Ed.   As many know by now, the new strategy was released earlier this past week at the Naval War College and has generated a good deal of discussion.  The expectation is that the level of that discussion will elevate next week around the blogsphere.  In anticipation of that I asked the author if he would be interested in posting his perspective on the creation of this important document – to which he graciously agreed. I met the author at a CNA symposium on creation of the Maritime Strategy back in 2006 and, cognizant of the climb that lay ahead, nonetheless envied his opportunity given the corporate attitudes ("we don’t need a new strategy")  I had to fight when I was N51B advocating for a new strategy. Read what he has to say – read the strategy and let’s discuss over the coming week…  – SJS

     I would like to thank SJS for the opportunity to spend some time with his readers giving some background and insight into the development of “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower”, our new Maritime Strategy. From an email exchange, here is what he asked me to cover: 

Re. content — I think what most folks would like is visibility into the creation — what your entering argument was, what directions from leadership (military and civilian) were, the "sounding out" process (CNA seminar, NWC road show) and why you felt that approach had to be taken.  Of course, there are going to be comparisons with the ’86 MS and that might be a good foil — your call.”

I am an active duty Commander in the United States Navy, and I led the Navy team responsible for developing this strategy. By way of background, I was previously the CO of a DDG, XO of a Cruiser, and I am now in the midst of my fourth Washington Tour. I will retire in the Spring.

    In the summer of 2006, ADM Mullen gave a speech at the Current Strategy Forum in Newport, RI in which he called for the development of a new Maritime Strategy. At the time, I was a student at the Joint Forces Staff College, getting ready to come to DC for a tour in surface warfare requirements. I remember vividly thinking when I read the reports of ADM Mullen’s speech, that some poor S.O.B was going to have to be the guy that leads that effort. Several weeks later, I received a call from VADM Morgan (N3N5) telling me that he was re-routing me to work directly for him, that I was to be that poor S.O.B.

    I reported in September of 2006, having done a good bit of professional reading en route. During my first meeting with VADM Morgan, I asked a few important questions, questions that ultimately would determine my ability to do the job I was being asked to do. The first question was, “do you already have a strategy sitting in one of those desk drawers?”   I did not relish the possibility that I would work for a year, only to have him whip out a strategy at the last minute and say “here it is.” “No” was his answer. The next question I asked was, “Am I being hired to write a strategy that justifies a 313 ship Navy?” “No” was his answer. “What if we come up with a strategy that strongly indicates a bigger fleet is necessary?”   “Write it” he said. “What if it strongly indicates a smaller fleet?” “Write it” he said. What he made clear was what CNO had told him; he wanted an open and inclusive process, a competition of ideas. While I would have preferred locking myself with five smart folks in a room for a month, CNO wanted this to be a much more open process, to include reaching out to the American public along the way. We came to call these strategy symposiums the “Conversations with the Country”, and there should be no mistake about it—the idea for doing them came directly from the CNO.

    The other CNO decision that was ultimately very important to how the document eventually was written, was his insistence that it be a tri-service effort. Some will mistakenly look to this as a “Navy” strategy, and while it clearly speaks to much of what we do, it has the equities of the other two services bound up in it also.

    At first, I had two O4’s to work with me—both selected for O5 and really sharp. They had already begun to implement the broad outlines of a process, and the hard work of thinking and analysis had already begun in Newport at the Naval War College. Let me lay out the process of how we got to the Strategy announced on the 17th of October.


PHASE I—August 2006—January 2007

    This phase of the strategy effort took place almost exclusively at the Naval War College. RADM Shuford, Professor Barney Rubel and Professor Peter Dombrowski and many others from that institution have much to be proud of in the Strategy we eventually adopted. During these months, the College conducted numerous workshops and symposiums designed to assess the strategic environment and create maritime strategy options.

    Owing to what all involved believed was a tight timeline, leadership decided that a full-up alternative futures effort would be time consuming and costly. Furthermore, there were already a number of very important futures documents on the street from which we would be able to borrow, including the NIC 2020 document, the Joint Operational Environment, and the CSIS Seven Futures study. The strategic environment workshop in late August brought together a wide variety of people from the fleets, from the other service war colleges, and from academia. They produced a report that served as the eventual basis for the portion of the strategy that surveys the security environment.

