500 ship Navy is a bit of a pipe dream

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Oct. 1, 2020) An F/A-18E Super Hornet attached to the “Wildcats” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 131 launches from the flight deck aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). Ike is operating in the Atlantic Ocean in support of naval operations to maintain maritime stability and security in order to ensure access, deter aggression and defend U.S., allied and partner interests. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cameron Pinske)

News that Defense Secretary Esper is calling for a 500 ship Navy is good news. We’ve had a Navy too small trying to do too much for some time now, and its been ignored while we stayed focused on fighting terrorism. This resulted in a lot of extended deployments, poorly executed maintenance periods and burned out ships and Sailors.

But while a 500 ship Navy would help, we have a long way to go to get there. When policy makers discuss ships, it’s as if the numbers of ship is what matters. But there is a lot more to it:

  • Personnel. The last time we had 500 ships was in 1991. Since then, we’ve drawn down Navy personnel to about 330,000 to cover about 270 ships. Essentially, to get to 500, we’d have to double the number of Sailors. That would make the Navy larger than any of the other services, and a massive jump in personnel costs.
  • Shipyards. We can’t fix the ships we have now fast enough. Nearly doubling ships would mean we need more shipyards to build and maintain them. Given that American shipbuilding is almost exclusively government, we don’t have a great civilian infrastructure to turn to. So we’re either building new yards (expensive) or building in foreign countries (sending money overseas).
  • Support. Ships have to communicate, and rely extensively on satellite systems, which we don’t have enough of now. Combined with a variety of other support, and the price adds up quickly.

We can get away from personnel costs with more unmanned systems, but unmanned systems still require humans, and considerably smarter people to run them, which the military struggles to keep in, because other companies like Amazon will throw a lot of money at unmanned operators. This only gets worse as AI and unmanned systems spread in the commercial sector.

We’re getting to a tipping point with the Navy. We expect ships to be everywhere all the time, but we don’t have the ships, infrastructure or people to do that in peacetime, let alone war. We’re smart to recognize that, but its going to take a lot more than wishful thinking to get to a sustainable fleet level.

As a side note, the above picture was labeled “Rosy Outlook” on defense.gov. Most appropriate I think.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Diplomacy done right for Taiwan and India

Image from: https://www.imrmedia.in/india-rattles-china-appoints-new-envoy-to-taiwan/

Perhaps the only country not having a horrible 2020 might be Taiwan. Taiwan was one of the few countries to fight the spread of COVID-19 well, despite its proximity to Communist China. Later in the year, multiple US Navy vessels transited the Taiwan Straits, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated that the US is “a good partner for security” for Taiwan.

Now, on the day that is celebrated as Taiwan’s Independence Day (10 October, or “Double 10” day), #TaiwanNationalDay is trending throughout India. Communist China tried to snuff it out in advance with a strongly worded “reminder” that there is only one China. Not long ago China and India were fighting each other along their mountainous border, so its no surprise that this “reminder” found its way to the press. The reaction by Indians is telling. Even better, the timing is great, with Secretary Pompeo meeting with top Indian officials at the end of the month to discuss how to deepen ties between India and the United States.

After taking Hong Kong, China showed the world it will weather any storm of protests to achieve its own goals. Anything short of hard military and economic power doesn’t work. People continue to protest the horrible maltreatment of Uighurs and development of South China Sea artificial islands, and yet nothing has changed. The only reason China hasn’t grabbed Taiwan is the risk it faces of US military action. To get over this, China has built a navy now larger than the US (at least in terms of number of ships) and modernized its ground and rocket forces.

Traditional thinking would condemn the US to build an even bigger military, and recently Defense Secretary Esper called for just that: a 500 ship Navy. That’s currently a pipe dream, because we can’t even man the Navy we have now. The Navy currently has roughly 350,000 Sailors; an increase to 500 ships would require gaining at least 200,000 more, not to mention ships and Sailors take time to build and train.

But India? India is already worried about China. India is already in conflict. If Taiwan brings India into any future conflict with Communist China, its a winning move. China doesn’t want to fight on two fronts. It might be able to hold off the US long enough to cement gains in Taiwan, but its not going to do well if India pushes into its western territories. Worse still, if a place like Tibet or Xinjiang decides to not rejoin China, that could drag any conflict out for years, dragging down the economy and the Chinese middle class in the process. That’s a double whammy, because Communist China has to provide a good economy in exchange for not being a democracy. If the economy goes south for too long, it risks revolt.

