Thursday, February 14, 2019

Education for Seapower: Sound Diagnosis; Unsound Prescription

As the education of naval leaders has been a regular topic here and on Midrats through the years, I’ve been looking forward for the Final Report from the Education for Seapower (E4S) Study.

Here are links for the Study and the MEMO for Distribution from the Under Secretary of the Navy Modly that kicked it off.

It is a beast to digest, but you really only to chew through 65 or so pages.

Unfortunately, after slogging through, I have to say this is a failed opportunity. I got about 5-pages in to the 65 when it dawned on me that we were going to double-down on old, tired, and broken habits to try to move the ball on providing opportunities to grow the intellectual capital of our Navy and Marine Corps. As delivered, I have little confidence this will accomplish that goal.

Back in April 2018, the Under’s kick-off memo said a couple of things that gave me hope;
To shape this more lethal force, we must begin by thinking anew about how those strategies and capabilities are developed in the first place - with our most critical resource - human creativity and talent.

I will consider every viewpoint tendered before making my final recommendations to the Secretary, and the report will be made widely available to all.
This is good, true, and commendable.

However, there were also indications that this might be doomed from the start.
With this mandate firmly in mind, I am forming an independent subject matter expert team to conduct a comprehensive study of learning throughout the Department of the Navy. The Department of the Navy (DON) Education for Seapower (E4S) study team will seek input from experts and proven national-level leaders from government, academia, and private industry. They will use this information to develop a series of observations and recommendations for knowledge-based continuous learning throughout the naval services. In order to be effective, the results of this study must be just as consequential and pervasive as the challenges to our national security, as expressed in the 2018 National Defense Strategy.
I don’t have to tell you the history of anything in DC that is sold as “comprehensive” and “pervasive.” As it their nature, regardless of their individual talents and accomplishments, if your study is populated by those seeped in DC culture, you will get something excessively bureaucratic, birthing ersatz self-justifying empires that quickly diverge from their stated charter towards self-preservation and job security.

Yes, I am fully aware of my biases, but I came in to this with hope and an open mind. The lost opportunity to leverage the intellect we have in house has been a frustration of mine for 30 years. Too much effort was spread too thin over a preconceived structure.

First let me start with what is very good in the report.

In a way, this is the tale of two reports and it becomes clear in the above referenced first 5-pages. I’ll get back to the “Scope of the Study and Approach” plus the “Executive Summary” portions next – as they are on the naughty-list – but let go to the Introduction.

This is just solid stuff, very clearly identifying some of the challenges.
Education has long been the key strength of the American naval profession and a force multiplier for our Sea Services. For generations, the question of how to educate naval leaders has been subject to review and reform. From the founding of the U.S. Naval Academy in the 1840s and the U.S. Naval War College in the 1880s, through the Cold War and creation of Marine Corps University, naval education has adapted to changes in the character of war and the United States’ role in the world. However, the education of leaders goes beyond the war colleges and schoolhouses of the Navy and Marine Corps. In 1818, a young David Farragut spent nine months with the American Consul in Tunisia studying mathematics and languages, where he was introduced to the Islamic religion and North African culture. Lieutenant Chester A. Nimitz spent a year on what today the Navy would call a corporate fellowship, learning about the production of new diesel engines in pre-World War I Germany. The Navy sent Lieutenant Arleigh Burke to the University of Michigan for two years to receive his graduate degree in Chemical Engineering in 1931. Non-traditional personal study and career intermissions, learning from the corporate and civilian sector, attendance at leading civilian graduate schools, and Fellowships at leading public policy research institutions, all have an important contribution to the creation of a dynamic, adaptable, and innovative Navy and Marine Corps.

The United States finds itself at the crossroads of several significant changes in our modern world. We are seeing the return of great power struggle, and the rise of nation state competition, on the world’s oceans and ashore. Simultaneously, society and technology are experiencing a revolution in computing and data science, with the development or artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. These changes are progressing with a concurrent shift in the tactical and operational level of naval power, from the development of hypersonic weapons and cyber military capabilities, to the growth of asymmetric conflict in the form of maritime militias and irregular forces operating short of declared war.

