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The Military Mind in the Age of Innovation

This article originally featured at The Strategy Bridge and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here

By Brad DeWeesb

Is the “military mind” compatible with the values that make innovation possible?

In 1957 Samuel Huntington defined the “military mind,” or how the military sees the world and interacts with it. His definition of the military mind formed the cornerstone of his broader work on civil-military relations—The Soldier and the State. In that work Huntington claimed the ideal soldier is conservative in the classical sense. That is, the military mind emphasizes the “permanence, irrationality, weakness, and evil in human nature.”[1] More focused on vice than virtue, the military mind is suspect of human cooperation and skeptical of change. For the soldier time is the primary measure of value; the military mind favors the status quo. It is “pessimistic” and “historically inclined…It is, in brief, realistic, and conservative.”[2]

Huntington’s ideal military mind was reverse-engineered; he asked what kind of mind was necessary to defend the country, and concluded that a skeptical worldview was the best insurance in a risky and uncertain world. The military mind had to be skeptical of human nature and progress in order for the military to serve its function effectively. Sixty years after describing the military mind, Huntington’s argument has been deeply woven into the American military culture. And thus Huntington has met his own criteria for value—he withstood the test of time. The Soldier and the State, as part of the military canon, frames the ideal image of ourselves and guides our actions as we seek to maintain that image.[3]

Radical Change Is The Norm In The Age of Innovation.

When Huntington wrote The Soldier and The State, the military mind was meant to balance the mind of a liberal democratic citizen. The civilian mind, in Huntington’s argument, could afford to view the world as cooperative as long as the military mind retained its conservative view. The two minds would coexist but leave each other to their own space. Since then a new variant of the civilian mind has developed—the “innovative mind” is the civilian mind that Huntington envisioned, only adapted for the age of innovation. The age of innovation is the period of hyper-connectivity and information sharing created by the information technology revolution of the 1990s, and it is still unfolding today.  

Radical change is the norm in the age of innovation. The most powerful companies of this generation work with collaborative technology that was largely unheard of one generation ago, and the same will likely be true one generation from now. Today’s Google is built on an internet search algorithm that would have been difficult to imagine just 30 years ago; tomorrow’s Google may well be built on technology that seems like science-fiction today. The companies that succeed tomorrow will rely on experimentation with new ideas, rather than gradual improvement, to build new business. Their experimentation will be fueled by the pace and quality of their collaboration, and by their ability to weave knowledge together from a wide range of sources.  

Warfare in this age of innovation has become increasingly reliant on information technology—the common operating pictures of network-centric warfare is an example. The military mind, then, must increasingly collaborate with the developers of information technology. The question today is whether the military mind can work with a mind characterized by experimentation and collaboration. And, if so, how?

Huntington’s Paradox in the Age of Innovation

Huntington’s military mind is not necessarily opposed to all forms of change. As military affairs became perceptively more complex, Huntington argued that officers should spend much of their time learning: “The intellectual content of the military profession requires the modern officer to devote about one-third of his professional life to formal schooling, probably a higher ratio of educational time to practice than in any other profession.”[4] What Huntington opposed, however, was the transmission of values that undermined the conservative worldview.[5] In his view the military mind could advance technologically as long as its view of human nature remained conservative, as long as it did not view human nature as inherently cooperative.

A military-industrial complex in which the military was the primary buyer allowed for such technological advancement. The military-industrial complex, to name three examples, developed battleships and aircraft carriers for the Navy, fighting vehicles for the Army, and cruise missiles for the Air Force.[6] While private enterprise may have developed key technologies that enabled these innovations—power plants for the Navy’s ships is an example—the military-industrial complex adapted those technologies for operational use, and they did so on a timeline fitted to the military’s capacity for adopting change.

Military changes in the age of innovation will likely happen at a faster pace. In the fields of cyber security, biotechnology, neural analytics, and networked robotics, the military is just one buyer among many. The net effect of being one among many is that innovative minds dictate the pace of change to military minds rather than the reverse.[7, 8] The pace of change, already faster than the military mind is accustomed to, will likely only increase—methods such as machine learning presage a new level of speed in the development of ideas. Putting those ideas to operational use will require the military mind to adopt the values of experimentation and cooperation. The military mind and innovative mind will meet in the rapid and frequent implementation of new technology.[9]

The modern military mind is left with a paradox. On one hand Huntington’s ideal military mind is still necessary. Because of its role in protecting society, the military mind has no choice but to assume the worst: human nature is unchanging and a conservative outlook is the best last resort for defending the country. Yet, if the military mind is to fulfill its function in the innovation age, it has no choice but to rapidly adapt. The military has adapted before, especially in times of acute threat—the military embraced air and tank warfare in World War II, for example.  The difference in the age of innovation is that adaptation will be the norm rather than the result of extreme circumstances. The military mind will be asked to regularly operationalize new technology in an uncertain world. In short, the military mind must be both conservative and open.

Building Common Ground

Managing this paradox is a challenge for the military as a whole, not necessarily individual minds within the military. Some aspects of the military bureaucracy can be wired for adaptability and cooperation, while others can be wired to maintain a conservative outlook. In a broad sense, the employment of force will require a conservative outlook, while the development of force capabilities will require an innovative outlook. The organizational challenge for the military is ensuring that these two minds collaborate without degenerating into acrimonious tribes.  

Collaboration between the two minds can be helped by reform in two general areas. The first area is near-term and tangible, composed of reforms that make it easier for the military mind to do business with the innovation economy. This would include initiatives such as the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) in Silicon Valley and Boston.[10] Fostering direct interaction between end-users and technology developers would be another, as would streamlining the acquisition process to closer approximate the timeline of a start-up.[11]

These solutions, though, can only be partial without a more fundamental change. The second general area of reform would run deeper, to the intellectual roots of the divide between military and innovative minds. The two minds should study the other enough to forge shared meaning. With shared meaning comes a greater possibility for shared motivations. And if not shared motivations, then at least motivations that are mutually understood. Motivations that are mutually understood are less likely to be perceived as threatening. Ironically enough, perhaps the best advice for building this mutual understanding comes from Huntington himself through his emphasis on education.

