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.


Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Aviation, Foreign Policy, Hard Power, Homeland Security, Marine Corps, Maritime Security, Naval Institute, Navy, Piracy, Proceedings, Soft Power

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  • Retired Now

    “a ship can only be in one place at a time …”.

    Nice quote. In the case of LCS-1 class (not LCS-2 class which can carry 4 times as much fuel), that piece of his speech needs to be altered a bit:

    “an LCS-1 class ship can only be in one place briefly, since it will be always be conducting a never-ending searching for a tanker or some port to refuel”.

    Or even more apropriate: “two ships must be in one place at the same time”. An LCS-1 always accompanied by its companion oiler, which hopefully will not be targetting by a 30 year old Exocet from the back of a pickup truck parked near a beach.

  • W.M. Truesdell

    I lived this many years ago. Forces are reduced but commitments never are. People and ships wear out. Our enemies see this and are emboldened, so we are stretched even thinner.

    It is worse now since few in government are ex-military. They have no idea that there are faces behind the chess pieces they love to move around. Nor do they care that they have less of them.

    At least Jim Webb quit, and he was a Marine.

  • Matt H.

    A ship can only be in one place at a time does NOT apply to an LSD loaded up with air assets and riverine boats. As for Mr.Truesdell’s comments on moving the “chess pieces”, I think that is further emphasized by the extension of the FFG-7. It’s obsolete, falling apart, and seriously handicapped… but kept on because it’s a ship that can be counted in the overall numbers. I think the navy is caught in a bind because it’s driven by a culture informed by people who see conventional aviation and ships-of-the-line as the way of the future, when we need to transform into a more mobile and flexible force that looks FAR different than it does today. You can see that obsolete idea when you look at the root of the term “destroyer” and what it actually IS today. Not to say the modern destroyer is not a great platform, just that the term “destroyer” in the historical context makes little sense. That the “G” is still maintained with the FFG-7, again, is an example. There was a time when naval leaders openly conceived of new vessel “types.” Frigate, Destroyer, Cruiser, Dreadnaught, Battleship, and the like came from new ideas for ships. Now, instead of coming up with new ship concepts, we’re coming up with the “new frigate” or the “new destroyer.”