Wednesday, June 25, 2014

CS21 Rev.1 Pre-show: Shadow Boxing Without a Light

When does schmaltz hide substance? When has good thinking become too socialized, chopped through too many stakeholders, overstaffed to the point there is nothing to grab hold of?

If you put yourself out there in front of some of your best officers, there are a few things to keep in mind; 1. Don't over-promise and under-deliver, 2. Your audience has finely tuned BS meter, and 3. Don't let your talking points get out of phase with what you are actually bringing to the discussion.

As most of you know, we about to see the roll out of the latest version of our maritime strategy. Rumbles and rumors are starting to come out.

Today we have a guest post anon to you, but not to me. A report from the front lines. The CNO has asked for a "crowd sourced" discussion. I don't think he is using that phrase right, but I know what he means. Well, I think he is going to get it.

The best thing for our nation and its navy is the creative friction only an open, critical, enthusiastic, and sharp elbowed discussion will bring out. When it hits the street, I plan to look at it as an invitation, not a solution.

As our author outlines ... perhaps it is best to keep your expectations low and your powder dry.

Shipmate, over to you.

It’s been thirty years since Clara Peller uttered the now well-known phrase “Where’s the beef?” Having just attended the Naval War College’s Current Strategy Forum, I’m left asking the same question. What was touted as an opportunity for the CNO to roll out his updated version of Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power (CS21) came and went with many asking another question: Did I miss something?

Admiral Greenert delivered an engaging and upbeat message addressing the importance of an “all hands on deck” effort to review and reexamine CS21. Suggesting that nobody has been seriously thinking about maritime strategy for the past few years, CNO took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and announced that now is the time to get down to work. Unfortunately, getting down to work will prove difficult, because ADM Greenert chose not to share any of his CS21 updates with the hundreds of mid-grade and senior officers in attendance. Perhaps in keeping with his statement, “if you talk about it openly, you cross the line and unnecessarily antagonize,” he instead chose to assemble a small group of hand-selected officers for a late afternoon roundtable discussion. An attendee described the focus group as a perfunctory “check in the block” where the only topic discussed was the PowerPoint outline of what the strategy brief might look like – not the actual strategy.

Admiral Greenert kicked off the symposium by stating, “Everyone – from junior, mid, and senior officers, to scholars, civilians, and retirees – owns a piece of this [strategy].” The problem is that not “everyone” was provided the requisite material to get to work. Why? Is it so heavily classified that it could not be discussed in an open forum? If that is the case, it would stand in stark contrast from previous strategies. Further, if our governing maritime strategy is too sensitive to discuss openly, is it really focused at the strategic level, or have we again mistaken tactics for strategy? Has the CNO grown self conscious of, or as he stated, overly concerned with unnecessarily antagonizing the Chinese? If that is the case, the CNO might have been wise to cancel the entire Current Strategy Forum, since while much of what was discussed during the two-day symposium was enlightening, the overwhelming theme was one of PRC/US alarmism. Does the CNO not really desire an open, “crowd-sourced” discussion (as he suggested)? If that is true, one must ask why he went to such lengths imploring the audience to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Or, is it the case that there are no appreciable changes to the Navy’s grand maritime strategy, and that this version so closely mirrors each previous edition as to be indistinguishable from them, save for new platforms (read: LC$ and J$F procurement). This seems to be the most likely answer. After all, maritime strategy (and military strategy writ large) hasn’t actually been about strategy in a long time.

This bit of the tail wagging the dog is particularly concerning as we sail towards a horizon clouded with fiscal uncertainty. Previous versions of CS21 told us what we were expected to accomplish and to what effect, but came up short of explaining how, and certainly didn’t have an eye toward sequestration. The 2014 rebranding gave the CNO an opportunity to provide an increasingly skeptical Congress (as well as the country in general) reasonably specific objectives and justifications for the funding he’s requested, without trespassing the line of “unnecessarily antagonizing” the Chinese. In choosing to punt, the CNO leaves the door open for us to wonder whether we need LCS and JSF to execute our strategy, or if we’re writing a strategy to justify LCS and JSF.
The author is a carrier aviator and student at the Naval War College. He does not believe Navy leadership fosters an environment such that junior and midgrade officers can write critically, yet respectfully of their seniors.

UPDATE: Solid additional thoughts by SteelJawScribe. Check 'em out.


1Team1Fight said...

Ahhh, the perfect tradition. The recently educated Officer, to be so informed and analytically equipped that he/she can fan the "spark" of discussion through witty sarcastic banter. Congratulations you can get the rubber stamp at the bottom of your degree now, you have successfully criticized your CNO.
Sorry you weren't invited to the discussion on CS-21R, and I think your absolutely right CNO really should have opened the discussion of maritime strategy to ALL of the Navy. I'm certain there would be a great deal of merit gained from 323,112 active-duty members talking about the Navy's new strategy. Oh I'm mis-interpreting your use of the application of "open forum." I'm sure this discussion could go on, and on, and ALL will have benefitted from this witty take on how Navy Strategy should be open sourced. Great discussion, look forward to some actual substance and discussion...maybe some A2/AD, Maritime Security, followed by some nanny, nanny, boo-boo.

Anonymous said...

This is a long-standing Navy policy of "I know what the answers are, I need you to provide the data to back them up." CNO's are not strategists, they are politicians and politicians are in the pockets of other politicians. The real strategy will come from the outside in Op-Ed pages and Essays and then be adopted by the Naval politicians. They are just pandering in this kind of environment.