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Editor’s Note: Lieutenant Packer’s paper won The Naval Submarine League Essay Contest for Submarine Officers’ Advanced Class 99010. He is currently Engineer in USS OHIO (BLUE).


The naval officer of the future must be different than the naval officer of today or the naval office of the past. The environment within which the Navy operates has become much more complex. Consequently, the naval service must change in order to be effective and relevant in the dynamic and uncertain environment of the future. This demands that the combat forces, if not the rest of the Navy, be organized in a flat hierarchy. There will be little time for information to flow up and down the chain of command. Decisions are going to have to be made at the most junior level possible. Therefore, the Navy must undergo a transformation from a directive, top-down, machine-like organization to a networked organization based on connected nodes of decision makers . We require officers capable of working and leading in this new organization. We need officers capable of making decisions and officers, more importantly, capable of creating and leading decision makers. We need the Network Centric Officer. (See Figure I.) In this article, I will briefly depict the international and technological changes within the Navy’s operating environment that are dictating this transformation, and I will identify clusters of skills, knowledge, and abilities that should make future naval officers successful.

The International Environment

The international Environment is evolving into an increasingly complex network of nation states, pseudo-nation states, and other non-governmental organizations. This environment is going to place great strains on the military to adapt. Martin Van Creveld in The Transformation of War argues that the state’s attempt to monopolize violence in its own hands is faltering. He believes that the rise of low intensity conflict may, unless it can be quickly contained. end up destroying the state. Van Creveld states that transnational organizations will take over and dominate war in the future because nation-states are failing in their ability to protect their people from the violence of transnational organizations. In this scenario. combatants become intermingled with noncombatants to avoid the threat of modern weapons such as missiles and nuclear weapons. This intermingling. Van Creveld maintains, will render modern, large, technologically advanced weapons such as aircraft, ships, and tanks useless. As such, combat will resemble the struggles of primitive tribes rather than the high tech warfare envisioned by the military-industrial complex of the United States. “Weapons will become, rather than more sophisticated,” and troops may well have more in common with policemen (or with pirates) than with defense analysts.”1 This may be somewhat extreme, but it illuminates the growing complexity of international conflict where the difference between combatants and non-combat-ants is diminishing.

The Technological Environment

There is a growing consensus that we are in the midst of a revolution in military affairs (RMA). An RMA is a fundamental shift in military strategy. doctrine, and tactics that occur gener-ally4ut not always-due to a change in technology. Past RMAs have included the introduction of gunpowder, submarine warfare, and nuclear weapons. The current RMA has three primary components. The first major component is what former Secretary of Defense William Perry has coined the “system of systems. “1 The 11system of systems” is shorthand for a collective synergy achieved by the melding of formerly disparate means to establish battlespace awareness, command and control, and precision force. The second major component of the RMA is information dominance, which is the ability to control the flow of data on the increasingly interdependent global information network. The third major component of the RMA is the corollary to the second, information warfare. Information warfare is the capability to disrupt or override enemy information systems while defending our own information systems.

The “systems of systems” component of the RMA revolves around three advances: advances in the gathering of intelligence, advances in the processing and distribution of intelligence, and advances in precision guided munitions. Advances in the gathering of intelligence include what Admiral William Owens, USN-(Ret.) Calls ISR systems (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) such as satellites, unmanned aerial and undersea vehicles, and Aegis radars.5 Second, advances in processing and distributing of information have evolved under the umbrella of C4 systems (Command, Control, Communication, Computer systems). These systems include today’s Global Command and Control System and the Navy’s Cooperative Engagement Capability and are the means in which the sensor and the shooter are closely linked. The third advance is in long range precision guided munitions (PGM) involving weapons like the Tomahawk missile and the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), PGMs give the military the ability to successfully attack targets with fewer rounds while at the same time reducing collateral damage.

