Category Archives: Notes to New CNO Week

Recapitalize Sealift or Forfeit the Next Great Power War

Notes to the New CNO Topic Week

By Stephen M. Carmel

The U.S. military has lost one of the unique differentiators that formally sets it apart from its potential adversaries – the ability to reliably sustain itself over long distances within relevant timeframes. There has been much said recently on the dismal state of the nation’s dry cargo sealift forces. And while it is rarely touched on in the conversation, the fact is that for all practical purposes there is no virtually tanker (fuel) capacity to speak of at all.

The question is not “would the U.S. Navy run out of fuel in a fight with China?”, but how quickly. We are talking weeks, if that. An aircraft carrier (even a nuclear one) at war without fuel is just an artificial reef in the making. The Chinese add the equivalent of an entire U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP) fleet to their inventory every year while in the U.S. we debate about adding one or two ships over the course of decades but nothing concrete ever gets done. The Chinese have bold visions and execute on those visions effectively. In the U.S., at least in terms of sealift, incrementalism is our watchword and even then we don’t execute on that minimal vision. The focus is always on doubling down on failed programs and policies that brought about the current state of affairs when bold, innovative thinking that does not repeat the mistakes of the past is required.

As a start we urgently need a true Maritime Strategy (CS21R and its successor, the Design, are naval, not maritime strategies). The Maritime Strategy must lay out how the nation’s sealift assets and merchant marine fit into broader national security objectives and wartime contingencies. Then that strategy must be executed rapidly and effectively.

A program for defense sealift must ensure the proper mix of both wet and dry cargo ships is available and truly deployable when needed. The architecture of the defense sealift fleet must be adaptable and able to adjust easily to changes in the threat we face. However, current policy remains a static architecture and what is being discussed in the Ready Reserve Force recapitalization conversation is just another old, obsolete, and static fleet architecture, but which somehow intends to be used in a modern and dynamic threat environment. This is a recipe for failure. 

This is an issue of readiness posture. It is time to recognize that if this problem is not solved and solved urgently, a peer competitor will be able to outlast us in conflict and eventually dictate the outcome. Sealift cannot continued to be viewed as a burden and one to be cut when dollars are short. It is a crucial logistical enabler of naval warfighting.  

Sealift – the ability to sustain our forces over long distances at the speed of war – must be viewed as an indispensable element of a forward leaning, lethal, combat force. Without this investment everything else may be rendered moot. 

Steve Carmel is Senior VP at Maersk Line Limited. Among other activities he is a current member of the Naval Studies Board, and past member of the CNO Executive Panel and Marine Board. 

Featured Image: Ready Reserve Force Vessel Cape Ray. (

Reestablish the Strategic Studies Group

Notes to the New CNO Topic Week

By Commander Chris O’Connor, USN, and Lieutenant Commander Ryan Hilger, USN

In April 2016, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral John Richardson directed the Strategic Studies Group (SSG) to disband. The SSG had become irrelevant, despite, as the CNO states, “[producing] some ground-breaking ideas that have moved our Navy forward.” Some commentators agreed, accusing the SSG of becoming too technology focused and a waste of resources. But the history of the SSG and the lessons that it might provide for the Navy in a new era of great power competition are compelling. The SSG’s original mandate, to develop and propose innovative warfighting concepts against peer competitors (initially the Soviet Union), is quite relevant today. The new CNO should reestablish the SSG along these lines to develop a new generation of strategists and operational concepts for Navy and Marine Corps warfighting. 

In 1981, after several years of debate amongst Navy and Marine Corps flag officers over his strategic concepts, CNO Admiral Thomas Hayward chartered Robert Murray, the outgoing Undersecretary of the Navy, to establish the Strategic Studies Group. Murray, after wrestling with many issues, finally settled on the SSG model: a small cohort of officers (augmented with civilian specialists in later years) reporting directly to the CNO, with unprecedented access to senior leaders that would produce a tightly-focused study on some aspect of maritime strategy. Various aspects of strategy could be tackled over successive cohorts to allow for a single cohort to conduct a deep analysis of the problem. 

After overcoming the initial defensiveness of senior leaders, the SSG found a pragmatic audience, accruing many champions. Most senior leaders came around to see the benefit for developing a “strategy in a vacuum” as a way of diversifying strategic thought and refining the conventional maritime strategy, something the Navy lacked. Over the next several years, the SSG would develop the core of the operational strategy to defeat the Soviets in conventional war. Their influence would reach Secretary of the Navy John Lehman and would be a major shaping force of the Maritime Strategy he released. 

