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Maritime Strategy Architect Changes Tune

December 5, 2009

OK. Maybe we are doing some little good at New Wars, though we don’t take any credit for this new story. We would hope that as events prove the Navy’s future plans are seriously skewed away from the times we are living with, and the varied threats different from a Cold War force structure, the naval planners might naturally look to the common sense ideas we propose.

Neither will I take credit for most of the reform ideas provided here. I get inspirations from the comments, and the varied military and naval blogs out there. One of my toughest critics has been Raymond Pritchett at Information Dissemination, especially concerning our arguments against large decades aircraft carriers. I would counter that I get most of my ideas on corvettes and motherships from the same website. So, it is a team effort. I am a shameless plagiarizer and aggregator of ideas, whatever it takes to drag the Navy kicking and screaming from a comfortable position of contending with a single peer conventional threat who also builds Big Ships, to dealing with many medium and smaller navies who aren’t above taking off the shelf platforms and sending them to sea against our vulnerable merchant fleet, or weaker allies.

Enough about us though, here is Bryan McGrath, who says he is “most closely associated with that strategy’s development and defense”, writing in the ID blog:

I’m not sure that CS21 is a valid strategy for a Navy that I believe is likely to suffer funding hits in the neighborhood of 25-30% in the coming years. This isn’t a sense that the Navy is going to be picked on–quite the opposite. I think the Navy will be favored within this Administration, as the Obama team moves inexorably from primacy, to cooperative security to offshore balancing as its grand strategy vector of choice. We won’t be able to afford the vision articulated in CS21 and we won’t be able to afford a Navy that looks much like the Navy we have now….

But here we are—… two years after the release of the Maritime Strategy. World financial markets were crippled and trillions of dollars in wealth evaporated. The United States position in the world is somewhat different than it was in October of 2007, and its capacity to support the Navy articulated in that strategy–a long-shot even then (given the unseemliness of actually advocating in public for a larger budget share) has now been replaced by the sinking feeling that it can’t support even the Navy that existed before CS 21.

Whew! You have to admire someone who will admit a mistake. I only hope the Navy leadership is in agreement. Somehow, I doubt it.

Concerning the Maritime Strategy itself, which first appeared back in 2007, here is our comments from “Conceding the Littorals in the Maritime Strategy“:

It becomes clear that America’s sea services intends to leave fighting terrorists in shallow seas to our allies. Meanwhile, we will continue to fund and build a more traditional and vastly expensive Blue Water fleet. In this, the Navy becomes much like our pre-Surge Army, when it was on the defensive in Iraq, enduring unacceptable casualties, while waiting for the Iraqi’s to step up to tame their rogue countrymen and drive the Al Qaeda invaders from their homeland. It soon became obvious, however, for any real change to occur, the American ground forces must lead the way. A new insurgent-savvy commander plus a more aggressive strategy changed the scope of the battle in just a few months. Today civilian and military casualties have drastically fallen, and Al Qaeda is nearly finished as a fighting force within the country…

It is obvious from the Navy’s new strategy, with its insistence on avoiding conflicts and dependence on allied fleets for small frigates, patrols ships, and other littoral vessels , that it has failed to take seriously the asymmetric warfare which the Army has learned through grueling trial and error. As I have written elsewhere, the Navy continues to wait for its own Petraeus.

Please note the statement above where we said “It becomes clear that America’s sea services intends to leave fighting terrorists in shallow seas to our allies.” In a followup post, here is Bryan McGrath conceding the point:

…sharing the burden with allies often means being right there with them….and if we are fiscally constrained from such operations, the inducement for cooperation will diminish.

Just astounding! But wait, there’s more. Recall our constant critique of the price and size of LCS, specifically because it will not build fleet numbers:

And what I considered essential to this requirement was a ship that could be built in numbers–not 55, but more like 155, which we could send out around the world to the very edges of the empire to work the issues of global system protection.

So from this astonishing revelation from one of the creator’s and key planner’s of the Navy’s current Maritime Strategy what do we learn?

  • The strategy is not relevant for the times we live in.
  • It is unaffordable.
  • It relies too much on often less than reliable allies.
  • It doesn’t build fleet numbers.

Bravo! We are greatly encouraged there is hope for Western seapower yet. Without waiting for full-scale war at sea, the Navy might be on its way to real change, from a Cold War mindset of a single giant peer foe, to one where many threats call for many small solutions. Instead of a few overly-complicated vessels geared for peacetime sailing, we would see smaller focus mission ships plying the sealanes like the cruisers of the old Royal Navy defending freedom from the world’s bullies, meeting these multiple small boat navies on somewhat equal terms, but with confidence in the superb training of the average American seaman, and the not-too shabby technology brought on near the end of the last century.

A Bigger Fleet. A More Cost-Effective and Effective Fleet. A Better Navy.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 7, 2009 2:36 pm

    Mrs Davis said “Sure, we may pull in our horns for a few years, but we’ll be back in brush fire wars sooner or later.”

    Right. Even when we were in so-called Isolation, they were constant interventions in Latin America, and lets not forget one in the early 1800s involving the Barbary Pirates. There might be less invasions but it will never go away altogether as long as we are nation.

  2. Mrs. Davis permalink
    December 7, 2009 10:21 am

    Isolationism is the natural condition for US foreign policy.

    Since when? The last try was in the Carter administration and that didn’t work out so well. As Walter Russell Mead demonstrates in Special Providence, the US has a long and successful foreign policy and it’s not terribly isolationist.

