More from the exclusive interview with vice chief of naval operations.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
I think locally, people don’t realize how many really smart but young kids we have that are going to be around some really sensitive information whether they’re translating or executing orders. Information security – how front of the mind is that? What’s the Navy doing right now?
You know, we spend a lot of time with airplanes trying to figure out, What do we want to do about the air? And then, space. What kind of airplanes [do] we want to build? What’s the governance of space? Then, there is the underwater domain. So you [have the] air and underwater domain and we’re still trying to sort out what we want to do. Same for the cyber domain and everything that travels through it from the Internet, you name it.
We have to decide how we are going to protect our information, our systems, from intrusion. [How] do we want to explore, or understand [the systems of] others? What offensive capability do we develop to protect our cyber domain? And how do we respond to attacks that we get? Getting an information dominance corps, a group of people that understand information movement is crucial. [They] organize themselves to defend and exploit it.
This institution is terrific at taking people with knowledge and helping them become middle-grade and senior-grade leaders. And so, it builds a technical foundation, giving folks confidence to make sound decisions and lead in areas [such as] undersea dominance or cyber space. I think it will be this institution that [becomes] our best source of expanding in the arena cyber [space].
That’s interesting because one of things I wanted to ask you about is it’s still very fresh in our minds how close NPS came to merging with another school and shutting down this campus. Do I hear you saying that some of these information technologies things are a big reason why this is as vital as ever? What’s the state of the NPS?
More as an example, but not the reason. This institution delivers us a selective sub-specialty, or skill set, that we can’t readily get in other graduate schools, from Ivy League through business, Chicago, Northwestern, all the finer ones. [For example], financial management, the understanding of acoustics, it’s not just turning it into a trade only [used] for the Navy.
[Naval Post Graduate School] has done a nice job of pulling in some of the finest minds. Not only attracting [faculty] that teach and develop degrees, but also developing experimentation in specific areas. And there’s an international flavor to this place, which we’re reaping great benefits [from]. I’ve run into counterparts, or others, and they say, “You know, I remember fondly the two years we stayed in Monterey. I remember Bill, Tom, Sam, Sally, what are they doing?” There are examples of [our military] leaders picking up the phone and talking to leaders in another country, saying, “Remember, you were my classmate.” Developing that international relationship and the interoperability of the future is not [something] you can easily, tangibly grasp onto, but there’s all kinds of anecdotes [showing] how powerful it is.
You mentioned, on the information technology front, exploiting and understanding others, can you give me a little more detail on that?
It’s really a matter of being able to first understand your networks. If you understand your networks, then you can detect intrusion into your networks. If you can detect intrusion, then you can follow the source back to that intrusion. If [you] have all the skills. If you choose to [follow the source] then you can determine what it is they want. If someone wanted to break into this room, or they [broke] into the room and were walking around, they [would not] know you’re in the room watching them. If you can exploit the means of them getting in the room, protect them from coming back, find out their motive, and maybe follow them back. That’s the sort of what we do. It’s not unique to military application, your major companies (Microsoft, Lotus) use a similar mindset, or logic, if you will, for their own protection.
How would you diagnose the special species that is a submarine man?
For the longest time, they would say your macho-folks would go fly. Those that can’t fly, or just have a tendency and a bent to engineering and figuring stuff out – kind of your geek – would go into nuclear power, into submarines. There has been an interesting metamorphosis of it. Everybody wants to fly, I mean it’s just exciting. And when I say everybody, I would say a vast preponderance. The thing that kept a lot of people out of the cockpit were their eyes, because you have [to have] 20-20 vision. When the day of PRK and Lasik surgery arrived we found that many of the top students chose to fly, because they could. Many of them, go back in the nuclear pipeline and become nuclear carrier commanding officers.
We find the submariner of today is not always a technical major. We get political science majors, history majors, and otherwise. A lot of them want a smaller community – a submarine [has] anywhere from 115 to 140 people aboard. If you look at the pay [scale], the pay [for submariners] has remained higher. [Submarines] generally [ttract brighter people, they test higher. That’s good news, bad news; there’s nothing worse than a smart person gone bad. So it can be quite a challenge in that regard. When you’re in a smaller community, with a smaller platform, you tend to do more while you’re on board. In other words, you’ll be involved in engineering as much as you’ll be involved in acoustics. You’ll be involved in driving the submarine as much as you will be involved in the nuclear compulsion plant. That balance, being able to move around at a younger age, [brings] a challenge of its own. But that’s what some kids want to do.
Having risen to a position of leadership, I’m sure you’ve got some touchstones or philosophies that you turn to. You mentioned one them – “Looking back to help guide where you’re going” – maybe you can take me into some of the others that you found were helpful personally or leading an entire ship.
Responsibility. The faster you can understand responsibility and leadership, and the accountability associated with [them], I think the more you enjoy your job. I went into nuclear propulsion, [with its many] unforgiving, unrelenting standards. It taught me at a fairly young age responsibility and the basic tenets required, standards of discipline and accountability. Our standards are unforgiving; we owe that to the country. You have to embed and instill that all the way through the institution, if you will. That, for me, was a big help.
[When] operating in a submarine, you go down and you submerge, you’re all in this together. One of the primary tenets is, “Keep the water out of the people tank.” [Some] say that’s kind of silly. And I say, “No, that’s actually pretty important.” If I flew a plane, with you [as my passenger], and I make a mistake and we crash, you and I die. If I make a major mistake on a submarine, under water, and I have a breech of the hull, we all die. So that’s kind of un-proportional, all 130 of us versus two. At a fairly young age you are operating [a submarine] in an unforgiving environment with those kind of consequences potentially there.
That helped me, and I think that’s what helps submariners. All leaders will eventually reach that level of accountability and responsibility. Some are never comfortable with it, and that tends to drive some out. But you do it enough, and it carries you through life. You learn how to be comfortable with the required discipline of [many] aspects. Be it finances, be it handling government property or people, wherever there’s great accountability.
What influences early on that brought you to the Navy, or even submarines?
My uncle was an oceanographer and that’s what I wanted to study – oceanography. But when I went to the [United States Naval] Academy they said, “Your math and physics grades are high enough that you’re going into engineering. Because that’s what we need. ” Then, I had an influential company officer. He convinced me to go into submarines because they got an extra 100 dollars a month. So, I wanted to be rich. I went into submarines for the money. As you know, government service isn’t making a fortune.