The Navy’s New Look Pt 1
The US Navy today seems scarcely cognizant of these trends; it appears intent upon retaining a first-rate twentieth-century fleet well into the twenty-first century. The navy may have to sail this staggeringly expensive form of sea power into harm’s way against opponents who will, most curiously, await our ships with much more modern weapons and even more advanced concepts of naval operations. For us to maintain this course is to bear a growing risk of future defeats that would make Pearl Harbor look like a minor reverse. But to make the right adjustments now calls for questioning virtually all the conventional wisdom about sea power that has been accumulated and nurtured for nearly seventy years…
John Arquilla writing in Worst Enemy
Root of Decline is Internal
Still attempting to place the “new wine” of modern technical advances in old bottles, or the old legacy warships designed in the World Wars, perfected in the Cold War, the Navy refuses to see the light. In denial to the possibility that a revolution in warship design is upon them, and that the massive battleships they continue to update for use in the War on Terror might be obsolete, they suffer shortages and over-burden sailors with over-deployments. Inevitably they are coming to the conclusion that they must cast off essential roles and disavow historical alliances for their lack of ships and funds. It is a problem of their own making. The current Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead is one such denier, as quoted in Defense News:
Simply slashing big ticket items is not the solution, he said. Service leaders are looking to eliminate redundancies, embrace new technologies and rethink warfare operations as a whole. For example, Roughead said he is putting a greater emphasis on “the left side of the kill chain,” referring to intelligence gathering and the ability to cancel threats before they mature. While the right side of the chain – the actual “kill” of a threat or adversary – must remain a realistic option, Roughead said such costly endeavors can sometimes be avoided.
So they stretch the bounds of imagination, squeezing the last ounce of life, trying to maintain dated building practices and much-loved giant warships, that inevitably get sent to the world’s most impoverished regions to fight speed boat navies, and pirates. Still these exquisite warships built to fight World War 3 are so much overkill in this 4th World War, yet the admirals refuse to admit: it is the ships that are the problem, not how they are used or how they are built.
A previous CNO Adm. Vern Clark tried to breathe new life in his shrinking fleet, which was obviously stretched thin and over-deployed as far back as the 1990s. Clark revised deployments and schedules to make life slightly more bearable for the sailors forced into extensive sailings in order to make up for lack of ships, only delaying the problem however. The long-held promise that capability duplicates availability, and that highly excessive and capable warships can take the place of numbers has been a failure no one will admit to. Still the admirals continue on their self afflicted death-spiral.
The Coming Armageddon
Seeing no answer other than extinction, the current CNO inevitably points to decline, as revealed by DefPro:
In a speech on June 8 at the Naval War College, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral Gary Roughead, made it clear to his audience — and one would hope the entire Navy — that they are confronted by a potential disaster of titanic proportions. Simply put, the mismatch between the nation’s willingness to invest in national security, on the one hand, and the demands it makes on the military, on the other, is reaching a crisis point. With a lackluster economy and deficits of a trillion dollars or more projected out at least a decade, it is becoming clear to everyone that defense spending is going to decline sharply. No reasonable observer can really believe the administration’s promise to hold defense spending essentially flat. Cuts are coming.
Remarkably, it is admitted failure in the midst of apparent power and might:
It is ironic that the Navy should be in such a position just at the time when in many ways it is more powerful and capable than ever before. Yes, the Navy has shrunk in size. However, in the absence of a blue water threat and deploying an array of modern platforms and weapons systems, it can exercise near total command of the sea. The modern nuclear carrier will soon deploy an extraordinarily powerful air wing consisting of F/A-18 E/F and F-35 strike aircraft, the state-of-the-art E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and the new F-18G Growler electronic warfare platform. Carrier-launched unmanned aerial vehicles will soon join this array. New surface combatants including the DDG1000, advanced DDG51s and the Littoral Combat Ship with its modular mission packages will provide unparalleled capabilities in surface warfare, mine countermeasures, ASW and anti-aircraft/missile defense. Naval missile defenses based on the Aegis radar and the Standard Missile 3 are so good that the administration plans to expand its deployment to at least 38 surface combatants and to make it the centerpiece of a new land-based theater missile defense system. Then there is the fleet of nuclear submarines, in particular the Virginia class with its innovations in sonar arrays, photonic masts, enlarged launch tubes and power plant.
None of these amazing icons of 20th century Western naval expertise answers the dire need for this new century–numbers. Certainly there is little hope from the LCS frigate, supposedly the Navy’s answer to the shrinking fleet with a total of 55 planned. Yet the LCS is suffering cost-overruns, building delays, and doubts about its mission or survivability in the shallow water patrol functions that it is planned for. It is likely LCS will be another victim of cuts, not a centerpiece of fleet expansion.
The End of History?
Until the Navy admits that the type of ships they are trying to fit in modern war at sea no longer have a place, and learn how to place hulls in the water, all of Admiral Roughead’s predictions will be true. A sad state for a Navy, a country, to be in since it is also avoidable if a little boldness and willingness to take chances returns to the fleet. Desperate times may call for desperate measures and those times certainly are upon us.
With all the signs pointing to warship obsolescence, why it is so difficult for the naval leadership to grasp? Currently we are sailing a fleet changed very little cosmetically since the 1960s into the 2010s. This is in contrast to the almost constant revolutions in design of the past few centuries, that saw the sail battleship replaced with the ironclad, the latter with the dreadnought, and finally the aircraft carrier seizing the mantle of sea power. So has the naval leadership declared the end of history, insisting warships no longer evolve, and the basic transformations in design no longer affect them? But we are looking for the new dreadnought, one which doesn’t cause planners to stretch the budget to the breaking point, or cast off essential roles, or defer fleet expansion to another generation.
Tomorrow–the Navy in 2050.