The symposium ran all afternoon, with papers like “Expert Maintenance Advisory Systems for Deployable Forces” and “Living with OPA-90 Oil Spill Response Requirements.” Outside the summer sun blazed down, but the symposium-goers roved an air-conditioned display area. It was indirectly lit, lofty-ceilinged, and corridored into long aisles; its booths featured near-life-size displays of missile launchers, swimmer delivery vehicles, modular radios that frequency-hopped a thousand channels a second.
Dan Lenson was in short-sleeved khaki, the silver oak leaves of a full commander on his collar. They’d glittered once, but they weren’t new now. His sandy hair showed silver. The crow’s-feet around his gray eyes were deeper. But he was still lean and still managed to run fifteen miles a week.
He sighed, swirling a plain tonic from the complimentary bar, looking at a mockup of yet another weapons system. He didn’t think more weaponry necessarily made the country safer. Not the way money was spent on the Hill, a process he’d seen too close up to have much faith in. But he’d also seen too many of its enemies, at too close a range, to believe no weapons were necessary at all.
Grimacing, he kneaded a neck vertebra reinjured in the Strait of Hormuz. An operation involving a Russian-export rocket torpedo that even now wasn’t public knowledge. And for good reason.
“Dan. Dan Lenson, isn’t it?”
He turned to find himself face-to-face with a small man in service dress blue. His sleeves gleamed with gold, and behind him, silent but attentive, a lieutenant carried a black computer case.
“Admiral Contardi,” Dan said, shaking hands. Vincent Contardi was chief of naval education and training, but word on the street had him a front-runner for vice chief of naval operations, and the four stars that went with being the second highest officer in the Navy. They’d met before, though back then Dan had been so junior—just another fresh face holding a pointer—he doubted the admiral remembered. Their last meeting had been—
“At the vice president’s party, wasn’t it?” Contardi said. His high-domed forehead gleamed. “You were on the National Security Council staff. Before the … contretemps with General Stahl.”
Dan choked on his tonic to hear an attempted assassination described as a “contretemps.” He coughed into his fist. “Uh … yessir. Right.”
“You were with Blair Titus. I served with her on a medical compensation panel. Sharp lady. I know you’re proud of her.” Contardi beckoned past him to someone, but added, as Dan started to turn away, “You and I had a chat that evening, as I recall. I complimented you on the Congressional, then we had a few words about a faster, nimbler military.”
“I remember that, sir.”
“Our ideas were sketchy then. Fuzzy, versus crisp. But since—you listened to our paper?”
“Yessir, I did.” It and the Q and A afterward, billed as the highlight of the symposium, had been filled with geekspeak: revolution in warfare, battlespace awareness, decision-making nodes; the PowerPoint slides had flashed by at bewildering speed. Dan had been intrigued, then baffled, and to judge by the faces of the rest of the audience, he wasn’t the only one. “But, uh, I wasn’t really—”
“I tried to talk Mac out of those equations, but he said anybody could follow it. Anyway, we’ve put some theoretical meat on the bones. Have you met Dr. Cormac Fauss?”
Fauss was six inches taller than Dan, a scarecrow in tweed jacket and black slacks and tasseled cordovan loafers, with a spiky mustache that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a British colonel. Contardi lifted his glass and drifted away, leaving Dan with his new friend, who he assumed was not a medical doctor, but one of the academics who assisted flag-level officers; mathematicians, physicists, the occasional economist. The British called them “boffins,” but the genus didn’t really have a name this side of the Atlantic.
“Commander Dan Lenson,” Fauss said, measuring him like a tailor. “Reynolds Ryan. The Syrian incursion. Van Zandt. Desert Storm. USS Horn. And I heard something from Jenny Roald about your involvement with the Korean navy. Still at TAG?”
Dan nodded. The Tactical Analysis Group was the Navy’s think tank, gaming and testing the three-dimensional tactics the fleet needed to fight at sea. He’d been there for two years, with his commanding officer posting him overseas again each time he returned from an assignment. After what had happened in the East Wing, there were still elements in the command structure that might very well want his hide.
“It’s really the wave of the future.” Fauss’s confiding monotone managed to make everyone within twenty yards turn and look at them. “Transformation rests on three legs. One: networking. The transformational shift from industrial-era command structures to a robust network flow that lets coprotagonists self-synchronize decisions. More like a swarm of bees than a rigid hierarchy of information flow.”
“Don’t bees have queens?”
