The Name Game

Those of you who have read some of my previous musings know that I have a bee in my bonnet about Pentagon “Double Speak.”  You know… the overly complicated buzzwords and phrases for simple things.  Here’s a link to one of my articles that has some examples. A few of my favorites include:

  • New Presence Paradigm: Overseas Bases
  • Hybrid Contingencies: Kludges
  • Proxy Groups: Terrorists
  • Dynamic Environment: The Real World
  • Asymmetric Approaches: More with less
  • Rebalance Tooth-to-Tail: Cut contractors
  • Win Decisively: Win
  • Rebalance: Cut
  • “Opportunity, Growth, and Security” Initiative: Slush Fund
  • Innovation:  Not in DoD dictionary
  • Multi-lateral Security Architecture: Treaty
  • Force Planning Construct: Size
  • Efficiencies: Negative Budget Wedges

As I was reading the news this morning, I found this article on the name change of the “Air Sea Battle” concept in DoD Buzz.  So forget about Air-Sea Battle and let me introduce you to Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons! True to form, the Joint Staff has managed to take a relatively simple name and complicate it to the point of non understanding. Of course what would  a new concept be without its accompanying acronym, JAM-GC?  I suppose the pronunciation will be JAM-Jic or something like that.   I can here the conversation in the Pentagon Food Court now, “What are you working on now?”….”Oh, I’m now the JAM-Jic lead and believe you me there’s lots of jamming and jickin to be done now that this Air-Sea thing has vaporized.”

So, I was never a fan of the Air-Sea Battle thing.  IMHO, it was just a budget ploy by the Air Force ( and a somewhat reluctant Navy) to show relevance in an era where it’s relevance was waning.  It’s not the first time the Air Force, after becoming alarmed by increasing dependence on  and relevance of naval forces, began to seek ways to move into Navy mission territory.   This always puzzled me, because in my mind it’s always be a air-sea-land battle.  Especially as the perceived budget pressures have forced all the Services to cut force structure.  In any serious and protracted campaign, the Navy needs  Air Force tanking and command and control capabilities.  And the Air Force relies on the assets from the Navy with little or no support requirements to beef up the Joint Force.  It was never clear to me why Air Force and Navy needed to invent a “new concept”  for something that has always existed….except for the issue of the Joint Strike Fighter.  This $160 Billion over-budget, 7 year-late program is costing the King’s treasure and consuming all other aspects of the budgets of both services. Why not influence operational concepts as well?  The story line?  Air Force and Navy are inextricably linked by the Air-Sea Battle Concept and we must have the JSF to make it work.  To the Hawks on the Hill, this can be a very compelling argument.  One wonders what was going through the minds of the Army folks while they watched this little menage a deux develop.

Well, I guess the Army dusted things up enough to cause a name change, albeit no less threatening to their budget.  As they say in the Patriot’s locker room, “All’s fair in love and war!” So to appease the Army, it appears we now have a new concept.  And the name is a doozy…..Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons.  320px-Shipping_routes_red_blackAccess is there to appease the Air Force and Navy, while Maneuver is there to keep the Army below the horizon of the doctrinal landscape.

I have to comment that the new name doesn’t do much for me…..especially the Global Commons piece.  To this dinosaur, Global Commons is just a hoity-toity  pretentious way for the Pentagon illuminati to show how deep their thoughts are.  What is/are the Global Commons?  Here’s what Wikipedia says:

a term typically used to describe international, supranational, and global resource domains in which common-pool resources are found. Global commons include the earth’s shared natural resources, such as the deep oceans, the atmosphere, outer space and the Northern and Southern polar regions, the Antarctic in particular. Cyberspace may also meet the definition of a global commons.

I am assuming that in the context of the Pentagon’s understanding, global commons to us unenlightened means “the places we want to be, that others don’t want us to be.”  My suggestion for the name of the concept would be the “Enter, Conquer,Stay, Operate” Concept, ECSO  or EkSo.  It’s sooooo much nicer than Jam-Jic, Don’t you think?

Anyway, as we face serious and deadly threats from everywhere and everything, Syria, Afghanistan, ISIS/L,Budgets, cyber, meteorites, ebola, global warming, etc., it’s good to know we still have thinkers working on US access and maneuver in the Global Commons.

