Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Re-visiting Fleet Size

Chris Cavas' interview with Romney surrogate John Lehman last week brought up the fleet size debate once again.  And again, a chorus of observers leaped to their feet to assert that comparing fleet size across the years is irrelevant, pointing to (as this article demonstrates) the increased range of influence a single ship today can exercise, largely through its long range precision weapons.

There is no disputing this.  I give up.  I agree.  Count me in. 

To a point.  And that point is, when one considers a fleet in combat--actually killing people and wrecking things--this comparison has merit.

The problem as I see it, is that our Navy spends the overwhelming majority of its time not killing people and wrecking things.  It spends most of its time trying to convince some of the folly of conflict, while convincing others of the certainty of our response in their defense.  In this effort, the range of weapons and sensors--while not irrelevant--is far less relevant than in actual warfighting.  Networks don't scare anyone, and they don't assure anyone.

These functions are most effectively carried out by the presence--seen and inferred--of ships and submarines.  In this pursuit--numbers matter more than networks and CEP.  There has been a good deal of work done recently in assessing the ingredients of conventional deterrence, and what comes up time after time is the preponderance of force levels IN THE REGION in question.  Ships in Norfolk matter less than ships in the neighborhood, just as troops at Fort Drum matter less than troops in the region.  This is the entire premise upon which forward presence is built.

If one values forward presence, then fleet size MUST matter. 

Bryan McGrath


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