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A Strategy for the Pacific – Will the US have the $$$ and the courage for a credible and survivable one?

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

[by J. Scott Shipman]

To have an executable strategy, a nation needs the wherewithal to pay for it. This applies the United States, too. 

As the United States heads into an election year with rising unemployment, a double-dip recession threatening, and deep cuts to defense on the horizon (even as we continue to prosecute the war on terror) a controversy continues to brew in the South China Sea. China has increasingly heated up the rhetoric. On 30 September the Taipei Times reported on an opinion article in the Chinese Communist Party-run Global Times (the original article is here), calling on the Chinese to declare war on Vietnam and the Philippines over their intransigence with respect to China’s claim of the South China Sea as being part of China proper. While this tantrum might be a saber-rattling “fire for effect” exercise aimed at intimidation, the writer surmised the position of the United States:

“The US has not withdrawn from the war on terrorism and the Middle East … so it cannot afford to open a second front in the South China Sea,” he wrote…“[Military] action by a big country in the international arena may result in initial shock, but in the long run, regional stability can be achieved through great power strategic reconciliation.”

“It cannot afford” is writ large. What, indeed, would the US do if China followed the advice of this hot-headed pundit? The US Navy is operating at about 283 ships, and the op-tempo is wearing out both ships and crews—fast. A recent article in the Atlanta Constitution reported the USN is investigating extending the typical six month deployment for fast-attack submarines. As I wrote earlier, we are retiring our submarines faster than we’re replacing them. With the US defense budget under the axe for even further cuts, what is the proper course of action? And do we have a strategy supported by an adequate budget? Are we strengthening our relationships among allies, or are we neglecting relationships that will be vital if hostilities break out? I would submit the US refusal to Taiwan’s request to purchase modern F-16 C/D variants, offering instead upgrades for A/B sends a message of waning US resolve to honor the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). (A rumor within the Beltway is the upgrades were a first step, with what the administration hopes will be a request by Taiwan for the troubled and increasingly costly F-35.) The TRA requires the United States “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character”, and “to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” We may have that “capacity” today, but what are we doing to insure we sustain the capacity to maintain open sea lines of communications? Can we afford it?

Our friends in the South China Sea environs aren’t feeling the love. India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam have all expressed concern about China’s increasingly belligerent actions with respect to the South China Sea areas. All of these nations rely ultimately on the USN to keep the sea lanes of communication open. Most have modest defense budgets, but they’re beginning to realize the new reality and are acting and good for them—we could learn something in the reality department. Vietnam has ordered six Russian Kilo Class diesel boats (very good subs, btw), and the Philippines are shopping. Singapore has a pretty impressive sub fleet (six reasonably modern hulls) and national defense given her size. Taiwan has two 20-plus year old subs and two WWII era US boats that are 60 years old!

If we look at numbers, our strategy seems pretty puny. As our fleet continues to atrophy in numbers, the Chinese continue to build. An inventory of submarines in the area shows that between China and North Korea there are about 128 hulls compared to a total of 42 among the aforementioned nations. Our friends in the area will continue to need US submarine support in the area for the foreseeable future as subs are long lead time platforms.

In this theater alone, cutting our defenses seems nuts. Rather than cut line units, perhaps DoD should begin to improve/streamline our antiquated procurement and acquisition processes. Our acquisition process is so complicated we have a Defense Acquisition University (DAU)! At an estimated $124M for FY012, perhaps we should cut DAU first. Last year at Boyd & Beyond 2010, Dr. Ray Leopold shared the contrasts in commercial contracting versus government contracting. Commercial contracts are built on the presumption of trust, government contracts are written on the presumption of distrust. Rather than use normal legal remedies to hold mischievous and unscrupulous contractors to account, DoD has erected mind-numbing processes that attempt to eliminate any risk a contractor could successfully rip-off the government. And when a contractor does rip-off the government, the contractor pays a fine and continues to do business with the Pentagon. If someone steals from you, do you continue to do business with them? Not me. This would be a good place for DoD to begin true accountability—you can bet one defense company out of the market would send a message to the others. The sad truth is the revolving door between the military and the contractor community has created a incestuous and inbred swamp of rules and processes only the participants understand that are so impenetrable DoD has no idea how much money it is spending (never mind tracking waste)—so fiscal irresponsibility continues in an increasingly dangerous world with budget cuts guaranteed. What’s the strategy again? This madness is fast becoming an issue of national security. On our current track we could well be incapable of defending ourselves, much less our allies.