Deepening ties with India is a smart move for Taiwan and the US. Let’s hope we get more of this diplomacy to stave off future conflicts.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

The grain of salt for military opinions

Same goes for military intervention…

Every election there seems to be a string of retired military flag and general officers that come out of the woodwork to support one candidate or another. The media acts like these opinions really matter, and we’ll hear endless debate about what “the generals” think. But do these people’s opinions really matter?

Like any good question, the correct answer is “it depends.” First, retired military members can share whatever opinion they want. Active duty members are restricted on what opinions they can share, since they work for the executive branch of the government. That’s why you see the disclaimer at the bottom of my articles, and why I don’t get too edgy on any sitting President from either party. Retired military members don’t have these restrictions, despite what people may think or want.

OK, so they can talk, but do they say anything useful? Most retired flag or general officers were in the service for between 25 and 40 years. That translates to somewhere between 8 to 16 different duty stations. Many of these were in different states and different countries, so in terms of understanding how different parts of the world work, these officers were certainly exposed to that. Moving between different continents exposes them to the good and the bad of how countries operate and the issues each country faces. This is particularly important when thinking about foreign policy, where the U.S. news service is terrible at covering issues like the water crisis in the Sudan, competition between Russia and China in central Asia, and the continuing problems in the Balkans.

There is a caveat to this that is really important. Military members go to places that have trouble. We don’t send people to Africa or the Middle East because its fun. Every overseas tour or travel is in the lens of failed diplomacy or democracy, so the member is there to fix it. Civil war in Yemen? Shoot some missiles in and kill some bad guys! Military members are primed for action. That’s not a bad thing. The military mindset of solving problems is positive, but it has two drawbacks. First, we hesitate to say “not my problem,” and second, we value U.S. intervention over others.

Let’s look at Syria for the first issue. Syria is a mess. We have Russia attempting to maintain influence in the country, especially since it owns a major naval base at Latakia. Turkey, a NATO ally, and Syria share a long, not the best defined border that has a host of illegal crossings. Then we have Iran shipping weapons and people across a poorly controlled Iraqi border to Syria. Combine that with a government focused on maintaining power rather than protecting its own people, and you have a California-sized tinder box just waiting for a gender reveal party.

So, could we go in and sort it out. Yes! Whats the cost? I’d start at ~5,000 U.S. deaths and we’d need to sit there for at least 15-30 years. Sounds crazy? Well, we won World War 2 over 70 years ago and we’re still in Germany and Japan. Maybe that’s not fair, let’s go with when the Berlin Wall collapsed…that’s still 44 years! Thirty years might be an understatement. That sounds a lot like colonization, and is guaranteed to get us a lot bad press.

Is there suffering in Syria? Yes, and at horrible levels. I’m not denying that. There is a lot of suffering all over the place. Should we care about Syria? Yes. But that’s not the important question. The important question is:

Do we care about Syria enough, and more than anyone else in the area, to commit to a very long term stay that will cost American lives?

It’s like a mortgage that you can’t sell back. You buy a house with a 30 year mortgage. You can just walk away, but it’ll rot and rust, and someone else might move in. That’s our problem with making everything our problem. We simply don’t have the resources to fix every problem in the world. We should pick and choose wisely. I wasn’t surprised when President Trump pulled the U.S. out of Syria. I was surprised by the backlash from military members. That’s the first big issue with retired flag and general officers: they all too often don’t ask whether we should get involved at all.

The second issue is valuing U.S. intervention over others. We talk the talk about loving our allies, but lets be honest, only about a handful are capable in any sort of extended, high intensity fight. That’s OK, because they’re allied with us, but it also makes them wary of jumping feet first into what looks like reckless U.S. intervention. Everyone loved being part of the first coalition to free Kuwait, but once we freed Kuwait, there was no desire by other countries to turn north to Iraq. We invaded Iraq years later to topple a really bad dictator, and we had allies come with, but they weren’t exactly thrilled. Our allies were happy to jump into Afghanistan, but after it dragged past four years, that enthusiasm waned.

