Monday, March 23, 2015

Cooperative Strategy - Foundational Principles

The 2007 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower has been updated and we’ll be taking a look at various aspects of it.  The document starts by flatly stating two foundational principles. 

The first is forward presence.

“First, U.S. forward naval presence is essential to accomplishing the following naval missions derived from national guidance: defend the homeland, deter conflict, respond to crises, defeat aggression, protect the maritime commons, strengthen partnerships, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster response. … “

Forward presence is a debatable but valid approach to achieving the Navy’s goals.  Forward presence implies several things such as increased costs for forward basing and maintenance, an acceptance of a certain degree of inefficiency due to multiple, disbursed storage, maintenance, and training requirements, and a degree of vulnerability of bases and ships to initial attack due to proximity to enemy long range ballistic and cruise missiles.  Properly implemented, it also offers the ability to respond quicker to crises and promotes a degree of local familiarity with geography, climate, oceanic conditions, and enemy forces and tactics that would be unavailable to surge forces.  It also offers the theoretical possibility of deterrence through presence although history suggests that the reality of that is suspect. 

Most significantly, it offers the possibility of head to head confrontational containment, if we have the will to do so.  For example, China’s steady encroachment across the East and South China Seas, backed by localized small scale military force, could be countered by similar counter-encroachments by U.S. naval forces as long as we are willing to accept the risk of small engagements.  It is this ability to apply counter-encroachment that is the most valid justification for, and use of, forward presence.

This principle is also notable as much for what it precludes as what it includes.  It rules out the concept of home-based naval forces (sometimes referred to as a nodal strategy) that operate via the surge mechanism as the primary means of naval employment.  Similarly, it rules out the various concepts of cadre/reserve/garrison approaches that would have the bulk of our forces home based in some type of reduced status and only responding to a crisis as necessary.

The second foundational principle is global naval cooperation.

“Second, naval forces are stronger when we operate jointly and together with allies and partners. Merging our individual capabilities and capacity produces a combined naval effect that is greater than the sum of its parts. By working together in formal and informal networks, we can address the threats to our mutual maritime security interests. Maximizing the robust capacity of this global network of navies concept, we are all better postured to face new and emerging challenges.”

This is pure and utter bilge water.  While there is nothing wrong with cooperating with allies, the belief that some kind of magical global naval network can exist and provide an enhanced level of naval might is pure fantasy.  We’ve seen in the past that every country has its own objectives and priorities and those only rarely coincide with ours.  How many times have we been denied overflight rights by allies?  How many times have we been denied basing and operational rights by allies?  How many times have allies balked at joining us in military operations? 

Further, with the exception of the UK, Japan, and, possibly, Korea, what other country has naval power significant enough to be worth attempting to cooperate with?  I’m sorry but teaming up with countries whose most powerful vessel is a patrol boat doesn’t gain us anything.

Even partnering with the UK, Japan, and Korea has limitations.  The UK has very limited numbers and no significant naval aviation capability.  Japan is a localized force only, though a powerful and capable one.  Korea is completely occupied with their own defensive needs.  When it comes to meeting our global needs and responsibilities, these countries are marginally helpful but hardly significant global participants. 

I’m all for naval cooperation but to make some kind of nebulous global naval network a foundational principle is idiotic.  As with any country, our needs and requirements must be met by our own resources.  Dependence on foreign assistance is a sure path to disappointment, as history has amply demonstrated. 

A better version of this foundational principle is that America’s Navy stands alone.  As such, the Navy must be sized to meet all its needs and requirements on its own.  If, in a given situation, we can obtain assistance from an ally, so much the better but to count on such assistance as a foundational principle is just pure fantasy and folly.

A country and a Navy that would count on global cooperation as a foundational principle is a country and a Navy that is setting itself up for disappointment and defeat.  No other country has our interests at heart and we should, therefore, count on no one but ourselves.  The Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower document is flawed from the very start because of this misguided principle.


  1. Well, the conclusion is pretty clear. The document is aimed at persuading the rest of the USN and Congress that the USN is, and will remain, a world-dominating force, even though Congress isn't willing to fund such a force.

