Tag Archives: Strategy

Eight Good Questions Strategic Thinkers Should Ask

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

By Aaron Bazin

Strategic thinking can happen almostb anywhere: in a conference room, a university lecture hall, or in the dark basement of a military headquarters. If you think about it, really anyone can do it, from a president to an Army private, from a subject matter expert to an armchair general. Although anyone can do it at any time and in any place, doing it well is neither easy nor is it commonplace.

A variety of research projects have sought to uncover what it means to think strategically in the military context. In general, strategic thinkers act primarily in one of four roles: leader, advisor, practitioner, or planner. To function effectively in these roles require the skills of information gathering, learning, critical thinking, creative thinking, thinking in time, and systems thinking. Building upon these ideas, the purpose of this article is to explore some of the timeless questions that strategic thinkers can ask to help themselves and others think clearly about issues of strategic significance.


"My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." Vice President Dick Cheney on Meet The Press. (NBC)
“My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” Vice President Dick Cheney on Meet The Press. (NBC)

This question is so basic it is often forgotten or glossed over, but asking it is absolutely essential. In a strategic context, there are a tremendous number of facts to consider. The key is to identify the ones that really matter the most without going too far and reaching the point of paralysis by analysis. As for assumptions, if never surfaced and debated they represent a sizable gap in one’s logic. Many failures at the strategic level are due to people insufficiently discussing assumptions, or worse, dismissing them outright. One recent example that highlights the importance of good assumptions is when decision makers assumed that the troops that invaded Iraq in 2003 would be “greeted as liberators.”

While strategic thinkers always should try to think in an unconstrained manner, there always exist some physical, logistical, moral, or financial limits to what is possible. Failure to understand the parameters and limits of a strategic approach has led to many military overextensions throughout history (e.g., Napoleon in Russia, Soviet Union in Afghanistan, etc.). Much like the enemy, the real world always gets a vote. Understanding the limiting factors and developing a common understanding of the problem are supporting activities, which leads to the next question.


Uncovering a problem statement is also essential, but often overlooked. Many strategic thinkers immediately dive in and start describing what must be done. In a fast-paced environment, it can be very tempting to do this, but it should be avoided. Fundamentally, if you do not pause and take the time to identify the problem you are trying to solve, how can you ever hope to solve it?

One of the easiest and most effective ways to develop a problem statement is to spot the gap between the current conditions and the desired conditions (the “want-got” gap). What is almost magical about developing a problem statement is that if you get it about right, the answer should begin to reveal itself, even in the most difficult of situations. Of course, most strategic problems are complex or wicked and change over time. Therefore, it is important for the strategic thinker to not only ask this question early, but also ask it again and again as the strategic problem unfolds.

By their nature, military thinkers often tend to think about negative, worse–case scenarios and outcomes. To take a more optimistic approach, one may find it valuable to look for opportunities as well as problems. The idea here is this: if one can seize small opportunities over time, this can build irreversible momentum and eventually bring about positive change. Overall, this question helps focus time, effort, and resources in a coherent, positive, singular direction.


Many strategic thinkers seek to implement parrot the latest policy position they heard without fully thinking about the inherent interests at play. Some argue that interests such as prosperity, values, security, and legitimacy, will always be important despite which direction the political winds are blowing. The strategic thinker should try to understand how the political intent is tied to the enduring interests that will remain long after a political position has changed. This question helps one put the problem in context and reflect upon the deeper strategic meaning behind the problem and its possible solutions.


The lessons of the past are always there to school the strategic thinker if they are willing to listen. Of course, events will rarely unfold exactly the same way twice, but there are often important echoes from the past to be heard in the present. This question suggests that strategists would be well served by looking for practical advice from history and tying those lessons to prudent courses of action in the present. Neustadt and May’s Thinking in Time describes even more questions that help the strategic thinker make the most effective use of history. The benefits of this question are that it helps one reflect upon the past and generate possible options on what can be done today.


In the past, policy makers may have been satisfied with being presented between one and three courses of action. Today, many policy makers demand strategic advice as a menu of options, where they can pick and choose what to implement and when to implement it. In these cases, the strategic thinker has to think divergently and come up with as many options as possible. As strategic problems rarely have solely military solutions, strategic thinkers should have the ability to develop options that include elements of national power beyond just the “M” in the Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic (DIME) model. Of course, with wicked problems, there are often no good options, just a series of progressively bad ones.


It is easy for a strategic thinker to become so engrossed with the minutiae of the problem that they can lose sight of their goal. Perhaps, at times, the goal shifts and the previously agreed upon destination is now a fool’s errand. That is why this question is so important. The strategic thinker must have the ability to take a break from the crisis of the day and take the long view. Because there is often so much uncertainty surrounding strategic problems, reflecting on the end state is often difficult. However, if you do not know where you really want to go, any road will take you there.


When a policy is approved or a plan is signed, the thoughts captured on the document are frozen in time and begin their rapid descent into irrelevancy. This is a natural progression where a key concept’s idea is game-changing today, much less so in six-months, and barely remembered a year later. The key here for the strategic thinker is to not rest too much and remain in a state of continual assessment and advocate appropriate change as events unfold. As strategic problems are usually both quantitative and qualitative in nature, keeping an open mind to all types and sources of information is prudent.


Even the best strategic ideas are subject to failure if the follow through is lackluster, therefore, it is important to always ask what happens next. Every strategic choice comes with some degree of risk. These risks should be understood and, if possible, mitigated. In addition, with complex problems many issues remain unseen, and there is always the possibility of unintended consequences. Many strategic shortcomings are the result of taking prudent action in the present that results in future blowback that was unforeseen at the time.  An excellent example is the lack of U.S. follow through in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the Soviet Union, popularized in the movie, Charlie Wilson’s War.


