Rod God Mod, players are allowed to look at their opponent’s board and then immediately destroy a ship of their choice with tungsten rods dropped from satellites. “Take that, naval power!” said an Air Force playtester, right before the same rods destroyed his immobile, land-based runways in the modified game.
In conjunction with the rebranding, Universal Pictures announced that the blockbuster movie Battleship would be given a gritty reboot in line with the boardgame. Gone is the emphasis of capital ship warfare against aliens; instead, the movie will feature even greater suspension-of-disbelief in the dazzling capabilities of the LCS on the silver screen.
“Audiences will marvel at the LCS as it uses stealth technology to sneak up on pirate skiffs that lack radar and then do nothing further from lack of evidence that they are pirates!” said Universal sales representative Lester McPeak. “Think Captain Phillips but with less shooting and more bureaucracy.”
Added McPeak: “If Jack and the Beanstalk and Hansel and Gretel can get gritty reboots, we can totally do that for Battleship too. As long as we keep the same actors and writers, we should be just fine.”
Matthew Merighi is an employee of the United State Air Force, but we tolerate him anyway. His views do not reflect those of the United States Government but he hopes they are appreciated by other snarky Pentagon millennials.