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Preparing for Tomorrow, Today
By Lieutenant David E. Miller, U. S. Navy
Second Honorable Mention
Vincent Astor Memorial Leadership Essay Contest
Yesterday, today, and tomorrow meld in this timeless photograph of a lieutenant, right, and two watchstanders plotting the submerged course of the nuclear sub Triton nearly 25 years ago. What leadership principles have changed since 1960, and how many more will change because
of future technological breakthroughs?
If we accept that the goal of the naval leader is to “inspire men to give of their individual and corporate best in all circumstances”—as British historian Geoffrey Bennett wrote in his book Nelson the Commander (Scribner, 1972)—and that the career path from junior to senior officer is an unbroken series of experience tours designed to broaden our perspective and increase our leadership potential, it is natural to ask what qualities make up leadership. In essence, the question becomes, “What qualities can the junior officer begin to develop early in his career, based on experiences as a division officer or department head, to become a better leader at the senior officer level?” Lessons of the Past: Should We Imitate Previous Leaders?
There is a tendency to want to develop leadership potential by studying the accomplishments of past leaders. However, it is not always possible to pinpoint the cause of a leader’s success.
We cannot simply try to repeat the decisions of past leaders and hope to achieve the same success. The actions of Admiral Raymond Spruance at the Battle of Midway were very successful, but it is doubtful whether they could be repeated in a different battle with the same success. Nor can one simply emulate the outward behavior of a successful naval leader and expect to duplicate his results. Admiral William Halsey’s aggressive demeanor is fairly easy to imitate, but it is doubtful whether this would assure his imitator the same level of achievement.
If we study military history to discover what makes a good leader, we should examine planning prior to action taken in battle to develop a philosophy of leadership. This is because the actions taken preparatory to a battle reveal more of the leader’s approach to problem-solving than do the specific actions during battle-
Perhaps the exploits of no naval hero in history are so well documented as those of Lord Nelson. The reasons given for Lord Nelson’s supremacy as a naval leader are many and usually vary according to which biographer is being read- But one particular trait is expounded by virtually all: Nelson could envision wared sea.
It seems that Lord Nelson’s successes were preceded by forethought and anticipation. He could visualize scenarios with the enemy. With such foresight. Lord Nelson was able to develop effective naval battle plans to defeat Napoleon’s navy.
Geoffrey Bennett discussed the key to the superiority of the British seamen under Lord Nelson’s leadership when he wrote:
“Both the British and French Fleets
The crucial lesson here is not so much that Great Britain won because of the eroics of its officers. It is that France, Wlth seamen of equal potential and reput- better warships, lost because of a shortage of leadership within its naval officer corps.
Lord Nelson stressed the importance of nowing his commanders. Lord Nelson ^°uld have one of his captains dine with ini each night at sea, so he could explain ls Warfighting philosophy. He would exPlain what he anticipated from the eneniy and what his preplanned responses Would be for a given scenario. Later, in I rence to the Nile campaign, one of ord Nelson’s captains commented that ey were able to carry on after Lord Nel- S°n had been disabled by gunshot be- nause each commanding officer had been
w ,---- , --------- F------- very
r°ng if he places his ship alongside that an enemy.”
were largely manned by men culled from an ignorant, unskilled, unruly rabble: to turn them into an effective instrument of war required discipline, training and, above all, leaders. The Royal Navy had many officers who had learned this lesson: the French Republican Navy had all too few to turn their men into crews who could tuake proper use of their better de- S1gned, more powerfully gunned
, r,cfed personally by Lord Nelson and exactly what was expected.
In preparation for his last sea fight, -ord Nelson sent a secret communique to Js CaPtains as they sailed off the coast of adiz, waiting for the French to attempt a " for the open sea. His now famous fafalgar Memorandum” outlined two fcencral scenarios for his captains to an- ^'Pate—one if the British had the winded position and another if the French
ad the wind. Such was the “Nelson touch.”
*n bis preparation for battle, Nelson l1°nsidered the tactical possibilities which e uiight have to face before they oc- to^cd. Then, he had the good judgment cacknowledge that the command and ^°ntrol system of his day—the signal . -Var(l—would not be adequate for cen- a >zed control: so he made his intentions ■town prior to battle. His most quoted vice was that if command and control Cre disrupted, “No Captain can do 1
__ ec*sions to haul out of the line of bat- y' as Lord Nelson did at Cape Saint . lriCent, or to send in “Torpedo 8,” as . niiral Spruance did at the Battle of 1 Way, are reflections of their tactical nius under specific conditions of war. the study of such battle campaigns is
not enough to develop a general approach to leadership.
Looking Toward the Future: What Should We Anticipate?
It is worthwhile, as officers preparing for future positions of responsibility, to reconsider the essence of leadership as it applies to today’s Navy. It is possible to observe the past and extract valuable lessons. However the true leaders will be marked by their ability to not only learn from the past, but to anticipate and be ready for the future.
The responsibility of the junior officer, as he matures through experience as a division officer and department head, is not to anticipate how he will solve today’s problems when he becomes a senior officer. Rather, the junior officer today must formulate his vision of what problems the future is likely to present many years from now when, in fact, he becomes a senior officer.
As a starting point, the junior officer must ask, “What will the naval challenges likely be over the next ten years?”
