• William Toti

The American Naval Imperative

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

This article, published in early 2001, was intended again to counter the growing concern that naval forces were headed for the scrap heap of history. In a few months an attack on America would quell any arguments for a reduction in naval force. In the early months of the attack on Afghanistan, despite its being a land-locked country several hundred miles inland, the predominant access into the region was via naval forces. It now seems that arguments against the Navy have been put to bed, at least for a while.

The Best Strategy is to be Strong

The United States is a global power in a maritime world. The oceans continue to be the "great commons" that connect America to that world- with our freedom to operate and our commerce continually protected by our Navy. Thus has been the case for over 225 years.

To guarantee and protect this freedom, history has forced the U.S. Navy to evolve into an expeditionary force with a tradition of forward deployment. On any given day, roughly one third of our ships are forward deployed around the world. In fact, the defining characteristics of an expeditionary force - to be both rapidly deployable and employable -- have to be core competencies of any future Joint force. The dynamic nature of the international security environment highlights the value of expeditionary, sovereign naval forces- American assets that remain free to operate when and where needed, without restriction.

The American Naval Imperative

As long as our nation remains committed to sustaining its position as a world power, it is vital that we maintain a powerful, ubiquitous Navy. The question is, what are the objectives of that capability? In answering that question, four imperatives must be understood:

· First, we need to establish sufficient of command the seas to guard the global commons on which we depend, not just to influence events beyond our shores, but to safeguard our economic well-being as well.

· Second, we need to maintain U.S. sovereign power overseas to provide timely, decisive response in times of crisis.

· Third, we need to provide sustained and assured access during times of crisis, so that follow-on joint forces can enter the scene from outside the theater.

· Fourth, we need to facilitate and streamline the transformation of the joint force to improve our ability fight and win across the spectrum of future conflict.

Guarding the Global Commons

In an era of increasing globalization, information and communications technologies will continue to inextricably link our interests and our economic prosperity to the freedom of trade across the world's oceans. What do we know about these trends? Consider the following:

· Our nation's exports support 11.5 million jobs and have fueled one-third of our total economic growth since 1993.

· The total value of U.S. trade, as a percentage of GDP, has risen from less than 10% in 1968 to more than 25% in 1998.

Beyond these statistics, however, is the fact that globalization has changed the very way in which trade is conducted. Container shipping is the new heart of the global economy, fueling the efficiency of an inter-modal transportation system (i.e., ship-to-truck, truck-to-rail, etc.) that permits global "just in time" supply chains to function. Currently, over sixty percent of the value of intercontinental trade travels by container ship, a figure projected to jump to eighty percent by 2020.

This inter-modal transportation system depends upon sixteen global "superports," with the sophisticated infrastructure and depth of water to handle large container vessels. Freedom of access to these economic hubs is critical to the world economy and the U.S. economy in particular.

For example, the port of Singapore alone handles more than 300 million tons of cargo annually, or one-fifth of the value of world-wide daily maritime trade. Nearly half of all U.S. computer imports travel through Singapore, as does more than one-third of all the global trans-shipment activity that feeds "just in time" supply chains. Any interruption of shipping in or around this single superport would have grave implications for the world's economy.

There is another bulk commodity that travels mainly by sea and that the world cannot do without: oil. Today, 25% of the world's oil supply flows through the Strait of Hormuz. If anyone were to block this critical chokepoint for any period of time, it would have a devastating impact upon the. world economy. Worse, with nearly 70% of the world 's spare oil capacity located within the Persian Gulf region, it is currently impossible to make up the supply differential from other sources in the world.

Assuring the freedom of the seas and economic access it provides is worth a significant investment of this nation's resources. How much investment is it worth? To answer that question, the nation needs to consider the return on its investment in a Navy that exercises mastery of the seas.

Responding to Crises

Our second Naval imperative is to provide forward deployed sovereign U.S. combat power to respond to crises, and to shape world events in ways that favor the expansion of freedom and democracy. Combat credible forces, operating overseas wherever and whenever we like, allow for the unambiguous demonstration and application of our sovereign power as events warrant, either with the help of our allies, or while operating alone.

