The plebes entering the Naval Academy this year will be flag officers and general officers in the 2040’s and 2050’s. What fundamental skills do today's midshipmen need to learn in order to lead the Navy three decades from now?
One of the great strengths of the Naval Academy is our dedication to a relatively short - but incredibly important - Mission Statement. In just one sentence it lays out a three step process, essentially unchanged for 167 years, designed to produce leaders of character to serve the nation:
“To develop Midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor, and loyalty in order to graduate leaders who are dedicated to a career of naval service and have potential for future development in mind and character, to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship, and government.”
Whether our graduates are serving in the 2040’s/2050’s as flag/general officers, captains of industry, or leaders in government, this mission lays out the guiding principles of how we prepare them to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship, and government. Central to this process, midshipmen graduating today must possess the integrity, imagination, and innovation to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of security challenges in the future.
First and foremost, we must graduate leaders with the proclivity for continuing development in mind and character. Indeed, our ultimate goal must be to produce officers who embark on a lifetime of learning - the journey only starts at the Naval Academy. The successful delivery of this end product naturally requires that we look to more tangible metrics and near term objectives in the course of “building tomorrow’s leaders, today.” We are aided in this process by our customers, the United States Navy and Marine Corps, who charter us to commission roughly 1000 Ensigns/Second Lieutenants each year. We have built a process that enables Fleet feedback, so that we are able to adjust the 47 month experience here at the Academy to meet the needs of the Fleet. As a starting point, before they are ready to take command or wear stars, these young men and women must first succeed at the challenges they will first face as junior officers. As a result, much of the four year experience at the Naval Academy is focused on building a “thinking warrior” with the adaptability to confront the conflicts of today while planting the seeds that will bear the fruits of victory thirty years hence. The fundamental skills needed to lead the Navy three decades from now are inseparable from those needed in this coming decade; it is a continuum of integrity, commitment, self-discipline, and a sense for when it’s time to “throw out the book.” These are the traits that have been the hallmark of successful naval officers for over 235 years.
When asked about the foundation needed to lead in the naval service, I am often reminded of the dialogue we attribute to John Paul Jones regarding the qualifications of a Naval Officer. “It is by no means enough that an officer of the Navy should be a capable mariner. He must be that of course, but also a great deal more. He should be as well a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor.” I have no doubt that the next generation of Naval Officers must possess refined manners and punctilious courtesy, as well as a cultural awareness and understanding that was also expected of mariners during Jones’ era.
|US Navy Photo|
The challenges of today require that our officers possess a multi-disciplinary education, and all indications are that this broader vision will be only more greatly valued in the future. We must take the additional steps beyond the traditional model of a “liberal education,” and focus on the nuanced interrelationships of a variety of disciplines. Naval Officers have historically held diplomatic roles, as they frequently would be the first to reach and interact with other nations and cultures. This remains true today in the sense that the nation continues to expect that our graduates will be global leaders. At the Naval Academy, this means we must have a continued emphasis on language and cultural experience for all midshipmen, so they are prepared to work with new and emerging partners, such as China, Russia, Brazil, India, and South Korea, as well as our traditional allies around the world. International immersion for midshipmen is one of our highest priorities here at USNA.
Perhaps the most pressing, multi-disciplinary threat we face today is cyber warfare. I am convinced that the officers we commission today will have to prove themselves as warriors against threats in cyberspace long before they assume flag rank. Cyberspace cuts across the traditional disciplines, and it is for this reason that we created the Center for Cyber Security Studies at USNA. In point of fact, we have mandated this immersive experience for every student across the broad range of the curriculum. Our Center enhances the education of midshipmen, the research of our world-class faculty, and the training of our future officers with courses and affiliations across the academic departments, as well as internship opportunities at the National Security Agency and National Defense University.
Ethical leadership is the critical third dimension of everything we do at the Naval Academy and is what Jones meant when he referred to a Naval Officer having the “nicest sense of personal honor.” The distinguishing feature of our future naval professionals must be their ability to serve as ethical, covenant leaders. Producing honorable leaders who have the trust of seniors and subordinates alike is a timeless requirement, even more important today as the nature of warfare changes and the nation looks to our military for the defense of its people and principles.
These leaders of the future will be challenged with ethical questions that would have sounded like science fiction only a decade ago. Drone warfare, cyber attacks, and other technological advances have changed our risk/reward calculations and must be balanced against issues of national sovereignty, moral imperatives, and human rights. Already, our graduates are returning to the field with complex prosthetic limbs to replace those lost after a decade of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. They will soon need to decide whether weapons with artificial intelligence will be permitted algorithms that enable them to decide to take human life.
I am confident that our graduates will be ready to answer these challenges when called. They are already thinking about these issues and others as part of our combined programs of honor, character, and leadership education; programs designed to instill in them the understanding that being a leader of character requires a lifelong commitment to personal development. It goes back to the Mission of the Naval Academy and the task to graduate leaders with the potential for future development of mind and character. They have more than the potential for future development; they are already in the development process, and know that they must continue on that path. The future of our Navy, Marine Corps, and Nation depends on them.
I think we can all agree with Jones’ sentiment that a Naval Officer “must of course be a capable mariner.” After all is said and done, a naval force is made of men and women who “go down to the sea in ships.” Our officers must be capable mariners throughout their careers – but over the course of decades, they need be so much more. The Navy/Marine Corps team is a calling as much as it is a profession, and as such the Naval Academy must produce leaders with the technological know-how, the cultural insight, and the ethical foundation that will stand the test of time. Most assuredly, those tests are coming – and our young Midshipmen must be up to the challenge. Given what I have witnessed here on the banks of the Severn, they will meet, and exceed, those expectations, thanks to their creativity in adapting skill sets from the past and applying them to the threats of the future.