Category Archives: Education

The Navy Needs Deep Readers, Not Reading Lists

By Bill Bray


In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on June 15, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday was grilled about his reading list. Watching the Navy’s top admiral defending some of the books on his reading list, particularly Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist, while the Congress struggles to fund the Navy the nation needs, was a spectacle to say the least and not the funny kind. But it did raise questions in my mind: who needs or cares for a reading list? And how does becoming a deep reader make for becoming a better military leader?

Reading Lists and Subjective Reads

There have been many reading lists for military leaders. To me, they always radiated a whiff of the haughty, didactic proclamation, even though I trust that was never the intent. To be a good leader, thou shalt read these 20 books. Many books on these lists are worth reading, for sure. A few are terrible, especially the ghost-written leadership pablum by former CEOs, a few who a decade or so later wind up embroiled in scandal or even in prison. But when I was a young officer and finally out of school, I found immense pleasure finding my way to books for just about any reason except being told to read them. Natural curiosity leads to discovery, and even more curiosity. Something catches our interest, something we see or hear or read, and it points us to a book. We cultivate a taste for good books. We read about the authors and how the books were conceived. This suggests other books we feel we must read. And so forth.

I have never read a book because it is on a reading list. I have no idea why I read the books I do. There is no method to choosing them, no overarching purpose beyond wanting to be challenged. I love reading great prose. I find it immensely rewarding. Much of it is difficult, although as with anything, one becomes a better reader by reading better material. A mentor once advised that when it comes to reading, when given a choice (and one always has a choice—the best books cost no more than the lousy ones), “read up.” That is good advice.

Many books should not only be read but reread. The experience one has with a book is different with each reading because, in engaging with the text, a reader brings the sum of their knowledge and experience to bear. This is why, for example, a military leader reading Crime and Punishment at age 40 after years of leading troops or sailors and dealing with the military justice system has a much different experience than he or she did reading it at age 20. However, there is seemingly never enough time to read while pursuing a career, so rereading a book usually takes a back seat to knocking out the next one. Even so, rereading is a habit I cannot recommend strongly enough.

A few thoughts about literary writing (fiction and nonfiction). There should be little patience for arguments that no such thing exists, that good writing is no more than a matter of taste. If something cannot be empirically measured, as the arguments sometimes go, any claim on its value is necessarily subjective.

Curiously, no one who ever said as much to me so quickly applied the same caveat to anything else in the world they cared about—architecture, automobiles, clothing, or what have you. When it comes to so many things and issues we encounter in the world each day, discriminating between the good and bad, beautiful and ugly, tactful and coarse, and so forth seems grounded in a deep belief that these distinctions are not hopelessly subjective. Why is writing any different? I do not listen to operas, but I surely accept that a good opera is beautiful music and better than what my middle school band was belting out. Surely, we can agree a similar judgment can be made about writing. That does not mean we cannot disagree about a single book or author or find what many consider good art to be pretentious garbage. We can and should from time to time. Be a harsh critic. But if we don’t enter the discussion accepting and appreciating that such a thing as excellent literary writing exists, we have very little to discuss. 

The military is a highly technical business that demands leaders with technical aptitude and educational foundations. But technical aptitude coupled with a strong science and math foundation is one thing, while over-specialization at the expense of a well-rounded humanistic education is quite another. Much of the latter in life is self-acquired and not absorbed while sitting in a classroom. Yet, reading lists appeal to the technical mind. Technicians like checklists and checking off books instills a sense of certitude in one’s knowledge. Read these 30 books and you’re certified to lead. Sure, the list can be a starting point. But even in that sense, a reading list seems unnecessarily constraining. The best leaders I have known read widely, deeply, and continuously. Their independent curiosity and imagination were their guides, not lists.

In August of 1988, three months after I was commissioned, then-Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Carlisle A. H. Trost spoke at the Superintendent of the Naval Academy’s change-of-command and said this on the subject of technical education:

“To compete in the world, to serve as a naval officer, today you must have a technical background. If you become an inveterate reader, if an idle moment never finds you without a book in your hand, the broad knowledge will come to you. But without a background in deep technical knowledge, and without the resulting confidence that moves you to unravel technical complexities wherever you find them, you will always be a wallflower in the ballroom of progress, and your success in our profession will suffer accordingly.”1

I agree with much of this. But what always troubled me was Admiral Trost’s nod to inveterate readers that always have a book in their hands. It begs the most important question: which books? Do the type and genre matter? Just history and books on current events? Or was he relying on technically educated officers to cultivate a habit of reading the best literature and philosophy as well? I cannot tell, but in perusing the many CNO reading lists over the years I can speculate that he was not.

Deep Reading and Strengthening Leadership Qualities

After reading books like William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying or Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness I find myself thinking about the story for a long time. The experience deeply resonates, as if I did not just read about something, but rather lived it in some way. I become invested in these characters as if they are real and their fates somehow matter to my fate, or even how history will unfold in the future. Only the very best writers can achieve this, and I am grateful for their gift. After reading so much of it from very early in my career, I believe it helped me be a better naval officer and leader. I fail to see how it couldn’t have.

Can reading literary writing help one be a better leader? It absolutely can. Reading literary writing nurtures thoughtful introspection, which in turn helps leaders police their profession for ethical and honorable behavior. The best writers are experts on the human condition, and reading them enlarges and enriches self-awareness, humility, and empathy, and a genuine respect for one’s fallibility as a leader. Pride alone is the source of many a leader’s downfall, and there isn’t anything to learn about pride in a course on thermodynamics (for the record, I enjoyed and did well in thermodynamics at Annapolis).

Thinking back on my nearly three-decade Navy career, the hardest problems were always leadership problems—human problems. The issues I dealt with are the same that future leaders will deal with, and in these books they are all there—integrity, honor, fairness, justice, courage, loyalty, accountability, greed, bias, deceit, sex, adultery, false piety, careerism, discrimination, race, ethnicity, culture—the list is long. At a minimum, reading good books will ensure one is never surprised at the human failures of military leaders beneath and above them. Art complementing real-world experience is the best recipe for a textured appreciation of human nature and all its mysteries.


Admiral Gilday was right to defend the books on his list against ridiculous partisan political attacks. Military leaders should be open to reading Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist and other books that challenge conventional thinking. Military leaders are responsible for the lives of Americans of all backgrounds and viewpoints. They should read widely and never be afraid to read an author with whom they might disagree. That is how one nurtures a genuine curiosity—and learns. But don’t read Kendi’s book, or any book, just because it is on a reading list, as if completing a chore. Read good books to be a deep reader. And become a deep reader to become a better leader.

Bill Bray is a retired Navy captain and the deputy editor-in-chief of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine.