A Liberal Education Can Endure Technological Change.

Huntington argued that the military profession should begin with a liberal education; his prescription should apply to innovators as well. A liberal education, which is an education in all sides of human nature, can create philosophical common ground between the conservative and cooperative outlook. The exposure of the military and innovation minds to the full range of human nature should be the foundation of a mutual understanding between them. Machiavelli’s The Prince, for example, is an education in the corruptible side of human nature, while Shakespeare’s King Henry IV and King Henry V are a testament to human adaptability.[12]

These are but two examples of how a holistic view of human nature—a liberal, classical education—can build common ground between military and innovative minds. And a liberal education is only one aid to making the military more adaptable for the innovation age. Many other implements will be possible, as long as they fit the general criterion of building common ground between military and innovative minds. A liberal education is a fundamental solution, though, in that it can endure this generation of technological change and the many others that will follow. In a world where change will only come faster, building common ground between military and innovative minds is a national security imperative.


Brad DeWees is a PhD candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a former instructor of political science at the United States Air Force Academy, where he taught courses on American government and Innovation in Government.  His primary career field is as a Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) officer. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Notes

[1] Huntington, S.P. (1957). The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. Harvard University Press, page 79.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The Soldier and The State is regarded as a classic in civil-military relations, something that all subsequent works on civil-military relations must address. For an example of this argument, see here.

[4] Huntington. The Soldier and the State, page 13.

[5] Huntington’s discusses the relation of the military professional ethic to the four major political ideologies of his time: liberalism, fascism, Marxism, and conservatism (pages 89-94). His discussion of liberalism is closest to what is described here as the “innovative mind.” Throughout the discussion Huntington paints liberalism as at odds with the military ethic: liberalism “opposes political, economic, and social restraints upon individual liberty. In contrast, the military ethic holds that man is evil, weak, and irrational and that he must be subordinated to the group” (90).

[6] Previous major military innovations have included changes such as the adoption of battleships from sailing ships, the adoption of carrier warfare, mechanized infantry, nuclear weapons, maneuver warfare, and precision guided munitions.  For a review, see Michael Horowitz, The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics, Chapter 2.

[7] Lamothe, D. (2016, May 11). “Pentagon Chief Overhauls Silicon Valley Office, Will Open Similar Unit in Boston.”  The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/05/11/pentagon-chief-overhauls-silicon-valley-office-will-open-similar-unit-in-boston/.

[8] Markoff, J. (2016, May 11). “Pentagon Turns to Silicon Valley for Edge in Artificial Intelligence.” The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/12/technology/artificial-intelligence-as-the-pentagons-latest-weapon.html?_r=0.

[9] The DoD has so far struggled to find common ground with Silicon Valley, with Secretary Carter saying that the DoD is “frequently not rapid and agile enough.”

[10] The Boston office of DIUx was opened in July 2016: http://www.defense.gov/News/News-Releases/News-Release-View/Article/857717/secretary-carter-opens-second-diux-location-in-boston-updates-dod-outreach-to-t.

[11] For a review of other issues affecting technology procurement from the innovation economy, see Tucker, P: (2016, April 22). “As Pentagon Dawdles, Silicon Valley Sells Its Newest Tech Abroad.”  Defense One. http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2016/04/pentagon-dawdles-silicon-valley-sells-its-newest-tech-abroad/127708/.

[12] King Henry IV comes in two parts; together with Richard II and King Henry V they constitute a tetralogy of history plays, recently referred to as the “Hollow Crown Series”: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/the-hollow-crown-shakespeares-history-plays-about-the-series/1747/.

Featured Image: Atlantic Ocean (Apr. 15, 2005) – Air Traffic Controller 3rd Class Jeoffrey Keever writes the status of each aircraft on the status board in Carrier Air Traffic Controller Center (CATCC) aboard USS John F Kennedy (CV 67) during flight operations. The Mayport, Fla., based conventionally powered aircraft carrier Kennedy is currently conducting scheduled carrier qualification in the Atlantic Ocean. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Apprentice Antonia Ramos (RELEASED)

The Baltic Sea and Current German Naval Strategy

The following article is adapted from part of the 2015 Kiel Conference proceedings.

By Dr. Sebastian Bruns

With the deteriorating relations between the West and Russia in the wake of Crimea’s annexation and the hybrid war in Eastern Ukraine since early 2014, the Baltic Sea is suddenly thrust back into the spotlight of naval planners, policy analysts, and students of strategic geography alike.1 This article lays out some principles of looking at the Baltic Sea through the lens of the German Navy, which – while busy conducting a host of maritime security operations (MSO) in such far-flung places as the Horn of Africa, the coast of Lebanon, and the Central Mediterranean for more than two decades – finds itself returning conceptually to one of its home waters. It was the Baltic Sea and related military contingencies that dominated Germany’s naval DNA during the Cold War. Operating in the Baltic Sea was a fundamental part of the German Bundesmarine (Federal German Navy) coming-of-age. In fact, some of the legacy platforms still operated by the German Navy stem from an era that was entirely focused on the shallow and confined waters between Jutland, Bornholm, and farther east.