Here are few other ideas for consideration before touching a single line unit:

  • DoD should lay-off every nonessential employee. Whenever there is a snowstorm in the DC area, nonessential personell are instructed to stay home or “liberal leave” is in effect. We need to disabuse ourselves of the luxury of the nonessential employee. Regular businesses don’t operate like this, neither should DoD. Every employee should be integral, essential, and necessary; if they’re not essential, we can’t afford them—not while we have troops in harm’s way.
  • Stop double-dipping on 1 January. If a member retires from the military, they shouldn’t be able work for the government (often in the same office where they separated from service) and draw two salaries. If the member wants to work for the government,  pick one, but not both. We can’t afford it and this contributes to the ongoing inbreeding in defense. And here’s a cruel truth: why should we pay a member who could not continue advancing in the military a military pension and a government civil service salary?
  • Flag officers and members of the Senior Executive Service should have a minimum five year ban on working in the defense or defense lobbying industry. Stop the revolving door. Our current mess was created by many of these folks (even if well-intentioned), they should take a five-year time out and give others a chance to fix the mess they’ve helped create.
  • Abandon the current acquisition process and close DAU. Hire commercial attorneys at a commercial rate to write contracts based on trust, but contracts with teeth. This would be cheaper than the bloated and incestuous bureaucracy we now carry.  If a contractor defrauds the government, ban that company for 10 years from doing business with the government, and put the offending members in jail. Word will get around, and folks will behave.
  • Allow contractors to earn 8-10% on their work and stop nickel-diming them on fee. Businesses are in business to make money.
  • The government should assume more technical oversight/intimacy in procurement programs. We have too many generalist contracting officers who can be misled by an unscrupulous contractor, or perhaps worse, have no idea “what” they’re buying. The government needs to get engaged and informed and know “what” they are buying and know real costs.
  • Develop a promotion system based on merit, not time in grade. Our promotion system breeds risk averse officers who focus on punching career tickets instead of doing. Following John Boyd’s “to be or to do” maxim, the promotion system should reward officers who think and take risks, not poster-boy/cookie cutter conformists. “We’re warriors, dammit!” was a phrase my old CO used—let warriors be warriors! Scrap time in grade and promote based on performance, and if folks don’t perform well enough to be promoted, separate them from service.

Robert Frost said good fences make good neighbors; well a good deterrent makes good neighbors, too—but fences and deterrence costs money. DoD can and must do better; business as usual is becoming a death of a thousand paper cuts for us, and our allies. We need a real strategy and the budget to make it happen—that won’t happen with our current acquisition rules. The axe should fall on the Pentagon procurement bureaucracy before it touches a single line unit.

America is better than this, we must raise the standard by bringing DoD into the real world of fiscal responsibility and contract law, so whatever our strategy it can have a sound fiscal and legal foundation.

Guest Post: Shipman on Boyd and Beyond, 2010

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

J. Scott Shipman is the owner of a boutique consulting firm in the Metro DC area that is putting Boyd’s ideas into action.

Boyd and Beyond, 2010

by J. Scott Shipman

Boyd & Beyond 2010, 15-16 October 2010

Mr. Stan Coerr (GS-15 Marine Corps, LtCol, USMCR), coordinator. Hosted by the USMC Command and Staff College at the Marine Corps University, Quantico, VA.

This was my first Boyd conference. I discovered Boyd in early 2005 through Robert Coram’s book, BOYD, The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. I did not know what to expect of the conference, and was anxious to meet guys I’d corresponded with over the last couple of years (the ones who made it: Robert Coram, Fred Leland, Don Vandergriff, and Adam Elkus); so my thinking going in was at least I’d get to meet these guys regardless, and besides Quantico is right down I-95 from my home.

As others have already observed, Boyd 2010 exceeded any expectation. It was a pleasure to be in the same room with such an impressive collection of talent and intellect and listen to what they have done and continue to do with Boyd’s work and ideas. At the end of the first day, I felt my head was going to explode—and heard many others echoing similar sentiment. I told a friend, those two days were like drinking from a fire hydrant.

As many readers are probably already aware, the reaction to the conference has been universally positive, and calls for a 2011 event have been heard and is scheduled for 14-15 October 2011 at Quantico, same location. Stan Coerr and the USMC University deserve our gratitude for this recent event and the opportunity to reconvene next year. The bar, has indeed been set high.