Featured Image: ATLANTIC OCEAN (Dec. 9, 2020) Sailors prepare for a fueling-at-sea aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69).  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Mo Bourdi)

A Conversation with Capt. Tom Culora (ret.) on Leading Naval Warfare Studies

By Dmitry Filipoff

Captain Tom Culora (ret.) served as the Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies (CNWS) at the Naval War College for seven years (2014-2021). CNWS is the primary research organization of the Naval War College. CNWS conducts independent and sponsored unclassified and classified research on issues of war, peace, national security, and international law, with particular attention to issues related to the maritime domain and naval warfare. CNWS comprises several departments, including the Strategic and Operational Research Department (SORD), the Wargaming Department, the Stockton Center for International Law, and the Naval War College Press. Each has its own mission and study and research groups.

In this conversation, Capt. Culora discusses the value of directed student research, how the fleet can leverage hybrid research groups, and how to identify what is most worth studying.

How can a hybrid research group be employed to address the needs of the fleet?

Today’s fleet is facing a set of “wicked hard” problems and complex challenges. Addressing and solving these challenges requires a level of creativity and a blended intellectual approach that can best be addressed through hybrid research. This means bringing together diverse subject matter experts (SMEs) who possess deep knowledge with researchers coupled with analysts who can apply a range of established research methodologies to gain insight into these complex challenges. Enlisting SMEs who can effectively collect and translate diverse and complicated information allows the research team to approach these problems from different perspectives and provides opportunities to apply undiscovered or non-traditional solutions. Teaming these SMEs with researchers who can apply a range of analytical methodologies and who also possess specialized information of their own, provides a potent way to devise, test, and confirm these solutions. The output that emerges from this marriage of detailed information and expert methodology delivers to leaders expanded knowledge and insights that they can have confidence in and that they can act upon.

How can civilian researchers without operational experience complement servicemembers, and vice versa?

Given the research construct outlined above, civilian researchers bring top-tier analytical skills and nearly all are experienced in multiple methodologies. Moreover, civilian researchers also possess knowledge in domains relevant to military operations, strategy, international law, and defense issues that complements the information possessed by servicemembers. Servicemembers, for their part, bring a deep understanding of the profession of arms and firsthand experience in operating in complex environments. This blending of civilian researchers with servicemembers is a powerful formula for getting after these “wicked hard” problems and in developing and testing multiple solutions.

How would you describe the particular value of directed student research?

The Naval War College has multiple ways students can get involved with directed research. Within the Center for Naval Warfare Studies (CNWS), three Advanced Research Project (APRs) groups recruit students who volunteer to engage in directed research through individual academic efforts and group projects. Currently, the three ARPs: Halsey Alfa, Halsey Bravo, and the Holloway Group each look at a different region of the world and are led by civilian and military faculty members with knowledge and experience in these areas. The value of this directed student research is fourfold.

First, most military students arriving at the Naval War College for JMPE Phase I have minimal academic experience or knowledge in national and grand strategy, national security decision-making, and complex joint and combined operations—the broad areas covered by the core curriculum. There are of course exceptions, but most are novitiates in these areas. Conversely, when they join one of the ARPs from the fleet, they arrive with a mid-career professionals’ specialized subject matter expertise in their principal warfighting specialty—essentially the SMEs of the research construct outlined above. The value is that they actively and critically provide up-to-date information and experience from the fleet and force. Moreover, they can relay and translate specialized and complicated information that is used directly in the ARPs’ ongoing research.

Second, these select students produce analytical products that contribute to the overall research of the ARP groups themselves. As part of their curriculum in these advanced groups, they are required to individually research and analyze systems, intelligence, operations, and strategies. Unlike the War College’s core curriculum, which is taught at the unclassified level, the content that is presented and research output in the ARPs is mostly classified. Students matriculating through the ARPs contribute to a classified body-of-knowledge that is used by both the fleet and the Navy staff.

Third, students participating in the ARPs are exposed to range of research methodologies while sifting through and evaluating primary and secondary sources. However, the prime methodology used by the APRs is a form of wargaming that examines key operational problems and uncovers best practices through iterative gaming, testing, and analysis. Through this process, students are often conducting original research and discovering new and novel approaches to complex issues and problems. They come away from their time in the APRs with a journeyman’s understanding of the iterative wargaming process and a baseline appreciation of operations analysis methodologies.

Lastly, students become immersed in the issues and details in the theater of operations that their respective ARP group is focused on. They emerge from this experience with an expanded and sophisticated understanding of the entire theater of operations and return to fleet units and senior staffs where they apply this broadened knowledge to plan and execute the missions of their new organizations.

How do you view the relationship between theory and practice, and what are the related implications for making research relevant to the fleet?

The relationship between theory and practice is cyclical. In the best of circumstances, ideas and theories are developed from research and analysis that would not otherwise emerge elsewhere. Some theories emerge from well-grounded and detailed information and data where the distance between theory and practice is small. However, other theories emerge from conjecture and creativity—here the distance between theory and practice is usually much greater. Regardless of their origin, by definition, theories are untested and only represent a notional approach to solving a complex problem. Through the process of wargaming, modeling and simulation, concept development, and fleet experimentation a theory is “operationalized” where it can then have practical application for planners and warfighters.

But the process cannot stop here. Ideally, through experimentation and the practical application of theories and ideas, lessons are developed and data is collected that is then fed back into the cycle to refine existing theories and ideas—and to develop new ones as well. In a large and dispersed organization like the Navy, this virtuous cycle can be messy and sometimes illusive. But efforts have been underway for some time now to converge the theory and practice cycles into an Analytic Master Plan (AMP) for the Navy where the individual activities and outputs in these cycles are codified, organized, aligned, and shared.

Among the many demands and interests that can occupy the attention of a dean or research group director, how can you determine what is most worth studying?

As a former dean, for me there are two components that determine what is most worth studying—interest and impact.

First, the best research and analysis is accomplished by folks who are immediately and deeply interested in the topic. High quality research takes a level of energy and commitment that can only be sustained through keen interest and curiosity—and the best researchers are those who have an almost obsessive interest in the topic they are examining. Moreover, I know many talented and skilled researchers, polymaths really, who are often interested in multiple topics. Yet even here, the trend is that they are deeply immersed and interested in the immediate topic at hand. This is where the best research emerges. An essential role of a dean is finding and aligning researchers with relevant topics they are most interested in to produce high-quality analysis.

The second component is impact—and there are two avenues to follow here. The first is responding to a request for research into a particular topic or issue. This “demand” aspect of the research is where the CNO, a senior commander, or other DoD leader asks for analytical support. By design, this avenue is primed to have impact as the person or entity requesting this support has one of those “wicked hard” problems that they need the Center’s professional research help to solve. The findings from this research have a ready-made audience and often the impact is immediate and noticeable. However, if an organization like CNWS only waits to be told what to research by senior officers and officials, we are not really doing our job. This is where the second avenue of impact “speculation,” or spec-work as I like to call it, comes in.

