We Gotta Have a War-Fightin' Revival

By Commander Terry Pierce, U.S. Navy

For the past few years, Newport and Quantico have been key sites in a revival that is developing innovative warfighting concepts for the Navy and the Marine Corps concepts that will allow naval forces to conduct decisive littoral operations. Our naval team will be more than an enabling force for the introduction of follow-on troops; it will become the preeminent participant in littoral warfare.

The strength of our naval team lies in our historical roots-our ability to innovate. Indeed, the present renaissance promises a more spirited joint approach, which should present opportunities for surpassing earlier ones. A coordinated effort is absolutely essential: The Navy and Marine Corps emerged from the last revival as two services joined by uncommon innovation, but divided by common doctrine. This was the result of disjointed efforts made in near-isolation at separate think tanks Today, we must attain uncommon innovation with common doctrine. This is possible if the present revival is recognized and fostered by enough Navy and Marine Corps leaders.

Upon taking office, Admiral Jeremy Boorda and General Charles Krulak found their warfighters groping with the "devastating peace" that had ensued after Soviet Union collapsed. A new season of war was upon us, but the naval services were still rooted in beliefs held throughout the Cold War, because the Cold War lasted so long that nobody could recall any pre-Cold War notions. All but the youngest officers have developed professionally in the shadow of the Soviet threat, whose premises have become an inherent part of their professional thinking. Spinning Cold War rhetoric into new hardware packages is relatively easy. The problem, of course, is that with declining budgets, naval services do not have the ability to preserve their Cold War force levels with Cold War concepts, nor should they-in light of the new strategic culture they face.

Admiral Boorda and General Krulak believed that by returning to our inherent strength of innovation, the sea services could begin the newest Golden Age of naval warfighting, and could once again change the equation of war. Both Boorda and Krulak had the ability to visualize and conceptualize-in ways evocative of General Hans Guderian, mastermind of the Blitzkrieg, a lightning war using an armored force with a combined-arms concept. Today, the nemesis of Boorda and Krulak is an officer corps that thinks of innovation the way the German Luftwaffe did during World War II-primarily in terms of equipment and techniques, rather than concepts.

Restoring our innovative soul requires leaders who have the moral courage to carry their service through the cyclical turbulence of peace and war.6 As Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Boorda sought answers beyond the revolution in military affairs (RMA). He flirted with the RMA and its precision-guidance and information-age gizmos. But in general, he remained skeptical. He questioned the Navy's approach of using wonder weapons with magical properties only to modify our Cold War paradigm for the conduct of war. He felt that we could not dismiss the technology of the future, but never believed that the future belongs solely to the machines. None of the technologies offers the silver bullet to deal effectively with the kinds of messy, conventional threats that confront U.S. forces in places like Haiti, Somalia, and Bosnia. Also, he took exception to the RMA idea that one day perfect knowledge technology could eliminate the "fog of war" on the battlefield-a concept championed by other senior officers.

Instead, he believed that technology had to be harnessed, and made subject to man's will. The warfighter must use it as a tool-just as tractors replaced horses and plows-to make his job more efficient and to increase his tempo. The key is to expand his mind, his vision, and his ability to innovate and to dream of different ways to accomplish his mission. He has to be able to see into the future, to form an image of what he wants to accomplish, and then to use every available tool to make it happen.

Admiral Boorda believed his friend Andrew Marshall, of the Secretary of Defense's Office of Net Assessment, who stated that "the most critical factor to success was not technological surprise, but the adoption of innovative operational concepts and organizations to exploit commonly available systems." Boorda also believed that the most important aspect of successful innovation was the articulation of a clear and compelling vision of warfare early in the process of change. But he felt uneasy that the Navy seemed to lack any such vision of how warfare might look 20-30 years from now.

Admiral Boorda wanted something beyond technology. He wanted the operational concepts and organizations that would exploit technology fully. He wanted to recreate an epoch revival in innovation. But the answers were slow in coming, so he turned to his Strategic Studies Group (SSG). Formed by Admiral Thomas Hayward in 1981, the SSG became a launch pad for many distinguished naval officers, including Admiral William Owens, Admiral Leighton Smith, Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, and Marine General Anthony Zinni.

