The Drift

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Communication Breakdown: The Drift, S. II, Vol. VIX

ALEXANDRIA – Good evening, Drifters

On Oct. 23, 1993, I learned one of the hardest lessons a nine-year-old boy can learn: Sometimes in life things don’t work out the way you want them to.

That was the day Joe Carter launched a hanging breaking ball over the left field wall for a three-run walk-off home run off closer Mitch Williams to cap a six-game World Series victory for the Blue Jays over my beloved Phillies. The moment was as heartbreaking as it was predictable.

Let’s recall that Blue Jays team: it was one of the all-time great squads. A staggering lineup of not just the clutch Carter but Ricky Henderson, Paul Molitor and Roberto Alomar to boot. All that firepower stacked up against the rag-tag Phillies – Macho Row, they were known as, for their dip-packed bottom lips and fearlessly worn mullets. They looked like the kind of blue-collar team that could steal the hearts of Philadelphia’s angsty, work-a-day fans.

Williams, known as “Wild Thing,” was the kind of closer who was either on or he wasn’t. Williams racked up 43 saves in 1993, by far his best year in the majors, but everyone knew Mitch had control issues. Any time he took the mound, you weren’t expecting an easy 1-2-3 inning. Mitch liked to make the games exciting, and sometimes the wheels would come off all together. He’d already suffered a loss in Game 4, blowing a save after giving up three runs on three hits and a walk.

Game 6 started unevenly for the Phils. Terry Mulholland pitched a clunky five innings, allowing five runs on seven hits. But the bullpen came in and really shut things down for the Jays offense, allowing the Phillies to stage a heroic comeback, plating five runs in the 7th to take a 6-5 lead.

Then, with no backup warming up in case things went sideways and a one-run lead to protect, the series on the line, manager Jim Fregosi put in the volatile Wild Thing.

Things went south right away.

Williams walked Ricky Henderson, the man who stole more bases than any other player in baseball history. The speedy Henderson on first – I don’t think there is much doubt about it – got inside Williams’ head. Williams got the next batter to fly out, but then gave up a single to Paul Molitor, moving Henderson to second. Then, with the ballgame on the line, Joe Carter made history on a 2-2 pitch.

After the game, and for many years after, Fregosi defended the decision to bet the farm on Williams despite a track record of control issues by saying simply: “He’s the one who got us here. He saved over 40 games for us. He’s the guy.”

Today’s analytics-obsessed managers might have pulled Williams after he gave up a lead-off walk. Today, the managers have all kinds of decision tools in front of them: they know the odds in most any situation, not just for league averages but for their individual players as well. Maybe if that situation happened today, once Williams gave up the single to Molitor, he’d have been pulled. But in 1993, you went with your guy.

Putting Williams in and keeping him in absolutely lost the ballgame. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to. But what if that was predictable (it was)? What if you could make a better decision? What if you didn’t have to bet the whole farm on an erratic closer? What if you had a viable backup warming up that could improve your odds if your closer gets in trouble?

That’s what I want to talk about tonight.

Let’s Drift.


Communication Breakdown

I can’t be the only one uncomfortable with this Distributed Maritime Operations concept, right? All I’ve heard about from former CNO Adm. Jon Greenert on is that Russia and China have made steady and impressive progress on their ability to deny our satellites and jam our data links.

The concept of spreading the fleet out to scatter Chinese targeting and surveillance resources hinges on maintaining good communications. What good is having an offboard sensor like a medium-sized unmanned surface vessel tracking a Chinese sub if it can’t talk to the manned surface combatant because the link is jammed?

If we go down the path of, as Adm. John Richardson used to talk about, networking everything to everything, and we think that will give us our advantage over China – well, it doesn’t take a military genius to figure out that China is going to try and take down our network. Chances are, they’ll be able to succeed.

To crack that nut, the Navy and Air Force have teamed up on developing what current Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday refers to as a new “Manhattan Project.”

The Quote: “I think the biggest challenge for us is to join all the main command and control,” Gilday said. “We’re building netted weapons, netted platforms, and netted [command-and-control] nodes, but we don’t have an adequate net, and that’s a critical piece.”

