Milan Vego continues to offer hard hitting pieces in the Armed Forces Journal. While we don't always agree with his points, they are always fascinating contributions and his latest piece, Obsessed with tactics, The Navy neglects the importance of operational art doesn't disappoint.
The Navy today is overly focused on the tactical employment of its combat forces, in its doctrine and practice. This might not be a problem in case of a conflict with numerically and technologically inferior forces. However, the Navy would have a much greater problem and possibly suffer a major defeat in a war with a relatively strong opponent that better balances the employment of his forces at the tactical and operational levels of war. The Navy’s superior technology and tactics would not be sufficient to overcome its lack of operational thinking.The article is an excellent read in full. We find several of the points quite interesting, and while we don't agree on all points we do observe there are a number of examples where tactical thinking is emphasized and where strategy is lacking. In particular we really like how Milan Vego has set up the debate for Strike Warfare.
The Navy’s over-reliance on technology is also one of the main reasons for its focus on the tactics of employment of platforms, weapons/sensors and combat arms. Moreover, the Navy grossly neglects tactics for employing several naval combat arms or combined arms tactics. Among numerous naval tactical publications, there is not a single one that explains the employment of surface forces, submarines, naval aircraft and combat arms of other services in combination. Another serious problem is that the Navy still lacks a doctrine for the operational level of war at sea. This lack of a broader operational framework greatly complicates writing subordinate tactical doctrinal publications.
Most of the Navy’s attention is given to strike warfare, while so-called “defensive warfare” areas, such as antisubmarine warfare, defense and protection of maritime trade, and mine warfare, are given a short shrift. The fate of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) in World War II shows what can happen when the focus is almost exclusively on tactics and offensive employment of one’s combat forces. The Japanese were fixated on the single so-called decisive battle. That preoccupation guided the IJN’s tactical doctrine and ship designs resulting in a powerful surface force that was one-dimensional and brittle. Perhaps there is nothing worse than confusing tactics with strategy, and strategy with the conduct of war, as the IJN did in the interwar years.
The Navy’s over-reliance on tactics has become even more pronounced with its adoption of network-centric warfare, now commonly referred to as network-centric operations (NCO). The Navy also became one of the strongest proponents of the so-called effects-based approach to operations (EBAO). Despite claims to the contrary, NCO and EBAO use tactical techniques and procedures to accomplish the objectives across the levels of war. Yet purely tactical actions such as strikes cannot replace, major operations as the main method of accomplishing operational objectives, at least not yet
NCO also provides, through the FORCEnet network architecture, the key component for the execution of the Navy’s vision for the 21st century, Sea Power 21. Except for some elements of Sea Shield and Sea Basing, Sea Power 21 is not focused on the operational level of war. For example, one of the major components of Sea Power 21, Sea Strike, is essentially a tactical concept. Among other things, it envisages that “netted fires and automated decision aids will accelerate the launching of precision attacks on critical targets in order to create appropriate effects.”
The Navy’s narrow and tactical focus is highlighted in almost all its official statements regarding the employment of major tactical forces — the carrier strike groups, expeditionary strike groups, strike or theater ballistic missile surface action groups, and maritime prepositioning groups — as the principal forces subordinate to joint force commander. The numbered and theater fleets, such as the 7th Fleet and the Pacific Fleet, are rarely mentioned. Yet only theater forces have the capabilities to accomplish operational and strategic objectives in war at sea.
When reading this article our discussions trended towards a focus on the node vs a focus on the network, and what each piece has come to represent. A node can be described as a tactical application of technology for "effects" while a network is a strategic application of theater forces for influence. Milan Vego didn't quite carry it that far, but we will.
We think there is a good argument that the node approach to naval warfare describes the Navy's own resource priorities. The tactical mindset would immediately explain why a system like the Cyclone class Patrol Ship would be dismissed by the "effects-based approach" and given up to the Coast Guard, only now to realize how effective these platforms are as part of the strategic theater network.
Aside from the obvious tactical view taken in the means the Navy is developing for executing strategy, the tactical ways observed from Milan Vego are interesting to note. Sea Basing is an interesting example, a 2 battalion metric for offensive operations laid down as a requirement by the Marines is a good example of a tactical requirement for Sea Basing replacing a strategic operational concept of Sea Basing. We wonder what the strategic view of Sea Basing would be if the metric of measurement was slightly different, for example a metric that required support for one Army Stryker BCT, two MEUs, and the integration of three Air Force Wings with naval forces for strategic influence of a host nation. Note the difference, the Marine scenario of the 2 MEB requirement is a tactical maneuver and tactical objective requirement, where the second scenario is a strategic requirement for developing, integrating, and supporting a network towards influence of a strategic objective. We believe that depending upon the view, the nodes would be quite different.
We believe influence at the operational level of war can be assessed based on network metrics rather than node metrics, and network strength can be a measurement for strategic influence just like models that assess tactical influence that individual nodes contribute. We believe that with such an approach the value of strategic speed vs tactical speed would become more obvious as a metric, and any measured value of just-in-time logistics would immediately become subordinate to the value of a strategic reserve. It will not be the tactical node's, rather the strategic networks (either connected or disconnected) that will ultimately influence the operational level of war through improving the human decision process. If it was truly the other way around, one node in Washington DC could make all decisions, a theory long proven a fallacy of network-centric operations.
We believe the tactical view of individual network node's at the operational level of war has allowed the metrics that are used to access success in doctrinal planning to be skewed towards the tactical strengths, resulting in several problems when taking a strategic view of the Navy. Only by taking the strategic view of the network will metric realignment take place towards greater understanding of requirements for warfighting under network-centric operations models at the operational level of war from sea in the modern era.
It is easy enough to prove if either Milan Vega or our own observations are correct in these assertions, simply turn off the network connections between theater forces during exercises. If doctrine is right theater forces will perform responsibilities towards theater strategic objectives without the guidance from central nodes. If doctrine is wrong, one will observe a mesh of tactical moves with no strategic ends.