Category Archives: Notes to New CNO Week

Prototype the Bi-Modal Naval Force

Notes to the New CNO Series

By Shelley Gallup

In past wars, small and well-armed ships, such as destroyer escorts, torpedo boats, and riverine craft have been a necessary complement to large combatant force structure. This need is being exacerbated by the U.S. Navy’s currently small yet top-heavy fleet structure. This contrasts with the force structure and operational concepts of Chinese maritime forces, which have been highlighted by the intrusions of PRC naval, Coast Guard, and maritime militia ships into the territorial waters of the Philippines. The Philippine Navy has only three ships to meet these threats, creating demands for U.S. naval presence that is already stretched thin among its relatively few large combatants. China’s numerous small combatants and maritime auxiliary forces would surely have important wartime roles to play as well, and U.S. large combatants may not be available to address these threats.

Innovation in maritime warfare is strategically significant, continuous, difficult to achieve, and must fight its way through an existing paradigm. Often, by the time innovation is adopted, another construct is appearing on the horizon, resulting in a continuous tail-chase. The U.S. Navy continues to push after esoteric technologies, rather than adopting near-term and less costly capabilities. The proposal here, in support of the bi-modal fleet concept featuring a mix of sea denial and sea control vessels, is the LMACC (Lightly Manned Automated Combat Capability) system. This small combatant vessel concept extends autonomy, machine learning, resilient comms, and passive sensor fusion within a cloud shared by a flotilla or other forces.

The bi-modal fleet structure includes a combination of small, crewed, and autonomous systems working as a networked flotilla. The crewed LMACCs and uncrewed autonomous surface vessels can be built and armed for much lower costs and greater capability than the cost of building one or two more destroyers or frigates. In this systems view, it is the holistic flotilla network that is the capability, rather than the individual platform. The uncrewed vessels act as sensors, and the LMACCs serve as decision arbiters and weapons carriers.

A depiction of the LMACC vessel. (LMACC program graphic)

LMACC will also serve a critical function in developing future combat leaders. In today’s destroyer-centric surface fleet, platform command opportunities only appear after more than a decade of service. LMACC is intended as an O-3 command, affording naval officers an opportunity to command earlier in their careers and develop critical leadership skills, including initiative, adaptability, and tactical acumen. Autonomous systems will become increasingly important, but cultivating warrior skillsets earlier in careers will be central to victory.

LMACC is the culmination of three years of research and development at the Naval Postgraduate School, via OPNAV N96F sponsorship with the Naval Research Program (NRP). It is now being considered as an Innovation Capstone Program (ICP), for potential transition to an industry partner for prototype acquisition. At an estimated cost of about $100 million per ship, built in small yards, it is much more affordable than other Navy surface combatants, and will invigorate diversification of the shipbuilding industrial base.

Small warships have a long history in the U.S. Navy, and are poised to offer an evolutionary leap in capability. Small, highly automated, lightly crewed, blue water warships will help offset the capabilities of competing fleets and ensure enduring maritime superiority for the U.S. Navy. It is time to fund and build a prototype of the LMACC and its flotilla innovations.

Dr. Shelley Gallup is a retired surface warfare officer. As an Associate Research Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, Dr. Gallup has spent 25 years assisting the Navy in developing large-scale experiments at sea. His current work includes research in human-machine partnerships, the role of emergence in combat at sea, and leads the small warship LMACC project at NPS.

Featured Image: The Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) leads the formation in a photo exercise with the unmanned surface vessels Ranger and the USV Mariner during Integrated Battle Problem (IBP) 23.2, Sep. 7, 2023. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse Monford)

Lead the Fight Against Climate Change and Transnational Crime in the Indian Ocean

Notes to the New CNO Series

By Commander Amila Prasanga, Sri Lankan Navy

There are vital Indian Ocean insights regarding island states, strategic vulnerabilities related to transnational crime caused by climate change, and the usefulness of U.S. naval operations that merit the next CNO’s (Chief of Naval Operations) attention. These insights align with the commitment to ensuring the U.S. Navy remains the preeminent global fighting force and a trusted defender of rules-based order.

Island states in the Indian Ocean region face unique geopolitical and environmental challenges. Their limited landmass, vulnerability to rising sea levels, and dependence on maritime resources create a delicate equilibrium that can be disrupted by climate change. It is essential to recognize that these states often find themselves in the crosshairs of great power competition, making them susceptible to both geopolitical pressures and environmental threats. Understanding their circumstances and forging partnerships based on mutual interests and security is crucial.

Climate change is transforming the security landscape in the Indian Ocean. It is having a profound impact in fomenting transnational maritime crimes, particularly illegal fishing, human smuggling, drug trafficking, and piracy. Island states are specifically vulnerable to these crimes, which often exploit their maritime boundaries and limited capacity. Recognizing these strategic vulnerabilities and their potential to destabilize the region is paramount.