“We’re talking about command, not insect reproduction.”
“Sorry. But TAG doesn’t get involved in—”
“It will, Dan. Transformation means changing everything—command and control, comms, intelligence, logistics, acquisition. It’ll have a resounding tactical impact, especially on the smaller, faster nodes on the pointy end. The units the admiral calls the ‘Bar Brawlers’—that make initial contact with the enemy, and act as targeters.”
“Uh, I can see that.”
“But entrenched forces will resist.” Fauss leaned close to Dan’s ear. “The ‘We’ve always done it that way’ crowd. Your CO knows what I mean.”
His commanding officer was Captain Todd Mullaly, who was around somewhere; they’d driven up from TAG together. Dan looked, but didn’t see him.
“And that’s where you come in.”
“Me, Dr. F?”
“I mean, both TAG and the O-5, O-6 community. You’ll be our shock troops. Senior enough to see the need, junior enough not to be calcified. Those who comprehend the world to come, and make it happen, will be the admirals and generals of the future. Those who don’t—well, ‘It is the business of the future to be dangerous.’ Alfred Whitehead.”
Dan’s grip tightened on the glass. Was this fool threatening him? Sometimes he sensed threat where none existed. A doctor had called it post-traumatic. Maybe so, but it meant he had to keep a close rein. Step back sometimes, and calm himself. “You’re talking to the wrong guy, Doctor. Making stars hasn’t been on my agenda for quite a while.”
“But you have something most three-stars would kill for.” Fauss gestured at Dan’s ribbon bar. “The Congressional gives you credibility. We’d like you on our side. Help us pry boulders aside, shake some foundations.”
“But what exactly are you trying to sell, Doctor? I don’t get a clear picture when you start talking. Networking—what exactly do you mean by that? I know what the word means, but—”
“That a whiteboard over there? At that booth?” Fauss pushed his way between strolling senior enlisted. “I’ll draw it for you.”
The dry-erase marker squeaked. A typical org chart took shape, commander at the top, subordinates beneath. Dan noticed each level below the next increased by seven, the proper number for optimal span of control.
“Industrial——age militaries. Weber’s bureaucratic hierarchy. Information flows up, decisions down. The most rational and efficient organization. At least, in the nineteenth century.”
“Of course. How else?”
“Of course.” Fauss looked around the circle of faces that had gathered, attracted by that subtle ozone. “How else indeed.”
The marker squeaked again. This time, instead of a pyramid, a circle. Squiggly lines interlocked in its vacant heart. Threads webbed from one boundary to the other, intersecting at nodes Fauss emphasized with thumping dots of the felt tip.
“The outer ring: in contact with the enemy and the environment. They interact directly, through decision nodes that share and store information. The commander sets goals, rather than directing action.”
“Then who gives the orders?”
“Outgrow the concept of ‘order’ and ‘command.’ In the Weberian Force, only the commander had information, and it was always partial and faulty—Clausewitz’s ‘fog of war.’ In the Networked Force, technology enables perfect knowledge of own force, enemy, and environment. When the chess-board’s clear, and each piece selects its own move, no ‘player’ is necessary.”
“The commander withers away?”
“He takes on a new role: system administrator. He defines broad goals; the ‘swarm’ self-adjusts to achieve them. This is Admiral Contardi’s transformative insight.”
Dan rubbed his chin as the engineers and consultants around them waited for him to respond. But the circle looked like a pyramid, only seen from above. The “swarm” idea was interesting, but hardly any armed force operated in a vacuum, with only a blank field, a blank sea, just it and the enemy. Setting heavily armed, autonomous actors loose amid a civilian population sounded like a recipe for My Lai or Wounded Knee. “Uh, but do you—I mean, the admiral—does he really believe perfect knowledge is possible?”
“Given adequate bandwidth, the fog of war is a relic of the past.”
Fauss smiled, as if he’d found a worthy opponent. “ ‘If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory you will suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.’ For the first time, modern sensor, data-processing, and communications technology makes it possible to know the entire battlefield.”
“That’s the revolution,” one of the onlookers put in.
“Diastrophic change,” Fauss said. “Diastrophic—meaning radical. Based on new technology and a new paradigm.”
The computer salesmen smiled. Dan cleared his throat, not eager to interrupt the cheerful tone, like that of a church group unleashed on the dessert table. But unable to let it just go unchallenged. “Sun Tzu. All right. ‘All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must convince the enemy we are far away; when far away, we must convince him we are near.’ ”
Fauss tilted his head. “Meaning what, Commander?”