When our allies work without us, it takes them longer, and our retired military members make plenty of comments like “we should support them,” without asking whether it makes any sense. When Mali fought Islamic insurgents and France wanted U.S. support, President Obama asked them to pay for it. He’s not wrong, because the correct question to ask is, are we willing to stay there for a long time? Most Americans can’t find Mali on a map, let alone pick out any U.S. interest in that country.

We also need to ask a really hard question about what retired admirals and generals do when they get out of the service. A few of them retire and “go fishing,” but plenty get another job, and most of these jobs are with major defense contractors. If I’m working at Raytheon and the government is shooting a lot of Raytheon missiles, I’m keeping a nice job for many years to come. Its the hammer tool problem: if all you have is a hammer, the world is full of nails. If you go from working 30+ years on solving military problems, then shift to a job making military equipment, you are likely inclined to think the military is the only (or at least, the best way) to solve problems. In many cases you are right, but there are plenty where you are not.

That’s the grain of salt you need for retired military opinions. Are they valuable? Yes! Retired military have different experiences than the populace, and their understanding of the world has value in many cases. But it comes with its own biases and special interests that aren’t obvious at the outset. We need to keep that in mind when we determine how much value to place on someone’s opinion.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, Raytheon Corporation, or any other government agency.

Kneecapping AI to maintain a bloated military bureaucracy

One of two prototypes purchased by the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office for its Ghost Fleet Overlord program, aimed at fielding an autonomous surface ship capable of launching missiles. (U.S. Defense Department)

Military drones are popping up everywhere. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we became used to seeing Predator drones flying around with Hellfire missiles, flown from bases in the United States and providing a near 24/7 watch for opportunities to blow up terrorists. The latest batch of drones are now becoming increasingly autonomous, meaning they can not just think for themselves, but react faster than a human and respond to an ever changing environment. In the news recently was how Artificial Intelligence that beat a top US Air Force F-16 pilot, and previously the Navy discussed how its Sea Hunter would operate as an autonomous missile barge.

But I’m not here to talk about technology, not only because details are classified, but also because any technological issues will solve themselves over time. Human engineers are pretty smart. If some piece of code doesn’t work, we’ll find a solution. Technology isn’t holding us back in the realm of military drones. People are, and unfortunately people are the real weakness, as emphasized in this quote:

“AI matters because using drones as ‘loyal wingmen’ is a key part of future air power developments,” said Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia via email. “It’s less important as a fighter pilot replacement.”

If we build an AI that is smarter, faster and all around better than top notch fighter pilots, why on earth would we not replace pilots? The Army just raised the minimum contract for pilots to 10 years, which in military human resources speak means that they can’t keep these people in. All the military services struggle to retain people with skills like flying, electronic warfare, cyber, and anything else that requires significant technical expertise. Using AI to fill these billets gives the military significantly more flexibility in where it sends its manpower. This manpower can be used to lead squadrons of drone aircraft, or on people who lead armies of online bots in cyberspace. It’ll require more training and expertise, and certainly a culture change in how we view people in the military.

Besides being short sighted about replacing people, the other weakness we are going to find with autonomous systems is that we do a terrible job writing out our intentions. I worked with some highly skills folks on the Navy’s autonomous sea systems, and one of the biggest challenges was turning what we call “Commanders Intent” into code. If a vessel is out looking for an enemy, its easy to say “Kill this type of enemy when you see them.” It’s harder to give instructions like “Taking the current geopolitical events into consideration, make a judgement call on whether to shoot down an adversary aircraft.”

To put it bluntly, what does that even mean? The military throws around the idea of “Commanders Intent” like its some sort of magic that springs forth from someone’s brain. In reality, its a lot of processing happening in the back of your mind that constantly takes in data from the world around you. The military benefits from having extraordinary people that stick around long enough to reach command. These extraordinary people find ways to take an ugly bureaucracy devoted toward mediocrity and somehow make it work. As our military bureaucracy has grown, this has gotten more difficult. Extraordinary people are less likely to stick around to fight a bureaucracy devoted to maintaining status quo, especially when business is happy to snap them up and pay them more. Autonomous systems give us a chance to drop much of the bureaucracy and focus on intent, strategy and “end state,” or what we want the world to look like at the end. If we don’t embrace this change, we’re missing out on the truly revolutionary changes that autonomy gives us.

