Our recent discussions about amphibious assault have highlighted a characteristic of the Navy that is a bit disappointing and that is the unwillingness to accept any degree of risk in combat. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where it’s becoming codified in the form of doctrine. Put simply, the Navy has become risk averse to the point where safety and preservation of assets has taken precedence over mission accomplishment. Let’s look at some specific examples.
The Navy has decided that they can’t operate even remotely near an enemy shore. This shows as a doctrinal move from horizon distance amphibious assaults to 25 nm - 50 nm or even greater. Of course, as we’ve discussed, these kinds of distances have hamstrung the ability of the Marine/Navy team to conduct a successful amphibious assault.
In fact, the Navy has gone so far as to design an entire LCS class around the concept that the blue water Navy couldn’t operate in littoral waters. The littoral zone (whatever distance that is) is now accepted by the Navy as a forbidden area due to the threat of land launched anti-ship cruise missiles.
The Navy appears to have ceded the A2/AD challenge to the Chinese without a shot being fired. The Navy now implicitly recognizes that they can’t operate within the A2/AD zone. This is evidenced by the overwhelming focus on BMD. Of course, the issue is not that they can’t operate but that they won’t. They won’t risk ship losses and so they strive for a mythical and unachievable perfect defense that will allow them to operate in the zone.
At its most basic level, war is attrition. To win, you have to inflict attrition on the enemy to the point where it becomes unacceptable to him and he quits. The corollary to that is that you have to be willing to accept attrition of your own forces in order to accomplish your goals. That doesn’t mean behaving recklessly but neither does it mean being so risk averse that you can’t or won’t accept losses.
If you want to conduct a successful amphibious assault you have to move to horizon range and accept some losses. If you want to ensure no losses then you can stand 200 nm offshore but your assault will fail.
If you want to operate in the restricted waters of the
Middle East during a war then you have to accept some losses.
If you want to press a war with
then you have to enter the A2/AD zone (long range blockade strategies not withstanding) and accept some losses. China
Why has the Navy developed this risk aversion and what can be done about it?
The why is easy to answer. The Navy has opted for a force structure that is continually shrinking while the individual ships are getting bigger, more expensive, and more capable. In other words, we’re concentrating more and more firepower in fewer and fewer hulls. We have so much money and capability tied up in each hull that the loss of one borders on catastrophic. No wonder we’re risk averse!
Consider the amphibious assault issue. Aegis, and now AMDR, was designed specifically to deal with swarms of supersonic cruise missiles. Yet now we’re refusing to approach an enemy’s shore closer than 50 – 100 nm because of the presence of anti-ship missiles. Why are we spending a bazillion dollars on Aegis/AMDR ships if we don’t think they can stand in close and fight they way they’re designed? Why are we spending billions on new amphibious ships that are going to stand so far off shore that we can’t conduct a successful amphibious assault which is their reason for being?
We have got to turn this trend around and the only way to do so is to stop concentrating so much capital and firepower in each hull. We need to revert to a much more distributed firepower force structure. We need greater numbers of less capable hulls.
I’m not arguing against having any highly capable ships. There’s nothing wrong with having some highly capable ships that can act as the core of a group. We just can’t have every ship be a very expensive, highly capable platform. We can’t afford that approach, it’s gutting our fleet numbers, and it’s imposing a culture of risk aversion that conflicts with mission accomplishment.