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.