To close out Distributed Lethality Week, VADM Rowden, Commander, Surface Forces, was kind enough to add his own piece to the milieu.
Once again, I am really pleased to see CIMSEC out front and leading with respect to providing a timely forum for information exchange and professional learning. That you’ve chosen to focus on Distributed Lethality this week is an exciting development, and I look forward to checking in on the dialogue and getting a sense of how well the idea is catching on and where we might need to do a little more work in addressing concerns and criticisms.
Since we debuted Distributed Lethality six months ago at the Surface Navy Association Symposium, a team of superstars in DC, at my headquarters in San Diego, and from around the fleet have been doing the really hard work of putting the meat on the bones of what was admittedly an aspirational concept when I introduced it. Don’t get me wrong—the basic concept of increasing individual warship lethality and then combining surface warships in innovative ways makes straightforward sense to virtually anyone who will listen. But as with anything that will likely cause generational change in an enterprise as large as Surface Warfare, there are tough analytical questions that have to be answered, there are important questions of priority and timing, and there are critical questions of “how much?” and “how widely distributed?” the force can be. This is what the Distributed Lethality team is working on, and we’ll convene in Newport in two weeks for our second series of wargames designed to get at some of the things I just mentioned.
The subject I really want to focus on with this piece however, is the human side of Distributed Lethality, represented by the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center that we stood up last month in San Diego under the command of Rear Admiral Jim Kilby. A lot of folks are likening NSMWDC to naval aviation’s Top Gun program, and I think there is something to that comparison. For decades Top Gun has produced finely-honed tactical experts in the LT/LCDR grades — experts who then go back to their parent squadrons or wings and raise the tactical proficiency of those organizations.
Like a drop of dye in a glass of water, we look for a new generation of Surface Warfighting experts—Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTI)—to change the very character of our profession. NSMWDC is part of the solution and will oversee the selection and training of those WTI’s – the ship’s CO’s are another part, integral in the selection of our WTI’s. In essence, we are “distributing” the human factor in Surface Warfare. We are investing in our junior officers in order to ensure that our crews are able to get the most out of training and the investments we are making in weapons and sensors.
We are looking to increase the warfighting professionalism of the force; to bring a new emphasis on tactics, tactical thinking, and tactical training, and we are going to do so one staff and one ship at a time.
Let’s face it, it is high-time we did this. Our ships are powerful and sophisticated, and the future upgrades we’ll field will demand a higher level of tactical acumen to wring the most out of them. While the mechanics are classified, I’m here to tell you that Navy Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) engagements are not a trivial undertaking. They will require considerable training and coordination across battle force components, but it all starts right in our Combat Information Centers.
We need to get more proficient in Mine Warfare. But a different kind of Mine Warfare, one where we don’t steam into the middle of the minefield and then sweep. Rather, we’ll stand-off and position a variety of surface, subsurface, and air deployed sensors that make up the LCS MIW mission module.
With respect to Anti-Submarine Warfare, the AN/SQR-89V(15) processing system presents operators with information at ranges that were — up to now — virtually impossible to gather. We need to get back into serious passive localization techniques that enable us to exploit the detectable sound-sources of even the quietest energy submarines. We need to move more quickly with less information to “good enough” targeting solutions. Solutions that allow either a surface-based weapon system or an air-deployed weapon to put the submarine on the defensive so he no longer is capable of targeting us with HIS anti-ship weapons.
In Anti-Surface Warfare we’ll be right back in the War at Sea game. First with a medium-range weapon we’ll field on the FF’s, and then on a longer range—and potentially supersonic—weapon that we’ll field on larger combatants. We’ll be able to hold a greater number of things that adversaries value at risk while making every one of us a more interesting target for their ISR systems.
NSMWDC will eventually graduate more than 100 WTI’s a year; these officers will then go on to be XO’s and CO’s, and Strike Group Commanders. Distributing the power of human talent more broadly across our fleet makes a lot of sense as we distribute lethality within our ships. I look forward to providing CIMSEC readers (and anyone else who attends) with a full update on the progress of the analytical effort involved with Distributed Lethality at January 2016’s SNA. An additional part of that update will be a continued emphasis on the demanding tactical training that our force must continue to pursue in order to get the most out of this exciting new concept. Distributed Lethality is MUCH more than just putting more missiles on ships—it is about investing in warfighting expertise. Let’s get to work.
Vice Admiral Thomas S. Rowden is Commander, Naval Surface Forces. A native of Washington, D.C., and a 1982 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, VADM Rowden has served in a diverse range of sea and shore assignments.
