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I Held an Amazon “Flipped” Meeting At My Squadron and Here’s What Happened

By Jared Wilhelm

The Innovation Imperative

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson frequently talks about High Velocity Learning (HVL) and Innovation. You can tell his focus on this topic is working thanks to one clear litmus test: eye rolls and mocking from some of the Fleet’s junior officers. The CNO has spread the gospel so well on this topic that is has become a buzzword throughout wardrooms and squadrons around the world, and now “Innovation” has achieved just enough notoriety to be misunderstood.

The eye-rollers are often resistant to change, cling to the status quo, and most importantly have an ahistorical perception of innovation within the naval service. What they don’t quite comprehend is that innovation is nothing new. Commander BJ Armstrong enumerated the proof of our rich innovation history in consecutive years at the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, first in 2013 with his lecture on Admiral William Sims that led to the book 21st Century Sims, and then followed by a look at Marine Corps’ forward-thinking embrace of the helicopter in the post-WWII era

We have innovated before, and we will innovate again. But the CNO makes the case that the quadrupling of worldwide maritime traffic in the last several decades, combined with the free and fast flow of technology and information, creates an innovation and learning imperative like we have never seen. Our maritime superiority, our relevance, and potentially even our Sailors’ survival all depend on it.

Just Do It

It can be a daunting task for an operational leader to lead innovation efforts in the context of the worldwide rise of near-peer adversaries and vague direction from the Pentagon to learn, rapidly iterate, and embrace risk.  Where can you even start?

Using the old mantra, “Think Globally but Act Locally,” I decided to tackle something that everyone in our squadron, officer and enlisted alike, always unite to grumble about: meetings. You know them–they pepper the plan of the week like the last pieces of candy in a box of chocolate that no one wants to eat; they draw scowls of dread when you see another two, three, or four in your future. They all start the same with a PowerPoint slide deck, introductions, rules of engagement for the presentation itself, proposed courses of action, “quad slides,” and graphs with labels so small you have no idea what is going on. 

tailhook-ppt
Figure 1: An actual PowerPoint slide from a Bureau of Naval Personnel briefing at Tailhook 2016 that a Captain attempted to explain to the crowd.

Several months ago I heard about a best practice from the civilian industry that caught my attention: the “flipped meeting” utilized at Amazon by billionaire innovator Jeff Bezos. Could the Amazon model work at a Naval Aviation squadron? Would the time continuum explode if officers filed in to the wardroom and didn’t see a standardized PowerPoint screen projected on the wall? I walked to OPS, asked for a meeting to be put on the schedule, and decided to find out.

I used the Navy’s HVL model based on Dr. Steve Spear’s “High Velocity Edge” framework to approach the flipped meeting:

1. Define the problem: Too many meetings in our squadron are dependent on low-learning-level presentations, and almost all exclusively use Power Point.

2. Postulate a solution – and what you think its effects will be: There are countless solutions in other organizations and the corporate world on how to increase learning and co-working levels in meetings. One specific solution is the Amazon flipped meeting, which I guessed would increase learning levels at my squadron.

3. Try out a solution: We did!

4. Do a gap analysis between what you saw happen and what you thought would happen.

5. Update your approach/solution and run it again.

One Specific Solution: The Origins and Upsides of a Bezos “Study Hall”

Fortune Magazine revealed the secrets of an Amazon executive team meeting in their 2012 profile of Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of the tech and retail giant.  Reporter Adam Lashinsky explains:

Before any discussion begins, members of the team—including Bezos—consume six-page printed memos in total silence for as long as 30 minutes….  They scribble notes in the margins while the authors of the memos wait for Bezos and his minions to finish reading…. Writing a memo is an even more important skill to master. “Full sentences are harder to write,” he says. “They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

So instead of building PowerPoint slides and sweating font consistency, proper margins, bullet styles or punctuation uses, those privileged to brief Bezos focus on the ideas and content themselves. The genius of it is in the simplicity: the purpose of the meeting is to work together on the ideas or content, and the “flipped” meeting allows the ideas or content to be the focus, not the slide deck.

Blogger Walter Chen also identifies a second order effect of these type of meetings, one that Bezos surely intended: 

The real magic happens before the meeting ever starts.  It happens when the author is writing the memo. What makes this management trick work is how the medium of the written word forces the author of the memo to really think through what he or she wants to present.  In having to write it all down, authors are forced to think out tough questions and formulate clear, persuasive replies, reasoning through the structure and logic in the process.