BalticSea
The Baltic Sea. (Encyclopedia Brittanica)

Since 2014, Germany finds itself in need to return to the Baltic Sea operationally, conceptually, and strategically. However, with a smaller navy increasingly stretched for resources, manpower and vessels, Germany cannot afford the luxury of ignoring other maritime security focus areas of the world worthy of a more expeditionary navy. This spells hard choices for the German Navy and its political masters who have depleted many maritime resources while simultaneously expanding the naval operational portfolio. To underline the conceptual reorientation that this strategic challenge demands, this essay first sketches what characterizes this ‘third phase’ of the German Navy (the first phase being the coastal/escort West-German Navy period from 1956 to about 1990, the second phase the expeditionary period from 1990 to about 2014). Second, the piece will discuss a few of the current political dynamics as they relate to naval and political relationships in the Baltic Sea in particular and the German Navy in general. Third, this essay addresses some of the fundamental naval-strategic shortcomings that put a coherent and believable strategic approach at risk. Fourth and finally, a handful of policy recommendations are provided.2

Three Phases of the Modern German Navy

To put the recent challenges to the German Navy into perspective, just as the service is celebrating its 60th anniversary, it is instructive to briefly touch upon some of the conceptual and intellectual frameworks that govern German maritime and naval strategy. Problems with periodization aside, it is helpful to frame the strategic evolution of the German Navy and how it is intellectually and conceptually approaching the return of the Baltic Sea as an area of responsibility.  

The three Charles-F-Adams-type destroyers MOELDERS, LUETJENS and ROMMEL were the backbone of the Cold War West-German Navy and were a mainstay in Kiel naval base (photo: Frank Behling, Kieler Nachrichten).
The three Charles-F-Adams-type destroyers MOELDERS, LUETJENS and ROMMEL were the backbone of the Cold War West-German Navy and a mainstay in Kiel naval base (Frank Behling, Kieler Nachrichten).

In very broad terms, the ‘first phase’ of the modern German Navy – keeping in mind that the navies before 1945 officially hold no traditional value for the post-war service and are consequently not a point of departure 3  – ran from the inception of the Bundesmarine in 1956 to German reunification in 1990.4 After the devastation of World War II and the demise of the Third Reich, only ten years passed until Germany once again fielded a military. Before the German flag was hoisted again on a warship, a handful of predecessor organizations existed for tasks such as mine-clearing, intelligence gathering, and border patrol. When the Bundesmarine came into being, it was a product of the emerging Cold War and the bipolar world order. There was considerable Anglo-American support after 1945, both covertly and openly, for a new German maritime defense.5 In contrast to the grander aspirations of the decades before, the West German navy was limited to coastal defense (including mine warfare, submarine operations, and air defense) in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. From the outset and bound by constitutional and political imperatives, the German navy fashioned itself as a territorial defense and alliance force with strict limitations on where and how to operate. Its geographic restriction was eased in the 1970s when missions such as convoy protection in the North Atlantic emerged and more trust was bestowed by NATO allies on West Germany as well as the modernized equipment its navy fielded. From 1980, the Concept of Maritime Operations (CONMAROPS) integrated German posture in the Baltic Sea into the broader NATO-led maritime defense:

“CONMAROPS highlighted the importance of containing Soviet forces through forward operations, of conducting defense in depth, and of gaining and maintaining the initiative at sea. CONMAROPS was based first on deterrence. Should deterrence fail, the strategy was designed to mount a defense far forward in order to protect the territory of the alliance’s European member nations. The concept bracketed NATO’s naval operations into five operational areas or campaigns: the Mediterranean lifelines, the eastern Mediterranean, the Atlantic lifelines, the ‘shallow seas,’ and the Norwegian Sea.” (Børresen 2011: 99)

While increasing cooperation and temporary integration into the Standing NATO Maritime Groups (SNMG) became an integral part of the maritime mindset, Baltic contingencies still formed a key pillar of German strategic naval DNA. The fleet of diesel submarines, mine warfare ships, fast-patrol boats, anti-submarine and air warfare destroyers and frigates, as well as naval warplanes, reflected this.  

Fast patrol boat FRETTCHEN plows through the Baltic Sea (Photo: German Navy).
Fast patrol boat FRETTCHEN plows through the Baltic Sea (German Navy).

The ‘second phase’ of the German Navy began with the transition from the Cold War posture and lasted for more or less a quarter of a century. The 1990-2014 timeframe was initially characterized by the absorption of the East-German Navy and a shrinking set of assets in the wake of a dramatically changing strategic environment. Real-world crises from 1990 onward mandated a transition of the German escort navy to a more expeditionary force (Chiari 2007: 139). Consequently, the German Navy was no longer confined to waters in its near abroad. Instead, it practiced more diverse, but nonetheless challenging operations in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf (Bruns 2016a: 285-287).

Politically, the Baltic Sea, once a contested and disputed area between the East and the West, became a true ‘NATO lake’ with the accession of former Warsaw Pact member states to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999 and 2004, respectively. To address maritime security and safety challenges, a set of governance regimes was installed, most notably the Maritime Surveillance network (MARSUR) for maritime situational awareness and Sea Surveillance for the Baltic Sea (SUCBAS). The military integration along the Baltic littoral was complemented politically and economically by the expansion of the European Union into Central and Eastern Europe in the early 2000s.6 In the absence of the very Cold War scenarios that the German Navy had practiced for until 1990, the Baltic Sea became little more than a ‘flooded meadow’7 – a site for training and testing, or a theatre of Partnership for Peace (PfP) initiatives with non-NATO members. The commercial use of the Baltic Sea rose significantly with an increase in maritime traffic (both cargo and passenger vessels) and a surge in exploitation of the maritime realm for energy purposes (such as offshore wind farms and gas pipelines), but that did not nearly require as much military attention on the part of Germany as it did in the years prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The German Navy frigate FGS Hamburg (F220), left, and the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), right, take on fuel and stores from the Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Bridge (T-AOE 10), center, during a replenishment-at-sea in the Arabian Sea on March 23, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan D. McLearnon/Released)
The German Navy frigate FGS Hamburg (F220), left, and the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), right, take on fuel and stores from the Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Bridge (T-AOE 10), center, during a replenishment-at-sea in the Arabian Sea on March 23, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan D. McLearnon/Released)

Coupled with the broadened mission set and the distance to the German Navy’s post-Cold War operating areas, this mindset fundamentally shaped how the institution and its people thought about and practiced maritime strategy as a whole. To them, it was something that was designed to address expeditionary challenges in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Africa, or in the Persian Gulf, and nothing that dealt with the ‘Fulda gap’ equivalent at sea near Fehmarn. The Cold War generation of naval leaders and a new generation of officers schooled at fighting pirates, upholding embargoes, providing humanitarian assistance, or patrolling the sea lines of communication existed in parallel for a period of time, often utilizing the very same platforms that were originally designed for fleet-on-fleet tasks envisioned for a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict. Whereas the warships and maritime patrol aircraft hardly changed, the German naval and maritime strategic horizon, and the public and political understanding of the role and value of the German Navy in the 21st century, did.  

