As we see our global just-in-time logistics system buckle under COVID we must realize that the military, in recent decades, has pushed much of it’s critical logistical needs onto civilian ships and in the hands of a large and growing number civilian mariners?
At the leading edge of this is Military Sealift Command which supplies our warships. MSC has made national headlines in recent weeks for their failures in the face of COVID-19. Many of these ships are commanded by government civilian employees who have limited exposure to strategic military thinking. Some of these captains have attended the Naval War College but they are not integrated into the shore structure and, while they know their specific job very well, they are not generalists. They also have limited time to pursue additional training because MSC officers do all the stcw training we do (And more!) but are shoreside less often than us.
The USMC (and Army!) has invested heavily into the solution to this problem… what is called Mission Command which is training junior officers to manage complexity and uncertainty during the “fog of war”. Not only do our MSC civilian officers lack this type of training but MSC is highly structured and does not seem to give their captains room to think and act independently. They certainly do not encourage the type of “independent action outside of the strict orders of command” that the US Marine Corps leans on so heavily.
Anyone who has sailed a large ship knows that it’s built with flexible steel that allows the bow to twist one way while the stern twists another in heavy seas. In a naval setting this flexibility comes from giving captains broad mission objectives, critical thinking skills, and the flexibility to take independent action that are outside the scope of the Admirals orders (but within the scope of broad objectives).
To relate the importance of this to the bridge of the ship:
A captain who uses Mission Command aboard ship would work especially hard to train and mentor watch officers and his standing orders would be brief and help guide, rather than control, the actions of his bridge team.
A captain with poor Mission Command skills would be hands off in his mentorship and training and, instead rely on many pages of strict rules in his standing orders.
(I co-wrote a paper on using Mission Command on the bridge of a ship. You can read it here: https://gcaptain.com/new-brm-bridge-resource-management/)
Why does the Secretary Of The Navy continue to drag his feet on teaching Mission Command to our MSC ships while at the same time fully endorses the USMC’s enormous MC training efforts?
How can Navy Admirals the simple fact that failures of our global supply are because of the inflexibility of the system and that the USMC has invested hundreds of millions of dollars (and lives!) into developing and testing a solution to navigating complexity during times of great confusion.
Countless studies and books have shown the overwhelming success of the Marine Corps efforts so are we not teaching USMC style Mission Command to MSC captains and crews?
This disconnect is especially confusing considering that the person who [wrote the book on the success of these USMC tactics](The Marine Corps Way of War: The Evolution of the U.S. Marine Corps from Attrition to Maneuver Warfare in the Post-Vietnam Era https://www.amazon.com/dp/1611213606/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_GE53Eb1DKM9ZG), Caotain Anthony Piscitelli, is a SUNY Maritime Professor in their Global Business and Supply Chain program.
So how do we introduce Mission Command to our captains and crews who are so critical to our supply chains, which have proved to be THE weak link in uncertain times, and UN civilian contractors ￼before war breaks out and our gear, guns, and gas go missing?
MSC please note that the secretary of the navy has already spent enormous amounts of money solving this problem. Why are you not invited USMC logisticians in to MSC headquarters to teach these lessons to you?
Why are you squandering the opportunity to lead by example, adopt Mission Command, and show the entire global supply chain the answer to the world’s second biggest problem right now?
Why, Admirals, do you continue to shackle your masters with pages of specific orders they must follow rather than provide them with the training and opportunity for independent action?
If the USMC can train and trust newly minted Junior Officers to operate with autonomy and flexibility why can you not treat us civmar
and civcon Ship masters with the same level of trust, support and encouragement.
This is important because the disruptions we all see now are small compared to what the supply chain will face when war breaks out.