Bezos calls the memos “narratives,” and in his opinion they have many advantages over PowerPoint, as he told Charlie Rose in 2012

The traditional kind of corporate meeting starts with a presentation. Somebody gets up in front of the room and presents with a PowerPoint presentation, some type of slide show. In our view you get very little information, you get bullet points. This is easy for the presenter, but difficult for the audience. And so instead, all of our meetings are structured around a 6 page narrative memo.

Some other advantages include:

1. Silence is golden. How many times have you presented an issue, only to see several egos in the audience try to take over or derail the brief based on their own interests? Everyone reads the narrative in silence and the discussion comes after in the Bezos “Study Hall” model. 

2. No read-ahead required. Bezos believes “the act of communal reading guarantees the group’s undivided attention.” Several times in my career, I have wondered if the person I was briefing had time to review the read-ahead, or if they were getting the message I was trying to convey during the PowerPoint. In a flipped meeting, the audience has no choice but to read the narrative (unless they want to daydream).

3. Eliminating premature questions saves everyone time. “If you have a traditional PowerPoint presentation, executives interrupt,” says Bezos.  “If you read the whole six page memo, on page two you have a question. By page four that question is answered.” 

4. Ideas and content trump presentation polish. Sometimes, the best ideas come from those who are nervous or just-plain-bad public speakers. Other times, polished presenters with million-dollar-smiles can sell bad or incomplete concepts because they can manipulate the audience into what they want to hear. With the Amazon narrative, the content speaks for itself.

5. The meeting leader is a coworker, not lecturer. The concept of a “flipped classroom” revolutionized education, and Bezos is trying to do the same for the business world. Normally a presenter lectures the audience. An Amazon lecturer is no longer verbally “pushing” communication to the audience; instead the content is “pushed” through the narrative, and then readers can “pull” knowledge from the presenter with informed questions. This creates high rates of learning compared to the traditional model.

It seems that a flipped meeting is effective based on Amazon’s stock price and global reach. But could such a meeting work outside the confines of Silicon Valley boardrooms? Would a bunch of flight-suit wearing naval aircrew be receptive to something so far from the norm?

That Awkward Silence

My unsuspecting teammates filtered in and took seats at the conference table. I hadn’t posted “Amazon-Style Flipped Meeting” on the flight schedule because I thought it might create some sort of bias or discourage full attendance. I simply listed the topic: “Squadron Innovation Culture Workshop.” This subject especially lent itself to a flipped meeting because it was difficult to summarize our squadron’s innovation culture in a deck of PowerPoint slides. 

The junior officers filled the dead space before the kick off with the usual banter and jokes. I noticed several check the clock and glance toward the powered-down and blank presentation screen as I passed out copies of the six-page narrative I’d spent the previous week perfecting. It was apparent that several were wondering why there was no laptop connected and no PowerPoint. 

The top of the hour arrived and people started leafing through the document. We were still missing two important players who I knew had planned on attending.  I decided to give them the usual five-minute grace period in a normal day filled with other tasks and meetings. One finally arrived, so I ventured out to the office of the last straggler, one of my fellow department heads. I told him we were about to start, but he was justifiably delayed in the midst of “putting out a fire” with an urgent travel issue requiring his attention. “I’ll be there in a few!”  I knew he probably thought he could catch up with the PowerPoint when he walked in. “We can wait a couple minutes more for you before we start off…” I offered.  “No, go ahead.  I’ll be down there soon.”

I returned to the assembled group and quickly explained the flipped meeting, the “study hall” reading and the 20 minutes of silence. Everyone nodded in agreement and began. The most awkward part for me was the wait. In this context, 20 minutes felt like an eternity. I already knew the narrative well as the organizer and author. I read through it again while I scanned the faces of my coworkers as they made notes or flipped pages. I found a couple of punctuation errors that I had missed. And then I waited.

The most interesting thing was the late arrival of the last participant 10 minutes into the study hall. He was a bit confused to walk into a room of us all sitting there silently with no PowerPoint in sight. He then tried to catch up on reading the narrative. In the future to help all attendees get the highest rates of learning, I think it would be best to notify everyone in advance it will be a flipped meeting and that study hall will start on time.

Next, I facilitated the discussion. At first people were hesitant to express their opinions, but after a few questions by some of the other forward-leaning members of our squadron, we were well on our way to a 40-minute co-working session. By the tail of the hour the discussion was going strong and we could have continued for another thirty minutes. We decided on a collective course of action to take on the meeting’s topic and agreed on another future meeting.