Any one of the these advances, by itself, does not constitute a revolution. It is the synergy of these systems that represents the quantum jump in lethality. For the Navy, this means that we have the ability for the simultaneous massing of dispersed fires on common targets, geographic dispersal for improved own force protection, and perhaps most importantly a tremendous increase in the tempo of operations. 6 The increase in operations tempo will be the result of self-synchronization. Self-synchronization is the mutual adjustment of the operating core through collaboration vice the traditional hierarchical chain of command method of the past. With the chain of command decentralized and flattened, officers at the lower levels, empowered with the knowledge gained by the new sensors and the new information backplane, connected in a networked, nearly boundaryless, virtual organization, can make decisions on the spot without the need to consult higher authority on a regular basis for the purpose of integrating effort. It is this increased operation tempo which proponents of the RMA contend will “usher in an era of conflict based on paralysis and shock rather than attrition.”

Extended information dominance through the ability to control the flow of data is a major component of the RMA that many confuse with the “system of systems” component. It is a separate component because it allows us to provide information instead of military capital in the form of troops and equipment. This will allow the United States to better execute alliance obligations, undertake stand-off operations, and realize greater combat efficiencies. Information dominance in this context becomes a commodity that we can give our allies so that they can leverage their systems more effectively while our forces have some modicum of safety”.

Information warfare, also referred to as hacker warfare, command and control warfare or cyber warfare, deals with the attack on and the defense of information systems and is the third major component of the current RMA. 9 In the past few years, this new type of warfare has received a good deal of attention as Pentagon computer systems have been under attack by computer hackers from different parts of the world. The importance of this new area cannot be overestimated, as every sector of society grows more and more dependent on information systems ranging from banking A TMs to communications, to the Internet.

A Vision of the Network Centric Officer

These changes in the international and technological environments dictate that the naval officers of the future must be different. The future naval officer corps will need to be populated by more specialists than generalists (URL officers). Three factors necessitate this shift. First, reduction in crew sizes and the likely shift in emphasis from manned to unmanned aviation and precision guided missiles will lead to the need for fewer generalists.10 Second, the growing complexity of technology, especially information techno-logy, will require specialists capable of understanding and applying technology at greater depths than ever before throughout the fleet. Most importantly, the growing complexity of warfare requires the full immersion of the generalist warfighter into the study and use of all types of force in war and conflict short of war. As a senior military officer that I interviewed noted, “The use of military power in the early 21″ century will be so subtle as to require extraordinary situational awareness that [only] comes with full immersion”. There will not be time in the warfighters career to manage or learn how to manage an organization as large as the Navy or the Department of Defense. Consequent! y, the jobs in support of fleet operations that generalists have filled in the past should be filled primarily by specialists. Generalists or more accurately specialists in warfare while on shore duty should generally perform functions that hone their combat skills and/or create combat skills in other specialists in warfare.

Table 1 lists the Skills, Knowledge, and Abilities (SKA) of the future officer. These were formed by synthesizing:

(1) selected readings on modem leadership and management,
(2) recent literature on the future operating environment, the future of conflict, and the revolution in military affairs,
(3) the Skills, Knowledge, and Attributes for the field grade Army officer of the 21″ Century ~ identified by the Science Applications International Corporation for the Army’s OPMS XXI Task Force, and
(4) The interview results of 15 active duty military officers ranging in rank from 0-6 to 0-10, two retired military officers (one retired 0-6 and one retired 0-8), two senior level civilian Department of Navy officials, and four professors from the Naval Postgraduate School.

The SKA are organized into Task clusters. These clusters are designed for the URL, officer/specialist in warfare of the future at the senior division officer/department head level. They also apply, but to a lesser degree, to the specialists that we are going to need in the future.

The Traditional Platform Centric Cluster

The future generalist naval officer, like the generalist Naval officer of today, will have to be capable of, understand how to, and be able to drive and handle ships, submarines, and aircraft. Officers will have to be able to handle and maneuver their platforms as well as understand the engineering and operation of their platforms. There is no substitute for competence in this cluster. It is the baseline capability for the URL officer/specialist in warfare.

