Monday, January 26, 2009

A strange alignment ...

During the Cold War, I could not stand the Center for Defense Information because it had 180 degree lockoff on, well, everything. They are still mostly wrong from my POV - but on balance those who work there are fine patriots who just have a different opinion, and that is fine.

As a result, I find myself looking in the mirror for indications of stroke because - brace yourselves - I am about to recommend something from them. You can download for free all 271 pages of their new book America's Defense Meltdown here, or read it as embedded below. The Navy specific portion was written by William S. Lind, for those who know his work.

There are a few of his recommendations that I think are wrong - but you know me - I don't look for perfect agreement but for creative friction. Anyway, I don't want to focus on those areas I think are fuzzy-headed, I'm not even going to ping on them. He does hit on one thing that I am in perfect alignment with him and have been since the first month of this blog back in '04; it is that which I am going to focus on: the sourcing and education of our officers.
The principal personnel problem of the U.S. Navy is that its officer corps is dominated by technicians. This is in large part the legacy of Admiral Rickover, who ensured that the nuclear power community was made up entirely of engineers and that engineering was the main focus of the Navy’s officer education, especially at the Naval Academy. All skippers of U.S. Navy submarines, our capital ships, must be nuclear engineers. This is in strong contrast to Britain’s Royal Navy, whose submarine commanders have nuclear engineers working for them where they belong, in the engine room. The other influential community in the U.S. Navy’s officer corps, the aviators, are also primarily technicians, people whose main skill is flying high-performance aircraft.

The reason this is problematical is that the technical-engineering way of thinking and the military-tactical-strategic way of thinking are opposites. War is not an engineering problem. The opponent is men, not machines, and as Colonel Boyd said, they use their minds. If they are clever, their minds lead them away from a direct trial of strength, which may be roughly calculable, to asymmetric strategies and tactics, which put a premium on indirectness, imagination, creativity and surprise. Most engineers, which is to say most U.S. Navy officers, cannot deal well with challenges of a type they do not expect and that do not lend themselves to quantitative calculation. While those officers usually do a superb job of navigating and operating their ships under peacetime conditions, fighting them effectively may require qualities few engineers possess.

The domination of the U.S. Navy by engineers reinforces the service’s Second (or perhaps First) Generation War institutional culture. Like the other U.S. armed forces, the Navy’s culture is inward-focused, risk-averse and centralized, preferring obedience to initiative and relying on top-down control rather than self-discipline.
To back up his point - guess what the USNA Marshall Scholarship winners from Annapolis are going to study?
  • MIDN Kyle Checci, first in his class, and majoring in chemistry will pursue a Master of Science in international health policy at the London School of Economics.
  • MIDN Kelly Zahalka, majoring in history with a minor in Chinese and currently an exchange student at Beijing Capitol Norman University, will pursue a Master of Arts in Chinese studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.
  • MIDN Henry Donaghy, a double-major in physics and mechanical engineering, will pursue a Master of Science in sustainable energy futures at Imperial College in London.
  • MIDN Benjamin Zintac, also an engineering undergrad, will pursue a Master of Science in autonomous vehicle dynamic and control at Cranfield University.
One out of four non-technical, is that balance? Another data point. BTW, BZ to all four and Annapolis. Outstanding performance and a life-changing reward for all your hard work. Leverage it.

Feel free to joke that you get what you pay for for the book from CDI - but there is a lot here to ponder from ground, air, sea and acquisition with their tome. Ponder - and let me know what you think ... snicker ... especially about the aircraft carrier ideas SJS ..... CLEARING DATUM.....

Americas Defense Meltdown Full Text

Hat tip Philip Ewing at NavyTimes.

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