The current and future leaders of the United States Navy and Marine Corps will have to deal with these challenges, and will have to be prepared for the challenges that lay just beyond the horizon as well. In the Cognitive Age, where leaders have to deal not only with incomplete data but also with analysis and decision making in a world that involves overwhelming data, the ability to evaluate information, reason strategically and ethically, and act decisively, will be essential elements of future success. These are skills that can be taught. These are talents that can be developed. The challenges and multi-disciplinary issues of our contemporary world can and should be specifically examined through our naval education programs.
This outlines the issues exceptionally well. The next bit points me to my major critique of the report;
The Department of the Navy is an extremely complex organization. We must ensure the Department understands changes in its external environment and adapts strategy, plans, technology, tactics, and operational concepts accordingly.
Bingo. Exactly true. Outside engineering though, the most complex problems are best addressed with simple solutions. That does not seem to be the direction we are going in this case.
It is highly unlikely that the greatest naval strategists and leaders of our past, such as Mahan, Ellis, and Krulak would be successful in today’s bureaucratic environment.
Fix that statement in your mind. If we have an excessively bureaucratic environment, do we fix it by … growing the bureaucracy?
When examining long-term global trends, the United States Intelligence Community expressed its concern with America’s K-12 education system, noting that other nations are surpassing the performance of our once cherished institutions. The rest of the world has taken notice of the intrinsic value of education, and has taken action. Revanchist powers and our allies both recognize the importance of military education and they are in the process of retooling their programs (see Appendix B). Maintaining a cognitive advantage over potential adversaries is of vital importance, as is keeping pace with our partners and friends; preserving the status quo state of lethargy would be a strategic blunder – one that no naval leader should be willing to make. As we face this vital inflection point, now is the time for change.
Can you feel the impending overreach? Here is comes;
Vigorous and transformative connections amongst education, research, science and technology, simulation and war-gaming, operational testing and Fleet exercises have never been more important. This requires a comprehensive approach and an effort that is coordinated and collaborative rather than stove-piped and individual to each educational institution. It is not only our charge to protect these precious instruments that help us understand and prepare for future conflict – it is our duty to challenge the assumptions of the manner in which we organize, resource, oversee, and network those instruments for maximum agility in anticipating that future despite an uncertain strategic environment.
The "T" word. Say "hi" to Admiral Mullin.

If you read this from the start, you have already seen the following, but here is what they want to do.

Remember the bureaucrat's first instinct; control. With control comes power. With power comes money. With money comes growth. With growth comes more control. Cycle.

Early on in the ES, we were warned.
Necessary teachings of advanced technology in strategic education curricula are haphazard and randomly pursued, made more difficult by the Department’s decentralized approach to education…
…and we’re off and running.
… we propose a major reorganization by creating a Naval University that enables a new alignment and orchestration of efforts amongst the various institutions of naval education: the United States Naval Academy, Naval War College, Marine Corps University, Naval Postgraduate School, Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, Officer Candidate School, Federal Executive Fellowships, and all Flag/General Officer education. Our proposed structure retains the special characteristics and strengths of each educational institution, while aligning policy, budget, and acquisition authority in order to provide increased agility and accountability...
Take a moment before we move forward to ask yourself which already fully employed person who has found themselves “dual-hatted” was able to do the first job just as well, and the second job as it should be done?

Right. None.
Naval University, headed by a three-star naval officer President, dual-hatted as President, Naval War College with a five-year term, rotated between the Navy and Marine Corps, located in Newport, Rhode Island,

Chief Learning Officer, a senior civilian with educational leadership experience headquartered in the Pentagon, with a small supporting staff transferred from extant Navy and Marine education management billets, responsible to the President, Naval University...

Program Executive Office, Naval Learning Systems (PEO – L), established by dual-hatting the current Commander, Naval Air Warfare Center – Training Systems Division in Orlando, Florida,

Naval Community College, under the leadership of the President, Naval University, to facilitate education and certifications for enlisted Sailors and Marines that are relevant to the Naval Services.
That takes in to account a immodest respect towards leadership risk.

There is something to be said for not having everyone under one structure. Not all stovepipes are the same. The Kulaks did produce more grain than the collective farms, dontchaknow.

Does this look like an effective organization to you?
Institute a single Naval Education Governing Board for the Naval University, chaired by the Secretary of the Navy, with the Chief of Naval Operations and Commandant of the Marine Corps as co-chairs. This board will also include on a rotating basis one of the Navy’s four-star fleet commanders and Commanding General Fleet Marine Force Atlantic or Pacific. Other senior commanders should be appointed to bring specific skills such as cyber, space or intelligence.

- Create a Board of Advisors of distinguished persons to include as ex officio members the chairs of the Naval Academy and Marine Corps University Boards of Visitors. This board will have the primary duty of providing oversight for the Secretary of the Navy and for providing support, guidance and advice for the entire educational enterprise including its components. The President of the Board of Advisors should be a retired four-star military or naval officer, or civilian equivalent with national stature with a renewable four-year term.
Yes, you do need a 5’x10’ white board with 5 different colored pens to understand this C2 structure.

