Tags: Budget Wars, Marine Corps, Maritime Strategy
If you are looking for an underlying theme for national defense in the USA for the next couple of decades, it will be one of fewer ships, minimal shipbuilding. It doesn’t matter if that is what you want or think is needed – it will be a byproduct of the response to the larger budgetary train-wreck that can no longer be avoided. This is national – and the defense budget will be part of the fix.
There will be less money, so we have to focus on maximizing the flexibility and utility of what money we do have. The luxury of spin & pray we used in the fat years is gone. The missed opportunities of the Lost Decade are just that – lost.
This fiscal constraint will combine with something percolating on the political front regardless of what party is in power; after a decade of war the American people are not in the mood for nation building or additional elective overseas military operations without a defined, short-term duration.
Adding to this is a growing understanding that we are well past point where the post-WWII, post-Cold War, post-post-Cold War need/want/desire to garrison large numbers of forces ashore in foreign lands makes any sense. Inertia no longer overrides the reality that these nations are more than capable of defending themselves without ten to hundreds of thousands of Americans garrisoned like mercenaries to do their fighting for them. We don’t need to be isolationist, just a friend they can call on; a friend who lives in his own house.
If they need our help once they are fully engaged, then we can help them. Germany, Japan, and Korea are not weak nations. We are not an empire, nor a nation that needs to send its young abroad as mercenaries for hire by rich and lazy nations too busy to properly defend themselves.
As an maritime nation whose land borders relatively small and friendly nations – one would think that an emerging Strategic reset would favor a homeland based, flexible, expeditionary mindset – one with a bias towards using air and sea power to project national will and assist our friends as needed. The emerging economic and global security reality is tailor made for the Navy Marine Corps team along with parts of the Air Force skill set.
For some reason though – it doesn’t look that people in the “right” circles are buying what we’re selling. The recently released released report by the Simpson-Bowles Commission on Fiscal Responsibility is a data point telling us that our core power-projection force structure and the tools that make it possible are seen as easy-picking for the budget battles to come.
It is easy to dismiss as yesterday’s news the recommendations of the commission – but don’t. Generally considered DOA by the press – its ideas are far from dead. Busy people take other people’s ideas.
If you want to get an understanding of what suited establishment Washington DC thinks we should look in the defense budget for savings to close the budget gap – it would be helpful to start with the commission.
Like all human endeavors, politics and budgetary maneuvers will default to the path that requires the least amount of work. If you can steal someone’s idea that is good enough, then you can move your billable hours on to other things. Knowing the intellectual borrowing that goes on, one needs to take a serious look at and be prepared to respond to each part of the commission’s recommendations in case they gain a second life under a different name.
As outlined earlier, I don’t see very many other options than moving away from the static, Cold War, quasi-imperial mindset of garrisoning forces globally, and towards a more flexible, homeland-based expeditionary mindset better suited for a mercantile representative republic. We need mobile, quick, and flexible forces that give you the ability to create desired effects globally where needed. Along with certain parts of the Army’s light forces, and Air Force logistical and long-range air; that skill-set is a crown jewel of the Navy-Marine Corps team.
Strangely, with the list of recommended cuts, not only does the commission go after the archaic overseas garrisoning of ground forces which is part of our problem – they go after the heart of our future expeditionary capabilities embodied with the Marine Corps – which weakens the solution and leaves us with the question; how do we get where with what?
Review paras 44-48. They recommend:
- End procurement of the V-22.
- Cancel the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.
- Substitute F-16 & F/A-18Es for half of the F-35 buys.
- Cancel the USMC version of the F-35.
- Cancel the Future Maritime Prepositioning Force and abandon sea-basing.
Ponder that for a moment. Just as an example, because the Navy is building an amphibious fleet to Tiffany standards such that it does not want to close within 25nm, we would also find ourselves without the possibility of getting to the shore … therefore …. Tiffany must get close. Close with a fragile logistics tail and sketchy top-cover.
Paint; corner – some assembly required.
That isn’t the story. The story the fact that the Navy Marine-Corp team has failed to make the sale to decision makers.
Why? There are a few possible reasons to consider: one messaging and the other programmatic.
From a messaging stand point, the results are clear: we have failed to consistently, clearly, and credibly describe what the Navy-Marine Corps team brings to the table. If we had, there would not have been a feeling that you could get rid of all the equipment that makes power projection possible.
Why have we failed in the messaging dept?
- The Maritime Strategy is unclear, ineffective, and seen as irrelevant to tomorrow’s challenges. When looking forward, our maritime strategy documents should be Ref. A. They are not. That is probably part of the problem, for reasons I covered over at my home blog over three years ago.
- Selling the Navy-Marine Corp team’s capabilities has not been a priority. Well, we know it isn’t the # 1 priority, and when you review the Navy’s latest speeches and press releases, you don’t see that story being told. If you don’t tell everyone your story, no one will. The Marines have done a good job, but they need the Navy to work with them – though they may say differently, they cannot do this alone.
If the problem isn’t messaging, then is the problem programmatic?
- When it comes to the programs we have invested our intellectual and political capital in over the last decade – where are the major successful programs that we can use to increase our credibility? DDG-1000? LCS? ACS? LPD-17? You can argue that the LEWIS & CLARK T-AKE, VIRGINIA SSN, P-8, and Riverine have been a success, but besides the VIRGINIA none of those are above the fold programs.
- How many times have we heard senior leadership go in front of Congress to say “313?” How many here actually believed that was achievable? How many here thought that those in uniform saying “313” to Congress didn’t believe it was achievable either? What does that do to credibility inside and outside? When you lose credibility, eventually no one takes anything you say seriously.
If everything is critical; nothing is critical. If you say “313” when you know it isn’t achievable – then why should you be believed when you say something else is a must? If none of the things you said about DDG-1000, LCS, LPD-17 or other programs worked out well – then why should someone invest effort in believing what you say about the F-35B?
Read carefully the cuts recommended. Long after this commission is forgotten, their ideas will be re-cycled a few times.
Don’t expect them to go away. Our nation is under an exceptional fiscal crisis of our own creation, and will be for the next couple decades. Europe is about 5-10 years ahead of us in this regard. Look what has happened to their military budget over the last few years. It will happen here.
We are about to see even more change in senior leadership for the Navy-Marine Corps team. The primary challenge for that leadership isn’t so much to manage decline – but to repair our ability to communicate to decision makers and the taxpayer so they know what they are buying for their national security buck.
They will need to speak clearly, with credibility, and with a message that is consistent in the YouTube age where anyone can get what you said 6-months ago and repeat it with what you said yesterday. Promote creative friction. Re-build a strategic concept that makes sense and is heavy on reality and light on the “crank military metaphysics that has infected our literature over the past dozen years.”
They will need to make hard choices – get rid of billets that are not essential. Slash Staff redundancy. Lead personnel cuts from the front through larger than average cuts in Flag Officer and SES billets. Make Shore scream in pain before you demand more from Sailors at Sea. Demand from program managers performance we demand from COs. Focus on the affordable evolutionary vice the sexy revolutionary. Revisit the Cruiser development between WWI & WWII, the guided missile program of the ’50s and ’60s, and Aegis for benchmarks. Take out all the dirty laundry from DDG-1000, LCS, and LPD-17 so we can see it and smell it – and by example – not repeat those mistakes. That will help programmatics. Oh, sure it cost him a star – but review VADM Connelly’s record as well.
Ponder and prepare. Something must go. Find a counter argument, or lose. The game is afoot.