Ten Takeaways: The Education for Seapower Report

Ten Take-Aways: The Education for Seapower Report

In February 2019, the Department of the Navy issued its
landmark Education
for Seapower (E4S) Report
, calling for major reform and improvement of our
system of naval education for commissioned and enlisted Sailors and Marines. The
Department of the Navy is beginning to implement the report’s recommendations
at the direction of the Secretary
of the Navy Richard V. Spencer
, through his memorandum
to all naval forces. When fully implemented, these changes to our education and
promotion systems will have a profound impact on our naval services. Because of
this, it is essential that policy makers and indeed our entire force understand
the report and its conclusions. I recommend that everyone read the full E4S report:
it is filled with important insights into the nature of seapower in the 21st century
and the essential contribution of education and intellectual development to
maintaining naval dominance. Since, however, the main section of the report is 71
pages long, I thought it would be useful to summarize its main conclusions and
recommendations. Accordingly, here is my take on the 10 most important takeaways
you need to know about the future of Navy and Marine Corps education from the
E4S report.

1.         Education of our force is vital to
national security 

After exhaustive study of the strategic challenges we face
as a nation, the E4S Board concluded: “The education of our naval leaders is
the single most important way to prepare the Naval services, and the nation,
for a dangerous and uncertain future.” As retired Admiral James Stavridis
observed in the report, “In the end, 21st century warfare is brain-on-brain
conflict, and we must build our human capital and intellectual capacity as
surely as we produce the best pure war fighting technology if we are going to
win the nation’s wars and advance its security.” 

2.         Our current educational efforts are

Because our intellectual capital is so vital to our nation’s
security, developing that capital through education becomes a top priority, at
least as important as building platforms and weapons systems. The E4S report
concluded that our current system of educating Sailors and Marines is
“insufficient to create the operational and strategic leaders needed for the
modern Navy and Marine Corps.” Indeed, the report noted that in some respects,
we have gone backwards. “While 98% of Flag officers had attended the Naval War
College on the eve of World War II, today, only roughly 20% have.”

NEWPORT, R.I. (March 19, 2018) U.S. Naval War College (NWC) students participate in a learning game beta test by NWC’s Joint Military Operations and Wargaming departments. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jess Lewis/Released)

3.         Immediate action is necessary

Unlike a weapons system, we can’t just buy a strategically-minded
senior non-commissioned officer or field grade staff officer – it takes years of
education and the right motivation to develop the creativity and critical
thinking required to lead through an uncertain future. The E4S board concluded
that inadequate intellectual development of our force “is THE fundamental
problem that must be corrected now.” We need to strengthen our capabilities in
leadership and ethics, strategic education, technology and science,
organizational management, logistics and acquisition. Failure to change and
improve, the report noted, would be a “strategic blunder.” This will require a major
cultural shift, so that every naval warfare community and discipline recognizes
the full value of education to our national security. 

4.         We must invest in and support our educational institutions

After studying the Naval War College, U.S. Naval Academy,
Naval Postgraduate School, and Marine Corps University, the E4S Board concluded
that though these schools have proud histories and talented faculty, they are “underfunded,
under-prioritized, under-utilized, and disconnected from one another, without
any unifying strategic vision or purpose.” The report noted in particular that “Faculty
are not receiving enough funding to teach effectively, develop professionally,
and conduct research.” To fix these problems, the report calls for the creation
of a unified Naval University System, changes to intellectual property rules
for faculty, major budget process reforms within the Pentagon, and an increase in
high priority funding.

5.         We must create a Naval Community
College for enlisted personnel

Our enlisted Marines and Sailors represent a national
treasure, both in terms of intellect and selfless dedication to service. Yet we
do not provide adequate educational opportunities that will help them develop their
vast capacity to help solve the strategic challenges of the future. The report
notes that despite many programs to support enlisted education, “valuable
talent from the largest part of the services is not being utilized.” To tap
into and develop this talent, the report calls for the creation of a Naval
Community College offering “rigorous associate of science degree programs for
naval sciences, with concentration , such as, data analytics, organizational
behavior, and information systems.” 