Rear Admiral (ret) James Vincent Purcell Goldrick AO, CSC, RANR, served three times as a the Commanding Officer of a ship at sea. He is a fellow at the Seapower Centre and a Naval Historian. (editor’s note) He is also served with the Patrol Boat navy, which means he is one of the best.
The recent discussion about the different approaches to surface warfare officer training in the British and American navies has been of great interest to me, if only because the Royal Australian Navy, my own service, has largely combined British training methods and career paths with the use of American designed ships and equipment.
I have had first-hand experience with both British and American methods, as well as the Australian approach, having served at sea on two exchange postings with the Royal Navy, been both XO and CO of RAN ships, small and big (by Australian standards) and sea ridden USN units, including in command time in tactical control of MIO operations in the northern Arabian Gulf. If I could sum up my view with a one liner it is that the British system is better for individual ships, the American for a navy as a whole.
Here I need to make an important distinction – the USN’s operational requirements are not those of the British, still less are they the same as those of Canada or Australia, so its personnel solutions should not necessarily be identical. Another, associated aspect of the comparison is that the USN system works better in major units because these can have enough experts onboard – with their associated rank and seniority – to provide the necessary leadership to all the specialisations involved. This is very difficult to achieve in smaller ships. Actually, it’s practically impossible.
The unit of power in the surface forces of the smaller navies, particularly in recent years, has been the frigate or destroyer. Within the USN, although times are changing – as recent deployment patterns not only in the Caribbean but even the South China Sea suggest – it has remained that of the carrier battle or expeditionary strike group. This requires a very different approach. A USN destroyer or frigate has been judged largely by how it fits into the whole, while a Canadian or Australian and even a British ship has in the past to manage both task group operations and independent activity to a much greater degree. In other words, the smaller navies have had to wring much more out of their limited capabilities and doing so successfully requires a higher level of expertise at more junior ranks than has generally been the case for the USN.
The reality is that deep expertise is found in the O5s and O6s of the American Navy that the other naval services can only envy. But, contrary to some of the declarations in earlier contributions to this discussion, I’d take a British or Australian O3 or O4 in their specialisation over the average (but not the best) USN surface warfare officer with the equivalent qualified sea service any day. This may seem a hard judgement, but it is not one based on intellect, morals or individual quality, it is simply a matter of experience – a USN officer has to cover so many more bases that there is an inevitable element – somewhere in it all – of ‘once over lightly’. My belief is that the USN maintains the standards it does by sheer hard work and a great deal of sea time.
But there is more to it than that. It seems to me that the argument has been confused by the inclusion of platform and propulsion engineering into the wider question of the requirement of warfare officers for technological understanding and technical mastery in addition to what could be described as operator skills. Because of the ‘once over lightly’ problem, my judgement is that, in general terms, propulsion engineers provide a more effective service and ship commanders are more expert in their essential skills if there is no attempt for platform engineers to proceed down the path of combatant command. I believe very firmly, in so far as frigates and destroyers which may have to operate as autonomous units are concerned, that it is practically impossible to accumulate the expertise necessary to cover all the bases associated if the officer complement are to have an ‘unrestricted line’ background. All that time in the machinery spaces has to come at the expense of the combat system and tactical knowledge as well as the associated ship driving skills which are vital to the effective direction of a warship’s operations. One sees certain resonances of this argument in the American submarine community and it is notable, although they have had their challenges in their nuclear force, that the British have never chosen to risk their tactical expertise in meeting their nuclear power demands. Royal Navy submarine captains get some nuclear power training, but they do not serve as engineers. I think that the British are right. My own experience is that I was very hard pressed to ensure that I was sufficiently expert as a surface warfare officer with the minimum mastery of combat systems and tactics necessary to fight the ship. I was also always acutely aware that my captains – and the ships’ companies with whom I served – demanded nothing less.
I do not have an engineering degree and I have also always had to work hard to ensure that I have had what I think is sufficient mastery of all aspects of ship design and propulsion to be an effective sea officer and, later, sea commander. Yet this was always in support of my primary functions, not such a function itself and this is the real point. Could I have known more about engineering? Yes, but at what cost to my warfare expertise? Did I end up knowing enough? I once had an exchange with my – extremely efficient and truly expert- platform (or what we call ‘marine’) engineer officer ashore over a beer one night. ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘I know that both your undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are in history. How is it that you always know the question to ask me that I don’t want you to ask me?’ ‘Simon,’ I replied, ‘I’m the captain, it’s my job.’ I still treasure that as one of the greatest professional compliments I have ever been paid – but I think it is one that, at least in part, I had earned. I will say here that the training system through which I passed allocated more time to engineering theory and practical engineering training for surface warfare officers than does the ‘objective focused’ system of the present day. There is a minimum required and I am not convinced that it is being met in either the RAN or the Royal Navy.
