No question left unasked at the Naval War College

This is one school where the students hope they never have to use what they learn. Not because the subject matter is irrelevant. Quite the contrary. Here, what students learn can be a matter of life and death, not just for their nation but the world. And this is precisely what Rear Adm. S. B. Luce intended in 1884 when he founded the Naval War College (to instruct officers in the "Science of Art and War") in this busy New England seaport.

How to describe this institution nearly a century later? It might be (and has been) described as a prep school for middle-grade and senior officers on their way to positions of chief-executive command. But that designation would not do justice to the ideals and objectives of what has also been described as a national asset.

The Naval War College might better be seen as a graduate school for career military personnel. And in this light it takes its place alongside other US graduate schools, both public and private.

It is also a school where the students have an identity problem with much of the general public. Mention the Naval War College and the assumption is you're referring to the Naval ACADEMY AT Annapolis.

This is not at all the case. Unlike Annapolis, at the Naval War College, US Navy officers do not make up the entire student body. For instance, in just one of the four schools at the college, about 140 senior officers and civilians are candidates for key future command and administrative assignments. About half the student body are naval officers, with the rest made up of officers of other services, and State Department and Department of Defense civilians.

In this particular school, candidates are selected from among the top 25 percent of their contemporaries. An average students is about 42 years old, has 18 years of commissioned experience, and already holds an advanced academic degree.

Also unlike Annapolis, the focus of study is much more global is scope. It is dedicated to the study of "total force" warfare (a term that includes not just all the military hardware and military personel at an officer's command, but the strength of the economy and the political institutions through which military decisions are made, including the contribution made by allies).

The course of study at the Naval War College covers three broad areas: research (naval strategy and policy decisions); economics (weapon-systems procurement and management); and administration (naval operations and tactics).

Student receive graduate credit for the 10 1/2 month program, with up to 12 semester hours transferable to other US graduate schools.

The faculty numbers 70, two-thirds of whom are military personnel selected on the basis of educational and operational expertise. The normal tour of duty for a military professor at the War College is three years.

The remaining civilian faculty are senior scholars with extensive teaching experience from other universities, specializing in fields that complement the military instructors. With the exception of six "tenured" members, who provide long-term direction and continuity, the average teaching stay for civilians is one to five years.

The teaching staff develops most of the courses offered. Formal course work follows the case-study method, similar to that used in most law schools, and augments this pedagogy with reading, lectures, and demonstrations. Socratic inquiry probes decisionmaking principles. Student -- and faculty -- wear civilian clothes, and classes are conducted in a seminar format.

Prof. W. E. Turcotte, chairman of the Department of Management, says one goal of the combined case-study, Socratic approach is to broaden the experience of these officers, who have spent much of their former service time in one line of work.

"We break down the experiential predisposition of officers to seek solutions to problems in their former area of specialty. We want to get our students to think as managers, not specialists. If a man comes with a background in naval aviation, we want him to be thinking equally about surface and submariner solutions to complex tactical and strategic situations."

War gaming is used along with more formal course work. By all accounts, this is the most specialized and practical aspect of the academic program at the War College.

War gaming facilitates the hear of what retired Vice-Adm. Thomas R. Wechsler , chairman of the Department of Naval Operations, sees as the primary teaching objective of the college:

"Even five years after graduation, during a crisis that might call for military action, no situation would arise tht would be alien to the appropriate military decisionmakers [our students] . . . no situation would arise in which those officers had not at least considered the various courses of action, in depth, at the War College. We try to ask all the questions to potential problems that a commander at sea might face."

The final say about the value of war gaming belongs to Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of Pacific forces in World War II, who said: "The war with Japan had been reenacted in the game rooms at the Naval War College by so many people, and in so many different wasy, that nothing that happened during the war was a surprise . . . absolutely nothing except the kamikaze tactics toward the end of the war; we had not visualized these."

There are four separate schools at the Naval War College. Officers are assigned on the basis of seniority, professional background, and nationality.

One is the College of Naval Warfare, already mentioned, where career officers are being educated for an advisory role in the formulation as well as the execution of naval strategies, programs, and tactics.

Prof. Wechsler explains: "The primacy of the civilian chain of command to set strategy and national policy is established, and our formulations flow from the civilian government. There is a clear delineation of the rules and circumstances under which you can use and sustain force -- our whole philosophy proceeds from a civilian finger on the trigger."

"We are also concerned about the importance of understanding international law," he adds. "This is critical, as the Navy is out there in international waters most of the time."

The second school is the College of Naval Command and Staff. It is the intermediate US officers' school at the college. It includes some 170 highly qualified middle-grade officers and their civilian counterparts.

The third is the Naval Command College. It consists of about 35 captains and commanders from other nations who have been selected to participate in this senior War College course. Their academic program is almost identical to that of the College of Naval Warfare, as far as security clearances allow.

These students are officers from others from other countries. Initiated in 1956, the Naval Command College has graduated 691 officers representing 56 countries; almost half of these graduates have been promoted to flag (admiral) rank, and 51 have been or are now chiefs of their respective navies. To ensure an equitable representation of nationalities in the college, only one student per country per year is accepted.

The fourth school is the Naval Staff College. It comprises about 20 midcareer international officers. It is a five-month condensed version of the 10-month US College of Naval Command and Staff.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.