Last week we published a detailed, thoughtful critique by Robert Work and Jan van Tol under the auspices of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment (CSBA). At the time it was noted that this was the lead-off of a new round of cooperative discussion of the Maritime Strategy to begin today here and at Information Dissemination, Eagle1, CDR Salamander, and Chapomatic among others.

Make no mistake, there has been significant discussion to date, but it has been primarily resource-centric and focused on the number of ships the new strategy would support. The wider debate has been muted – until now. Work and van Tol’s excellent analysis serve as a superb foil in that regard and so the coming week at this site will primarily be given over to this discussion with the exception of a few other items of note. If you haven’t read either the Maritime Strategy or the aforementioned critique, we encourage you to take the time to do so now by following the links accordingly. We also encourage you to visit the other sites as each of us has our own perspective and take on the Maritime Strategy – Galrahn, for example, has written extensively of the seabase while here you will find a concentration on matters such as escalation dominance and the prevention of war in the MS.

There are battles looming – one near term and dealing with fiscal issues and roles and missions, the other, likely in five to eight years, kinetic, short and focused on maritime and expeditionary air and ground forces. The Maritime Strategy will have a role to play in both and Work and van Tol’s critique should serve to inform and improve the MS as both approach the event horizon.

Work and van Tol open with a discussion of whether the MS is really a strategy or a strategic concept given that some key elements, namely the means necessary to fulfill the goals of the strategy. Much has already been written already on this particular subject including on these pages when the MS first came out. Rather than rehash the points made then and elsewhere, including Work and van Tol, we would suggest that since the Navy Strategic Plan, and its predecessor, the Naval Strategic Planning Guidance (NSPG) as well as the Naval Operational Concept for Joint Operations (NOCJO) were made available to the public previously, unclassified versions of the same should be released as supplements to the MS. Why is this important – the upcoming debates over roles and missions and the budgetary debate in the coming year will be critical, more so than usual. For those that may remember QDR ’01, the original, pre-9/11 QDR ’01, it was a bare-knuckled, knock down, drag out affair and frankly Navy would have come out on the short end of the stick.

How bad was it going to be? Senior leadership was leaning to 9 CVBGs. In part it was because we (Navy) had fallen off message during the 90’s, as tallied by Work and van Tol, and while relevance and importance of forward deployed maritime forces should never have been in doubt (and were amply displayed in the hours and days that followed Sept 11th), the sad fact of the matter is inside the Beltway, it’s a different universe. One where, for example, a GS-15 staffer in OSD(P) demanded with a straight face just what, if anything the Navy had really done since the end of WW2. Really. To be sure, QDR ’09 had to be in the uppermost mind of Navy’s leadership as the work began on the new MS. For sure, it has in the other Services (Air Force Quadrennial Defense Review and Quadrennial Roles and Missions Review – ed. link removed as it appears the RFP has been pulled. – SJS) and there should be every expectation of a return to the environment of the ’01 QDR given no expectations for an expanded budget and every expectation that focus will be on a large land force and the equipment to support the same – which may be exactly the wrong force for the next battle.

The multi-polar world with regional actors that seek to dominate their regions in a like manner that the US has dominated globally is the geopolitical environment of the MS. It is a complex environment that may not necessarily lend itself to the long-standing formal alliances that typified the Cold War. That the maritime commons provide a venue for common interests and engagement is without question. Indeed, the illustration below underscores the nature of those commons – What you’re viewing is not a chart, but a recording of electronic emissions across the globe over a 24 hour period. The areas in green represent those of the heaviest concentration of electronic activity. (Note: this is from a briefing we used some 6 years ago to inform/influence about a 21st Century navy when we were on the Navy staff):

Work and van Tol identify another critical shortcoming of the MS one again, ID’d elsewhere as well. Namely that the threat to those global commons is inadequately identified. Some will immediately leap to identify the burgeoning threat posed by China. Indeed, the growing quantitative and qualitative presence of the various elements of the PLA combined with their insistence on a lack of transparency plays to that concern.

There are other concerns and threats though, that should also have been addressed in the MS. We have said before that there is some quite extraordinary language in the MS particularly that dealing with preventing and deterring war. It states we will provide a credible and scalable ability to retaliate against aggressors conventionally, unconventionally and with nuclear forces – and leaves it at that. There is no further discussion about the role maritime forces could – or should, play in a regional conflict between regional nuclear powers, say between India and China or India and Pakistan.

And for those that think this a bit fantastic or an order of hype for resource purposes, there is a history of recent conflict – extensive conflict, in both cases within the past forty years. In fact, during the Indo-Pakistani war in the 1970’s, India used her aircraft carrier quite extensively to carry out attacks along the Pakistani coastline. With the history of extensive bloodshed between these two countries, one must question whether the same kind of normative considerations for employment of nuclear weapons will or has evolved as that which presumably evolved and guided, ever so guardedly and fragilely the US and Soviets during the Cold War. It is important because conflict – be it major conventional or “limited” nuclear in this region will have a significant impact on the rest of the world and chances spillover effects elsewhere as well. It also begs the question of the means and capabilities of US maritime forces to meet the stated preventative measures of the MS, much less intercede to impose some measure of escalation control.

There is more – and as mentioned, we will continue to discuss this week. In the meantime, visit the other sites – drop your comments or, if desired, send us your extended comments for posting as a Guest Author:


  1. Your link (Air Force Quadrennial Defense Review and Quadrennial Roles and Missions Review) is broken, SJS… ya get a 404 error when attempting to access.

    Thought ya might wanna know.

  2. Steeljawscribe

    Thanks Buck — looks like the RFP has been pulled down – interesting in that the bids were due on the 21st and today’s only the 1st… Anyway, the gist of the bid is:

    “to provide the focal point for the Air Force Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)… through an integrated process that reaches across the Department of Defense (DoD), supporting the Chief of Staff’s global strategic vision while preparing our nation to fight and win in air, space, and cyberspace.”

    Oh yeah and:

    “The Contractor shall support the requesting office in the development of communications strategies, events, materials, and Graybeard or Red Team facilitation. This support includes the organization, coordination, and hosting of strategic outreach seminars, high-level symposia, Graybeard advisory panels, and other communication events for both external and internal Air Force audiences. The events range from small, informal events in the Washington, DC area to larger symposia and off-site meetings. The contractor shall provide the requesting office planning, technical, administrative, and logistics support prior to, during, and after such events including topic development, speaker, Graybeard membership, venue selection, coordination, scheduling, and invitation management.”
    – SJS

  3. Thanks for the quotes from the RFP, SJS. One hopes USAF, with the assistance of a contractor(s) will get better at their planning. The “Graybeard” term intrigues me… I wonder if there’s a significant number of Graybeards out there who, like me, are simply disgusted with USAF’s current senior leadership. But that subject is waaay too broad and deep for a simple comment.

Trackbacks for this post

  1. Naval Operations Concept (NOC) To Be Released Oct 08 | Steeljaw Scribe

Comments are closed.