    Self-delusion is very comforting, and allows the relevant officers to continue with their own career goals. And they can always hope that it won't go bad while they're in charge.

  2. LOL you forgot France ;)


    1. HAHAHAHAHAHA. ( Sorry France. )
      But you just made me laff A LOT !

    2. Ooooop topical.

      According to a recent RAND study US and France are now BFF's
      Facebook friend requests accepted and everything. UK is shunned ! Ben

  3. On a more serious note. The purpose of ANY countries armed forces has to be the protection of their sovereign interests.

    And, as you say, by definition any countries interests will differ from the next. Otherwise we would all just be 1 happy country, now wouldn’t we?

    There is a huge about of talk about this “never going to war without allies” cr*p, and apart from the UK and US I don’t think I have ever seen any 2 countries actually consistently stick to these treaties. Even then we have occasionally gone our separate ways.

    It’s just an excuse to save budget, look at NATO, can you get them to pay their way ( Estonia and Greece notwithstanding, well done you two ! tho I refer to the patrol boat comment earlier )

    Alliances are there to combat alliances ( lets all try to pretend the Warsaw Pact is still about ) sadly every individual country will still need its Navy.

    And the funds need to be proportional to the value of the country. Cos the shinier the stone the more bad men want to knick it !


    P.S. Sorry about the aircraft carrier thing :(
    2 spangly new ones on the way now.

    1. "Sorry about the aircraft carrier thing "

      As you well know, the value of a carrier lies wholly in its air wing. Too many so-called carriers around the world contain very small air wings. A carrier with only a dozen fixed wing aircraft is of very marginal value. I very much hope that for each carrier the RN acquires an air wing of 30-40 fixed wing aircraft and the support aircraft like AEW, tankers, and EW to maximize the potential of the wing. My fear is that will prove to be unpalatable from a budget perspective and you'll wind up with carriers that have very little capability due to very small and restricted air wings. Those support aircraft are vital, too. An air wing without AEW, tanking, and EW is an air wing that is significantly limited in what it can do.

    2. True, true. And we are quite worried about that. The current order is for 48 F35B, supposedly expanding to some fictional figure of 180. Helicopter bourn AEW has been accelerated recently comprising 10 units able to fly from any front line ship.
      3 or 4 per carrier is anticipated. Tanking is an interesting one. Designs for Helo tanking have been seen, and the MOD was caught in discussions about the MV22 at Farnbrough, similar drawings were seen of a V22 tanker. Seriously though I doubt we will see a tanker. I anticipate this is likely to mean a strike range of slightly less then 400nm combined with Falklands style fast deployable austere forward basing.
      I personally will sleep a lot safer in my bed when our sovereign forces are back up to full spectrum capability. And with all due respect to the US, I hartily agree with your post, in that we have to be able to take care of ourselves, and any move to combining forces as some kind of total solution is folly.

  4. Kind of tough for a Navy to create "foundational principles" when one doesn't have strategic goals and guidelines from higher leadership to use a basis.

  5. On the deterrence historically being ineffective, like most preventative measures, it's very hard to prove that it was the cause when it works, but is obvious when it fails. Its very hard to say on any specific day that there wasn't an invasion because of deterrence, rather than some other reason.

    1. My biggest caution on deterrence is we view the effectiveness or lack there of from our perspective. I want to hear it from the people we are attempting to deter. Does China feel deterred by our presence in the China seas? Is the Philippines reassured by out forward presence? What about North Korea with the Army in South Korea? Or is South Korea the ones that actually deter North Korea? Has North Korea given up on the dream of conquering South Korea and does Kim Il Sung now just want to hold onto his own little personal kingdom? Does Iran check it's ambitions because of the CVN in the Arabian Gulf or is Iran content to conquer Iraq through use of proxy militias?

      Even the case of the pirates off the coast of Somalia; what actually stopped the piracy was not warships but instead mercenaries, sorry private security contractors, that were stationed aboard each merchant ship. Deterrence came not from a DDG-51 or LPD but from 4 mercenaries armed with HK-416s that shot up skiffs that tried to approach the merchant ship.


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