Professional Notes

This can be defined as a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that enable an organization or profession to work effectively in cross-cultural situations. Expanded cultural and linguistic training programs for specialists will be important, but they will not be enough. As cooperation expands, more service members will be placed in critical positions that require effective cross-cultural communication. As a result, competence must be developed at every level of the Sea Services. Following are some simple guidelines for communicating across cultural divides.

Seek to Understand Your Partner's Culture

Familiarity with your dialogue partner's cultural characteristics, history, values, and belief systems is critical. Do as much research as you can before the interaction, keep an open mind, and try to understand your partner's point of view. It is particularly important to be aware of differences in norms, and to avoid interpreting another's intentions from your own cultural perspective. For example, if a Japanese colleague states that planning a proposed training exercise is difficult, he may actually be signaling that the event should be canceled. Japanese culture includes aversion to direct confrontation and use of the word "no."

Maintain Poise and Professionalism

When placed in an awkward communications position, it can be tempting to break the ice through humor or silly behavior. Unfortunately, humor may not translate across the cultures, and silliness rarely earns respect. Instead, consistently professional behavior pays off in the long run. If you are working together closely for an extended period, you should endeavor to develop a casual and friendly approach over time.

Find Common Vocabulary

When writing for native English speakers, we are taught to vary language so that it is interesting and avoids needless repetition. But when crossing language or cultural barriers, we should do the opposite. We should listen to our audience and try to use the same vocabulary they do. Good sources of common vocabulary include English-language technical documents.


Many references suggest eliminating jargon from cross-cultural language. This can be effective when communicating with coalition partners, but military organizations enjoy a linguistic advantage. Military jargon can elegantly convey complex concepts, when it is official, precisely defined, and systematically distributed or based on common nautical terms. Allied publications provide perhaps the best source of this sort of vocabulary.

At a recent planning meeting, Filipino naval officers who spoke excellent English were bewildered by the jargon-filled sentence: "Before comex, we'll knock out the pax transfer by RHIB." In contrast, they had no trouble grasping the meaning of: "Your unit will move from L6 to L2 for light line transfer to port. We will provide the shot line. Romeo speed 12."

Use Correct Grammar

You are not easier to understand when you "dumb down" your grammar. In fact, often you are more difficult to understand. When you leave out "a" or "the" before a noun or use the incorrect verb tense, you are likely to be unclear. Moreover, the deliberate simplification of English when speaking to foreigners tends to eliminate important paralinguistic features such as stress and intonation, thereby removing meaning. Because "foreigner talk" often imitates our biased ideas of how others speak English, it can come across as condescending or otherwise offensive.

Avoid Slang

Colloquial speech can easily be misunderstood across cultural boundaries. Non-native speakers may not know the terms, or may not grasp their meaning in the intended circumstances. Slang also can cause problems between speakers of different English dialects. For example, "What's up?" to another American is an informal greeting, but to a member of the British Forces the phrase indicates concern, more akin to our "What's the matter?"

Reinforce with Writing and Pictures

To increase the likelihood of conveying your message, it is a good idea to use multiple media. Written text allows your audience to refer to the information at a later date, share it with others, and analyze meanings. If you're giving a PowerPoint brief to a coalition partner, provide written text and slide printouts. E-mail, chat, and memoranda are often good choices. Diagrams and pictures can be useful. Not only do they provide advantages akin to those of text, they also illustrate concepts with no need for translation. However, exercise caution: pictures too can be culturally biased.

Use Non-Verbal Communication with Caution

Reading body language can be exceptionally difficult across cultures, because the same behaviors may carry different, sometimes even opposite, meanings. Unlike Americans, Greeks shake their heads from side to side to indicate agreement, Indonesians laugh and smile to show confusion or discomfort, and Japanese leaders may display confidence in the speaker by appearing to be asleep during a presentation.


It is important to be very conscious of the non-verbal clues you believe you are seeing, and to think about how to interpret them. While non-verbal communication should never be discounted entirely, it is important not to jump to conclusions based on your cultural habits. Similarly, you must control your own body language. Your dialogue partner may misread the non-verbal clues you are transmitting, so reinforce your meaning with more direct forms of communication.

Reiterate Themes and Important Details

Conversations rely heavily on context, and meaning can be lost or confused if the topic is approached from different cultural backgrounds. Repeating themes and details will reemphasize their importance and improve the likelihood of transmission. Use a variety of structures and methods so that if one is misunderstood, another may be grasped. Similarly, be an active listener. Summarize what has been said to verify it, paraphrase, and be mindful not to belittle the other party.

