Maritime Strategy coverTwo years ago this week, the CNO, CMC and USCG Commandant released the naval services’ new maritime strategy – A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, at the International Seapower Symposium being hosted by the Naval War College in Newport, RI. The release of a new maritime strategy was significant given the length of time, post-Cold War, the naval services in general – and the Navy in particular, had planned, budgeted and operated without one.  To be sure, there were iterations and evolutionary versions that followed the seminal 1980’s strategy that called for a 500 (later 600) ship navy to take the fight to the Soviet Union, but for the most part they were a ‘check-in-the-box’ and left on the shelf to collect dust.  In fact, during the earlier part of this decade, we were personally told on more than one occasion (forcefully and with exasperation at times) by senior Navy leadership that a new strategy was no longer required as we had moved beyond that and had Seapower 21 to guide our way.  Selah.

Mid-decade though, that began to change with new leadership and a growing realization that new constructs and approaches would be required in the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world.  Beginning with open and closed sessions with strategists, planners and “thinkers” drawn from across public and private enterprise, in venues reaching from local to national and international, a small team of planners, thinkers and writers – operators all, began to build the new strategy.

The new strategy was released with a fair degree of fanfare and was greeted with somewhat mixed reception, ranging from the enthusiastic to mildly curious and in some quarters, generally dismissive (some examples here, here, here and especially here).  The blogsphere, especially the naval blogsphere that has evolved, was no less silent.  Writing extensively and critically, the blogs pried deeper into the nuances of the strategy, seeking fuller meaning of the principles therein.  Galrahn, CDR Salamander and here as well, all devoted considerable column inch space to various aspects (and in some cases, opened our pages to direct response from the lead author of the strategy) of the strategy.

While there were compliments, there were also many concerns aired – chief of which went to the heart of strategy, the linking of ends and means.  To wit, the new maritime strategy, while making bold declarations (and what could be more bold in the post-Cold War era than the opening statement “We believe preventing wars is as important as winning wars”?), the maritime strategy fell short in lacking an accompanying force structure plan and means to operationalize the strategy (e.g., a naval operating concept or NOC).  Both, we were promised, would be forthcoming “soon” (although the former, perforce, had to be classified).

Two years on there has been neither and this in turn has prompted further concerns over naval vision and strategic direction.  On the one hand, there has continued to be considerable drum-pounding, using the maritime strategy as justification or rational for any one of a number of actions, planned or as crisis response.  Certainly the PA aspect of the maritime strategy has been and continues to be well resourced.  Yet two years on we still do not have a long-range ship building plan (despite Congressional mandate) and the NOC is still MIA.   The latter is increasingly important as planners inside and out of the naval services wrestle with new concepts and capabilities, the most recent example being the significant shift in BMD emphasis in the European theater from a land-based GBI system designed to protect CONUS from Iranian ICBMs to a primarily sea-based theater defense against MRBM’s using Aegis-BMD equipped ships and supplemented with a shore-based system (“Aegis BMD Ashore”).  This redirection and the attendant gossamer-light expositions of how we will employ sea-based BMD in the maritime strategy has led to a fair degree of mis-information and erroneous assumptions as to general operational capabilities, requirements, and necessary force structure.  More detailed explanation, as wouldbe found in a NOC would go a long ways to alleviate this condition.

That is but one aspect – there are many others including rationale for the next generation CG, numbers of carriers and big deck amphibs, operational concepts for emerging technologies in ISR and UAVs, ASW, integrated air and missile defense, presence operations…and the list goes on.

Two years ago we summarized our initial read of the new maritime strategy as follows:

“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.” (

080313-N-5549O-110Today, in view of the concerns raised above and our contention that the maritime strategy serves as a starting vice ending point, we submit the following questions as to the efficacy and relevance of the maritime strategy and its role in shaping future naval forces two years after its release:

  1. What new requirements/capabilities follow from the maritime strategy?
  2. What direct influence has the maritime strategy had on naval shipbuilding plans and budgets?
  3. How has the maritime strategy been implemented and operationalized?  In other words – what are we doing differently now or are in the in the process of changing (especially in view of #1 above) that we weren’t on 11 Oct 2007?

(crossposted at USNI blog)

1 Comment

  1. Many thanks to Steeljaw Scribe for getting the discussion started here. Several weeks ago, he reached out to me to see if I wanted to collaborate on some kind of a two-year retrospective in view of the second birthday of CS21; I declined, fearing that I was simply too close to the subject to be objective (which may now be confirmed with this post). As some may know, my last tour on active duty was to lead the team that put together the document, a tour I found fascinating and rewarding, mostly for the incredible quality of people I came to be associated with both inside the strategy team and in the broader, Newport and DC based strategy communities.