Future warfare is going to feature autonomous systems, and its going to highlight how weak human beings are in a variety of areas. Rather than fight this, the military should embrace autonomous systems as a chance to recapitalize manpower. It should also begin training its future commanders, flag and general officers, about how to actually write out their intent, and stop relying on chance to give us great commanders. We can’t let a military bureaucracy devoted to maintaining a status quo on manpower stifle the massive innovation that AI offers us.

This post represents the views of the author and not the views of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

AFRICOM headquarters in Africa…why not?

AFRICOM HQ building, from https://www.dabangasudan.org

The US military in Europe is in a bit of a shakeup. After years of tolerating Germany’s low military investment, President Trump announced that 12,000 troops would move out of Germany, many of them moving to Poland, which has been investing in its military. Because of the “Orange Man Bad” complex, somehow the fact that this saves us money over the long term, is part of continued investment in a country that will be purchasing more US energy resources, and places troops closer to Russia as a deterrent seems to be lost in the media. It’s a smart move economically and strategically.

The shift of forces includes moving the US European Command headquarters to Belgium and the US Africa Command headquarters to…somewhere. But not Africa, according to a few news sources. When AFRICOM stood up, placing it in Stuttgart initially made sense, since many of the staff members came from the EUCOM staff. But AFRICOM’s lack of presence in Africa isn’t smart long term. The US should be more invested in Africa, and moving AFRICOM to Africa would help that investment.

Where in Africa? The best spots are Nigeria, Morocco, Ethiopia or Liberia. Nigeria is a long-term powerhouse in Africa. Not only will it become one of the world’s most populous nations, but it has a positive view of the US and has a democratic government. Morocco was the first nation in the world to recognize the US and we’ve maintained friendly relations for most of our countries history. Ethiopia is another democratic powerhouse in Africa. Liberia, while not as developed as the other three, is still a good choice given its close history with the US.

There is some concern about “militarizing” Africa, but I contend that’s a poor argument. Did we militarize Europe by stationing troops there, or did we stop a continued trend of larger and larger wars that seemed to erupt between European powers? We’ve had a longer peace since the US stationed troops in Europe. Other nations are directly moving into Africa, and while some seem altruistic (like France), others are not aligned with the US (Russia and China). We can’t counter these large investments with minimal footprints.

There are plenty of good options for AFRICOM to be in Africa. Africa is only going to get more important in coming years. We’re either all in on Africa, or we cede that ground to China.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Hope or Hezbollah?

By Christopher Harper

For nearly a decade, I lived and traveled into Beirut—a time that molded me into a journalist.

In Beirut, you worked hard and played hard. Almost every day, journalists went into a dangerous city, where many thousands of people died, and almost every night, they retired to the bar at the Commodore Hotel.

My wife Elizabeth and I arrived in Beirut in 1979, where we lived for two years. After that, we spent many days back in Lebanon during a variety of news stories, including the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. We returned in 2011 during the Arab uprising to see Beirut had risen from the ashes, with restaurants and businesses booming from an economic resurgence.

Although we both loved the city and made friends with whom we remained close for many years, recent events did not surprise us.

Lebanon has existed for decades without a government. When it had a good leader like Rafic Harari, a businessman and prime minister, he ended up dead in 2005 as the victim of assassination. Ironically, last week’s explosion occurred just as a United Nations tribunal was set to determine the guilt or innocence of those suspected of killing Harari. See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-lebanon-tribunal-hariri-idUSKCN2512IC

For the past year, Lebanese have been protesting the current government for its corruption and inability to deal with day-to-day issues, such as garbage collection. As an example, my former colleague can only received $500 a month from his ABC News and government pensions because the government has placed severe restrictions on the country’s banking system.

Although the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, is a Christian—as delineated in the country’s constitution–he is beholden to Hezbollah, the Shia militia, for his power. He remains in power despite the resignation of the prime minister and the cabinet.

Hezbollah has links to Iran and Hamas and is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Hezbollah was behind the 1983 attack against the U.S. Marines that left more than 200 dead and the hijacking of TWA 847 in 1985 that left a U.S. sailor dead. The group has a vast militia, which rivals the country’s army, and has engaged in a variety of battles with Israel.