Admiral Boorda wanted to use the Strategic Studies Group as the Navy's innovative wind tunnel. What convinced him to go in this direction was a brief he received from the CNO's Executive Panel on innovative war projects. The panel stated that the Navy normally does quite well in modernizing and taking capabilities to the next generation, but ever since the renaissance between World Wars I and II-a period that brought us carrier aviation and amphibious warfare-we have not been doing as well in major warfighting breakthroughs, nor has anyone else. The Navy formulated initiatives to deal with RMA, but it still did not have a center of excellence focused on stimulating critical thinking among potential innovators in the Navy, Marine Corps, other services, and the civilian sector.

Admiral Boorda would need to create an environment where this process of innovation could take place. Fortunately, he understood that effective military innovation is evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. Also, he understood that successful evolutionary innovation depends on an organizational focus, working over time, rather than specific top-down guidance from him during his tour as Chief of Naval Operations. As a result, Boorda's short term expectations of recasting the culture of the Strategic Studies Group were not to achieve any immediate stunning innovations, but rather to create a proper environment from which innovations could emerge. Perhaps more important, he could create conditions for the military to avoid a disastrous 1940s Maginot Line debacle, brought on by preparing for a war that the enemy intended to sidestep. The problem, Boorda felt, was that we were basing our premise for change on outmoded Cold War thinking-and he wanted a different way to think about the future.

So Admiral Boorda reshaped the Strategic Studies Group. He brought back retired Admiral James Hogg, an avant garde intellectual of the old warrior class and one of the most respected leaders in the Navy. Admiral Hogg immediately began the Herculean effort of restructuring the entire SSG culture. Boorda's intent was to depart from near-term operational and strategic issues and focus instead on long-range visions that portended profound change. As a broker of ideas, Hogg's new SSG quietly began the process of developing long-term innovative warfighting concepts for naval forces.

After operating for a year, Admiral Hogg described the initial progress the new SSG had made in a speech to the Current Strategy Forum at Newport, given shortly after Admiral Boorda's death. Hogg's address presented a flickering light of hope. Because he had not yet briefed the new Chief of Naval Operations about any of the specifics, Hogg merely outlined some of the high points.

He described the new composition of the group. He had expanded the SSG into a broader organization with an influx of Navy and Marine officers across the rank structure. Something unique was Admiral Hogg's demand for younger officers, because in his view, nobody in the scientific community in our country had ever come up with a new idea after the age of 35. After passing that milestone they spend the rest of their lives refining their earlier ideas. Toward this end, Hogg judiciously mined a rich vein of unheralded talent at the Naval Postgraduate School and the Naval War College to enrich the innovative process. Along with 12 senior fellows, they spent the first half of the year gaining a technology baseline from scientific communities on such subjects as microelectronics, molecular engineering, computer technologies, telecommunications, weapons technologies-and any other emerging technologies that might have applications to a military concept or program. During the next six months, they formed into four concept teams: projection, protection, sustainment, and knowledge. The first year yielded two promising and innovative harbingers of change:

  • The projection team developed the Littoral Campaign Concept, which calls for supporting fires with increased lethality over the full depth of the battlefield. A first step in pursuing the Littoral Campaign Concept would be a prototype platform for automatic "pairing and engagement" of land targets and naval weapons.
  • The knowledge team created the Cognitive Warfare Concept. War is about compelling the enemy to do our will. Understanding the enemy's cognition-how he generates information for decisions, what he perceives, and how he reasons-is key to shaping his will. In taking advantage of this, the knowledge team has moved beyond information warfare to the integration of information hardware. For instance, cooperative engagement is a military example and the Internet is a commercial example. Cognitive warfare, however, is based on knowledge. It will help fill in the missing pieces of the battlespace-knowledge puzzle, and it will provide commanders with a better understanding of the enemy's options and how to counter them.

These concepts are revolutionary and long-term in nature, but already they are being supported by such evolutionary steps as prototypes, testbeds, experiments, and demonstrations. Today, battle group commanders report that establishing situational awareness takes 85% of their time in the command center-leaving only 15% to think about warfighting options and to make decisions. Cognitive warfare can reverse that ratio.

Admiral Boorda's unheralded group has attained success in blending technological tradition and naval innovation, but many people still have yet to hear of the rejuvenated Strategic Studies Group. And there's the problem. The key to making this work is that anyone in the Navy-or the outside-can and should contribute. In the aftermath of Admiral Boorda's untimely death, however, there is the question of whether the SSG will continue on course or revert to its earlier way of doing business.

