Having read (and re-read) the new MS several times since its release, as well as the associated commentary, we offer the following thoughts (delayed, no thanks, due to the intrusion of our day job(s)…)
Some notes first – we will confess to being somewhat disappointed at first glance thinking to ourselves “where’s the beef?” Much of that initial concern has been addressed with a deeper read/parsing of the text and conversations with others, some of whom were directly involved in the creation (Strategy1 – btw, major-league props to S1 for stepping up to the plate on these pages; the invitation will remain an open-ended one…SJS) and others not so, but who have a long standing within the strategy and policy community within and with out of big Navy.
Full disclosure: We are not in the pay of big Navy in any sense (at times to the chagrin of the distaff side of the Scribe’s household, who wonders why we do this for free…) and so all that follows is, as the saying goes, our humble opinion – YMMV. Additionally, at one time we were in a similar billet as occupied by Strategy1 and are acutely (and at the time, were painfully so) aware of the summits to be climbed whilst fighting off the hordes of ankle biters in the creation of documents such as this. In one sense we did participate in the creation, though very much so on the margins, via a conference in 2006 held at a local federally funded research center (FFRC) which was very early in the MS’ timeline. So much for the fine-print and CYA-ness…on to the meat.
Tenor and tone
Allow us to dispose of one item up front – and that is the language, or more appropriately, the style in which the MS was written. We will confess to having hoped for a certain style of prose and tone – a call to arms, if you will. Why? Well, in part, because we had become concerned that the public’s perception, from the corner sub shop in Omaha to the corridors of the Russell Senate Office building in DC, was increasingly giving short shrift to the relevance of maritime power and requirements to support the same. Part of the blame can be shouldered by previous CNOs who deliberately eschewed a new maritime strategy – dismissing the need as forwarded by those such as ourselves with the rational that it either wasn’t necessary in the Fullness of the Joint Age we now ‘enjoy,’or, that other “things” would suffice.
In that light, we had thought some ringing call to hearts of oak and taking it to the foe a la the “vintage” MS (more commonly known as MS 1986) would set the stage for a comeback in the public’s eye and imagination. Instead, we found the nuanced and somewhat understated prose more commonly found today in both public and private sectors. It is the lingua franca of this age of consensus building and teaming. Recognizing its role in today’s fora and public discussions, we nonetheless remain old school in our language preferences, but not to the degree of dismissiveness evinced elsewhere.
As pointed out by Galrahn, it also is a language of bounded expectations.
Bounded expectations in the sense that the Navy of today and the foreseeable future is not the Navy of 1986 which was plotted somewhere along that hallowed 600-ship curve. It is an acknowledgement that power and will – national power and will, are limited quantities in this post-Iraq age.
Support by all three maritime Services
The fact that all three maritime Services contributed and signed off on this document should not be underestimated. Some few years ago as we were trying to work a related document (the original NOC – Naval Operations Concept) it was just us and the Marines and every sentence – every single one, was a point of contention. Agendas must be acknowledged, if not agreed to, and cogent flow of thought is often the first casualty – in company with specificity. Why specificity? Because of budgetary tie-ins. At the time, the Marines were hard-over on a certain vision of the sea base that smacked very much of black-hulled amphibious combat logistics ships, meaning an LHA-type/sized vessel crewed by civilian mariners of the Military Sealift Command, operating combat aircraft (F-35Bs) and combat logistic support over the horizon (V-22) in a forward combat zone…on Navy’s procurement dime, of course. In the meantime, we (Team Navy) were given quite clear marching orders from our three- and four-star overlords that such specificity was verboten, but we’d darn well better bend a knee to Seapower 21. You start to get the picture as to the Sisyphean task presented to our small group (still down in numbers post QDR-cell plunder and post-9/11 losses). Oh, and we had four weeks to work something up.
We have no doubt that Strategy1 and his cohorts had similar issues to surmount, though by the nature of a higher-level strategy document, one can afford to be more deliberately vague than in the implementation and budgetary documents that flow from said strategy document. Long story short, in the earlier case the mountains labored mightily and strained forth a gnat – from which ever conflicting assignment and guidance was given to create a Naval Joint Concept of Operations (NCJO) then a Navy Concept for Joint Operations, then a Navy Concept of Operations…and then finally back to a Naval Operating Concept for Joint Operations (since superseded by the 2006 Naval Operations Concept). Both Services treated it like the bastard child it was – acknowledging its presence but distancing themselves from ownership or responsibility. Truthfully, it had to be expected for as we loudly and persistently agitated at the time – it was without validity and standing absent a new, overarching naval strategy to inform and support it.
Forward Presence vs Surge
There was a time, in the near past, where “forward presence” was a dirty word around the corridors and offices occupied by the (now former) SECDEF and his staff weenies. This carried over to the Navy staff where “surge” (especially “surge from CONUS bases” ) was the accepted verbiage and “forward presence” was given the royal heave-ho, save for a certain recidivist core of malcontents resident in N51 and a few other backwaters on the OPNAV staff (you know who you are). Despite this group’s advocacy that the Navy was anything but a garrison force, the right-speak was we can do it from US-located bases in minuteman fashion. And, for a limited time, there was some supporting force structure and measure of flexibility in material condition that fostered this line of thinking. That time has long since passed and the penalties of withdrawal from the various parts of the world stage are coming due.
A navy, one in particular that supports a maritime nation such as ours, must have a continual, overseas presence constituted of credible combat capability. You want to prevent wars and promote regional stability? You need persistent ISR to support that objective. You want persistent ISR? Nothing meets that requirement like forward deployed naval forces in all parts of the globe. Yes they show the flag. Yes we run risks of more Coles’ – but the flip side is we remain engaged with other nations’ maritime services, with other nations’ populace and our eyes and ears remain attuned to long-running arcs that may be all but invisible to a force that “surges” into an area for a month or two, and then disappears over the horizon, not to return for one or more years. And as clearly noted in the MS – one can’t surge trust.
