Archive for the 'Proceedings' Category
Tomorrow, 11 March 2012, the storied USS Enterprise (CVN-65) will leave home port to ply the world’s oceans for the 22nd, and last time. As she is about to head toward Middle Eastern waters, the Associated Press published a nice piece about her, and the challenges that her crew of 4,000 face in keeping a ship that is older than most of their parents operating and ready.
Since SWMBO reminded me how expensive picture books were to print, I figured I would take advantage of this newfangled internet thing to post some pictures of the Big E, and relate some things about her 52 years in service. A good deal of these pictures will come from familiar places, such as NavSource.org, and DANFS, as well as some others included from various spots.
It is staggering to think of a ship 52 years in commission. How long is that? Here are some facts about Enterprise and her history:
The sitting Secretary of the Navy, William B. Franke, whose wife christened CVAN-65, had been born in 1894. He lived to be 85, and still died 33 years ago.
Enterprise’s first CO, Captain Vincent P. de Poix, Annapolis ’39, had been a World War II aviator, and is still with us at 95!
In February of 1962, Enterprise stood by to assist with the recovery of the first American to orbit the Earth, LtCol John Glenn, USMC, in Mercury 6.
Enterprise was a part of the Second Fleet force that established the “Naval quarantine” of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, October, 1962.
Enterprise was the first nuclear powered warship ever to operate in a combat zone, off Vietnam, December, 1965.
Enterprise remains the longest warship ever to put to sea at 1,102 feet, 2 inches.
On May 24th, 2011, a Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet of VFA-11 made arrested landing number 400,000 on Enterprise.
When Enterprise joined the fleet in October of 1961, she was one of 24 carriers, and the only nuclear-powered carrier, in a Navy of 870 ships. Today she is one of 11 nuclear-powered carriers in a Navy of 285 ships.
Enterprise deployed to Vietnam six times, Operation SOUTHERN WATCH three times, Operation ENDURING FREEDOM four times (about to be five), and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM three times. Her CO, Captain William Hamilton, was not yet three years old when Enterprise was commissioned, her XO would not be born for another five years.
Best of luck to all the Officers and Sailors who crew this venerable old warship. She carries a glorious name proudly. One day you can tell your grandchildren you sailed on her. When you return, she will pass from the Navy list and into history.
But perhaps her name can live on with CVN-80. There always should be an Enterprise in the US Navy.
Many of the decision points in our lives can be sorted into four specific guiding questions. They provide an excellent means of evaluating our decision, our choices, and most effectively melding what we need with what we can afford. The questions can correspondingly apply to selecting a college, or to prospective employment. They work well when designing and building a house, or buying a car. Purchasing insurance. Even when deciding on marriage. What are these four questions?
- What can I live with?
- What can I live without?
- What can’t I live with?
- What can’t I live without?
Simple questions, really. But their answers require a good deal of thought.
They are also questions that should be asked when developing National Security Strategy, and its subcomponent, National Military Strategy. Those questions need to be asked as we determine the size, posture, and capability of our military and its supporting industrial base. Those four straightforward questions must eventually be asked of our Navy at a number of different levels.
The first is to address the size and capabilities/capacity of our Navy. What can we reasonably expect our Navy to do? For how long? In how many places at once? Hard questions that demand realistic and informed discussion. Currently, we have a Cooperative Strategy that cannot be executed under any but the most benign conditions on the world’s oceans. How long are we going to continue to make promises to ourselves and our allies that we cannot keep? What are we willing to have the courage to say openly that we cannot do with current capabilities?
Related to the above queries, but not identical, is to ask how big will our Navy be. Numbers tossed around in the previous decade and a half range anywhere from 340 down to the current 285-ish. (The disparity of 55 ships is equivalent to the strength of two Royal Navies, so it isn’t trivial.) Yet, the budget realities and the cuts made to shipbuilding projections point to a number closer to 260, if not lower, by the end of the decade. While it is true that 260 modern warships have tremendous combat power, it is also axiomatic that they cannot have the same global forward presence that 340 warships, some with somewhat less capability perhaps, can have.
