Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hello POM 12, Goodbye LCS

Navies in the 21st century have two fundamental roles. The first entails handling regional disorder and “messiness.” And dealing with it is of paramount importance—from piracy off the Horn of Africa, to drug, arms, and human trafficking around the globe. This would show the clear implications of the “two-way linkages between good order at sea and good order on land and the simple fact that, without it, the human ability to fully exploit the potential value of the sea will be severely constrained.” The second focuses on more traditional maritime power projection.

Even as navies respond to or anticipate expanding maritime security and constabulary tasks, the requirements to project regionally concentrated combat-credible maritime power to (1) limit regional conflict with deployed, decisive maritime power; (2) deter major-power war; and (3) win our nation’s wars also continue to increase. Every once in a while, in addition to humanitarian assistance and disaster response, the Navy will be directed to kill people and destroy things. The cost to accommodate both of these trends comes at a time when the Navy and the nation are cash-strapped, with skyrocketing deficits and defense budgets driving political and economic pressures to contain and cut spending. The irony is palpable: as the importance of the Navy (and Marine Corps and Coast Guard) continues to rise, the capability and capacity for it to continue to be everything to everyone, everywhere, are being called into question.

'Tipping' the Future Fleet, By Captain George Galdorisi, U.S. Navy (Retired), Antonio Siordia, and Scott C. Truver, Proceedings Magazine, October 2010
The POM 12 budget cycle has arrived, and once again we turn to the pages of Proceedings Magazine to get a glimpse into the Navy discussion being waged in Washington. Robert Haddick over at the Small Wars Journal recognized the debate when he saw it, and potentially Spencer Ackerman did too over at Danger Room. CNA's report The Navy at a Tipping Point: Maritime Dominance at Stake wasn't the starting point for the POM 12 debate, it was the starting point for the POM 12 reality.

Tipping Point has become something of a catalyst within Navy strategy debates, and if you haven't read it yet - not reading the report basically leaves you ignorant to what is going on in POM 12. The details of Tipping Point are only part of the discussion though, because it is the impact of the Tipping Point follow-up discussion and debate that is having the most influence. Once you have read the report - the rest of this post will make more sense.

Background

CNA's Tipping Point lays out 5 types of force structures based on a probable future guided by assumptions and trends. The five types of force options are explained in 'Tipping' the Future Fleet as follows:
  • Status Quo Navy that lets the bets ride
  • 2-Hub Navy maintaining combat-credible hubs built around carrier strike groups (CSGs) in the Central Command (CENTCOM) and Pacific Command (PACOM) areas of responsibility (AORs)
  • 1+Hub Navy built around a CSG in PACOM or CENTCOM, but not both
  • Shaping Navy focused on peacetime engagement activities and crisis response, and
  • Surge Navy with most naval forces brought home.
In mid-June the Washington Naval Strategy group held an informal, completely off the record discussion on Tipping Point where Robbie Harris essentially gave a briefing of the report. What was specifically said by the various attendees was important to everyone in the room, but what has resulted since the meeting is what is important to the rest of us. The meeting can be looked at as the "come to Jesus" moment for the DC naval strategist community; it marked the point where everyone realized budget cuts to the Navy isn't about your pet hobby horse - rather about everyone's pet hobby horse. The question isn't "what do you want the Navy to be?" The question is "what will the Navy be?" Words like 'want' have no place in the discussion anymore, because the requirements for 'needs' will no longer be met either. The June meeting basically discredited those who remained in the camp of the "status quo navy that lets the bets ride" as being less than serious contributors to the POM 12 discussion.

By any measurement, that achievement alone made the June meeting very influential, and Robbie Harris deserves a ribbon or gold star or something.

What I have been waiting for are signs of where various influential folks sit in the options facing the Navy. That is what made Spencer Ackerman's Danger Room article so interesting actually, because based on that reporting at Danger Room - one might draw the conclusion the CNO sits in the "Surge Navy" camp where you might find an offshore balancing policy. That isn't really what the CNO said though, not if you look closer at the CNO's speech (DOC):
Perhaps of greatest strategic importance over time, American military power without a global navy presence would see the United States forfeit the opportunity to shape a favorable security environment in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. That is the ‘landscape’ upon which we will act for the foreseeable future – the reality of our surroundings which may not be evident to many Americans given the immediacy of our ground campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the specter of international terrorism.

But the issues should not be alien to us, just as Americas’ requirement for her naval forces to contribute across the range of potential threats is not alien to those of us in the United States Navy.

In Bob’s book, “Cutting the Fuse,” there’s a compelling case for what has come to be known as ‘offshore balancing.” Military capabilities delivered from over the horizon by arguing that sustained foreign military occupations are the predominant cause of suicide terrorism. I think this is fertile ground for discussion though because the political impact of terrorism on the current security environment will color our access in a range of options well into the future.

We look back on the cold war era, and certainly the post-cold war era, with a sense that there was relative peace. There were several conflicts over that span of time – some major and protracted – but they were exceptions to the ‘normal operating state’ and have already been eclipsed in length by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In fact, Secretary (Robert) Gates reminded an audience of college students just the other week that we are now engaged in “the longest sustained combat in American history.”