Ask Questions Carefully


Asking questions and understanding their answers is one of the most difficult aspects of cross-cultural communication. Be careful not to ask double questions such as "Would you like to conduct the training in your airspace with your navy as the host, or in our airspace with the U.S. Navy as host?" The non-native English speaker may understand only one of those questions. Instead, allow your interlocutor to answer one question at a time.


Asking for confirmation may also cause confusion. A question such as, "This is the way to the flight line, right?" may elicit a positive response, regardless of truth or intent. A better way to ask is: "Please tell me the way to the flight line."

Finally, negative questions cause perhaps the most misunderstandings across cultures and should be avoided. In English a reply of "yes" to a negative question suggests an affirmative verb, and "no" suggests a negative verb. However, in other cultures the opposite may be the norm. Therefore the answer to a question such as, "Haven't you written the report?" will often be ambiguous or incorrectly understood.

As the Sea Services expand their international partnerships, cross-cultural competence will become more important and opportunities for communication more frequent. When communicating across cultural divides, use caution, professionalism, and courtesy—and keep an open mind. Doing so will make working with coalition partners both more productive and personally satisfying.

Lieutenant Commander Bradford serves as the combat systems officer in the USS Stethem (DDG-63). Annette Bradford, an applied linguist, is a faculty member at Yokohama City University, Japan.

Improving the Commander's Brief

By Major Terry McFarlane, U.S. Air Force (Retired), Commander Woody Henderson, U.S. Navy (Retired), Pam Kelley, and Sam Landau

It's 0330 aboard the USS "Flattop." Petty Officer Smith awakes to start his routine, hours before his regularly scheduled duty day. He is an operations specialist who's spent years perfecting his ability to manage strategic and tactical operations, but that's not the kind of work he'll do today. Today he'll spend about six hours gathering data, preparing and updating slides for the commander's brief. And Petty Officer Smith is only one of the 35 staff members who will spend up to 70 man hours today preparing the brief for the group commander.

This scenario will be replayed today across all deployed expeditionary strike groups (ESGs) and carrier strike groups (CSGs) throughout the Navy. The commander's brief is an essential element of operations, but it can take an inordinate amount of time to prepare and distribute. Improvements are needed in how data is collected, updated, prepared, and disseminated.

The Navy's Human Performance Center (HPC), Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) Detachment, was asked to take a closer look at ways to reduce the time staffs spend to prepare and deliver commanders' briefs. We believe our findings and underlying principles to improve processes can benefit any staff.

Time Is the Problem

As D. S. Alberts and R. E. Hayes show in their study Power to the Edge: Command Control in the Information Age (CCRE Publication Series, 2003), the commander's brief is a prerequisite for establishing daily synchronization that allows orders, missions, and plans of action to be communicated. The brief is typically built in PowerPoint, organized by department, and presented each morning.

Staff members often report hours before their regular duty to collect, coordinate, update, and prepare their portions of the brief. They use a variety of databases and information sources. Besides the possible 70 man hours mentioned earlier, up to another 60 per day may be dedicated to delivering the brief. Times for individuals to prepare their portions vary across strike groups, from ten minutes to six hours per person per day. And the sub-processes for collecting and coordinating data and information and then building and delivering the brief vary significantly across strike groups.

Going In for a Hard Look

First we investigated policy and requirements (OPTASKs and actual commanders' briefs); we collected data from multiple sources, including shipboard observations, interviews, surveys, and document reviews. We conducted interviews at sea and ashore with training group staffs, ESG and CSG staff members, and Trident Warrior 2005 exercise participants. Surveys were completed of exercise participants and personnel charged with preparing and delivering the briefs. We conducted field observations on board carriers, amphibious assault ships, and a shore-based command center during Trident Warrior.

We then compared actual performance to desired performance levels of those strike groups that had been identified as top performers.

We analyzed performance gaps to discover the reasons for differences between actual and desired results. Additionally, we identified some effective habits that could help to improve processes. The goal of this project was not to provide savings or cost avoidance. However, we estimated that a 50 percent reduction in the time to prepare and deliver these briefings could result in improved efficiency and cost avoidance of $ 5.1 million per year (conservatively) across all strike groups Navy-wide.