The next level at which the four guiding questions need to be asked is the level of ship design and shipbuilding. This cannot be done in isolation, but must be informed by serious and exhaustive discussion regarding what Admiral Zumwalt called the “high-low mix”. How many capital ships of extensive capability are required for our missions, and how many of lesser but more appropriate capabilities does the Navy need? It is this level in particular that the Navy seems unable, in fact abjectly refuses, to answer. Not every ship needs every capability. When we believe it does, we end up with multi-BILLION dollar platforms chasing skiffs off the Horn of Africa, and a fleet so expensive that the risking of a single unit for a dangerous but necessary mission becomes all but unacceptable.
There has been much discussion of those issues in the pages of Proceedings, and among Naval Officers and strategic thinkers, Naval enthusiasts, and the legions of the Great Unwashed who blog the intertubes. One of the more interesting remarks in this regard was an assertion, perhaps rightly, that with its current philosophy and unwillingness to address the high-low question, the Navy is incapable of building a platform in between the under-gunned and unsurvivable LCS and an Aegis-capable Arleigh Burke.
So the question of the mix is not new. Captain Jerry Hendrix wrote of it with his Buy Fords, not Ferraris in the April 2009 Proceedings. Discussion at the last three USNI/AFCEA West conferences was rich with commentary. In this month’s Proceedings, Norman Polmar evokes Plan URR with his A Paradigm Shift, asking whether a much larger number of STOVL carriers would be more effective than a small and likely shrinking number of $15 billion dollar CVNs. (A hat-tip woulda been nice!) When I asked the question of high-low mix at this year’s Shipbuilding Panel in San Diego, the panelists all but admitted that there hadn’t been much discussion on the subject, and that the goal was still 313 ships.
The final level at which those four questions above need to be asked is in the experimentation with “Optimal Manning”. Anyone who even occasionally glances at this site knows my aversion to reducing crews of ANY equipment or weapon platform below what is required to drive, fight, fix, and maintain. The biggest decision for the Navy has to be defining “optimal”, and to whom the term applies. Is it “optimal” for the Navy leadership to show reduced manpower costs to our Congresscritters while our warships continue to experience serious maintenance issues and are not mission capable? Do we want crews so thin that there is only time for eating, sleeping, and operating? No time for training in the myriad skills and requirements of basic seamanship, damage control, or weapons proficiency? Do we want crews that have no ability to absorb any casualties without compromise of mission?
Again, difficult questions. Senior Navy leadership, and senior Defense Department officials, are going to have to make some hard calls. The answer is not to exhort our Sailors to do “more with less”. That bit of self-delusional platitude is the path to a head-on collision with the realities of combat, with usually catastrophic results.
The discussions must be informed, serious, and realistic. And they need to be soon. In May, USNI/AFCEA will be holding the Joint Warfighting Conference in Virginia Beach. The theme is “Joint and Coalition Forces; The Inflection Point. What to Hold and What to Fold?” Without these discussions, commentary will again be nearly blind speculation, akin to a hand of five-card stud, but deciding which cards to keep and which to discard without looking at them. If we continue to insist on playing our cards in such a way, we ought not to be surprised if the betting patterns of our potential adversaries change accordingly.
The January 2012 issue of Proceedings Magazine contained an excellent article from Dr. Norman Friedman (“A Different Kind of Blast”, pg. 88-89) referencing the May 2011 testing of a cruise missile containing a Counter-Electronics High Microwave power (CHAMP) warhead. As Dr. Friedman explains, high-power microwave (HPM) is a short-range and non-nuclear alternative to Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP), something which the US Military is becoming reacquainted with after a post-Cold War hiatus.
Dr. Friedman goes on to explain the differences between those two phenomena and that of electronic jamming:
EMP and HPM differ from electronic jamming in that they operate at much higher power and across a broad frequency spectrum; their users do not need intimate knowledge of how their targets function in order to disable them.