When a crisis occurs, the Navy is usually already close enough to respond rapidly, with a force that is immediately employable.

For example, the Navy has already responded in this fashion in at least 144 occasions over the last decade alone. Every one of the last eleven deployed Navy carrier battlegroups has been called into combat in Southeastern Europe or the Middle East. Most of these combat operations were executed by naval forces that were in the midst of regular rotational deployments. Following this call to action, those forces were then called on to continue their routine six-month deployments, sometimes being called on to relocate to other regions of the world to respond to new crises.

For example, naval forces were ordered to strike 85 different targets over four nights of combat with very little warning time during Operation Desert Fox. Further, because we couldn't get necessary permission from host countries to use our land-based forces, only naval tactical aviation was available for use during the first day of operations. And because we were able to conduct this strike without moving additional U.S. forces into the area, we were able to achieve tactical and strategic surprise against Iraq. This is sovereign U.S. comb at power in the fullest sense, power that was immediately employable, for which we needed nobody's permission but our own.

Naval forces have served our nation's interests in other ways as well, from evacuating American and allied citizens from hostile countries, to enforcing sanctions against Yugoslavia and Iraq. Over the last decade, naval forces have conducted 19 non-combatant evacuation operations, 32 humanitarian assistance operations, more than five thousand maritime boardings in support of U.S. drug policy and United Nations sanctions, all conducted as part of our routine deployment operations. These demonstrations of American resolve help to secure our national interests and reinforce our credibility abroad to friend and foe alike.

Forward deployed, credible combat power provides another regular return on our nation's

investment: the power to shape.

Although successful missions seem to be quickly forgotten, it is a fact that over twenty demonstrations of force over the last decade -- conducted at the right time and place – sent powerful messages that undoubtedly helped to keep the peace.

Examples: sending two carriers into the Persian Gulf for six months in 1997-98 to deter Iraq; maintaining an Adriatic carrier presence to promote stability during the Serbian elections in the fall of 2000. And recall the events of March 1996, when increased tensions between China and Taiwan culminated in Chinese ballistic missile "tests" in the waters off Taiwan. Financial markets went south quickly in response to the threat of conflict, and the fate of Taiwanese democracy and the outcome of their elections appeared to be at risk, jeopardizing the long-term stability of the region. In response, the Independence battlegroup -- already in the Western Pacific - was ordered to take station off the east coast of Taiwan, to be joined shortly thereafter by the Nimitz battlegroup. In the face of overwhelming force, tensions were quelled, stabilizing the peace and security of the region, and demonstrating our capability and resolve to the rest of the world. Shortly thereafter, the financial markets stabilized, so by helping to create a framework of regional security and stability, we prevented further escalation while quieting economic turmoil-the best of both worlds. It would have been nearly impossible for nondeployed forces to provide this much impact in this short a period of time.

In addition to demonstrating U.S. commitment to defending our national interests, forward deployed forces also provide military engagement opportunities that promote interoperability and improved ties between nations. Similarly, forward deployed naval forces help to establish a regional knowledge base as we train and operate in the enemy's "back yard."

Assuring Access

One of the premises of our national military strategy is that the United States must have immediate and sustained access to any region of the world at any time. In the coming decades, it is possible that our access may be challenged by nations that seek to expand their regional influence in ways that compete with the interests of the United States. For example, it is conceivable that land-based cruise missiles, mines, advanced conventionally powered submarines, and increasingly sophisticated space-based satellite targeting could emerge as a threat. Some nations may also choose to develop ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, coordinating the employment of these systems with an information warfare effort. However, even if these threats do come to fruition, it is likely that they would be even more effective when used against fixed land-based forces than they would against moving naval forces.

Nevertheless, assuring immediate and sustained access in the face of these challenges is an issue for the entire joint force. Naval forces must play a critical role in enabling access for land-based forces arriving from outside the theater. Naval forces on rotational deployment, already present in regions of concern, can provide much of the early combat power for any contingency, while easing the entry of joint combat forces.

