Sunday, June 5, 2011

Toward a New Maritime Strategy

Eighteen months ago, I wrote a blog post here in which I raised the question of whether the world situation had so dramatically changed that the nation's Maritime Strategy should be revised, scrapped, or updated.  It engendered a nice exchange with the estimable Robert Farley, including this post.  Part of the interest in my view derived from the close connection I had with CS-21--and the novelty of someone so closely connected to it, questioning its continuing viability.  If I had these thoughts then, I am now even more convinced that it is time to move on from CS-21.

CS-21 was the Maritime Strategy of a country in full, an economic powerhouse, at the top of its game.  Its leadership in the world, and its ability to lead--while sometimes questioned--were never doubted.  As I wrote in December 2009, the strategy debuted about a week after the stock market hit its all time high.  While it recognized the importance of the ongoing war on terror, it did not fixate on it.  It was a forward looking strategic narrative appropriate for a nation with no peers and confident in its future.  It took as its central proposition the existence of a global system from which the US disproportionately benefited, a system which Seapower disproportionately (in comparison to other military power) sustained and extended.  While it recognized the rise of other powers, it did not cite any as particularly troublesome, and it held forth the prospect of their participation in the very system Seapower underwrote.  Many times in the development of CS-21, the 80's Maritime Strategy authors would opine that "we had it easier--we had a threat, we knew what it was, and we knew how to beat it."  Because there was no such existential threat, our strategy had to hang its intellectual coat on a different peg--in case of CS-21, a systemic approach.

Lately, I've thought a lot about how we went about creating CS-21, and the choice of the "strategic narrative" as the vehicle for communicating the value of Seapower.  I believe that given the world situation at the time and the US place in it, we chose the best path.  If I got the phone call today that I received in August 2006 telling me that I would come to DC and lead the development of a new strategy, I'm virtually certain I'd advocate for a completely new direction.  I'd like to lay that direction out a bit here for those who may find themselves in that position in the near future.

The Threat

Because there was no serious threat around which to wrap one's intellect in 2007, we chose to focus on a narrative centered on the global system, and Seapower's role in eliminating, mitigating, or preventing "shocks" to that system.  I believe we can now with sufficient certainty identify the most relevant naval threat to the smooth functioning of the global system is the ability of littoral powers to deny access to the maritime commons.  Why is this so troubling?  Because the prospect of the "Balkanization" of the commons is by definition a threat to globalization, the force that has raised billions of people from grinding poverty and the primary delivery mechanism of prosperity to the American public.  The global system depends on the smooth functioning of the global commons, and if nation states claim national sovereignty or regional suzerainty over the commons--and militarize in order to back up those claims, the very existence of the global system is in doubt. 

Whether we look to China's burgeoning capabilities to raise the risks of operating in the South China Sea and elsewhere in her defensive perimeter, or Iran's growing desire and capability to create a no-go zone in the Arabian Gulf--the threat is no longer general and diffused--it is specific and growing.  A new strategy would necessarily recognize these threats, it would name them, and would lay out how Seapower will evolve to overcome them.  And yes--this would include the associated force structure and resources, something the clarification of the threat enables. 

The Competition

A new maritime strategy would shift from a strategy of cooperation to one more evenly balanced between cooperation  and competition--in this case, competition with China.  Many readers will chuckle aloud and shake their heads as they read this, looking at the size and capability of China's naval forces and comparing them to ours--today.  The will see that our force dwarfs theirs, in size and capability.  They will cite articles such as this one, declaring the Chinese aircraft carrier to be a "...piece of junk..."   They will cite the continuing lack of clear evidence that the PLA-N seeks to challenge our position as the world's dominant Navy.  And they will completely miss the big picture.  

