Monday, February 6, 2017

Promoting Warriors

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 China or Russia 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.

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?


  1. Actually the Navy already has a system in place to ID 'warrior gene' in its midst. It is call SEALs. I'm sure SEALs already has a try&true evaluation process in its selection, training, and proving ground (i.e. endless SpcOp missions) to find warriors. Perhaps, the Big Navy can somehow incorporate/filter its academy Midshipman/or young officers thru that 'special Navy, known as SEALs', to ID/build a future general officer corp with 'warrior gene', and the Big Navy can then add engineering/accounting/PR/MBA skills on top, to maintain current Pax-Americana Navy (i.e. a cop with a patrol car/carrier that must last 50 yrs). However, if an emergency arrives (or war as you called it), the 'warrior gene' switch can be flipped on.

    1. Tim, unfortunately you are missing on nearly every aspect of this! SEALs are low level personnel. Our selection process for flag rank considers none of the SEAL characteristics. We can generate all the low level warriors we want but if they can't make flag, it serves no purpose.

      You're also missing the point that once an officer makes admiral, his entire mission changes to one of budget. Even if we could somehow, miraculously put a warrior into an admiral's slot, he'd be forced to focus on budget and all the games that go along with it, in order to do his job. As I pointed out in the post, the "job" is budget, not war. A warrior in a budget job is ineffective.

      You badly miss the concept of warfighting and readiness. It's not something that can be "flipped on". A warfighting mentality and readiness is something that takes years to develop. Strategic, operational, and tactical prowess isn't flipped on, it's developed over years of exercise and trials.

      You fight with what you have and are. You don't say, war was declared today so let's all be warriors. If you were accountants, you'll fight like accountants. This was conclusively proven at the start of WWII. Acknowledge the history!

  2. I suspect that this is necessary.

    The other big problem is the "up or out system" and the career pyramid, which encourages excessive careerism. Those must go. We need an "up or stay" system.

    Also, rank must not have its "privileges", as to discourage careerism.

    The other half of this though is that the defense industry, its lobbyists, and other industry types need to be brought down a few pegs. Anti-corruption laws have to be put into place. Lockheed and the biggest contractors should be broken up into several smaller contractors.

    1. We have truckloads of anti-corruption laws - we just don't enforce them.

    2. I suppose there is that.

      Anti-trust must also be a thing again. Second tier shipyards, aircraft makers, and other military equipment suppliers too should be given a shot.

  3. You touch on the most difficult thing to do in an organization - grow the next generation of leaders and not careerists.

    I don't think separate career paths is the answer. Trying to isolate someone from a bad influence seldom works.

    Instead a leader at the top has to start screening the next generation to see if they can do what they want on their own. I believe that rigorous wargames/exercises offer the best way to evaluate people. NOT the current crop of games/exercises but ones with real problems and real evaluators.

    Even surprise underway drills or shooter drills will go a long way to identify who is pencil whipping a C2/C1 status.

    General Grey once held a 2nd Marine Div exercise on an
    Army base so no one was familiar with the terrain. He then had a surprise drop of an Airborne unit into the exercise. The local tank unit commander that realized that parachutes that are not planned are probably bad and that Airborne troops HATE tanks, showed initiative and responded on his own. He went on to greater things.

    These kind of things can screen for who has "it". But it has to come from the SecNav/SecDef so that there is a real honest screening.

    1. My idea is very unlikely to happen but your idea, that suddenly a miraculous leader appears and changes everything is even more unlikely! :)

      SedDef and SecNav are political appointees. There is no chance that they will ever be that magic leader. The system, as I described, actively selects for budget chasers so there is no chance that a warrior will come up from the ranks in the current system.

      The Marines, once upon a time, had warriors in charge but even they have now lost it.

      My idea, as I said, is highly unlikely but it does offer a bureaucratic method of producing warriors.

    2. I agree that my approach depends on a strong appointee. Yours depends on the CNO and BUPERS. We are both probably gonna have to wait a while for things to change.

      Maybe we have a Warrior SecDef now who will read this blog and change things.

    3. Actually, my approach probably requires an act of Congress to legislatively mandate a total reorganization of the Navy. As I said, highly unlikely!