Richardson used to say that when the war breaks out with China, the first thing under attack will be the network, and the side that can heal their network the fastest will have the advantage.

Well that gets me thinking about Mitch Williams: If you know you’re going to have control problems with this network, no matter how exquisite, shouldn’t you have a solid backup plan? What if you can never access those satellites? What if Link 16 is just hard down? What if we can’t generate enough bandwidth in a comms denied environment to exchange data and order up a missile launch from your large unmanned surface vessel? Sure, the network has been good all season, but it’s down to the brass tacks: This is the ninth inning in an elimination game, I don’t want to bet the farm on a network that I know to be erratic.

That’s where CSBA’s latest study has some interesting things to say. What if we skipped the Manhattan Project all together and just tried to make better decisions?

From the Study: U.S. surface forces will likely operate in a contested and congested EMS during future conflicts. To overcome this challenge, DoD is investing significant resources in the development of resilient and adaptable communications architectures, including new low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations, UAV relays, and jam-resistant radios.

Despite these investments, U.S. forces may be unable to sustain high or moderate bandwidth communications over wide areas due to their proximity to adversary jammers and the long distances between U.S. units and theater commanders. Rather than expend scarce resources to build a new communications architecture to support desired C2 structures, communications requirements could be reduced through an alternative approach to C3 that adapts existing C2 structures to accommodate communications availability.


Instead of betting the fam on an exquisite network, the Navy could pursue the ability to help commanders make better decisions. In our baseball analogy, this would be the analytics data that would help today’s managers understand that if your pitcher gives up a lead-off walk, an outfield fly ball and a single, he’s not fooling the batters and should probably be pulled from the game if a Championship is on the line.

From the Study: This concept, which could be described as context-centric C3, relies on decision-support tools to help junior commanders develop and execute plans even when communications are lost with senior leaders. Under context-centric C3, junior commanders would employ automated decision aids to support operational planning and execution. Several of these tools are under development today and could be fielded by 2030.

When they are unable to receive orders from senior leaders, decision aids would help junior commanders develop courses of action to pursue objectives using the units in communication at that time. In a degraded or denied communications environment, planning tools would help coordinate a commander’s plan with those of friendly forces that are out of radio contact by predicting the actions of other forces given the guidance of senior leaders and sensor data on friendly and adversary units.

The study’s lead author, friend of The Drift Bryan Clark, makes no bones about the wisdom of investing massive resources into a new fancy comms network.

From the Study:Communications connectivity will be critical to coordinating complex ISRT and counter-ISRT operations and massing fires from distributed launchers. Significantly increasing investment in a communications architecture able to support theater-wide operations at high bandwidth in highly contested areas is an ineffective use of resources.

Instead, modest investments should be made to ensure units can communicate within their force packages and critical information can be shared across a theater. Using the resulting communications architecture, context-centric C3 should be employed to adapt C2 structures to communications availability.

Maybe if Jim Fregosi had decision aids, he would have made a different decision and not ruined 1993 for me. If the Navy teaches anything, it’s Murphy’s Law: What can go wrong, will go wrong. Or, as I put it, sometimes in life, things don’t work they way you want them to. But the way to defeat Murphy’s Law is to have a solid back-up plan. And a back-up plan to the backup plan.

Empowering commanders far from contact with higher headquarters shouldn’t be a stretch for the Navy, that’s in the DNA of the service. So, helping commanders make better decisions when they are cut off from higher headquarters, shouldn’t be a major adjustment.

I miss baseball.

On to The Hotwash.

The Hotwash

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More Chinese nationals arrested for snapping pictures of Navy base

Carrier Abraham Lincoln arrives in Pearl Harbor

The surface Navy needs to fundamentally reshape itself to defeat the Chinese threat, study finds

Fleet commander directs US Navy’s surface force to develop concepts for unmanned ships

While China Spends, Trump Budget Looks Flat For 2021

Estimated $380 Billion Needed to Maintain Navy, Marine Corps Aviation Fleet in the Future

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