New Warfighter Development Directorate (OPNAV N7) Meant to Align Learning Efforts With Strategy

June 11, 2020 4:23 PM
U.S. Naval War College (NWC) students participate in a capstone wargame on May 5, 2017. Students were divided into two groups and assigned to specific nations within a blue and gold coalition. The game allows the students to put the theories of operational planning they have learned at NWC into practical use, focusing on the application of military power where the blue team plays against the gold team. This is the first year the game has migrated from a paper board game to a fully functional computer application with touch screen technology that allows multiple people to play simultaneously. US Navy photo.

The Navy today released details on its new Director of Warfighter Development (OPNAV N7) office that was quietly stood up in the fall, laying out how the new organization will develop and disseminate naval strategy.

In an OPNAV notice, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday tasks N7 with “ensuring the Navy’s warfighting advantage in order to deter, dissuade, and deny or defeat adversaries by engaging in three broad, interrelated lines of effort: warfighter development, warfare development, and warfighter corps development.”

“The integration between how we fight and how we learn cannot be underestimated in today’s strategic environment,” Gilday said in a news release today. “The new N7 organization is improving the way we develop and deliver the Navy’s warfighting advantage to our nation. I have no doubt that it will strengthen our collective military power to out-think and out-fight any adversary.”

“N7 is responsible for the Navy’s strategy and provides a framework to integrate, prioritize, and align Navy’s strategic efforts directed at solving our key operational problems.” Vice Adm. Stuart Munsch, who has served as the N7 since October, said in the news release. “This integration includes education of our warrior-scholars and how we learn as a Navy organization.”

Four divisions within N7 will help meet that mission.

The Warfighter Development Division (OPNAV N71) will lead the naval education enterprise “in collaboration with the Department of the Navy chief learning officer and U.S. Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Combat Development and Integration, in order to reinforce individual learning as a warfare enabler through intellectual opportunity and talent management.” This office will be the resource sponsor and reporting supervisor for the Naval War College, the Naval Postgraduate School and the U.S. Naval Academy; will serve as the Navy representative for Joint Professional Military Education policy, requirements, and legislative matters; and will coordinate graduate education programs and fellowships.

The Warfare Development Division (OPNAV N72) will “develop Navy strategy and concepts that are aligned with emerging security trends, higher-level guidance, and the tenets of the Navy’s national-security role.” This includes ensuring that the budget and force development processes are strategy-informed; coordinating a master plan for exercises, experiments, war games, tests, and studies to support identifying, analyzing and solving key operational problems the Navy faces; and “communicat[ing] to internal and external audiences the nature and importance of Navy strategy, sea power, and their application to the defense of national interests.”

The Warfighting Integration Division (OPNAV N74) will support Naval Strategy Panel projects and working groups, work across the combatant commands and joint force to synchronize efforts, and provide analysis to support budget planning and prioritization efforts.

Whereas many of those functions existed before under other directorates and are now being pulled together under N7, the fourth division is a totally new capability for the Navy. The Strategic Warfighting Innovation Cell (OPNAV N73) will “identify and deliver mission-engineered solutions to high priority key operational problems in order to gain warfighting advantage.” This group will work across the military and the private sector to develop a “collaborative warfighting innovation network” that can analyze key operational problems, help define the future operational environment and identify material and non-material solutions to shortfalls.

Department of the Navy Chief Learning Officer (CLO) John Kroger, right, and Vice Adm. Stuart Munsch, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfighting Development (OPNAV N7), engage with Naval Postgraduate School leadership during discussions of the Naval education strategy during a visit to the university campus, Feb. 19, 2020. US Navy photo.

Munsch told reporters that his office brings together capabilities meant to develop strategy and disseminate that strategy out to the fleet and joint force, and that his office inherently must coordinate closely with other organizations.

Most notably, the OPNAV N3/N5 organization – which Munsch led from 2018 until his transition to the N7 office – had previously covered operations, plans and strategy. Though the strategy piece has now transitioned over to N7, Munsch said that strategy and plans must still remain aligned and that the two directorates would be working together closely.

Similarly, while N7 stops short of making recommendations to pursue a specific unmanned system, directed energy weapon, ship or more, N7 does set the character of what the Navy must be able to do to win in a future environment. The OPNAV N9 Warfighting Requirements and Capabilities Directorate then takes over and translates that strategic need into requirements for acquisition programs.

Munsch said the realignment under N7 would allow the Navy’s higher education institutions to not only teach a curriculum focused on Navy strategy, but also to use their research and wargaming capabilities to help tackle those key operational problems N7 identifies.

“We craft the wargaming schedule for the [Naval] War College now, and then we coordinate with all other wargaming that’s going on in the Navy and the joint community in order to move that forward. And that includes the appropriate combatant commanders,” Munsch told USNI News when asked how N7 was already starting to have an impact on the Navy.
“So that’s well in progress, and in some respects it is the most advanced and most significant wargaming we have done since the 1930s at this point.”

The Naval Postgraduate School in particular, he said, is going through some internal restructuring now to set it up to help focus on these operational problems.

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the former deputy editor for USNI News.

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