There is a general misunderstanding that CNWS only conducts directed research for the Navy and other DoD stakeholders. While in any given fiscal year roughly 60 to 80 percent of the research conducted is the result of someone requesting analytical support— the remaining 20 to 40 percent is spec-work. This research emerges from researchers and analysts anticipating and identifying questions and challenges before the fleet or staffs recognize them. If the first time we hear of a wicked hard problem is from a senior decision-maker or leader asking for help—we are already woefully behind. Our fundamental role is to anticipate problems—and there are multiple examples at the Naval War College where the research faculty were prescient in identifying an emerging challenge, quickly developed a program of research to examine the challenge, and were ready to provide detailed information and analysis when the first call for assistance was received. It is often this intellectual preparedness and anticipation that has had the most impact and influence on the fleet and within the service.

It is the confluence of interest and impact, either from demand or speculation, that shapes the research roadmap and drives decisions on where to put resources—faculty, time, and funding—on what is most worth studying.

What do you hope students who attended the Naval War College and participated in CNWS activities take away from their experience?

I know from experience serving in an operational unit, on a senior warfighting staff, and as a member of a joint or service staff that the demands on servicemembers’ time, energy, and headspace can be severe—with scant opportunity to reflect and absorb everything that is going on around you and minimal space to dig deep into issues and ideas. Nearly all of our students will return to this environment when they leave CNWS and the College. My hope is that they will have used this opportunity to reflect on their profession, taken the time to deeply explore issues and challenges that have interested them, and leveraged the very talented and committed faculty to increase their knowledge and critical thinking skills.

I also hope they have made lasting connections with their peers and the faculty. Alumni of our research programs often reach back to the Center where they find faculty members willing to aid them in their fleet and staff responsibilities by providing advice and input, and serving as a sounding board for ideas and concepts. Moreover, the faculty also benefits from these relationships as it is an indispensable way to stay connected to the fleet.

Lastly, my ongoing hope as I finished my term as Dean of CNWS is that the organization can continue building thinkers and warfighters who will lead effectively and intelligently into what looks to be a very challenging future.

Professor Culora served as dean, Center for Naval Warfare Studies from 2014 until 2021. He is currently on sabbatical finishing a graduate degree in counseling psychology. A retired Navy captain and naval aviator, he served in operational billets including commanding officer of helicopter maritime strike squadron (HSM-47) and commanding officer of USS Boxer (LHD-4). His staff tours include the Joint Chiefs of Staff where he helped shape and coordinate national and military policy to expand NATO. He has also had fellowships at Harvard University and at the Council in Foreign Relations. He will return to the campus in 2022 to teach and research in NWC’s College of Leadership and Ethics. He holds a BFA and maintains an active career as an artist. His work can be found at

The views presented by Professor Culora do not reflect official positions of the Naval War College, DON, or DOD.

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: SOUTH CHINA SEA (May 22, 2021) Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) transits the South China Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Zenaida Roth)

Sustaining an Intellectual Overmatch: Management Education for Our Naval Warfighters

By Dr. Mie Augier, Major Sean F. X. Barrett, Dr. Nick Dew, and Dr. Gail Fann Thomas

“The 21st Century demands American officers be far better educated and more capable of directing and integrating the Nation’s military instrument.” –Developing Today’s Joint Officer for Tomorrow’s Ways of War1

“The challenges of the twenty first century require holistic approaches to the changing character of conflict.” –Education for Seapower2


The Joint Chiefs of Staff’s May 2020 vision and guidance for Professional Military Education (PME) and talent management states, “There is more to sustaining a competitive advantage than acquiring hardware; we must gain and sustain an intellectual overmatch as well.”3 Developing flexible, agile minds was also a major theme a century ago in the Knox-King-Pye report, which helped the Navy steer away from an earlier technical education focus and toward broader skills that helped produce the ideas and leaders that proved critical in WWII.

Fast forward 100 years, and we have reached another inflection point. Numerous studies point to a geostrategic environment that has shifted radically in the past decade toward a future that is filled with uncertainty. The Navy and Marine Corps have realized that key aspects of our institutions, war planning, training, education, and resource management are inadequate to deter and, if necessary, win against our adversaries when the situation arises.

We should look at how management education, with its interdisciplinary and integrative focus, is an essential tool for developing future naval warfighters who have the skills to draw out peak performance from personnel and maximize the effectiveness of a wide range of naval organizations.4 Most people know from personal experience the difference that excellent management makes to organizational performance. A recent study shows that workers who moved from an average boss to a high-quality boss improved their productivity by 50 percent.5 Leaders with high-quality management skills can really make an impact. And while the context of management varies, the practice of management across a broad range of situations fundamentally requires a similar set of core skills.6 Given the need for the Navy team to perform at its peak under challenging circumstances, the Navy would be well-served by incorporating more management education into PME for both officers and enlisted sailors.

The Human Element in High-Performance Organizations

Our naval forces do not operate in a vacuum and are oftentimes nudged by larger economic and societal trends. Therefore, it is worth looking briefly at some general trends in U.S. management before turning to what specifically might be relevant to defense management.

Industries throughout the U.S. have been grappling with issues similar to those facing the naval services. Technology is changing faster and faster. Attracting, engaging, and retaining top talent is an unrelenting task. In response to these challenges, corporations have recognized the need to create learning organizations that support high performance. Evidence of these issues in the Navy is apparent in recently retired Vice Admiral Luke McCollum’s 2018 report in response to the 2017 U.S. Navy ship collisions. The report, Industry Best Practices & Learning Culture – The Competitive Advantage of a Learning Culture, provided a series of findings after surveying 30 Navy-relevant corporations to learn how they build and sustain high-performing organizations. Human factors topped the list. 

The most important component of building a learning culture is inculcating these “human factors” into the organization. High-performance and mission effectiveness are dependent on the humanistic aspects of employees, teams, and leaders. This people-centric perspective dominates high-performing organizations.7

This human-oriented theme has long been recognized by our naval leaders. Admiral Arleigh Burke clearly understood the importance of developing the Navy’s leaders:

“There is one element in the profession of arms that transcends all others in importance; this is the human element. No matter what the weapons of the future may be, no matter how they are to be employed in war or international diplomacy, man will still be the most important factor in naval operations.”8

More recently, the Joint Chiefs emphasized the human factor in their May 2020 report:

“All graduates must possess critical and creative thinking skills, emotional intelligence, and effective written, verbal and visual communication skills to support the development and implementation of strategies and complex operations.”9

Given the centrality of the human element to our naval success, we must understand how to manage it well. This involves a shift in the kinds of skills, capabilities, attitudes, and values at the center of PME. Two central issues stand out.