6.         We need 21st century education

The E4S report recognizes that residential education
delivered over an extended period of time in a traditional campus setting is a
very valuable educational tool, but that deployments and operational and
training needs often make residential education difficult to obtain. To address
this problem, the report calls for adoption of more flexible education delivery
models, including short executive courses, stackable certificates that lead to
degrees over time, and better use of available technology to deliver education
outside the brick and mortar classroom. The report also calls for two important
changes in emphasis in our school curriculums: coursework leading to “greater
understanding of emerging technologies,” and “more theoretical education in
order to develop true critical thinkers and leaders.”  

NEWPORT, R.I. (Aug. 15, 2018) Lt. Sarah Miller of Lacey, Washington, an instructor at Surface Warfare Officers School (SWOS), discusses virtual conning of a ship with Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) Midshipman 3rd Class Christopher Anstett, of Buffalo, New York, a student at State University of New York Maritime College, during the 2018 NROTC National Shiphandler of the Year competition. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nardel Gervacio/Released)

7.         The Navy must adopt school selection

Achieving a high-quality educational outcomes means much
more than retaining the best professors or creating challenging curricula. The E4S
report noted deep concerns about how Navy officers are selected for and perform
at graduate professional military education schools.  “Leaders candidly observed that the Navy
often sends poorly qualified officers to fill quotas. This practice includes
sending non-due course officers, junior officers to senior programs, and
restricted line officers, such as dental officers and chaplains, to fill quotas
meant for unrestricted line officers.” As a result, Navy officers “consistently
underperform the officers of other services.” To remedy this problem, the
report calls for “competitive in-residence graduate selection boards” similar
to those already adopted by the Marine Corps – a process that has
already begun in the Navy
and is still being refined by both services.

8.         The Navy must change its evaluation and
promotion system to value education

For education to truly matter to the naval services,
excellence in learning must be recognized and rewarded. The E4S report
concluded that while Marine officers and enlisted personnel are required to
pursue and complete education coursework to qualify for promotion, many Navy
officers do not, because education is not seen as necessary or valuable to
career advancement.  “Education is
currently viewed as an obstruction in naval career paths by the majority, an
obstruction exacerbated by the needs of the personnel assignment system,” and “there
are not enough incentives for the personnel to continue higher education.” The
report thus recommends significant changes to how we evaluate and promote
officers, to insure that career incentives promote, not discourage, educational
and intellectual development.

SAN DIEGO (June 1, 2018) Capt. Richard LeBron, executive officer of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), places a lieutenant shoulder board onto the uniform of Lt. j.g. Allen On, the ship’s safety officer, during a promotion ceremony aboard the USS Midway Museum. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel Charest)

9.         Leaders must take responsibility for education
in their command

If we want our forces to reach their full strategic and
operational potential, our officer and enlisted leaders must model a commitment
to excellence in lifelong learning. The E4S report notes that though it is
critical for leaders in our force to pursue their own intellectual development,
this alone is not sufficient. In addition, our leaders need to “assume
responsibility for the education of their charges.” This means that leaders at
all levels, both commissioned and noncommissioned, must help the Marines and
Sailors they command identify, obtain and complete the academic coursework we
need for our national security.

10.       Improving education is a team effort          

Finally, the E4S report makes clear that all of us,
individually and collectively, are responsible for strengthening the
intellectual capabilities of our naval forces. Individual Sailors and Marines
must pursue more education and take their academic performance just as
seriously as they do the performance of their operational duties. Our leaders
must obtain world-class education while taking responsibility for the educational
advancement of the men and women they lead. 
Our educational institutions need to reinvent their curriculums and
delivery systems so that greater educational impact can be achieved for sea
services that are by definition continually deployed. And the Department of the
Navy as a whole must invest in our schools and make badly needed reforms to our
personnel systems so that education becomes a top priority.  These reforms are not optional. This is a
fight we must win if we are to do our duty to protect national security. 

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