The ‘third phase’ began in the wake of Crimea’s annexation and the Ukraine quasi-civil war in 2014. Since Russia’s return to the world stage as a powerful actor willing to use military force rather indiscriminately for political ends, defying the Western model and conceptions about NATO-Russian partnerships, much has changed in threat perception. Spillover effects into the Baltic Sea include Russian harassment of the three Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) as well as Scandinavian allies, the reevaluation of all bilateral and multilateral political and economic relations with Russia, and a significant rearmament of the Kaliningrad exclave. Concurrently, the ever-smaller German Navy, challenged by an unsustainable force structure trajectory which has hampered modernization, readiness, recruitment, and operations, finds itself under significant strain.

German Navy Type 212 submarine (Bundeswehr)
German Navy Type 212 submarine (Bundeswehr)

The German Navy is not the only force which needs to refocus on the Baltic Sea, as Denmark and Sweden have also reduced many of their capabilities that they no longer regarded as necessary for their own maritime transitions since 1990. Still, the German Navy finds itself as the largest Western Navy in the Baltic Sea, despite the transfer of the naval bomber arm to the Luftwaffe in 1993 (and the loss of respective capability), the phasing out of the Bremen-class frigates since 2012, the scheduled decommissioning of the remaining fast-attack boats of the Gepard-class in 2016, and the shrinking of the submarine and mine countermeasures (MCM) force. At the same time, the German Navy is forced to refashion its contribution to German defense and national security. The upcoming White Book on German defense policy (the first since 2006), a new European Union global strategy due out this summer as well, and plans to update NATO’s Alliance Maritime Strategy (AMS) of 2011 are the push factors that frame how the Navy must articulate its missions. Keeping in mind that strategic cultural change is very hard, if not impossible, to mandate, there are two capstone documents being planned /written to complement and operationalize the White Book. First, a dedicated top-level service vision dubbed Dachdokument Marine,and second, a more focused naval operational strategy dubbed Militärische Seefahrtstrategie. The thrust of both documents is that the German Navy is no longer afforded the luxury of choosing their maritime focus areas. It must be both, a homeland and alliance defense force, as well as a capable integrated regional power projection navy.  

Current Baltic Sea Maritime Challenges

Such a shift of attention and focus is challenging. Until recently, German politics has been very consumed by mass migration from Africa and the Middle East. In fact, not one, but two naval missions (one in the central Mediterranean and one in the Aegean Sea) with significant German Navy participation speak volume to the size of the problem perceived by Berlin – although these missions are hardly what navies are built and maintained for.9 Meanwhile, there is a larger sense in Berlin that the German Navy is overstretched and underfunded. Given its hollow force structure, the dire human resources situation in the wake of transforming the Bundeswehr into an all-volunteer force, and the strain of ever-longer deployments with increasingly overburdened warships, the need for improved strategic guidance and more resources for Berlin’s 911-force of choice is evident.

For the time being, such political challenges cloud the deteriorating relationship with Russia over the Baltic Sea. Russia’s intimidating actions are widely seen with a grain of salt within the security community, but the wider German public is hardly critical of the shift and fails to comprehend Moscow’s motives as well as the complexities of international politics. A case in point was the recent ‘buzzing’ of the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh-Burke-class destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) in international waters in the Baltic Sea. Susceptible to Russian and anti-American narratives, it was questioned why the U.S. Navy operated in the Baltic Sea in the first place.

BALTIC SEA - A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a very-low altitude pass by the USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) April 12, 2016. Donald Cook, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, forward deployed to Rota, Spain is conducting a routine patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (U.S. Navy photo/Released) BALTIC
BALTIC SEA – A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a very-low altitude pass by the USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) April 12, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

German-Russian relations in the Baltic Sea realm are still fundamentally about economic ties, some with considerable personal investment of high-ranking policy-makers like former chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The Northstream pipeline, which transfers Russian gas to Germany on the seabed, might offer a point of departure to exert political leverage on Moscow, but it also raises fears of a tainted German-Russian deal over Central European countries’ national interests, as has happened in the past. For the German Navy, the Baltic Sea has lost little of its ‘flooded meadow’ characteristics, at least when it comes to potential naval missions in the area. Four of the five major German Navy installations (Eckernförde (class 212A submarine base), Kiel (home of Flotilla 1 and the Centre of Excellence for Operations in Confined and Shallow Waters), Neustadt/Holstein (damage control training facility), and Rostock (home of the naval command and home port to the largest German Navy surface combatants in the Baltic Sea) are located here, but conceptual and strategic innovation in terms of smart power beyond good order at sea remain scarce.

German Shortcomings

There are a number of areas where shortcomings are evident, and these need to be addressed now. While it would be easy to simply ask for more money to be poured into the Army and Luftwaffe-centric German defense budget, the more fundamental challenge is that of an intellectual kind. Little has changed from this 2013 assessment:

“The German Navy’s contributions to NATO’s maritime roles fall mainly within the lower end of the operational spectrum. Germany’s cruising navy provides little in the way of power projection but, for out-of-area operations, the fleet adds to alliance maritime security and cooperative security, and, though the sea-control capabilities resident in these platforms, it can contribute to collective defense.” (McGrath 2013: 6)

The question that begs an answer then is just what role sea power plays for the government in Berlin, and just how the German Navy can provide the necessary options to the political decision makers (including the respective price tags).