An increasing need for generalist skills in an uncertain world. In his book, Range, David Epstein claims that cognitive flexibility is increasingly important in today’s world. Training in specific tools and techniques is efficient for mastering repetitive, well-structured problems. However, a world full of uncertainty, ambiguity, and ill-structured problems requires more diverse skills and knowledge (i.e., range and flexibility). Cognitive flexibility manifests in the ability to transfer knowledge between domains and apply knowledge to new situations, which is increasingly important in today’s specialized world. Teaching broad concepts rather than specific information is more advantageous to developing this ability, as well as instilling a broad intellectual preparedness and the ability for ongoing learning. Warfighters need to learn how to think rather than what to think about. As the Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon cautioned, “What we must avoid above all is designing technologically sophisticated hammers and then wandering around to find nails that we can hit with them.”10 An ability to think abstractly can be capitalized on across a range of problems as opposed to specific skills that are limited to particular types of problems. Thus, instruction focused on helping students make connections is more conducive to learning and later achievement than focusing on formulas and procedures.11 Such skills are very relevant to warfighters where there is a high need for flexibility and taking initiative in executing operational orders.

An explicit focus on soft skills. Operating effectively in a world in which technology has connected individuals and organizations more than ever requires warfighters with sophisticated soft skills in addition to technological expertise. The President of the Naval Postgraduate School, Vice Admiral Ann E. Rondeau, USN (ret.), explains, “Employers today require the whole package when looking for people to hire and join their teams… They want individuals who have developed intangible skills not necessarily listed as part of a certificate or degree.”12 Today’s reality requires warfighters to have the soft skills necessary to manage organizational ecosystems where leaders do not necessarily wield formal authority but instead must build mutually aligned communities. As Richard Straub writes in the June 2019 Harvard Business Review, “To succeed in the era of platforms and partnerships, managers will need to change practice on many levels…Both practitioners and scholars can begin by dispensing with mechanistic, industrial-age models of inputs, processes, and outputs. They will have to take a more dynamic, organic, and evolutionary view of how organizations’ capacities grow and can be cultivated.”13 Soft skills have thus emerged as a key requirement for managing the performance of ecosystems of organizations.”14

By identifying the Navy’s requirements for high-quality management skills among its warfighters, we can invest in PME that equips naval warfighters with the skills they really need to lead a wide range of naval organizations to high performance.

Management Education for Seapower

Given the need for superior generalist and soft skills to match the challenges of the strategic environment the Navy faces, management education provides many key opportunities for warfighters to develop the right intellectual abilities. Some of the most relevant themes and approaches include the following:

Educating minds to be prepared for the unexpected. Retired Admiral Mike Mullen, who spoke at the Naval Postgraduate School’s first virtual SECNAV Guest Lecture, stated, “We live now in a tremendous time of great uncertainty and even greater ambiguity. We’re facing and will face a completely new, and in many ways unknown, reality where nothing will be the same in the future.”15 Management approaches and education can help in this instance. Management education is centrally concerned with anticipating and adapting to change. It develops proactive problem-solving skills. While the ability to analyze known problems using optimizing techniques has a place, it is important for the Navy also to focus on developing warfighters with skills in thinking through ambiguous and changing situations.16

Leading warfighting organizations to become more agile through change and transformation. In their May 2020 report, the Joint Chiefs observed, “We cannot simply rely upon mass or the best technology…Our job is to learn how to apply our capabilities better and more creatively.”17 Admiral Mullen similarly emphasized the importance of leading change.18 However, change is not easy. For example, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted in his memoir, Duty, that the greatest challenge he faced was changing organizations. Any change, to be effective, must be understood and communicated by people to be implemented in our organizations. In the DoD, this becomes even more complicated because it involves government civilians, military personnel, and contractors, and requires leading across generational divides and a diverse workforce. Given these complexities, warfighters need to use evidence-based approaches on how to best lead change.19

Excelling in communication skills. An intelligent workforce knows how to communicate clearly. Kline’s “Owl Speaks to Lion” humorously describes the detrimental results when an analyst does not know how to translate his findings adequately for the vice admiral who requires the results to make an important decision. Such skills are taught and honed over time and experience. One critical communication skill that must be fostered is writing. The writing process hones one’s thinking and helps one discover the real problem, define the root causes of the problem, and describe the costs and benefits of various courses of action.20

Building exemplary people skills. As the Department of the Navy’s Education for Seapower report explains, “[N]aval leaders must be just as ready to…solve a social problem below decks or in the platoon” as they are “to move against the enemy.”21 Research shows that emotional intelligence, coaching, and feedback upward, downward, and horizontally are key to high performing organizations. And these skills are not “one and done.” Each level of leadership presents new challenges concerning the types and complexity of the problems encountered and the number of people one leads. Social skills are developmental and change over the life of the leader. Additionally, there is evidence that leaders’ skills are directly related to retention. Most have heard the adage, “Employees don’t leave their organization; they leave their managers.”22 Good bosses not only contribute to the high performance of their employees but also increase employee retention because workers quit bad bosses.23

Understanding the influence of cultures. Complementary to (but different from) traditional international relations approaches, management and leadership education emphasize understanding how culture influences decision-making and how it affects collaboration. This is increasingly important to warfighters in an era featuring more and more “shared responsibility for security with other nations,” wherein “[s]trong global relationships and defense partnerships help mitigate the risks of…unpredictability.”24 Greater mutual understanding and mutual trust has enormous practical value in operational environments.

Developing meaningful organizational leadership skills. Vice Admiral Rondeau notes the essential connection between leaders and their organizations: “Leaders set the tone for the culture of their organizations. Meaning of the community, no matter how defined, becomes essential for interconnectedness, for bonding, and for understanding. It all has to do with the relationship between the organization and the individual.”25 The Navy’s PME institutions are uniquely positioned to develop warfighter skills in how to communicate and build essential interconnections using best practices from both civilian and military approaches to leadership development.