    RADM Shuford and his staff decided that the best way to proceed would be to define a “key uncertainty”; that is, the question that would underpin the gaming and analysis designed to create strategy options. They key uncertainty chosen was “What will the direction of American foreign policy be in the next 20 years?” Relying on classic International Relations 101 grand strategy ideas, they created Blue Executive Teams along the following Grand Strategy lines—Primacy, Selective Engagement, Cooperative Security and Offshore Balancing. Senior grandees from DC and the academy were asked to play the parts of the Blue Executive teams, and their job was to provide NSC level grand strategy guidance to the Blue Working Groups who would then begin to think about Maritime Strategy along the corresponding Grand Strategy vectors. 

    Red Executive and Working Groups were also created. The Red Executive team designated a half-dozen “strategic entities” (defined as an actor who could both formulate and execute strategy), and Red Working Groups were then given high level guidance from Red Exec teams replicating the chosen strategic entities.

    Over the course of the fall, a series of moves and counter-moves were conducted, using players from the Fleet, FMF, the Coast Guard, OPNAV, MCCDC, and the Coast Guard HQ. My role during this time was to watch and listen, while serving as a liaison from the OPNAV staff to the activities ongoing at the War College.

    Running concurrently with these games, the Naval War College and my staff began conducting the “Conversations with the Country”. We were eventually to conduct seven, in Newport, Phoenix, Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Chicago. I was a huge skeptic of these forums from the start; by the end, I saw some value in them. We relied upon several methods of creating the invitation list for these events. We started with the Naval War College Foundation mailing list—but then worked with state humanities councils, civic groups and academic groups to try and get a broad cross-section of Americans. Did we succeed? Not entirely. We got a lot of old, white guys who had military backgrounds. But we also got a lot of teachers, first responders, friends of folks in the military—just plain citizens who were just plain pleased to be asked their opinion. And that’s what we mainly did—while we jiggered with the formula over the course of the Conversations, we never wavered from the central proposition that we were there to listen.

    What we learned is what we say in the strategy. They want us to remain strong, they want us to protect them here in their homeland, and they want us to work with other nations around the world to preserve peace. Sounds pretty boilerplate, right. Think again. I’ve spent a goodly part of the past 21 years working the edges of the empire; I just naturally assumed that the American public knew what we were doing out there and that they had some appreciation for why we do it. I was shocked at how wrong I was…my strongest take-away from the early conversations was that Homeland Defense and National Defense were the exact same thing to most of the people in the audience. They were concerned with porous borders, port security, and terrorists on airplanes. I did not discern a great deal of understanding as to why we were forward deployed around the world. There was only a vague sense of the importance of the Navy.

    Also in this time, we had to invent a way to work and staff the Maritime Strategy. I, working with my Marine and Coast Guard counterparts, created a “Terms of Reference” document in October of 2006 which laid out in detail how we would create and staff a Maritime Strategy—that is, how we would arrive on tri-service consensus as to what would be in the Strategy. We made it our goal to have such a framework developed in time for the June 2007 Current Strategy Forum so that we would then have all summer to write it in time for the International Seapower Symposium in October 2007. I have never been involved in anything as complicated (staffing wise) as this, so we basically created our own staffing process, got the requisite Service signatures, and ran with it. More on this as we go forward.

    In January of 2007, RADM Shuford and Professor Rubel briefed the Maritime Strategy Executive Committee (EXCOM) on the five “Maritime Strategy Options” (MSO)that had been developed as a result of their deliberations. They received from the EXCOM permission to continue to develop all five, and that they would have to come back to the EXCOM in March.

Phase II—March 2007-June 2007

    During this time, the War College appointed teams of academics to flesh out the five MSO’s. I would travel up most weeks to look in on things, and every two weeks I would brief a body known as the Maritime Strategy Task Force (MSTF) on the progress. The MSTF was a body of O5/O6 and civilian equivalents from all the OPNAV codes, the Joint Staff, OSD, and many Navy offices around DC. I would vet ideas with this body, and then feed them back into the mix up at Newport.

