Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Who's Running the Military?

ComNavOps has a simple question to ask.

Who is running the military?

That should be simple to answer.  Let’s just check to see who has produced the influential documents that are guiding the military.

First up would have to be the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) concept that has driven so much of the military’s efforts for the last few years.  This concept has been the basis for the entire naval amphibious assault concept changes (stand-off distances, high speed connectors, modified amphibious assault vehicles, etc.), the Pivot to the Pacific, the focus on longer range aircraft and missiles, and the termination of the LCS, among other notable actions and trends.  The author of that concept was the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).

Next would be the current offset strategy that Hagel and Work seem to be committing the military to.  In simplest terms, the offset consists of using networks and unmanned platforms to compensate for lack of numbers.  The author of that concept was the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).

So, the answer to who is running the military would seem to be the CSBA. 

I have nothing against using outside consultants to assist the military in its various planning efforts but wouldn’t you think the bulk of the high level “strategic” analysis should come from the professional, uniformed ranks?  If not, what are we paying them for?

After the CSBA, there is a second level of reports that shape the military and they are provided by GAO, CRS, DOT&E, and others.  These reports are usually narrowly focused on specific topics and help shape the implementation of the higher level CSBA guidance.

Finally, there is a third level of reports.  The military cranks out regular documents but if you’ve read any of them you know that they’re worthless, generic platitudes that are neither useful in concept nor used in practice and which offer no specific guidance.

Throw in the DoD’s near total reliance on industry to tell the military what it needs and what capabilities it can have and you have a picture of near total abdication of the intellectual guidance of our armed forces.  [Rant :  You don’t ask industry what the next “LCS/Small Surface Combatant” will do, you tell them what you want based on your strategic, operational, and tactical needs.]

What are our Admirals and Generals doing all day?  Clearly, they’re not producing any significant strategic thinking.  When did the military give up its role as the architect of professional military analysis?


  1. They are routing money to their future employers and polishing their resumes. They are more worried about who they know and get along with than with Critical Thinking. Given that is what pays the most I can't fault them for being rational people.

    Sorry but that is reality. We need to stop the revolving door!

  2. No anonymous is wrong. They are not doing that.

    Instead they are bogged down in the day to day operations of whatever of their specific organization. The 3 MEF CG is not personnaly planning the defense of South Korea and sending requirments to the Joint Requirements Oversight Council. Instead he is reviewing training stats, requests for forces from PACOM, meeting with the Mayor of Okinawa, determining who to send to Cobra Gold, determining if we need to do Cobra Gold with Thailand in the middle of a military coup, and so on.

    Read Robert Gate's book duty. He describes how everyone is caught up in the current crisis and no one ever thinks big. Our high level leaders only see 6 individual trees four feet in front on them, they never stop and see the forest.

    As for the lower ranks read this piece and read the response from Maj Peter Munson. He had a couple of blog posts questioning the AV-8B and the F-35B and he was called to the carpet by every high ranking Marine in his chain of command.

    1. Well said USMC 0802.

      Most GOFO would relish at the opportunity to devote time to Strategic thinking, but as you accurately point out, spend the majority of their days putting out "brush fires". Should they have the opportunity, absolutely, but the reality of it is that studies conducted are normally commissioned by factions of the Govt in lieu of our own Military leaders conducting it on their own.

      Why is CSBA so involved and influential? Where do you think Bob Work came from? I like what they write, read "like" not "love", and it is worth reading. But I, like most do not entirely accept as ground truth and the correct path forward.

      CNO runs the Navy ... His folks at OPNAV work very diligently to provide him the best info and keep the Navy moving forward.

    2. @USMC 0802

      True for the operational side, but for the procurement folks there is a very definite revolving door.

      Ask who the previous head of NAVSEA went to work for when he retired?

      How many retired USAF general officers are working for the prime or sub for the F-35?

      A great investigative piece would be to find out how many flag officers are employed in the defense industry.


    3. USMC, are you suggesting that with nearly 400 Admirals and 150 or so Generals, we can't free up a small group to devote themselves to strategic thought, free of day to day concerns?

    4. Yes. That is exactly what I am stating. They all have some billet or another, that requires them to run a day to day operation.