This version of the SSG is desperately needed today. Not the last iteration, rechartered under CNO Admiral Boorda in 1995, which for two decades focused on the nexus of emerging technology and new operating concepts (railgun, electromagnetic maneuver warfare, net-centric warfare) against an undefined adversary. The Naval War College (NWC), Naval Warfare Development Command, or Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) did not fit well with this assignment, despite their assertions. Their overall focus is on academic research or tactical doctrine, not maritime strategy at the operational level of war. Individuals at NWC or NPS often lack the high-level access and diversity of thought from well-crafted teams to produce revolutionary strategies. Given the strategic challenges that we face, the operating costs of a reestablished SSG would pale in comparison to the benefits of developing revolutionary warfighting concepts and re-training leaders to think unconventionally in order to execute those strategies with naval forces across the warfighting domains. The CNO should follow the example of Admiral Hayward by bringing back the SSG and staffing it with our best and brightest people. 

Commander Chris O’Connor and Lieutenant Commander Ryan Hilger both served on CNO Strategic Studies Group XXXIII. Their opinions are their own and do not necessarily represent the Department of the Navy. 

Featured Image: 190822-N-WI365-1014 TAIWAN STRAIT (August 23, 2019) – Ensign Juan Curbelo, from Isabela, Puerto Rico, looks through a bearing circle while standing watch as the conning officer on the bridge of amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Markus Castaneda)

Make Crew Endurance an Operational Warfighting Imperative

Notes to the New CNO Topic Week

By Captain John Cordle, USN (ret.)

Admiral Gilday, we are classmates from the Naval Academy, SWOSDOC, and the PCO course. I have watched and admired your career for nearly four decades. You are the right person at the right time to make crew endurance a priority. After the tragic deaths of 17 Sailors in 2017, the Navy made progress in this direction, but there is still much left to do. Now is the time to accelerate the learning process and leverage the benefits of circadian watches and crew endurance policies into a Navy-wide mindset that values and prioritizes personal readiness.

Like you, I have studied — and lived with — sleep deprivation, fatigue, and their pernicious effects for decades. While in command of San Jacinto (CG-56), I used a circadian watch bill at sea, and the performance and morale of my crew made me a believer. While not a perfect cure for everything, it works. 

Navy researchers like Dr. Nita Shattuck and Dr. Kimberly Culley have amassed a mountain of research to support the safety, operational, and long-term health impacts of circadian-based schedules, and many current commanding officers have seen the benefits. Although the human body needs at least seven hours of good quality sleep, a commanding officer studied by Dr. Shattuck slept on average only 5.2 hours per 24-hour period, including naps, which resulted in a state of chronic fatigue while deployed. Additionally, he spent approximately 15 percent of the deployment at a fatigue level equivalent to a person with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent, i.e., “legally drunk.” (See Figure 1.) Many studies show that the averages are not much different for the Sailors as well.

Major sleep episodes of a U.S. Navy commanding officer during a deployment (Shattuck and Matsangas, 2015)

I challenge my two friends and shipmates, you and Chief of Naval Personnel Admiral John Nowell, to prioritize crew rest and endurance as a warfighting imperative. This can be done through several initiatives.

Launching a Crew Endurance Panel to chart the progress on combating fatigue across the Navy. Bring in experts and operational commanders to create momentum in training the force on human requirements for sleep, the operational benefits of it, and the best practices for ensuring rest on shore and at sea. There are too many independent efforts that are not coordinated. Your leadership can change this.

Promulgating a Crew Endurance Policy by the end of 2019 to convert the guiding principles of circadian watch rotations, daily routines built around the watchstanders, and best practices to mitigate fatigue into operational priorities for the entire Navy. SUBFOR and SURFOR have paved the way; their instructions and NATOPS (the aviators have always gotten it!) can be used as models.

Establishing a Center of Excellence to craft educational products, track implementation, and train the force in the science of sleep, always striving to keep the minds and bodies of Sailors sharp. The Naval Postgraduate School would be the perfect place. Establish the SWOS and Senior Enlisted training that was recommended by the CR, but is still not yet in place two years hence.