The level of responsibility placed on the shoulders of a strategic thinker can be daunting. The ability to think clearly is difficult in situations where time is of the essence, lives are on the line, or billions of dollars are on the table. It is precisely because of the high-stakes that good strategic thinkers need to ask good questions to uncover good answers. Of course, there are many questions that strategic thinkers should ask and this list is simply one starting point. In the end, the quality of one’s strategic thought will be directly proportional to the time and effort they put into the endeavor, no more and no less.

 Aaron Bazin is career Army officer with over 20 years of leadership and experience at the combatant command level, NATO, and the institutional Army.  Aaron was the lead-planner for four numbered contingency plans between 2009 and 2012, and has operational experience in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, and UAE. He is the author of the new book, Think: Tools to Build Your Mind. The views expressed in this article are the authors and do not represent the views of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: A reporter raises his hand to ask a question as US Army Gen. Ray Odierno, Commander of US Forces-Iraq, delivers an operational update on the state of affairs in Iraq during a press briefing at the Pentagon, 4 June 2010. (Cherie Cullen/DoD Photo)

Naval Strategy Returns to Lead the POM

By Steve Wills


Newly appointed U.S. Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. gave a signature speech at the Naval War College in Newport, RI in 1981. In his remarks Lehman hailed, “the return of naval strategy” to the forefront of the Navy’s planning.Such a message was again issued last week by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson. While the CNO’s 18 October naval message (R 182128Z OCT 16) did not have Secretary Lehman’s dramatic turn of phrases, it is no less important and in fact is the most significant change in the role of U.S. naval strategic thinking since late 1991. The CNO’s message implements a major change in the planning and execution of the annual Navy budget statement known as the Program Objective Memorandum (POM.) For the first time since July 1991, the Navy Staff (OPNAV) Operations, Plans and Strategy (N3/N5) office will have the first input to the Navy POM building process. While this may not seem significant at first glance, it is a major course correction in Navy thinking. It could signal a return to the halcyon days of the 1980s when the Navy’s Maritime Strategy served as the service’s global blueprint for operational naval war against the Soviet Union, informing Navy programs, budgets, exercises, war games, education, training, and real world operations.

POM and Strategy Evolution Through the Cold War

The POM was created in 1970 by President Richard Nixon’s Defense Secretary Melvin Laird. It was designed as a response to what was seen as overbearing domination of service programming by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations under Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara.The POM was prepared by service rather than Defense Department analysts and was seen as a better way to allow the services to plan for their own futures. The Navy POM was controlled largely by the CNO’s OP 090 programming and budget directorate with the powerful systems analysis divison OP 96 in the lead for the development of Navy programs and associated budgets.

The system remained in place across the 1970s as a trio of influential CNOs brought about the conditions for what Navy strategist Captain Peter Swartz and naval historian John Hattendorf have called, “A renaissance in naval strategic thinking,” that occurred in the 1980s.3 Admirals Elmo Zumwalt Jr, James Holloway III, and Thomas Hayward all explored ideas for global naval strategy against a growing and more capable Soviet fleet. Admiral Zumwalt conducted a major reorganization of the Navy Staff (OPNAV) and worked to create an affordable yet capable fleet to confront its Soviet counterpart. Admiral Holloway explored differing fleet sizes and offensive concepts. Admiral Hayward had conducted significant research into a new offensive naval strategy while serving as the Pacific Fleet Commander. He further tried to reintroduce a strategic culture through the creation of a Naval War College-based, CNO strategy “think tank” called the CNO Strategic Studies Group (SSG) to create operational solutions to naval strategic problems.4 All three of these extraordinary CNOs worked to restore the Navy from its post-Vietnam War doldrums. They laid the groundwork for success in the 1980s, but faced severe policy and budget restraints and did not have optimum mechanisms to translate their naval strategy concepts into solutions acceptable to civilian leaders.

In August 1982, with a new presidential administration in power and a new CNO at the helm of the Navy, Deputy CNO Admiral Small sent an influential message to both the Navy’s strategy (OP 06) and Director of Naval  Warfare (OP 095) offices with a powerful instruction. To this end, Admiral Small (and presumably CNO Admiral James Watkins) adjusted the Navy POM process to give the Strategy branch the first “cut” on the POM building process as opposed to the OP 96 systems analysis branch. Small had been exploring this change for some months. In March 1982, he sent a memo to OP 06 Vice Admiral Sylvester “Bob” Foley in which he stated, “A review of maritime strategy may well change many of the assumptions currently explicit in our systems requirements. I guess the responsibility for this type of thinking lies somewhere between (or among) OP-06 and OP-095, but seems dormant.”The Director of Naval Warfare (OP 095) Rear Admiral W.R. Smedberg IV suggested that, “OP-06 take the lead in this action” and that the strategic setting and operational concept should be spelled out more explicitly as the backdrop of our POM development.” The Navy Programming and Budgeting Director (OP 090) Vice Admiral Carl Trost and the systems analyst division head Rear Admiral Jack Baldwin agreed with Small’s statements. Small submitted an August 1982 memo to, in his words, “Get the whole OPNAV staff moving in that direction (of strategic thinking in POM development).”6 In a 1998 letter, Small recounted that he, “had been increasingly perturbed by a lack of any relationship of POM development to any kind of maritime strategy, not only from an affordability standpoint, but the concomitant failure to challenge the assumptions made by program and platform sponsors.”7

Small’s memo set in motion a historic series of events. If strategy were to play a part in the 1983 POM process, a strategy briefing would need to be prepared in support of the Navy POM input. The OPNAV Strategic Concepts branch head (OP 603) Captain Elizabeth Wylie was ordered to prepare such a strategy appraisal. She selected Lieutenant Commander Stanley Weeks, who was assisted by Commander William Spencer Johnson from OP 605, in preparing this input. Weeks and Johnson’s document became the first iteration of the 1980s Maritime Strategy, which grew in sophistication and influence throughout the early and mid 1980s.