“PowerPoint Makes Us Stupid.” -Gen. James N. Mattis, USMC, 2010

The backlash against PowerPoint is well documented.  This repository of articles compiled by Small Wars Journal counts more than twenty leading media or blog examinations of the detrimental effects of its use. Many leaders like the now-retired General Mattis either loathe it or outright ban it; others see it as a necessary evil.

Reporter Elisabeth Bumiller’s piece about the U.S. military’s use of the program in the New York Times in 2010, titled “We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint,” seems to foreshadow the rise of Bezos’ corporate use of the flipped meeting: 

Commanders say that the slides impart less information than a five-page paper can hold, and that they relieve the briefer of the need to polish writing to convey an analytic, persuasive point. Imagine lawyers presenting arguments before the Supreme Court in slides instead of legal briefs.

The most compelling defenses I’ve heard for military innovation do not involve completely new ideas or inventions. Instead they focus on finding creative best practices in sometimes-unexpected places that could be applied to military problems. Maybe “flipped meetings” won’t catch on to replace old methods completely, but they could become one tool for leaders to use when an occasional respite is needed from the groundhog-day-monotony of PowerPoint briefings.

I would encourage other leaders to challenge the status quo in your unit’s meetings. These resources by Fred Zimmerman and Walter Chen can guide you to figure out how to best write your own flipped meeting narrative.

There are myriad other ways to shake up a meeting, like using the “design thinking” approach or an organizational retreat made famous in Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The solution you use will depend heavily on the topic and purpose of the meeting. For example, it is difficult and counterproductive to attempt to give chart-centric “course rules” brief using thousands of written words when visual aids are most appropriate. Even if your first instinct is to use PowerPoint because of the visual nature of the topic, there are several alternative programs like Prezi or Haiku Deck that could bring extra engagement to your audience. The most important concept to remember is that PowerPoint is just a tool, not something good or bad. We need to focus as leaders on using whatever the appropriate tool is for the specific job, not simply revert to the familiar tool just because it is habitual or easy.

Gap Analysis

So how did my flipped meeting experiment match up to what I thought would happen when I postulated the solution? I think it was worthwhile and I’m looking forward to doing it again. I wasn’t laughed out of the squadron or told by my bosses to go back to exclusively PowerPoint meetings. I saw the light in several of my coworkers’ eyes (despite some initial uncertainty) as they scribbled on parts of the narrative and debated sections they had pulled from it. We had an in-depth discussion about our innovation culture that could have been brought about with a PowerPoint brief instead of the “study hall,” but the discussion would have been less nuanced and with less time to collaborate. Usually presentations are designed for 45 minutes with 15 minutes of questions and discussion at the end. We invested 20 minutes up front during the flipped meeting to silently immerse in the topic, leaving us more than double the discussion and co-working time.

The flipped meeting can’t be considered a complete success, though, until we are achieving high learning rates from our gatherings on a consistent basis, no matter what tool is used to get there. If I started a conversation or sparked an idea in the wardroom, it was worth it. 

Every meeting I’ve gone to since, I enter the room and look at the briefer, the table and the wall. One of these days there will be no PowerPoint and a stack of six-page narratives waiting for me to pick up. Here’s to “study hall!”

Jared Wilhelm is a U.S. Navy officer and Maritime Patrol Instructor Pilot with experience in four operational theaters flying the P-3C Orion. He is a passionate writer focused on innovation and meaningful reform, all to help maintain the U.S. military’s superiority over adversaries in the short and long term. He served in Argentina as an Olmsted Scholar from 2014-2016 and won the U.S. Naval Institute’s 2015 General Prize Essay Contest. He is a Department of Defense Spanish linguist who holds masters degrees from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School (Systems Engineering and Analysis) and the U.S. Naval War College (National Security and Strategic Studies), as well as a B.S. in Systems Engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy. The opinions expressed are his alone and do not reflect the official position of any other entity or organization.

Featured Image:  U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jackie Hart.

Future Roles For The Arctic Council

From author Ian Birdwell comes The Changing Arctic, a column focusing on the unique security challenges presented by the increasingly permissive environment in the High North. The Changing Arctic examines legal precedents, rival claimants, and possible resolutions for disputes among the Arctic nations, as well as the economic implications of accessing the region’s plentiful resources.

By Ian Birdwell

The Arctic Council logo.
The Arctic Council logo.