Recommended Solutions

The Human Performance Center concluded that if the following improvements are made, preparation and delivery time will be reduced. These can be remembered using the acronym USAIL:


  • Use the Knowledge Web (K-Web)
  • Standardize and simplify the information presented
  • Adopt best practices
  • Improve collaboration
  • Lean the commander's briefing process

    U: Use K-Web

    PowerPoint was the most frequently used software application to prepare the commander's brief, but this system creates complexity when tables, maps, and photos must be distributed to units in the SG. It also requires significant bandwidth to transmit. In one ESG, PowerPoint files had to be broken down (decomposed) and sent in batches to units in the group. We saw staff members move maps and graphics to PowerPoint, and then reformat them as JPEG files to reduce their size for transmission. All this greatly slows the process of creating the brief.

    Bandwidth presents a challenge for the Fleet. The Collaboration at Sea (CAS) K-Web database accommodates PowerPoint and was designed for HTML. Use of CAS K-Web provides a readily available technology solution that also decreases time to deliver the briefing. Additionally, it allows units to refer to the brief at a later time, and updates can be provided closer to real time.

    S: Standardize and Simplify the Information Presented


    Analysis of the commander's brief revealed no standard process or template for organizing topics and content. We studied briefs from five ESG and seven CSG staffs engaged in real-world operations. We obtained the briefs from CAS K-Web, and we evaluated them for content, organization, and consistency.

    There was variability in both the number and types of topics briefed. Individual CSGs and ESGs briefed between 12 and 32 distinct topic areas. However, a number of topic areas were common (and essential) to almost every brief. The subjects most frequently seen were:

  • Meteorological and oceanographic information
  • Intelligence
  • Status: logistics
  • Operations: today, future
  • Warfare commanders

    Commanders establish their own briefing requirements individually. But if core topics were standardized, this would streamline the process and reduce preparation and delivery time.

    A: Adopt Best Practices

    As we have just seen, standardizing the brief is considered a best practice. Beyond standardization, there are other general principles for having effective and efficient meetings. On two ships, the commander's brief ran for approximately 1?? hours. Most staff members reported that this was too long. Interviews suggested that a 30-minute brief was considered optimal. Longer briefs reflected a process that wasn't mature, had not been adequately collaborated, or that expanded beyond the commander's requirements.

    I: Improve Collaboration

    Observations and interviews indicated that substantial time savings would be achieved through improved coordination and collaboration within work centers, departments, and across the ESG/CSG.

    Because brief preparation involves many steps (research, data collection, analysis, slide building, review, coordination, final build), each department and staff should take a closer look at its internal processes to identify areas for consolidation and streamlining.

    There are also opportunities to improve collaboration at the group and coalition levels. Two challenges are associated with CAS K-Web use at these levels. One is that the system does not translate across enclaves. U.S. forces have ready access to CAS K-Web, but allied and coalition forces must use CENTRIXS on a separate server. Movement of briefs from CAS K-Web to CENTRIXS is time consuming.

    The second challenge relates to releasing. The potential for error of omission or incorrect distribution (spillage) is significant, and a heavy workload may exacerbate it. Each staff will have to examine its capability to collaborate and communicate with allied and coalition forces, then choose options that cannot jeopardize the objectives of the commander's brief.

    L: Lean the Commander's Briefing Process

    Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that combines tools from Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma quality improvement. The former works on removing unnecessary steps in a process to improve speed; the latter focuses on reducing variation and errors to improve quality. Applying Lean Six Sigma and leaning (that is, paring down) the process should result in significant improvements at the work center, departmental, and/or ESG/CSG levels. We believe that eliminating unnecessary steps and reducing variability will allow better, faster preparation and delivery of the brief.

    The consensus is nearly unanimous: the commander's brief is a key element in communicating commander's intent. It ensures synchronization and the effective carrying out of orders and missions. Commanders and staffs should consider opportunities to improve the brief. We hope the USAIL model helps.

    It's 0630 on board the Flattop. Petty Officer Smith makes a quick stop in his work center to update his section of the commander's brief, then he is off to chow line. He'll spend most of his day on watch, doing the job he spent years learning. The day started with a great brief.

    Commander Henderson, Ms. Kelley, and Dr. Landau are assigned to the Navy Human Performance Center SPAWAR Detachment in San Diego. Major (and Dr.) McFarlane, formerly assigned to the Human Performance Center SPAWAR, now works for the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. She was the principal researcher and analyst for this project.

    Space in Naval Operations: Transforming Sea Power 21

    By Commander Catherine M. Read, U.S. Navy

    Imagine this future scenario: A joint force maritime component commander is preparing for an amphibious assault in a major combat operation. He needs courses of action to detect mines, but the intelligence officer explains that because of competition for national intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems, it's difficult to get coverage for mine operations. The air operations officer says airborne ISR assets are over-tasked but can make a limited contribution.

