Thursday, December 05, 2019

A Review of FRAGO 01/2019: A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority

If you want to know what the new CNO is thinking about our Navy, its place today and the direction he wants to lead it, the best thing you can do is read his guidance to the fleet.

In a returning guest post here, Bryan McGrath provides his perspective on the CNO's guidance. Bryan, over to you.

Having assumed the job of Chief of Naval Operations approximately 100 days ago, ADM Mike Gilday has released authoritative guidance informing Navy leadership (and the rest of us) of his priorities. Despite its unwieldy name, FRAGO 01/2019: A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority is a clear, concise, and important indicator of how Gilday intends to lead the Navy, and its clarity and purpose should help re-establish confidence in the Navy after a series of newsworthy leadership transgressions in the past few months.

Gilday has retained his predecessor’s approach by issuing a “fragmentary order” to the December 2018 “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0”, likely a gesture designed to reinforce stability and continuity, but one which unfortunately results not only in the aforementioned unwieldy title, but also diminishes its stand-alone qualities. This really is a different document than its predecessor, and it deserves to be recognized as such. Adopting one of the briefing tools of the Naval Aviation community, let’s get to a brief “goods and others” analysis of this document.


Right out of the chute, this document continues to tie the direction of the Navy firmly to great power contention, primarily on the “high end” of the conflict continuum. Great powers are building and operating fleets that should focus our attention as much as the Navy’s contributions to Joint warfighting and power projection currently do. Gilday recognizes this (as did his predecessor).

Next, it is clear that the CNO and the Commandant of the Marine Corps are closely aligned when it comes to greater integration of their Services. General Berger’s July 2019 “Commandant’s Planning Guidance” broke new ground in naval thinking at the Service Chief level, and Gilday follows up by embracing a concept of “Integrated American Naval Power” that signals his assent to the partnership.

Moreover, Gilday promotes a welcome sense of urgency in his messaging, not the urgency of bureaucrats tracking metrics showing 3% increases in efficiency, but the urgency of a leader who recognizes the security environment demands it of us. One area drawing serious CNO-level attention is ship depot level maintenance, and his dissatisfaction with the poor record of ships completing their maintenance periods on time. The post-Cold War era drove us to an approach to depot level maintenance that stressed efficiency, an approach that seems to have succeeded in defining the minimum industrial base and workforce required to support the fleet, a minimum that is not being met. We must begin to think again in terms of great power competition, a thought process that values effectiveness over efficiency, margin over “just in time”, and redundancy over sufficiency. We are not going to “lean” our way through this.

Gilday recognizes in this document the limitations of the Optimized Fleet Response Plan’s (OFRP) “supply-driven” approach to force generation, which was another triumph of the culture of efficiency over effectiveness. It is clear that the Navy is back in the demand-driven force generation business, with Gilday calling for an assessment of the OFRP in measured tones that seem to spell considerable change on the horizon, the kind of change that is implicit in the direction for Dynamic Force Employment contained in the National Defense Strategy.

Gilday’s sense of urgency extends to the subject of fleet operations, concepts of operations, and large scale naval exercises. We will get a taste of this next year in “Large Scale Exercise (LSE) 2020”, but the CNO seems (rightly) to be calling for extensive exercises of this nature on a recurring basis. Implicit in this fleet-centric approach is the CNO’s dedication to networking and command/control to enable it. His emphasis in this document on digitization and integration of space, cyber, and electronic warfare reveals his understanding that USN/USMC integration will not occur until the Navy can successfully integrate its own forces across the warfighting domains.

Recognizing that shore infrastructure has become a bill-payer for current operations, the FRAGO raises the visibility on crumbling shore-side infrastructure that is an essential part of the greater fleet architecture and signals the CNO’s interest in properly resourcing it.


Well, first, there’s the name. But I repeat myself.

Next (and really, only), there is the elephant in the room, and that is the simple truth that the concepts driving naval integration (Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO), Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO), and Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE) ) are (1) not derived of an Operational Architecture for Fleet Operations, (2) not supported by a coherent systems architecture that allocates functionalities across an ensemble of systems, networks and platforms, and (3) not supported by a set of validated operational requirements. There is no organization in the Department of the Navy with the authority, staffing, and resources to perform any one of these three functions, yet all three must align in order for CNO’s vision of Integrated American Naval Power to become a reality. And if we were to imagine that such organizations existed to carry out the functions above, we would still be without an acquisition organization capable of carrying it all out.

What I’m suggesting is that we are trying to build a 21st Century Navy with a 20th Century bureaucracy, and I’m sorry to say the bureaucracy should be different and larger than it is now. Great power competition merits it. First, OPNAV N9 should subsume all functions currently within the OPNAV N6 portion of N2/N6, as the DCNO for Warfare Systems (N9) surely should sit atop the requirements development process for Fleet Warfighting, and in the process, determine where trades among capabilities should be made at the domain and cross-domain level. The continued distinction among things that are “combat systems” and things that are “intelligence, surveillance, and targeting” systems is no longer relevant in warfighting, system design, or acquisition. Reflecting this merge, the acquisition community must also reform.

Accordingly, the Navy should establish a four-star systems engineering organization akin to what the Missile Defense Agency does within that more narrow set of operational requirements (although the requirements would be derived at OPNAV and USMC). This new command would work hand in hand with both OPNAV N9 and the Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC) to create and monitor fleet level systems architectures, with authority over all Navy and Marine Corps SYSCOMS and PEOs. The Admiral or General in charge would serve an extended term of office (akin to that of the four-star at the Bureau of Naval Reactors) and would have the authority and resources to move money across the architecture to speed up promising developments, shore up lagging areas, or capitalize unexpected technology maturation.

Because authority, funding, and acquisition responsibility for achieving the vision of a Fleet Tactical Grid or a Naval Operational Architecture is divided among numerous resource sponsors and technical authorities, authority and responsibility are diluted and progress is made in spite of the bureaucracy rather than as a result of it. One sentence on page 7 distills this whole issue for me: “This will include fielding high-return technologies such as directed energy (OPNAV N9) and electronic warfare (OPNAV N2N6).” Why two different organizations are responsible for fielding these two fundamental aspects of modern warfare escapes me.


Other than the one, pretty substantial other, I don’t have much to say bad about this document. I like it better than any of the more recent efforts of this kind by CNOs, and I am very comfortable with the course it sets for the Navy. My criticism of it is of course, unfair, as CNO Gilday did not set out in this document to propose a bureaucratic reorganization of the Navy. I do wish that he had dropped a hook in it for such change, like he did in announcing an assessment of OFRP.

That said, we now have both Service Chiefs in the Department of the Navy aligned on a new, more integrated, and more muscular American Seapower. Both seem to realize that this means changes up and down the chain of command and across their respective service enterprises. The next step is for the two of them and their soon-to-be common superior (the Secretary of the Navy, when confirmed) to get religion and start educating OSD, the Hill, and the American public about what Integrated American Naval Power is and why it is the critical to protecting and sustaining our national interests and continuing prosperity. More, faster, please.

Bryan McGrath is the Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group, and he counts the Navy among his consulting clients. The opinions contained herein are his own.

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