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Polmar:Changes Needed in Navy Leadership

October 6, 2008

I am starting to feel less like a voice crying in the wilderness concerning the dire changes required in the US Navy to prepare it for 21st Century Conflict. Over at the Information Dissemination blog, the awesome  Galrahn points to a timely plea by the Great Norman Polmar (Proceedings mag subscription only) on this subject:

The failure of the Navy’s leadership to understand and manage the development of the Fleet has reached a critical level. When the DDG-1000 situation is looked at in conjunction with the San Antonio (LPD-17) and the Littoral Combat Ship programs, both characterized by massive delays and cost overruns, it is obvious that the a new approach to Navy ship requirements and construction is needed. Questions must be asked about the Navy’s processes in these critical areas. And, the Navy’s leadership must be questioned…But changes are also needed in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. And, senior officers in the Office as well.

The Fleet’s warship woes are a symptom of the overall problem, but the need for reform goes beyond shipbuilding and strategy. It must must also address a dominant mindset within the Navy leadership so wedded to the Congressional teat that they are unwilling to challenge the major threats of our time. Third World insurgencies are developing from scratch sea forces that inhibit the flow of commerce and potentially have the capabilities to threaten major Western warships if they can obtain the right weapons such as mines, cruise missiles, even suicide boats.

Yet the leadership insists their main goal is to match Blue Water adversaries such as China and Russia in order to fight World War III (or II), or they pay lip service to littoral warfare and give us over-budget and over sized freaks such as the DDG-1000 and the LCS (one canceled the other threatened). Their plans for the future fleet places counter-insurgency at sea second place or lower, while billions go to fashioning a forward naval base in Guam (versus China) and shooting down enemy ballistic missiles with the already pricey Aegis warships.

The above mentioned DDG-1000 “destroyer” is the Sea Service’s greatest embarrassment yet. Initially designed as a Marine fire-support warship, the concept has morphed into an over-sized stealth battleship which nears the price of an aircraft carrier. Details now reveal that the giant warship is unable to defend itself from most missile threats, and considering its shallow water role, could be easily and at little cost dispatched by a primitive power using archaic shallow water defenses like mines, torpedoes, etc.

The Zumwalt destroyer is the poster boy of all that is wrong with modern naval procurement: a once simple warship class which historically was a “jack-of-all-trades”, now so bloated with high tech extras to be priced beyond reach of a sensible budget.  

What is called for to fix the Navy’s current shipbuilding crisis is an officer out of the mainstream. Pre-World War II his like might have been discovered in naval aviation or the submarine service. A belief in small or alternative platforms for combating future foes above and beneath the seas would have seen him scorned or ostracized in popular naval circles. He would also posses an eagerness to introduce new platforms in full naval service, not just relegate them to experimentation and Media curiosities, as happened in recent decades to promising technology. Such unique and affordable platforms which never saw full scale service included hydrofoils, surface effect ships, Sea Shadow, arsenal ships, trimarans, catamarans, Sea Fighter, Stiletto and so on. Concerning the Fleet’s attitude for Sea Shadow, an employee of the Lockheed Skunk Works had this to say:

“There were sexier ways of spending naval appropriations than on a small secret ship that would win few political brownie points for any admiral who pushed for it. Although the Navy did apply our technology to lower the cross section of submarine periscopes and reduce the radar cross section of their new class of destroyers [the Arleigh Burke class vessels-ed.], we were drydocked before we had really got launched.”

In combating world terrorism, the new leadership should be prepared to take losses if necessary. The idea that warships should bristle with the costliest defenses until it is far too large for mass production, and imagining it is thus immune to sinking is a ludicrous and dangerous concept. Warships should be built not only to survive, but also to fight. Giant supercarriers, amphibious ships, Aegis missile ships, and nuclear attack submarines are so costly and take so long to build that the loss of one or two in combat would be devastating to national morale.

Finally, a future Chief of Naval Operations should be courageous enough to look beyond the “313 Ship Navy”. While the highest quality is always desirable in warships, numbers posses a quality of its own. A fleet able to operate worldwide, in peace or war, without undue strain on its operations is better than one constantly “stretched thin” with sailors worn beyond endurance from multiple deployments. A gunboat in view of the shoreline can be just as intimidating, and far more cost-effective than a carrier strike group unseen out to see. The same vessel can be reminder to our nation’s foes that the full military might of the USA will back it up in a crisis.

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