The applicability of this weapon in beginning to reduce the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) threat, and thereby helping to enable Operational Access, is potentially very interesting. Among the chief concerns to strategic and operational planners is the proliferation of anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles, the latter in supersonic and hypersonic form, which are likely to saturate US Navy missile defenses with lethal warheads, even a small number of which would cause significant damage. This is not a new paradigm, as any Destroyer sailor on the Okinawa picket line in 1945 could attest.
However, with a weapon such as the CHAMP warhead, which by all reports is a more or less directional weapon, the ability to much more effectively and efficiently eliminate the targeting radars of air defense and anti-ship missile systems we would likely find in an A2/AD environment may be realized.
Previous discussions as to how to counter such numerous systems had centered around destruction with kinetic warheads, or disruption with “cyber” (there’s that word again) disruptions. The first is likely beyond the reach of current capabilities. Hardened and concealed positions will require precise, complete targeting and a prolific expenditure of munitions into areas where collateral damage may be considerable. The second, the “cyber” option, assumes a level of networking that most of our adversaries have not achieved, and with known and assumed US capabilities, something that is often purposely avoided. Indeed, a good deal of the air defense and anti-ship radars operate on purpose-built and relatively closed-loop networks, making intrusion into those networks a doubtful prospect.
Rather than destruction with kinetic munitions, or through disruption/intrusion, CHAMP/HPM offers the ability to blind those systems by burning out the processors and microprocessors of their operating equipment.
The recently-published Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) has a number of key imperatives that would be greatly enhanced by such capabilities that a directional HPM weapon can provide:
- Prepare the operational area in advance to facilitate access.
- Exploit advantages in one or more domains to disrupt enemy anti-access/area-denial capabilities in others.
- Disrupt enemy reconnaissance and surveillance efforts while protecting friendly efforts.
- Create pockets or corridors of local domain superiority to penetrate the enemy’s defenses and maintain them as required to accomplish the mission.
- Attack enemy Anti-Access/Area-Denial defenses in depth rather than rolling back those defenses from the perimeter.
While I am always hesitant to employ the overused and hackneyed term “game-changer”, it would appear that countermeasures to something like CHAMP may be difficult to develop and expensive. The technology required to produce the HPM-protection equivalent of a “Faraday Cage” may be beyond many countries and non-state actors to develop and employ. The result of such limitations may render the A2/AD systems of smaller adversaries vulnerable to US capabilities. Such may also significantly reduce the number of effective nodes of near-peer adversaries, who will have to choose which of the critical A2/AD systems they wish to make survivable.
As with every emerging capability, we need to be aware of the effects of such weapons on our own weapons systems and information/operating networks. We aren’t the only ones developing such systems. The back-and-forth of measures and counter-measures will be the future of such development. With the widespread industrial espionage capabilities attributed to some of our adversaries, their development cycle will be foreshortened by the ability to steal information and technical data.
The myriad challenges of Anti-Access and Area Denial environments will require continued development and experimentation with equipment. technology, and doctrine. However, the capability of a directional HPM weapon such as CHAMP provides a potential key to one of the A2/AD challenges that has increasingly become the focus of those thinking Operational Access.
Among the Americans serving on Iwo island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.
-Admiral Chester Nimitz
America lost 6,821 of her sons on Iwo Jima. More than 19,000 were wounded. Twenty-seven Medals of Honor and more than 200 Navy Crosses were awarded for heroism on that island.
Where is USS Michael Strank? USS Franklin Sousley? USS Harlan Bloch?
Perspective is important. The ability to see events as others might see them is a talent that is mightily handy when navigating the shoals of international relations. It would seem that NATO and the US did not conceive of a point of view that could not agree with what is defined now as the “international norm” of the Right to Protect (R2P).