Strategy Adrift in the Post Cold War Era

A Maritime Strategy appraisal (CPAM) remained the first input to the POM process through 1991, but by then the global strategic system had been turned upside down. The passage of the Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the end of the Cold War, Desert Storm operational practices, and the looming fall of the Soviet Union itself had precipitated significant changes. The Goldwater Nichols legislation had given the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff rather than the CNO control of the size and strategy of the fleet, although these powers would not be fully invoked until the accession of General Colin Powell to the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs in 1989. The collapse of the Soviet opponent further weakened the need for the Maritime Strategy. By the spring of 1990, incoming CNO Admiral Frank Kelso was forced to concede that there was no need for a Maritime strategy in the absence of a great maritime enemy like the Soviet Union. He officially declared the 1980s Maritime strategy as “on the shelf” until again needed during his June 1990 Senate confirmation hearing as CNO.8

Between 1990 and 1991, the Maritime Strategy was replaced by the White Paper Revision, later known as “From the Sea,” as the opening assessment for the POM process. Admiral Kelso later suggested that “From the Sea” would play a similar role to that of the 1980’s Maritime Strategy in getting the Joint Staff, Congress and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to support, “The Navy’s job in the years ahead of us.”9

The new strategy was used in a method similar to its predecessor at the start of its existence. Many of its components were incorporated into a Total Force Assessment (TFA) brief scheduled for the CNO Executive Board (CEB) as a kickoff to the POM cycle by Captain Dick Diamond (OP 603 Branch Chief) to Admiral Kelso on 18 July 1991. Diamond’s brief was undercut at the last minute by an additional slide produced by RADM Dave Oliver’s OP 81 (systems analysis) office entitled, “The Coming USN Budget Train Wreck” that Oliver insisted be inserted into Diamond’s brief. Diamond recalled that Admiral Kelso did not like the littoral warfare focus of Diamond’s presentation and exploded when the OP 81 slide suggesting the Navy would shrink to less than 300 ships by 2010 was displayed.10 Admiral Kelso called Diamond into his office the next day and reversed course, stating that, “the brief was essentially correct and what you recommended is the right path ahead for the Navy…so I am going to do it.”11

Reorganizing OPNAV

The new strategy appeared to have CNO support as a POM influencer, but this condition was only temporary. Over the summer of 1992, Admiral Kelso responded with the most significant reorganization of the OPNAV staff since Admiral Zumwalt’s two decades earlier.12 In a 1994 USNI Proceedings article, Admiral William Owen, Kelso’s lead for the reorganization effort, suggested the reason for Kelso’s massive staff restructure was to implement this new strategy.13 Admiral Kelso stated in his Reminiscences of 2009 that the strategy was merely a rally point behind which Owens as the new N8 would organize programs and their funding.14

The OPNAV staff would now be organized by “N” codes along the Army-centric lines of the Joint Staff. The OP 08 programming office under the leadership of Admiral Owens was re-branded as the N8 and all Navy programmatic activity was effectively centralized under his control. Its primary management tool, the Joint Mission Assessment, was an analysis-driven document, developed by OPNAV flag officers and coordinated by the N81 (formerly OP 81) analysis office. The three star platform “barons” were downgraded to two stars and subordinated to N8.

The OP 603 office had previously conducted its strategy appraisal of the POM as part of the CNO Executive Board Review (CEB) prior to the other POM appraisals. The CEB was disestablished as part of the October 1992 OPNAV reorganization. The list of POM development assessments conducted before the 1992 reorganization includes a “White Paper Revision,” also known as “From the Sea,” described as a successor to the Maritime Strategy. Subsequent lists of POM development assessments make no mention of a strategy assessment.

The apparent demise of a direct service strategy input to the POM in 1992 was paralleled by a rise in the influence of systems and campaign analysis in POM development and management. In 1994, when recruited by CNO Admiral Mike Boorda to work in N81 analysis branch, veteran Navy operations analyst Bruce Powers said Boorda desired, “To revitalize N81 and turn it back into what OP 96 had been earlier.”15

The new analysis branch (formerly OP 81) N8 in time became even more powerful than the old OP 96 office over the next decade. In 2000, Admiral Vern Clark, a 1970s-era alumnus of the OP 96 office, succeeded Admiral Jay Johnson as CNO.16 Clark was a former Joint Staff Operations officer (J3), its director, and the first business school graduate to be appointed CNO. Clark believed that strategy properly belonged to OSD and the Joint system. His own job as a service chief was to manage the organization, training, and equipment provision to the service. Clark desired a “readiness-based” Navy; especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.17

Strategy Struggles

The N3/N5 (Deputy CNO for Plans, Policy and Operations) office attempted to get back into the business of influencing the POM in the 1990s and in the 2000s. In 1994, N3/N5 RADM Phillip Dur and his N51 Captain Joe Sestak attempted to improve the 1992 “From the Sea” White Paper with a successor document entitled “Forward From the Sea.” While it had some initial success, it did not achieve any influence in POM development since it was still focused on “blue water” programs and did not “Script a convincing story about how a littoral strategy works.”18 It was further criticized as just a repeat of the Navy’s Cold War presence operations and provoked backlash from the Army and Air Force due to its, “Parochial focus on uniqueness of naval forward presence.”19 “Only “boots on the ground,” combined with robust land-based (as opposed to carrier-based,” aviation could actually influence others.20 Although useful for two years in shaping the Navy POM, it did not achieve lasting influence.21 Further attempts by the N3/N5 office to influence the POM including a Navy Operational Concept, and the Navy Strategic Planning Guidance for POMs 02 and 03 were short-lived and failed to develop lasting influence on the budget cycle. They were greatly overshadowed by Department of Defense strategic initiatives such as the First Quadrennial Review (QDR) and increasing attempts at joint operations.22

In 2002, Admiral Clark told Vice Admiral Kevin Green, the incoming N3/N5 that the Navy did not need a “strategy,” as it already had one and it was called the POM.23 Admiral Clark assigned control of the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan to N81 in 2000.24 The N81 office was also instrumental in developing the Global Concept of Operations (CONOPS) for Admiral Clark’s “Sea Power 21” concept.25

The decade of the 2000s was more successful in terms of re-asserting the influence of strategy on the OPNAV staff. Admiral Mike Mullen became CNO in 2005. Vice Admiral John Morgan was N3/N5 from 2004-2008 and had more success than Vice Admiral Green in pushing strategy documents to a wider audience, but was still outpaced by N81 in terms of POM influence. The Navy Operating Concept for Joint Operations, written by N513 (the strategy office of N3/N5) by contrast was little cited in either POM documents or within the press.