This is a competition with China that began in 1996, when our carrier airpower steamed boldly through the Taiwan Strait in response to mainland saber-rattling and intrusion in Taiwanese domestic politics.  It was heightened by the performance of the US military in the Balkans, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan--conflicts the Chinese have studied closely and from which they've gained great insight.  To those who scoff at the threat posed by China, I would ask only one thing:  do a side by side comparison of their Seapower portfolio in 1996 and what they have today--and think about how that line might be extended in the future.  While we haven't been sitting still for the past 15 years, they have been obsessed  with a competition we have yet to join.

The Network

This new maritime strategy would place at the center of naval capability a persistent battle network, largely space-based but robustly backed by routinely exercised airborne and terrestrial battle networks, the result of which would be end-user agnosticism to the network into which he is plugged.  The network would no longer be considered an "enabler" of combat power, but the source of it, as increasingly complex platforms and systems reach their full potential in a persistently networked environment.  Given the choice of investments in the architecture or the platforms, Navy leaders will choose the information dominance architecture.

The Dive

There is nothing the US military does better (in comparison to other militaries) than dominate the undersea domain.  We must seize this present-day competitive advantage and up the ante to levels so thoroughly unmatchable that adventurous and destabilizing actions by China and others are deterred by what they know we are capable of and by what the fear we are capable of.  We must field new variants of submarine launched land-attack missiles capable in space denied environments; we must field a whole generation of large, persistent UUV's with multiple payload options to include mines, UAV's, other UUV's, or communication systems--to name only a few.  We must double down on research into communicating with such vehicles at speed and depth.  We must continue to build attack submarines at AT LEAST two per year.  And we must create a world-wide supply chain to ensure forward deployed submarines can be quickly reloaded from available munitions.  The days of low inventory are over.

The Team

The Navy and Marine Corps must integrate--cooperation is no longer sufficient.  The strategy must make the case that modern US Seapower is more than ships--it is the airpower of one of the world's most powerful air forces and the landpower of one of the worlds' most feared military forces.  Navy-Marine Corps 21 (you can use that, if you'd like) represents the most powerful and cost effective fighting force on the face of the earth, useful in peace for the deterrence of war and the assurance of allies, useful in war for the pursuit of war aims and for enabling the flow of follow-on Joint forces. 

The Industrial Base

This is one I wish we had tackled in CS-21, but failure to do so now would be irresponsible.  We must make the American public aware of the strategic benefit of a robust maritime industrial base, (to include tier 2 and tier 3 suppliers) it's impact on jobs and the economy, and its contribution to our security and prosperity.  Once some of these industries are gone, they will be difficult (if not impossible) to replace--at least by any measure of cost-effectiveness.  I have heard the CNO stress this several times--and I am heartened by his focus.


Friends and allies will remain critical to this strategy, as will temporally fleeting and task-oriented relationships with nations with whom we find common strategic benefit, even if short-lived.  We must build an architecture of  willing, privately supportive, and in some cases, unwitting friends, allies and others to achieve or security goals and to raise the competitive stakes with China.  We must continue to drive home to China the plain truth that their allies are few in number, economic basket-cases, and not likely to be of much use--while ours are powerful, vibrant nations with whom we have (in many cases) decades of operational experience.

Geo-strategy (added AM 6 June)

A new Maritime Strategy would increase cooperation with influential littoral nations as a method of mitigating the risks associated with the closure of strategic chokepoints. Nations targeted for enhanced influence would include South Africa, India, Chile, Argentina, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, to name a only a few. 

These are just a few of the basic strokes of an updated strategy.  The global system-its protection, sustainment and advancement--would still be at the center. However, as the threat to its function has become more apparent, that threat would receive far more attention.  The clarification of the threat would drive a more particularized strategy (as opposed to the strategic narrative we have today). The increased strategic specification would provide clear direction to budgeteers seeking to carry out the intent of the strategy (something any N8 person will tell you is not an easy thing, given CS-21's general, narrative approach).

Obviously, there has to be more--but I think what I've teed up is a core around which to build, if the ideas are found to be of merit.  

Bryan McGrath

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