The Boorda SSG is one part of the ongoing naval renaissance. The other is General Krulak and his innovative Commandant's Warfighting Laboratory. Krulak has been the central architect of Marine warfighting innovation since his days as Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command. While there, he developed the key tenets of an amphibious blitzkrieg, called operational maneuver from the sea (OMFTS). Also at Quantico, he masterminded Project Culebra-an innovative concept using wargames and exercises that became the forerunner of today's Sea Dragon. Upon assuming the commandancy, he directed Lieutenant General Paul K. Van Riper at Quantico to establish the Commandant's Warfighting Laban organization whose product is very similar to Boorda's Strategic Studies Group. Like the SSG, Sea Dragon is a process of innovation.

General Van Riper's thrust has been better control of the battlefield through smaller units with greater capabilities. He also introduced the study of "New Sciences" at Quantico. Such emerging disciplines as chaos theory, nonlinear dynamics, and complex adaptive systems are influencing doctrine development, wargame simulations, and combat-attrition calculations. He believes that these new sciences will provide us tools to attain higher levels of proficiency and an enhanced understanding of warfighting in the next century. General Van Riper is carrying out General Krulak's mandate to think outside the box of old Cold War paradigms.

What is distinctly different about this renaissance in naval innovation was that Boorda and Krulak and their deputies, Hogg and Van Riper worked closely with each other. In fact, when the director of Krulak's warfighting lab, Colonel Tony Wood, first briefed Sea Dragon to the Navy, Admiral Boorda was so impressed that he freed more than $30 million to give to the Marine Corps to develop the project further. The uniqueness of this renaissance went beyond the innovative efforts at Newport and Quantico, and centered on the familiarity, trust, and support between the CNO and CMC, and their shared philosophy of a naval revival in warfighting. Each was responsible for reinvigorating the revival thought in his own service and, perhaps more important, supporting the other.

For example, spurred by Krulak's release of his "Commandant's Planning Guidance," which was intended for Marines only, Boorda asked his Pentagon planners to write a Navy-only paper: 2020 Vision: A Navy for the 21st Century. Boorda sent it to Krulak for his input. Krulak immediately took issue with Boorda's spinmeisters, whose primary focus on precision weapons and their supporting infrastructure was too narrow to be the basis of a Navy strategy. Because of their mutual respect and support, Boorda would not publish the document until Krulak approved. General Krulak disapproved seven drafts prior to Boorda's death. The paper remains unpublished today.

At this crucial point, the naval renaissance is looking neither healthy nor secure. At present, the new CNO, Admiral Jay Johnson, is supporting the Boorda SSG, but he cannot go it alone. The worry is that as Admiral Johnson settles in and the warfighting barons have had their say, the sun will set silently on Boorda's innovative SSG which will remain the best-kept secret in the Navy. Filling the void will be the Navy's sultans of spin whose singular faith in our technological prowess to win future conflicts will once again dominate our warfighting vision. The result could easily be General Krulak's worst nightmare: Navy planners who rely too heavily on the firepower of precision targeting, high technology, and deep strikes while completely ignoring innovative concepts like operational maneuver and cognitive warfare. The outcome very easily could be innovative amnesia, passed on from the Cold War generation to the unsuspecting junior officers of today. This is precisely what Admiral Boorda was trying to preclude.

The real crisis is brewing-and it is not about political correctness or headline-making scandals. The end of the Cold War and our smashing defeat of Iraq have infected our armed services with a massive dose of innovative complacency: Since our high-tech weaponry worked, why innovate? Instead, just focus on making our gadgets more precise. The outcome of such thinking is bound to be a blurred vision of the future. Without post-Cold war innovation, we will-piously-declaw our naval team.

Is our naval requiem inevitable? No, the case for optimism is still compelling. In one bold, visionary proposal, Admiral Boorda restructured the SSG into the "CNO's Warfighting Lab" and rekindled the innovative spirit. It was a watershed moment in naval warfighting. Yet, at the end of his life, Boorda's warfighting lab lay bobbing in his wake. With Admiral Johnson at the helm, there is still hope for the naval renaissance to flourish. Rather than focusing on the tiny waves of scandal and political correctness washing over our feet, let's once again prepare to ride the great breakers of technology, concepts, shared vision, and mutual cooperation-in an enduring show of Navy and Marine Corps strength.


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