    The five MSO’s under development at this time were the following. MSO A—A primacist Maritime Strategy. MSO B—a force structure oriented strategy that borrowed from “legacy” forces to stiffen high end capability and low end capability. MSO C—an Offshore Balancing Maritime Strategy MSO D—A sea control strategy and MSO E—a global system strategy. I won’t go any deeper into these five, except to say that elements of four found their way eventually into the Strategy adopted.

    At the March meeting of the EXCOM, MSO B and C were eliminated, and the War College’s development effort came to an end. I and my USMC/USCG counterparts (the Core Team) were told to take the three remaining options and staff them out through our services.

    Here is where the creative staffing came in. The Core Team decided to treat however many options that survived the EXCOM as “Courses of Action” (COA) in a Joint contingency planning process. In the first round of worldwide staffing, we emailed all Navy three and four star officers and asked them to have their staffs review each of the three options. They were to treat all three as equally implantable, but they were asked to make such comments as they could that would “strengthen” each of the COA’s. In round 1, we did not ask for opinions…we used the worldwide three and four star staffs as a “virtual staff” for the purpose of strengthening all three options. Once their comments came back to the Core Team, we took them (and the USMC/USCG comments received) and got to work creating three “strengthened” options.

    In round two, we sent the three options back out to the three and four star staffs and asked a series of questions. 1) Which is closest to the way you think? 2) Of the other two, what ideas are most attractive to you? 3) Of the one you chose, what ideas would you like to de-emphasize or eliminate? And 4) What trends do you think are most like to influence maritime affairs in the next twenty years.

    From the round two answers, we created a “Hybrid” strategy—best of breed. It had a big idea (“the global system and our ability to protect it) from MSO E, it had primacy in the Arabian Gulf and Far East from MSO A, and it had the sea control and partnerships emphasis of MSO D. We created a framework that represented this hybrid and then used the four stars only to comment. Their comments were then compared with the USMC/USCG highest staffing levels to come up with a consensus framework. We took this to ADM Mullen, Gen. Conway and ADM Allen and they bought it. This was several days before the Current Strategy Forum in Newport. And then we had a problem.

Phase III June 2007—October 2007

    Shortly before the Current Strategy Forum, ADM Mullen was nominated to be the CJCS. We (the Navy part of the Core Team) had been working quite closely with the CNO over the previous months, we came to know what his thoughts were, and he influenced the document in many demonstrable ways.   Very quickly though, it became obvious that he was not going to be able to sign the document, and that it would be left to his successor to determine if he would follow-through with the work ongoing and more importantly, stay to the time line we had been advertising—that was, a roll out at the International Seapower Symposium in Newport in October.

    While this was ongoing, we had a strategy to write. The writing effort was entirely contained within the Core Team. We met constantly, writing and editing based on the framework that the Service Chiefs had approved. Once again, within the Navy we used the Four stars to vet the work, and we were not disappointed. The single most professionally rewarding part of the past year for me was being privy—in person and by email, to the discourse carried on by our four star leadership. These are exceptionally intelligent men, and there were significant differences of opinion among them. CNO ultimately was the arbiter, and ADM Mullen continued to serve in this role until ADM Roughead relieved him. Several drafts were circulated among the four stars, and several adjudication sessions at the core team level were required. We got all three Service chief signatures on the document in time for it to go to the printers, in time to be released in Newport.

Then vs. Now—1986 Strategy vs. 2007 Strategy

    The ink has been dry only a few days, but already reaction to the strategy has come rolling in, much of it from the 100 people who to this day claim to be the author of the original Maritime Strategy. It is a credit to the success of that document that so many people claim authorship. Some seem to believe that that strategy is what brought down the Soviet Union. Very few of them seem to have elegantly transitioned philosophically from that time.

    Some people look at what we’ve done and say “we waited a year for this?” What they don’t remember is that the unclassified strategy released in Proceedings in 1986 was already 5 years old by that time, and had been refined, and refined over and over in those years. Then though, it was highly classified. We were unclassified from the start.