      Every now and again the are allowed several weeks to hash strategy but that is rarely their primary job. Instead the smart thinkers are routinely bounced in and out of key command billets to hit all the check marks for their next promotion. So even if very smart LtCol is sent to the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab he will not be there for very long. His LtCol time is needed as a BN Commander, Regimental XO, MEF G-3A, and BN Commander of 2nd BN at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. Then he is promoted to Col. At every one of those stops he is rarely if ever given a chance to think strategically or test out some new theory. Instead he is consumed with investigations, training stats, medical/dental readiness, budgets meetings, equipment readiness, safety stand downs, and addressing the latest hot button issue.

      To understand procurement you have to understand the JCIDS and JROC process.

      As for developing a strategy of course they have future ops cell, it is called the G-5 shop. However it is rarely the focus of the CGs time and their job is to have Operations Plans developed and ready to use. Again the big strategy thinking of training and organization, acquisition, and operational plans organizations is somewhat farmed out the training commands, warfighting labs and acquisition.

      All of this has lead to the ever steady rise of outsourcing of these matters. Even many members of the warfighting labs are retired officer's because you cannot keep an active duty officer in the post without ruining his career.

    5. Then we have a fundamentally flawed organization that should be demolished and reformed with a completely different focus.

      However, sadly, you happen to be correct which again leads me to state that our military leadership has failed. Every single flag officer should be let go. Yes, a few good officers would be lost but that's a price I'd gladly pay to revamp the organization.

  3. First off I hope to be proven wrong, but 40 years of experience says I am not.

    But to the specific point, if everyone is completely consumed with operations, then that is a MAJOR problem. Senior people need to recognize that thinking about the future IS PART OF THEIR JOB. If they are not doing it, they are NOT doing their job.

    Are we to believe that NO Senior Commands have cells that think about future operations? First off the Training and Doctrine Commands are TASKED with doing this, so at least we should be hearing from them. Second, if Senior officers can't carve out time in their day to review and think about the future then we have nothing but a bunch of micro managed/managers in charge. Ever heard of delegation?

    Even as a LT, you learn that the Gunny executes the Daily plan, you monitor, or supervise, and review the results - WHILE planning the next day or week exercises. Have the Generals and Admirals forgotten this?

    If current ops are consuming everyone - we have either the wrong people or the wrong mindset at work. Or my original premise is correct, I hope I am wrong.

    1. So the answer is, you are wrong. Yes, thinking strategically is part of their job, but most are very much tasked with the problems of the day and such. Some commands do have missions that address mission analysis and strategy, but most are a bit more near term focused.

      CNO Greenert actually received a letter from Rep. Forbes on the topic

      To quote Rep. Forbes, "“I write to you because of my sense that an effort to restore strategic thinking in the U.S. government must be started and championed by a strong advocate. I believe the Navy can be that champion and the Chief of Naval Operations can be its chief advocate.”

      It starts at the top, our leaders set the example.

    2. Anon, I don't know why the people who should be doing strategic analysis aren't. However, the evidence is overwhelming that they aren't. If you've followed this blog, you have more than enough examples of that.

      Note that the problem is not just related to strategic military thinking, as is the subject of this post, but also to organizational strategic thinking. Issues like manning, maintenance, and training are organizationally strategic topics and it's crystal clear that the Navy has made the wrong choices on every one of those and, generally, multiple times over.

      It's clear that there is little intelligent thought on any level or topic emanating from the Navy.

    3. AJF, I hadn't been aware of that letter. Thanks for the heads-up.

      Congress (not exactly a bastion of intelligence and responsibility) feels that the Chief of Naval Operations needs to be coaxed into being an advocate for strategic planning???! Now you see a major reason why I started this blog and why I'm so often negative about Navy leadership. Indeed, one of my major challenges is to find positive news bits to present as a balance. No easy task!

  4. CNO ... With you, not against you.

    Behavior does need to change, some times I think if some of these folks could take an outsiders perspective they would see that fundamentals are not being done correctly. Let's stop building ships when we have not properly designed and tested first. Let's not reduce manning until we can work our way through the second and third order effects. Seems simple, and frankly it should be. I am not that naive to dismiss politics and competing interests, but at Chris Berman from ESPN would say, "C'mon Man!"

    Great exchange.

