Much has been said in this forum and others about the U.S. Navy’s rebalance to Asia-Pacific as well as current and impending fiscal constraints. Less has been said about how these two significant challenges might simultaneously impact the Navy’s operating paradigm and investment strategy. As the Navy rebalances, we face a challenge of simultaneously maintaining a forward and ready posture—where it matters, when it matters—while continuing to invest in the capabilities that are necessary for addressing present and future challenges to America’s national interests. This challenge is neither easy nor without precedent, but it is imperative as current fiscal constraints drive the Navy to be even more judicious in directing resources. To that end, an integrated and thoughtful force design is essential if the Navy is to invest in the force of tomorrow while ensuring our current employment is scaled and configured to affordably accomplish all of our missions today. I believe there are two primary pillars to this force design – creating an affordable operating paradigm for today’s force and investing in the force of the future. I would like to address here the first pillar under a concept I call tailored global presence.
Tailored global presence is an approach to how the Navy organizes, prepares, and deploys forces. The Asia-Pacific rebalance, already underway, is part of that approach: by 2020 the Navy will have rebalanced 60 percent of its forces to this critical region. As we shift the bulk of our forces to Asia-Pacific we will continue to maintain a robust capability in the Middle East with rotational deployments of aircraft carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups as a bulwark in this volatile region. In Europe the Navy will emphasize our unique contributions to the NATO alliance through specific capabilities such as maritime ballistic missile defense using our most advanced destroyers. In the Western Hemisphere our primary focus will be on lower-cost, small footprint missions aimed at protecting the approaches to the homeland. Innovative employment of inherently flexible ships such as Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and Joint High-Speed Vessels (JHSV) will prove invaluable to maritime security and cooperative efforts in Africa and South America – an alternative to sending large amphibious ships or destroyers.
It seems inevitable when the fiscal environment wanes toward austerity that there are calls for reducing forward presence in those regions of the world that concern us most. Some have argued that our forward presence is too expensive in relation to the immediate threat. They would advocate pulling back our deployed maritime forces and allowing our allies to take on a greater share of their own defense. These critics further imply that the Navy is deployed everywhere, all the time, without a clear mission other than simply being out and about.
Does the Navy have a counterargument to this view, and if so how do we characterize it? The U.S. Navy has long maintained that our strategic value to the Nation is predicated on our ability to operate forward. We have long used the phrase forward presence to emphasize this posture and convey both a robust operational tempo and a readiness for any crisis. We characterize it within our Maritime Strategy as a “core capability.”1