“Meaning whichever enemy we face next has probably also read Sun Tzu. And won’t do us the favor of making all that information we’re gathering correct.”
“They won’t have a choice,” a woman in a business suit put in. Her name tag read TRANSCRYPT TECHNOLOGIES. “They can run but they can’t hide. Not on the electronic battlefield.”
Fauss beamed around, then at Dan. “Maybe that’s too simple?”
“Maybe that’s too simple.”
“What about empowering the operators? Is that too simple? Or has every order you’ve ever gotten seemed wise to you?”
“To tell the truth, that’s what appeals to me about what you’re describing,” Dan told him.
“I thought it would.” The doctor pushed through the crowd, which began to drift apart, still discussing what he’d said. Some held out opened copies of a green-covered book, on which Fauss, hardly looking, dashed off a signature. The title, in bold print, read The Transformation Paradigm. Hetook Dan by the elbow, looking around. Caught the eye of the aide who’d been with Contardi a few moments before.
“The admiral’s in the greenroom,” he said quietly.
Dan’s commanding officer was there too, in one of the upholstered faux-bamboo chairs near the silver trays of cookies and the rumbling coffee urn. Todd Mullaly sipped complimentary beer from a Lockheed mug, leaving foam on his upper lip. Beside him Contardi sat with not a hair out of place, a cup of tea steaming at his elbow. He glanced up from a wafer-thin notebook computer as Dan came in. “Mac fill you in on what we’re asking you to do?”
Dan sucked air. Had he missed something? He glanced back, but Fauss had vanished. “Uh, did he—no sir, I don’t think he did. Not in so many words.”
Contardi placed one hand over the other and rested them on his sternum, the slightly old-maidish attitude he’d assumed on the podium. “Our little revolution, on the Navy’s level at least, is three-pronged. First comes networking. Robust C4ISR, lateral information flows among operational units. Every commander since Pharaoh’s tried to win by concentrating forces at the point of breakthrough. But if we seamlessly link scattered platforms and sensors, we can concentrate fire while maintaining dispersal. Dominant battle-field awareness buys disruptive, concurrent operations with small, agile forces.”
“Yessir. Got it.”
“The second is crew swapping. You’ve heard of that.”
“Keeping ships in theater, and flying crews out in rotation. The way the boomer force rotates Blue and Gold crews.”
“Essentially.” Contardi scrolled; he was reading something on the notebook even as he carried on the conversation. “We invest a billion dollars in a state-of-the-art destroyer, but it spends only a quarter of its life deployed. We’re still crunching numbers, but what seems to be falling out is a four-three model. Four crews for three ships. We rotate back for maintenance and dry-docking, but keep one hull on station at all times. A one-in-four rotation for the ships, instead of a one in three. Eventually we may get to one in two. And don’t forget, these will be much more capable units.”
“That’s the third prong in the trident,” Fauss put in, having returned while the admiral was speaking. “How we spend acquisition funding.”
“We don’t need to go into that here,” Contardi cut him off. He tapped keys as they waited. Then looked up, amber gaze flickering among them. “I want TAG to take a piece of the transformation process. Todd, we need several in-depth studies. One will be an evaluation of the crew-swap concept for a squadron of Tornadoes deploying to the Red Sea to surge our force levels there.”
For a moment Dan was confused—the Tornado was a British attack aircraft, and he hadn’t heard about any surge in the Red Sea—but then realized Contardi must mean the Cyclone-class patrol ships, one of which was USS Tornado. Larger and more heavily armored than a World War II PT boat, but shallower-draft and more maneuverable than frigates.
But Mullaly didn’t say anything, just waited for Contardi to go on. After a moment he did. “I know Commander Lenson’s work aboard Horn. He took a challenging concept, integrating females, and made it work. No ordinary crew could have saved that ship, with the damage you suffered.”
“Thank you, Admiral.”
“Wish we could have recognized you for it. But word gets around. And I know about your accomplishment with Team Charlie, securing the Shkval-K. You have credibility in the Fleet. Engineering experience. You’re the most decorated officer we have. I want you to manage the migration, then sum up your lessons learned in a report we can use to expand the crew-swap concept to the rest of the Fleet.”
Excerpted from The Crisis by David Poyer.
Copyright © 2009 by David Poyer.
Published in 2009 by St. Martin's Paperbacks.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.