(See J. McDonnell, pp. 60–64, October 2013; and Y. Aboul-Enein, pp. 9, 86, November 2013 Proceedings)
Vice Admiral Ronald A. Route, U.S. Navy (Retired), President, Naval Postgraduate School—There has been recent discussion in the media—and in the hallways—about the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), to which I would like to add my personal observations and recent experience. As a student here in the mid-1970s, I gained an extraordinary education that served me and my Navy very well, every day, throughout the rest of my 36-year active-duty career. I was recently appointed president of this institution, and I have had various meetings with students, faculty, and staff. I have learned a lot in my short time in office so far, as we have prepared for a visit by a committee of the National Research Council.
As directed by Congress, the committee is tasked with studying DOD degree-granting graduate programs in science, engineering, mathematics, and management. During the opening session with the committee, I emphasized that NPS educates to accredited degree requirements, while providing curricula tailored to meet Navy sponsor requirements.
I explained that I personally had benefited greatly from a curriculum that included real-world warfare and operations applications; critical thinking and problem solving about real Navy issues; and computer simulation, war gaming, campaign analysis, and national-security decision-making—all at the appropriate classified level whenever needed. And my master’s thesis supported ongoing research at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center.
Fast-forward to today, and to our students here at NPS. In general, they are junior and mid-grade officers who come straight from the Fleet or the battlefield. They come with real-world experience and firsthand knowledge of operational problems. The classroom is diverse, representing all services plus some 200 international officers and a number of DOD civilians. They share their experiences and ask questions from various operational and cultural perspectives. Many could not have embarked on a technical degree without the tailored preparation available at NPS.
Our faculty is world-class, with recognized experts everywhere you look—and read. NPS has cultivated a pool of specialized faculty whose expertise is particularly relevant and useful.
NPS stands alone in its ability to quickly develop and offer specialized curricula (such as undersea warfare, C4I and cyber warfare, military systems engineering, and acquisition) that are largely unavailable elsewhere because of lack of civilian interest, uneconomically small classes, constraints on classified research, and absence of relevant expertise and faculty.
Our ongoing research programs directly support the students in the classroom by keeping our course content on the cutting edge and providing student opportunities in areas useful to DOD. Research enriches our students’ experience today and prepares us for the course work we should be teaching years from now.
Many other factors could and should be discussed: ready access to proving grounds and target ranges (air, ground, and sea), our close relationships with other local military commands, our collaboration with regional academic institutions, and our successful, fully accredited distance-learning programs.
The NPS I know is vibrant and relevant and makes an extraordinary education opportunity available to 1,700 resident students in one place, at one time. Those students are our Navy’s future. And they will help shape it! If the Navy did not already have an NPS in place, it would surely have to build one.
Lieutenant Commander Timothy P. McGeehan, U.S. Navy—Captain McDonnell’s article calls for the Navy to reevaluate the value of NPS in light of recent staff misconduct. However, the premise that ethical shortcomings of a few should question the need for the institution as a whole is like the proverbial throwing the baby out with the bathwater. NPS provides the Navy with a necessary capability that cannot be duplicated.
Civilian universities do provide education in similar subjects. However, all NPS curricula have an operational/defense focus. A civilian MBA does not prepare a student to address the complexities of the defense finance or acquisition systems, but an NPS MBA does. NPS designs responsive curricula to meet requirements above and beyond what is needed for a similar civilian degree and also provides unique military-only programs. Additionally, unlike its civilian counterparts, NPS executes a significant volume of classified research and is a resource for graduates to “reach back” to faculty and consult on operational (often classified) issues.
The faculty is expensive. World-class talent will always be expensive (just like state-of-the-art weapon systems). NPS does occupy prime real estate, but the same could be said for the Naval Academy, Naval War College, and National Defense University. However, there are intrinsic benefits of NPS’ location, such as proximity to Monterey Bay, a natural laboratory complete with an underwater canyon that allows oceanography, undersea warfare, and unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) engineering students the rarity of local access to both near-shore and deep-ocean environments.
Captain McDonnell suggested only entities like the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) should execute research, not NPS. While NRL has world-class researchers, it only has a handful of military personnel, limiting the influx of fresh Fleet perspectives. In contrast, NPS has around 1,500 military students. Assuming each arrives having spent five years in the Fleet gives NPS 7,500 years of recent practical military experience to draw on. Coupled with a high turnover rate, this assures a constant flow of ideas and familiarity with current issues. NPS also gathers students in interdisciplinary settings like the Consortium for Robotics and Unmanned Systems Education and Research, leveraging students’ military experience to generate innovative technology and concepts as well as address their ethical warfighting implications.
At NPS, students establish professional relationships within and between the services as well as with allied officers. The potential value of these relationships cannot be overstated, considering King Abdullah of Jordan, a critical ally in the Middle East, is an alumnus.
The Navy is downsizing. Fewer officers should bolster the case for NPS, as they must therefore be better officers. We live in the age of the “strategic corporal,” where a relatively junior person’s actions can have disproportionately large effects. Funding NPS is cheap compared to international incidents caused by poor decision-making stemming from weak analytical skills. Perhaps Derek Bok, former president of Harvard, said it best: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
Captain Brian Buzzell, U.S. Navy (Retired)—The answer to Captain McDonnell’s question about whether NPS is a sacred cow is, unfortunately, yes. I was part of the analysis team when the Department of Defense reviewed potential candidates for the Base Realignment and Closing (BRAC) recommendations of 1993, 1995, and 2005. Each time, we concluded that the Navy could reap significant savings by closing NPS, without jeopardizing the ability of Navy and Marine Corps officers to earn master’s degrees or doctorates. Yet, senior Navy leaders repeatedly pulled the NPS off the final list that BRAC sent to the Secretary of Defense. The reasons? First was an unspoken apprehension throughout the Fleet that our officers and enlisted personnel would not be accepted to top-quality universities in the United States, and therefore the Navy needed its own institution. Second was a widespread belief that young U.S. Sea Service officers would reap incalculable benefits by interaction with the foreign military officers and officials who attend the NPS.