The U.S. Navy’s enduring commitment to maintaining rules-based order is commendable. In the context of the Indian Ocean and its challenges, it is imperative to adapt U.S naval operations to address transnational threats driven by climate change. This includes enhancing maritime domain awareness, fostering regional cooperation, and developing capabilities for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR) operations. Additionally, considering the dynamic nature of these challenges, agility and innovation must be integral to U.S. Navy readiness.

The U.S. Navy’s global reach extends to the Indian Ocean, where it operates alongside allies and partners. Strengthening these relationships is essential to ensuring regional stability. Collaborating with regional maritime forces, international organizations, and island states can bolster the U.S. Navy’s collective ability to address security challenges arising from climate change.

As the next CNO leads U.S. naval operations into this decisive decade, I request that they closely consider the intricate web of challenges and opportunities presented by the Indian Ocean region. It is a space where U.S. naval power can make a significant difference, not only in terms of security, but also in fostering stability, prosperity, and resilience among island states. By acknowledging these complexities and acting with foresight, the U.S. Navy can continue to be the world’s most powerful force, securing U.S. interests and promoting peace across the seas.

Commander Amila Prasanga is Military Research Officer at the Institute of National Security Studies, the premier Sri Lankan think tank on national security, established and functioning under the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence. The opinions expressed are his own and are not necessarily reflective of the views of the institute or the Ministry of Defence.

Featured Image: Aerial photo taken on May 5, 2021 shows the Colombo Port City in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Photo via Xinhua)

Sailors Matter Most: Incentivize Education and Cultivate Learning Leaders

Notes to the New CNO Series

By Sean F. X. Barrett, Mie Augier, and William F. Mullen, III

Calls for innovation, technological development, and establishing new organizations are commonplace across the national security enterprise.1 Indeed, integrating emerging technologies into formations by seeking new ideas, evaluating them with a rigorous process, and learning from the feedback is crucial to the continued viability of warfighting organizations. Such calls, however, tend to portray new technologies and weapons systems as panaceas to great power challenges while paying less attention to the importance of developing the warfighters who will actually employ them. By empowering people to find and fix problems, Get Real Get Better is an encouraging first step, but more meaningful steps can nudge the pendulum back towards Capt. Wayne P. Hughes Jr.’s first cornerstone — “Sailors matter most.”2 This goal can be furthered by investing in the training and education of Navy Sailors and officers, and cultivating a culture of mission command so they are prepared to make decisions and take initiative based on their commander’s intent.

The increasingly complex security environment demands that warfighters develop the intellectual agility to make decisions and transfer knowledge across domains, or apply it to entirely new and unforeseen situations while facing demanding constraints. As such, the culture of the Navy needs to change so that its best and brightest not only understand the value of lifelong learning and continuing their professional military education (PME), but that they are also formally incentivized to pursue both. Concrete incentives can include meritorious promotions and enhanced recognition when being considered for command and promotion. Seniors should positively recognize warfighters who complete advanced and terminal degree programs, and who return to the fleet where the benefits of their advanced education can be best utilized. By rewarding the application of education to fleet operations, careers will not be as negatively impacted by the opportunity costs typically associated with formal PME. Without such concrete incentives, Sailors may feel they can hardly deviate from narrowly pre-defined career paths to pursue valuable educational opportunities that would otherwise benefit both themselves as warfighters, as well as the service.

Since the U.S. military can no longer count on a material or technological edge against its competitors, all members of the sea services must help maintain and hone their intellectual edge. They must be able to out-think and out-learn any opponent, especially in dynamic and rapidly changing situations. This is their greatest advantage, but it is also perishable. If it is neglected due to other priorities, it will atrophy and wither away. For example, the Education for Seapower initiatives were a step in the right direction, but they faded away without a senior champion.3

The Navy must adopt a mission command philosophy and ensure it is practiced throughout the force to take full advantage of critical thinking skills and learning leaders. Seniors must issue their intent, then trust subordinates to make decisions and take initiative. Subordinates must trust their seniors to support them in the actions they take, and welcome constructive feedback along the way. Without the trust inherent in mission command, organizations lack the agility to take advantage of fleeting opportunities or adjust course when the original plan is no longer viable. In the anticipated operating environment, this could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

LtCol Sean F. X. Barrett, PhD, is a Marine intelligence officer currently serving as the Operations Officer for I Marine Expeditionary Force G-2. He has previously deployed in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, Enduring Freedom-Philippines, and Inherent Resolve.

Dr. Mie Augier is a Professor in the Department of Defense Management, and Defense Analysis Department, at the Naval Postgraduate School. She is a founding member of the Naval Warfare Studies Institute and is interested in strategy, organizations, leadership, innovation, and how to educate strategic thinkers and learning leaders.