    So the component commander asks the combatant commander (COCOM) to request launch of a maritime hyper-spectral imagery satellite; this will supplement the limited coverage from national and airborne ISR. The COCOM will task the new hyper-spectral imagery sensor on the satellite to focus on the mine problem in response to minute-by-minute operational developments. Using this strategy, he can preserve his combat forces for the amphibious assault.

    Using space to achieve warfighting objectives is not new. In 1959, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh A. Burke wrote a memo to fleet commanders saying: "The use of satellites for naval purposes is going to come about in a few years: the necessity for close coordination of things pertaining to space with other naval functions will become increasingly important." 1 As the Navy shifts to a net-centric environment that depends on FORCEnet to implement Sea Power 21, Admiral Burke's direction is equally relevant today. 2

    The increasingly complex environment demands greater speed of decision and precision in action. Future warfare will be about speed: acting quickly in the global commons of seas, space, and cyberspace before an adversary saturates our defenses. It will also be about persistence: having the duration and vantage point to find threats and counter them with precision. Assured access to space capabilities will give decision-makers the advantages of speed and persistence to respond to the full range of military operations.

    Space systems must improve to meet these challenges. Currently we focus on acquiring a few complex, multi-mission, expensive satellites that take a decade to build and will operate for many years. We have little room to adapt to current warfighting environments, counter agile adversaries, or incorporate new technologies. Forward deployments and over-flight restrictions limit operations of aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.

    The Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) concept offers options between "big space" and airborne assets. If we have the ability to launch a constellation of mission-specific satellites in a timely manner, theater commanders can use them for tasking related to problems of the moment. ORS satellites are the personal computers of space: as technology and capability improve, lower cost can expand access.

    But to realize this potential, the Navy needs to recognize space power as it relates to sea power—and then demonstrate the leadership to bring it to fruition.

    Expand the Vision

    In 2005, then-CNO Admiral Mike Mullen challenged the Navy to think about sea power as a team effort. 3 Admiral Raymond A. Spruance once defined it as "pushing our front lines as far forward as possible." 4 To realize Sea Power 21, the Navy must extend its front lines into space.

    Space capabilities like satellite communications, ISR, Global Positioning System, and missile warning are the backbone of FORCEnet, which ties together the Sea Power 21 pillars (Sea Shield, Sea Strike, Sea Base, and Sea Shaping). The proper—and flexible—balance of our national assets will make it possible for the Navy to carry out its mission, from maritime domain awareness to major combat operations. This broad vision will be realized by an innovative application of technology and operational concepts. "The acceleration of communications, command, and control capabilities makes possible—for the first time in history—an ocean with no dark corner," said Admiral Mullen. 5 This acceleration depends on insightful leadership and investment in space capabilities. Just as Admiral Spruance recognized and leveraged the power of sea-based aviation during World War II, today the Navy must understand and apply space capabilities to realize Sea Power 21.

    In 2003, then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld started the Tactical Satellite (TacSat) series of demonstrations by exploring small tactical satellites that can be called up in a month, cost less than $20 million, and improve COCOM flexibility. The Naval Research Lab built TacSat-1 in one year for $10 million. 6 The Air Force Research Lab's TacSat-2 launched in December 2006 as an advanced technology demonstration. TacSat-3, with a hyper-spectral imagery payload, is scheduled for launch in June 2008.

    TacSat-4 will provide communications on the move to a theater using existing radios. This is an important capability for tactical forces from all services. The Navy could use it for the "city at sea," communicating with medical teams, electricians, and security personnel supporting civil affairs ashore. Along with communications on the move, TacSat-4 will retrieve data from distributed sensors for maritime domain awareness to support joint access and flow joint forces through the Sea Base for major combat operations.

    As the DOD executive agent for space, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne is responsible for coordinating and integrating our national space plans and programs. 7 The Navy, the only other service to lead a major space program for the joint community, supports the executive agent for space. 8 We have expertise in developing space systems, operating satellites, acquiring space systems, and putting members of the Navy space cadre in operational positions throughout the Fleet. 9

    Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates established the Joint ORS Office in 2007, and the Navy must fully support it. Our knowledge, historical capability, and success in providing low-cost, tactically relevant space capabilities to the Fleet is a crucial contribution to increasing the COCOM's portfolio of capabilities.

    Navy at a Crossroads

    Net-centric operations rely on satellites as the communication backbone to integrate huge volumes of data from widely dispersed decision-makers. Of the 84 mission areas in Sea Power 21, the National Research Council identified 62 as either completely or partially dependent on space. 10 With so much dependence already in place, the Navy's space investment is critical. We cannot afford to be passive users.

