Best Defense

CNO’s decision to terminate Strategic Studies Group is smart — it used to be good but lately was fiddling around

CNO John Richardson's decision to wrap up a couple of decades of good work from the Strategic Studies Group is a sensible and timely one.

160116-N-MY174-032 
PACIFIC OCEAN (Jan. 16, 2016) Boatswain Mates 3rd Class Jakob Schmidt from Eugene and Dave Del Rio practice playing violin in USS John C. Stennis' (CVN 74) forecastle. Providing a combat-ready force to protect collective maritime interests, Stennis is operating in the U.S. 3rd Fleet area of operations for a regularly scheduled Western Pacific deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Tomas Compian/Released)
160116-N-MY174-032 PACIFIC OCEAN (Jan. 16, 2016) Boatswain Mates 3rd Class Jakob Schmidt from Eugene and Dave Del Rio practice playing violin in USS John C. Stennis' (CVN 74) forecastle. Providing a combat-ready force to protect collective maritime interests, Stennis is operating in the U.S. 3rd Fleet area of operations for a regularly scheduled Western Pacific deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Tomas Compian/Released)

 

By James Stavridis
Best Defense guest columnist

CNO John Richardson’s decision to wrap up a couple of decades of good work from the Strategic Studies Group is a sensible and timely one. While the SSG has made some good contributions over time, it has moved away from producing truly cutting edge, quick reaction, high impact work over the past years. This was partly a result of a less dynamic set of fellows sent each year and partly the geographic location in Newport at the Naval War College. There is a life cycle effect in all strategic organizations, and the SSG had reached a point where it could logically be retired with thanks and honor. It had also become fairly resource intensive, both in terms of sending top people of a one-year gig to distant Newport and in cost of overhead, travel, and administration.

The interesting question is whether or not it makes sense to put together some new organization and center it on the Navy Staff in Washington. One model to consider is Deep Blue, which was a CNO Vern Clark creation set up immediately after 9/11. (Full disclosure, I served as head of Deep Blue from 2001 to 2002 as a newly selected one-star). The idea of Deep Blue was to provide CNO a direct path, quick reaction, operational/tactical think tank in his immediate orbit. Very small (10-15 people  tops), broadly supported from the warfare communities, and full of post-9/11 energy, the concept worked reasonably well for a number of years. It worked on the Afloat Forward Staging Base, rotational platform deployments, the concepts of Carrier Strike Groups and Expeditionary Strike Groups. Some its ideas continue on today, others have been discarded — such is the world of tactical and operational innovation.

What made Deep Blue different than other “strategic thinking nodes” was that it worked across a very broad war fighting spectrum, from tactical to operational to strategic. It also offered immediate support in evaluating proposals, responding to queries, examining new technologies, and generating briefs and thought pieces for the CNO. Because it was located in the Pentagon and staffed by officers on PCS assignment, it was quite economical. Many of the alumni have gone on to significant further assignments, including, for example, Admiral Kurt Tidd, Commander of U.S. Southern Command, and Vice Admiral Doug Crowder, former N3/N5. Given CNO Richardson’s direction and desire for technology solutions to merge into tactical and operational challenges, a model like Deep Blue might make sense.

Admiral Jim Stavridis was Supreme Allied Commander at NATO and previously Commander of U.S. Southern Command, serving seven years as a Combatant Commander. He has a PhD from the Fletcher School at Tufts, where he is now the dean, and has served in multiple strategic planning positions in the Pentagon, including Deep Blue. He is a Voice columnist for Foreign Policy.

Photo credit: Tomas Compian/U.S. Navy

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1

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