    The idea that the American people will allow our nation to be involved in more brush wars after this 8 plus year fiasco is beyond the realm.

    Sounds like something the democrats were sqaying in 1975.

    Sure, we may pull in our horns for a few years, but we’ll be back in brush fire wars sooner or later. Primarily because no one will challenge us conventionally and because on September 12 if you asked the American people if they wanted to go kick some butt, they would say Hell yes.

    woe to any politician that pushes it. [involvement in brush wars]

    I don’t recall any candidate running on the platform of engaging in brush wars in 2000. Unfortunately we don’t get to choose what kind of wars we fight. Our enemies do. And thanks to people with your attitude, brush fire wars will continue to be the style of choice for our enemies. They’re cheap, easy, and there’s lots of allies in the US who will support American defeat.

    These wars were no more fiascos than any other wars we have been in. And they were fought with relatively little loss of life.

    The will to win is not the issue.

    Will is what war is ultimately about. Wars end when one side loses its will to win and chooses to accept defeat rather than victory.

  3. December 6, 2009 4:00 pm

    No Mrs. Davis.

    Isolationism is the natural condition for US foreign policy. The idea that the American people will allow our nation to be involved in more brush wars after this 8 plus year fiasco is beyond the realm. It won’t be allowed and woe to any politician that pushes it. Unless an actual national security need can be identified then it just won’t be done. The defense of Europe won’t be enough. Defense of Israel? Maybe but even then it will have to be a demonstrated danger.

    The will to win is not the issue. The definition of victory in these nation building efforts is. If you asked the American people if the reconstruction of two middle eastern nations was in our national interest then my belief is that they would say no.

    Comparisons to the Romans is an incorrect reference point. A better example would be the British experience.

    But in the danger that these choices present, it also presents an opportunity. We can concentrate on actual defense needs of the US without thought of defending democracies that are just as technologically advanced as we are. Europe will have to decide if it wants a missile defense shield. Japan will too. Allied forces will either have to beef up or they will also cede former territories to the local inhabitants.

    Its not necessarily a pretty picture but its no messier than what we have today.

  4. Mrs. Davis permalink
    December 6, 2009 11:54 am

    The idea of the US becoming involved in brush wars will be a thing of the past.


    Brush wars are the majority of the wars we will be engaged in until we succumb to the death of a thousand defeats as did the Romans.

    And if we are engaged in another general war it will be long, nuclear, or long and nuclear. In whatever case, we will be underprepared because we can never know when it will occur and can not afford to be constantly fully prepared. That is part of why a general war will be long, unless it is nuclear.

    But the odds are strong that we will win a general war as the Anglo Saxons have done for the last 300 years, one way or another. We shall only lose when we lose the will to win. And we’re coming close to that. But that’s not a problem preparation can overcome.

  5. December 6, 2009 5:03 am

    This discussion is taking place in isolation. What about the inevitable turn toward isolationism? What about the desire of citizenry to turn away from participation in world bodies? The social effects of 8 years (probably a minimum of 12 once all is said and done) is being underestimated. The cost of the effort coupled with what will be an unsatisfactory outcome will make all this planning less than moot. It will make it irrelevant.

    The US military in general and the Navy in particular will be oriented only toward the projection of force against threat nations. The idea of the US becoming involved in brush wars will be a thing of the past.

    Our allies will be forced to participate in their defense out of necessity. The US will no longer pick up the bill (another reason why missile defense is a joke to me…we aren’t technologically more advanced than the Europeans–we just make it easy for them to be lazy on the subject!).

  6. Distiller permalink
    December 6, 2009 2:33 am

    The core question the U.S. Armed Forces in general, but the Navy specifically tries to evade is the formal split into a high-end force and a low-end force. Now the Navy thinks they can solve it by using the “allies” like the Romans used barbarian auxiliaries. I’m not so optimistic about that approach these days. 2000 years ago Rome was the only game in town and had a civilisatory magnetism like nothing else, but today the U.S. is no longer the only game in town, and there is no guarantee that the U.S. and those new barbarian auxiliaries will share a common wordlview for long, as all sides are in a flux and the bounties the U.S. is able to distribute are getting smaller and smaller.

  7. Tarl permalink
    December 5, 2009 11:49 pm

    sending them to sea against our vulnerable merchant fleet,

    We have a merchant fleet? And what’s vulnerable about it? How many have been sunk recently?

  8. December 5, 2009 2:30 pm

    Just had this thought. If the US start to build frigates en mass and taking on this global coastguard role there could be a chance that some nations actually stop building frigates, patrol craft…..

  9. leesea permalink
    December 5, 2009 1:19 pm

    When push comes to shove the Navy’s SCN budget is going down – period. It then becomes incumbent on the naval leaders to buy more ships at less cost. Buying exquisite ships can NOT continue. All that stuff about less hull types = less costs is fiction. Buy the right types of ships across a specturm to fit the strategy. Unfortunately I don’t see naval officers flexing much on the concept.

    Naval force structure is adversely impacted by congressional influence.

    I can’t wait for Capt Hughes’ “New Navy Fighting Machine” to be released!

  10. December 5, 2009 11:58 am

    You have definitely stirred it up! I can’t wait to read your response to his response of your article.

  11. B.Smitty permalink
    December 5, 2009 9:32 am


    You should be championing CS21. It is pretty much EXACTLY what you want. Bryan McGrath’s rebuke of the strategy he helped create is primarily because he doesn’t believe the Navy is committed to developing a force structure that can carry it out – namely building numerous, less expensive ships.

    So rather than saying “Bravo”, you should be disappointed.

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