While Germany is lacking certain capabilities worthy of a medium-sized navy (such as the vaunted joint support ships capable of launching and supporting, amphibious operations from the sea), it is also lacking vocabulary for a more confrontational stance requiring hard-power capabilities on the one hand, and a clearer understanding of the roles and missions of naval forces on the other hand. One will be hard-pressed to find anyone in Berlin or Rostock who is war-gaming in earnest anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) scenarios in the Baltic Sea, or who is discussing with salience the naval side of deterrence and hybrid scenarios in the Mare Balticum. This is all the more discomforting because Germany has signed up to, but obviously not understood, NATO’s Alliance Maritime Strategy. This document from 2011 contains language that should inform partner nations’ naval outlook. The AMS mentions four areas for alliance naval activity: deterrence and defense, crisis and conflict prevention, partnership and cooperation, and maritime security. If one decides to focus on particular areas over others, such cherry-picking will amount in demonstrating a lack of coherence and conviction, which is both disastrous for the navy as a foreign policy tool, German standing, and for those Baltic Sea neighbors keen for alliance protection.

The challenge for any workable strategy is to prioritize. With finite resources, and certainly for a powerful country such as Germany, the task is to balance the force adequately so that it can do both. It needs to be able to conduct expeditionary operations under an international EU, UN, or NATO mandate together with other navies (think anti-piracy off the coast of Somalia or naval capacity-building such as in Lebanon), and also provide sustained territorial and alliance defense for and from the home waters. A flawed appreciation for strategy or an unwillingness to even think and act strategically is guaranteed to make such endeavors outright impossible. The objective is, to put it in the words of one analyst, “strategic flexibility and ambiguity of response” (Kofman 2016) against a changing strategic landscape in the Baltic Sea. The German government would be well-served to look into the NATO treaty, in particular Article 5, and make all efforts to provide adequate resources for its military to honor previous commitments. It would follow that the German Navy, which has all but lost its ability in many traditional naval mission areas such as anti-air warfare (AAW), antisubmarine warfare (ASW), and anti-surface warfare (ASuW), would require better intellectual and financial preparation. 

Window of Opportunity: A Few Policy Recommendations

A popular saying notes that in the long-run, the pessimist may be proven right, but the optimist has the better time on the trip. In that spirit, there is a window of opportunity.

First, now is the time for a broader and more focused German maritime and German naval strategy. Self-evidently, these documents would need to carry the thrust of the government and in their scope and relevance not be limited to a particular service or department. They would also need to be deconflicted with the White Book and with relevant emerging EU and NATO strategies, while also honoring commitments from previous national and multinational capstone documents. Such a German naval strategy can focus on high-end design for its forces, extrapolated from its defined naval missions in support of Germany’s security and defense policy.

Second, it would embrace temporary integration with its allies beyond the Standing NATO Maritime Groups (SNMG) to finally provide teeth to the concept of shared and pooled resources. Third, low-end maritime security operations on the side would still be in the portfolio, but ships and aircraft would do these on the side, so to speak, rather than this being the chief strategic concern.

Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, seen here steaming in formation, is currently tasked with operating on the Aegan Sea refugee route. (NATO)
Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, seen here steaming in formation, is currently tasked with operating on the Aegan Sea refugee route. (NATO)

Fourth, it would address the intellectual gaps that have emerged in Germany on the role of naval forces as a foreign policy tool, speak on contemporary maritime scenarios such as hybrid or asymmetry, and provide a sense of direction for the navy. This would definitely strengthen the European pillar of NATO. A return to the ‘bracketing’ approach of CONMAROPS could serve to connect areas of alliance maritime interests. Fifth, it would give the service and its political masters the sense that the maritime challenges of the 21st century are not entirely new. In fact, such a capstone document could address some of the constants of naval issues and initiate a hard look at recent (Cold War) history to address the dynamics of a forward-operating focus, and the role of maritime power for Germany.

Sixth, a capstone document would give allies (and opponents) the opportunity to read about what Germany is up to in the maritime domain. It would sketch avenues to engage with the German Navy. This could mean more exercises, also in the Baltic Sea and beyond such established annual events as BALTOPS. Eventually, it would also provide a sense of direction for those countries in the Baltic who feel most threatened.

It should not come as a surprise that the Baltics are determined to defend against Russia, but they seek German leadership as a responsible lead nation in the Baltic Sea area. Germany should take this seriously.

Dr. Sebastian Bruns directs the Center for Maritime Strategy and Security at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK). He recently published the edited volume Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security (London 2016) together with Joachim Krause. Dr. Bruns, a former Congressional staffer in Washington, D.C., is also one of the project directors of the Kiel Conference on maritime security challenges, soon in its third iteration. This article is part of the 2015 Kiel Conference proceedings, available upon request by e-mail or online (www.ispk.org).

Endnotes

Børresen, Jacob (2011), Alliance Naval Strategies and Norway in the Final Years of the Cold War, Naval War College Review Vol. 64 (2), 97-115.

Breyer, Siegfried/Lapp, Peter Joachim (1985), Die Volksmarine der DDR: Entwicklung, Aufgaben, Ausrüstung, Bonn: Bernhard & Graefe.

Bruns, Sebastian (2016b), A Call for an EU Auxiliary Navy – under German Leadership, Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 1 March 2016, http://cimsec.org/a-call-for-an-eu-auxiliary-navy-under-german-leadership/22385 (18 May 2016).

Bruns, Sebastian (2016a), Elements of Twenty-First-Century German Naval Strategy, in: Joachim Krause/Sebastian Bruns (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security, London: Routledge, 283-295.

Bruns, Sebastian (2005), “The Role of the United States Navy in the Formation and Development of the Federal German Navy, 1945-1970”, Washington, D.C.: Naval History and Heritage Command, http://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/r/the-role-of-the-united-states-navy-in-the-formation-and-development-of-the-federal-german-navy-1945-1970.html (18 May 2016).