The disbelief and outrage expressed at the veto votes of both Russia and the People’s Republic of China over the UN Resolution regarding Syria leads one to believe that our State Department believed a contrary position on R2P did not credibly exist. Au contraire, points out STRATFOR in this morning’s Geopolitical Diary. STRATFOR posits that perhaps a couple of widely held assumptions are not quite as universal as we had believed. To both the Russians and Chinese, the preservation of human life, and prevention of crimes against innocent civilians or mass killings, still needs to be weighed against the spreading influence of potential geopolitical, military, and economic rivals. Responsibility to Protect, R2P, was for the West in reality E2I, excuse to intervene:
The Russian and Chinese view was that this doctrine opened the door to unlimited interventions not in response to mass murder, but in order to prevent mass murder. From the Chinese and Russian perspective, this would allow intervention based on fears. Fears can be feigned and anyone can assert the threat of mass murder and war crimes. Therefore, the Libyan precedent seemed to be a doctrine that justified intervention based on suspicion of intent. Or, to put it more bluntly, the Russian and Chinese view was that the intervention in Libya was designed to achieve political and economic goals, and the threat of impending mass murder was simply the justification.
China and Russia viewed the Syrian resolution as a preface to more aggressive resolutions also based on the doctrine of preventing atrocities much greater than those already committed. They felt that this would set a permanent principle of international law that they opposed. Their opposition was based on the perception that this was merely a justification for interventions against regimes of which the West disapproved.
Also, an America stretched thinner than its shrinking military resources can reasonably secure works to the advantage of both Russia and China. Not only that, but freedom of navigation in the Straits of Hormuz or elsewhere is not necessarily a universal desire, especially when that freedom means possible interdiction or interruption of vital energy supplies.
Iran is in the process of establishing a sphere of influence in which Syria plays a strategic role. If al Assad survives, his regime will be heavily dependent on Iran. Neither China nor Russia would be particularly troubled by this. Certainly, Russia does not want to see an excessively powerful Iran, but it would welcome any dynamic that would tie American power down in a long-term duel with Iran. Creating a regional balance of power would divert U.S. power in directions that would provide Russia with freedom for maneuver.
The same can be said of China, with the additional proviso that the Chinese do not want to see anything interfere with their energy trade with Iran. So there were two issues for China. First, China did not want a precedent set that might allow an American intervention in Iran. Second, China, like Russia, welcomed the diversion of American power from the South China Sea, where it had been planning to shift forces.
None of this should surprise us. Unfortunately, China and Russia continue to play realpolitik at a time when the US foreign policy team seems unwilling to admit that such power politics even exist. Russia’s dispatch of a Naval flotilla (which included an aircraft carrier) last month to the Syrian port of Tartous was a message strongly sent to both NATO and the United States. The Russian vessels comprised an “influence squadron” if ever there was one. The clear signal to NATO, the members of which share the continent with Russia, was a not-so-subtle “HANDS OFF”. With Russian resurgence a distinct possibility amongst a largely disarmed Europe, and Russian control of the natural gas valves that supply the key NATO economies, the message will be heeded. For the United States, that message, and the message of China’s and Russia’s veto, is slightly more ominous:
What we have now seen is that China and Russia recognize the battlefield and for now are prepared to side with Iran against the United States, a move that makes clear sense from a balance of power perspective.
Perspective. Spelled out very well by STRATFOR.
The above statement is a part of the comments from US Representative Randy Forbes, R-Va, who chairs the House Readiness Subcommittee. He made the remarks in July, but it hardly seems as if things have been on the upswing since.
Stars and Stripes is reporting that USS Essex (LHD-2), flagship of ESG-7, will not be participating in Cobra Gold. Seems, she is broken. That’s twice, inside of a year. BEFORE the coming Defense cuts.
Following the optimistic tone of the USNI/AFCEA West 2012 speakers and panels, VADM Burke, DCNO for Readiness, provides a somewhat less upbeat analysis:
Vice Adm. William Burke, deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics, told the committee that the Navy has “a limited supply of forces.”
“When you have these additional deployments, you sometimes impact the maintenance, or you impact the training, which will impact the maintenance,” he said. “So what we have is one event cascading into another, so we don’t get either of them quite right.”
While a TF 76 spokesman attributes the problem to “wear and tear”, and declares the 21-year old Essex “no spring chicken”, the true cause of the problems are systemic and not mechanical. To wit, Lt Anthony Falvo from 7th Fleet:
Lt. Anthony Falvo, 7th Fleet spokesman, said the Essex may have been impacted by missing maintenance.