More important for Lebanon, Hezbollah helped create a corrupt and negligent political system that created the lack of enforcement at the port and allowed the storage of 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate.

Moreover, a new report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies asserts that Hezbollah siphons off billions of dollars from around the world. Money is laundered through Lebanon, allowing Hezbollah to function as a kind of parallel state, one with its financial and social services. See https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2020/08/04/crisis-in-lebanon/

When my wife and I lived in Lebanon, the country embraced the song “I’ll Will Survive” as it national anthem. The resignation of the government may be a step toward survival, but Hezbollah still has a choke hold on the country. No survival will occur until the organization no longer holds significant power in Lebanon.

Was I right on Russia?

Russian consulate in Svalbard, which looks like my kid built it out of Legos. From The Barents Observer.

Russia continues to make big news that stays under the wave tops of COVID-19 news. I’ve written about Russia many times in the past, and made a few predictions:

I’ve also said that Russia would never give up footholds in Ukraine and Georgia. So, how is that playing out? Sadly, I’m not far off.

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is facing a spread of COVID-19 in its country. Who has lined up to help? Russia, of course. They’ve done this while trying to find ways to boost Turkmenistan’s economy, all while Turkmenistan gets closer to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which is Russia’s stand-in for the USSR.

Belarus

Belarus recently arrested a number of Russians that it accuses of inciting riots ahead of its 8 August election. Not surprisingly, Russia asked those people be released. There was in fact a large rise in the democratic movement that seeks to unseat the 5-term Belarussian President Lukashenko. With a soon-to-be contested election and shared border with Russia, what could go wrong?

Svalbard

Russia has started the messaging train once again for Svalbard, this time demanding that Norway comply with Russian demands on Svalbard. Which they still call Spitsbergen, just to make the Norwegians angry.

Georgia

Russia continues to manufacture a “border crisis” in Georgia. It’s slowly stopping any aid from reaching the breakaway sections while not removing troops in accordance with the cease fire.

Russia isn’t pulling any “crazy Ivan” moves. It knows that the US and Europe just don’t care enough (with the exception of Norway in Svalbard) about Georgia, Belarus and Turkmenistan. If Americans can barely find these places on a map, they certainly won’t care enough to risk their sons and daughters in the military to save them. In truth, if we want to stop this, we have to ask ourselves if we’re willing to go to war with Russia to save some territory in Georgia. And because the Russians think we won’t, they aren’t likely to stop taking that territory.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Why ships burn

USS BONHOMME RICHARD on fire in San Diego, from Wikipedia

Starting on Sunday, there was fairly non-stop news about the USS BONHOMME RICHARD (LHD-6) on fire in San Diego. The fire was extensive, burning from the middle of the 844 foot long ship, burning in 11 of her 14 decks all around the ship. It’s caused significant damage, and there are already talks it may not be salvageable. To put a dollar amount on it, she cost about 750 million to make in 1998, but today it would cost more like $3.3 billion to build a replacement vessel.

Most people’s first question is, how in the heck can a fire rage through a ship like that? The answer is complicated. First, BONHOMME RICHARD was in a maintenance availability period. She had a large number of shipyard workers fixing a variety of systems onboard. Imagine if you hired contractors to replace your roof, drywall and paint two rooms, replace your kitchen sink, and rewire half your house all at the same time. My first ship was in a maintenance period, and I didn’t recognize the rooms I was in while walking around. It’s a confusing, crazy, dirty mess to try and fix complex systems.

Extra complexity means nothing is normal, with firefighting as no exception. Firefighting equipment gets moved around to support maintenance, and on an 844 foot ship, that might mean extensive portions where there isn’t much equipment. Holes get cut in decks, requiring extra ventilation equipment and rerouting of normal movement paths, which makes getting to and from places hard. All that extra equipment is an inviting target for a fire. Even small fires take way more time and effort to find, fight, isolate and eventually put out.