Founded in 1996 as a regional forum and tool to coordinate scientific research by nations within the Arctic Circle, the Arctic Council has grown in prominence over the past six years as global temperatures have risen. The Council is looked to as a means for facilitating research of the Arctic’s changing climate, and could potentially become the forum for resolving disputes in the high north. Unfortunately, the Council’s focus is narrowly defined to scientific diplomacy and promoting unity in scientific endeavors to enhance trust between its member states. In addition, the council may only make recommendations and is not a legal body.1 With the Arctic predicted to have the lowest amount of sea ice on record2 and grim predictions for the future, it becomes important to understand the Arctic Council and the impact its focus on scientific diplomacy will have on the Arctic in two key areas: military development and trade route controls.

While the Arctic Council has brought its member states closer through cooperative research, when it comes to military matters the Council has remained almost completely silent. In practice, the Council helps to coordinate the climate research from its members and develop specific trade guidelines, though there is some appetite to extend the Council’s role into other regional concerns, such as territorial disputes.3 The warming waters are seeing an increase of military activity from every major Arctic player with Russia,4 Denmark,5 Norway,6 Canada,7 and the U.S.8 all training and equipping their militaries for Arctic action. For example, over the past few years the United States has maneuvered to increase the presence of the U.S. military above the Arctic circle, yet recently appointed Arctic Ambassador, Mark Brzezinski, remains adamant about keeping the Council free of discussions of military matters.9 The Ambassador isn’t alone; the Arctic Council has stood resolute by mandates laid out in the Ottawa Declaration of 199610 strictly prohibiting the discussion of security matters by the council. With NASA predicting 2016 to have been the hottest year on record,11 it is becoming readily apparent the climate is not the only thing changing in the Arctic and it seems scientific diplomacy may not be enough to avert the course of arctic militarization forcing each nation to seek their own route to peace in the Arctic.

US Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed delegates to the SAO Plenary meeting which began on Wednesday October 5. Photos are available for use according to the creative commons license CC BY-NC-ND. Photo credit: Arctic Council Secretariat / Linnea Nordström
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed delegates to theArctic Council SAO Plenary meeting  in Portland, Maine, which began on Wednesday October 5, 2016. (Arctic Council Secretariat / Linnea Nordström)

One of the caveats for obtaining Observer status on the Arctic Council is acknowledging of the primacy of UNCLOS regarding territory control, though the Arctic Council seems poorly poised to assisting in developing economic policies for exclusive economic zones. The Arctic Council formed the Arctic Economic Council in 201412 to begin to address economic concerns as ice sheets retreat. Since then, the Arctic Economic Council has done little of note other than work on expanding telecommunications access to the Northern reaches of North America. In the midst of these changes, the Arctic Council is putting itself behind the curve of climate change and making it more difficult for regulations to adjust to a changing economic climate.

A shorter trade route between Europe and East Asia would be a massive boon to the states and companies willing and able to adapt to the change as quickly as possible. Several observer states on the Arctic Council sought those positions in order to be close to Arctic nations for trade considerations on a future Arctic trade hub, which has led nations like South Korea to develop the infrastructure to become a refueling point for future Arctic shipping companies.13 The Arctic Council’s scientific diplomacy makes for great short-term policy to assuage fears of a warming Arctic by studying the changing climate, yet some believe the goals to partially reverse or stabilize global warming may be for naught in an already dramatically changing Arctic.14 Thus, scientific diplomacy may make it difficult for the Council to develop a role as a forum to address or mediate the concerns of Arctic nations especially in trade, and having the Arctic Economic Council’s most recent meeting focus on telecommunications sets both institutions behind the curve.15 In the midst of this action, investors are positioning themselves to make millions via the trade routes of the Arctic Ocean regardless of which nation legally controls those routes.

Regional state relations could change dramatically as the ice melts. Such a change could prove disastrous as the most prominent organization capable of mediating in the region has focused on a scientific approach to a problem involving the fate of millions of dollars of trade and the armed forces of five nations.

Ian Birdwell holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Politics from George Mason University.