    Some don’t like the fact that we haven’t laid out a force structure, that we haven’t articulated a fleet size to support our strategy. What they forget is that the fleet size CAME BEFORE the strategy in the 80’s…in fact, the 600 ship Navy was born in the Ford Administration and was resurrected by Reagan and Lehman. In some ways, the fleet size gave birth to the strategy, rather than the other way around. Anyone who believes that it is the role of this document to lay out an argument as politically charged as fleet size just doesn’t understand how quickly something like this can die in this town.

    I love the 80’s Strategy…it was what I came into the Navy under. We had one enemy, and we had deeply penetrated his councils. Smart folks determined that it was time for the Navy to take the strategic offense, and I find that they were prescient. But what is our enemy today? Is it terrorists? Does the Navy really have a big role in the terror fight? Do we really want to build our fleet around the terror threat? How about China? What direction is China headed in? Should be build a fleet to fight China and leave all that relationships/phase 0/engagement stuff to someone else? What I’m trying to say is that the world of the 80’s was complicated—but so is this world. No easy solutions apply in a multi-polar world where our interests are threatened by a wide variety of forces.            

Critiques—What I’ve heard so far…

Here is a sampling of recurring criticisms, and my quick response to each:

  1. No fleet size/force composition prescription. You “punted” this. Yep, we did, and we did it from the start. At no point in this strategy did fleet size enter into the discussion. We were moving from the perspective of what is it we want to do to protect and extend the American way of life and the global system that protects it. Fleet size debates will arise from here, but I do think we’ve created the intellectual basis for growth (unlike ANY OF THE OTHER SERVICES) with this document.
  2. What about terrorism? Terrorism and irregular warfare are here, but they are balanced with high end warfare. Consensus throughout the process was that maritime forces have a role in the global counterinsurgency, but it must be viewed in a broader context. The Navy you buy to go and beat the terrorists might not be the Navy you guy to take on a peer competitor.
  3. Where is the “hat tip” to other services? Jointness is laced throughout this strategy, but it seeks to move beyond Joint—to interagency and international cooperation.
  4. No mention of BMD—wrong
  5. No mention of the merchant marine—wrong, though we don’t fixate on it like the Murmansk run crowd would like us to. We own over 90% of the militarily useful RoRo shipping in the world—right here in DOD. The sustainment shipping (containers) we would need to support a war effort would come from the rest of the world—check the facts from the first Gulf War. When this sow rolls over on her side, the world maritime piglets come a’runnin’.
  6. From the Coast Guard crowd—one commenter was “aghast” that we did not mention the “law enforcement mission” Guilty. We didn’t mention lots of Navy and Marine Corps missions either—we looked at the whole set and brought forward what we found to be in common (Core elements of maritime power).
  7. “This is old wine in new bottles”. I disagree. Raising maritime security and humanitarian assistance to the level of power projection and sea control is a big deal, and is very new. These are no longer “lesser included offenses”. Raising the prevention of war to the level of the conduct of war is a big deal—not with the 1980’s brand of deterrence only prevention, but with a low-end prevention built on cooperative relationships, persistent presence, and maritime security. Finally, if you look at the other strategies or strategy-like documents of the past, we put forward things like “forward presence, power projection, sea control and crisis response” and we basically tell the American public that this is what we do. No document has ever tried to make the case that we don’t do these things because it is fun, or because it justifies us being forward deployed—we do it because it protects their way of life and prosperity, by keeping the global order running smoothly.
    I think I’ve said enough for now. I hope this has been of some value to you, and I look forward to answering any questions you may have. I know I’ve forgotten quite a bit, but I want all of you to know what an honor it was to work on this project and what a wonderful way to wrap up a career it has been.


  1. Interesting stuff, Commander, not the least of which is the process whereby you developed the strategy document. I don’t have anything substantiative to offer in the way of criticism or even questions…as maritime strategy is outside my bailiwick (being retired USAF) and WELL above my pay grade (MSgt – E7). Nonetheless, speaking as a citizen, the father of two active duty career types (one of which is a LCDR who was a student at the NWC in Newport during the time frame you were developing the strategy), and an otherwise VERY interested observer/bystander in the nation’s geo-political debate…I want to say “Thank You” for sharing this info. I look forward to reading the questions/comments from SJS’ readers.

