Friday, September 25, 2009

Ask a Great Question; Get the Non Answer

Some very interesting questions asked in the Senate hearing on Thursday regarding the new Ballistic Missile Defense plan for Europe (video here). Emelie Rutherford of Defense Daily (subscription only) has the scoop with Navy Ship Role In New Missile-Defense Architecture Questioned.

Her article begins by noting the agreement and disagreement of the plan was not along party lines, it was along industry lines. Most Democrats agreed with the plan being from Raytheon country, except Senator Claire McCaskill, who works in a Boeing state. Joseph Lieberman apparently criticized the plan, which I think is interesting considering the biggest winner in the Presidents decision is Israel. Senator Lieberman doesn't trust Russia though, so that is a big part of it. What caught my attention though was John McCain.

McCain asked Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright if the new arrangement--which relies heavily on the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system and SM-3s, which are intended for future ground installation as well--will spur a budget request for additional Navy ships.

Cartwright, a Marine Corps general, said he would “have to go back and look” and noted existing ships are currently being outfitted with the Aegis BMD system.

McCain replied: “We’re certainly giving (the ships) additional missions.”

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a former Army Ranger who spoke favorably about the new missile-defense setup, also questioned Cartwright on Navy ships needed to carry out the new strategy.

Cartwright said Navy cruisers and destroyers are capable of fulfilling the need, without elaborating further on ship numbers.

Under the new four-phase missile-defense arrangement, warships equipped with SM-3 Block IA interceptors will be deployed to the Mediterranean Sea in 2011, and then in a second phase enhanced SM-3 Block IB missiles will be deployed at sea and land locations in 2015. The Navy already is in the process of increasing the number of vessels equipped with Aegis BMD, and requested funding in the pending FY ’10 budget to upgrade an additional six ships.
The panel giving testimony is Honorable Michèle A. Flournoy, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, General James E. Cartwright, USMC, Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Lieutenant General Patrick J. O’Reilly (PDF), USA, Director, Missile Defense Agency. These are incredibly smart people, which is why the answer General Cartwright gave doesn't fly.

Senator McCain and Senator Reed are asking the best, most obvious, and most important question regarding the BMD decision; does the shift towards sea based missile defense place a resource burden on the Navy they are capable of dealing with, or do they require more ships? Are we supposed to believe this incredibly smart panel came to the Senate to explain the BMD decision without asking the Navy the same question? General Cartwright has "to go back and look” whether the Navy is resourced properly for this? This question was evaluated before the BMD decision was made, right?

The non answer tells the story. The Navy clearly sees the need for more ships, and the administration disagrees with the Navy. The question is a 'yes or no' question, and the 'pretend to be ignorant' response to the most obvious question regarding the decision means the Navy believes they need more ships, but the administration disagrees.

Lets continue with the excellent reporting by Emelie Rutherford.
The four-star general reiterated yesterday that the new setup would be largely initiated via the fiscal year 2011 budget next year, and thus will be debated on Capitol Hill for “a full year.”

However, O’Reilly noted the Pentagon would like to rejigger previous-year funding as well.

For the new arrangement, Pentagon officials want approval to redirect some funding in the pending FY ’10 budget and also to spend FY ’09 monies--both research and development and military construction monies--that was never spent on the previous Eastern European “third site,” he said in writing.

“So if we had access to that funding (from) FY ‘09, then we have sufficient funding in which to meet the timelines, especially the earlier timelines, of developing the unmanned-aerial vehicles, all the research and development that we refer to, the long-term development, and get it started now, as well as the short term deployments focused on 2011 and the testing, which we are proposing, that goes with this,” O’Reilly told the SASC.
This is a key point for people who disagree with the BMD decision. By moving money in FY09 and FY10 now, the Pentagon can move on the BMD decision now while pretending to entertain the debate over the FY11 budget cycle.

Given the emerging strategic environment, particularly in the Pacific, I think the decision to consolidate funding and research efforts towards a sea based ballistic missile defense system is a smart move.

BUT, there are clearly questions whether the Navy is properly configured and resourced to support this, and everyone needs to be on the same page when answering the questions raised by Senator McCain and Senator Reed. The non-answer suggests there is a difference in opinion. Does the Navy need more ships? With the AEGIS fleet tasked at 160% over readiness according to Colin Clark, not to mention the hit to the FY 2011 shipbuilding budget, it appears the answer is a resounding yes.

Failure to resource the Navy for the Obama administrations first major defense policy decision is the fastest way for the administration to get beat up in public discussion regarding shifting BMD in Europe to the sea based option. I'm still surprised the Heritage Foundation didn't lead with that point, I guess they expected otherwise? If the Obama administration didn't actually resource the Navy for the major policy decision regarding BMD, and expects to follow that up with a poorly resourced strategy for the war in Afghanistan...

I think there are two ways to approach increasing resources. The Navy will say the total number of big surface combatants requirement necessary to fill roles and missions will need to be between 90-100, perhaps higher. The alternative approach is to address lower spectrum warfare and presence requirements with something other than an AEGIS ship. For example, 2-3 AEGIS ships are part of the piracy patrol today, a complete mismatch of resources when AEGIS ships are in high demand for other missions and roles.

I don't see how the LCS can possibly claim to realistically do a presence patrol for the Navy though. The LCS lacks the endurance to do an actual patrol by itself without a significant logistics tail, not to mention there is a mission module mismatch issue. The only way the LCS works as a patrol frigate is to send an amphibious ship with it to keep the LCS gassed up, and if you are going to do that, you might as well take a hard look at Influence Squadrons, or some other low intensity, green water solution.

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One final thought. Emelie Rutherford's article seeks an opinion from Ronald O'Rourke in this piece. I think that is interesting, since Ronald O'Rourke is actually paid by CRS to avoid offering opinions unless directly asked by Congress, which is exactly what he does in the article. Ron presents the facts and offers no opinion as to what they suggest. I listed the facts on BMD (borrowed in part from Ron's work btw) in this post, so didn't quote that portion of the article.

Where are the think tanks when it comes to the Navy? The only person I ever see publicly commenting on Navy issues anymore is Dr. Loren Thompson, who isn't even really a Navy guy. I guess we can assume the think tank community is swimming in money to the point that putting their brand out there with analysis and opinion from an expert is unnecessary? This is where Bob Work used to be the 'go to guy' for analysis, which might be why he was an obvious choice for Undersecretary of the Navy. I sympathize with Emelie Rutherford here, all that proclaimed intellectual talent in Washington and the only person she can find by deadline to give her analysis of the hearing happens to be the only guy in the Navy discussion who is paid to avoid offering an opinion?

No wonder this silly blog, often unpolished and unprofessional (speaking of my stuff here, the other guys are 100% quality), averages 10,000 visits daily. ID has become one of the only public opinions on Navy issues in all of Washington, and elsewhere. If you work in a think tank and this piece of trivia bothers you, put your name and number on the black book of the DC reports. They may actually call you and ask for your opinion, and your think tank may benefit from the exposure you give. After all, mindshare is a form of influence. The media is an easy way to reach the greater interested Navy community, and giving a smart opinion can shape the opinions of others.

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