  4. Your idea of a separate non-combat arm does have a positive precedent in the WACS/WAVES of WW2. Granted, the Wacs have their roots in 1940's sexism, but they did an excellent job. They handled paperwork/bureaucracy, ferried planes, and provided many different non-combat functions. All in the name of freeing up others to perform the actual combat.

    Perhaps this a bureaucratic arm, could be more like MSC and be made up of civilians and let service personnel be purely combat. Purely combat with VETO power over bad procurement decisions that is.

    Personally I think this Auxiliary branch should preferentially hire former enlisted who've seen combat and not allow any former staff officers. I'd take the procurement advice of a Gunny sergeant who lost his legs in Falleujah over an Admiral who spent their career pouring coffee at the Pentagon any day, even if his only experience with ships was riding an LHA to Iraq.

    1. "made up of civilians"

      I think that in order to run Navy bases, order the assignments of personnel, etc., they would have to be Navy ranking officers. I was serious that the Administrative branch would be a real and vital branch. The flag officers would have rank and authority in all but combat matters. I don't think civilians could legally or practically do that. The Navy experience that the Admin officers would have would also prove vital.

  5. I purposefully held off from commenting on this post. Wow, talking about biting off a chunk....

    You seem to be talking about the US Navy here and the officer corps specifically and line officers only. I will assume that line officers are whom are suggesting trying to instill/re-instill a warrior ethos. I will also assume you know those Navy line officer specialities- surface warfare, submariner, aviator, SEAL, EOD and some other cat dog. You can study the non-line officer communities- they are the specialites from medicine to supply to maint to acquisition.

    Can you pick a place in time when the situation (your opinion) was acceptable with enough warriors at the helm? That would help. We can always improve things when going back with tradition and how it was taught/acquired before.

    In the olden days of the mid to late 1970's all of line officers from whatever the source were told we all could be CNO. Look to the left, look to the right...You've heard about it. That was the way it was.
    We were all expected to be warriors as line officers and if you weren't considered as such, you were done. This was in effect until at least the late 90's from my experience.
    We were expected to progress through our warfare communities after learning our core skills as pilot in command, aircraft commander, mission commander, strike lead, operations officer DH, Maint dept head, XO then CO. In between tours we could be expected to teach others (instructor), serve on operational level of war STAFFS, get graduate education, go to war college, etc, etc. The list is immense about career potential but that fleet experience path to CO was key and in most cases spent at sea on carriers, ships and subs. SAELS as you know are fierce warriors but limited in scope to the operational level of war. In 1970's until GWOT there was only (1) SEAL flag officer to lead the Navy community and there was not an immense 4 star big $$ command like today.

    IMO the operational level of war leadership roles(CSG/Fleet) only includes those aviators, shoes, and bubbleheads who have earned it, by being at sea....

    Therefore BG's and CSGs are led by fleet experienced admirals who went through the squadron or ship (surf/sub) pipeline as operator, watch stander, DIVo, DH, XO and CO. That is how warrior were developed. Fitness reports were supposed to be competitive and the Navy could choose those Warriors it needed.

    there are acquisition specialities. Within aviation they are called AEDOs. With an engineering degree a one tour operator can become an acquisition professional and never go to sea again, yet reside in a Systems Command for 20 or more years, easily make O-6 and call it a day. In the olden days we warriors looked askance at that choice because what they chose wasn't the real Navy but because they wanted to stay home...
    Nowadays the acquisition professional community of shore dwellers actually run the show at the SYSCOMS top to bottom and their reall fleet experience is very thin. The only window they get to the Fleet operational world is what they read about or what OPNAV reveals to them.. You be the judge of that system. this is what you get when you specialize officers.....

    If you want warriors you have to cultivate them the old way and the hard, at-sea way. That's how it always always was and needs to be. It isn't called service for nothing and it is supposed to be an avocation not just a profession and never a job. Look up the word avocation.

    Aviators need flight time and leadership bringing formations to a target, shoes need to spend time in CIC or on the bridge firing weapons and sub warriors need sub patrols that they become so pale they get a sunburn in 5 minutes!

    Naval Warriors need air/sea time, good warrior leaders to follow and learn from, and the knowledge that any of them can become CNO. Back to the basics no specialized pathways...


    1. Ummm ... Okay, you've stated the obvious. Now, what point do you have to go along with it? Or, have I missed your point?