You really should read it all, as I could go on for another 10 pages of pull quotes, but let me do one more to let you see the incredibly large bite this report is choking on.

Just read it – it looks as easy to make happen as California’s high-speed rail connection from LA to San Francisco;
- Require Reporting Seniors of each Service to comment upon learning achievements as a separate category in officer fitness reports and enlisted evaluations, and make continuous learning achievements an essential part of promotion precepts signed by the Secretary of the Navy. The newly-created selection boards for in-residence graduate education by the Navy, and as established earlier by the Marine Corps, support this objective and are recommended for permanence.
- Require in-residence, strategically-focused graduate degrees of all future unrestricted line Flag and General Officers, with waiver authority solely invested in the Secretary of the Navy.
- Develop a naval education enterprise digital network for continuous learning by all Sailors and Marines, from E-1 to O-10, that shares the educational assets and learning opportunities of the entire Naval University, as well as those of the American university system and private sector.
- Institute naval war-gaming and competitive team learning as a necessary part of a continuum of learning at the junior, middle, and senior stages of a naval officer and enlisted person’s career path, as well as “just-in-time” education as new conditions arise.
- Begin the process of developing a differentiated talent management system that uses education, among other tools, to reveal, groom, and develop a deep bench of leadership in the services and the civilian workforce, acting as a retention and permeability tool in concert with the Blended Retirement System and new officer promotion flexibilities granted in the 2019 John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act.
- Pursue changes in the Joint Professional Military Education system that meet the unique, sea-centric, forward operational requirements of the Navy-Marine Corps team, and provide essential Joint operational doctrine training earlier in the careers of its personnel.
- Activate an organizational learning continuum as part of the Naval Education Enterprise, with accountability and ownership in the person of the President, Naval University, reporting to the Commander, Fleet Forces Command, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Commander Naval Forces Europe and the Deputy Commandant for Combat Development and Integration, creating positive accountability and resources for institutional advancement.
- Implement new curriculum reviews for all educational institutions, with overarching strategic guidance and expectations to be issued by the Secretary of the Navy that are informed by a continually-adapting strategic estimate of the global situation created by the President, Naval University.
- Create a more flexible education model based on “stackable” certifications and courses that have the potential to be aggregated for graduate degrees along the course of a sea-centric naval career, in addition to greater in-residence opportunities, both officers and enlisted personnel, administered by the Naval University
Simple is better; direct is clearer; flexible is achievable – this is none of that.

The problem, especially in opening white space for advanced education and rewarding same, is real. The other issues spot-welded on to this in the report are real as well – but trying to do it all at once is folly.

The problem was identified in a fine manner, the history outline superb; but the offered solution is a horror-show of things we have not shown in recent history we are capable of doing; a micromanaging comprehensive systems of systems bureaucracy.

Perhaps it is a byproduct of those who produced it. This is all they know. Great Americans all, but given their mandate and background, this isn’t a surprise.

OK, there’s the critique, what would I do?

First of all, I would keep the problem identification and historical perspective part of the recommendation and disregard the rest. This is stillborn. 

Given recent history, there should be zero expectation that creating new bureaucracies and dual hatting already overworked senior leaders is going to result in a better end product. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I do not see any net efficiency here, much less effectiveness. Even if it did work perfectly, how long to see an impact? Simple solutions move faster. Complicated solutions take a long time, and often die of their own internal contradictions. 

Do we want to make things better intellectually in our Navy? There is a simple solution; focus on a single word; simple. Prioritize and simplify.

Disaggregate our problems set.
1. NWC should focus on the “W.” With rare exceptions, there is no need for anyone to go there before O5-Command. Full stop.
2. NPS should focus on advanced degrees that the USN needs that are not readily replicated by civilian institutions.
3. As I’ve mentioned before in different context, take a hammer and tongs to the shore billet infrastructure. Clear out and make available more space for people to get Masters & PhD in their first shore duty at civilian institutions with resident, full-time programs. If your first response is “ be competitive..” then fix our selection board processes. I’ve been arguing this point since I was that LT being told that I “couldn’t” go because bla bla bla. We control it. The fact it is still a problem as we approach the 3rd decade of the 21st Century tells me we still are not serious. (NB: this can be done w/o creating huge new bureaucracies and collateral duties)
4. Other issues should be addressed on their own merits. If they cannot, then fire people until you hire someone who can.

Couple of final notes:
A: The Navy is not a business. Stop using “enterprise.” It is inaccurate and intellectually dishonest.
B: Stop trying to sound like you’re prepping for at TEDx talk by using “Cognitive Age “ like you have a special enlightenment. I found that constantly appearing in the text a bit off.

That's about all I have to say about this. A lost opportunity.

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