For example, as forces begin to flow into theater, surface combatants can project missile defense for forces at sea and ashore, protecting coastal airfields, ports of debarkation and amphibious lodgment areas. These maritime TBMD forces— operating freely from the high seas– would also ease the demands on airlift in the critical early phases of conflict, delaying the point at which land-based TBMD forces must be brought in, thereby allowing a more rapid flow of offensive forces into the theater.

Our forward deployed naval forces— already on station— also provide timely offensive power projection through carrier strikes, cruise missile strikes, special operations capable amphibious ships, submarines and surface combatants. This firepower from the sea will clear the way for joint operations ashore until the joint forces are firmly established and sustainable.

Facilitating Transformation

The Navy must play a key role in enabling the transformation efforts of the other services. The Navy's inherent capability to create the conditions that ease access for the introduction of the other components of the joint force will be critical to the efforts of the Army and Air Force to become more lighter, more expeditionary, and able to operate at a much higher tempo with a smaller footprint ashore. At the same time, the Navy must continue to support the efforts of the Marine Corps to move the point of entry beyond the beachhead.

Already expeditionary, the Navy's own transformation is about changes in force posture– not necessarily force structure. The Navy will focus on the ability to act faster than an adversary by an evolution of its force posture from platform-centric to network-centric operations, with an emphasis on effects-based warfare.

To understand this transformation, one needs to appreciate that most Navy platforms are long-term capital investments— two-thirds of the ships sailing the seas or being built today will still be with us in 2020. Therefore, to understand the Navy ' s transformation, one must look beyond the steel of the hulls, to look into the guts of the ships and aircraft to see how they have evolved over time with improved capabilities and new doctrines.

For example, during the 1980s, just 14 Navy platforms- the aircraft carriers- were able to strike targets ashore. When the Cold War ended, the Navy adjusted its doctrine to focus in directing power ashore "From the Sea," and as a result, today's Navy has 144 surface ships and submarines that can strike targets ashore.

Similarly, less than a decade ago only about a dozen aircraft in a carrier air wing were capable of delivering precision ordnance. Today, all fifty carrier air wing strike fighters are PGM-capable.

The combat capability of each individual ship has also been enhanced. During Desert Storm, the notional air wing was capable of striking 162 aim points in a successful day of normal flight operations. Improved weapons and aircraft make today's air wing capable of striking more than four times as many targets as it could in Desert Storm— with fewer total airframes. By 2010, currently programmed improvements will result in an air wing capable of striking more than six times as many aim points as its Desert Storm counterpart.

And the transformation continues. The future Navy will not just limit stealth to its submarines. Surface ships will encompass low-observable technologies as well. Further, our new generation of ships and aircraft and will use open system architectures and modular designs to allow for the rapid incorporation of emerging technologies— all while reducing manning.

Again, the Navy's continuing transformation will support our ability to conduct sustained combat operations at sea even if the anti-access specter comes alive. By being present forward— projecting both offensive and defensive power ashore while maintaining sea superiority— naval forces will create the conditions that will enable access for the joint force, while assisting the other Services to become more expeditionary. At the same time, the Navy itself is transforming to the network centric force of the future— a force with improved stealth, distributed firepower, and improved lethality in each platform— allowing the other services to dovetail their transformation efforts into ours, helping to eliminate overhead and reduce the footprint ashore.

Investment for the Future

Our current challenge is to choose our investment wisely, so that the right capabilities can be provided in a fiscally constrained environment. The Navy's modernization and recapitalization programs specifically address asymmetric and area denial threats by investing not only in new mission areas that will continue to assure command of the seas, but also in the transformational systems that provide a knowledge-superior networked force using cyberspace and space to assure speed of command.

The Navy's investments in capabilities like Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, high-speed/high capacity command and control links, and networked ship information technology installations are some of the means by which naval forces will be netted with other organic and national sensors to permit a tempo of operations superior to that of any likely adversary.

At the same time, we need to emphasize evolving mission areas that are necessary to support the Navy's contribution to the joint warfight, like counter-mine capabilities , unmanned undersea vehicles, and a network of distributed acoustic sensors and shooters to detect, identify and clear mines so that merchant shipping will be able to bring in land-based forces.