“Pacific Fleet ships adhere to rigorous maintenance standards and maintenance periodicities per the Joint Fleet Maintenance Manual and other Navy directives,” Falvo wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes. “On any given day we have roughly 40% of our ships underway and we are meeting the requirements of the combatant commanders.”
Ya think? The absurdly shortsighted experiment with “optimal manning”, the deferring of maintenance because OPTEMPO is too high for the numbers of ships in commission, the idea that we can DO MORE WITH LESS, those are the problems. Wear and tear? It becomes a problem without proper maintenance of subcomponents and systems. “No spring chicken”? Remind me how old the Austins were?
Over on Nate Hughes’ excellent post is some significant discussion about the economics of maintaining a Navy and getting the most for the taxpayers’ treasure. This ain’t it. Some in the Navy or associated with it will tell you that the most “cost effective” course is to decommission and dispose of ships like Essex, even though they will not be replaced one-for-one. This lays bare the absurdity of that notion. The most cost effective course is to properly maintain the vessels in commission, and if capable vessels for their mission, keep them in commission to the end of their expected service lives, or even longer if viable.
Under Secretary Work, tell us again about the National Military Strategy that won’t stretch our shrinking resources past the breaking point?
Under Secretary of the Navy Robert O. Work provided the USNI West 2012 Conference with a very good and stirring speech on Thursday morning. The remarks were covered in a previous post, along with my personal concerns for whether Secretary Work’s perspective represented a too-sanguine assessment of what the budget situation would leave us for the coming decades. Indeed, over at Information Dissemination, Bryan McGrath summarizes well precisely the balance between the truth of the Secretary’s words, and the operational and tactical realities on the other side of the coin:
News reports and Pentagon statements indicate that the Navy will retire 7 cruisers and 2 LSD’s early, while cutting its shipbuilding totals 28% from the FY12 estimate for 2013-2017 (57 ships) to 41 ships in the same period with this budget. Retiring assets early from a Fleet already stressed to meet its commitments, and then eating your shipbuilding “seed corn”, strike me as odd ways to demonstrate an emphasis on Seapower. I’ve talked to some in the Navy who suggest that under the new plan, we’ll be able to field as many ships in 2020 as we do now, which is put forward as evidence of great progress and victories within the Pentagon bureaucracy. How this reconciles with the fact that the Fleet we have NOW does not meet the needs of the COCOMS–let alone the Fleet some project to be necessary to underwrite East Asian security in the face of Chinese expansion and modernization–evades me.
Mr. McGrath also emphasizes the realities that networking and technical sophistication is not a panacea, or a replacement for PRESENCE.
Clearly, the number of hulls as a measure of Naval power ain’t what it used to be. However, the suggestion that networks and precision guided munitions make hull counts unimportant points again to the basic physics problem that Naval planners have faced since the Phoenicians–a ship can only be in one place at a time. Quantity does have a quality all its own, and as I’ve advocated many times on this site, networks and PGM’s are of incalculable value when the Navy is fighting; however they are less important when the Navy is doing what it does the vast majority of the time–deterring and assuring.
Precisely. And not in the guided munitions sense.
“…now it is time to think!”
This statement, alternately attributed to Winston Churchill and Ernest Rutherford, was the baseline theme of all of yesterday’s speaking and panel sessions here at USNI/AFCEA West 2012.
But is it a fair statement? And is it accurate?
The implication of that statement is that senior military and civilian officials in the Defense Department have been accustomed to throwing money at problems rather than thinking through a solution. And this questionable practice is the reason for “bloated” Defense budgets in the post-9/11 world.
I disagree. While undoubtedly there are inefficiencies in Defense spending, and more can be purchased for the dollars spent, I simply don’t buy into the notion that the statement implies.