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Neglected Nightmares and Forgotten Dreams

I know.  I know.  You are asking what can this article possibly be about? Well, it’s all about the DoD budget (the Dream) and sequestration (the Nightmare).  I’ve been talking to a few budget folks over the past week and asking how is this year compared to others in terms of pain.  The universal answer has been “Not so bad this year.”  But soon all our dreams of finally getting some sanity in the budget process will give way to the nightmarish and forgotten process known as Sequestration.  It’s been quite a journey to get to where the DoD budget is today.  Despite all the dire warning about sequestration, all seems to be well for now.  There’s some squeaking from the fringes about cuts to force structure, BRAC, pay and benefit cuts, rising health care costs,  etc.  There are still some struggles going in within the Navy about how many carriers and other combatants the Navy can afford.  The Air Force is struggling to make ends meet by removing the A-10 from the battlefield, and the Army and Marine Corps are wrestling with end-strength reductions.  Seems like a normal day in DC.  I mentioned it’s been quite a journey to get here, and an improbable one at that.  Let’s just review the history in case visiting Aliens would like a quick briefing (Do you think they would believe it?) or you want to explain it to your grandchildren.

August  2011.  The President signed the Budget Control Act of 2011.  The debt ceiling debate was in full swing but the BCA saved the day ( or so we thought).  It did a few things:

  • Raised the debt ceiling to $14.694 Trillion (bumped up another $500 Billion in Oct 2011)
  • Cut spending for 10 years by about $917 Billion, roughly half for DoD
  • Set up the Congressional “Super Committee” to find another $1.2 Trillion in cuts over 10 years.  If they were unable to do so by December 2011, than a series of mandatory cuts would kick in.
  • Required a vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment (which failed)
  • Monkeyed around with graduate and professional student loans, although it increased funding for Pell Grants

December 2011.  Oooops.  The “Super Committee flopped” so the arbitrary cuts demanded by sequestration loomed for next year’s budget.

February 2012.  DoD Budget for 2013 ignores sequestration.

December 2012.  DoD finally starts planning for possible 2013 spending reductions demanded by sequestration.

January 1, 2013.  The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 delays sequestration to March 1, 2013, and cuts some of the sequestration caps.

March 2013.  Continuing Resolution funds Government till end of September 2013

October 1-16, 2013.  Government Shuts down.

October 16, 2013.  Congress passes the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014 which funded the Government through February 2014 (actually it extended the debt ceiling limit)

December 26, 2013.  President signs the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 which restored $45 Billion of sequestration cuts in 2014 and $11 Billion in 2015 by adding sequestration cuts to 2022 and 2023.

It this any way to run a railroad?  No wonder nothing works right and everything the government does costs more.  There’s no stability to allow for any sort of long-range plan.  But you all know that.  The point of all this is that through a series of improbable event, we have managed to kludge together funding to keep the US in business (such as it is).  But there’s nothing in the works that I know of to fix 2016, the budget that being build right now in the Pentagon.  And just like a scene out of Ground Hog Day, DoD is putting together a budget that ignores sequestration.  Here’s a chart right out of the DoD 2015 Budget Briefing.  Notice that there is no mention of sequestration (except to exclude it). DoD FY15 Budget Proposal Summary   Now here’s a rough chart (I’m sure the numbers are off slightly) of what sequestration funding levels are relative to the DoD budget.  Notice it’s $115 Billion out of round through 2019.  That’s how much money the Pentagon is stuffing into the budget over sequestration spending levels. DoD_Sequester_Comparison The only point of this little tale is to impress upon you how important it is that we get this fixed.  We can’t keep grinding our people into the dirt with endless budget drills which make no sense.  There are three possible strategies to deal with the situation IMHO:

  1. Business as usual. The politicians will fix it just like last time.  (The Hope gambit and our current vector)
  2. Force DoD to plan for Sequestration in 2016 and beyond. (The Defeatist gambit)
  3. 1 and 2 (The “Probably what’s happening in the Pentagon, but no one will admit it” gambit)

Where do I come down?…..What the heck….let’s go for number 1.  It worked last time and the politicians always fix it in the end, no matter how much pain gets inflicted in the process. And so it goes………..