The Navy owes Sailors a culture that maintains its people with the same rigorous mindset and planning as the maintenance of its ships and aircraft. Proper crew rest and sleep hygiene not only improve the daily performance and long-term endurance of our personnel in stressful environments, but best practices will lead to better long-term health outcomes when our Sailors leave the service. This aligns perfectly with (and in reality, is a necessary prerequisite for) other recent initiatives, such as “mindfulness” and “toughness.” You can recapture the sense of urgency that we all felt in the summer of 2017 but has since waned. Standing by to help!

Captain Cordle retired from the Navy in 2013 after 30 years of service. He commanded the USS Oscar Austin (DDG-79) and USS San Jacinto (CG-56), and received the U.S. Navy League’s Captain John Paul Jones Award for Inspirational Leadership in 2010.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (Sept. 11, 2019) Sailors transit through Pearl Harbor aboard Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) during sea and anchor detail. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Rodriguez Santiago/Released)

Prepare for Autonomous Undersea Conflict

Notes to the New CNO Topic Week

By David Strachan

Undersea warfare is entering an era of profound transformation due to the increasing sophistication and proliferation of unmanned systems. But while their roles, missions, and concepts of operation have been thoroughly analyzed, the ultimate deployment of autonomous, expendable vehicles in a shadowy, hostile environment could unfold in ways that have yet to be fully imagined. When this is considered against the current geopolitical backdrop of hybrid warfare and gray zone operations (with the line separating competition from conflict growing blurrier by the day), conditions are ripe for the emergence of a new front in great power rivalry that could redefine the very nature of undersea warfare.

Operating within an opaque, clandestine domain, autonomous undersea vehicles (AUVs) will employ kinetic and non-kinetic means to disrupt, degrade, and destroy, subsuming every aspect of undersea warfare under the umbrella of autonomous undersea conflict, including:

  • ISR: AUVs will conduct and actively counter covert monitoring of maritime operations on the high seas, in the littorals, and within ports, coastal facilities, and inland waters.
  • Mine Warfare: No longer simply “weapons that wait,” AUVs will surveil, penetrate, blockade, stalk, strike, and defend against such operations by adversary vehicles.
  • ASW: AUVs will detect, classify, track and engage adversary submersibles, and will actively disrupt and degrade adversary ASW operations.
  • Seabed Warfare: AUVs will disrupt, infiltrate, strike and defend critical seabed infrastructure, such as undersea cables, recharging and data exfiltration stations, and listening posts.

In order to prepare for autonomous undersea conflict, future force investments should emphasize the counter-UUV (CUUV) mission, specifically:

  • Artificial Intelligence: CUUV operations will require highly advanced AI, as they will occur in a complex, dynamic, communications-denied environment, and under intense conditions that demand rapid-fire decision-making based on real-time situational and contextual awareness.
  • Energy: The complexity of CUUV operations will demand high levels of stored energy to power advanced processing and sophisticated payloads, as well as the propulsive power and maneuverability required for kinetic engagements.
  • Collaboration: Pods of AUVs working together will provide expendability, redundancy, wide operating coverage, and will provide tactical overmatch during CUUV engagements.
  • Miniaturization: Small, expendable, agile, and lethal AUVs will be preferable to slower, larger, high-value AUVs which will be vulnerable to adversary CUUV operations.
  • Weaponization: CUUV operations will include non-kinetic effects to deceive, disrupt and degrade, and to infiltrate adversary undersea networks. Kinetic effects will include proximity and contact detonation for near or complete target neutralization, or “true” kinetic energy strikes to achieve mission kills.

For now, autonomous undersea conflict is the stuff of science fiction, and perhaps this vision may not come to fruition within the next few years. But an autonomous undersea revolution is coming, and with it the need to anticipate and prepare for the myriad operational scenarios that could ensue. The plans laid today will ensure that the Navy stands ready to confront the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow.

David R. Strachan is a naval analyst and founder of Strikepod Systems LLC (, a provider of current and strategic fiction intelligence (FICINT) on global naval affairs, with an emphasis on unmanned undersea systems. He can be found on Twitter @Strikepod, and can be reached at

Featured Image: ROV Deep Discoverer documents the benthic communities at Paganini Seamount during the Deep-Sea Symphony: Exploring the Musicians Seamounts expedition. (Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Deep-Sea Symphony: Exploring the Musicians Seamounts.)