Building historical understanding to be decisive in the future. In an operational environment featuring a lack of combat deployments, we must increasingly turn to history to learn vicariously through others. The first President of Marine Corps University, Lieutenant General Paul K. Van Riper, USMC (ret.), reflected, “I wanted to impart a simple lesson: a properly schooled officer never arrives on a battlefield for the first time, even if he has never actually trod the ground, if that officer has read wisely to acquire the wisdom of those who have experienced war in times past.”26 A champion of PME throughout his career in Congress, Representative Ike Skelton also recognized the importance of an appreciation for history: “I cannot stress this enough because a solid foundation in history gives perspective to the problems of the present. And a solid appreciation of history…will prepare students for the future.”27 Management education has long championed these kinds of vicarious learning through the extensive use of case studies. The case study approach heightens students’ sensitivity to history, context, and the particulars of a wide variety of situations. It gives warfighters a reservoir of examples to draw on as they face an unpredictable future.28

These elements of management education can help naval warfighters improve their personal performance and create a higher-performing Navy team that is better positioned to cope with the unpredictability of the future operating environment. In an era when investment dollars are at a premium, these management skills should be emphasized to a greater extent in PME because they provide high return on the Navy’s investments. Management skills can be applied across a wide range of situations and roles, and they typically stay relevant longer than technical skills. Management skills are particularly valuable for warfighters that advance into higher-level positions that usually involve more complex organizational and leadership challenges, and less technical know-how.29 A recent study by Harvard economists David Deming and Kadeem Noray puts it this way:

“[High]-ability workers choose STEM careers initially, but exit them over time…[This] is explained by differences across fields in the relative return to on-the-job learning. High ability workers are faster learners in all jobs. However, the relative return to ability is higher in careers that change less because learning gains accumulate”(emphasis added).30

Return on investment explains why management degrees (principally MBAs) dominate lists of the most popular graduate degrees, since individuals know that as their careers advance, the returns on graduate education favor developing strong management skills.31 Investing in management know-how is also less risky than investing in technical knowledge because the general applicability of management skills means they never abruptly go out of fashion.


“Whoever can make and implement his decisions consistently faster gains a tremendous, often decisive advantage. Decision making thus becomes a time-competitive process, and timeliness of decisions becomes essential to generating tempo. Timely decisions demand rapid thinking, with consideration limited to essential factors. We should spare no effort to accelerate our decision-making ability.” –FMFM 132

The changing geostrategic landscape demands changes in the skillsets of our naval leaders. Because of rapid advancements in technology, the human element will play an increasingly important factor in future operating environments. While tactical naval warfighters need to be technically savvy, operational-level warfighters must excel in the managerial skills needed to get peak performance out of the human element. Fundamentally, this is a general management challenge that applies across a wide range of Navy organizations. The Education for Seapower study and strategy, and the remarks of our naval leaders highlight that this entails a paradigm shift in our approach to PME. The Navy should invest more in management education to develop the intellectual and practical competencies required for excellence in naval warfighting.

Dr. Mie Augier is a professor in the Graduate School of Defense Management at the Naval Postgraduate School and a Founding Member of the Naval Warfare Studies Institute (NWSI). She is interested in strategy, organizations, innovation, leadership, and how to educate strategic and innovative thinkers.

Major Sean F. X. Barrett is an active duty Marine Corps intelligence officer. He is currently the operations officer for the Headquarters Marine Corps Directorate of Analytics & Performance Optimization.

Dr. Nick Dew is a professor at the Graduate School of Defense Management at the Naval Postgraduate School. His research is focused on entrepreneurial thinking and innovation in defense organizations.

Dr. Gail Fann Thomas is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Defense Management at the Naval Postgraduate School. Her research focus is strategic communication and interorganizational collaboration.


1. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Developing Today’s Joint Officers for Tomorrow’s Ways of War: The Joint Chiefs of Staff Vision and Guidance for Professional Military Education & Talent Management, (Washington, DC: 2020), 2.

2. Department of the Navy, Education for Seapower (Washington, DC: 2019), 37.

3. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Developing Today’s Joint Officers, 2.

4. We acknowledge the difference between management and leadership. Both can be learned and contribute to peak performance for naval officers. See, for example, Bernard Bass, The Bass Handbook of Leadership:  Theory, Research, and Managerial Applications (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010); John Kotter, “What Leaders Really Do,” Harvard Business Review (Dec. 2001): 2; Abraham Zaleznik, “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?” Harvard Business Review (Jan. 2004): 1.

5. Kathryn L. Shaw, Bosses Matter: The Effects of Managers on Workers’ Performance: What Evidence Exists on Whether Bad Bosses Damage Workers’ Performance, Issue 456 (Bonn, Germany: IZA World of Labor, 2019).

6. Shaw, Bosses Matter.

7. Luke M. McCollum, Chief of Naval Reserve, Report on Engagement With Industry and the Competitive Advantage of Learning Culture, submitted to Secretary of the Navy, December 26, 2018.

8. As quoted in Rear Admiral P. Gardner Howe III, “Professionalism, Leader Development Key to Future,” Navy News Service, May 26, 2015,

9. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Developing Today’s Joint Officers, 4.

10. Herbert A. Simon, “What We Know About Learning,” Journal of Engineering Education 87, no. 4 (Oct. 1998): 346.

11. David Epstein, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (New York: Riverhead Books, 2019).

12. Anne Rondeau, “Gen Eds – Are They Worth It?” HuffPost, March 29, 2017,

13. Richard Straub, “What Management Needs to Become in an Era of Ecosystems,” Harvard Business Review, June 5, 2019,

14. Such soft skills include communication, teamwork and interpersonal skills, critical thinking, and problem-solving capability in complex, multidisciplinary situations. Casciaro, Edmondson, and Jang note that “the vast majority of innovation and business development opportunities lie in the interfaces between functions, offices, or organizations.” Similarly, Hagel and Brown observe the “productive friction” that results from transactions between companies. Strong interpersonal skills are needed for these results to manifest themselves. See Tiziana Casciaro, Amy C. Edmondson, and Sujin Jang, “Cross-Silo Leadership: How to Create More Value by Connecting Experts from Inside and Outside the Organization,” Harvard Business Review (May-June 2019): 132; John Hagel III and John Seely Brown, “Difficult Business Partnerships Can Accelerate Innovation,” Harvard Business Review (Feb. 2005),

15. Admiral Mike Mullen, USN(ret.), “SECNAV Guest Lecture” (lecture, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, May 19, 2020).

16. In the context of business, Jeff Bezos notes, “For every leader in the company, not just for me, there are decisions that can be made by analysis…These are the best kinds of decisions! They’re fact-based decisions. The great thing about fact-based decisions is that they overrule the hierarchy. The most junior person in the company can win an argument with the most senior person with a fact-based decision. Unfortunately, there’s this whole other set of decisions that you can’t ultimately boil down to a math problem.” As quoted in Bernard Girard, The Google Way: how One Company Is Revolutionizing Management As We Know It (San Francisco, CA: No Starch Press, Inc., 2009), 118.

17. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Developing Today’s Joint Officers, 3.

18. Michael Mullen, “Admiral Michael Mullen: Wharton Leadership Lecture,” October 27, 2008,

19. Jeroen Stouten, Denise M. Rousseau, and David De Cremer, “Successful Organizational Change: Integrating the Management Practices and Scholarly Literatures,” Academy of Management Annals 12, no. 2 (2018): 752-788.

