Tags: WEST 2012
Thursday morning, Under Secretary of the Navy (and more importantly, former Marine artilleryman) Robert O. Work skilfully executed his own “pivot”. Secretary Work had intended to deliver remarks regarding the program choices associated with the recently-released Defense budget. Well, you go to the podium with the speech you have, not the one you wish you had. It seems SECNAV was not going to publicly comment until later in the day, so Secretary Work chose not to publicly do so ahead of that, and instead delivered an enthusiastic and decidedly upbeat address on the challenges and opportunities facing the Navy-Marine Corps Team in the coming century.
Secretary Work referenced former CJCS Admiral Mullen’s talk of the previous day, and lived up to his well-deserved reputation for his grasp of history and its relevance to future events. Diverging from Admiral Mullen’s views of the uniqueness of the path ahead, Secretary Work outlined the challenges faced by President Eisenhower in 1953, an ongoing war far larger than the current and recent conflicts combined, an existential threat from a peer enemy about to detonate a thermonuclear device of their own, faltering allies asking for assistance in remote regions of the globe, and an electorate very tired of war. Indeed his example speaks to the tendency to consider present challenges as groundbreaking and unprecedented, when in point of fact, they are usually not nearly quite so.
Secretary Work proceeded to provide a Huntington-esque perspective on the history of America’s military eras, as defined by salient policy events. That perspective is worth summarizing here.
The Continental Era
July 4th 1776 to December 1, 1890
America’s Army was dominant, with an intermittent and largely coastal (with notable exceptions) Navy and small Marine Corps, no overseas bases, and a focus on western expansion across the North American continent. The era ended with the tragic events at Wounded Knee, which was the last of the frontier fights. During the Continental Era, for every month the United States was at war, she spends approximately six months at peace.
The Trans-Oceanic Era
December 1, 1890 to March 12, 1947
America becomes a two-ocean Mahanian maritime nation once and for all, and after massive military commitment to winning two world wars, is a world power with overseas bases, with far-flung interests, and security commitments to allies and former adversaries (whom we have to build up from virtual ruin) on almost every continent. The era ends with the announcement of the Truman Doctrine, and the beginning of the Cold War. For every month of war during the Trans-Oceanic Era, there are 5.2 months of peace.
The Cold War
March 12, 1947 to May 12, 1989
Containment of the Soviet Union, a peer adversary, which dominates Eastern Europe and makes serious inroads in Asia, southern Europe, and Latin America. Large wars in Korea and Vietnam, the respective growth and contraction of the US Military in the aftermath of those wars, and lots of little wars by proxy, and an existential threat of Soviet first strike. The Cold War is declared over on May 12, 1989, by President George H W Bush. Indeed, in 1990-91, forces from Europe are sent to Saudi Arabia for the Gulf War, more than a year before the final collapse of the Soviet Union. In this increasingly active era, aside from a Cold War for the entirety, for each month of hot war, the United States is only at peace for 2.67 months.
The Global Era
May 12, 1989 to December 31, 2011
Two wars in Iraq, 9/11, the war in Afghanistan, protracted and expensive efforts at nation-building are the events of the most active time for America’s military in her entire history. For every month at war during this Global Era, America will have just 1.08 months of peace. The Global Era ends, according to Secretary Work, with the end of the war in Iraq
The beginning of 2012 is the beginning of the “Naval Century”.
This era, says Secretary Work, will be one of global American sea power, focused on the western Pacific, always a maritime region, and the Middle East, which is becoming increasingly so.
Secretary Work asserts that this nation’s military, its people and equipment, are tired out. They need to be refreshed, revitalized, and allowed to recover from the strain of two protracted wars. And the military needs to shrink. Especially in manpower, the single highest cost category.
I reproduce Secretary Work’s perspective in near entirety because I believe it is cogent and well-thought, from someone whose grasp of history is superb, and because it is worthwhile. It also allows us to put current conditions in context. Some of his points are excellent, and provide an insight into how Mr. Work thinks of what he calls the Total Force Battle Network and its shape in the coming decades.
This Total Force Battle Network will be characterized by a Navy-Marine Corps team capable of forcible entry and power projection globally, and an ability to keep vital SLOCs open to freedom of navigation. This Naval force will be characterized by thoroughly networked platforms and weapons, unmanned systems in all three dimensions, with technology-enabled combat power second to none. An increased emphasis on SOF throughout the services, Navy and Marine Corps included, and a more capable maritime domain awareness using unmanned and manned platforms to cover vital areas nationally and globally. Forward presence in vital regions will be credibly maintained. This force will be maintained and sustained by personnel strengths equal to the task, a break from the “optimal manning” experiment that went “too far”.
This will also be a force that is used less frequently than were forces in the Global Era, allowing for time to train and maintain, and to test and experiment with new technologies and new methods of employment. And, passionately, Mr. Work reminded us that the people who make up our Naval forces, Sailors and Marines, will remain the single greatest asset the Total Force Battle Network can employ. They will remain the professional, motivated, educated young warriors that are exemplified by CDR Ernest Evans, who told his crew of Johnston (DD- 557) “This is a fighting ship, and I intend to take her into harm’s way!”. And at Samar, when eight Japanese capital ships appeared on the horizon, turned his destroyer toward the vastly superior force and interject his little ship in between the Japanese and the escort carriers of his task force. The decision cost him his ship and his life, but helped save the Task Force and possibly the Leyte landings further south. It also earned CDR Evans a posthumous Medal of Honor. Our people and our Navy and Marine Corps will do the things that are required to be the best in the world, because, as in the past, they will be “great by choice”.
Secretary Work’s words should be inspirational to any Sailor or Marine who takes pride in his service. The Navy Undersecretary is definitely on our side. He is a man who says what he means and means what he says. The coming cuts, the $480 billion in the next ten years, are challenging but workable. They represent a drawdown of some 24% of the US Military, which Mr. Work points out is rather less than that of other post-war draw-downs, including the years of the “Peace Dividend” following the Cold War and Desert Storm. His was definitely a tone of confidence in the future of our Naval forces.
I hope he is correct. I hope we have a strategy commensurate with our capabilities, and our reach doesn’t exceed our grasp. And that our focus on SOF and unmanned systems will not require the “Plan B” of conventional forces in great numbers, because they simply will not be there. Whatever the numbers of ships, systems, and personnel we settle on, that cannot be the starting point for the ill-conceived concept of further pinching of pennies by chasing temporary savings (“Optimal Manning”, deferring maintenance, retiring warships at half their service lives) that result in driving up long-term costs and reducing effectiveness.
And I hope he is right about sequestration. Because, as upbeat and slightly sanguine as Secretary Work’s words were, even he admits that the cuts that would come in that event will devastate our nation’s defenses and make any meaningful National Military Strategy impossible.