More Questioning the Maritime Strategy
Thinking I was a voice in the wilderness questioning the USN and its allies’ obsession with fighting land powers in expeditionary warfare. Here is Michael Auslin at Human Events:
The Sea Services repeatedly refers to deterrence, but how would it seek to deter Iran? Would the mere positioning of Fifth Fleet naval assets near the Straits in the aftermath of an Israeli attack be enough to deter any attempt to close the waterways? Would senior U.S. leadership make clear to the Iranians that such an aggressive action would open the door to further U.S. sea- and land-based air attacks on Iranian military installations? In other words, is our deterrent force credibly expressed?
Secondly, how skillfully would the U.S. Navy achieve sea control? Iran obviously could not prevail by going toe-to-toe with the Navy; it has only seven destroyers and frigates. However, anti-access strategies, based on submarine attack, mines, and its twenty-four fast attack torpedo boats would be the likely tactics.
Earlier New Wars discussed “USN’s Ongoing Neglect of Sea Control“:
Today the size of the US Navy stands at about 280 ships, possibly an adequate number if the type of foe we will counter in the next few decades will be non-naval landpowers of the likes of the Yugoslavs, the Iraqi’s, or Afghanis. It may even be enough if we consider that the ability to “overawe” rising potential naval adversaries like China or Iran is enough, the much ballyhooed “presence” strategy and shows of force, with American superships off an enemy coastline.
If the US Navy is to engage in full scale war at sea, which is really the primary reason for its existence… a few very large and capable ships will not be enough.
Back to Iran specifically, Michael seems to think the Navy’s Maritime Strategy doesn’t properly address these issues:
Whether or not Iran truly maintains this capability–and it is hard to believe that even if Iran succeeded in closing off the Straits the U.S. Navy and Air Force would not be able to re-open them easily–any conflict in the Straits would prove to be the first test of the joint “Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.” Issued in October 2007, the Cooperative Strategy sought to provide an overall rationale for the use of U.S. naval assets, superseding the 1986 Maritime Strategy. The new strategy states that the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard will (among other goals) “secure strategic access and retain global freedom of action.” This will be achieved through “regionally concentrated, forward-deployed task forces…continually postured in…the Arabian Gulf/Indian Ocean….” Among the rungs of operationalizing the maritime strategy is to maintain forward presence, to deter, and to achieve sea control. Each of these would come into play in a conflict in the Straits of Hormuz.
Given the emphasis the U.S. Navy puts on partnerships, goodwill missions, and the like–all of which are important–the ONI report on Iran’s navy is notable for bringing back to the fore the traditional rationale for naval power: sea control. The Cooperative Strategy does not spend much time defining sea control…
Our point exactly! The strategy in fact reduces sea control’s importance secondary to that of projecting power onto the land, mimicking the Army and Air Force missions as a result. For taming the seas, the Navy is depending on uncertain allies, with all the talk of a “1000 ship navy” and “Somali piracy can only be defeated on land”.
Any power attacking the freedom of the seas, interrupting the safe navigation of commercial traffic is a threat, and should never be ignored by the primary keeper of the peace at sea, the Navy. Small boat navies like Iran, and Somali pirates are only a major threat if they are ignored, and is why these so-called “minor issues” stay consistently in the headlines, because we haven’t gotten serious about the problem.
Long range patrols, keeping track of hundreds of merchant ships, and sundry escort duties aren’t as “sexy” as carrier launches, giant missile ships, or exquisite nuclear powered submarine programs. Yet this is the purpose of the Navy, and would also be a perfect rationale for building up ships numbers. The Navy has yet to make this case which is why they continue to get the snub during budget talks, and are the first targets when governments look for cuts.