Secretary of Defense James Mattis declared that the United States must be “strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable” in the 2018 National Defense Strategy. Arguably, the U.S. Navy has become too predictable both in terms of where it deploys, what tools it deploys with, and how it operates once deployed. Similarly, the way the Department of the Navy develops its budget is fixed and predictable in terms of how and to what it allocates resources. Former Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Don Pilling once observed, “80 percent of OPNAV spends 90 percent of its time developing a POM [program objective memorandum] that changes less than 5 percent from the previous year’s POM.” In other words, the Navy has created an operational and fiscal “mold” that is perfectly predictable. The United States’ strategic competitors, especially China and Russia, understand the mold, and they cleverly, adroitly, and quickly maneuver around and ahead of it.
Be Predictably Unpredictable
By Rear Admiral Jeff Harley, U.S. Navy and Captain Robby Harris, U.S. Navy (Retired)