The Leadership Cluster

Naval officers are raised on the stories of charismatic leadership from Admiral Horatio Nelson during the Napoleonic Wars to Admiral William Halsey in World War II. These men were absolutely courageous and in their day, great leaders. The problem is that all too often we model today’s leadership after them. Yes, there are lessons to be learned from the exploits of these great men, but the days of solely relying on charismatic leadership are waning. In today’s complex and uncertain world, there is too much information for one man to digest. There is no time for the information to travel up and down the chain of command so that the charismatic leader of old can act. In addition, information technology has changed the rules of leadership in the past, the chain of command has served as the conduit and filter for information flow between the upper and lower ranks. Today, any junior enlisted or officer can e-mail the highest levels within the Navy organization. The ability of subordinates to bypass the chain of command electronically is making the traditional role of the chain of command increasingly irrelevant. Consequently, the leader is losing some control as power shifts lower in the organization. Therefore, we must adapt and find a new leadership model to fit the future Navy.

Peter Senge provides a potential new leadership model when he describes his vision of a learning organization. In the Senge model, the leader is not concerned with controlling the work of his organization. He ensures the organization’s effectiveness through what he calls “The Leaders New Work” which is comprised of three roles. The first role is that of designer. As a designer, the leader is responsible for the designing of processes that (1) develop a vision and core values for the organization, (2) develop policies, strategies, and structures that translate guiding ideas into operational decisions, and (3) develop effective learning processes. The leader is not in control of making these decisions. He is instead designing the processes to make these decisions. The second role of a leader is that of a teacher. As a teacher, the leader should “help people restructure their views of reality to see beyond the superficial conditions and events into the underlying causes of problems and therefore to see new possibilities for shaping the future”. The third role of a leader is that of a steward. According to Senge, the leader’s stewardship operates on two levels: (1) stewardship for their subordinates and (2) stewardship for the larger purpose of the organization. 12 A critical component in “The Leaders New Work” is the ability to develop and embody a vision, for it is this combined with the accurate view of reality that forms the creative tension that leads to generative learning.

Another dimension in leadership that has garnered a great deal of attention in the past and will continue to demand the attention of naval leaders in the future is the ability to lead and manage personnel from diverse backgrounds, e.g. ethnicity, race, and sex. Population projections for the future predict that the non-white proportion of the population will grow by 36 percent from 27 .5 percent in 1998 to 37.6 percent in 2025.13 Consequently, the ability to lead and manage personnel from diverse backgrounds will become more important as they make up more and more of the force.

The final area in the leadership cluster is the need to understand the human dimension of warfare and the ability to use this human dimension to one’s own advantage. War has a significant impact on the human psyche and can significantly reduce human effectiveness. In Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character, Dr. Jonathan Shay notes several leadership and organizational characteristics that prevented or alleviated the onset of combat trauma, most notably the maintaining of unit integrity. The officer of the future needs to understand the impact of war on the human psyche and how through leadership, team building, and personnel management he can prevent or alleviate the onset of combat trauma and thus maintain combat effectiveness.

The Decision Making Cluster

The naval officer of the future will have to be able to make quick decisions in a dynamic and uncertain environment. There-fore, we need to treat decision making as a discrete event that is critical to mission success. Consequently, all naval officers require the tools of decision making especially at the junior level because that is where a great deal of the decisions will be made as we try to respond with great speed to the dynamic and uncertain environment. These tools include an understanding of naturalist/intuitive decision making, for use in combat situations where speed is of the essence; an understanding of heuristic decision making and risk management, when the uncertainty is high but speed is not as essential; and finally officers will have to be skilled at rational analytical analysis for complex non-combat related decisions.

The Integrative Cluster

This skill cluster is related to the decision making cluster in that it also is the result of the migration of decision making down the chain of command. In the past, military force was integrated through a vertical hierarchy. With speed becoming the driving factor, the vertical hierarchy is becoming less relevant. Integration in the future will be accomplished through self-synchronization by relatively junior personnel. Consequently, senior division officers and department head level personnel will need to be able to integrate naval, joint, and coalition forces in formulating, articulating, and linking mission requirements to direct actions. This capability requires that junior naval officers have a breadth of knowledge that they have never had before. They will have to understand at least to some degree the art and science of warfare. They will be required to have a thorough knowledge of how the U.S. and any potential allies organize and conduct military operations. Finally, junior officers will have to have an under-standing of the tactical, operational, and strategic characteristics of potential adversaries ranging from terrorist non-governmental organizations to other world powers.