So yes, hallelujah, forward presence is back. And not a moment too soon. Of course, it also begs the question of what that force will look like which wraps back into the force structure issue. More on that later…
Clearly Identified Core Capabilities
We note with interest the mix of legacy and post Cold War core capabilities. To the legacy core capabilities or competencies of deterrence (originally strategic deterrence), sea control, forward presence and power projection – traditional “hard” power competencies, have been added so-called soft power capabilities of maritime security and humanitarian assistance/disaster response. One can argue that the latter have always been present in one form or another as part of our traditional capabilities – witness US Navy operations in the Caribbean against piracy in the 19th Century or China Station in the early 20th. But in formally bringing these additional capabilities onboard, it provides a very clear tie-in to the Coast Guard and the opportunities it offers.
It is in the context of the discussion of the importance of each of these capabilities that some specific challenges are alluded to that should inform follow-on operational and budgetary implementation documents. We note in particular the discussion under sea control centering on the ASW challenge and counter-straits transit control, with the implied shots across the respective bows of China and Iran. Additionally we note acknowledgement of new capabilities not even dreamed of under the vintage MS, foremost of which is ballistic missile defense and the theater and global nature of this vital capability.
Those, as we see it, are some of the “goods” of the new MS and pretty much constitute the middle third of the document. There are some concerns we hold, however. Some, of course, may be chalked up to our old school view and we readily acknowledge such. There are some other aspects, that cross that generational view and we shall highlight them below.
We are somewhat at a loss that power projection can be discussed without explicit mention of strike warfare. Yes, ASW and MIW (among others) didn’t make it into the document in an explicit fashion either – yet strategic sealift is mentioned prominently. We are all too aware of the importance of sealift (especially after one of our Joint penance tours in TRANSCOM), but, not to put too fine a point on it, strategic sealift is the Army’s vision of power projection. Flexible, tailorable and lethal carrier- and surface, sub and amphib-based striking power is the sine qua non of our maritime forces, is the core capability of power projection and merits at least the same level of acknowledgement as strategic lift. SECNAV said it best in his remarks at the ISS when the new MS was unveiled:
“Providing combat airpower, carrying out land attack missions, providing amphibious assault capability, providing military logistics and executing strike missions at sea continue to be our raison d’être"
Something along those lines, if not verbatim would have been an appropriate way to open the power projection section.
If there is one area that many seem to be focusing on as a shortcoming of the new MS, this is it. We expressed our reservation early on that we felt the issue had been punted down the road and still hold to some aspects of that observation. The new MS does not have to be, nor should it become a laundry list of hulls and airframes for procurement – that is better reserved for budgetary documents. It should, however, provide substantial hooks to hang those particular requirements on and begin with an acknowledgement that the current force, qualitatively, does not meet the needs of the new strategy – and that current plans will not address the coming shortfalls in hulls and airframes.
Yes – it will date the document, to a degree. But in striving to make it easily transferrable from administration to administration (and there seems to be a tacit understanding that this was one of the underlying requirements in the development of the new MS) there is a risk run in downplaying force structure to such a degree that it is rendered irrelevant. If we don’t think it important enough to highlight in our own cornerstone document, that which all others are drawn from or informed by, then what signal is sent to officials and analysts in a future administration?
Look, reference needn’t be made to specific numbers, be it 313 or 1,000 ships. What needs to be stated is the inadequacy of current shipbuilding programs and infrastructure and that a robust force, as required by this new strategy, will place a significant demand signal on that same infrastructure. The coming years are going to see an increasing demand from land forces – Army in particular, to replace force structure lost in fighting an extended war in Southwest Asia. It will demand a larger force that will likely be conformed to fight the COIN-type war it is presently engaged. However, the American public in general, and the next administration in particular (regardless of party), will be extremely hesitant, to the point of denial, to commit American ground forces again to a prolonged ground war anywhere. Concurrently, we have a strategy that calls for a globally deployed force that said Administration may be more inclined to use and a very good likelihood that the next conflict(s) will rely heavily on maritime and air forces.
So where to have mentioned force structure? We would have listed it in priorities where it, along with the other three mentioned priorities would have provided a strong segue to the next level of documentation.
Prevention vs. Deterrence
Not so much a concern as a curiosity. Will we seek to prevent all conflict? At what point is the transition from prevention to deterrence – or is it necessarily a linear relationship? How will it marry up with assure/dissuade/deter/defeat? Certainly it will vary by region and actor – deterrence in NE Asia is certainly different from deterrence in the Levant or Arabian/Persian Gulf. How do we address a potential clash of arms on the Asian subcontinent between two nuclear armed regional powers? This is a discussion that frankly, has begged definition in the post Cold War environment and one which we look forward to observing and participating in, and we are glad to see the new MS as a forcing function in that process.
It is an imperfect and flawed document – but so was the 1986 strategy and almost any other similar document extant. Nevertheless, there are significant strengths to build upon and serve as a reliable starting point for further definition and refinement in the panoply of documents that will follow. Most importantly, it has CNO approval and, tacitly at least, that of SECDEF as well – and as such, serves as the maritime strategy of record. This bodes well for post-Iraq planning and budgeting if – IF it does not become fodder for collecting dust on a shelf someplace.
While we acknowledge that there will and must be, a significant classified portion, we would encourage a very public discussion, spoken and print, to follow. That discussion and public record will serve to reinforce the key elements of the new MS in the public mind. To that end we will keep the deck clear on this site for continued discussion on the implementation of the strategy and welcome Strategy1’s (and any associates’) continued participation therein.