20. Carol Bekenkotter, “Writing and Problem Solving,” in Language Connections: Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, eds. T. Fulwiler and A. Young (Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1982), 33-44.

21. Education for Seapower, 15.

22. Lori Goler, Janelle Gale, Brynn Harrington, and Adam Grant, “Why People Really Quit Their Jobs,” Harvard Business Review, January 11, 2018,

23. Shaw, Bosses Matter.

24. Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly, “SECNAV VECTOR 8,” January 24, 2020.

25. Ann E. Rondeau, “Identity in the Profession of Arms,” Joint Force Quarterly, no. 62 (3rd Quarter 2011): 11.

26. Paul K. Van Riper, “The Relevance of History to the Military Profession: An American Marine’s View,” in The Past As Prologue: The Importance of History to the Military Profession, eds. Williamson Murray and Richard Hart Sinnreich (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 53.

27. Ike Skelton, “JPME: Are We There Yet?” Military Review 72, no. 5 (May 1992): 2-9.

28. This is complementary to a pure war college perspective in that it blends history with organizations and a strategic lens and is thus more broadly applicable and provides greater understanding for students who can learn from the process of developing and applying analogies to different contexts.

29. See, for example, a survey of Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumni, in National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, The Integration of the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Higher Education: Branches from the Same Tree (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2018), 44-45.

30. David J. Deming and Kadeem Noray, “STEM Careers and the Changing Skill Requirements of Work,” Working Paper (June 2019), 3,

31. For example, see “Most Popular Graduate Degrees,” Master’s Programs Guide, accessed May 26, 2020,

32. U.S. Marine Corps, FMFM 1: Warfighting (Washington, DC: 1989), 69.

Featured Image: Facilities of the U.S. Naval War College (U.S. Navy Photo by Jaima Fogg/Released)

Naval Warfare 2010-2020: A Comparative Analysis

By Jimmy Drennan


An analysis of warfighting trends over a decade could be performed by considering the major crises, conflicts, and tensions that took place, or by tracking the evolving force structure and operating concepts of global competitors. Alternatively, one could compare foundational documents issued over that same timespan. In April of this year, the U.S. Navy, U.S Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard (collectively, the U.S. Naval Service) jointly published the latest version of Naval Doctrine Publication 1: Naval Warfare, superseding the previous version released in 2010. The difference between the two documents is stark, and indicates a change over the last ten years in the way the United States views naval warfare – simultaneously reaching back to its historical roots, while also looking over the horizon to future conflicts.

This analysis compares NDP-1 (2010) and NDP-1 (2020) to reveal the major differences in content, style, and tone, and what those difference might imply for the U.S. Naval Service’s strategic direction. In addition to a clear focus on American naval history, readers will notice a shift from contributing to the joint force of all military branches to emphasizing the singular importance of American seapower. In fact, NDP-1 (2020) replaces the Naval Service’s six core capabilities with five enduring functions, elevating the role of sea control and sealift, while diminishing the importance of forward presence and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations (HA/DR).

Quality of Writing

First and foremost, NDP-1 (2020) is eminently more readable than its predecessor. Both documents are intended to be read by every Sailor, Marine, Coast Guardsman and woman, and civilian in the U.S. Naval Service. However, NDP-1 (2020) seems to recognize that a large portion of that audience is not a regular consumer of military doctrine. NDP-1 (2010) is written in language that nests well with the doctrine of any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces (more on this later), but not in language that would help a novice understand why the U.S. Naval Service is important and unique, and how it should be employed. In fact, the language of the sea (nautical lexicon, not necessarily jargon) is noticeably absent from NDP-1 (2010), the doctrinal foundation of a seagoing service whose traditions and culture pre-date the U.S. Armed Forces. For example, the phrase “command of the seas” does not appear in NDP-1 (2010), while it is introduced up front in NDP-1 (2020) as “a fundamental strategic pillar of our nation, necessary for the security and prosperity of our citizens.”

NDP-1 (2020) makes a concerted effort to plainly demonstrate the value of American seapower. Whereas NDP-1 (2010) liberally uses military doctrine buzzwords and acronyms, NDP-1 (2020) instead describes similar concepts in plain language that helps the reader understand the nature and character of the U.S. Naval Service. NDP-1 (2010) is littered with joint terms like DIME, DOTPLMF, ROMO, PMESII, and JIPOE. In parts, it could be easy to forget which service the document was written for.1 NDP-1 (2020) dispenses with such language, and other doctrinal hallmarks like pages labeled “INTENTIONALLY BLANK,” instead utilizing an almost narrative prose, making good use of illustrations, quotations, and vignettes without distracting the reader. NDP-1 (2010) is focused on describing the current manifestation of naval operations, which in 2010 were largely in support of joint campaigns on land, or otherwise concerned with the lower end of the warfighting spectrum. NDP-1 (2020), however, focuses on the theory and principles of naval warfare and their potential future application, irrespective of current operations, adroitly observing “the interlude from great power competition is over.”2

Aside from commending the authors for distilling such a broad and complex topic for a large audience, there is another important reason why the quality of writing in NDP-1 (2020) is worth mentioning. Since the U.S. Naval Service is entering an era in which high-end combat at sea is entirely imaginable (something that could not be said in 2010), it seems plausible the document was written with another audience in mind: Congress. One reason for writing doctrine that can be easily digested is to craft a story that helps non-navalists understand the logic behind budget requests. If NDP-1 can show those outside maritime circles why American seapower is necessary, and how the naval service is unique, it can serve as a foundation not just to operational doctrine, but also to programming and budgeting. If the Naval Service’s future success depends upon arguing for a larger portion of defense budgets, the integration of force generation and force employment strategies based on a single conceptual foundation is paramount.

Historical Perspective

Out of the gates, NDP-1 (2020) clearly establishes a connection to American naval history. Before reaching “page 1,” the reader finds quotations from Raymond Spruance, John Adams, and Harry E. Yarnell, and a vignette from James D. Hornfischer’s The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.3

Continuing the historical theme, NDP-1 (2020) includes quotations from prominent American naval leaders, strategists, and theorists, with a particular emphasis on Alfred Thayer Mahan. In fact, Mahanian influence in the document is evident not just in quotations, but also in its central premise that the ultimate purpose of the U.S. Naval Service is to achieve command of the seas. NDP-1 (2020) echoes Mahan’s notion that America is inherently a maritime republic, and its prosperity depends upon achieving command of the seas through seapower. Similarly, NDP-1 (2020) bluntly states that sea control (a localized, temporary version of command of the seas) “enables all other naval functions.” In contrast to their predecessors, the authors of NDP-1 (2020) were clearly writing doctrine for a Naval Service prepared for the full range combat operations at sea. And if the authors truly did intend to speak to Congress, it is not surprising they chose to highlight Mahan who was, besides being widely considered one of America’s greatest strategists, a vocal advocate for large fleets and vibrant shipping and shipbuilding industries.