Much is made of the “doubling” of the Defense budget between 2000 and 2011, but little is said of the effects of the “Peace Dividend” and the acquisition “holiday” of the 1990s. In yesterday’s shipbuilding panel, of which more will be written soon, Mr. Mike Petters from Huntington Ingalls Industries (the shipbuilder formerly known as Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock, among other names) gave us some interesting insights as to the effects such uneven procurement and “holidays” have on building ships. The cost to the manufacturer of sitting idle, and of sudden restart at a surge level, is considerable. Elsewhere, in the Navy-Marine Corps Team panel, there was also significant discussion of the very real problems experienced by prime and sub-contractors when production drops below minimums for business solvency, or unpredictable dry spells and cancellations occur.
The costs of fighting two wars that represent a level of commitment of a single Major Regional Conflict (MRC) in 1990s parlance undoubtedly drove up Defense budgets, with personnel increases for the Army and the Marine Corps, operating costs, ammunition and fuel, aircraft and ground equipment maintenance and repair, and rapid acquisitions of vital equipment like MRAP vehicles as the dollar drivers. Many of those rapid acquisitions centered on burgeoning technology and unanticipated requirements, and anticipated requirements that had not been met (up-armored M1114 HMMWVs) in anywhere near sufficient numbers over the previous decade.
However, I cannot agree that the services, especially the notoriously tight-fisted Marine Corps, suddenly spent the last decade as profligate spenders without rhyme or reason, as if they had their parents’ credit card on a college weekend. If they did, then such did not occur at the tactical level.
Today, with US military involvement with Iraq at an end, and Afghanistan employing a small fraction of the US Military (90,000 of 1.44 million, just 6.2% of personnel), the “pivot” of the focus of our military to the Pacific region and the execution of the Cooperative Strategy requires meaningful commitment of adequate resources to counter the capabilities of a fast-rising near-peer in China.
While comments from each of the speakers and most panel members were couched in terms of required and critical capabilities, there was acknowledgement of the budget axe that will be the final arbiter of which capabilities we can afford, and which we cannot. Where and when that axe falls will determine this nation’s ability to execute its National Military Strategy, and by extension, its National Security Strategy.
Doing “more with less”, another phrase often heard yesterday, is a hackneyed and trite bit of platitude that is a signal that what we truly have is not a capabilities-based Defense budget, but budget-constrained Defense capabilities. You do not do more with less, you do less with less. That, whether it is a popular sentiment or not, is an inviolate fact of life. To the vast preponderance of the men and women of the US Military, who have always done as much as possible with what was given them through two protracted wars, the idea that thinking only takes place when all the money has been spent is an affront to them and is dismissive of their courage and commitment.
If I don’t hear Churchill’s words applied to our Military ever again, it will be too soon. If there is a ringing of truth in them, it should be in the ears of those who wear stars and wide gold stripes. The rest of us have been thinking all along.
The morning panel discussion at USNI West 2012 was entitled “The Navy-Marine Corps Team: Hang Together or Hang Separately?”
Excellently moderated by Frank Hoffman, the panel members were:
VADM Gerald Beaman, Commander, Third Fleet
VADM John Blake, DCNO, Integration, Capabilities, and Resources (N8)
BGen Dan O’ Donohue, Capabilities Development Directorate, HQMC
MajGen Melvin Spiese, Deputy CG, I MEF
Panelists were unanimous in their comments as to the new appreciation of the truly integrated nature of the Navy-Marine Corps team, and the necessity of that close and long-standing relationship as US focus “pivots” toward the Western Pacific. The unique combined capabilities of the Navy-Marine Corps team to project power globally and to gain entry, as Admiral Vern Clark once stated, “without a permission slip”, was acknowledged to be as important in the coming decade as it has ever been in our nation’s history.
As such, the integration of Navy-Marine Corps fixed-wing air, the maintenance and enhancement of amphibious assault capability, and the return of the Marine Corps to its nautical roots after two protracted land campaigns, all were indicators of the new-found sense of teamwork between the services. Several panel members commented pointedly on just how closely the guidance of CNO Admiral Greenert and Marine Commandant General Amos align. This is not coincidental, as in the coming budget challenges the Department of the Navy, which includes the Marine Corps, needs the capabilities of each of the respective services to execute the Maritime Strategy in the growing A2AD environment. Joint Operational Access must indeed be accomplished jointly, with each service enhancing and complementing the capabilities and mission sets of the other.
