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Questioning the Navy’s Right to Exist Pt 1

June 1, 2009

The following in the most astounding thing I have read since a top Vice Admiral declared “The purpose of the Navy is not to fight”. The latter statement may be why some are asking “Why do we have a Navy“, but in so doing Barrett Tillman challenges the sea service to prove its relevance in a generation notably lacking in major sea battles. From Proceedings magazine:

In the current political environment, however, a more pointed question is: “Why do we have such a big Navy when we hardly ever use it?”

Yours truly has asked that question here many times, sounding similar to what we wrote in Dec. 2008 over at Opinions Editorials:

To coin a phrase, what’s the point of having this magnificent Navy if we never use it? Having not fought even a minor naval war against a peer enemy since World War 2, and totally uninterested in attacking the threat of piracy which is challenging free trade in the Middle East, it shouldn’t be surprising that some might question”why have a navy”?

Of course every country with a significant coastline and dependent on nautical commerce needs some type of sea going force. The question should not be does America need a navy but what type does she need. Is it necessary for her to spend billions on an unmatched global force able to handle multiple threats anywhere on short notice, or might a smaller and historically traditional coastal and commerce protection fleet be adequate.

Here’s more from Mr Tillman with comments afterward:


The White House site did not address specifics about spending levels or percentage of reductions, but blue-water operations are notably absent from the President’s naval agenda.

How do we justify a large blue-water Navy that has not fought a war at sea in three generations?

If we found ourselves with 320 ships tomorrow, what would we do with the extras?

Because the most recent sea battle worthy of the name occurred in October 1944, we are now into the seventh decade of the post-naval era.

The global war on terrorism is essentially a rifle fight. As much as partisans rankle at the notion, navies are largely irrelevant to its conduct, and the Air Force has been marginalized.

If not even DOD is concerned about conventional warfare, why do we persist in building a warfighting Fleet?

The 2008 version (of the Navy’s official PR vehicle) contains some 118 images, of which four involved firing live ordnance (none in combat) while 20 or more depicted humanitarian or relief missions.

No naval actions since 1945 have required combat fleets to protect sea lanes-the very reason navies exist. Instead, light forces have proved most useful, escorting tankers in the Persian Gulf and currently combating pirates off Africa.

In 1988, U.S. Navy ships and aircraft conducted Operation Praying Mantis, sinking an Iranian frigate, a gunboat, and three speedboats. The captain of the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) termed it “the largest American sea battle since World War II.”

In one place I differ with in the author: His contention that in the War on Terror “navies are largely irrelevant”. They have made themselves irrelevant by inaction and a largely Blue Water mindset. Where navies would be most helpful is in the littoral areas, where obviously is the near-future of war at sea. For example, off war-torn Somalia where it isn’t expedient to invade the country (we have discussed why before here), warships would be most handy in traditional duties such as convoy escort, and could launch hit and run raids with light amphibious forces against pirate bases , preferably using HSV’s for this role.

More tomorrow.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 2, 2009 1:37 pm

    Another way to look at it West, since the Plan is now building carriers of their own, gives our submariners something to do!

  2. west_rhino permalink
    June 2, 2009 10:44 am

    Would Billy Mitchell, as quid pro quo for a courts martial join in the question of the need for a navy, beyond subs it IS mostly targets. (At least that’s my read of the PLA-N interpretation of CVBGs).

  3. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 2, 2009 5:19 am

    “the Navy the Marines failed to grab the riverine opportunities in Iraq.”

    Distiller, you have hit the root of the problems. You can’t fight “the wars you want”, ignoring present threats, the ones staring you in the face and expect public support. Today’s Navy is the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow 1917, still waiting for the Germans (today it would be China) to come out, while the submarines wreck havoc on their lifeline, with the pirates being the submarines. My point is, either you go after the threats when they are in their birth stages, or eventually they will came after you much stronger.

  4. Distiller permalink
    June 2, 2009 4:38 am

    Well, it’s not the Navy’s fault that it’s a desert and mountain war. But even more than the Navy the Marines failed to grab the riverine opportunities in Iraq. I think what makes the Navy more than irrelevant is their wasteful deployment schemes to “stay relevant” in the war on terror. It just can’t be justified.

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