The point, however, is that my job as a captain was not to be the engineering officer, nor attempt to do his or her job. Mine was to be as expert as possible in driving and fighting my ship to achieve its military purposes. I am deliberate in suggesting that the platform engineering specialisation is not the ideal preparation for combatant command – although I have no objection to such officers commanding auxiliaries and non-combatant units, provided that they have had sufficient time on the bridge. Let me emphasise that I am not suggesting that officers with a platform engineering background are necessarily ineffective as combatant captains. What I am saying is that the individuals concerned would be much better off – and much better war fighters if they were differently prepared. There just isn’t enough time to do otherwise.
Let me return to explain one point – my view that the USN system can be better for a navy. If one is to accept that platform engineers as a group must be ‘Engineering Duty Only’, this must not result in their exclusion from the highest levels of decision making and influence. The USN has achieved as much as it has in the last seventy and more years because it got its platform engineering right so many times. And where it did not, it soon knew what to do to fix the problem. This must continue.
However, I do believe that the USN has evolved a generally more effective approach to combat systems management than the RN or the RAN both at sea and ashore. This is another area in which there could be more theory and practical training for warfare officers within our organisations. While I assess that there is a vital space for the specialists that the British describe as ‘Weapon Engineers’, I do not think that the British (and Australian) system has allowed surface warfare officers to develop sufficient understanding of their technology and the operation of their weapon and sensor systems since the old warfare sub-specialisations such as gunnery and ASW were replaced by the Principal Warfare Officer concept in the 1970s. The PWO possessed a much improved ability to make a correct, no-notice response to an immediate threat, no matter whether it was from over, on or under the sea, but it was partly at the expense of the much deeper system knowledge of his predecessors and to the detriment of a much more equal relationship with the Weapon Engineers who were and are responsible for the preparation, maintenance and readiness of the weapons, sensors, computers and communications concerned. Our navies have a lot to do in this area.
I don’t have any simple solutions for all this, but I will finish with one point. Whatever career system is adopted, it will only work if a truly professional attitude is adopted by all concerned. This includes, above all, a welcoming and inclusive approach to the new joiners that makes it clear that high standards are essential, but provides every opportunity to them to achieve their professional goals. Command at sea remains one of the most worthwhile experiences it is possible to have, but central to its value is encouraging and developing the young. None of our navies have always been as consistently focused on this as we should have been, but it is vital. As a very distinguished admiral once said, “You spend your first command proving yourself to yourself. You should spend your second and subsequent commands proving other people to themselves.”
He was – and is – right, but it also applies to every step in the surface warfare officer ladder. We all need to remember that we are there, amongst other things, to train our relief
In the most recent edition of Proceedings, CDR Darcie Cunningham, USCG, describes what she sees as the strategic challenge of cultural friction between millennial expectations and the rigors of professional military duties in an article titled, “Millennials Bring a New Mentality: Does It Fit?“
Now, mind you, I can be pretty dismissive of my own Millennial generation at times, but the reality is that our newest generation of Sailors are professional, courteous and – based on the fact we are the most kick-ass navy on the planet – doing a damn fine job. For the USCG, the service of the author, I’m often jealous of the exotic, far-afield deployments of their Mobile Training Teams and the challenging mission they do with our partners. As a Patrol Coastal guy the Gulf, I was glad to have the WP’s there to carry some of the load. Here at home? The response during Hurricane season is always a testament to the Sailors of the Coast Guard. Is there REALLY a strategic “millennial culture” problem or are we using the idea to run away from our REAL problems?
To answer the first part of that question, I will endeavor to respond to 12 major points posed by CDR Darcie Cunningham. I hope this better frames the reality of the “millennial issue.”
1. “This generation has me questioning how they can acclimate to the highly traditional, structured U.S. military.”
To the cognitive bias about “traditional (&) structured” – let’s talk about a generation in “general” terms being able to acclimate to those traditions and structures. The article is right – the millennial generation cannot row for days on end and do not like the sound of leather drums. I also find the horned helmet a bit heavy and the hamlets we burn down a bit boring. I also do not feel it necessary to fire cannon salutes upon the departure of the CO’s dinghy – I would note that getting Non-Combat Expenditure Allocation (NCEA) can be a pain, and I’d like to maximize the ammunition I have for training. I would also likely die if subjected to liberal use of lashings. Barring that, I would then likely chafe at the idea of paying for my commission or being rejected due to my family’s social standing. I also do not have the disdain for my steam plant engineers that other Union Officers have. Finally, I do not, in fact, know how to splice a mainbrace. That said, we do power some of our ships by rending apart the very base material of the universe. The ships that burn boring ol’ dead dinosaurs can shoot a bullet down with another bullet in space. You take what you can get, I guess.