What follows is from my notes, and I apologize in advance if I leave out something I should have remembered. I will try and avoid repeating too much of Adam Elkus’ excellent review, so all presenters are not covered—while all presenters provided valuable and enlightening insights. At the conclusion, I’ve added the references of books and online links that I heard (there were many more) recommended, and books and articles I recommended during the conference.

The day began with a colorful introduction to Boyd by Robert Coram. He related the circumstances of how he came to write BOYD, and shared several stories of the evolution of the book and the people he met. Coram reported that as of the conference, 73,000 copies of BOYD are in print—not bad for a book about someone most people have never heard of.

Ray Leopold, PhD, (the third acolyte) gave a touching and penetrating retrospective of how he came to be associated with John Boyd, and how that association changed his life for the better. Of interest, Ray shared a common introduction that he and Boyd used when they visited other Air Force officers. They would write the following on the blackboard:


They would then cross these familiar words out, and replace with:

Pride, Power, Greed

From Boyd’s perspective, the military industrial complex and the inherent bureaucracy had (and in my humble opinion, continues) corrupted the original intent of those core principles military members are taught to embrace.

Don Vandergriff followed with a fast-paced explanation of his continuing efforts within the US Army to advocate Outcome Based Training and Education (T&E). He follows with successful practical examples of allowing his student to think and adapt-“off-script.” Vandergriff also recommended the work of Dr. Robert Bjork, Dean of the School of Psychology at UCLA, particularly his presentation “How We Learn Versus How We Think We Learn: Implications for the Organization of Army Training.”

General Paul Van Riper (LtGen, USMC, Ret) was the keynote and gave a compelling address on mental models and systems theory. Throughout his talk, he added insight into how John Boyd’s ideas found a home in the USMC. Gen Van Riper made the distinction between informational knowledge and transformational knowledge, and the “eloquent schema” that is OODA. He also discussed systems theory, and distinguished between linear systems (cause & effect), complex systems, and interactive complex systems. Of the later, he reminded that these systems are non-linear and unknowable using a deductive approach, and one output is emergent behavior(s).

Marcus Mainz (Major, USMC) provided insight into how he is using Boyd’s ideas in the training and development of young Marine officers and how he and his colleagues are creating the desire to learn. LtCol Mike Grice (USMC) provided our group with insight into how Boyd’s ideas translate in the field—having just returned from Afghanistan and a tour in one of Iraq’s more dangerous provinces. Both of these officers reflect well on the USMC—and if this caliber of leadership and thought is any indication, the USMC is in good hands in the years to come.

On the second day, Linton Wells, PhD, (CAPT, USN, Ret) gave a talk on naval maneuver warfare. Dr. Wells was providing a preview of his update to a seminal article of the same title he wrote for Proceedings in December 1980. Dr. Wells also provided one of the best quotes of the two days: “make knowledge accidents happen.”

Fred Leland’s presentation revolved on how he has used Boyd’s work to teach law enforcement personnel how to make good decisions. Fred began his talk with an absolutely frighteningly disturbing video from the dash-cam of a young police officer caught in a dangerous place. Fred lives his curricula, as he is an active duty police lieutenant, so his presentation had a resonance unique to our gathering.

Terry Barnhart, PhD, (Pfizer R&D) provided unique insight into how he is using Boyd’s ideas (OODA, to be specific) in his company’s R&D efforts. Barnhart, in my estimation, is onto something very powerful. He repurposed Boyd’s OODA from the traditional vernacular into: See, Reframe, Experience, Grow—but the intent remains. Dr. Barnhart placed great emphasis on “SEE” where his definition is: “assume it is wrong” and see without prejudice. He reported exciting results from using this and another model derived from Boyd’s work.

Chip Pearson, Managing Partner of a software company in Minnesota, gave an impassioned recounting of how he used/uses Boyd’s concepts to start and successfully operate his software company. His philosophy, “we make meaning, not money.” Chip focused on values, capability, and objectives. On his management philosophy, he remarked, “complete independent action scares the hell out of people”—which is how he wants his organization to operate.

Jussi Jaakonahon, from Nokia, travelled the furthest, coming from Norway, to give his talk on his experience using OODA in IT security exercises. He confirmed Boyd’s emphasis on sharing information of validity and integrity, and adapting on the fly to the mission. During this exchange someone remarked: “companies die because they do the right thing too long.” We hope he will be able to join us for both days next year.


I was contacted by Jussi Jaakonaho, I misspelled his name—this is the correct spelling. He came from Finland, not Norway. This quote should be attributed to Jussi: “companies won’t die because of their false actions. they die because of the continuing of the same actions for too long (which once were right).”

