Bryan McGrath, lead author of CS21 (as it is coming to be called in shorthand) stopped by in the comments section in the previous post to leave the commentary now shown below.  I opted (head nod to Peter S. per our earlier discussion) to elevate it to a post of its own for wider dissemination and comment.  Bryan makes some good points, especially where the two other missing pieces are concerned and some interesting revelations as to what he expected to follow from the influence of CS21 in the form of actual metal.  On the whole, I think we’re in pretty violent agreement about many items.  One in particular is where we go from here.  The next couple of years are going to be crucial ones for Navy.  If one of the unwritten intents of  CS21 was to build an advocacy for the Navy and naval forces for the long view, mindful of the prolonged land engagement(s) we have been and look to continue conducting, and that constituency is primarily outside Navy (e.g., the public and Congress), then there needs to be some serious effort applied by senior leadership to revitalizing that advocacy, especially on the Hill where the initial offering two years ago was received with, well, lukewarm (to put it charitably) enthusiasm.  In light of an ongoing failure to produce the other legs of the stool, as Bryan points out, and with diminished expectations for budgetary relief, Navy needs to revitalize the advocacy, fleshing it out with supporting force structure and operationalization documentation and re-engage the Hill. I’m hearing that CNO recently signed out the Naval Strategic Planning Guidance, and if so, that’s a first step. I’d give CS21, in its present form,  about two more years of potential worth in this regard but if the other parts don’t come through, then the strategy’s relevancy and potential to influence, shape and form the operations and force structure of future naval forces will rapidly  fade away. – SJS

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.

Crossposted at Information Dissemination and USNI blog.


  1. Jim Dick

    While I concur with Bryan’s vision of what CS21 COULD be for the Navy, I’m more skeptical about the likelihood of it achieving the desired effect. I’ve yet to see or hear any evidence inside the Beltway that senior leadership (other than CNO) “gets it”. Without being privy to NSP 12 (although I worked on the very first NSP for 06 and NSP 10), I can say from working closely with NAVSEA that the ONLY topic of interest is LCS (followed by DDG 1000). There’s still a belief that we have to make LCS succeed in order to keep the Navy credible. I think many would agree that LCS is NOT the kind of ship we need to truly implement CS21 – but when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Even the CNO seems to have staked his reputation on LCS – so discussions that would take us away from that platform into a more CS21-based force don’t seem very likely.

    We really need to get the senior flags to see the light and understand the essence of CS 21. I participated in a working group with N8F that was tasked to look at CS21 and work up an alternative force structure for POM 10 (part of the first re-do). The working group had all the right N-codes participating — especially N85. The proposals, in my view, were right on the mark. Lots of emphasis on green water capability, eliminating CVNs in favor of littoral ships, replacement of LCS with a variant of the Coast Guard National Security Cutter (much better suited for Partner Stations, engagement, etc.). In a very short period, the group came up with some very innovative – and potentially effective – recommendations on things Navy could consider. At the end of the day, though, N8F had his own answer about the force structure – and the response back to CNO looked identical to the 30-yr shipbuilding plan. Oh, by the way, that same flag officer is now going to be the OPNAV N3/N5. I don’t think that bodes very well at all for increased influence and acceptance of CS21 as a guiding force for future Navy development.

    I think CS21 provides the Navy all the “hooks” it needs to develop a very powerful and convincing argument for a force that would be able to execute all 6 imperatives – but I don’t think Big Navy has the intestinal fortitude (nor perhaps the political capital on the Hill) to take it forward and do the things that are really necessary to operationalize the concept.

  2. B.Smitty


    I was wondering why the draw to the USCG National Security Cutter over the smaller, less well-defined Offshore Patrol Cutter? Seems to me that there is more latitude for coming up with a common hull that can satisfy both the USCG and USN, since it is at an earlier stage of design.

    Was there any talk of a less expensive amphibious ship to complement (or replace) the LPD-17? Seems like a big, roomy, well-deck amphibious ship is one of the most flexible hull types we could buy.

  3. Jim Dick

    The two big attractions with the NSC were endurance (>12,000 nm – great for Partner Station duty) and the ability to handle 11m RIBs (popular with the SEALs). There was also talk about how “flexible” the hull would be for strapping on packages (albeit, not integrated like LCS MM’s will be). And since they are cheaper than just the sea frame for LCS, we could buy 5 for the price of 4.

  4. B.Smitty

    Makes sense. The OPC (as spec’d) won’t be a slouch here either (9000nm at economical speeds, 45 days endurance, 11m & 7m RHIB, helo and VTUAV support).

    My thought was, since it isn’t out of the design phase, they Navy could work a deal to impose some NVRs, maybe improve quieting with a diesel-electric plant and make other modifications to the design, with the understanding that a larger USCG/USN buy will reduce prices for both.

    And since it’s smaller than the NSC, you might be able to buy 6-7 for the price of 4 LCS.

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