Next to Mahan, the other most noticeable historical emphasis in NDP-1 (2020) is on World War II. Starting with Hornfischer’s vignette on Taffy Three’s heroics at Leyte Gulf, it draws upon the legacy of the last war that saw major, sustained naval combat, with quotes from icons like Nimitz, King, Burke, and Spruance. There is even an entire section dedicated to the lessons on fleet operations offered by the campaigns in the Atlantic and Pacific, the former being cumulative and in support of a land campaign, and the latter being sequential in nature in a principally maritime theater. On this last point, one hopes the Naval Service does not lean too heavily on historical precedent. While the geography of the next major war in the Pacific could closely resemble the last, its character and conduct will likely not.

NDP-1 (2020) includes dozens of quotations from prominent figures in American naval and national history like George Washington, John Paul Jones, John Lejeune, Samuel P. Huntington, and Wayne Hughes. In fact, of all the quotations in the document, the only non-Americans quoted are Carl von Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, Horatio Nelson, Julian Corbett, and Winston Churchill – all of whom have had a significant influence in shaping American naval warfare. Conversely, of the only four people quoted in NDP-1 (2010), one was an ancient Greek general and one was a currently-serving U.S. general. Even considering the undeniable popularity of then-General Mattis and his knack for memorable one-liners, in retrospect this seems like a poor choice.

Joint Force versus Seapower

“The Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard team is relevant today and in the future because of its ability to contribute to the joint force in achieving [strategic] objectives. –NDP-1 (2010)

While the theme of NDP-1 (2020) is the importance of American seapower, the theme of NDP-1 (2010) was more focused on how the Naval Service fits into the larger Joint Force. As mentioned earlier, NDP-1 (2010) was written with an emphasis on the version of naval warfare being exercised at the time, which in 2010 was predominantly aircraft carrier-based power projection in support of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, counterpiracy operations in the Somali Basin, and responding to natural disasters such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Counterpiracy and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) operations are at the low end of the range of military operations and are almost exclusively the purview of the Naval Service. They also did not contribute directly to the U.S. military’s main effort in the first decade of the 21st century: the defeat of violent extremism in the Middle East. Accordingly, there was a significant push within the Navy and Marine Corps to contribute to joint, land-based operations. The Marine Corps reformed itself to help the Army seize and occupy territory in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Navy sent thousands of “individual augmentee” Sailors to support the Army, and restructured its force employment models to provide U.S. Central Command with continuous presence of at least one, sometimes two, Carrier Strike Groups. The Navy even created blue camouflage uniforms for a more modern, tactical appearance to align with Army and Air Force fatigues. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard shifted wholesale from the Department of Transportation to the new Department of Homeland Security, established in 2002 in the wake of 9/11.

The importance of “jointness” in the early 2000s is evident in NDP-1 (2010). Aside from the liberal use of joint military doctrine buzzwords and acronyms, it takes great pains to describe how the Naval Service nests within joint doctrine and policy, beginning in the first paragraph of the introduction. NDP-1 (2010) carefully defines each key term by its joint definition, citing the appropriate joint publication. Even inherent naval terms, such as “maritime domain” and “maritime power projection,” are referenced to joint publications, almost as though it would not have been appropriate for NDP-1 to be the authoritative document for such terms. On the contrary, NDP-1 (2020) relegates the references to joint publications to footnotes and the glossary, indicating an apparent willingness by the authors to offer the document as a primary source which joint doctrine can draw upon for naval warfare concepts.

The reduced emphasis of “jointness” in the Naval Service from 2010 to 2020 is highlighted by two notable examples in NDP-1. First, NDP-1 (2020) lists the nine principles of war as opposed to the 12 principles of joint operations, as in NDP-1 (2010). The difference between the two sets of principles is the inclusion of restraint, perseverance, and legitimacy in the principles of joint operations, which were added as a result of costly lessons the U.S. military learned in the early 2000s. NDP-1 (2020) certainly does not exercise the authority to suggest that the Joint Force abandoned these three modern principles. Rather, NDP-1 (2020) simply indicates it was more valuable to include the principles of war vice the principles of joint operations. The reason for the change is not given, but it does fit with the trend of de-emphasizing “jointness” and refocusing on the enduring nature of naval warfare.

The second key example of NDP-1 (2020) moving away from a focus on joint operations is the absence of any discussion on the six phases of a joint campaign. On the other hand, NDP-1 (2010) devotes the last seven pages to describing the six phases (Shape, Deter, Seize the Initiative, Dominate, Stabilize, Enable Civil Authority). Within each phase, there is a description of how naval activities and operations can be incorporated into the larger joint effort. Over the past two decades, the joint phasing construct became so central and ubiquitous in military planning that it can be difficult to conceive an operation without phases. NDP-1 (2020) instead describes “operations along the competition continuum.” The competition (or competition-conflict) continuum does not necessarily appear intended to replace the joint phasing construct. Rather, the continuum is used to conceptually bridge steady-state, daily operations with the highest imaginable end of naval combat. Conversely, the use of campaign phases can inadvertently cause military leaders, strategists, and planners to falsely envision operations as discrete, isolated events with clearly delineated beginnings and endings. As NDP-1 states, “Our ability to maintain and execute naval functions throughout the competition continuum generates the ability to influence world events. Fundamentally, our ability to influence depends upon our ability to prevail in armed conflict.” Here again, no explanation is given in NDP-1 (2020) for excluding campaign phases, nor does it indicate the Joint Force has abandoned the phasing construct. However, the use of the competition continuum indicates strong influence from the concept of “gray zone” warfare and the prevailing focus on “great power competition,” in which military confrontation can be ambiguous and fluid.

A final note on “jointness:” for all the momentum evident in NDP-1 (2020) toward establishing the independent importance of American seapower, the U.S. military still fights as an integrated joint force. Global operations are commanded by combatant commanders, who wield functional components from all military services in a variety of ways to accomplish their mission. Rarely does the Naval Service secure national interests on its own. Even U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, a distinctly maritime theater typically commanded by an admiral, cannot neglect the contributions of the Army and Air Force in preserving the international rules-based order. Perhaps this is why NDP-1 (2020) distills the entire discussion on maritime strategy down to a single sentence: “Thus, maritime strategy boils down to this: What can the Naval Service do to best help our nation achieve what it needs across this [competition] continuum?”4 This indicates a solid recognition that naval operations support national strategy, and could even imply that single-domain strategies are unnecessary in a military that fights as an integrated joint force.

