Under Secretary of the Navy Robert O. Work is a whirlwind, a tireless public servant, and a stalwart advocate for American Seapower. His influence behind the scenes in the Pentagon is immense, and to the extent that the Navy appears to be "doing well" in this budget environment (if one defines "doing well" by being cut less dramatically than others), it owes much to his influence. But he is not infallible, and on one important account, he is just plain wrong.
|Under Secretary of the Navy Robert. O. Work|
Writing in a New York Times article on LCS, Elisabeth Bumiller repeats something candidate Mitt Romney says often--that the Navy is the smallest it has been since 1917 (when measuring by ship count). Secretary Work's quoted response is this: "An accurate observation that is totally irrelevant...we didn't have any airplanes in the fleet. We didn't have any unmanned systems. We didn't have Tomahawk cruise missiles." The clear message of which is that ship numbers don't matter anymore. Now, Mr. Work's defenders may say "that's not what he is saying. He is saying that the strength and power of our Navy should be measured by so much more than just hulls, that one has to take into account our networked force and precision guided munitions." But that's not what he said. He said "totally irrelevant".
This view is a strategic, operational and bureaucratic disaster for the Navy, and I urge Secretary Work to begin walking back from it. Here's why.
What else didn't we have in 1917? We didn't have the position we occupy today in the global system, that of the dominant economic, military and political force. We didn't have the worldwide system of military alliances and treaty obligations. Nor did we have a relatively strong national consensus supporting widely flung national interests. Put another way, major drivers of our current force structure simply didn't exist in 1917, and the suggestion that a fleet as small as today's is sufficient to service the national interests of a modern world power--even with the benefit of modern networks and weapons--is legitimately debatable, certainly not "totally irrelevant".
Bureaucratically, the thought of those who would denude the military of the resources it needs to do its job, seizing upon Mr. Work's words to justify even more cuts to the shipbuilding budget, should give pause.
Do not however, dismiss Mr. Work's view as simply a method of covering up the political tracks of the Administration's significant "say/do" mismatch with respect to resourcing the Navy amidst its "pivot to Asia" and an increased reliance on naval and aerospace power. While it does certainly accomplish that end, to be fair to Mr. Work, it is as he has ever thought, long before he entered the Administration. His intellectual consistency should not be questioned. But his logic should be.
Note: I am actively supporting Mitt Romney for President. But like Mr. Work, my views on force structure pre-date my political contributions.