Friday, May 7, 2010

Moment of Movement Approaches

I have actually been writing content for the blog over the last week, but have decided not to publish any of it. Some of it is good; some not so much. There is no question I have missed a lot since February, and yet given the broadside across the bow of the maritime services shared in the recent speech by the SECDEF, maybe I simply picked the right moment not to be distracted by the daily noise.

May 2010 will be remembered as the month the Navy was given the first clear signal that change is coming since the cold war ended. It is important to note that the speech for the Navy League was only the first step though - with the second step coming on Saturday. If you thought the last Gates speech was interesting - wait until you hear the next one...

And that will be followed by the Air-Sea Battle rollout coming on the 18th. In other words, we live in interesting times. These two speeches and the battle doctrine rollout all signal one thing - there is a serious moment in the near future where the Navy is going to move from where they are today - into what they will be tomorrow. It may be a major shift, or more likely, only a small one - but with his speech the SECDEF clearly stated he is now the voice for changing the Navy and directing them towards the future. Gates had already done this with the Army and Air Force, and the Navy and Marines both knew this was coming. The Army lost Future Combat Systems and the Air Force lost the F-22 - so you have a track record to work with regarding what they Navy will lose.

But what has the Army and Air Force gained - or said another way - what are those services becoming as they shape for the future? How have those services improved with the changes previously made by Gates? How do we apply that logic to the meaning behind the SECDEFs words?

Everything the Secretary has said so far is subject to interpretation. When I broke down the SECDEFs speech, the only clear message I find being sent is the call for "change." Gates did not say "reduce aircraft carriers" or cancel the EFV. There was no specific instruction on equipment, rather what he did was call for fresh ideas. In many ways, I read the speech as a premature endorsement of the Air-Sea Battle - which still lacks a great deal of detail itself. In other words, the Navy is about to be handed a big idea, and will soon be told what the budget will be to 'make it work and get it done.'

There will be two kinds of reactions. It will be the ones with ideas towards a new direction, and those with complaints. Which group will get the most attention as they push their agenda to the masses? I think that will be a dynamic worth watching.

Maybe it is because I come from no school of internal DC influence, but my interpretation of the speech suggests that I see a bit of everyone in the direction the SECDEF is pointing - and the only thing we can say for certain is that Secretary Bob Gates reads Proceedings. I see a little Bob Work, a little Bryan McGrath, a little Peter Swartz, a little Andrew Krepinevich, a little Jerry Hendrix, a little Wayne Hughes, and even some CDR Salamander in the SECDEFs speech about the Navy. If I was completely delusional, I'd suggest the SECDEF reads the Navy blogosphere - but instead I'll simply say it looks to me like the people who are influencing the thinking of the SECDEF regarding the future Navy is reading at least as broadly as I am regarding alternative visions of the Navy.

Which leaves me thinking there is only one Admiral who must have the ear of the SECDEF regarding the future Navy - and his last name is neither Mullen nor Roughead. I think we all know of which man I speak...

It is very rare that SECDEF tea leaves are so easy to read, so perhaps I have completely misread them. Combining subtle and blunt in speeches takes skill - and Secretary Gates works his magic in his speeches like a grand master does the chess board. I have no inside information, but I'd bet the private channels among naval strategists are buzzing like bee hives since the SECDEFs speech, and the digging of trenches has already begun.

Who will make up the new generation of leaders is now the most important question to ask following the Gates speech - and on my calendar it looks like we have 16 months to ask and answer that question. The SECDEFs speech started by discussing people on purpose. Over the next 16 months the identification of those Navy and Marines 0-4 through 0-6 currently in the service with the vision and insight the SECDEF discusses will become the priority. Those papers written at the NPS or NWC matter more today than they did last month, indeed - you never know where the origins of ideas might come from.

There has never been a better time for a Navy or Marine officer to write for periodicals like National Defense Magazine, Joint Forces Quarterly, or Proceedings.

The moment of movement - the first time the Navy has made significant changes since the cold war - approaches. It is noteworthy because for 99% of the people in today's Navy, it will be the first time in their career they have worked during a time of internal movement. For the Marines - well, the shake up will be even more profound. Up until now, all both services have had to do is adapt to technology. What is coming is much more difficult.

Any change is always hard, but for the maritime services - it could end up looking and feeling like a System Perturbation for those in the maritime service community. Accordingly, it is also possible that is how they read it - even if the final impact of coming changes is disproportionate to the amount of actual change that takes place.


Enjoy your Friday, because after the SECDEF speech on Saturday - everything changes yet again.

Edit: Link fixed above. I can't believe i messed up the one link in the post I think matters most....

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