Learning from the Past

As we move forward, it is vital that we continue to build upon the Navy's long history of experimentation. From the "Squadron of Evolution" in the late 1800's, which developed tactics for the Great White Fleet, to the USS Langley carrier prototype, which demonstrated naval airpower during the "inter-war years," to Submarine Development Squadron Twelve's establishment in 1949, which still leads our undersea experimentation efforts today, experimentation has been an integral part of the Navy's culture. Experimentation ships like USS Norton Sound (dedicated to missile and gun system development) , USS Antietam (antisubmarine carrier and hunter-killer tactics) and USS Glover (anti-submarine systems) delivered to the fleet tactics, systems and concepts of operations that directly increased warfighting capability.

Take, for example, the "inter-war years." Often cited as a particularly active time in the modem age of naval experimentation, inter-war experimentation resulted in the development of the aircraft carrier that was a major player in the victory in the Pacific during World War Il. Since that time, the Navy has experimented with different propulsion technologies in ships (steam, nuclear, gas turbine), aircraft (propeller- and jet-driven, catapult launched, single mission to multi-role), in hull-form technologies (deep-diving submarines, hydrofoils, dual-hull, acoustic quieting, stealth), weapon systems (self-defense, strike, missiles, torpedoes), sensors (radar, active and passive sonar, infrared, electronic surveillance), and doctrines (undersea warfare, night air combat operations, Marine Corp maneuver, strike, projecting defense, information-enabled)— all to counter emerging threats and increase overall warfighting capability.

Even as Navy force structure has been reduced from Cold War levels, the threats to which the Navy must now respond have proliferated. From a single, well-understood and formidable threat, the world has evolved into an environment of multiple, poorly understood and unpredictable challenges around the world. Kosovo, Korea, the Persian Gulf, terrorism, international drug cartels are some of the national security challenges around the globe to which the United States Navy must responding every single day. The shift from blue water to littoral operations- to directly influence events ashore as embodied in " ... From the Sea"- required an exploration of new concepts of operations and systems, as well as new opportunities provided by emerging technology. A few years ago, the Navy recognized that future naval concepts and capabilities required a culture of innovation and a systematic mechanism to explore new ideas. As a result, the Navy Warfare Development Command (NWDC) was established and chartered to coordinate Navy experimentation in concert with other centers of excellence like Submarine Development Group that were focused on fully developing tactical capabilities through active experimentation.

Guiding the future

As in the inter-war years, the Navy is now conducting a broad series of Fleet Battle Experiments; orchestrated by NWDC and executed by Fleet Commanders. To that end, the Navy has set aside forces to explore an emerging core competency. Two Aegis cruisers will be dedicated to exploring how we will project defense ashore with Area Theater Ballistic Missile Defense. A third ship-the Third Fleet flagship- will be dedicated to developing information-related and command and control operations. We have already developed new concepts from these efforts, and the resulting systems— like the Naval Fires Control Network— will significantly increase the Navy's ability to project offensive power ashore. To ensure that future investments return the right kind of warfighting capability, it is important to further invigorate Navy experimentation despite the presence of a fiscally challenging environment.

But to be effective, experimentation must be focused: experimentation priorities must be established; frequent experiments are necessary if we wish to uncover the best ideas; assigned units must continue conduct real world operations so that they remain "grounded" in what's really important; we need to continue both joint and fleet battle experiments to investigate both joint and component concepts of operations; most importantly, we must not be afraid to allow our experiments to fail so we learn what does not work along with what does. If we're afraid to fail in our experiments, then we will never truly be innovative. As Linus Pauling said, "The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas." The path of the future lay in the level of experimentation we embark on today.

Naval Imperative as a Moral Imperative

Sovereign power in the global commons is derived from command of the seas. This is more than a Naval imperative, it is a moral imperative. Naval forces are the only tool the nation has at its disposal that allows us to fly our flag with impunity at foreign ports and on distant seas, the power to influence in war and peace. Whatever the course our destiny will cause us to follow, sovereign Naval power is— and will continue to be— the vital element of our national security.

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