My sincere apologies for the inaccuracies. 
There was a language barrier, and as a Southerner, English is my second language:))

Dave Foster provided an introduction to his draft paper on portfolio complexities in the fog of war. One goal of his paper is helping to shrink the knowledge-doing gap. Foster is on to something, and I’m guessing this forum will help him advance his ideas.

TJ Jankowski (Col, USMCR) was the anchor man for our two days. His talk, COIN Technology and Universal Structures of Technical Knowledge, dealt with emerging theories of a taxonomy of technologies. His ideas are based on the work of Dr. Rias van Wyk which advances the idea of “a fundamental structure of technological knowledge, based in part on a very precise definition of technology and a functional  classification of all technological knowledge.” (TJ Jankowski follow-up email) The implications of these ideas could be revolutionary in our ability to conduct macro technology analysis.

Alan D. Beyerchen, Clausewitz, Nonlinearity ?and the Unpredictability of War http://www.clausewitz.com/readings/Beyerchen/CWZandNonlinearity.htm

DoD Command and Control Research Program (CCRP) by Tom Czerwinski: http://www.dodccrp.org/events/13th_iccrts_2008/CD/library/html/pdf/Czerwinski_Coping.pdf

Hew Strachan, Clausewitz’s On War: A Biography


John Shook, Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process


Nik Gowing, “Sky Full of Lies and Black Swans” (free registration required to access whole article)


Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers


A few titles I recommended:

Seen recently here at Zenpundit comes with a hearty recommendation:

Magic and Mayhen, The Delusions American Foreign Policy from Korea to Afghanistan by Derek Leebaert


Jim Storr, The Human Face of War. Storr does not hold Boyd and OODA in high regard, however there is much in this excellent book to admire and much to learn—it is worth the $100 price tag.


Robert Leonhard, The Principles of War For the Information Age. Again, Leonhard is not a Boyd fan, but an important contribution to how we think—his IT ideas are dated, but the core is thought-provoking.


Michael Van Nooten, The Law of the Somalis. The late Mr. Van Nooten married into a Somali tribe and used his training as an attorney to propose innovative ideas for the peaceful coexistence of Western jurisprudence with systems based on tribes or clans.


Fredrich Hayek, Economics and Knowledge.


Fredrich Hayek, The Use of Knowledge in Society.


Many thanks to Mark for making this venue available, and I hope to see you next year at Boyd & Beyond 2011.

Boyd Conference 2010: October 15- 16 at Quantico

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Dr. Chet Richards has passed along information that there will be an upcoming BOYD CONFERENCE at Quantico on October 15th and 16th at the Al Gray Research Center. The organizer of the conference is LTC. Stan Coerr, and he is busy assembling a line-up of presenters who include LTG Paul Van Riper, Robert Coram, GI Wilson, Don Vandergriff, Fred Leland and others.

I can’t really give out Col. Coerr’s email without the gentleman’s permission but for those readers who are seriously interested in attending, either send me your email address or leave it in the comments and I will coallate them and send them on.  I am not sure yet if I will be attending as it depends heavily on my work commitments, but I’d like to be there.


Rob Paterson has more details on the Boyd Conference including contact information for registration:

….This symposium goes beyond Boyd’s Work. His influence on other professions and individuals making efforts to more effective outcomes in their perspective fields will be the focus of the Boyd and Beyond symposium. Topics discussed will focus not only on important military issues but will, as well, take Boyd’s theories into the different professions and realms of conflict these professions deal with.  How Boyd’s theories apply and what they have done to make all more effective at solving problems via the observation. orientation, decision and action cycles.

Understanding the OODA Loop, and the effects; Interaction, Insight,  Imagination, and Initiative, Command and Influence (LEADERSHIP) have on the constant repetitive nature of the decision making cycle can when leveraged, lead to gaining the advantage or as COL John Boyd stated; the essence of winning and losing;

“The essence of winning and losing is in learning how to shape or influence events so that we not only magnify our spirit and strength but also influence potential adversaries as well as the uncommitted so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic towards our success.”

Law Enforcement, Homeland Security Professionals, Colleges and University Safety and Security, Hospital Security, Hotel Security and private business looking to keep their workplace safe, will benefit from the lessons learned and applied at this symposium. Developing better strategies, tactics and methods and operational art to make your organization more effective in all that it does, is the type of learning that will take place at the Boyd and Beyond Symposium

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