Chiari, Bernard (2007), Von der Escort Navy zur Expeditionary Navy: Der deutsche Marineeinsatz am Horn von Afrika, in: Wegweiser zur Geschichte. Horn von Afrika, im Auftrag des Militärgeschichtlichen Forschungsamtes herausgegeben von Dieter H. Kollmer und Andreas Mückusch, Paderborn et al.: Schöningh, 126-139.

Kofman, Michael (2016), “Fixing NATO Deterrence in the East or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love NATO’s Crushing Defeat by Russia”, Warontherocks, 12 May 2016, http://warontherocks.com/2016/05/fixing-nato-deterrence-in-the-east-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-natos-crushing-defeat-by-russia/ (26 May 2016). 

McGrath, Bryan (2013), “NATO at Sea: Trends in Allied Naval Power”, National Security Outlook No. 3, Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute.

Peifer, Douglas (2002), The Three German Navies: Dissolution, Transition, and New Beginnings, 1945-1960, Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

Pfeiffer, Ingo (2014), Seestreitkräfte der DDR. Abriss 1955-1990, Berlin: Miles.

1. A selection of further reading (of only the very recent analyses) includes Lucas, Edward (2015), “The Coming Storm. Baltic Sea Security Report”, Centre for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), Washington, D.C.; Lundqvist, Stefan & Widen, JJ (2015), “The New US Maritime Strategy. Implications for the Baltic Sea”, The RUSI Journal, 160:6, pp. 42-48;  Kramer, Franklin & Nordenman, Magnus (2016), “A Maritime Framework for the Baltic Sea Region”, Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, Washington, D.C.

2. This chapter is based on a presentation given in Arlington (Virginia), United States, on 21 March 2016. The author wishes to acknowledge the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), sponsor and facilitator of that roundtable discussion, for its support.

3. See Douglas Peifer (2002) for an interpretation which pushes back against the perception that there were little continuities from the Kriegsmarine in the post-World War German navies. Quite the contrary was the case. 

4. The East German Volksmarine (People’s Navy) was disestablished in 1990 with much of its materiel decommissioned/sold; the majority of its officers and enlisted personnel were laid off. The service thus remains but an episode in German naval history without much resonance in its post-1990 DNA and is therefore not subject to deeper consideration for this article. For (German-language) introductions to the Volksmarine, see Siegfried Breyer/Peter Joachim Lapp (1985) and Ingo Pfeiffer (2014).   

5. See Bruns (2005) for an annotated bibliography of U.S. Navy influence on the development of the West-German navy for the 1945-1970 timeframe.

6. The EU has fielded its own Baltic Sea Strategy which focuses entirely on environment and good governance aspects.

7. The Baltic Sea is frequently referred to as little more than a flooded swamp, in particular by members of the German naval community. This affectional characterization is based in the shallow and confined hydrography of this particular body of water and the strategic geography it entails, making it a unique area for naval operations and the political use of sea power. 

8. Full disclosure: This author has been part of the group that was tasked with conceptualizing and writing the drafts of that document.

9. For a pledge to consider establishing an auxiliary navy to address low-end maritime missions (a European Coast Guard by another name), see Sebastian Bruns (2016b).

Featured Image: Corvette Ludwigshafen am Rhein ( F 264 ) in magnetic surveying at the Wilhelmshaven Wiesbaden Bridge (Ein Dahmer)

Learning to Innovate

By Philip Cullom

Last month, Roger Misso published an article on this site entitled What Happens to Naval Innovation Deferred? and this post addresses a number of the points raised in that submission.

First, I would like to thank LT Misso for caring enough about our Navy to convey his thoughts and recommendations through his writing. Further, I would like to commend him for having the courage to stake an opinion and share his viewpoint.

I strongly agree with him regarding several items in his post:

-Sailors are the Navy’s asymmetric advantage.

-There is a groundswell of positive disruptive thought that exists around the Navy among Navy Sailors and civilians who all want the Navy to sustain its primacy.

-It is important for leadership to exemplify the phrase “we’ve got your back”…innovators need top-cover from the highest levels.

LT Misso is correct that:

-We are disestablishing CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC).

-The CNO’s Strategic Studies Group (SSG) is coming to a close.

There are reasons for each of these actions but please rest assured that it is not a rejection of the innovative efforts going on across the Navy.

Innovation has gotten a lot of press globally in the private sector as well as in military circles, and for very good reason. Technology is changing faster than ever before. Product development cycles are shortening in virtually every business. Competitiveness is often seen as being a function of capturing this innovation.

One caution is that we must be wary of “innovation” becoming a trendy buzzword or perceived panacea for the future as we ride the wave of its popularity. That could make it go the way of other transformative movements such as the Revolution in Military Affairs, Total Quality Leadership, etc.

We must remember that at the heart of the change we seek is disruptive thinking that continuously improves the naval capabilities we deliver for the joint force and nation.

This can only be achieved with a fresh approach to learning and a fundamental culture change to the cycle by which we learn.

This is why at the forefront of the lines of effort discussed in “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” is the imperative for High Velocity Learning – as this is the real engine for sustainable innovation. The intent for High Velocity Learning is to have many idea factories for a growing cadre of innovators and disruptive thinkers. If captured by all levels of our Navy, particularly the grassroots level, the engine for innovation will be enduring. To that end, we are breathing life into the idea of High Velocity Learning. 

