Around these parts, where Proceedings is published, ex scientia tridents—from knowledge seapower—is not an idle expression. Ever since the Naval Academy was founded, naval leaders have well understood the crucial importance of knowledge. Much of this pursuit of knowledge was oriented to technical subjects on which navies were largely dependent in fielding capable men of war to dominate the seas and defeat or deter rival powers.
But today, China withstanding, there are no enemy navies to defeat. As far as we know, al Qaeda and other extremist groups have neither plans nor ambitions to possess conventional military forces. This enemy is pursuing the classic strategy of Sun Tzu: outflanking the strengths of its opponents and attacking the heart of their social and political systems. We can win by knowing far more about the enemy and how to defeat it or by praying that these Jihadist extremists, rather like hula hoops and leisure suits, simply disappear.
To paraphrase Douglas MacArthur, to achieve victory "there is no substitute for knowledge." And, while the Department of Defense has embraced "transformation" as a permanent goal, that transformation has not yet seeped deeply enough into; the educational system.
Because of these reasons, last year Navy Secretary Gordon England asked for a major review of naval education, which I was privileged to lead. The review extended to the Naval Academy, War College, Postgraduate School, and Marine Corps University. Below are a few of the more significant findings of that study.
First, the process of naval education has been largely linear-university and commissioning followed by post-graduate study, junior war or staff college, and ultimately senior war college. Second, despite the individual value of these institutions, integration and coordination among and between each has not been viewed as a priority. Third, senior leadership has not set any aims or requirements except in the most general terms as to what each member of the naval service is expected to achieve regarding education, knowledge, and learning. And finally and most important, the measure of achievement must be the knowledge and learning that are gained.
So what might the CNO and CMC consider as ways for making better use of these precious assets? To drive home the importance of knowledge and learning, an annual learning report should be mandated. Every commanding officer or appropriate supervisor would meet with the officers and enlisted for whom they are responsible to establish learning objectives for the oncoming year that would cover both individual and professional needs. Annually, each individual would be counseled as to what was achieved and what was not. Part of this process would be to reverse the impression that, given the many demands in terms of assignments needed for promotion, graduate education is harmful to professional health.
Second, the most senior uniform and civilian naval leadership must establish standards for what levels and types of learning and knowledge must be acquired during a career. To coordinate and integrate the various institutions and to achieve an ongoing rather than linear process of education, a knowledge, learning, and education board should be established and headed by a retired four-star officer. The heads of each institution plus others would sit on this board, the purpose of which would be to ensure that learning and knowledge goals set by the leadership were achieved.
Third, these observations have national application. The National Defense University system needs to be transformed into one for national security, expanding the aperture both to course content and student body across all of government charged with national security. At the service academy levels, this might mean greatly expanding enrollment and budgets. At graduation, those not entering military service would be commissioned in the reserves and do their obligated service in specified national security billets throughout government.
Finally, to underscore and recognize these actions, perhaps the Naval Academy motto, as the Navy hymn, might be amended to read "From Knowledge and Learning, Seapower."
Harlan Ullman, a former Swift boat and destroyer skipper, is a columnist for Proceedings.