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Risky Business

After getting wrapped around the axle yesterday on the tried and true budget method of “Salami Slicing” I never got around to opining on risk, so here goes!  During much of my early career, risk didn’t enter into my decision making process, at least not consciously.  Of course, flying from aircraft carriers is all about risk and how to manage it, but risk management is already baked in.  The “powers that be” know that if you have a certain number of practice landings, maintain technical currency in your aircraft and fly regularly, the risk of an accident is minimized.  Over the years I’ve seen the Navy’s thinking about risk mature.  The time was, when one went on deployment, you could expect to lose a couple of airplanes and several aviators in a typical 6-7 month cruise.  Because of a focus on managing risk, the loss of a single aircraft or crew member is a rarity.  (keep that thought in mind).  On a personal level,  as one moves up the leadership ladder, the onus for managing risk shifts from the institution to the individual leader.  My opinion is that one of the reasons people become effective leaders is that they concentrate on minimizing risk to the people and equipment under their command, not on minimizing personal risk to their themselves (careers). Of course, there’s always a healthy tension between accomplishing the mission and minimizing the risks associated with it.  Safety is paramount!!! But if safety were really paramount, we would never fly, because it’s a dangerous business!  That’s where leaders earn their pay—making the trade off between risk and reward.  In the Navy, it’s interesting to see how the various warfare communities manage risks.  In the Surface Navy,  the decisions on risk rest principally with the Commanding Officer.  The CO does this by being intimately involved in planning and executing the training, day-to-day operations and mission execution of the ship.  The CO has the Officer of the Deck and his Tactical Action Officer to do the minute-by-minute execution, but the CO is always available for problems as they arrive.  An aviation CO has to worry about many of the same things at the surface CO, but must depend on his crews to exercise judgment when hundreds of miles away for the ship. Hopefully the aviation CO has instilled a good sense of risk management in the aircrews when they have to make risk decisions without his/her advice.

The point of my little blurb is to highlight that operationally, commanders do a great job of managing mission accomplishment and risk so that mission is maximized and risk is mitigated, minimized or eliminated.  Fast forward to the Pentagon.  Now those commanders who were so good at minimizing operational risk must deal with a new risk, budget execution risk, or said another way, “What are the chances that this program will be successful, given the level of funding?”  I was one of those commanders.  As an operational commander, I insisted on making sure all risks associated with a mission had been considered and mitigated…….no less than about 98% chance of safe success was tolerated.  But when it came to taking risks associated with the Navy budget, I was far more tolerant.  For instance, “What’s the chance that an LCS will only cost $220 Million?”, I would ask the Program Manager.  When the answer came back,”About 20%”, I would say, “OK.  Guess we will have to go with that.”  Why was my risk tolerance so much greater as a budgeteer?  Most likely it was because most of the decisions affected events far in the future and I would not be around when programs matured.  That attitude was reinforced by the excessive optimism that always goes with budget building.  This notion of budgetary risk is not new nor mine.

Former CNO Vern Clark once asked me as the N81 (Navy’s Ops Research group) if we could characterize the risk built into the budget and it was a very hard thing to do.  I don’t remember all the details but as I recall we came up with several categories of risk:

  1. Institutional Risk.  The degree of support by leadership of a particular program.
  2. Execution Risk.  The degree to which a program was underfunded
  3. Political Risk.  The degree to which this program was supported by the Administration or Congress
  4. Financial Risk.  The degree to which the assumed efficiencies built into the budget were achieved
  5. Economic Risk.  the degree to which the economy would support the Five Year Defense Plan

Some of these risks were subjective and others data-based.  The aggregation of them would give the CNO an idea of how much risk was being carried by a particular program.  Financial risk was the most interesting of the four.  It turned out we discovered that we had assumed away tens of Billions of dollars in efficiencies, but never went back to see if we achieved the saving associated with the efficiencies.  In a sense, it didn’t matter because once we take the money, it is never put back.  I’ll end up by saying the FY15 budget on the Hill now has a fair chunk of “Efficiencies” in it.  Will they be achieved?  What exactly is being done to put these efficiencies in place?  How will you know if the efficiencies were achieved and what will you do if they are not? Are these efficiencies or wedges (unexplained cuts)? These are the questions the Hill should be asking the risk-takers in the Pentagon.

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The DoD Budget Deli: One Slice of Salami, Please.