MajGen William F. Mullen, III, USMC, retired after 34 years as an infantry officer. Among his many assignments, he served 3 tours in Iraq, and as a General Officer, was the President of U.S. Marine Corps University and Commanding General of Training and Education Command. He is also the co-author of Fallujah Redux, which was published in 2014 by the USNI Press and the author of What It Means To Be a Man, which was published by the Marine Corps University Press in 2023.  Since retirement, he taught leadership at the University of Colorado and is currently a Professor of Practice at the Naval Postgraduate School (Department of Defense Management).


1. CIMSEC, for example, published a call for papers to pitch new capabilities in June 2023. Dmitry Filipoff, “Pitch Your Capability Topic Weeks Kicks Off on CIMSEC,” Center for International Maritime Security, June 5, 2023, See also Jaspreet Gill, “INDOPACOM Standings Up New Directorate to Better Connect Industry, DoD Innovation Efforts,” Breaking Defense, August 28, 2023,; Justin Katz, “EXCLUSIVE: Navy Weighs Creation of ‘Disruptive Capabilities’ Office to Rapidly Field Tech to Fleet,” Breaking Defense, August 30, 2023,; Will Knight, “The AI-Powered, Totally Autonomous Future of War Is Here,” Wired, July 25, 2023; Leonardo Jacopo Maria Mazzucco, “Achieving More With Less: The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet Bets on Unmanned Vehicles and AI Systems to Bolster Maritime Domain Awareness,” Center for Maritime Strategy, August 21, 2023,

2. Wayne P. Hughes, Jr. and Robert P. Girrier, Fleet Tactics and Naval Operations, 3rd ed. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2018), 15-19.

3. The Department of the Navy, for example, removed funding increases associated with Education for Seapower in its Fiscal Year 2022 budget request. Diana Stancy Correll, “Navy Aims to Reduce End Strength, Cut Higher Education Funding in New Budget Request,” Navy Times, May 28, 2021,

Featured Image: PEARL HARBOR (Aug 16, 2023) Lt. Christopher Shaw (Left), from Plaquemine, Louisiana, communications officer assigned to Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One, explains to University of Hawaii Navy ROTC midshipmen the operational capabilities of the unmanned surface vessel Ranger during a tour of the ship on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 16, 2023. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Jonathan B. Trejo)

Man The Fleet and Reduce Sailor Exhaustion

Notes to the New CNO Series

By Capt. John Cordle (ret.)

The number 17 should have special meaning for the CNO, as it does for me. It is the number of Sailors we lost in the 2017 collisions, due to entirely preventable flaws. The CNO should continue to pay attention to the lessons from those events, and gauge the extent to which they have truly been learned and implemented. While those collisions happened more than six years ago, the process of learning from them remains very much a work in progress.

Among the many challenges highlighted by those fatal events, manning shortfalls and pervasive fatigue continue to persist. The U.S. Fleet Forces Comprehensive Review (CR) features the words “manning” and “fatigue” 117 times. In the years since the terrible events of 2017, the number of gapped Sailor billets at sea has still managed to increase from 6,592 (per the CR) to over 9,000, with many ships manned below 90 percent. Many have forgotten the fact that the USS Fitzgerald had no Quartermaster Chief for at least a year leading to the collision, and that the helm and lee helm driving the USS John S. McCain were cross-decked from another ship. Both the CR and the National Transportation Safety Board report cite a lack of manning as a major contributor to fatigue, which exacerbated both events, according to the investigations. The issues of manning and fatigue are inextricably linked. Fatigue is also linked to operational stress, mental health, and even suicide.

A depiction of the risk inherent in the manning process. This risk can manifest itself in the form of catastrophic events like fires, collisions, or personnel casualties. (Source: NAVMAC graphic, 2017)

A cornerstone of the CNO’s duties is ensuring there are enough Sailors to serve at sea. Granted, there are limits to what the CNO can do, including topline budgets, recruiting and retention challenges, and a strong economy to compete against. But in the end, it comes down to setting firm priorities and making the tradeoffs. The best weapons in the world will fall short if they are manned by overworked and exhausted Sailors.

The CNO should pay close attention to two measures – the number of billets currently gapped at sea, and the average hours slept by sailors on ships. The measure of effectiveness will be for the former to go down and the latter to go up each month. If successful, the gaps will go from 9,000 to zero in four years, and the sleep average from 5.5 to 7 hours. The result will be improved operational effectiveness, quality of service, and safety. The memories of the Sailors we lost deserve no less.

Captain John Cordle is a retired Surface Warfare Officer who served as a Type Commander Personnel Officer and Chief of Staff, and twice Commanding Officer of Navy warships, USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79) and USS San Jacinto (CG 56). He is the recipient of the U. S. Navy League John Paul Jones Award for Inspirational Leadership.

Featured Image: EAST CHINA SEA (July 16, 2020) Deck department Sailors repair line using a technique called ‘serving’ on the forecastle of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Taylor DiMartino)