More than 140 military thinkers attended the second Breaking the Mold workshop at U.S. Naval War College last week with the aim of challenging old models that make the U.S. military predictable in battle, according to a NWC release.
Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly, who initiated the workshop series, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work attended the two-day event Oct. 24-25.
In the first workshop, titled: “Breaking the Mold: War and Strategy in the 21st Century,” Mr. Modly presented the broad outlines of the complex issues he faces and the Department of the Navy operates in every day.
“Rising competition on the seas, hypersonics, cyber warfare, nuclear proliferation, Salafist-based violence, piracy, Russian revanchism, Chinese mercantilism, unflyable aircraft, $100 million fighters, not enough ships, swarming drones, artificial islands, $13 billion carriers, $12 billion submarines, escalating healthcare costs, deteriorated fleet readiness, constrained shipbuilding capacity, antiquated acquisition processes, un-auditable financial statement – What is to be done? The answer to this question is not simple, but it can be condensed to a simple tagline ‘Break the Mold’!”
The workshop series is designed to “raise critical questions including ‘unknowns’ about the nature and character of future war to stimulate and provoke imaginative and even counter-intuitive thinking regarding strategic responses; to strengthen the ability for critical analytical thinking and assessment; to create a range of different possible strategies for dealing with future wars in all its forms with implications for active, reserve and guard force structure, composition and levels. Its purpose is to think about the future of war and the strategies necessary to respond to current challenges and challenges yet to come,” said John Jackson, Naval War College professor of unmanned systems and one of the event organizers, at the first workshop held in March.
With participants from the military, academia and the defense industry, attendees more than doubled in size from the first Breaking the Mold session, according to the release.
“The belief is that if we continue to do things the way we’ve always done them, we may not be successful in the changing environment,” Jackson said at the workshop last week.
“We have to adapt to changes in technology, geopolitical situations, what our potential adversaries are doing.”
Organizers purposefully included young voices in this workshop. A third of those in attendance were at the O-5 rank or below. Three-fourths were new to the effort, according to the release.
Participants were encouraged to attend in invitations from Naval War College President Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley and to generate “novel and radical” ideas.
“We should boldly design a Navy 5.0 by extrapolating trends and imagining the Naval services that we want after next,” Harley told the audience Wednesday.
Nine working groups examined “what if” scenarios ranging from the deployment of genetic weapons by rival nations to how the Navy might maintain the U.S. fleet in the event of an American economic collapse.
The Naval War College will publish a public report on the conclusions from the workshop in about three months, as it did after the March session.
Findings from the first workshop
In remarks in the first Breaking the Mold report, Mr. Modley identified agility as a critical characteristic to be further developed in the naval services.
“Agility is the term that I believe best describes the overall organizational quality that has determined, and will determine, who and what survives in any increasingly competitive, rapidly changing, and unpredictable environment. This is the environment our Navy faces today, so I think we will ultimately be judged by how well we transition our forces and our supporting organizations to a future in which agility is their defining characteristic,” he wrote.
To agility, he also added the qualities of velocity or speed, adaptability, collaboration (sharing information freely), visibility (data) and innovation to be applied to naval operations, business reform, and recruiting, training and education to solve challenges.
“Agile organizations are adept at and comfortable with trying new things—with experimenting, failing, measuring, and trying again — all with a view toward finding new solutions to current and anticipated problems…” Modly wrote, and he pointed to the painstaking process the Wright Brothers used before they achieved first flight. “The Wright Brothers’ story is remarkable. It is great history, but it is also a pure innovation case study. Even though this occurred over one hundred years ago, Orville and Wilbur Wright demonstrate that innovation is driven by constant trial and error, meticulous documentation, and the deliberate construction of a culture of learning. We need a ‘learning culture’ in the Navy,” Modly wrote, and he described it as a “core value.”
The Under Secretary wrote he foresees that major course corrections in naval training and educational programs will be needed to counter the current turbulent security environment, and near-peer competition in which the naval services must operate in today, so he has commissioned a comprehensive clean-sheet review of naval education to determine how well the department is educating — not merely training — naval forces today and for the future with a “greater emphasis on developing officers with an understanding of strategy, policy, and national security thinking.”
“For knowledge to truly produce sea power, we must create a culture in the Navy and Marine Corps that is committed to learning as a lifelong process — and a lifelong passion. Such a culture is not defined merely by certificates or degrees accumulated at regular career intervals, but rather it encourages innovation and risk-taking and produces Sailors and Marines who are prepared to excel in circumstances that are characterized by uncertainty, and by adversaries who are unpredictable.”
Mr. Modly concluded by “citing one of the many memorable quotes of John Paul Jones, because it relates to why agile minds will matter so much in our future Navy. Jones famously said, ‘Men mean more than guns in the rating of a ship.’ It loses nothing in the translation when we say, ‘People mean more than weapons in the rating of a service.’ Jones’s quote recognizes a profound point of truth that is perhaps even more relevant today than it was over 200 years ago. Our maritime advantage is, and will continue to be, almost entirely dependent upon the quality of our people. It follows, therefore, that the agility of our future force will be almost entirely depen¬dent upon the agility of the people we identify now to lead it. Therefore, I encourage you to think about breaking the mold in a way that allows us to recruit, train, equip, and educate the most quick-minded, flexible, collaborative, innovative, and transparent people we can find. If we do this, we will set the Navy on the course for maritime superiority well into this century.”
The first Breaking the Mold report is available on the Naval War College website, www.usnwc.edu.