Imagine this scenario: Two nations with limited navies fight in a littoral conflict using new weapons and tactics not yet tested in war.  The United States doesn’t predict the conflict and struggles to capture lessons learned. What year is it?

It could be 1982, when the British recaptured the Falkland Islands from Argentine forces, while discovering the deadliness of Exocet missiles against their strained maritime logistics force.1

It could be 1973, when the Israelis fought against the Syrians and Egyptians.  During that conflict, the Israeli Navy proved the lethality of small patrol boats armed with anti-ship missiles and advanced electronic countermeasure packages.2

Actually, it could be any number of years, including 1879, when the combined forces of Bolivia and Peru declared war on Chile.  The Chilean Navy, using second generation ironclads, defeated the Peruvian Navy in a massive victory at the Battle of Angamos.  There they captured the ironclad Huascar, and offered the United States a chance to study the vessel.  Lt Theodorus Mason jumped at this opportunity, taking detailed notes about the battle and damage to the Huascar.3  A lack of distribution methods delayed publication almost a year before his detailed notes could distributed throughout the US Navy.  That delay was one of many incidents that spawned the creation of the Office of Naval Intelligence.

As outlined in the CNO’s “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority,” we find ourselves with a limited navy, challenged in primarily littoral conflicts with an array of new weapons on all sides, many of which have never been tested in conflict.  We even still struggle to capture lessons learned.  History shows us this is nothing new.  History even shows us the way forward, which involves scrapping our old methods and procedures to make room for new ideas to take hold.  To meet the challenges outlined in Maintaining Maritime Superiority, we must think differently about how we conduct Information Warfare (IW) at sea, build new ways of maintaining our IW talent, and rapidly build new training for the future.

A New Way Of Thinking About The Information Warfare Commander

Developed in the 1920s, American aircraft carriers had to go through several production cycles, along with naval aviation fighters, until they could form their own carrier battlegroups during World War Two.4  In a similar fashion, Information Warfare has gone through significant development and has emerged ready to take its place as a peer with other warfare areas.  Unfortunately, too many invested in the status quo prefer to keep IW in a subordinate role, similar to the battleship admirals of the 1930s.  To be effective, IW needs to take its place as a supported, and not just a supporting, warfare commander inside the Composite Warfare Commander’s structure.5

The Navy currently fills most Information Warfare Commander (IWC) billets on a Carrier Strike Group with non-IWC officers, NFOs and SWOs that have little to no formal IW training.  The Deputy Information Warfare Commander (DIWC), typically a cryptologic warfare commander (O5), executes most responsibilities, but IW often takes a backseat to Strike, Sea Combat and Air and Missile Defense Warfare Areas.  As we enter a time when cyber and electronic warfare can disable some of our most advanced systems, we must take the manning of our IWC billets more seriously.

To immediately address this, our IWC billets should be heavily screened for the best personnel from the Information Warfare Community.  These officers require a technical background in how our latest cyber and electronic warfare weapons operate, the weapons and tactics our enemies use, and how we synchronize our effects across domains.  The IWC position should be given the authorities to employ cyber and electronic warfare weapons that are currently restricted to higher level echelons.  We should train these officers with the seriousness we train our other Principal Warfare Commanders.

Our Navy’s ability to synchronize firepower in both time and location across the maritime domain makes us deadly, even in the face of advanced adversaries.  Bringing our IW weapons into this mix will only increase this lethality, but weapons are nothing without the proper brainpower behind them.

Maintaining Classified Talent: Impossible In An Unclassified World

IW talent is similar to aviation talent: expensive to train, hard to keep current and always at risk of jumping to industry.  Yet while we have built whole systems around promoting, maintaining and tracking aviation talent, we have barely defined what sort of cyber talent we need or even want.

This is complicated primarily by our reliance on an unclassified promotion system.  It is impossible to have a meaningful discussion of cyber or electronic warfare talent at the unclassified level.  An officer’s  Fitness Report (FITREP) that says “conducted 257 cyber operations” cannot distinguish routine port scans from high-level intrusion attempts or extensive cleanup operations.  While our unclassified system can recognize certifications and collateral duties, it can’t show off our real talent.