Succeeding strategy documents were also ineffective. The Navy Strategic Plan in support of POM 08 (2006) was signed out six months too late to be of significant influence on its intended POM cycle.26 The Strategic Plan for POM 10 (2007) had some influence in the development of the 2007 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. It was deliberately targeted at Navy Department programmers supporting POM development.27 It had extensive support from N81 including influential officers such as Commander Bryan Clark and Captain John Yurchak to ensure it “fit with the OPNAV POM process.”28 However, this document was Secret only and did not get wide distribution as a result. Unfortunately, the POM 10 Strategic planning effort was lost to a degree in the turmoil of the end of the Bush administration during which operations in Iraq and Afghanistan dominated Defense Department thinking.29 It reflected current and near-term Navy programming already in place rather than attempted to influence future efforts. It did not include the Marine Corps, and had no mechanism to secure OPNAV support, as did the N8 /N81 POM development process.30

Admiral Morgan’s greatest triumph was perhaps the 2007 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. It was championed by CNO Admiral Mullen and drafted by N3/N5 staff member Commander Bryan McGrath, and writers from the other sea services. The 2007 Cooperative Strategy was designed as a tri-service effort in support of POM 12.31 The document had widespread influence in the wider U.S. and international naval community, but again failed to have a significant impact on its intended POM target. Despite its influence, the 2007 document had no direct connection with POM development, unlike the pre-1992 Maritime Strategy CPAM inputs to the POM process.32 The distinct lack of a formal relationship between strategy and the programming process allowed Navy programmers to ignore strategic input from 1992 through the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century.

By contrast, the N81 analysis branch’s formal connection to the programming process has allowed it wide influence.33 Since 2000, the 30-year shipbuilding plan has in effect served as the Navy’s de facto strategy document. Its key supporting element is the Naval Force Structure Assessment (FSA). The FSA is described in OPNAV Instruction 3050.27 (12 February 2015), as a tool that, “determines long-term Navy force structure objectives to support a global posture of distributed mission-tailored ships, aircraft, and units capable of regionally concentrated combat operations and peacetime theater security cooperation efforts.”34 The 2012 FSA was used to, “determine a post-2020 requirement for 306 ships in the battle force and emphasized forward presence while re-examining resourcing requirements for operational plans and defense planning scenarios.”35

Back to the Future

It now appears that Admiral Richardson intends to reverse the last 25 years of total N8-dominated POM development. The POM will now be a three-phase process with the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (DCNO) for Operations, Plans and Strategy (N3/N5) as the supported commander for the first phase; the N9 Warfare Systems office in charge of the second requirements integration phase, and the N8  leading the third resource integration phase effort. POMs will begin three months earlier than usual in order to ensure “strategic deliberation.” There will be no separate Resource Program Sponsor Proposals (RPSPs) in this new, more transparent POM environment. In addition, billets from the CNO’s own OPNAV “think tank,” office of 00K and the N81 Quadrennial Defense Review Division have been moved to the N50 divison (under N3/N5) to create a powerful new Strategy division capable of managing the first phase of the new POM process. The formal connection of the N50 office to the programming process appears to ensure that the influence of the inputs it creates will not be lost in bureaucratic channels as in the last 25 or so years. The final goal in the words of the message is, “a strategy-based, fiscally balanced, and defendable Navy Program for submission to OSD, which appropriately implements OSD fiscal and programming guidance, addresses SECNAV and CNO priorities, and achieves the best balance of strategic guidance as provided in the CNO guidance.”


Admiral Richardson’s new POM process is a bridge from the days of the 1980s Maritime Strategy across a quarter century of force structure management, and pseudo-strategy to a new era of great power competition. This process is perhaps the beginning a new global maritime strategy with which the Navy can confront the collective and growing maritime power of the Chairman’s “4+1” combination of potential threats (Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and terrorism.) Admiral Richardson’s change to the Navy’s POM process is perhaps again the beginning of another golden age of American naval strategy.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD candidate in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941. 

1. Peter M. Swartz with Karin Duggan, U.S. Navy Capstone Strategies and Concepts, 1981-1990, Strategy, Policy, Concept and Vision Documents, Alexandria, VA, The CNA Corporation, December, 2011, p. 21.

2. Richard A. Hunt, Melvin Laird and the Foundations of the Post-Vietnam Military, 1969-1973,  Washington D.C, The Office of the Secretary of Defense,  Historical Office, The Secretaries of Defense Historical Series, Volume VII, Erin R. Mahan, General Editor,, pp. 16, 17.

3. John B. Hattendorf and Peter M. Swartz, U.S. Naval Strategy in the 1980’s. Selected Documents, Newport R.I, The United States Naval War College, The Newport Papers #33, 2008, p. 4.

4. John Hanley, “Creating the 1980’s Maritime Strategy and Implications for Today,“, Newport, R.I., The United States Naval War College Review, Spring, 2014, Volume 67, No 2, p. 15.

5. John B. Hattendorf, The Evolution of the U.S. Navy’s Maritime Strategy, 1977-1986, Newport, R.I, The United States Naval War College Press, The Newport Papers #19, 2003,  pp. 66-68.

6. Ibid.

7. Fax letter from Admiral William Small USN (ret) to Captain Peter M. Swartz, USN (ret), 02 October 1998, Arlington, VA, The Personal and Professional Papers of Captain Peter M. Swartz, USN (ret), used with permission.

