Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sharing the tactical lessons

Maybe we don't do it because we're really tired...

There has been a few posts in the blogosphere wondering why junior officers and enlisted aren't doing more tactical blogging on the SIPR and JWICS networks.

I like the question, but as a guy who has been there, I can tell you exactly why you aren't seeing it:

1. SENIOR LEADERS DON'T REWARD IT. Yup, they don't. When was the last time you saw a CAPT or Admiral give a NAM to a JO that came up with a great idea? Or a Petty Officer? We've gotten away from rewarding achievement to End of Tour awards...which, since they are normally based on rank, means why bother putting in the extra effort? You can't get a better FITREP as an O-1 or O-2, and if you aren't going to get rewarded, you're simply expending effort and getting nothing in the end.

2. TACTICAL LEADERS ARE WORE DOWN BY BUREAUCRACY. What took me the longest amount of time to do on a submarine? Organize maintenance and process EVALs. Both of these I was never trained on. I spent 2 weeks in a leadership school though, which was a complete waste of time. Had I been taught about EVALs and maintenance, I might have saved a lot more time, which could have been spent on sharing and developing tactics.

3. ROBOTS DESIRED, NOT THINKERS. As a JO, you were best off if you had a good chief that ran your division so that you could get qualified fast. But after that, you were likely placed as the DIVO of a division (or an assistant department head) and stuck where you couldn't make decisions. You were micromanaged by your department head, who was micromanaged by your XO. Really, until you're an XO or CO, you have very little freedom of thought or how to organize the Sailors that work for you. I hear this echoed in the SWO community as well.

We have really smart people working in the Navy. Junior Petty Officer and Junior Officers can offer a lot of new ideas and improve on our tactics, techniques and procedures. But we treat them like robots and don't provide the right incentives. Why are we surprised then? Why does it take a massive SWO and SUB bonus to keep people in the Navy? The money compensates (only barely) for their misery in being locked into jobs that where they SHOULD be allowed to make a difference, but are instead treated inhumanly.

If we really want the robust tactical dialog:

1. USE LEADERSHIP CLASSES EFFECTIVELY. Right now the junior level leadership classes are a waste of time. If the classes trained people how to use Intelink, how to write Wikimedia code, how to write a good EVAL, and how to run OMMS-NG, etc., that training would reduce the administrative overhead and give junior leaders more time to focus on tactical thinking. The Navy's bureaucracy isn't going away, so we may as well train our future leaders how to effectively use the bureaucracy, so that they don't waste more than 15% of their day on administrative tasks.

2. REWARD INITIATIVE. NWDC recently conducted a massive online game to try and find new ideas for fighting in the electro-magnetic spectrum ( Did the top player get a cudos, a coin, a FITREP bullet, or anything career enhancing for participating in the program? Doubt it. He likely did it from the goodness of his heart, but if we continually don't reward our junior personnel's initiative, we shouldn't be surprised when they simply don't bother. Even if it's something as simple as an email from leadership thanking them for their help, that means a lot. It's recognition for their hard work.

Every time one of my Sailors busts their butt to get something done, I do something for that Sailor. Whether it's a 48 hour liberty chit, a coin, or even just getting them a handshake from the CO, it's something, and it lets them know that I recognize what they did is important and value it. Not everyone needs a NAM, but let's face it: liberty and handshakes are free. Why be stingy?

Right now, the only people we will see blogging about tactics are folks that have the time, care, and don't have an intensive workload. If we want to lower the entry bar, we need to place more value on our Sailor's time and make it easier to enter data, using the tools we already have in place.


  1. As usual I like what you're writing and what you write about. However, I think there are a few problems getting recognition at the jr level for tactics when nobody is willing to believe that you have mastered the trade sufficiently to speak knowledgeably and competently about the subject. On a DD we had a couple of copies of the TAO manual and the only person that read it was me and one of the department heads working on his Command at Sea Qual. That's it. Even he didn't bother with the Class Tactical Manual for straight stick and enhanced DD. Nobody back then got a solid grounding on threat until they'd been to Department Head School or, for a handful, to TAO school. Speaking strictly as a SWO, where do these tactical genii come from that a LCDR or CDR should pay attention to their departures from the book? I could understand it if it was guys out of TACTRAGRU who ran the tactical game simulators but even there there remains a gulf between experience and book learning.
    In the day it was not uncommon for me to deal with XO at shore installation who honestly confessed that they never had any time to read their message traffic. How much less time to read the bright ideas of the junior LTs?
    OTOH, I wonder about what tactics we're writing about. Is it the best way to find and defeat pressure mines? Is the best way to engage ASCM with a carrier group? Is it the best way to conduct coordinated ASW? Best way to employ the ship's weapons in the attack? I don't know. I do remember reading learned articles in Proceedings a long time ago by a man who was very well received as a tactical presence who was quite possibly the stupidest officer I ever worked for. He was writing about amphibious tactics before STOM really came to the fore.

    I don't know what was hard about writing evals. Long before the current system or its predecessor I had a system for them that was pretty straightforward. I'd tell them all to write their own and give them to the LPO and for the LPO to write them and give them to the Chiefs and then I'd get the package and could pretty much tell right there who could read and right. I also kept a DIVO notebook that contained just a few of the things they said were needed but it did have the quickrep I would draft and counsel individuals with every six months. All I'd do is give it to them and let them read it and say, "that's what it's going to say unless you get with the program." I never thought I owed anybody a good fitrep or eval but I'd move heaven and earth to get my best people evals and fitreps that would help ensure their promotions. They are like CASREPS. I can write them in a minute even today.