Here are but a few of the actions, both grassroots and leadership sponsored, that are occurring across the Navy:

  • USS Benfold (DDG 65) started an innovation grassroots movement called Project ATHENA. The Commanding Officer challenged his crew to solve Navy issues on the deckplate level through the concept that often the people closest to the problem are often the people closest to the solution. That grew into a San Diego-wide effort that is catching on in other homeports too.
  • In March 2016, OPNAV hosted an Innovation Jam – part Shark Tank, part TED Talk – partnering with SPAWAR, ONR and PACFLT’s Bridge and connecting with Project ATHENA and the Hatch to collect grassroots ideas from the Fleet. This has provided funding and engineering support for three Sailor invented ideas to be prototyped for ultimate evaluation for fleetwide applicability. Other Innovation Jams in other Fleet concentration areas are planned. 
  • Admiral Swift’s adoption of a process within PACFLT to harness High Velocity Learning called “The Bridge” will ensure that your good ideas will go from being a “thought on the Mess Decks/Chiefs Mess/Wardroom” to reality…with the time measured in weeks and months, not years. The Bridge is a PACFLT initiative launched to discover, explore, and cultivate solutions to Fleet-centric challenges, needs, and priorities and connect the sources and sponsors best suited to prototype, develop, and create policy for fleetwide adoption.
  • SECNAV recently released an ALNAV standing up the Naval Innovation Advisory Council (NIAC) to consider, develop, and accelerate innovative concepts for presentation to the SECNAV and other DON senior leaders, with recommendations to synchronize senior leadership, influence the flow of resources, streamline policy, and/or remove roadblocks that hinder innovation.
  • As a correction, we are not standing back up Deep Blue, but rather reconstituting a capability on the OPNAV staff, in N50, to elevate the stature of Navy strategy and better synchronize our efforts. This will concentrate Navy strategic thought inside the life lines of the OPNAV Staff.
  • Other evolving initiatives which will be used to quickly foster and transition innovative efforts include the Rapid Prototyping, Experimentation and Demonstration (RPED) initiative and the Maritime Accelerated Capabilities Office (MACO). These address the speed with which new warfighting capabilities are delivered to the Fleet to better match the urgency of need. Those will be spelled out in greater detail as this process continues to mature.

To be clear, we need every Sailor, active and reserve, to willingly jump in to High Velocity Learning – to be bold, to proffer fearless ideas, and to be willing to dare and drive the Navy forward. As CNO says, “if you are waiting for your High Velocity Learning kit to come in the mail, you are going to be sorely disappointed…because that’s not how this is going to work.” This effort requires us all to play an active role.

160621-N-YO707-178 Washington, D.C. (June 21, 2016) U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Philip Cullom, deputy CNO for fleet readiness and logistics, speaks with Prof. Neil Gershenfeld, second from right, director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms during the Capitol Hill Maker Faire in Washington, D.C., June 21, 2016. The Faire showcased robotics, drones, 3D printing and printed art. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Cyrus Roson/ Released)
Washington, D.C. (June 21, 2016) U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Philip Cullom, deputy CNO for fleet readiness and logistics, speaks with Prof. Neil Gershenfeld, second from right, director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms during the Capitol Hill Maker Faire in Washington, D.C., June 21, 2016. The Faire showcased robotics, drones, 3D printing and printed art. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Cyrus Roson/ Released)

Navy leadership will have your back and provide appropriate forums to bring your ideas – whether they be products, policies or a different way of thinking – forward for us to experiment with or prototype and then assess its ability to become a best practice for the whole Navy.

Our goal is to capture the innovative spirit endemic to the way the Navy works. The Navy has been on the leading edge of innovation for centuries and it is my job to keep us on that cutting edge because, as Roger stated, our people are our talent and our “asymmetric advantage today” well into the future. We have come a long way from the days of sail and steam to all electric warships with integrated power systems that will support energy weapons like LaWS and the electromagnetic railgun. More examples of innovation can be found in our history in carrier aviation to the cutting edge work we are doing now in additive manufacturing, which has been developed through a grassroots effort.

Thank you again to Roger and the many others who continue to push ideas (and when appropriate, concerns) forward. This is an effort we all must play an active role in advancing.

This article has been updated with the status of Deep Blue, and provides additional details on ongoing efforts regarding innovative thinking inside the Navy staff.

Vice Admiral Philip Cullom is a career Surface Warfare Officer with more than thirty years of naval service. He currently serves as the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Fleet Readiness and Logistics where he serves as the uniformed point person for naval innovation and creativity for the OPNAV and Secretariat staffs.

Featured Image: SAN DIEGO (March 16, 2016) Lt. Cmdr. Allison Terray tries a virtual reality headset at the Innovation Jam hosted aboard Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2). U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Molly A. Sonnier.

What Happens to Naval Innovation Deferred?

By Roger Misso

So far this year, we have seen the effective termination of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) and the announced ending of the Strategic Studies Group (SSG). Recently, we have also learned that Navy Warfare Development Command’s (NWDC) popular site “Navy Brightwork” on the joint website MilSuite (which has +500,000 users) will cease to be supported by an official Navy command. 

We are more than one year from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’ “Task Force Innovation” announcements at the 2015 Sea-Air-Space conference. Nearly two dozen action memos have led to high-level documents on important topics such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, and Big Data. They are an essential reading of the coverage while our service continues to pound away against ISIL at the line of scrimmage.

But sailors and civilians at the deckplate level have seen only a string of perceived losses this year. The concept of the CRIC, SSG, and Brightwork are exactly what our Navy needs. But rather than support, there seems to be a shopping-around for something newer and shinier, or an inability to stand up and fight for the things that will help us win the conflicts of tomorrow.

The end effect for sailors is an innovation and strategic communication shell game that heightens the barrier of entry into naval innovation communities. As soon as our sailors learn of such outstanding innovation communities like CRIC, Brightwork, and SECNAV’s “Hatch,” the pea has passed on, hiding elsewhere. It shouldn’t be a surprise then, when you see the same familiar faces showing up in innovation circles.

More importantly, what will happen to the dozens of junior enlisted and officers who were excited about CRIC, the 1,220 users of Navy Brightwork, and more broadly, the thousands of Navy officers, enlisted, and civilians with both the ideas and the drive to help us fight and win as a service? Are we alienating the very future innovators we seek to enable? Or are we onboarding them into successful communities of practice?

