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Admiral: “The Purpose of the Navy is Not to Fight”

April 4, 2009

Updated below.

I could think of no better way to introduce one of the most astounding quotes I have heard in a long time. This single sentence reported by Guy Sorman in an interview with the US Seventh Fleet commander sums up everything that is wrong with the US Navy leadership, still mired in Cold War tactics of “presence”, attempting to scare  our enemies into submission, while a new World War rages around them. Here is the context:

“The purpose of the Navy,” Vice Admiral John Bird, commander of the Seventh Fleet, tells me, “is not to fight.” The mere presence of the Navy should suffice, he argues, to dissuade any attack or attempt to destabilize the region.

The word “vindication” comes to mind as we continue to rant against the Navy’s last century way of warfare, designing ships that are not built to fight and would likely be unusable in a real war at sea, such as America fought in the Second World War, ignoring alternatives to giant 100,000 ton aircraft carriers, 10,000 ton missile battleships, and $2 billion nuclear submarines while our forces make do with an aging and rapidly shrinking fleet too small for the multitude of threats it faces in the new century, not even the minor littoral threats in the Persian Gulf region, let alone traditional Blue Water threats that are arising in Asia.

For this one sentence we can sleep the sleep of the just.

UpdateGalrahn says “My first impression after reading this comment makes me want to curse excessively, so I’ll just say nothing for now.”

At the very least, the good admiral should know better than to give such fodder to yours truly, in our ongoing attempts to see the navy reformed to face modern threats.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Zach permalink
    October 12, 2012 12:55 am

    The purpose of the US Navy is to keep the oceans free for trade and defend the United States, not to actually fight wars. If you want that, join the army. Plus we can’t just go attacking every country trying to start stuff. The mere presence of an aircraft carrier off the coast of some small country is good enough to keep countries in line. The Navy has what it takes to defend itself at sea. But it also has a way of keeping people in line without doing a thing. If you actually go stand on some beach and have watched a carrier float by then you will understand what the admiral means. The US has the best military force in the world. We are the peacekeepers, not the people to just blow stuff up.

  2. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 5, 2009 3:13 pm

    Bob, I remember Admiral Burke mentioning the same at DDG-51’s commissioning. What the Seventh Fleet commander said goes against everything the Navy has stood for 200+ years. While no one wants war, it is imperative that free nations prepare for the eventuality.

    If the Navy isn’t meant to fight, then we have the largest, most expensive constabulary force in all history. I am all for peacekeeping, but ever notice whenever there is a war, how quickly the UN peacekeepers are pulled out of harm’s way? This isn’t peacekeeping, and I am hoping the Navy isn’t depending on good will among trading partners to protect us in all conditions.

    Thanks all for posting!

  3. Mrs. Davis permalink
    April 5, 2009 1:40 pm

    But that’s not what he said. What he said reflect the mindset of our military. It’s an attitudinal problem that sets into the minds of peacetime militaries. And it comes from hanging around people who get the chance to revise and extend their remarks instead of issuing orders and living with their consequences.

    The purpose of the Navy is to fight wars. Saying the purpose of the Navy is not to fight wars when the nation is at peace is like saying the purpose of fire trucks is not to fight fires when no houses are burning down. The Navy exists to fight wars at all times. If no war is going on, then the Navy is doing a good job. If a war is going on, then the Navy fights it.

    And when did the war end?

  4. April 5, 2009 1:25 pm

    Well, Bush failed to declare a GWOP – “Global War on Piracy”, did he? ;-)

    We had no major maritime conflict since 1945 even the Falklands War used only a fraction of the state-of-the-art technology and was a rather uneven contest.
    It’s almost impossible to KNOW whether the USN is doing it right with its pricey big ships strategy without more recent combat experience for evaluation.

    I’m sure they would love to have much more ships, much more commander slots.

  5. April 5, 2009 12:59 pm

    Well, if the purpose of the Navy is NOT to fight, then why should we bother spending any money on it? These are very expensive toys to drive around without any purpose.

    On the keel plate of the USS ARLEIGH BURKE (DDG-51) is a plaque: “This ship was built to fight. You had better know how.”

    If VADM John Bird, ComSeventhFlt, does not understand this, he needs to take up a new job. Anyone that thinks as he does needs to find another job.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 5, 2009 12:26 pm

    Comes at a poor time with saber rattling from China, NK, and piracy running rampant in the Middle East. Recalling the Navy’s maritime Strategy with its emphasis on “soft power”, I think he meant what he said. If the Navy fights a war, we may discover the truth, that the Navy doesn’t build ships to fight, but to “scare” our enemies. More next week.

    This goes completely against the service’s own historical ethos, when the great JPJ could say “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way. “

  7. Heretic permalink
    April 5, 2009 12:03 pm

    It occurs to me that the Admiral’s comment could (if revised and extended) make sufficient sense to satisfy our sensibilities. So excuse me for putting words in the Admiral’s mouth if the intent of what he was trying to say is this:

    “The purpose of the Navy is not to fight wars when the nation is at peace, and we in the Navy have a vested interest in seeing that our nation remains one that is at peace with the rest of the world. But in a time when our nation is at war, declared by Congress as required in the Constitution that every member of our armed forces has sworn an oath to uphold and protect, the Navy will not only fight, we will win. We will win decisively.”

    If the Admiral had said THAT then we wouldn’t be here (and elsewhere in the blogosphere) wringing our hands, rending our garments and gnashing our teeth. Instead, I daresay we would have all been cheering for him and feeling pride and gratitude that this man was serving his country so capably. Unfortunately, I have no idea if that’s what the Admiral was trying to say, let alone convey, or not. :(

  8. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 4, 2009 7:50 pm

    And it’s not just the military, Mrs D, but the Congress which is equally at fault for not saying “no” to decades long procurement cycles of obsolete or unworkable weapons and outdated strategies.

    Heretic, they ignore the bloggers at their peril, because this is where all the new ideas are coming from.

  9. Mrs. Davis permalink
    April 4, 2009 12:01 pm

    What is unfortunate is that this seems to be the prevailing belief of the entire senior command, or should I say management, of the Navy. Will the Navy be able to find an Ernie King or Chester Nimitz when the next sea war rolls around? And with this public attitude I can’t imagine it will be too long in happening.

  10. Heretic permalink
    April 4, 2009 8:47 am

    Hard to believe that just a week ago, I said in response to your Barnett: Keep Fleet Numbers Up post I said:

    It’s a lot like the situation with the USAF … where if it doesn’t have a pointy nose, go mach snot, have stealth and supercruise, they’d rather zero out its funding for something that does have all of those things.
    The USN is suffering from the same mentality, where if it isn’t big enough to scare everything else afloat back into port as soon as our ship slips its moorings, it’s not worth buying.

    It’s mildly terrifying to know that I was “right” about the USN’s mentality concerning what they’re out there “for” as an instrument of national power. The commander of the 7th Fleet seems to think that the role of the USN is peacetime power projection and peacekeeping, maintaining the Pax Americana … rather than combat, and by extension, winning wars (at and from the sea).

    There are times when I hate it when I’m right … >.<#


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