In the past two decades, the U. S. Navy has seen an unsurpassed technological explosion. There is no reason to presume that this evolution of technological and military hardware will decelerate before the current crop of junior officers attains senior rank. If anything, future senior military officers will need to develop a higher level of technical expertise to be effective decision makers.
The responsibility of leadership is to ask, “Given a new technology, what new tasks can now be performed that were previously impossible?” New technologies enable leaders with a vision of the future to go forward.
Too often the natural inclination is to ask, “Given a new technology, what old tasks can now be done faster or easier?” Leaders who continually ask this question may know where they are going, but they fail to move in a forward direction.
Leaders of the line are responsible to translate their operational problems into meaningful statements of hardware and software requirements. Without a correct statement of technical requirements, the leadership afloat cannot expect the proper response from the engineering systems commands ashore.
As history indicates, it is fairly easy to say that leaders must develop a vision of what the future Navy will be. However, it is quite difficult to develop that vision with an exactness that assures success.
In 1982 the Naval Studies Board of the National Research Council convened the Panel on the Implications of Advancing Technology for Naval Aviation. The
panel concluded in its study that:
“The main, and growing, threat to the Navy at sea is from cruise missiles. . . . Future missiles can be expected to have longer ranges and to approach their targets from unexpected angles, at high speeds with short intercept times, utilizing saturation tactics. . . . Delivery platforms will be able to approach U. S. ships from 360 degrees azimuth, wherever they are. . . . [Furthermore,] “our current long range defenses will no longer be able to reach the launch platforms, and shorter range defenses in heavy ECM [electronic countermeasures] environments can potentially be saturated. Longer defense reach and shorter response time are essential.”
The panel subsequently concluded that the need to develop longer range defenses and shorter response times means that naval leadership will need more technical expertise. It stated:
“The leverage of technology will accrue in the application to surveillance, sensors, communications, computation capability, new and improved weapon systems and weapons guidance and control. Even more essential will be the demand for total system integration and control which will require data handling and presentation for effective command. Thus, the key technologies are in electronics and electronic systems.”
In addition to envisioning the threat, we must also anticipate the state of our personnel. The fleet in Lord Nelson's time was generally manned by enlisted men culled from the lower classes of society, with virtually no education. We find that, by comparison, today’s bluejacket is typically well-trained and personally motivated. But we cannot be content to compare the quality of our sailors today with the quality of their predecessors since today’s sailors face more difficult challenges. Vice Admiral William P. Mack, U. S. Navy (Retired), concluded in The Naval Officer’s Guide (Naval Institute Press, 1983) that the demographics of the 1980s have produced an enlisted structure which is “young, not as well educated as it should be, short in middle grade petty officers and partially staffed by women who are prevented by law from serving in combatant ships and aircraft.”
Technology will change the manner in which work is performed and decisions are made. Robotics is now a promising technology. The question for future leaders should be, when will the robots join the battle group? The Naval Studies Board concluded:
“The developing technologies of electronics, sensors, computer control, and robotics can be used to reduce drastically the need for continuous human monitoring and intervention in operation and maintenance of naval machinery in enginerooms and elsewhere aboard ship.”
Similarly, artificial intelligence will be used to aid in decision making. The current command and control system already possesses the ability to drown an afloat staff in a sea message traffic. The next step—which is not far away technically— is to have an intelligent computer sift through the morass of data we are capable of generating and provide us with an optimal decision based on the best data available. Keep in mind that automated decision making does not have to be perfect—only better than the enemy’s.
The short response times mandated by the cruise missile threat will require that combat systems of the future possess a programmable logic capable of implementing weapons response doctrine and rules of engagement criteria. A glance at our current Aegis system shows that we are already moving in this direction.
The Present: What Should We Do Today?
So what does all this talk of missiles, computers, and robots portend for the junior officer today whose biggest worry is the preventive maintenance system inspection scheduled for next Thursday?
Quite simply, now is the time for today’s junior officer to make preparations for the future. Now is the time to develop the skills and technical mind-set that will be needed to grapple with the future responsibilities of command.
When today’s junior officers assume command, they should expect nothing less than to be held accountable for all actions that involve their commands. Men who aspire to command at sea— whether they are from the aviation, surface, or submarine community—must accept that their level of accountability will be tied to an implicit understanding of high technology. A captain whose combat system fails in time of battle because he is ignorant of computer hardware or software will be just as guilty as the skipper whose ship runs aground because of navigational errors or propulsion malfunctions.
Certainly, there are many attributes that are expected of a naval leader besides technical expertise. He must be a diplomat, a strategist, and much more. The problem is that, over the course of a career, the leader will need both technical and non-technical expertise. Yet, a standard career path only allows for one postgraduate education opportunity. At some point, the junior officer must determine which type of education he can best teach himself through reading and correspondence. Most studies show that technical education is better absorbed in the classroom. Non-technical education may often be learned adequately through independent study or correspondence courses taught by the Naval War College.
To be a successful leader at the senior officer level, the junior officer years must be used as an apprenticeship to plan and prepare for the future. If the essence of leadership is the ability to inspire men to give of their individual and corporate best, then I claim that rational men will follow a leader because they have confidence that he knows where he is going and is going there in the forward direction. The highly talented and technically trained enlisted men in today’s Navy will look to their division officers and department heads for that sense of technical competence and confidence.
Lord Nelson once wrote, “Something must be left to chance; nothing is ever sure in a sea fight.” Many years later, scientist Louis Pasteur aptly commented, “Luck favors the prepared mind.”
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