This represents a much more harmonious situation than the somewhat discordant voices (behind the scenes, at least) which were heard in the last several years. That is good news. Because the assertion of how much each service needs the other to operate in the vast expanse of the ocean to our west is difficult to overstate.
There was much discussion regarding the F-35B, which General Spiese termed the most important program in the Marine Corps. He stated that its capabilities to operate off big-deck amphibs and high sortie generation rate are keys to USMC warfighting doctrine. With a current and near-future paucity of sustainable Naval surface fire support, General Spiese’s assertion is spot-on.
A question to the panel from your humble author regarded identified capabilities gaps, lack of viable NSFS, and mine warfare, specifically counter-mine capabilities. As the Amphibious Operations Area expands exponentially, a necessary result of fielding of longer-range systems of delivery (MV-22, a future ACV), those two tasks in particular have been flagged as being an even greater gap than exists with current systems and methods. (Simply, the farther from shore the amphibs launch the landing force, and the farther inland the Ospreys can execute vertical envelopment, then the larger the mine-clearing task and the more expansive the target list. This is true even if the landing area is lightly defended.)
The answers were instructive, as Admiral Beaman asserted that prioritization of systems in the current budget environment might mean modification of requirements. Moderator Frank Hoffman identified the need for a low-cost and high-volume FS system to fill the gap until newer systems are fielded (rail gun, possibly) and existing systems improved. (An ability to UNREP VLS, perhaps?)
BGen O’Donohue talked in positive terms about the mine-clearing module of the LCS, and it is clear there is a tremendous amount riding on the success of that system. Admiral Blake explained that the migration is taking place from current methods of mine clearance where the sailor is in the mine field to methods where the sailor is not, and the clearance is performed remotely.
The panel espoused the distinct and realistic view that the current proliferation of A2AD systems make for a very challenging operating environment, and the emergence of a near-peer potential adversary in China raises the ante for getting it right with our Naval forces. But at least those challenges will be met together by the Navy-Marine Corps team.
Robbie Harris and Lieutenant Robert McFall penned a very interesting article in Proceedings this month. The Transformation (Again!) of the Surface Navy is timely and on point, and just as Robbie predicted the Tomahawk would change surface warfare in his 1985 Proceedings article “Is that All There Is?”, Robbie has a new prediction for Surface Warfare in this latest article.
With the new technologies coming online in the near future, such surface assets will continue to be in high demand. Unmanned aerial vehicles already are starting to fly from destroyers. Advanced radars and multi-mission towed arrays are making the surface combatants more capable than ever, but it is the railgun that holds the potential completely to revolutionize the surface fleet. This new weapon will put a piece of lead on target more than 200 miles away. The velocity of the round coming off the ship could top Mach 7. According to retired Rear Admiral Nevin Carr, former Chief of Naval Research, the railgun will be ready to put aboard ships in the next five years. This gun will take the same footprint of the current Mk 45 but since no powder is required for the railgun, the number of rounds that can fit in the magazine is almost tripled. This gun will easily replace the aging Harpoon missile for surface threats, and it will give the Marines on land the surface-fire support they so desperately need.
I know very little beyond the basics of railgun technology, but when Robbie Harris writes something like that about any piece of technology, I feel like I need to do some homework.
The article authors highlight the flexibility of surface forces and hints towards “something else” for the surface force that will sustain the vital role of surface forces in the future. I would argue that “something else” is already here, evident in plain sight, often taken for granted, and for the record – absolutely represents the inherent flexibility of the surface force. It is also slowly eroding just as the Navy needs it most.
Aircraft carriers and submarines are amazing instruments of war, but only the surface combatant force possess the flexibility and capability to forward national interests in all four of the critical 21st century domains: sea power, space power, cyber power, and soft power – and do so both in war and peace. As naval aviation and submarine forces in the Navy evolve towards an unmanned warfighting regime, the surface force still possess an inherent, distributable capability in peacetime operations that can act as a strategic asset in crisis – a vital role as old as naval power itself.