    Thanks to you, too, SJS…for kicking off the whole discussion and offering up your blog as the venue!

  2. Strategy1

    Please—everyone. To infer that I am “The Author” overstates the case. A team of dedicated officers from the Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Navy worked together for months. I was simply the Navy lead of that team.

  3. First I would also like to ‘thank you’ to you and others who worked on this document. While the following criticism and questions (and probably a number of other things I will say on Monday at CDRs place) won’t reflect it, I have found a lot of things about the strategy that I like a lot.

    “No fleet size/force composition prescription. You “punted” this. Yep, we did, and we did it from the start. At no point in this strategy did fleet size enter into the discussion. We were moving from the perspective of what is it we want to do to protect and extend the American way of life and the global system that protects it. Fleet size debates will arise from here, but I do think we’ve created the intellectual basis for growth (unlike ANY OF THE OTHER SERVICES) with this document.”

    Was there ever any concern that without specific guidance on fleet metrics there will be no debate regarding fleet size, fleet composition, or the shipbuilding strategy already in place? After all, by punting, the strategy avoids the intellectual basis that would require critical thought to current thinking, leaving open the real possibility no debate is necessary or will occur.

    I say this because I get an overwhelming sense from readers of my blog that there is frustration over the current direction of the Navy, but the new strategy doesn’t appear to challenge ANY metric of existing procurement thinking within the Navy.

    Given a lack of detail and specifics in metrics within the strategy, and the avoidance of challenging existing plans, do you believe the new strategy provides the intellectual basis for new debates? If so, why?

    The question most asked in my circles this weekend were, will future debates on fleet size, composition, aircraft, platforms, tactical requirements, etc.. occur because of the existence of the new strategy, or because of the content of the new strategy?

  4. Strategy1

    Galrahn, thank you for an excellent question. I told SJS that I would likely let the debate get rolling and that I’d put together one big blog a day to answer general themes and trends. But I’ve got a little time this morning, so I thought I’d address this. What we “punted” was the debate/campaign analysis/operations research effort necessary to put together a fleet composition to match this strategy (though I am quite sure OPNAV will get to this). We did not punt what you refer to as “the intellectual basis that would require critical thought…” Here’s what I mean by that. If you go to the strategy, you’ll see in the middle section, references to two force posturing schemes—regionally concentrated combat power (and three imperatives these forces are optimized to meet) and globally distributed mission tailored forces (and three imperatives these forces are optimized to meet).

    In my opinion–and this is strictly my opinion–we are building the forces/force mix to do the first posture to a degree. The 313 number is largely aimed at creating the force structure required to carry out this posture. The second posture—globally distibuted mission tailored forces–is something we do on an ad hoc, episodic basis, largely as the result of innovative ideas flowing from the fleets and component commands. We are not efficiently organizing, training and equipping to carry out these imperatives. This is why I am confident that this is a growth strategy…it identifies an area where we can clearly do more, and we will now have to go and fight the good fights necessary to get the resources to do it.

    You and your readers are frustrated over the current dirction of the Navy. I would respond that some of that is due to there having not been a clearly articulated direction. This was not intended to be a “specifics and metrics” document, so much as one that lays out the broad, strategic vision for seapower. Before we dive into a specifics and metrics debate, wouldn’t it be helpful to discern (at a strategic level) what it is we offer to the Republic? To a bunch of Navalists, this might seem obvious. After several months of talking with lots of folks around the country, it became obvious to me that it wasn’t so obvious. Wouldn’t it be helpful to actually articulate what it is (at a strategic level) we would want all these new ships and airplanes to do? In the pit of our stomachs, we (for some reason) know that 283 or whatever it is today is insufficient. We’re not quite sure 313 is the right number. But how will we know what the right number is if we haven’t even articulated what it is we want those ships to do?