Who We Are

Sailors seem to come in three varieties when it comes to naval innovation:

  • The Uninterested
  • The Unknown
  • The Under-Utilized

Not much can be done with the folks in the first category; there will always exist a sizable population seeking to expend the minimum required effort to do their job and go home.

The highest potential for the Navy comes from Categories Two and Three. “The Unknown” sailors are those with great ideas, or a great deal of care, for the service, but who might not know where to pitch and refine their idea, or how to channel their fire.

“The Under-Utilized” sailors are those already active in the remaining innovation spaces, or those left behind by the dissolution of the CRIC and other such organizations. They are those who have pitched at ATHENA Project events, submitted white papers and project proposals, or have been members of various innovation cells and quasi-red teams.

These are sailors who have a more informed view of the lay-of-the-land when it comes to project management, requirements, Research, Development, and Acquisitions, and the like. These are sailors who work full-time day jobs, and in their spare time devote countless hours to projects they believe will make the Navy a better fighting force. These are sailors willing to go the extra mile for a good cause and committed leadership.

What We Need

In September 2001, days before the terrorist attacks of 9/11, then-Rear Admiral James Stavridis wrote that we must “[be] open to ideas and protective of those who advocate disruptive technologies.” More than platforms and payloads, our “Unknown” and “Under-Utilized” sailors are the Navy’s asymmetric advantage today.

To reach these sailors, the Navy must do two things:

  • Create innovation pathways that are simple and intuitive
  • Develop a strategic communications and outreach plan that is clear, cogent, concise, and backed by the highest level of leadership

First, pathways for innovative ideas and individuals are required today for our Navy to win tomorrow. When the enemy denies us use of multi-billion dollar platforms, systems, or satellites, the difference between victory and defeat will be those who can think, adapt, act, and inspire quickest. We cannot afford to build these pathways after the first strike; we must build this culture now.

Organizations like the CRIC leave such a gaping void because they allow sailors to practice both initiative and leadership. They are an empowering construct that clearly communicates trust between senior and junior leaders. They are a proving ground for new policies and technologies that would otherwise take us decades to bring to the Fleet. We need more outlets like this in our Navy, not less.

SAN DIEGO (Feb. 10, 2015) Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Mike Stevens visits service members with the CNO's Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) during the Western Conference and Exposition (WEST) 2015. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Martin L. Carey.
SAN DIEGO (Feb. 10, 2015) Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Mike Stevens visits service members with the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) during the Western Conference and Exposition (WEST) 2015. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Martin L. Carey.

Funding, however, is a constraint. Junior sailors do not have a hand in programming or budgeting decisions that will affect the forces they lead in the future. They cannot advocate before Congress the absolute necessity of robust pathways for innovation from the deckplates.

Yet, as they have been doing since before the days of the Naval Lyceum, committed sailors come together in the margins of our service to support one another and share ideas. Today, CRIC[x], the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, and the Naval Constellation host a vibrant “shadow Navy” of officers, enlisted, and civilians of every rank, fleet area, and background.

In order to capitalize on the talent of these groups, the Navy must develop pathways for individuals to lead their own projects or actively influence policy throughout the fleet. If Congressional marks preclude us from funding organizations like CRIC, commands in DC, Millington, and every fleet concentration area should develop local innovation cells and red teams.

Precedence for these moves can be found in the first innovation cells started by Admiral Stavridis more than 20 years ago, and more recently, by Pacific Fleet’s “The Bridge” innovation group. These small pockets of dedicated sailors can be a command’s competitive advantage, helping adapt to both dynamic wartime circumstances and common-sense reform to improve quality of life for all sailors.

Second, we must define what we mean by “innovation,” communicate our intent, and back it all up.

Innovation is defined differently by different people. Sailors ask, “Do you want me to build something? Or think something?” As a service, our answer should be, “All of the above, if you can!” Whether it is a product, a policy, or inculcating a different way of thinking, we should seek to empower and connect those who boldly and constructively work to make our Navy better.

However, we need to communicate this in a way that sailors can recognize, remember, and repeat. Apple’s “Think Different” advertising campaign defined their brand in just two words; our Navy should be similarly brief. 

Despite the CNO’s call for “high velocity learning” in the force, rampant misunderstanding abounds. There are still commanding officers and staffs that snuff out or disparage innovators in their ranks.

One thing is clear: whether it comes from SECNAV or CNO, innovators need top-cover from the highest level to succeed. While many COs and mid-level staff officers are part of the solution, there are a significant number of officers, enlisted, and General Schedule workers who comprise the “frozen middle,” stultifying progress for any number of reasons. If we want to do things faster, and better, we need both leadership from the very top to “have our backs,” and the groundswell of energy from below that already exists.

Where We’re Going

These are not new ideas. In the same September 2001 Proceedings article, Admiral Stavridis advocated for the service to “[create] an idea factory on the sea service staffs,” “build a cadre of innovators,” “emphasize prototyping and leasing,” and “explore a ‘dual track’ procurement system,” among other recommendations.

Fifteen years has passed since his writing. Innovation from the deckplates is still imperative for the Navy. Yet we are stuck steaming in circles, instead of making way towards the horizon. We may be able to gap billets and programs, but we cannot gap ideas, and we cannot gap leadership.

We are a service of command by negation and, more recently, distributed lethality. Let us also innovate by negation, and distribute our ideas, trust, and ingenuity. If we fail to unfurl our sails as such and set a bold course, we may find ourselves asking:

What happens when naval innovation from the deckplates is deferred? “Does it dry up, like a raisin in the sun?”

LT Roger Misso is an E-2C Naval Flight Officer. He is currently working at the Pentagon, and in the shadows to advance naval innovation. You can find him on Twitter @rogermisso. The views express herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity on his own initiative. They do not reflect the official positions of the Department of Defense, or any other U.S. Government agency.

Featured Image: U. S. Navy recruits study using electronic tablets (e-tablets) in the USS Hopper Recruit Barracks at Recruit Training Command (RTC).