Arthur K. Cebrowski, 63, a retired Navy vice admiral who became the first leader of a Pentagon office working to transform military thinking about future readiness and combat needs, died Nov. 12 at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. He had cancer.
Adm. Cebrowski began his military career in 1964 and, as a naval aviator, flew 154 combat missions during three years in Vietnam. He held a variety of command posts, and his career came to encompass extensive work in strategy.
As president of the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., from 1998 to 2001, he argued against the expensive, heavily manned ships of the Cold War in favor of agile, smaller vessels that could far better "baby-sit the petri dish of festering problems we have around the world."
At the war college, his final active-duty assignment, he helped promote the concept of the Streetfighter ship that came with an ejectable escape pod for its crew. This notion was part of his focus on building a newer generation of vessels, such as the "littoral combat ship," which could patrol coastal waters but adapt to other circumstances.
His work attracted the attention of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who selected Adm. Cebrowski after his Navy retirement to direct the new Office of Force Transformation. Rumsfeld started the office as a form of think tank, designed to help the military accent speed and information-age technologies as it confronted terrorists and unstable countries more frequently.
One project involved the use of small satellites to aid troops on front lines and others in the field of combat who needed photos immediately. This was an example of what he called "network-centric warfare," a concept focused on uniting ships, aircraft, satellites and ground forces in effective and speedy ways.
Andrew Krepinevich Jr., a retired Army lieutenant colonel who is now executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense research organization in Washington, said Adm. Cebrowski's goal at the Pentagon was changing civilian and military attitudes about an entire approach toward combat.
Krepinevich said Adm. Cebrowski had some successes during his short time as director, among them getting the Navy to start funding his littoral combat ships program. Also, he said, the idea of network-centric warfare "has been widely accepted, at least verbally."
The admiral, a Warrenton resident, retired from his civilian Pentagon position in January because of ill health.
Arthur Karl Cebrowski was born in Passaic, N.J., on Aug. 13, 1942, and was a 1964 mathematics graduate of Villanova University. He received a master's degree in computer systems management from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and attended the Naval War College.
He commanded the aircraft carrier Midway during the Persian Gulf War.
His decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, five awards of the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, two awards of the Meritorious Service Medal, 10 awards of the Air Medal and two awards of the Navy Commendation Medal with combat "V." He also was a recipient of the Navy League's John Paul Jones Award for leadership.
Survivors include his wife, Kathryn Prezzano Cebrowski of Warrenton; two daughters, Kristin Niro of Little Silver, N.J., and Julie Clark of Caldwell, W.Va.; his parents, John and Helen Cebrowski of Hasbrouck Heights, N.J.; a brother; a sister; and seven grandchildren.