There were several good articles in the papers regarding the DoD budget over the weekend. The Washington Post had a good one that provided a pretty good summary.  As an old Intruder guy I have to point out that the article notes the cancellation of the A6 Intruder, with a nifty link to some information on the Venerable Intruder. It’s not often one gets to scoop the vast reporting resources of the WaPo so here goes:A6 Intruder
Dear WaPo Editorial Board,

The Intruder was retired on 28 February 1997 and most of them are either in an underwater reef of the coast of St. Augustine (known as Intruder Reef), collecting dust at Davis-Monthan AFB or residing on a stick at some NAS front gate.  It is hard to believe  you confused the handsome, sleek Intruder with the Warthog, but to ensure future OpEds are factually accurate, I offer my services (at the standard rate!).

OK, that’s off my chest!  Back to the 21st Century. The Post article was entitled  “A  Defense Budget Based on Hope” and outlines some disconnects between rhetoric and reality.  As those of you non-military folks who read my musing know:  Hope is not a strategy, and that is just as true in the budget world as it is in the tactical world.  To be sure the building of the DoD budget is a complex spider web of interconnecting elements, each of which is generally independent of most others.  Each element is likely to have an evangelist associated with it (Congress, Combatant Commander, Contractor, Administration, Special Interest Group, Service Chief or Secretary, etc.) and each evangelist has some varying degree of  veto power.  Most decisions, especially the big ones, require consensus, so you can imagine how difficult it is to make  cuts to any one program.  That’s why the preferred method of budget cutting is the tried and true salami slice.  By the way, sequestration was just a salami slice, albeit a big one.  One of DoD’s points when countering sequestration was they weren’t allowed to make the decisions.  I contend that even if Congress had just handed DoD an undefined cut, given the decision making rules, in the end, DoD would have sliced the salami, just in a different way.  It’s the only thing that works because the “salami slice” method requires no accountability, affects all programs equally, doesn’t usually kill anything and makes all equally unhappy.  The art to surviving “Salami Slice” budgeting is to demonstrate that your program is so critical to national defense that it should be exempted  (usually personnel, health care, etc).  In the Navy, these were described as “Flagship Programs.”  Not only were Flagship Programs exempt from cuts, you generally had to plus them up.  Of course, all exemptions do is off-load a larger part of the bill to those programs who were not smart enough to come up with a reason for exemption.

As one of the old Dinosaurs, I was accused of always reverting back to the Salami Slice, despite the well-meaning intentions of all to make the budget process all about informed choices, analysis and supporting the strategy.  I tried but failed.  In the end the people who cried loudest about being allowed to make choices were unable to do so.  As the Head Miller of the Budget Grist Mill, I was required to grind whatever grist the mill required to submit the budget on-time (which is no longer apparently the case).  That required a trip to the deli, slicing the salami and living with unhappy people ever after. All in a day’s work.  Bob’s your uncle.  That’s that!!!!!!!

By the way, this isn’t what I wanted to write about today, but I got lost in the salami thing, so bear with me.  Tomorrow’s topic: Budget Risk and How I Learned to Love It.

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Was the QDR Written by a Presbyterian?

I commented last week on my expectations concerning the QDR and I wasn’t disappointed 2014 QDRwhen I got around to reading it yesterday.  After reading it through a couple of times (available here), I was still pretty much confused about what it was trying to say.  And it didn’t look much like a strategy document to me…mostly filled with budget numbers and reasons why we couldn’t do this or that because of it.  In the end, it’s definitely a document very much “informed” by the realities of the budget.  I came away with the impression that it was less about strategy and more about money, especially given the frequent references to budget woes.  I stand by my comments in the recent Q•D•Arrggghh  article about the difference between “constrained” and “informed.  I can’t tell the difference, nor apparently, can the authors of this tome.  It was pretty much more of the same from the last QDR…….nothing jumped out at me.

For fun, I wrote down a few of “Pentagonisms” from the Executive Summary which I thought I would share along with a short definition in normal-speak:

  • New Presence Paradigm: Overseas Bases
  • Hybrid Contingencies: Kludges
  • Proxy Groups: Terrorists
  • Dynamic Environment: The Real World
  • Asymmetric Approaches: More with less
  • Rebalance Tooth-to-Tail: Cut contractors
  • Win Decisively: Win
  • Rebalance: Cut
  • “Opportunity, Growth, and Security” Initiative: Slush Fund
  • Innovation:  Not in DoD dictionary 
  • Multi-lateral Security Architecture: Treaty
  • Force Planning Construct: Size
  • Efficiencies: Negative Budget Wedges

Well, I grow weary of writing them down.  I’ll say one thing for the document….It’s a Presbyterian minister’s dream.  Presbyterians are well know for their penchant for ORDER, ORDER, ORDER!!!!  Sermons are typically organized into three points with two or more sub-points and a healthy dose of references to Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard.  My favorite Kierkegaard quote is “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for freedom of thought, which they seldom use.”  As I read through it, I was trying to capture the taxonomy of thought.  Let’s see, we have 3 Strategic Pillars, 4 Core National Interests, 4 Strategic Imperatives, 3 Areas of Risk, etc.   And they are all interrelated and interdependent!  I can’t keep it all straight.