Order in those eras was not maintained by large numbers of troops on the ground, but instead by a credible military presence offshore – deliverable from the sea or from the skies. So it was that in these old orders peace predominated over the course of five decades, due in no small part to a constantly deployed navy… a Navy whose contributions Samuel Huntington (a University of Chicago-trained man) would characterize in 1954 as Americas’ new “base-less” ability to project power inland with carrier-based aircraft, amphibious lift, and naval artillery.
Roughead's Hybrid View

Tipping Point is brilliant in that it lays the conceptual framework for working through the challenges that lay ahead for the US Navy, and the study provides a framework of options for developing operational concepts and force structures that can manage these challenges. I don't know much about Daniel Whiteneck, Michael Price, or Neil Jenkins; but I have read enough work from Peter Swartz to know that his contributions are intended to inspire critical thought in others rather than be a rigid standard to apply. In that light I see Tipping Point as primarily a launchpad for debating the 'ways' naval forces will operate in the future with a clear understanding that form must follow function, and the force structure will be determined by default once the naval operational priorities are defined in detail.

I find what Admiral Roughead is saying in his speech to be very compelling, and I'm right there in line with him. I agree with the CNO completely that there is fertile ground for discussion on how Naval forces can contribute to a greater degree in managing the very serious threat of global terrorism in a way that doesn't require land war by the US Army in Asia. I also agree that the US Navy can make responsible choices in this critical period of budget cuts to insure American naval domainance well into the future even as regional competitors grow relative to the strength of the US Navy.

If you examine closely, Roughead's hybrid take on Tipping Point reveals he is buying into parts of the '2-hub approach' - concentrating on the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean - but also the 'Surge approach' that recognizes the need for a less activist policy that focuses on deterrence rather than force on force engagement on land. That suggests new ways of capacity building in partners are needed, and extending cooperative security models in unique ways in traditional areas will be a requirement.

Possible Futures

Both a "2-hub" and "Surge" approach as outlined in Tipping Point would recommend a force structure that focuses primarily on high end capabilities like aircraft carriers, large surface combatants, and submarines. That means you trim the force at the low end, almost certainly starting with canceling the Littoral Combat Ship. If you would have asked me a month ago if the Navy intended to cancel the LCS, I would have answered you 'unlikely.'

However, I strongly believe we are on the verge of an announcement that the Littoral Combat Ship is about to get canceled. It started with this news:
The Pentagon has again postponed a high-level meeting on the Navy's new Littoral Combat Ship program that was due take place on Oct. 29, a spokeswoman said, citing scheduling issues.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said no new date had been set for the meeting of the Defense Acquisition Board, which was expected to pave the way for the Navy to award a $5 billion contract for its new class of coastal warships.
The only reason the Navy would push the date back for selecting a winner of the LCS competition is if the Littoral Combat Ship is on the chopping block for POM 12. Well, as Bloomberg quotes Admiral Mullen discussing future defense budget cuts, that appears to be exactly what is happening.
“We’re going through that process right now,” Mullen said. “Major programs from all the services which aren’t performing well, which can’t get themselves under control in terms of cost and schedule, they’re going to be looking at either being slowed down dramatically or being eliminated...”

“If LCS is unable to contain itself in terms of cost and schedule, then I don’t think it has much of a future,” he said.
Makes sense to me, LCS is a great idea that has ultimately been executed as poorly as possible. The costs do not come close to justifying the capability promised, and to be honest I'm surprised so many in Washington are willing to publicly demonstrate how broken Washington is not to have canceled this program already. Put plainly, there really isn't anything of value to salvage here in the ship itself, only the module components matter and they are several years away anyway. One key point everyone should understand here is that the Navy could in fact (and likely will, IMO) dump the LCS, but not replace it with another ship type like a frigate. If you are expecting an alternative platform to emerge from the Littoral Combat Ships demise, you have failed to realize the reality of the budget situation as outlined in the debate that has resulted from the realities outlined in CNA's Tipping Point.

In my mind, it does make a lot of sense to dump the Littoral Combat Ship program if your focus is to commit to a 2-hub approach with certain surge characteristics. If you think about what a hybrid 2-hub + Surge (2H+S) approach might mean, you can come up with several operational ideas how naval forces can contribute strategically. I want to highlight that in the 2-hub scenario I see, it is probably different than the one envisioned by CNA in that neither of the 2-hubs will be as active in traditional force operations as they are today. In fact, I would augment both hubs with lower tier force options built around multinational frameworks similar to NATO task forces and Task Force 151.

For example, when looking at how to sustain presence in traditional areas without high availability of low end assets, these types of ideas as offered by LCDR Benjamin Armstrong at the USNI blog offers tremendous value to the US Navy as a way to develop a hybrid 2-hub + Surge (2H+S) approach to force structure but remaining present at a minimum level globally. If you give serious thought to what a hybrid 2-hub + Surge (2H+S) approach might require, concentrating on the high end while being creative with concepts like a multinational Influence Squadrons might allow the US Navy to reduce global presence in quantity while remaining focused on quality assets, and in a limited capacity capable of supporting the assets of partners in security cooperation.

The US Navy cannot wait for the tipping point to be reached, the process of managing the future must start with POM 12. If that means the LCS goes away, then it goes away. If that means concentration of finite budget resources on high end capability, then that is what must be done. But what those two choices mean is the US Navy must also commit to experimenting with new ideas for lower cost presence operations, expanding the development of multinational task forces, and make other operational adjustments to compensate for the loss of low end capability to avoid sacrificing commitments to partners. I believe there are a range of new ideas that should be explored, and failure to experiment operational alternatives over the next few years in search of cooperative low cost solutions to compensate for reduced overall US Navy capacity would in my opinion suggest the US Navy has already passed the tipping point.

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