The Information Technology Cluster

Information technology is the enabler for the speed that is going to make the Navy effective and relevant in the future. As such, it is going to be a core competency for the Navy. We will need specialists in both information management and in information warfare. In addition, generalist/URL officers will require a thorough understanding of the information science and information technology. In particular, generalist officers will have to be able to employ a variety of sensors, remote and local, to their platform’s optimal advantage. They will have to be able to utilize C41SR systems to obtain and disseminate information, and finally, they will have to be able to use information obtained via the network to direct weapons, and they will have to be able to do this fast, very fast.

The Management Cluster

Over the years, people have argued over the differences between leaders and managers and over which area, leadership or management, it is best to place emphasis. Leadership in this context refers to the setting of a system direction while management is the mastery of system design elements such as human resource management and material management. Consequently. naval officers, in order to be leaders, have to be competent managers, first. This is a baseline capability and not a competitor or detractor from leadership as so many have implied.


Our environment has changed and will continue to change. Our tasks, technology, and structure are changing with the RMA, Joint Vision 2010, and Network Centric Warfare. We need to align our officer corps with technological and structural changes to transform the Navy to meet the challenges of a dynamic and uncertain future. Speed and responsiveness need to permeate through every nook and cranny of the organization. This requires that we develop a shared vision of the future naval officer, one that is different from what we are today. We need the Network Centric Officer.

(A) Traditional platform centric cluster

  • Ship and aircraft handling and maneuver
  • Knowledge of and the ability to apply technology on the platform level
  • Knowledge of and the ability to perform single unit operations and tactics. (More emphasis is needed here than is typically done today.)

(B) Leadership cluster

  • Ability to lead in the new era with more emphasis on collective learning and less concentration on charismatic leadership.
    1. Ability to deal with the shifting nature of power in the information age and the ability to deal with the loss of control of leaders in an information technology revolution.
    2. Ability to undertake what Senge’s calls the leader’s new work14 -design and/or engineer processes -education and training of subordinates, superiors, and peers -stewardship of subordinates and the mission.
  • Ability to delegate to the lowest possible level.
  • Ability to develop and embody a vision.
  • Ability to build, participate in, and lead multi-disciplinary teams.
  • Ability to lead and manage personnel from diverse backgrounds.
  • Knowledge of the human dimension warfare and the ability to use it to one’s own advantage.

(C) Decision making cluster

  • Ability to make quick decisions in a dynamic and uncertain environment.
  • Thorough understanding of naturalistic (intuitive) decision making.
  • Thorough understanding of the principles of heuristic decision making and risk management.
  • Ability to use a full complement of rational analytical skills.

(D) Integrative cluster

  • Ability to integrate naval, joint, and coalition forces to formulate, articulate, and to link mission requirements to direct actions.
  • General understanding of the art and science of war to include:
    – Understanding of how the U.S. military and our potential allies organize to conduct military operations.
    – Understanding of the tactical, operational, and strategic characteristic of potential adversaries ranging from terrorists tp world powers.
    – Understanding of the historical and contemporary role of the military in American society

(E) Information technology cluster

  • Ability to employ sensors to optimal advantage.
  • Ability to utilize C41 systems to obtain and disseminate information.
  • Ability to utilize information systems to direct weapons.
  • A general understanding of information technology and science to include topics on computers, satellites, etc.

(F) Management cluster

  • A general understanding of and the ability to apply modern management principles and techniques
  • A general understanding of financial management, contract management, and general business practices.
  • A general understanding of logistics management.

(G) Communication cluster

  • Ability to communicate a vision and current reality.
  • A thorough understanding of the use of communications media, individual contact, meetings, video teleconferencing, e-mail, memos, etc.
  • Ability to express oneself clearly and concisely in both writing and speaking.


Mr. Philip W. Filer
Dr. John E. Griffin
Mr. Joe Masterangelo
VADM Marc Menez, FN (Ret.)
CAPT Walter F. Sullivan, USN(Ret.)
CAPT George J. Troffer, USN(Ret.)
Mr. A. Avery Young

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