The 2015 update to “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower” has been released. As with its predecessor, it is largely a meandering statement of naval desires that is not a strategy in any way, shape, or form. That said, let’s take a bit closer look and see if there is anything of interest in it.
One of the items that stands out is the statement describing our overall military requirements. The combat requirements for the
military have steadily shrunk over the years from fighting two major conflicts and containing a third to the current requirement to fight one major conflict and contain another. Sadly, the decrease in requirements has been based on after-the-fact rationalization of decreasing capabilities rather than some kind of logical, strategic based requirement. This is, frankly, a worrisome devolution of our national will and military capacity. U.S.
On a positive note, the document actually states the name of potential enemies,
The document elucidates five essential functions:
All Domain Access – This provides recognition of the increasing importance of cyber warfare in all its forms. The Navy is currently highly dependent on data flow, networks, and communications which are increasingly subject to disruption. While it is encouraging that the Navy now recognizes the importance of this broad area of warfare the reality is that it is only lip service, at the moment. The Navy is not conducting data, comm., and network denied training, is not challenging itself to find its own weaknesses, and is not aggressively pursuing offensive cyber warfare. Recognition is a good first step but the time is long overdue to begin practicing what is preached.
Deterrence – This correctly identifies our core combat power (carriers, subs, Marines, etc.) as the key to deterrence (to the extent that one believes deterrence is a real phenomenon) and yet fails to reconcile that recognition with the reality of a shrinking fleet, carrier and submarine shortfalls, and increasing numbers of non-combat vessels like LCS and JHSV. Additionally, deterrence can only work if the enemy believes we have the will to use our deterrent forces – something that we have been severely lacking of late. Rather than back down from Chinese forces, for example, and allow an Aegis cruiser to be chased off on the high seas, we need to steadfastly counter aggression even at the risk of escalation. Rather than accept highly risky harassment from Russian and Chinese aircraft we need to aggressively counter these moves even at the risk of escalation and combat incidents.
Sea Control - This section blandly states the obvious and offers nothing.
Power Projection – See the preceding.
Maritime Security – This is the one area where cooperation with smaller foreign naval forces makes sense since this function is best conducted by patrol type vessels.
One positive item stood out regarding the relationship between offensive and defensive aerial threats. The document seems to recognize the self-defeating path of ever more complex weapons as counters to increasingly sophisticated cruise and ballistic missile threats.
“…greater emphasis on force-wide, coordinated non-kinetic capability and counter-targeting techniques as opposed to engaging each threat with increasingly expensive kinetic weapons. In short, we must become more comprehensive in our offensive capability to defeat the system rather than countering individual weapons.
Barring a Star Wars type of breakthrough in laser employment, defensive systems are on the losing end of the cost effectiveness curve versus aerial threats. Recognition of this reality requires that we focus on shorter range kinetic defenses, much greater emphasis on electronic countermeasures (soft kill options), and a willingness and capability to attack the source of aerial threats rather than dealing with the result, meaning incoming weapons.
The document’s recognition of this is commendable. What’s needed now is suitable doctrine, tactics, and equipment to implement this modified approach to dealing with incoming threats.
And, finally, of course, there is the ever present Pentagon Buzzword Bingo! What military document would be complete without it? Some examples,
“Cross-domain synergy is achieved when these elements are synchronized, providing Joint Force commanders a range of options in all domains to defeat anti-access/area denial strategies.”
“Modernize the Navy’s total force personnel system with a holistic strategy that evolves the All-Volunteer Force, creating more agile and family-friendly career paths in line with 21st Century social and economic realities.”
So, if this document isn’t a strategy, what is it? Well, I can best describe it as a sales and marketing brochure aimed at securing Congressional funding for the Navy’s acquisition wish list. There’s nothing wrong with that but an actual strategy would sure be nice!