2. “The younger generation postures to work only the bare minimum number of hours required. Additionally, they continuously request more time off in the form of early liberty, shorter workdays, the ability to go home after an office luncheon, and so on.“
With greatly decreased crew sizes and 8-10 month deployments, can we REALLY complain when people try to get some extra leave in? Can we even claim they “work less”? Long-gone are the times of a 300+ DDG crew and a rope-yarn day. Is this “extra” time off, or just normal requests that are now a bigger deal due to the normal workload. Now, that said, if there is time for an “office luncheon”, likely there is nothing critical going on and no reason to stay around the office for tradition.
3. Upon hearing they would not be in-zone for promotion or advancement in a given year, these younger members declare they are fed up with the service and wish to resign. They have an expectation of accelerated advancement through the organization, without regard for the value that experience provides to those in leadership positions.
People complaining about being looked over for promotion would seem completely in-line with reactions since the time some random Athenian strategos was looked over for command during the Peloponnesian War.
4. There are an increased number of negative confrontations between very junior members and senior leadership. Rather than saying “Yes Sir” or “Yes Chief” when tasked with a project or simple task, our newer members frequently question why they have to do it.
First, we now have different mechanisms of enforcement. Before my time, there was the threat of getting roughed up – that no longer exists. Naturally – mechanisms exist in NJP, counseling, discussion where appropriate, etc… but threats & violence were damn scary, and likely without it there will be naturally more friction than before – and a good thing too BECAUSE…
Our systems are increasingly based on technical knowledge that decision makers will not have without prior in-depth training. There will be no more Da Vinci-like experts of all things. Where once it was possible to master the knowledge of a ship in 10 years – it can now be a challenge to truly master the nature of some single systems in 20. While belligerence is not excusable, is all this actually belligerence from the subordinate or sensitivity from the superior? I’ve seen some Petty Officers forced to get pretty bellicose in order to avert a stubborn lurch towards disaster. Once in awhile, I was the one lurching – and thank God for their candidness! These are motivated, intelligent, and dedicated folks. Maybe part of leadership is to know when that “why” or “what” comes from a place of honesty – I find it is not for the purpose of avoidance or excuse, but a desire to understand or improve. It’s an opportunity.
If I may, I would also quote Alex Smith’s lovely post at the USNI Blog, the “Call of the Deep.” In it, he notes, “Mahan’s diary as a junior officer is a fascinating read. Many of his entries lament about his fear of drinking too much and his abhorrence of superior officers. ‘The Captain has annoyed me, and I have felt and spoken angrily and sullenly.'” Oh, that rascal millennial and his complaints – and a diary? Pshaw!
5. Customs and courtesies are eroding. Juniors are no longer smartly saluting seniors or verbally acknowledging higher ranks. On an almost daily basis, I hear, “Hi, how’s it going?”
There is some truth here. Perhaps we can be a bit more informal at times. It’s not a deadly sin, if a sin at all, but I suppose there are places where we could shore things up a bit. I, for one, do find more use in candid superior-subordinate engagements that usually lead to a bit more informality. That said, once I leave my office for lunch, I am pretty much saluting until I get back indoors if there is heavy foot traffic. I don’t see any slack in the saluting department and, personally, I like it. It allows me to salute back- which is the part I like. Call me a romantic.
6. Texting is becoming the primary mode of communication. It has already become a means of jumping the chain of command as a condoned communication tool.
Before we start, let us be clear about the problems here – “Jumping the chain of command” is not a “texting” problem. That is like saying a negligent discharge is a “bullet” problem. We shall touch on both.
To jumping the chain of command: Do we really see that much? I would say no. Let’s not stop there, however. When we do, is it always so bad? Is the problem one of people being sneaky or people trying to get things done in a timely manner. We all read the message-to-Garcia story as MIDN – is an hour of work-stoppage waiting for approval acceptable in an already daunting pile of PMS and repair issues? Of course, we do have an increasingly large number of supervisors and mangers running in parallel… perhaps an up-tick in “jumping the chain of command” is a natural side-effect of the increased number of bosses and not a symptom of generational issues?
To texting: there was a time when Sailors crossed the brow and didn’t come back until the next day – or Monday. There was no command expectation to have a cellphone leash at all times. In fact, many commands now require Sailors to have cellphones so they can be recalled. Texting is a short, to-the-point communication that can be sent to the entire command’s pocket – the ability to “leave a text” so someone comes in after a major casualty or maybe just a quick tool for finding people in one’s work-center. Sounds like a success for readiness.
