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« India's importance in globalization on the rise | Main | The threat of great power war recedes »
Sunday
Mar292009

Advice for the future of the Navy

This past week I testified before the Seapower subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee regarding the Department of Navy's long-range strategic planning. This is what I told them.

Having spent the last decade arguing that America's grand strategy should center on fostering globalization's advance, I welcomed the Department's 2007 Maritime Strategic Concept that stated, "As our security and prosperity are inextricably linked with those of others, U.S. maritime forces will be deployed to protect and sustain the peaceful global system comprised of interdependent networks of trade, finance, information, law, people and governance."

Rather than simply chasing after today's ever-changing lineup of security threats, the department logically locates its long-term operational center of gravity amid globalization's tumultuous advance, for it is primarily in these frontier-like regions that we locate virtually all of the mass violence, terrorism and instability in the system.

I see a future in which the small-wars force (more Army and Marines) experiences continued significant growth in its global workload, while the big-war force (more Navy and Air Force) experiences the opposite. As such, the Department of Navy's blue-water (capital ship) fleet will shrink significantly over the next couple decades while its green/brown water (smaller craft) fleet will expand dramatically, along with associated personnel requirements.

As our current naval Leviathan force enjoys a significant - as in, several times over - combat advantage over any other force out there today, our decisions regarding new capital ship development should center largely on the issue of preserving industrial base, namely jobs. My advice is that America should go as slow as possible in the production of such supremely expensive platforms, meaning we accept that our low number of buys per design class will be quite costly.

To the extent that fleet numbers are kept up, such procurement should largely benefit the small-wars force's need for many cheap and small boats, preferably of the sort that can be utilized by our forces for some period of time and then given away to developing country navies to boost their maritime governance capacity.

Along these lines, I firmly support the Navy's Global Maritime Partnerships initiative, especially when our naval forces expand cooperation with rising great powers like China and India, two countries whose militaries remain far too myopically structured around border conflict scenarios.

America must dramatically widen its definition of strategic allies going forward, as the combination of an overleveraged United States and demographically moribund Europe and Japan no longer constitute a quorum of great powers sufficient to address today's global security agenda.

Given America's ongoing ground operations, our Navy faces severe budgetary pressures on future shipbuilding - like carriers. Those pressures will only grow with the current global economic crisis, which fortunately generates similar pressures on navies around the world. Considering these trends as a whole, I would rather abuse the Navy - numbers-wise - before doing the same to either the Marine Corps or the Coast Guard.

Why?

Our defense community currently accepts far too much risk and casualties and instability on the low end of the conflict spectrum while continuing to spend far too much money on building up combat capabilities for fantastic war-fighting scenarios. In effect, we stuff our big-war force while starving our small-wars force, accepting far too many avoidable real-time casualties in the latter while hedging excessively against theoretical future casualties in the former.

I consider this risk-management approach to be strategically unsound and morally reprehensible.

As Congress proceeds to judge the naval services' long-range plans, my suggested standard is simple: Give America's naval forces fewer big ships with fewer personnel on them and many more smaller ships with far more personnel on them. As the Department of the Navy moves aggressively toward engaging the global security environment as it truly is, versus myopically obsessing over China's potential as some long-term "near-peer competitor," Congress should not stand in its way.

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