8. “The Nomination of Admiral Frank B. Kelso, Jr USN, to be Chief of Naval Operations,” Hearing before the Committee of the Armed Services, The United States Senate, Second Session of the One Hundred First Congress, 14 June, 1990, pp. 326, 327.

9. Frank B. Kelso II and Paul Stilwell, The Reminiscences of Admiral Frank B. Kelso II U.S. navy (Retired), Annapolis, Md, The United States Naval Institute Press, 2009, p. 687.

10. Email from Captain Richard Diamond, USN (ret) to Dr. John Hattendorf, Naval War College, subject “Paper Review Status” (unpublished narrative of the events leading up to the September 1992 publication of “From the Sea”), 09 September 2006, Filed jointly inThe United States Naval War College, The Naval Historical Collection, The papers of Dr. John Hattendorf, and in the Professional papers of Captain Peter M. Swartz, USN (ret), 1991 “The Way Ahead” file, used with special permission of Dr. John Hattendorf, Captain Swartz and Captain Richard Diamond, USN (ret).

11. Ibid.

12. William A. Owens, High Seas, The Naval Passage to an Uncharted World, Annapolis, MD, The United States Naval Institute Press, 1995, p. 5.

13. William Owens, “The Quest for Consensus,” Annapolis, MD, The United States Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol 120/5/1095, May 1994, pp. 69, 70.

14. Frank B. Kelso II and Paul Stilwell, The Reminiscences of Admiral Frank B. Kelso II U.S. navy (Retired), p. 688.

15. Bob Sheldon and Michael Garrambone, “Military Operations Research Society (MORS) Oral History Project Interview with Mr. Bruce F. Powers,” Military Operations Research, V21 N#2,  2016, doi 10.5711/10825983212107, p. 118.

16. Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., (2002) Navy Operations Research. Operations Research 50(1):103-111. http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/opre.,  p. 107.

17. Ronald Ratclift, “CNO and OPNAV Reorganization,” In  David A. Williams (ed.), Case Studies in Policy Making and Implementation. 6th ed,  Newport, RI, The United States  Naval War College Press, 2002 , p.p. 326-328.

18. Edward Rhodes, “…From the Sea and Back Again, Naval Power in the Second American Century,” Newport, RI, The United States Naval War College Review, Vol LXX, No.2, Sequence 366, Spring 1999, p. 32.

19. Peter M. Swartz with Karin Duggan, U.S. Navy Capstone Strategies and Documents, 1991-2000, Alexandria, VA, The CNA Corporation, D0026416.A2/Final, March 2012, p. 93.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid, p. 95.

22. Ibid, p. 102.

23. Peter Haynes, Toward a New Maritime Strategy, American Naval Thinking in the Post Cold War Era, Annapolis, MD, The United States Naval Institute Press, 2015,  pp. 227, 228.

24. Ronald O’Rourke, “Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress,” Washington D.C., The Congressional Research Service (CRS), 7-5700, 12 June 2015, p. 8.

25. Peter M. Swartz with Karin Duggan, U.S. Navy Capstone Strategies and Documents, 200-2010, Strategy, Policy, Concept and Vision Documents, Alexandria, VA, The CNA Corporation, D0026241.A2/Final, p. 27.

26. Ibid, p. 101.

27. Ibid, p. 127.

28. Ibid, p. 136.

29. Ibid, p. 129

30. Ibid, p. 138

31. Ibid, p. 166.

32. Ibid, p. 189.

33. James A. Russel, James J. Wirtz, Donald Abenheim, Thomas Durrell-Young, and Diana Wueger, “Navy Strategy Development in the 21st Century,” Monterey, CA, The United States Navy Postgraduate School, The Naval Research Program, #FY14-N3/N5-001, June 2015, p. 4, electronic resource, https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=768350, last assessed 25 October 2016.

34. “OPNAV Instruction 3050.27, Force Structure Assessments,” Washington D.C., The Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 12 February 2015, p. 1, electronic resource, https://doni.daps.dla.mil/Directives/03000%20Naval%20Operations%20and%20Readiness/03-00%20General%20Operations%20and%20Readiness%20Support/3050.27.pdf, last assessed 5 October 2016.

35. “Report to Congress on the Annual Long Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels for Fiscal year 2016,” Washington D.C., The Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, The Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Integration of Capabilities and Resources,) March 2015, p. 7. Electronic resources, https://news.usni.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/FY16-30-Year-Shipbuilding-Plan.pdf, last assessed 5 October 2016.

Featured Image: ARLINGTON, Va. (Jan. 12, 2016) Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson delivers remarks during the 28th annual Surface Navy Association (SNA) National Symposium. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Laird/Released)

Management and Process Improvement: The Navy of the 1990s and Today

By Jason Chuma

On December 25, 1991, following a year and a half breakup of Soviet states, the flag of the Soviet Union was lowered at the Kremlin for the last time and the flag of the Russian Federation was raised. The next day, the Supreme Soviet voted the Soviet Union out of existence. It was a great victory for the United States and what was dubbed the “First World.” They were victorious in the Cold War, a different kind of war, but a war nonetheless. A war between east and west; a war between communism and capitalism; a war fought using all elements of national power – diplomatic, intelligence, military, and economic – which never erupted into combat between the major powers of NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

The End of an Era
(Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)

Though the war did not involve combat, discussions of conflicts such as Korea and Vietnam aside, the U.S. military was in a near constant state of preparing for the Soviets to push through the Fulda Gap and for a great naval battle in the Norwegian Sea.