BRAC’s analysts found that neither reason was supported by the statistics that they reviewed, and that NPS wasn’t worth the cost (of more than $1 million per student back then) to put a Navy or Marine Corps officer through the NPS’ master’s or doctoral program. As a result, despite Captain McDonnell’s valid suggestion that the Navy needs to rethink the school’s “real value” to the service, it appears that NPS will continue to enjoy its tenure—and immunity from closure—for many years to come.
(See J. S. Spaner and H. LeBail, pp. 30–35, October 2013; and J. Howe and D. Dears, pp. 8–9, November 2013 Proceedings)
Thomas Wyman—The authors of this timely article do a good job of alerting readers to the challenges posed by global warming and rising ocean levels. They quote the President’s Climate Action Plan saying that “climate change represents one of the greatest challenges of our time.” Given the inexorable nature of this worldwide phenomenon, it is not too early to ask, “What more should America be doing to begin preparing for the inevitable?”
The modern world has never faced a geographical threat of this magnitude, where all coastal nations will be affected by rising waters. A concerted effort is under way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to slow temperature increases. However, prudence suggests that America should also mobilize a well-funded blue-ribbon task force that includes representatives of the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, and Geological Survey, as well as technical representatives from the private sector with experience in planning and managing major earth-moving and construction projects. The charge of such a task force would be to begin assessing the challenges that the United States faces from rising coastal waters and to start developing countermeasures. This will involve establishing priorities for the protection of threatened coastal areas both here in North America as well as areas overseas that include U.S. possessions and territories. It will not be possible to thwart Mother Nature in her inundation of all coastal and offshore island areas, but it is essential that we begin to establish priorities and formulate a plan of action rather than simply acquiesce to the inevitable.
An early initiative of such a task force should include a visit to the Netherlands to study measures the Dutch have taken to protect and reclaim hundreds of square miles of land from the sea. Their experience in building and maintaining dikes to control sea waters is unequaled, and this experience should be the starting point for the United States in developing an understanding of the challenges our nation faces in preparing a national action plan.
This would not be an exercise in “contingency planning,” but instead, it would be planning for the inevitable, thus giving the undertaking a unique imperative. It will be a long-term project. Indeed, there is no assurance that the rate of rise of sea levels worldwide will be constant and will not, at some point, accelerate as a result of melting permafrost or thawing methane hydrate deposits releasing new volumes of methane. Consequently, this is not a “can to be kicked down the road” indefinitely, but rather, it is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed without delay before it becomes a national emergency.
(See M. Cooper, pp. 52–57, September 2013 Proceedings)
Rear Admiral Richard Breckenridge, U.S. Navy—Mr. Cooper argues that “the United States can best meet the dual challenges of modern international politics and declining budgets by cancelling SSBN(X) and focusing on ballistic-missile defense.” His argument that ballistic-missile defense (BMD) should have an increased role in the future is absolutely right. His argument that this role should allow us to cancel the Ohio-class replacement ballistic-missile submarine (SSBN) is, on the other hand, absolutely wrong.
First, Mr. Cooper has a profound misunderstanding of deterrence. It influences the decision-making of an adversary because it threatens to “deny benefits of action and impose unacceptable costs” on that adversary. Defense alone potentially denies the benefit but does not impose a cost on an adversary; indeed, it invites the adversary to keep trying until he succeeds. Imagine two classical armies meeting on a battlefield, one armed with spears, swords, and shields and the other armed only with shields—is there any chance that the shields-only force would deter conflict? Did France’s Maginot Line of concrete fortifications deter mobile German armor in 1940?
Second, Mr. Cooper has a blind spot when it comes to the limitations of BMD. Ship-based BMD is effective only against a particular type of ballistic-missile threat and offers nothing to deter any other class of threat. I don’t want to minimize the great importance of BMD today against rogue states, but it is a severe overstatement to say that the ability to stand as a defender between fixed-launch areas of small-scale missile forces in Iran and North Korea and the fixed-target areas of our allies in some way replaces a survivable, global nuclear deterrent.
Third, Mr. Cooper forgets the critical role our survivable sea-based deterrent plays in the U.S. extended deterrent. Our strong nuclear deterrent acts to dissuade our allies from developing their own nuclear capabilities. If our protected allies were to judge that we no longer provided an effective deterrent on their behalf, they may field their own nuclear weapons, almost certainly leading to a cascade of proliferation.
Fourth, Mr. Cooper selectively quotes from the Nuclear Posture Review and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s reports to Congress but fails to note that both documents conclude that the investment in the Ohio replacement SSBN is essential and the highest priority. The Chief of Naval Operations has determined the same thing. Our defense leadership has weighed all the factors listed by Mr. Cooper—and other factors he did not address—and judged that the new SSBN is not only required but is a top priority.
It has been 23 years since we bought our last new SSBN, and it will be another eight years before we buy the next. The time to invest in survivable deterrence for the future is fast approaching. There are still thousands of nuclear warheads in the world in the hands of authoritarian leaders, and there is no indication that they are moving to give up these weapons. Indeed, there are good reasons to fear trends in the opposite direction. There will be enough deterrence work to go around. The simple fact is that the next generation of SSBNs will have its hands full providing survivable nuclear deterrence, and the next generation of BMD ships will have its hands full providing robust missile defense.