1. Arctic Council, “The Arctic Council: A backgrounder.” May 23, 2016.

2. Rosen, Yereth, “Persistent Arctic and sub-Arctic warmth expected to continue for months,” Alaska News Dispatch. May 29, 2016. <http://www.adn.com/arctic/2016/05/29/persistent-arctic-and-subarctic-warmth-expected-to-continue-for-months/>

3. Martinson, Erica, “Ambassador to the Arctic:Meet President Obama’s point man for Alaska,” Alaska News Dispatch. January 30, 2016.<http://www.adn.com/politics/article/ambassador-arctic/2016/01/31/>

4. The Arctic, “Russian Defense Ministry to complete Arctic military infrastructure by 2020,” The Arctic With Support from the Russian Geological Survey. August 18, 2016.<http://arctic.ru/infrastructure/20160818/413312.html>

5. Rahaman, Shifa “Denmark maneuvering to increase military foothold in the Arctic,” The Coppenhagen Post. June 23, 2016. <http://cphpost.dk/news/denmark-maneuvering-to-increase-military-foothold-in-the-arctic.html>

6. Nilsen, Thomas,“Norway patrolling Russia’s military activity in Arctic with new intelligence vessel,” Radio Canada International. May 24, 2016. <http://www.rcinet.ca/eye-on-the-arctic/2016/05/24/intelligence-vessel-arctic-russia-norway-military/>

7. Hinchey, Garrett “Canadian, U.S. Troops share knowledge at Arctic military operation” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/how-to-land-a-hercules-operation-nunalivut-1.3530258>

8. Schehl, Matthew L. “Marines hit the Arctic for largest winter exercise since the Cold War.” Military Times. March 2, 2016. <https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/story/military/2016/03/02/marine-hit-arctic-largest-winter-exercise-since-cold-war/81161832/>

9. Martinson, Erica, “Ambassador to the Arctic:Meet President Obama’s point man for Alaska,” Alaska News Dispatch. January 30, 2016. <http://www.adn.com/politics/article/ambassador-arctic/2016/01/31/>

10. Arctic Council “The Arctic Council: A backgrounder” May 23, 2016

11. Milman, Oliver, “Nasa:Earth is warming at a pace ‘unprecedented in 1,000 years,” The Guardian. August 30, 2016. <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/30/nasa-climate-change-warning-earth-temperature-warming>

12. Arctic Economic Council, “Arctic Economic Council Backgrounder,” 2016 <http://arcticeconomiccouncil.com/about-us/backgrounder/>

13. Chaturvedi, Ipshita, “Arctic Opportunities” The Indian Express. August 10, 2016. <http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/arctic-region-opportunities-south-korea-india-2964498/>

14. Rosen, Yereth, “Arctic Council uses Fairbanks meeting to think about the future” Alaska News Dispatch. May 31, 2016. <http://www.adn.com/arctic/article/arctic-council-uses-fairbanks-meeting-take-long-term-view/2016/03/19/>

15. Northam, Jackie “U.S.-Russia relations are frosty but they’re toasty on the Arctic Council” National Public Radio. June 16, 2016. <http://www.npr.org/2016/06/16/482279767/u-s-russia-relations-are-frosty-but-theyre-toasty-on-the-arctic-council>

Featured Image: The view from the deck of the Nordic Odyssey (with the tugboat the Vengery in the foreground), as the ship sailed from Murmansk, in Russia, to Huanghua, in China, in July 2012. (Davide Monteleone) 

CIMSEC DC October Meet-Up

By Scott Cheney-Peters

Join CIMSEC for it’s DC chapter’s October meet-up for a lively and informal discussion of escalation dynamics and maritime and naval roles therein.  Or just come for the drinks and good cheer.  We’re going all in to get in the Pentagon mindset at Champps in Pentagon City. 

TimeThursday, 27 October, 5:30-8:00pm

PlaceChampps, Pentagon Row, 1201 S Joyce St, Arlington, VA (Pentagon City Metro)

All are welcome – RSVPs not required but appreciated: director@cimsec.org

Featured Image: (Irishwhiskeydc.com)

Indo-U.S. Logistics Agreement LEMOA: An Assessment

The following article originally featured at the National Maritime Foundation and is republished with the author’s permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Gurpreet S. Khurana

On 29 August 2016, during the visit of the Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to Washington DC, India and the United States (U.S.) signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). Essentially, LEMOA is only a ‘functional’ agreement ‘to account for’ the essential supplies and services that one country would provide (at its port or airport facility) to the visiting military force of the other – an arrangement that the U.S. has made with over a hundred countries worldwide. Nonetheless, the significant symbolic and strategic import of the agreement cannot be ignored. Also, while the proposal was initiated in 2002, it has fructified at a crucial time. Never before in recent history has Asia’s geopolitical and security environment been so tenuous; or the strategic interests of India and the U.S. so convergent. Understandably, therefore, the signing of LEMOA has grabbed much attention, and raised the multitude of questions and speculations. This essay attempts to clarify a few key issues, and appraise LEMOA in terms of its strategic implications.