That strategic power manifests itself as manpower.
As the Marine Corps becomes smaller, and build larger ships (meaning fewer total ships capable of being deployed concurrently), it will fall upon the surface sailors to pick up the slack in several critical roles as part of 21st century seapower. These roles will be particularly evident in HA/DR scenarios, but littorals and coastal governance are vital interests to many of our partners, and the US Navy has a role in forwarding global security in cooperation with our partners. While it is absolutely critical to the financial future of the US Navy that ships are designed to operate with smaller manpower requirements, it is just as important that surface forces retain through design excess capacity to support and sustain the maximum number of human beings on a surface combatant of the future as possible. Minimally crewed combatants cannot give up security forces that number a dozen or two dozen sailors during future operations, but in the 21st century the rules of war will likely demand tasking of sailors to other assignments as part of the business of naval warfare – unless someone actually believes sinking 300,000 tons of enemy oil off an ally coast is going to be an acceptable course of action. Not likely.
If I was advising Congress, I would point out that the United States would get considerably more strategic milage by passing a law that forced all new surface combatants to be designed to support the personnel and equipment requirements of a Marine Rifle Platoon than it would forcing the Navy to design surface combatants with nuclear power. No, not the vehicles, the Marines can deliver that heavy equipment for their platoon with another ship – I’m speaking specifically about the manpower and personal equipment with enough supply for a few weeks – and yes this includes any future surface vessel over 3000 tons (including any future LCS Block).
Why? Because in the emerging modular age of surface fleet constitution Navy uniform and civilian leaders discussed at Surface Navy Association, under the single Marine Rifle Platoon requirement, surface combatants would then be organically designed to support the human elements that – instead of a Marine Rifle Platoon – might instead be SOF, Force Recon, Coast Guard elements, civilian specialists, or any number of other maritime professional specialists like CIVMAR.
The authors are absolutely right, there is genuine power in the flexibility of the 21st century surface force of the US Navy, but with the Navy downsizing the capacity to field quality human talent on surface combatants, some of that flexibility is being lost. In 21st century warfare, it is hard to imagine too many naval war scenarios that are absent nuclear weapons where additional human capcity wouldn’t be a necessary requirement at sea during military operations, and the requirements for personnel capacity during peacetime are evident all the time in 5th fleet anti-piracy operations, among many other duties globally.
The US Navy can certainly bomb or torpedo the 300,000 ton oil tanker off the ally coast, but it is my hope the US Navy studies carefully the distinctions frequently discussed in the context of “flexibility” with a 21st century surface combatant vs their modern aircraft/submarine alternatives in future naval war operations. If the Navy really believes they may one day fight a war against China, please tell me our first option for choking logistics to China isn’t sinking supertankers off Vietnam or Indonesia with submarines.
The US can field all kinds of technology without manpower to achieve strategic victory in a violent war, but only human beings are capable of executing the actions necessary to achieve strategic victory in any violent peace governed by modern rules of engagement. In the Navy it is the surface force that historically represents the US faces forward deployed and distributed to overseas places. While the Navy is very wise to build future warships with the smallest practical manpower requirements for operating a warship, the Navy would be equally wise to recognize the surface combatant as the vessel by which professional manpower should be always ready to deploy from. If the Navy takes the capacity to support lots of people on surface combatants away, it is the definition of removing the flexibility that the Navy will absolutely need in a surface combatant force fighting 21st century wars under increasingly restrictive rules of engagement.
The complex nature of 21st century naval warfare begins with the human migration to the sea happening today globally. The oceans are a populated place, and as such is becoming geography with a human terrain that must be accounted for during naval operations. Submarines and aircraft possess no capacity for human engagement at sea, only the surface force has that. If 21st century naval warfare is still a human endeavor, the vital role for surface warfare isn’t going away anytime soon, because surface warfare is the Navy’s primary human interaction capability on the global seas.