On the same token, it is unfortunate that NDP-1 (2020) does not mention the new joint concept of Dynamic Force Employment (DFE), a model for employing the joint force with agility and unpredictability. DFE could significantly impact how the Naval Service is used as an instrument of national power, as deployments will see much less geographic and temporal regularity. Even though it is a joint concept, one would think a Naval Service looking to recoup strategic readiness – and apparently de-emphasizing “forward presence” (more on that next) – would embrace DFE, yet the Naval Service continues to ignore the concept in its own doctrine, missing the opportunity to shape the concept in its favor.

From Core Capabilities to Enduring Functions

The most consequential difference between the 2010 and 2020 versions of NDP-1 lies in the way the two documents outline how the Naval Service secures U.S. national interests. NDP-1 (2010) defines six core capabilities, whereas NDP-1 (2020) defines five enduring functions.

While the two lists are similar, the obvious difference is that HA/DR and forward presence are not listed as enduring functions, whereas sealift is. The shift from core capabilities to enduring functions actually began with the revision of A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower in 2015. In 2007, the original strategy expanded the traditional four core capabilities to include HA/DR and maritime security. In 2015, the revised strategy replaced the core capabilities with five essential functions, which closely resemble the enduring functions in NDP-1 (2020), including “all domain access” instead of sealift. This was likely in response to China’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy and in recognition of the need for freedom of action in the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum.

The choice to establish five enduring functions in NDP-1 (2020) is noteworthy for a few reasons. First, the removal of HA/DR implies that it is no longer viewed as important as sea control, power projection, deterrence, and maritime security. This aligns with the trend of moving away from missions that do not directly support command of the seas. Second, the addition of sealift implies a renewed appreciation of the importance of maritime logistics in naval warfare (all warfare overseas, in fact). It is no secret that the Naval Service neglected its merchant marine fleet over the past decade. Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby recently noted the U.S. would need about 50 more merchant vessels and about 1800 Merchant Mariners to sustain sealift operations in a Pacific conflict. Meanwhile, the ships in the fleet average 45 years-old. In a short notice exercise last year, only 40 percent of the Maritime Ready Reserve Fleet was able to sail within 48 hours. In crafting a coherent story to convey the importance of American seapower to Congress and the American public, sealift should be a central theme and is appropriately included as an enduring function of the Naval Service.

Finally, maritime security (another 2007 addition alongside HA/DR) was retained, while forward presence was removed. The implication is that achieving maritime security is more important than maintaining forward presence. This is peculiar, particularly since NDP-1 (2020) concludes with the phrase “Always forward. Always faithful. Always ready. Always.” Instead of being listed as an enduring function, forward presence is described as supporting deterrence, naval diplomacy, and maritime domain awareness. It is possible this is a tacit recognition that forward presence remains important, but the Naval Service cannot sustain routine force deployments as an intrinsic measure of effectiveness. If so, the authors of NDP-1 (2020) missed a key opportunity to embrace Dynamic Force Employment as a viable way to secure national interests while also generating readiness for future conflicts.


Ultimately, the value in comparing NDP-1 (2020) with NDP-1 (2010) lies in identifying trends in how the Naval Service wages war, so those who implement strategy can adapt accordingly, and in highlighting possible issues, those who craft strategy can also adjust course as needed.

The first noteworthy trend is the overall improvement of the document itself. The quality and style of writing in NDP-1 (2020) is apparent, and bodes well for reaching a broader audience, beyond those who read doctrine as part of their occupation. NDP-1 (2020) goes a long way toward telling a story of the importance of American seapower. A compelling story, or logical narrative, is crucial for making convincing budgetary arguments to non-navalists in the Pentagon and in Congress.

The second trend is the renewed emphasis on the history of American seapower. Whereas NDP-1 (2010) was focused on seapower as it was being applied at the time, NDP-1 (2020) firmly establishes the Naval Service’s historical roots, and demonstrates how the lessons of the past could be applied today and in the future. The caution for strategists is not to draw too heavily on the lessons of the last major naval conflict in the Pacific. One of the only certainties in warfare is that it tends to unfold in unexpected and surprising ways. As the prospect of high-end naval warfare in the Pacific is once again visible on the horizon, it is entirely possible the list of similarities with World War II may end with geography.

The third trend is the shift from describing the Naval Service as part of a larger joint force, to focusing on how the Naval Service itself secures national interests. NDP-1 (2020) does not abandon the idea of the Naval Service supporting the joint force, but it certainly focuses more on naval warfare and less on joint operations. On the other hand, NDP-1 (2010) was written with such an emphasis on “jointness” that it might have been more appropriately titled Naval Contributions to Joint Operations instead of Naval Warfare. The caution for strategists here is, with the renewed emphasis on communicating the importance of American seapower, not to become too myopic and forget the critical contributions and interrelationships of all military branches.

Finally, the most consequential trend is the change from six core capabilities to five enduring functions (seapower, power projection, deterrence, maritime security, and sealift). The removal of HA/DR and forward presence signals that the Naval Service no longer views these functions as central to accomplishing its mission, whereas the inclusion of sealift signals a recognition of the criticality of maritime logistics. As opposed to the Principles of Joint Operations, NDP-1 (2020) does have the authority to officially redefine the Naval Service’s core capabilities into enduring functions, so this particular change merits more discussion and explanation.

Specifically, leaders should explain the logic behind not including forward presence as an enduring function. It could be that the Naval Service no longer views forward presence as a function at all, but rather as a characteristic that supports other functions. As the Naval Service struggles to build an integrated force structure that can keep up with global commitments and threats, forward presence as it was previously understood may have been unsustainable to include as an enduring function. If so, the Naval Service would do well to incorporate the joint concept of Dynamic Force Employment into its evolving narrative on the importance of American seapower in securing national interests.

Jimmy Drennan is the President of the Center for International Maritime Security. His views are presented in a personal capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views of any U.S. government department or agency.


1. NDP-1 (2010) uses the phrase “political, military, economic, social, infrastructure, and information” but thankfully refrains from using the actual acronym.

2. Some use of the buzz phrase “great power competition” is unavoidable and forgivable. NDP-1 (2020) manages to successfully ponder naval warfare in this future geopolitical schema without overusing the term to the point of cliché.

3. Admiral Yarnell demonstrated the vulnerability of Hawaii to Japanese air attacks via fleet exercises conducted as part of joint Army/Navy war games in 1932, a decade before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

4. For comparison, NDP-1 (2010) devotes three full pages to an explanation of A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, the unified maritime strategy of the Naval Service.

5. Capabilities and functions are listed as ordered in each version of NDP-1.

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (June 1, 2020) The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) transits the Philippine Sea, June 1, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Julian Davis/Released)