But suddenly, the adversary was gone. For nearly five decades the Soviet Union provided focus and direction for what to buy, how to train, and what to study. What now? In 1991, China was not the military power of today and the idea of a Global War on Terrorism couldn’t have been further from mainstream military thought. A look at the 1991 U.S. National Military Strategy makes only generic mentioning of terrorism and shows an isolationist view of China:

“China, like the Soviet Union, poses a complex challenge as it proceeds inexorably toward major systemic change. China’s inward focus and struggle to achieve stability will not preclude increasing interaction with its neighbors as trade and technology advance. Consultations and contact with China will be central features of our policy, lest we intensify the isolation that shields repression.”

The potential threat of China and the actual threat of terrorism did not reveal themselves in force until the early 2000s. The 1990s were a sort of rudderless decade for the U.S. military. With no major perceived enemy to fight, budget cuts commenced. Military spending in the 1990s quickly dropped by a third of its Cold War levels. Intervention in failing or failed states was the name of the game, and American technological superiority, specifically airpower, was the weapon of choice in places such as Iraq, Bosnia, and Serbia.

The Navy found itself without an enemy to confront at sea and with a rapidly shrinking budget. Control of sea lines of communication became assumed and the Navy gradually disarmed itself for fighting a major sea battle in the 1990s through decisions like discontinuing the UGM-84A submarine launched Harpoon anti-ship missile and converting remaining R/UGM-109B Tomahawk anti-ship missiles (TASM) into the Tomahawk land-attack missile (TLAM) R/UGM-109C. The last combatant commissioned equipped with anti-ship missiles was the USS PORTER (DDG 78) in1999.

Idle hands may be the devil’s workshop, but an idle Navy surely is the bureaucrat’s and the administrator’s. Without war or the real risk of war, Navy culture shifted. Instead of warriors patrolling the oceans and maintaining freedom of the seas from the Soviet Navy, it became about management and process improvement. The MBA became the graduate degree of choice and process improvement models such as Deming’s Total Quality Management – rebranded as Total Quality Leadership of course – became the norm.

Admiral James Stavridis had command of the USS BARRY (DDG 52) from 1993 to 1995. He maintained a diary while in command which was published as Destroyer Captain: Lessons of a First Command. Within it he makes some very astute observations of the Navy of the 1990s:

“[W]e have become a navy that specializes in safety, communicating, inspecting, engineering, administering, retaining, and counseling. There is too little emphasis on shiphandling, warfighting, battle repairing, and leading…As an example of how we are a bit out of whack is that if I charted my personal time, I suspect I spend virtually my entire day working the first list and precious little devoted to the latter…If I completely reversed my priorities – and focused exclusively on shiphandling and warfighting, I would be in some danger of being relieved for cause within ninety days…But in some not-too-far-distant decade, I think ships will be hit by cruise missiles, they will sink, men and women will die bad deaths. And hard questions will be asked about the Navy of the 1990s and its priorities and beliefs.”

Admiral Stavridis tells a grim but honest tale of the culture of the Navy in the 1990s, but is it a really a story of the past or is it a story of what has continued to this day? If you compared the Navy of 1995 and the one of today, what cultural differences would you see? Have we turned the tide and placed a focus back on mastering our trade of warfighting? The recent establishment of the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (NWMWDC) and Undersea Warfighting Development Center (UWDC) in 2015 is a positive start. Is attending the War College viewed as career enhancing? Recent discussions with officers indicate it may be currently viewed as not career hindering at the least. What is truly viewed as more important today: understanding tactical employment of a ship, fleet, or nation, or efficiently managing a major maintenance availability and developing and executing a shipboard training plan?

Yes, management of programs is a skill needed in any organization, especially in one as complex as the Navy and as unforgiving as life onboard a ship. But does it define that organization, is it what that organization’s culture is centered around, and can someone survive and even succeed in that organization simply being a manager and administrator instead of a leader and a warfighter? These are simple yet hard questions which must be asked in order to heed Admiral Stavridis’s warning of the Navy’s priorities and beliefs from the 1990s which have continued to today.

Harkening back to another famous admiral, Arleigh Burke, may help with some simple guidance from his Destroyer Squadron 23 Doctrine in World War II. These tenets (paraphrased for modernity) were the most basic guidance to his Commanding Officers while he was Commodore:

“If it will help kill [the enemy] it’s important. If it will not help kill [the enemy] it’s not important. Keep your ship trained for battle! Keep your material ready for battle! Keep your boss informed concerning your readiness for battle!”

Simple yet powerful tenets which serve to maintain the focus where it belongs, ensuring our ships and sailors are ready to sail into harm’s way to take the fight to the enemy. It becomes easy to be distracted by inspections, paperwork, and watchbill management. Items which are easier to audit and assess tend to get the energy and attention over warfighting effectiveness and combat readiness. Potentially at great peril during the next war at sea.

LT Jason H. Chuma is a U.S. Navy submarine officer currently serving as Navigator and Operations Officer onboard USS SPRINGFIELD (SSN 761). He is a graduate of the Citadel, holds a master’s degree from Old Dominion University, and has completed the Intermediate Command and Staff Course from the U.S. Naval War College. He can be followed on Twitter @Jason_Chuma.

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 U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 30, 2016) Sailors on board the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) render passing honors to the fast-attack submarine USS Pasadena (SSN 752) as it transits the San Diego Bay. Carl Vinson is currently underway in preparation for an upcoming deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sean M. Castellano/Released)

Talking Strategy with Richard Bailey Jr., James Forsyth Jr., and Mark Yeisley

By LCDR Christopher D. Nelson, USN

U.S. Air War College Professors Richard Bailey Jr., James Forsyth Jr., and Mark Yeisley recently published an eclectic book of essays on strategy. The book, Strategy: Context and Adaption from Archidamus to Airpowercontains eleven essays that span strategic topics–from cyber warfare to irregular warfare. This book, then, has a little bit of everything packed into 320 pages. The editors, interviewed over email, took the time to talk about their new book and the nature of strategic thinking. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Strategy: Context and Adaptation from Archidamus to Airpower, edited by, Richard J. Bailey Jr., James W. Forsyth Jr., & Mark D. Yeisley. (U.S. Naval Institute Press)

Gentlemen, welcome. Thank you for joining us to talk about your new book. I want to start off with a question for all of you. Of the eleven essays in the book–and all by different contributors–which one was your favorite? And why? 

