Monday, August 12, 2019

Some Unsolicited Advice for a New CNO

We're kicking off the week again with a guest post by Brian McGrath with some sound, succinct, and digestible recommendations for our next CNO.

Bryan, over to you!

In April of 2019, I sent an email to the then Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Bill Moran titled “Totally Unsolicited Input”, input destined for next Chief of Naval Operations, as Moran had recently been nominated for that position. The Secretary of the Navy subsequently withdrew Admiral Moran’s nomination for the position, reportedly for Moran’s continuing a friendship/mentoring relationship with a retired officer who left the Navy under a cloud created by his personal conduct. I too enjoy a long-standing friendship/mentoring relationship with Admiral Moran, which is why I submitted the input in the first place. Newly confirmed CNO designee Vice Admiral Mike Gilday and I do not enjoy the same level of familiarity, but in late 2000, he did me a solid when he was my detailer. With sincere gratitude, I submit this unsolicited advice to him patterned after the previously mentioned email.

Embrace Naval Integration. The new Commandant of the Marine Corps General David Berger recently released his “Commandant’s Planning Guidance”, a truly remarkable document that has justly received high praise (see here and here). Berger created a field of slain Marine Corps sacred cows with his vision of truly integrated American Seapower, a force capable of fulfilling the mandate of the National Security Strategy for a shift to conventional deterrence by denial (rather than punishment), and the requirements of the National Defense Strategy for increased lethality in the contact and blunt layers. Berger’s vision rightly understands that the kind of integration required to meet these obligations does not begin on the waterfront, but springs from a holistic approach that includes integrated planning and budgeting at the Pentagon. I would urge the new CNO to team with Berger and make the case for Integrated American Seapower as our nation’s primary conventional deterrent, uniquely positioned where the nation’s interests are and capable of denying and/or delaying opportunistic great power aggression.

Operationalize a New Fleet Architecture. Consistent with the NSS and NDS emphases on great power competition and conventional deterrence, ADM Gilday should move to implement major portions of the CSBA Fleet Architecture Study of 2017 that bifurcated operational forces into a Deterrence Force providing regionally-tailored forces optimized for presence, deterrence, and transition to war—and a Maneuver Force comprised of large, CVN-based formations of war fighting power largely devoted to preparing for high-end/great power war. Essential to this architecture is the evolution of amphibious aviation assault ships (LHA, LHD) into multi-dimensional, multi-domain combat platforms. Integration of the F-35B is the first step, but it must be followed by the provision of adequate organic intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting (ISR/T) capability into the Deterrence Force through a ship-based Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAV such as that envisioned by the Marine Corps MUX initiative. The lethality contained in contact and blunt layer force surface and land-strike missiles requires persistent and accurate ISR/T across large portions of seascape, and land-based platforms will be insufficiently numerous to be responsive to dynamic, tactical requirements. The Marines are thinking clearly about this, and the Navy could benefit by jumping onboard.

The Fleet Fights as a System; We Need a Fleet Combat System to Enable It. The Navy’s more talked about than understood concept of Distributed Maritime Operations sinks or swims on the back of its ability to get information where it needs to go in order to be acted upon.  The Navy requires a Fleet Integrated Combat System, and by this, I mean not just the piece that the OPNAV Directorate of Surface Warfare (N96) is working on (though it is an important and enabling piece of the total). It is more of what DMO suggests in its Fleet Tactical Grid or Naval Fleet Architecture discussions, in which common algorithms reason about a common data set to reach consistent conclusions in a distributed manner. This requires adequate and resilient networking and truly “open” system architectures, so that (for instance) the track management algorithms in a surface combatant and the track management algorithms in a UAV are derived of the same code. But—and this is a big but--realizing a Fleet Integrated Combat System will take considerable organizational change --and that kind of change can only come from the very top. Even if the Navy had a perfect understanding of what an FICS is and what it wanted the system to do, it does not have an organization that can system engineer it and it does not have an organization that could acquire it. The Army's experience with Future Combat System (FCS) is insightful here, although they had the dual problems of organization AND immature technology to achieve their ends. The tech for what the Navy needs in FICS is here or almost here, although the means to achieve it are far less clear.

Scrap the 30 Year Shipbuilding Plan. I know, this is a Congressional requirement, but the document is without meaning, at least most of it is. First, although it is the best method of quantifying naval power in current practice (that’s what is known as “faint praise”), it is essentially a work of fiction outside of the first ten years, it fails to count platforms that have (or will have) outsized contributions to naval power (see: LUSV, MUSV, potential corvettes being created in Jerry Hendrix’ garage) in the conventional deterrence mission, and it has little or no influence on future administrations or congresses. The CNO should work to bring SECNAV and the Commandant—along with appropriate DoD, NSC, and congressional leaders—into a compromise “counting” system that more appropriately accounts for both capacity and capability (both being essential to seapower, contrary to the fever dreams of some), while creating a document that industry CEO’s might actually consider as they seek internal investment dollars from rightfully skeptical boards and shareholders. Any suggestion that the current 30-year plan aids in this process is misplaced.

De-Mystify Unmanned Systems. Related to the previous point, Congress has legitimate and important oversight responsibilities over the Navy’s budget and plans, and as the Navy moves to more unmanned capability, it needs to be a better job communicating its plans and intent to the Hill. There are important questions across all domains of unmanned systems, questions of concepts of operation, command and control, cyber-protection, and autonomy. The Navy needs these systems to enable the Fleet Architecture, and so it must explain why more effectively. I believe Congress wants to help but may need more granularity before it provides the resources the Navy seeks. This advice applies mainly to surface and air unmanned vehicles, as it appears the undersea applications are more well-understood.

Become the Nation’s Seapower Advocate. Never miss an opportunity to point out why Seapower is different, how Seapower enables both security AND prosperity, and the wisdom of the Constitution’s framers as our country’s first geo-strategists. This isn’t Service rivalry, it is grand strategy, and the new CNO should be front and center as matters of grand strategy are discussed.
A thousand words into a post devoted to advice to a new CNO and I haven’t obsessed about the size of the Fleet. This isn’t because the size of the Fleet isn’t important, and it isn’t because the size of the Fleet is sufficient. It is because the size of the Fleet is a means to an end, and that end is the provision of security and prosperity through Integrated American Seapower. Get integration with the Marine Corps right, get the Fleet Architecture right, get the Combat System right—because these inputs have a great deal to do with getting to the “right” number, and when arrived at, that number will be more effectively defended.

Good luck, ADM Gilday.

Bryan McGrath is the Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC where his clients include the Navy and industry. He is also Deputy Director of Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower. All opinions under his name are his.

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