    Steeljaw poses three interesting questions, but they are questions I am largely unqualified to answer, as thorough answers (in my estimation) presuppose in-depth knowledge of the Navy’s plans for POM12. POM12 represents the first concerted effort on the Navy’s part to program in the guidance set in CS21, buttressed by the presence of a CNO no longer in the first months of his job trying to find his way. I suspect if CS21 is going to have any influence, it will be reflected in POM12.

    I make this statement largely due the lack of–as Steeljaw reminds us–the accompanying parts of what VADM John Morgan used to refer to as “the strategy layer-cake”, which consisted of: the strategy itself, how it would be implemented (the NOC) and the resources required (a revision to the 30 year shipbuilding plan). Put another way, our three-legged stool is missing two of the three legs. This represents an institutional and bureaucratic decision on the Navy’s part, and understandably serves to open up the one extant document to legitimate criticism. It does not however, obviate either the thinking that went into the strategy or the shifts that it portends.

    I ask critics of the strategy a simple question; when you criticize the THINKING and the concepts of the strategy, what are you comparing it to? Exactly what did it replace? Prior to October 2007, what was the Navy’s strategy? Come on now–one or two sentences. I think most folks who’ve read the current strategy can cite some version of the following–that there is a global system of trade, finance, information, etc that works to the benefit of the people of the US and other nations who participate in it, and that US Seapower–increasingly in a cooperative fashion–plays a unique and critical role in the protection and sustainment of that system. There you have it. Again–someone suggest in a sentence or two what it replaced.

    Moreover, the strategy suggests a shift from the last named strategy of the 80’s–which was clearly postured for the strategic offense–to a posture of the strategic defense–defense of the global system. It is a strategy of consolidation and defense. It is the strategy of a status quo power seeking to protect and extend its position within the global system. It answers the question “why do we need those ships strung out all over the world?” Previously, the answer was some version of “well, security and stability”, which always begged the question as to why nations in that region couldn’t do it themselves. The answer of course, is that they can’t, at least not without our help. And that inability threatens the health and welfare of the increasingly interconnected world. Put another way, the global system demands the presence of the US Navy–just as it demanded the presence of the Royal Navy and the Dutch Navy.

    While I have little insight into OPNAV’s plans in POM 12, I can quite readily suggest how I thought CS21 would change the Navy. Firstly, I believe that CS21 represents a growth strategy for the Navy, and that as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan exact their toll on the national will, it would provide the intellectual basis for an expansion of the Navy. We didn’t set out to make a strategy to grow the Navy–as a matter of fact, in one of my first days in the job, I asked the question bluntly of VADM Morgan…”what if our deliberations lead us to believe that the proper course is for a smaller Navy”. “Write that strategy” was his answer.

    With respect to specifics–I suspected that the strategy would 1) lead to the design of a small, lightly armed, mass produced surface vessel with considerable endurance that would serve as the backbone of the “globally distributed mission tailored forces” mentioned in the document and 2) MIGHT lead to a decision to move away from the DDX–as budget realities and operational requirements would eventually pit it against the CGX, a ship more attuned to the expanded concept of deterrence mentioned in the strategy and 3) (most regrettably) would lead to a loss of carrier force structure. Cutting carrier force structure seems odd in a “growth strategy”, but reading the tea leaves, I believed some portion of that growth would have to come from within, and power projection and strike did not receive the same level of emphasis as in past strategic documents. In general, I thought we’d see additional investment on the low-low end (small combatants and riverine) and the high-high end (CGX and missile defense).

    Second, I thought that the process that went into the production of CS 21 would be a repeatable part of the Navy’s strategic planning process; that is, I thought (and advocated) that CS21 ought to be reviewed–that’s right–as part of every POM process to make sure we got the entering presumptions right.

    Third, I believed that CS21 would add some weight to the Navy’s push to raise the prominence of its Language Skills, Regional Expertise and Cultural Awareness programs. I believed these competencies would be critical to a Navy out operating independently (but cooperatively) in places it wasn’t used to operating.

    Fourth, I believed that CS21 would resonate with friends, allies and partners alike, letting them know that not only were they important to us but that they were a critical part of our strategy. I believed that this emphasis would be recognized and acted upon by them.

    Fifth, I believe the strategy presented the Chinese with an interesting dilemma; do they get with the program, recognize that the global system in place handsomely rewards their people, and pony up to the responsibilities of a first-rate nation in terms of contributing to that system’s protection and sustainment, or do they remain neo-mercantilist free-riders, fattening their coffers due in no small part to the largess of the US Navy (and subject to its continued forbearance). While we did not name the Chinese in the document, we knew they’d read themselves into it.

    I leave it up to others to determine how much of what I believed would be the legacy of CS21 has come to fruition. I hope this has been helpful to those interested in this matter, and I look forward to reading your thoughts on what I’ve said.

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