Picking IW Sailors for promotion needs to happen with their classified achievements displayed, or we will consistently pick the collateral duty kings and queens of the Navy.  Navy Information Forces (NAVIFOR), the designated Type Commander for the Information Warfare Community,6 should maintain a LinkedIn-like server on JWICS, where our personnel can upload their successful operations, achievements and talents.  Selection boards can then view these credentials, which can be verified by peers and bosses, similar to how LinkedIn uses “endorsements” to validate profiles.  Used with the current FITREP system, it would allow us to identify and retain top IW talent.

But we shouldn’t stop there.  It wouldn’t take much more coding to add the ability to conduct 360 degree assessments through this same portal.  One of the most beneficial things I did at the Navy’s Leadership and Ethics Center was complete a 360 degree assessment.  I confirmed a lot of things I suspected about myself, while also discovering where I fell short with my peers, subordinates and boss.  360 degree results could be used to screen out toxic leaders before they rise too far in our organization.  These results could help identify personnel that should be promoted early, and even help decide who should be laterally transferred vice separated from the Navy.

We should also use this system to identify our star performers and tailor bonuses and incentives to them.  Currently the Navy gives bonuses based on Navy Enlisted Classification Designator or other administrative codes, acting like somehow every F/A-18 pilot or Interactive On-Net Operator7 is the same, when we know this isn’t true.  Too often our star performers, even if they love the Navy, choose to leave because our detailers wedge them into the same process for everyone else.  This teaches our Sailors that sustained, superior performance will only be rewarded with the same jobs and incentives that everyone else receives.

What if we gave our star performers a bonus if they broke out from their peers at their last job?  What if the extra hours an officer put in meant she got to choose her next job with more allowed variance in PRD and next duty assignment?  What if instead of telling every good young officer they should do a Pentagon tour, we allowed some of the brightest to take a tour elsewhere without cost to their career?  Rather than hemorrhaging talent to industry or three lettered government agencies, this additional flexibility would allow us to more easily compete for talent without significant cost.

The idea that bonuses should be individualized isn’t new.  Admiral Rickover insisted on interviewing nuclear propulsion students personally before accepting them to the nuclear power program.  While much can be said about his unique leadership style, Admiral Rickover personally prevented the Navy from removing many talented Sailors that would otherwise have been shown the door.  IW will likely need its own cyber-Rickover in order to make the necessary changes to our talent management system.

High Velocity Learning: Real Training or Faster GMT Clicking?

CNO Richardson correctly identified that we will need to learn more information faster and in different ways when he coined the term “high velocity learning.”  We have the talent in the Navy right now to make this a reality.  Our Sailors continue to innovate and overcome challenges daily.  The Navy’s practice of delegating authority down continues to inspire initiative in its younger generation.

Yet the minute we try to turn this initiative into formal training, the entire system comes crashing down.  We created the behemoth Naval Education and Training Command to complete this task.  Here we take any possible initiative and grind it into powder through an acronym-rich process that takes two years to produce a new course.8  In the meantime, the fleet continues to release new patches and new equipment.  To make up the difference, we allow contractors to provide “just in time” training for our personnel.  This has the effect of keeping expertise in the hands of civilian organizations (to the point we can’t even fix our gear) while not giving our Sailors anytime to hone their skills before deploying.  We’ve essentially created a system designed to cobble together a trained Sailor just before deployment, with little to no surge capacity.  While this system has worked in times of sustained lower-end conflict, it breaks down quickly when faced with rapidly changing technology and an adversary that can inflict serious casualties.

Acquisitions suffered similar problems, and turned to a new system, called Joint Urgent Operational Needs,9 to rapidly meet emerging threats.  We need to do the same.  Our entire system for authorizing and building new training needs to be scrapped.  The time to design, build and roll out a new course should be on a four month cycle.  At the beginning of the cycle, the major Information Warfare Community O-6 commands meet to discuss training requirements.  A meeting would convene after that to gather the areas meant to be taught.  Instead of contracting the training out, allow the Sailors in the Information Warfare Community to compete to build the training.  Give NAVIFOR the money to bring their brainpower to their campus and build the training on site with experts in graphic design, programming and web hosting.  Once completed, this training can be quickly rolled out both in classroom settings and online.

