Academic journal article Naval War College Review

President's Forum

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

President's Forum

Article excerpt

The Navy has made considerable progress in transformation: it is increasingly network-centric; its offensive firepower is more dispersed and more accurate; and its power can be projected much farther inland. But these advances represent past decisions. Transformation is the continuing process of crafting a new future, one that will find expression in new "tangibles," used in new ways.

"CHALLENGE THE ASSUMPTIONS!" That is the oft-repeated exhortation of the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Vern Clark, to his admirals. From the perspective of a war college or a research laboratory, both under the aegis of academic and intellectual freedom, the task sounds easy. It is far more difficult in execution-yet it is a requirement for organizations under stress.

Before exploring the process and consequences of challenging assumptions, one should ask "Why?" What is the imperative? If the Chief of Naval Operations were comfortable with the current assumptions, if he were confident that they could produce what is required for the emerging national security environment, and if the budget environment were both predictable and adequate, there would be no compelling need to challenge the assumptions of an organization with a long history of sustained superior performance. But none of this is true. The evidence that the Navy cannot continue on its present course and still secure the interest of the nation over the long term is overwhelming. Analysts predict a procurement "train wreck:' not just for the Navy but for all the services. The growth of operating costs has been both large and unpredicted*-and personnel costs are likely to grow even if the economy should slow. It is little wonder that the Chief of Naval Operations asks his admirals to challenge the assumptions.


In deciding which assumptions to challenge, one finds two broad categories. The least interesting assumptions involve neither significant contention nor significant money (consequently, that group almost always is selected for review). The second category represents both contention and money. Clearly, it is this second group in which we should be interested. Within it we find a further division into assumptions that can yield new ways of gaining efficiencies at the margin, and those that involve transformational change. The rest of this discussion will focus on the latter category.

Three common examples of assumptions at the highest level are:

* The national security environment will remain essentially unchanged through 2010 or even longer.

- The defense budget will be flat or increase only modestly through that period.

- The trend toward a networked joint force will continue or quicken.

We need to be exceptionally careful in our assumptions, for if they are not true our strategy will fail. The first and second assumptions should be challenged. The problem with the first is that it defies both history and current observations. The problem with the second is that if the budget falls, the Navy will become prohibitively expensive; and if the budget notably rises, we will miss opportunities, due to our insufficient attention to research and development, concept innovation, training, and acquisition capabilities. Put another way, the second assumption may cause us to "think poor," and it stems from the first. Because the third assumption is fully under our control, it can be made to come true.

For a helpful way to think about assumptions, consider the relationship between science and technology. Science explores man's relationship with the rest of creation. Technology, on the other hand, relates human actions to objectives. In the processes of science and technology, two things happen: observations are explained, and "things" are invented. The outcome is that the new explanations and the new things interact, creating new realities. This point gives insight into the process of challenging assumptions. …

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