    I regarded leadership classes as a waste of time. You cannot teach it. You can do what we do and set them up with a checklist for best practices but I've been to classes with guys who were XOs who were the crappiest leaders on the seas. They just didn't get it. Part of the problem as I saw it was the instructors had zero cred with the class. It's tough to impart the ephemera of leadership using an instructor training lesson even if one is a master training specialist if they've never walked the walk and led. It shows.

  2. HMS, I will agree that not every JO has something to offer. Many simply skate by and do the bare minimum. However, there are many JOs that ARE tactical geniuses. BUT, you need the combination of a Commanding Officer that lets his JOs run the ship AND exercises that demonstrate real warfighting. Right now many COs are scared of letting their people drive because of the potential consequences, and too many war games don't allow for real tactical initiative (or they do and then cover up the consequences when they don't line up with the norm, see Millenium Challenge 2002).

    If we encourage our folks to use SIPR/JWICS blogging, we would get the bad gouge with the good. But in a free market, the good will stand out, and the bad gouge seen for what it is. Right now, we have NO market of ideas, so the bad gouge is put out and we don't have anything to compare it to, hence why we see some ships sucking, and others (that have more robust programs) succeeding. Putting it all out in the open will help to prevent the "potholes" of knowledge.

    1. Sorry for the delay but I was on my iPad and it doesn't play well at some places.
      I had the good fortune to visit a friend on a CGN a long time ago. His ship ran Overall Combat System Operability Test every week with all stations manned and the CO in the chair. In port or at sea they ran that NTDS program and everybody shared. That said, on my DD we could not even load the complete OCSOT into our NTDS due to physical limitations of the hardware. Nobody at all ran OCSOT.

      My COs, all of them, let those they trusted, conn the ship or run the watch as OOD. None of my ships had a senior officer elsewhere keeping an eye on us so that let me as an Ensign with less than a year in the navy serve as OOD with batteries release authority on a ship in the Persian Gulf at the height of the Tanker War run wild with 50% of the ship's weapons manned and ready at Condition III. I agree that probably never happens anymore but most of our ships these days have weapons that can reach out a lot farther than 3"50 can.

      To be honest I worked with an awful lot of JOs that I knew didn't appreciate that making OOD meant holding responsibility for the lives of all onboard. They never got tapped to be OOD since they didn't have the right stuff. (please airdales hold your laughter, I realize just how that sounds but your community has elimination check rides and SWOs have them too.)
      I cannot think of any wargames that allow any departure from the script so that's a valid point but there is nothing to be done about that anymore except...
      When steaming in company, exercise with the ships you're with. It cannot be shipdriving alongside all the time since CO's need their rest and putting together the S&A type watchbill and manning up for alongside is a pain in the butt. end part i

  3. The problem the navy is experiencing now is one that the Army started withering under in Vietnam when the battalion commanders no longer had to trust their company commanders or platoon leaders or squad leaders to fight the enemy without guidance since he could now hop in his helicopter and control the fight directly from above. It cut out whole layers of command. We know how that worked but now look at the Army and Marines fighting ashore with Blue Force Trackers, FBCB2, EPLRS and God knows what now. All under the gimlet gaze of the Division Commander/BCT and Ops officers. If there wasn't a need to hold somebody accountable when screwups happen everybody below the rank of Colonel and senior to 1st Lt could fight the war from their hooch.

    I'm so ancient my first ship had JOTS I that didn't work and no LINK at all. The second ship had very limited capability there and ships 3, 4 and 5 had no LINK at all. We operated purely on our own without the sticky thumb of the DESRON or GROUP blowing us from side to side. What warship does that today? None. What warship did that in the last 20 years? None.
    If you want more realism in the exercises these people need to get themselves to the IPC, MPC and FPC for each of the wargames where the 04 and 05 most certainly want some spear carriers to draft the SOE and coordinate it with the local staff, the natives, and the other folks coming to play. Most of the time the SOE from the previous year is simply dusted off and reissued without change because nobody wants to fool around with it. I did a lot work on making bilateral exercises more real in the Middle East and the Western Pacific. It takes completed staff work and endless pushing but pushing with a finished product that simply needs a quick read and approval by the flag in the process chain. Admittedly, I didn't start to do that until I was a very jr. LCDR since I spent the time up until staff playing in the ships and mobile units.

    I think one of the reasons so many senior staffs flipped out when the deployed units started using social media was the loss of control of the message. That's why they squelched it so hard. Idiotic old postulates were going viral and serious people were asking questions. What do you imagine will happen if there is a place that nurtures more revolutionary upstartism even on sipr or jwics?

    I certainly hope that I didn't discourage you. We won't know what will work until we try it a couple of dozen times in a couple of dozen different venues under the different types of leaders out there. People like Mahan didn't spring fully formed from Athena's brow! They matured over time and when they reached the bully pulpit they used it to hammer home important ideas and themes. It's just very sad that the men of my generation reached the bully pulpit and hammered on it for rotten little ships that have zero combat capability. Hell, anybody could have told them that.