Anyway, the QDR is out and we can all tune back into Duck Dynasty, The Voice, or whatever other twisted view of reality you may retreat into every night.  And why is all this Energy stuff in there? Since when is the DoD the EPA?  (Sorry for the random comment but I just had to get it of my chest!) Perhaps the best part of the whole schmegegge is the Chairman’s Assessment at the end.  At least he puts out a list to which I can relate.  In the end what does it all mean and what are our real priorities?  According  to the plain language of General Dempsey:

  1. The survival of the Nation
  2. The prevention of catastrophic attack against U.S. territory
  3. The security of the global economic system
  4. The security, confidence, and reliability of our allies
  5. The protection of American citizens abroad
  6. The preservation and extension of universal values.

AMEN

(Why didn’t we say that in the beginning and omit the other 63 pages?)

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Q•D•arrrrrrgh!

I saw a nice article in Politico’s Morning Defense this morning about the upcoming DoD Quadrennial Defense Review, commonly referred to as the QDR.  I fondly remember my days in the Pentagon wrestling with the QDR gurus, the best and brightest thinkers of all the Services, getting together to figure out how their Service was going to get more money.  The knives were out as the behind-the-scenes point papers on the vulnerability of aircraft carriers, the shear madness of fleets of supersonic, stealth airplanes, and the end of the need for “Boots on the Ground”  proliferated like rabbits in a viagra factory.  I suppose it was a useful exercise because it is good to sit back and evaluate future threats and the capabilities needed to counter them.  The QDR overseen by Secretary Gates was a bit different in that the QDR was essentially written before the whole process began.  The result was a QDR which didn’t make too much of a wake, maintained the status quo for the most part, and kept most everybody happy.  For those interested in the upcoming QDR issues I recommend  an outstanding report by CSIS on the results of a recent conference on the subject.

I predict this next QDR is likely to be more of the same.  The biggest reason is that while the QDR is not supposed to be constrained by budgets and the taxpayers ability to continue to fund DoD at ever increasing levels, it is impossible to de-link strategy and money.  The cute buzz word which gets around this issue is “informed.”  We say that while the QDR is not budget constrained, it is “informed” by it.  Informed is one of those words or phrases I call Pentagonisms.  They emerge from time to time in an attempt to “be truthful without telling the truth.”  Those of you who have spent anytime in the Pentagon can probably come up with several Pentagonisms.  Some that come to mind are robust, littoral,operationalize, detainees, etc.  There is a nice article by Kate Bateman in USNI Proceedings on this subject that I commend to your reading.

Back to QDR.  The big debate is rather or not to be constrained by budgets.  I’m not quite sure what difference there is between a QDR that “fiscally informed” and one that’s constrained by budgets.  It’s all the same in my book.  DoD should admit that and get on with it.  But in developing a strategy that is either “constrained” or “informed” by  budgetary realities, DoD must be careful to not develop a strategy against an unconstrained future.  By that I mean that there has to be a dose of reality in the vision of the future security environment.  There is a tendency to make the enemy ten feet tall, to give more credit than is due and generally overestimate the threat.  Given the uncertainty of the future, that’s understandable and perhaps even necessary in some cases.  But the Congress and American public should realize that in many cases our strategy is based on the worst case scenario.  That’s good business in some areas, cyber security of instance, but not in all areas.  In order to make the budgetary compromises necessary to adequately defend America there must be some wiggle room.  If everything is important and absolutely critical to national defense how can one make compromises?  So I hope the QDR avoids the  end-fighting and back biting  of past QDRs and focuses on a realistic threat environment with capabilities best suited to meet the threats.  Given the past history however, I can’t help but thinking…… Q•D• arrrgh. I’ll be glad when it’s over!

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