  5. Okay I will accept that I am wrong that they are NOT ONLY seeking their next level of employment. That was my cynicism getting the discussion going. However, we must ALL admit have a sorry state of failure of managers and lack of leadership. My point was well made that the Congress has to request that the CNO do strategic thinking.

    But ironic how almost every 3/4 star winds up as a VP or Member of a Defense Contractor Board of Directors. Even Gen Mattis (considered by many as a strategic thinking General) wound up on a board. These are the same people that have no time for, or the discipline to make time for, strategic thinking. We all might want to start wondering how those people can help lead corporations.

    Having studied military history I find it amazing that we can allow people that should be leaders to get away with not doing an important part of their job.

    Just a couple of examples. Do you think that Hannibal was consumed with sword practise? Do you think that Manstein was consumed with the daily tank battles of 6th Panzer Div as his left flank disolved? No he was thinking about how letting the Russians in more would allow him to use 1st and 4th Panzer Army to defeat them. Do you think that Nimitz was consumed with the Battle of the Coral Sea as he planned the Midway Campaign? I could go on but the point is we have a dearth of leaders and we better find some quick.

    1. Anon, you are quite correct that the practice of Generals and Admirals accepting employment in defense companies creates a long, drawn out conflict of interest that may prevent the serving leaders from acting in the country's best interests. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed by making such a conflict of interest illegal.

      That said, I'm not sure that is the cause of the dearth of strategic thinking by our uniformed leadership.

      We've forgotten what war is and part of that is that we've forgotten what strategy is. Having forgotten what it is, why would we think about it? Deplorable but true.

      All in all, a good comment! Thanks.

  6. I think one of the problems faced is the unwillingness to specify what enemies you are planning to combat and what constitutes winning against these countries. ie having a single strategy for all.

    In the case of Libya (and a lot of other countries) action against them can be achieved by cruise missile attacks, followed by manned aircraft to degrade/ destroy their ability carry out A2/AD. You can then move your land forces into the area if thats the objective. The US already has that ability. Not to say that it doesn't need to be improved though.

    When you start talking about China (and anyone else with the ability to deploy nuclear weapons at range) though, the situation is different. Launching cruise missiles at them and using manned air to roll back their A2/AD network becomes very risky with a big chance of escalation. A separate strategy becomes necessary. Defeating/combating China in this case mainly means being able to stop them taking and keeping teritory held by US allies. This means you're not looking at China vs US. You're looking at China vs the US AND it's ally. And the objective of the Chinese that we're defending against is to conduct an opposed landing and invade and occupy territory. Certainly, not a easy job, indeed, something the Marines and Navy view as impossible!

    The job of the defining US strategy now becomes clearer and is supporting the allied A2/AD abilities in thwarting China invasion first, and secondly, to help US allies to retake occupied terrioty taken. The 2 CSBA stratergies (if they are stratergies) are too generalistic and likely to be very expensive.

    Dave P

  7. The biggest issue I see is that of competing vested interests.

    It would be nice if it was as simple as the Navy outlines its strategy, gets it approved by the Executive.

    We have a system that allows the defense industry direct influence the process by funding the election of members of the various defense committees in Congress. Those members then have a direct say over the approval of strategy and the procurement process.

    In addition you have various think tanks who have the advantage of being unregulated, so can say what they like because nobody is saying they represent the government. That said those members of congress often tend to list to these, such that the CNO has to complete with these alternative points of view.

    Example if it came out that the Australian that the Minister of Defense was receiving campaign donations from a major like Lockheed Martin, it would be a massive political scandal, and he would have to resign as the defense minister. In the US this is considered normal and you wonder why the Navy is forced to buy ships it does not appear to need, or are outside the published strategy?

    My perspective is that the Navy is playing the game the way as it has been played for a very long time. You sometimes do things you would rather not do, to get the things you do.

    The problem is there is not enough money to continue business as usual and cover up all the problems caused by the game and game is not going away anytime soon.


  8. The three and four star officers with whom I’ve had the privilege of closely working were voracious readers, and complex thinkers. Their schedules were surely packed, but they still had time to read peer reviewed foreign policy or business journals. Those men retired to consulting, university, think tank, and government, not the defense industry.

    However, as USMC 0802 said, everybody below them is shoveling coal for 16+ hours a day.