Fighting fires on a ship is scary business. I’ve gone through our basic firefighting trainers. They are difficult. Contrary to the movies, a firefight is almost pitch black due to the smoke. So imagine you’ve got on 40 pounds of extra gear, breathing through a mask, walking in pitch black conditions, dragging a hose with you while the guy behind you with an infrared sensor guides you towards hot spots that you can’t see. That’s the reality of firefighting. A friend of mine fought a large fire on a submarine and nearly drown when the deck gave out below him and dumped him in a large pool of water, the same water he had been spraying on the fire. He’s really in shape, and even he struggled to get out.

I’m not surprised BONHOMME RICHARD caught fire and that it was bad. What I want to know is whether it’ll cause changes in the future. The shipyard has always been a dirty place, and shipyard workers aren’t normally known for cleanliness. Navy Sailors, unfortunately, get used to this and develop just as bad of habits, which the senior enlisted try desperately to fix. When I visited Japan, I was shocked at just how clean the shipyard was. While you can’t always keep an area clean, going days and weeks without cleanup significantly increases the chance for fires, accidents and all sorts of problems. If this fire forces the Navy to work with shipyards to clean up their act, it would be something useful in an otherwise tragic circumstance.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Did you catch Trump’s Farsi Tweet?

Screen capture of President Trump’s Farsi tweet

I’ve been helping a new Public Affairs Officer get setup at her new job. We had a chance to talk about what influence’s people, specifically in news media, and specifically about the importance of understanding and communicating to your audience in a way that they understand. I brought up how during our BALTOPS exercise, one of the most popular items was an interview my boss had with a local news organization that was translated into Russian. It spiked traffic and I was shocked at how well received it was.

This Public Affairs officer called me this week with a short request, and then asked “Hey, did you see Trump’s tweet in a foreign language?”

Me: “Nope.”

Her: “Yeah, he tweeted about the Iranian executions in their language.”

Sure enough, a quick Google revealed that she was correct. President Trump tweeted in Farsi (the most common language in Iran) about his opposition to the execution of Iranian protesters. It’s quickly become one of the most popular Farsi posts. Ironically, Trump had previously tweeted in Farsi in January which became the most popular Farsi tweet ever. And just as interesting, I had not heard of this tweet. Granted, I’m not a Twitter user, but normally that sort of thing makes the news.

Tweeting in Farsi is hard. It’s not an easy language to use, and not easy to convert English into Farsi. President Trump is showing a pretty good understanding of how to make his tweets viral with a foreign audience he wants to influence. And yet…no mention of this, at all, in the media. Not even to make fun of it.

It’s the lack of coverage on these things that makes it too easy to believe the media is horribly biased.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Why your Navy can’t telework (even if you wanted it to)

From Breitbart Media

It seems plenty of people want the entire United States to telework and stay at home until a COVID-19 vaccine is created. To be fair to those people, many jobs that we once thought weren’t telework capable are suddenly finding a way to overcome those barriers. But for government workers, especially those in the Navy, telework doesn’t remain a viable option, and we need to stop lying about its viability.

Let’s start with what should be an obvious point: many military members work with classified information. Information gets classified for a variety of reasons: it keeps ship movements safe, protects how sensitive intelligence is made, or where we’ve made breakthroughs in military technology. We spend a lot of taxpayer money to build systems with advantages over our enemies, and protecting the information from our enemies so we can maintain that advantage is important. Or put another way, we throw away taxpayer dollars when we give up classified information.

To protect this information, we make people work in secure facilities. More sensitive information merits more secure facilities. These facilities don’t include your living room couch. Or your home office. Or the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shop. Worse still, we have some mobile technology, but its normally reserved for higher ranking members in the military.

So we’re put in a quandary. Navy leadership at the high level can work from home to some degree. The Sailors doing the work cannot. This inevitably leads to the desire to “talk around” information, or find ways of getting work done that put our information at risk. Remember to keep in mind this information costs money, so putting it at unnecessary risk is the equivalent of throwing money away to our enemies.

A second less obvious point is that the Navy has a lot of equipment that we don’t just lock up and store. Ships require maintenance. Submarine nuclear reactors always have someone at a panel. Without Sailors onboard, these vessels cease to be useful. We can’t drive them into a warehouse, turn on the dehumidifier, shut and lock the door and wait for a vaccine.

So your government, especially your Navy, can’t telework forever. We put information and systems, which are expensive, at risk. Just like the rest of America, we need to get back to work.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.