    As to your last point….will the debates occur because of the existence or the content of the strategy, it is my hope that the answer is both.

    Thanks again for the great question. It will be a great pleasure to respond to questions like this.

  5. rickusn

    Im the author of response #1.

    Didnt know it was posted here but I am glad it is. Although after rereading it my tone was a bit harsher than I realized. Sorry about that.

    Anyway. Im something of a force structure nut.

    Many of us armchair admirals welcome the new strategy offering.

    Many of us were concerned with LCS since its inception (as well as going back to “streetfighter”) even before the recent cost escalations.

    I just dont see how it fits the new strategy or the concepts of existing formations ie CSG,ESG & SSG.

    Among more mundane considerations of high- speed trade-off factors,vulnerability, logistics, module insertion, mid-deployment swap-outs and blue-water operations, seakeeping, endurance and the usual issues of flexibility, utility & capability.

    I see it as both too small and too large.

    Others and I have bantered about the concept of a “mothership”. Which if I remember correctly was one of several options rejected during the discussion of what LCS should be as was a conventional type frigate. Ill have to dig out the report again(If I can remember where I put it) to be sure.

    However this was before the Global Fleet Stations initiative(and again if IIRC before the renewed emphasis on ASW).

    I feel they are a better fit in particular the “mothership” concept nominally based on the LPD 17 class.

    And I understand the LPD class is actually the fill-in ship until the USN decides what is really necessary.

    On Seabase my biggest problem is the three large deck LHA(R)/LHD dedicated, it appears, soley to the Seabase. They seem to me as stolen assets from the ARG/ESG construct. Therfore those ships flexibilty and utility is much diminished especially when measured by resources consumed.

    I may be way off base. No pun intended.

    And sorry to be so long.

    If it is possible could you please comment?

    I know this isnt a basic strategy question and I may be being far to specific.

    This doesnt mean you have to be and I would understand why.

    Thanks for your time and any thoughts.

    PS Im a life member of USNI and have been blessed to have been able to converse with a number of prominent retired USN officers
    over the last few years do to the wonders of the internet and email. Something I hardly imagined would ever be possible for an ordinary citizen and have been amazed at their graciousness, patience and willingness to share info, history, analysis and thoughts.

  6. MR T\\\'s Haircut


    Thanks for peak up the dress. I am sure your investment in this was blood and sweat and tears. It is natural to defend your investment in time and energy, and I look forward to your insight into the thinking that made this the way ahead (Speaking for myself, the lack of clear definition of an enemy and plain talk in the document is dissappointing)

    I am encouraged by the “major power deterrence” piece. I take it that the wargamers figured out that deterrence only works on major powers with much to lose. The 86MS was centered on the deterrent theme. This is outdated and I am curious if your teams to this into account?


  7. MR T's Haircut


    First of all, thanks for the energy and effort. I see the humor in your dilemma with being rerouted to work VADM Morgan’s tasker. Death by PPT.
    Thank you for the insight into the development. I do know that you have an enormous amount of time invested in the strategy. I hope you will not take our resistance or questions as an offense against you or your comrades. Like my old Chief used to say, “If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be bitching so passionately.”

    I am displeased with the climate change points. I will address those in the other thread. I am also disappointed in the lack of specificity identifying a threat, or enemy. The MS86 was long on clear plain talk regarding the enemy threat. Calling the Soviets out by name. There was opportunity to do so with this new strategy yet that remained silent. No China, No Iran, No Syria, only nameless, faceless, “transnational actors”.

    I am pleased with one point of the strategy however, and that is deterrence. The “Major Power War” deterrence mentioned in the document leads me to assume that when your teams were developing this strategy, it was realized that the value and theory of deterrence will only work against a “Major Power”. The review of the 86 MS showed that the center piece of that strategy was no longer viable, that true deterrence against asymmetrical threats will no longer work. What is your opinion of the definition of “Major Power deterrence” and do you think the Navy Warfighting leadership recognizes that deterrence has little value against “terror networks” and “transnational actors”?

    (lastly did you guys shoot the guy that came up with the gauche Jack Bauer buzzwords?)


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