    In reality, the military does not have the sole charter to set policy or strategy. The most senior civilian and military members of the department should be providing the best possible advice regarding the ends, ways, means equation, but administration and legislative policy makers don’t have to listen.
    The Navy doesn’t fight wars. It’s been that way since 1947. Like the rest of the Services, the Navy is a force provider. The Services provide units of employment to the COCOMs, who fight the wars. COCOMs write the plans that identify mission essential tasks and gaps the Services then use to justify procurement. PACOM may not think that LCS is a “proper frigate” – whatever that means, as SWOs can’t even figure it out – because it can’t go toe to toe with a JAINKIA in the SCS, but CENTCOM, EUCOM, AFRICOM, and SOUTHCOM want a fast hull with a gun to do mil to mil engagement, maritime interdiction, counter piracy, and swarm boat defense. COCOMs are worried about the 9000 daily Phase 0 operations that keep him out of Phase 2 and beyond.

    The best the Service can do is emphasize its core unit of employment (CVBG, MAGTF, etc) and concepts of operation, and even then COCOMs have OPCON to task reorganize as required.

    Each of the Services have distinctly different views of the ways and means required to best achieve the ends – views that favor landpower, seapower, or airpower. So you could have a national maritime strategy if: 1. The Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Civil Mariners can agree. 2. It nests within a national military strategy - i.e. it doesn’t step on the Army, Air Force, SOCOM, or IC’s toes. 3. It nests within a larger well-articulated National and Grand Strategy that incorporates all other elements of national power.

    In the past 30 years, we have transitioned through bipolar Westphalian balance of power, to unipolar transformational interventionism, to multipolar semi-isolationist interventionalism, and pivoted from Europe, to the Middle East, to the Pacific, to the Middle East, to Ebola…

    V/R Trons Away

    1. VRTA, I'm not sure what point, if any, you are making as regards the premise of the post. In any event, I'll offer a couple of points related to your comment.

      You suggest that the military does not have the sole charter to develop strategy. Assuming we're talking about military strategy, which was the focus of the post, you're correct that there is no statutory requirement that miltary strategy eminate from the military but we would all hope that the bulk of the military strategy would come from our uniformed, professional warriors. If not, one has to seriously question their competance or their focus.

      The Navy doesn't fight wars? I'm not sure what you mean by that. You're making a point but I'm missing it. Try again?

      You may be confusing strategy with methods (operations). Our military strategy should support our geopolitical strategy (which we don't have in any coherent fashion, at the moment!) and should define the broad objectives and means to achieve those objectives. The actual methods (operations) needed to execute that strategy are just that: methods and operations, distinct from strategy.

      The Dept of Defense has to develop our military strategy. Presumably, the SecDef and Joint Chiefs, among others, would be the ones doing that by initiating studies, high level wargames, debates, etc. and then formulating a coherent strategy from which would flow specific tasks to the individual services and guidance to R&D and procurement to support that strategy.

      There's nothing wrong with using outside, civilian help but when all of our strategy is coming from outside sources (one, in particular) we, again, have to ask what our uniformed professionals are doing and why we're paying them.

      We certainly can't use the excuse that people are too busy with day to day concerns. We have close to 400 Admirals. We can certainly free up a small group to focus on strategy development.

  9. V/R or V/r means Very Respectfully. I'm guessing that you're not in the business.

    There are about 150 Navy specific and 60 Joint Navy FOGO requirements. In my last agency alone there were more Senior Executive Service officers (flag equivalent) than flag officers in the entire Navy. I guess you've also not served in DC. If a Service considers a project important, they'd better assign a FOGO to interact with OSD, National Security Staff, or Congressional Staffers. It's just a prestige issue.

    As to "the Navy doesn't fight wars" - the CNO has no operational control over fielded forces. That belongs to combatant commanders through Fleet Forces Command.

    As to your original point about CSBA, or CNAS, or Rand, etc. I agree. I am often surprised how much credence DoD gives to "policy experts" that write on areas in which they have no specific experience or expertise.

    1. Sorry! Forgot Very Respectfully, and BEAT ARMY!

  10. CNO, that bit about CSBA sounded like it was ripped from the pages of Sam Tangredi's book, Anti-Access Warfare; countering A2/D2 strategies...


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