In the past, India and the U.S. have transacted military logistics, but on an ad hoc basis and largely during combined exercises. LEMOA would change the nature of transactions. Hitherto, each transaction was considered as a separate case and on every occasion, paid for in cash by the side using the supplies or services. LEMOA would entail both sides maintaining a ledger for the transactions, such that much of the debit would be defrayed against the credit, and only the residual balance owing to whichever side would be paid for at the end of the fiscal year. Notably, as a standing agreement, LEMOA is indicative of the expectation on both sides that logistic transactions would increase in the coming years, and expand from combined exercises to coordinated operations.

However, the signing of LEMOA has led to a perception that India has side-stepped “its policy of not entering into a military agreement with any major.” Owing to its civilizational ethos, India’s foreign policy proscribes a ‘military alliance,’ but not a ‘military agreement.’ In the past, India has entered into a plethora of military agreements with major powers on various functional aspects, such as development of defense hardware, combined exercises, and sharing of operational information. Specifically with the U.S., in 2002, India entered into an agreement with the U.S. to provide naval escort to the U.S. high-value ships transiting the Malacca Straits. As another functional agreement, LEMOA represents no departure from India’s enduring policy.

Even under LEMOA, India would be able to exercise its strategic autonomy. The agreement would not restrict India’s strategic options since it is a ‘tier-two’ agreement. This implies that only if and when the Indian government agrees to a U.S. proposal to conduct a combined military exercise or operation (entailing a logistics exchange), will LEMOA come into play. For instance, since the India-U.S. Malabar naval exercise is a standing arrangement approved by the Indian government, LEMOA will apply on all occasions that such exercises are conducted. As another instance, if hypothetically, the U.S. seeks to undertake a coordinated military operation with India to flush out a terrorist group in a neighboring country, based on many factors, India may decide turn down the U.S. proposal, with no obligation to offer the U.S. forces access to Indian logistic facilities. Furthermore, as the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) Press Release specifically states, the agreement does not provide for setting up of a U.S. military base on Indian soil.

The above leads to a pertinent question: Does LEMOA give the right to the U.S. and Indian armed forces to use each others’ military bases? According to the Indian MoD Press Release, LEMOA pertains to reciprocal ‘access’ rights to military forces for logistic supplies and services comprising “food, water, billeting, transportation, petroleum, oils, lubricants, clothing, communication services, medical services, storage services, training services, spare-parts and components, repair and maintenance services, calibration services and port services.” Even at present, some of these supplies and services would be available only in the military base of the host country. In the coming years – given the existing trends – when a substantial proportion of Indian military hardware is of U.S. origin, the visiting military force may seek to replenish even ammunition, missiles, and torpedoes from the host country. LEMOA may then become analogous to the reciprocal use of military bases. 

The signing of LEMOA has led to apprehensions amongst a few analysts in India that the benefits of the agreement weigh heavily in favor of the U.S.. Such perception may not be true. The US possesses numerous globally-dispersed overseas military bases and access facilities. In an operational contingency, therefore, the U.S. would expect India to provide essential supplies and services to its military forces only if the contingency occurs in geographic proximity of the Indian sub-continent. Such logistics may also be required for an inter-theatre shift of U.S. forces in an emergency – such as the Persian Gulf crises of 1990, when C-141 transport planes transiting from the Philippines to the Gulf were refueled in Indian airfields – but such occasions would be rare. In contrast, India has no overseas military base, and yet its areas of interest are fast expanding much beyond its immediate neighborhood – notably, the Persian Gulf, southern Indian Ocean and the western Pacific – where its  ability to influence events is severely constrained by stretched logistic lines. Access to U.S. military bases in these areas, facilitated by LEMOA, would provide useful strategic alternatives to India.

In sum, therefore, while LEMOA may be a functional agreement meant to facilitate military operations and exercises, it would enhance the strategic options of the involved parties; and thus pose a credible strategic deterrence to actors – both state and non-state – that seek to undermine regional security and stability. However, to address the possibility of its negative perception in terms of India’s ‘policy polarization,’ New Delhi may consider entering into similar agreements with other  major  powers  with  whom  its  strategic  interests  converge.

Captain   Gurpreet S Khurana, PhD, is Executive   Director at National   Maritime Foundation (NMF), New Delhi. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the NMF, the Indian Navy, or the Government of India. He can be reached at gurpreet.bulbul@gmail.com.

Featured Image: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and India’s Minister of Defense Manohar Parrikar take a photo before their bilateral meeting at the Pentagon on Dec. 10, 2015. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Clydell Kinchen)