Bailey: I have to give an unsatisfying answer to this, unfortunately, and not because I am trying to spare anyone’s feelings. After two years of working on this book, I freely admit that I love each chapter in different ways and for different reasons. I do think that Professor Dolman’s opening chapter is foundational for the chapters that follow it.

Forsyth: That’s a good question. I am a theory guy so I am naturally drawn to theoretical pieces–Dolman’s stands out as particularly interesting. However, I thoroughly enjoyed Rich Muller’s piece, which orbits around the importance of history and the teaching of strategy. I feel a bit of pressure here as I generally enjoyed them all. The book has a certain uneven quality, as collections often do, but I think that gives it a certain charm–there is something here for everyone.       

Yeisley: I would definitely say that the Bailey essay on thinking strategically on cyberspace and cyber power was my favorite, because of the framing he used to describe the tensions that exist within this realm. Balancing classical ideals of liberty versus order, the dichotomy that exists between cooperation and isolationism, and the question of choice between transparency and privacy are all social tensions that will remain so well into the near future. 

Professor Bailey, as you are probably well aware, and as one of the contributors mentions early on in the book, there are literally thousands of books on strategy. Where does your book fit in this discussion? Or maybe a better question is, does your book cover areas of strategy that are under appreciated in other works? 

Bailey: Most contemporary literature on strategy focuses on applications for business, and many suggest that a blueprint exists for strategic thinking and implementation. At worst, we may tend to seek out a cookie-cutter model and use that for all strategic problems.  In our opinion, we have to fight the human tendency to find a one-size-fits-all panacea for strategic challenges. Thus, we insist that strategic thinking requires a widening of one’s own intellectual aperture to consider different perspectives and assumptions. This helps us to improve our understanding of the strategic environment, and to become more cognitively flexible in the face of uncertainty. In my opinion, this is our most important contribution to the existing literature on strategy.

Professor Bailey, in your essay titled “Four Dimensions to the Digital Debate: How Should We Think Strategically About Cyberspace and Cyberpower?” you raise some important topics. There is one topic I’d like to focus on. You ask the question: “Are our existing military and governmental structures sufficient for both optimizing its possible strengths and defending against malicious attacks?” So, if you had the authority and the money to reorganize or create cyber organizations, what would they look like in the future? Do you envision a Cyber Combatant Command? Is it something else? 

Bailey: That is a great question. I do consider cyberspace to be a ‘domain’ where the military is concerned, but recognize that there are many more stakeholders outside the military. As opposed to operations in the physical domains (land, sea, air and space), cyberspace operations require a different set of assumptions, particularly regarding our previous focus on elements such as time and distance. As our military forces become more dependent on access to cyberspace for efficiency and effectiveness, I think there will be a strong argument for making CYBERCOM a functional Combatant Command, much like we did with Special Operations Command. I also think discussions of a separate cyber service will continue, particularly as the desire for independently minded cyber professionals gets stronger. 

Professor Forsyth, you wrote an essay titled “The Realist As Strategist: A Critique.” This is a broad question, but I believe it is an important one. What do you think makes a “good” strategist? While you offer a critique of realism in your piece, I am curious if you believe there is a way in which one sees the world that tends to make for skilled strategist. To be clear, when I use words like a “good” or a “skilled” strategist, let us say for the sake of discussion that these people are able to formulate a strategy that achieves a successful end state.  

Forsyth: Another very important question and one with no easy answer. As is made plain in the book, the SAASS faculty have many ideas regarding the meaning of strategy. So many in fact that some time ago I decided to forgo a definition and focused instead on what strategists do. So, let me ask you: what do strategists do? In its simplest sense, strategists attempt to solve puzzles and place bets. The key word there is ‘attempt.’ As we know, some puzzles cannot be solved and, therefore, ought to be avoided. Deciphering which puzzles can be solved and gauging the costs of attempting to solve them are key elements of any good strategist. Now, how do we develop that sort of a mind? For one thing, one must read deeply and widely. Strategy is an interdisciplinary enterprise and one field alone does not hold the key. Second, one must develop the ability to build bridges across a wide body of what might look like unconnected knowledge. One must see the relationships that exist between history, theory, science, economics, etc, in order to ascertain what is to be done. In doing so one develops a bone deep sense of humility, something in short supply these days.

As to a way of thinking that serves strategy best–realism is a tradition worth defending. It has a rich history and its descriptions about the nature of international politics is a good place to start one’s education. However, it should not stop there, as I mentioned.  

Professor Forsyth, a short follow up. Do you believe that modern wars, namely those from the 19th century to today, start with moral considerations in mind, yet because we are human and emotional beings, that the realist inevitably comes to the forefront as leader and strategist? Does realism often consume moralism in strategic development and planning? If so, why? 

Forsyth: The tension between justice and necessity is as old as politics itself, and it will never go away. What I have become convinced of is this: even when the demands of justice and the demands of necessity conflict, as they so often do, one need not eschew all calls for justice. The relentless pursuit of interest can lead to a bad end, as I try to make clear in my short chapter in the book. What ‘consumes’ the Athenians is the growing realism of their policies, not the other way around. There is a lesson there: a strategy based solely on the pursuit of interest can be as dangerous as one based solely on moral concerns–the two hang together or should, as best they can.

Another question for the group. In your opinion, today, who is writing about strategy, whether on historical case studies or contemporary strategic thought, that is worth reading?  

Bailey: In my opinion, some of the most useful works on strategy today are those that explore how and why we think the way we do. Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow is a good example. We cannot think about crafting, implementing, or evaluating strategies unless we first gain a respect for our own cognitive habits.  Some of those habits provide intellectual opportunities, while others present challenges and pitfalls to strategic thinking. Let me also say that there are some classics reflecting many of those same teachings. Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War contains concepts that, even 2,500 years later, are useful for today’s strategists.    