    2. My point was this. As a documented naval warrior myself (LOL), I described how they were developed and nurtured. I then described in general how they specialized and what was expected of them (line officer warriors) in command of operational forces. You allude to this as the obvious but don't seem to view what happened in the past as relevant. All I know is what actually worked.

      I'll be more specific- Naval Warriors can be developed within the system as long as the system is not toyed with via pathways for warrior/non-warrior as you possibly allude to. Or as what has happened the past 20 years of social engineering and "change".

      Those in acquisition (business) and other specialties (logistics, etc) already exist within our officer rank structure and those "non-line" officers by rule cannot command operational war fighting ships or squadrons. And shouldn't. Distinctions are made between line and non-line officers and further distinctions between warfare designator codes to numerous to mention here. But you already have a working knowledge of that, right? Enforce the difference between them and warriors.

      As I asked, is there any period of the historical record in the last 50 years or so when you think we had a good crop of warriors serving at the same time we were able to perform the business side of being officers? If you can't pick a period where you think were had enough real warriors I can't help you re-engineer defining what being a warrior is all about as a naval officer..

      Get rid of some of the crazy stuff around the edges, exhibit real leadership demand responsibility and accountability. Rely on naval tradition and history to guide you. We did it post Jimmy Carter/Zumwalt during the Reagan build up 1981-1988. Start there for a recipe.


    3. Going way back, we certainly had warriors leading the Navy coming out of WWII. That momentum carried on until the 60's, at which point we began experimenting with social aspects of the Navy at the expense of warfighting. We experienced a resurgence of warrior emphasis with the Cold War, so there's my direct answer to your question. From the 90's on, we've seen a steady shift from warfighting to social/budget priorities, leading to our current situation.

      There's no mystery about why WWII and the Cold War were able to produce warriors - we had actual wars that provided a selection pressure for those traits. Now, we lack that pressure although a resurgent Russia and a militaristic/expansionistic China may, eventually, cause a return to warfighting although there is no evidence of it as yet.

    4. In retrospect, it was easy to seen coming.

      Officers with responsibility controlling the budget and making sure money was actually spent so your budget didn't go down next year was primary.

      Suddenly we had Mr. Deming and transformation and change for change sake! I knew then that doublespeak was going to prevail... During the Clinton years it was pounded home that all that mattered was: "Its the economy stupid" and that the "peace dividend" taken directly from the US military's budget.... Then the problems became were "Outsourced", or a commercial solution was preferable. We're all businessmen, right?

      Suddenly we had 9-11 and some evil suckers to fight. As a result weird designs for missions, shipbuilding and the like were adopted and funded. Pilotless drones got a lot of attention and R&D $$, but for what? Not real combat power to date I can see. Then of course then came predictable outcome of not taking care of the 1980's equipment at regular phased or upkeep periods because of operational necessity drove us into todays hole. Meanwhile the past eight "Bizarro World" years we had Mabus, green fuel, LCS and a number of strange machinations about what is truly important. we have had 18 years of shoe or sub CNOs.. Had you noticed that? Yet nearly 60% of all line officers are aviators...

      So today Of course we don't have much of a serious "warrior culture" left in Big Navy (air/surface/sub) communities. How could it be otherwise given that the culture has been allowed to change the Navy?

      having a bigger navy isn't going to solve the problem by itself. Nope the only way is to go back to basics like we did in 1980. I don't know any other way to do it and I certainly know that hiring a bunch of exFlags companies to consult with won't help either.... Hopefully Mattis remembers.. but I can't be sure and I don't have much faith in single horsemen...


  6. CNO unfortunately your budget warriors have struck again according to a new fox news story

    Using need headline budget tactics they slide to this. 2/3 of the aircraft are grounded due to maintenance issues and worse. Some submarines in the fleet have been out of service for long periods of time -- in some cases more than four years. One sub, the Boise, even lost its diving certification because it was out of commission for so long.

    Officials claim that if more money doesn’t become available soon, another five submarines could lose certification, according to the military news agency.

    It would appear the situation is far worse than your article suggested

    1. I forgot the source article for citation purposes

      Nearly two-thirds of Navy planes grounded due to years of budget cuts

  7. I am dumbfounded (naive!) to find out that what you are proposing is not so. OMG.


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.