7. We must educate them on the importance of patience in our systems.. If this doesn’t sit well with a young member, he or she should be subtly reminded of the current economy and associated unemployment rate.
A subtle reminder that if many of our management methods were used in a competitive market, our company would be exterminated within months. Anyone who clung to these systems because they were “what we had”, advocating for them merely because they were what they knew, would be quickly fired. Anyone who could think critically about these issues would be well on their way to success (though, granted, those who just complained about them endlessly would ALSO probably be fired). Must we automatically ascribe selfishness to the folks who think we can do better? If our service members expect our world-class military to function on a world-class level, good on them! If we say we’re the best, we should want to be the best.
8. They need to be “course-corrected” immediately if they show signs of insubordination or disrespect.
This happens every day – I have seen it, done it, and had it done to me. It is correct and appropriate. However, we must be careful to realize that, while the line may be fuzzy, informality is not “disrespect” and disagreement is not “insubordination” – the latter especially.
9. We must get back to basics. Customs and courtesies are the foundation of our military traditions.
(later) While I embrace the fact that we have a new generation that’s better educated, technologically astute, and poised to preserve our nation’s liberties, I also hope we can find a middle ground that will capitalize on their strengths and preserve our proud traditions.
We defend the constitution; we fight and win our nations wars – THAT is our “basic”. THAT is our foundation. THAT is our #1 priority. In Norfolk, there is a stand that claims to hold the lovely wooden helm from the USS MAINE – replaced for metal as our relationship with Spain began to strain. The customs and courtesies that change with time and tide as we pursue the mission are for us to decide and are of secondary importance.
As for where that tradition comes from, from E-1 to O-9, we all take part in creating a service-wide culture that merges tomorrow’s yesterday with ours. This gets at the subtle problem with the turn of phrase used here. Customs and Courtesies are not the foundation of our military tradition. Our military tradition is defined by our customs and courtesies. The article is right – things have changed. They always have. Harness that and use it – many of these things have changed for a reason. Tradition is not something we keep preserved in a jar passed to us in perfect form from the first Sailor. From our youngest SN with his iPad to our flush-faced comrades in the Continental Navy after a night of grog – each of Sailor in their own time is creating tradition for the next generation.
10. They also need positive feedback early and often. Little gestures such as going to their offices and offering accolades for jobs well done gives encouraging reinforcement and the feedback for which they hunger….
I’ll be the first to admit there are many things about my generation I cannot stand, though I reject that this characterization is correct for our warfighters – but, let’s entertain a small kernel of truth here. Why DO millennials sometimes engage in such childish shenanigans?
It’s this very perspective that enables nonsense. No, don’t treat your grown-up, educated subordinates like children; they are not gentle flowers. Do not create the self-fulfilling prophecy by choosing the easy, comfortable route of leadership by coddling and participation trophies. What they’re looking for is constructive input – good and bad- not blind accolades.
11. And finally . . . this needs to be said: We must be prepared for the tough conversation. Will they truly be able to adapt to the service?
Truly realize who we are talking about. These are uniformed service members who joined up in wartime to make a difference – what they’re looking for is knowledge and relevance, not a fight with their boss or some empty accolade. It is a mature desire, one informed by a drive to defend our way of life, in the best way they can, at potentially shattering cost.
12. “If millennials are more focused on what’s in it for them, they may not be the right fit.”
I may have neither risked nor sacrificed as much as many of my friends who served on the front lines of the Global War on Terror, but I did serve on the USS FIREBOLT and refurbished the 3 stars embedded in the floor of the mess decks. From the 2004 terrorist attack on ABOT and KAAOT, one of those stars belongs to DC3 Nathan Bruckenthal, first USCG wartime casualty since Vietnam. He didn’t ask what was in it for him.
Millions have gone out to the front lines of our global war against terror and not asked what was in it for them. Thousands have not come back – they did it for what was in it for us, the ones that live. They are all Americans, but one could throw a superficial label like “millennial” on many. Remember, when we write these kinds of articles, we are talking about leading people who, in the course of war, will have to kill – and some may have to die – in the service of their country. This kind of “millennial this” and “millennial that” talk doesn’t match that reality. This kind of talk is NOT what -we- should have “in it for them.”
I by no means think the purpose of this article was to ignore the great work of our shipmates, the ultimate sacrifice of our comrades, or the potential of so many others to bear that burden as well – but nevertheless, this kind of sentiment ultimately ignores it.
Matthew Hipple is a naval officer by choice and millennial by cruel twist of fate.