    Today's space systems are strategic assets with global coverage. COCOMs are increasingly using space at the tactical level, and as national systems strive to be more responsive to the war fighter, the danger in making systems capable of doing many missions is mediocre performance in all of them. The nation depends on the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) for strategic missile warning, while the Navy depends on it to provide Aegis ships cuing information for theater missile defense.

    SBIRS is behind schedule and over budget, but there is little we can do other than participate in the Joint Requirements Oversight Council. 11 To ensure we have the space capabilities critical to achieving Sea Power 21, the Navy has to become a more active partner with the executive agent for space.

    Applying the Navy talent that made space tactically relevant in the past will maximize the benefit of the nation's investment in space. By focusing on using space to improve operations, the Navy developed the precursor to GPS (Timation) to give ships position information in support of strike operations. 12 Accurate meteorological information is critical to safe operations at sea. To fill the void of data on weather conditions in the open ocean, the Navy developed GeoSat Follow-on (GFO) and WindSat. These measure ocean height and wind vectors from space. 13 Navy Tactical Exploitation of National Capabilities (TENCAP) has a successful research and development record, with a 54 percent success rate over two decades. 14


    A Team Effort

    It is because the Navy adopted the net-centric operations concept that we need to view space as a core Navy competency. We must apply our experience and pragmatic culture to the ORS effort. It is our responsibility to take a leadership role in the Joint ORS office and invest in maritime space capabilities.

    Changes in the post—World War II national security landscape sparked a debate between proponents of strategic bombers and those of carrier aviation. 15 More recently, the military debated the need for unmanned aerial vehicles and manned aircraft, opting in the end for more options and a mix of capabilities for the COCOM. ORS can contribute and give the Navy an opportunity to use its expertise in building affordable, tactically relevant satellites to realize the full potential of Sea Power 21.

    1. OP-00 Memo 00471-59, "Use of Satellites for Naval Purposes," 26 August 1959.

    2. FORCEnet is the operational construct and architectural framework for Naval Warfare in the Information Age to integrate warriors, sensors, networks, command and control, platforms and weapons into a networked, distributed combat force, scalable across the spectrum of conflict from seabed to space and sea to land. It ties the pillars of Sea Power 21 together. see .

    3. Chief of Naval Operations ADM Mike Mullen Speech to the Current Strategy Forum at the Naval War College, Newport RI, 31 August 2005.

    4. Ibid.

    5. Ibid.

    6. If we include $5 million in space parts that were available at no cost, $3 million for launch, and $2 million for flight operations, the total equals the $20 million target cost.

    7. DOD Directive 5101.2, 3 June 2003.

    8. The Navy provides narrowband ultra-high frequency (UHF) SATCOM for the joint community with UHF follow-on (UFO) and the follow-on Mobile User Objective System.

    9. The Navy Space Cadre was established in 2002 as a distinct body of expertise integrated within the Navy active duty, reserves, and civilian employee communities organized to "operationalize" space.

    10. National Research Council, Navy Needs in Space for Providing Future Capabilities (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2005), p. 3.

    11. Secretary of the Air Force letter to Chairman, Subcommittee on Defense, Committee on Appropriations, 10 March 2005, reporting SBBIRS Average Procurement Unit Cost 25 percent over acquisition cost per Title 10 USC 2433 ("Nunn-McCurdy").

    12. The Navy built the first global positioning and timing satellite, Timation, in 1974. Gary Federici, From the Sea to the Stars: A History of U.S. Navy Space and Space-Related Activities (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 1997).

    13. For GFO, see; and for WindSat, see .

    14. Center for Naval Analysis, CNA: Impact of Navy TENCAP: An Approach to Transformation (CNA Corporation, CRM D008717.A1/Final, March 2004).

    15. Jeffery G. Barlow, Revolt of the Admirals: The Fight for Naval Aviation, 1945—1950 (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 1994).

    Commander Read is an intelligence officer and Navy Space Cadre member. She recently transferred from the Chief of Naval Operations, Communication Networks (N6) Staff, where she was responsible for Navy space requirements and resources. She is currently assigned to U.S. Strategic Command Joint Force Component Commander for Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance.




Conferences and Events

Maritime Security Dialogue

Fri, 2016-07-08

You are cordially invited to: Delivering on the Vision for the Future of Submarine Warfare A discussion with Rear Admiral Charles...

2016 Naval History Conference

WEST 2017

San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, CA

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 135 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership