A couple of decades of fighting incredibly lopsided conflicts has led to the development of skewed priorities for
’s armed forces. America (the big mission) accomplishment has given way to
avoidance of casualties and collateral damage.
We would rather lose a battle than lose a man/ship/plane or inflict
collateral damage. This unwillingness to
accept losses has, in turn, led to avoidance of threats as our doctrinal (dare
I say, strategic?) and operational default imperative. Mission
For example, avoidance of the A2/AD threat has led the Navy to abandon any attempt to operate surface ships in contested waters. Our carriers will remain well outside an A2/AD zone until it becomes “safe” to enter. Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? The job of a carrier is to enter the A2/AD zone and make it safe, not wait for it to somehow, magically, become safe.
Consider the Navy’s new doctrine of 25-50 mile standoffs while conducting amphibious assaults. The standoff is to avoid the threat of land launched anti-ship missiles. The fact that that kind of standoff distance dooms any assault from the start (meaning we no longer have a viable amphibious assault capability against a peer-defended objective) is now deemed less important than avoidance of the threat and, hence, risk to any ship.
We have built a fleet of mainly defensive ships in an attempt to avoid the anti-ship missile threat. We have poured huge amounts of money into ever bigger and longer ranged Standard missiles and, now, ballistic missile defense systems. At the same time, how much money have we put into offensive weapons and systems? On a relative basis, very little. We’ve become so frightened of the threat that we’ve forgotten why the Navy exists. It exists to wage offensive war. To attack. To defeat.
Hey, there’s nothing wrong with recognizing and protecting against threats. We’d be idiots if we didn’t. But when our focus shifts from dealing with threats so as to enable our offensive actions to strictly avoiding threats because we’re unwilling to risk losing ships and aircraft than we’ve forgotten why the Navy exists.
What does all this mean? It means that we need to change our thinking from avoidance of threats at all costs to accepting threats and the inevitable losses so that we can accomplish our mission. We need to accept the threat of the A2/AD zone, sail into the heart of it, attacking the whole way, and fight to carry out our offensive mission. We need to accept the threat of land based anti-ship missiles and move up to the shore so that an amphibious assault stands a chance of success and we can move one step closer to accomplishing our mission. We need to accept the threat of the Chinese carrier killer missile so that we can get our carriers in range to conduct offensive operations.
So, am I suggesting that our current fleet should sail right into an A2/AD zone? Not at all. Our current fleet is not built to accept the threat.
What does it mean to accept the threat?
Well, it means that we start by acknowledging that losses will occur. And with that, we immediately see our first problem. We have fallen into a spiral pattern of ever-increasing costs of ships and planes which result in ever-decreasing numbers. In simpler terms, we’re on a path of putting our eggs in fewer and more expensive baskets. No wonder we don’t want to risk them! Losing a $14B Ford class carrier along with its $6B air wing would be catastrophic. If it were up to me, I’d park that carrier in a cornfield in the middle of
and leave it so nothing could threaten it. That’s the only sane thing to do with that
much treasure tied up in one ship. Nebraska
We need to reverse the trend of fewer and more expensive ships and planes. We need to begin building smaller, cheaper, and more numerous assets. Attrition must become a recognized feature of high end combat and its impact must be factored into our acquisition plans. Instead of building Fords, we need to be building downsized Nimitzes. Downsized?! Yes, downsized. Something about 2/3 the size of a Nimitz would probably be about right. It would be big enough to carry a full air wing of 40 combat aircraft plus the various support aircraft and yet cheap enough that its loss wouldn’t cripple us. Being cheaper (yes, that’s an enormous assumption), we could get carrier numbers back up to 15-18 which greatly reduces the impact of any single loss.
The same reasoning can be applied to aircraft. We’d be better off with ten Hornets than one F-35. Sure, we’ll lose aircraft in combat but individual losses won’t be nearly as devastating and sufficient numbers will ensure that we can complete our missions even in the face of losses.
Accepting the threat also means recognizing that we will have to stand and fight rather than run away. This suggests that we need to re-evaluate how we build ships. We need to build ships that can stand and fight. We need ships with armor, great point defenses, more robust passive defenses, greater redundancy, and simpler systems that can be maintained and repaired at sea.
Accept the threat. Deal with the threat. Destroy the threat. That’s what a Navy does.
The threats won’t go away and neither should the Navy.