A reader’s comment in a previous post dealt with the challenge of identifying and promoting warriors. It’s no secret that our current leadership is chosen for qualities other than combat skills and a warrior’s mentality. Just as happened at the outset of WWII, when today’s combat comes we’ll be saddled with a leadership group that is completely inept at combat. Ideally, we should be finding and promoting warriors rather than the politicians that currently make up Navy leadership. That got me thinking about how we can institutionally achieve the goal of finding warriors to lead the Navy.
In order to proceed in this line of thought, we first need to understand how our current situation arose and why it persists. It’s not all that difficult to grasp, really. The “job” of the Navy should be to prepare to fight major wars. Instead, in the absence of war, the “job” of the Navy has become the pursuit of budget. Thus, our leaders are selected for their ability to ensure the uninterrupted flow of budget dollars and, if possible, increase the Navy’s budget share relative to the other services. Thus, in the Navy’s view, the enemy is not
or China but the other services and Congress. These are the “enemies” the Navy does battle
with. What kind of person can best lead
the Navy in this budget battle?
Obviously, it’s the person who is a smooth talker, understands politics,
enjoys trading favors, would never besmirch the Navy’s reputation with the
slightest mistake, is focused on accounting, business practices, and
organizational efficiency, has no desire to rock the boat, believes in
enthusiastically lining up behind his superiors and their policies regardless
of his own views, has a track record of supporting diversity or whatever the
cause-of-the-day is, and so on. Nowhere
on the list is there any reference to an aggressive personality, a casual
indifference to authority, a willingness to take a controversial stand, a
mastery of tactics, a willingness to calculatedly risk equipment and personnel
in order to accomplish missions, a willingness to engage in fights, a lack of
fear of making mistakes, an occasional bar fight, and so on. Russia
Given the natural characteristics that today’s Navy needs, is it even possible to identify and promote warriors since they are the antithesis of current leadership and current needs? In a word – no - not under today’s organizational structure. Okay, is there an alternate organizational structure that could identify and promote warriors? Possibly. I’ll now describe such a structure.
The root cause of today’s politicized leadership is money – specifically the pursuit of budget. Logically, the removal of budget would eliminate the selection pressure that results in political admirals and allow warriors to rise. Well, we can’t eliminate the budget. It’s a requirement to purchase equipment, pay sailors, and maintain ships. What we can do, however, is remove the people who pursue budget from the main line of naval command.
Just as there are many points of decision along a person’s life where a choice must be made to commit to one path or another, so too, we can create a split in the officer career path where an officer chooses to continue in the combat command path or chooses to continue in an administrative path.
The command path would have absolutely no interaction with, or responsibility for, the acquisition of equipment, the manipulation of monetary accounts, or any other aspect of budget. The command path would deal only with combat command. A combat command admiral’s entire focus would be combat, tactics, and readiness. Command admirals would serve only at sea or, to a limited extent, in a naval war gaming/college type group dedicated to strategic, operational, and tactical planning. I would guess that there would be a need for around 20 admirals.
The administration path would have absolutely no combat command authority and would serve only in administration, accounting, budgeting, logistical support, and physical support (administering bases, running repair facilities, and the like). These people would fight the budget battles, crunch numbers, manipulate accounts, and balance the books. Let me be clear, this would not be a punishment or second-class citizen job. Supporting the combat fleet is a necessary and vital job. I would guess there would be a need for around 30 admirals, the majority employed running large naval facilities or coordinating the budget battles.
The two separate paths allow for the selection of completely different sets of personal characteristics, each optimized for the appropriate role.
A command admiral doesn’t have to understand overhead costs, contract law, or future value of money. He doesn’t have to kowtow to Congressmen so he can get funding. He doesn’t have to sell his soul to get a new ship. A Combat admiral would be selected based only on his demonstrated combat capability. Absent actual combat, selection would be based on demonstrated strategic, operational, and tactical prowess during exercises.
As an aside, the Navy’s day to day operations would shift from presence to readiness and training. Operational and tactical exercises would become the norm as opposed to deployments. Yes, there would be some presence deployments in sensitive areas but even those should be done as combat exercises rather than passive presence.
An administration admiral doesn’t have to understand damage control, salvo equations, or multi-spectral stealth although having served in the fleet up until the career split point, he certainly ought to have a solid understanding of the fundamentals which, one can only hope, would help him better execute his administrative responsibilities.
The only real point of meeting or interaction between the two branches would be the definition and specification of fleet needs: ship and aircraft design, maintenance needs, readiness needs, desired manning levels, etc. This would be a mostly one-way interaction. Combat would tell Administration what it needs and Administration would attempt to fund and procure it. Of course, there would be some feedback such as when Combat requests 49 carriers and Administration points out that there is only enough budget for one carrier with the requisite characteristics every five years. It would then be up to Combat to decide whether they would rather have that one carrier every five years or whether they would rather change the specs and requirements in some way. In the end, though, Combat would have ultimate decision making authority regarding force structure and design.
Of course, in order for this to work, Combat admirals would have to be absolutely free of influence from the defense industry. This would require a law prohibiting retired admirals from ever working with or being in any way connected with the defense industry.
Additional changes and a host of details would need to be implemented and worked out but this is the basic concept. What do you think? Could it work?