“Seeing Like A State,” by James C. Scott. (Google Books)

Forsyth: I just finished reading James Scott’s Seeing Like a StateI commend it to anyone interested in strategy and understanding the limits of what states can and cannot do. I also have Stephan Jay Gould’s magnum opus The Structure of Evolutionary Theory on my desk as summer reading–as my colleagues will tell you, it has been sitting there for a long time. I’ve always been intrigued by his ideas regarding change and the natural world and I am trying to ascertain the usefulness of his ideas and political change.

"Strategy," by Lawrence Freedman/Image: Google Books
“Strategy,” by Lawrence Freedman. (Google Books)

Yeisley: I just finished Lawrence Freedman’s Strategy: A History, and found it an excellent piece for both the professional strategist and anyone casually interested in a comprehensive history of strategic thought. It begins with the earliest origins of strategy among primates, then moves through Biblical times, into ancient Greek and Chinese thoughts on the subject, and in theory and from practical experience. The book travels through time at breakneck speed and finishes off with a view of strategy from the business world, which is a fairly modern concept in terms of books on the subject. One of its primary questions is also one of the most basic: is it truly possible to manipulate one’s environment to maximum advantage, or do we all remain vulnerable to the vagaries of our adversaries and surroundings? 

You each get to have one historical strategist over for dinner. Who’s coming?  And what would want to ask them? 

Bailey: I would invite Andy Marshall. Marshall served as the head of the Office of Net Assessment at the Pentagon from 1973 to 2015, and is credited with much of the long-term strategic thinking that advantaged the U.S. during the Cold War. I’d pick his brain about his intellectual habits, and about how he mentored those around him to serve in strategic roles.

“Admiral Bull Halsey: A Naval Life,” by Thomas Hughes. (Google Books)

Forsyth: Well, that is an interesting question. Another book I’ve just finished reading is Thomas Hughes’ Biography of Admiral Bill Halsey, Admiral Bill Halsey: A Naval Life. Another one I easily commend to all. Halsey was making Naval strategy at a time when the modern Navy was coming of age. His exploits in the Pacific theater seem particularly germane today and I’d like to ask him, ‘what do you think?’

Yeisley: I would resurrect a strategist whose life came to an end all too soon–I would invite Thomas Edward Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) for a candid discussion of the basic concepts of irregular warfare from the Arab point of view. Lawrence was a fan of the indirect approach, and led his Arab forces in skirmishing attacks on thinly distributed Turkish forces along a major rail line. His words would have great worth in a time when the U.S. has spent billions fighting the same types of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan today. 

Professor Yeisley, in your essay, “Staying Regular? The Importance of Irregular Warfare to the Modern Strategist,” you state that some of the classical strategic thinkers and writers–like Sun Tzu and Clausewitz, for example, have something useful to say about irregular warfare.  How so? Is there one historical strategist you would recommend we read above all others when we are thinking about irregular warfare? 

Yeisley: If I had to choose one among the many classics on this subject, I would choose the writings of Mao Tse Tung as the one to read above all others. Mao created and then led an effort against the Chinese nationalists prior to WWII, adapted his tactics to fight against Japanese oppression, then adapted once again to ultimately win against his adversary and secure his place in Chinese history. While his ideology was anathema to the Western mind, his ability to train both his troops and the supporting civilian population to secure victories against armies far greater than his provides valuable lessons for strategists today.

Professor Yeisley, last question goes to you. In your essay you warn the reader that we need to be prepared for the “reality of future irregular warfare.” What advice would you give to those who must prepare for such a future?  

Yeisley: I would begin by acknowledging that the irregular warfare moniker may be somewhat of an anachronism these days. “Regular” warfare, whether it be interstate conflict or not, is becoming increasingly rare – whether that has to do with the rapid pace of global interconnectedness, or due to some other factors. The fact is that “irregular” warfare is becoming the norm.  That said, there seems to be little argument that this type of warfare will likely be the most prevalent in the next several decades at least. Yet the U.S. continues to prepare for conflict with a near-peer competitor, and sees China as the most likely to fit that bill. 

After over a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spending billions on efforts in each of these states, we are still facing an uncertain future. More effort needs to be spent on identifying and addressing the causes of such conflict, and that will involve an effort that spans the gamut of U.S. instruments of power. Economic aid will be necessary to decrease poverty and improve the institutions necessary for future generations. Information campaigns will need to be improved to show the populations of these states our true intentions, and diplomacy must complement both these and military efforts to combat those diehards who insist on violence. But the stark reality is that such efforts will be costly and take a long time–and that will be the reality that is hardest to face for a nation whose public wants to win quick and go home.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for your time.

Richard J. Bailey Jr. is an associate professor of strategy and security studies, USAF School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. He holds a PhD from the Department of Government at Georgetown University. Rick is an active-duty U.S. Air Force colonel, with over 3,500 flight hours in various Air Force aircraft. His research interests include military strategy, cyber power, and civil-military relations. Rick will retire this fall and has been announced as the next president of Northern New Mexico College.

James W. Forsyth Jr. is the dean of the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. He received his PhD in international studies from the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. While there he studied international and comparative politics, as well as security studies. His research interests are wide ranging, and he has written on great power conflict and war.

Mark O. Yeisley is a former USAF colonel and associate professor at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies. He holds a PhD in international relations from Duke University. While on active duty he served in various operational and staff assignments, and he currently teaches for the Air Command and Staff College. His research interests include contemporary irregular war, ethnic and religious violence, and political geography.

LCDR Christopher Nelson, USN, is a naval intelligence officer and regular contributor to CIMSEC.  He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School (MAWS) in Newport, Rhode Island. The comments and questions above are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the US Department of Defense or the US Navy.

Featured Image: Chessboard (Pixabay.com)