Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Future of the Navy

Admiral Gary Roughead, the Chief of Naval Operations, opened the 2010 Current Strategy Forum at the Naval War College.

I've discussed his remarks in greater detail over at Global Security, but let me excerpt a few points here:

The CNO foresees a resurgence of the Navy's traditional Cold and post-Cold War role as the vehicle for the projection of a "credible military presence offshore" anywhere in the world. Given the importance of the sea lanes for the global economy, the importance of the oceans for transport and communications ("the internet swims with the fishes"), and the increasing size of the oceans (considering the climactic changes in the Arctic opening up the northern passages), the United States will need to be able to demonstrate it has credible capabilities for ensuring its interests. The U.S. must cross two oceans to reach many of the areas that are vital to U.S. interests, which requires a robust force structure.

The U.S. has the smallest navy since 1916; the fleet shrank during the last period of budget growth; and the increased focus on front-line engagement means assets are being constantly used (and depreciated). In addition, we have new high-technology threats that make control of the seas more problematic, and the industrial base in the U.S. is shrinking. If previously there were 6 major shipbuilding conglomerates, now there are two.

Partnerships help to bridge the gap. He cited Task Force 151 dealing with Somali piracy as an example of growing cooperation (among the U.S., the EU, Malaysia, India, China, Russia, Australia and others) to secure the global commons. He views some of the examples of naval cooperation (antipiracy, disaster response, etc.) as bypassing the political problems that can emerge when countries attempt to coordinate onshore/on land operations.

But the U.S. military will have to rethink its personnel and procurement policies. Programs must meed the needs of the U.S. to secure its interests--and this means that programs that are not delivering required capabilities or at a price that can be afforded must be re-examined (and canceled if necessary).

Finally, U.S. strategists will have to grapple with the question: are we creating and sustaining a naval force sufficient to influence the global order? Does it require the creation of networks and partnerships with other countries--and what capabilities do we need to retain to be able to act alone if necessary?

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