This method prevents training from staying in the realm of contractors and gives power back to the Sailors to build their own future.  Meeting three times a year forces us to focus on incrementally getting better every year, instead of waiting year after year for a revolution in training that never comes.

Clinging To The Old Will Get Us Nowhere

Our current system for fighting in the information domain was built at a time when the United States dominated in every area of warfare.  Perhaps that’s why we were initially called the Information Dominance Corps,10 because no one could fathom a time when the United States wouldn’t be able to operate in the electromagnetic spectrum.

But that time has come.  Our peer adversaries can deny us use of the electromagnetic spectrum, even if only for a short while.  We have become completely dependent on our information infrastructure, yet we don’t treat it like a warfighting system, and we use bandwidth more often to stream media than to fight our enemies.  The worst part is we made change difficult by developing an entire tribe of people devoted to defending this status quo.

History again provides us a way forward.  Navy Submarine Warfare was in a similar place at the onset of World War Two.  Years of post-World War One drawdown had made the Navy more focused on costs than training for war.  Over time, that lead to the promotion of submarine captains that were very safety conscious, but also hesitant to engage the enemy.  In order to build an effective force, submarine skippers were fired and replaced with younger, more aggressive officers, making way for the Fluckeys and Dealeys of their time.11  The results on the Japanese Navy and Merchant Marine were telling.

We won’t maintain maritime superiority clinging to old ways of doing business.  Our enemies are counting on us conducting future wars the way we’ve done so in the past, and they have spent millions designing systems and tactics to take advantage of this.  Anti-satellite missiles, GPS jammers, advanced cyber weapons and anti-ship ballistic missiles were developed against specific weaknesses in the United States Navy.

This story can have a happy ending, because if history shows us anything, it is our willingness to discard old ideas and try new ones that makes our Navy great.  Shedding our old ways of thinking about the Information Warfare Commander, our cultivation of talented Sailors, and the way we train people on future equipment will surprise our enemies and keep them on the defensive.  Indeed, it is the only way to maintain maritime superiority.


LCDR Ryan Haag

An author, blogger, and Copernicus winner, LCDR Hagg is an active duty Cryptologic Warfare Officer.



  1. For a good outline of the Falklands War from the British perspective, I recommend the book “One Hundred Days: The Memoirs Of The Falklands Battle Group Commander,” by Adm. Sandy Woodward.
  2. There is plenty of information on the Naval Battles during this conflict. I was particularly interested in the Battle of Latakia, and pulled some information from the Naval Postgraduate School Thesis “An Analysis Of The Historical Effectiveness Of Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles In Littoral Warfare,” by John Schulte (September 1994).
  3. From Theodore B. M. Mason and R.R. Ingersoll, “The Capture of the Peruvian Monitor Ram ‘Huascar’ by the Chilian Squadron, October 8, 1879,” United Service 3, no. 4 (October 1880). The detailed notes, especially considering the amount of time it would take to compose them, are amazing to read.
  4. A lot of this information is from Thomas Hone’s “Replacing Battleships With Aircraft Carriers In The Pacific In World War II,” Naval War College Review, Winter 2013, Vol. 66, No. 1.
  5. The Composite Warfare Commander’s Construct is listed in NWP 3-56.
  6. Cited in many places, including this article: http://www.doncio.navy.mil/CHIPS/ArticleDetails.aspx?ID=7860.
  7. Interactive On-Net Operators are one of the few non-nuclear ratings to have a decent bonus, per the latest Selective Reenlistment Bonus message (search for the 9308 NEC): http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/reference/messages/Documents/NAVADMINS/NAV2016/NAV16155.txt
  8. For a complete understanding of the Joint Duty Task Analysis and Front End Analysis process, read NETC’s NAVEDTRA 137 and 138.
  9. For a quick history of how JUONS came into existence, read this document: http://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/ADA503382.pdf
  10. See http://www.doncio.navy.mil/CHIPS/ArticleDetails.aspx?id=7307.
  11. This is discussed in many books with varying degrees of emphasis, including “Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War against Japan” by Clay Blair Jr. and “Silent Running: My Years on a World War II Attack Submarine” by James F. Calvert.