Friday, September 25, 2015

Lost At Sea - A Navy Without A Purpose

ComNavOps has listed and described many Navy programs and policies that seem almost random in their adoption, implementation, and integration into the naval force structure. 

An America class LHA without a well deck – OK, so we’re committing to aviation assaults.  No, the third LHA has a well deck – so, we’re back to waterborne assaults?

LCS will dominate the littorals, clearing the way for the entry of high value units that could not possibly survive on their own.  No, the LCS requires an umbrella of protection from a Burke or a carrier group. 

The F-35 is the world’s most advanced aircraft – except that the Navy doesn’t seem to want it and doesn’t quite know what to do with it.

The Navy has established a training school for ship commanders, sort of a Top Gun for surface warfare – really?  What have we been training ship commanders to do for the last few decades instead of surface warfare and how bad have things gotten that we need a special school?

The carrier air wings are steadily shrinking – nearly half the size of the original Nimitz air wing - and yet we’re building bigger carriers?

BMD is, arguably, the Navy’s self-designated number one priority and yet the Navy has tried repeatedly to retire 11 Aegis cruisers well before their lifespans and all capable of BMD?

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Navy lost its most visible threat and, bizarrely, seemed to lose its self-awareness of its reason for existence.  That, combined with threatened budget cuts as part of the drawdown from the Cold War victory, led the Navy to desperately throw out all kinds of wild rationales for its existence. 

Eventually, the Navy settled on “littoral” – the indefinable shallow water threat that somehow (it was never explained how) rendered every other ship useless and vulnerable.  Thus was born the LCS.

Of course, littoral was eventually exposed for the fraudulent concept it was and the Navy had to find another rationale for its existence.  They came up with the Pacific Pivot and AirSea Battle.  Thus, the A2/AD zone was born.

It has become painfully clear that, as regards its purpose for being, the Navy is lost at sea.  It has forgotten its true purpose and is casting about wildly for anything that can justify its slice of the budget pie.  It does not want to risk becoming the Army which has, depending on your measure, borne the brunt of budget cuts.  And thus we see the Navy’s true purpose as espoused by its leaders:  to absorb budget and sustain itself.

The Navy’s core purpose has devolved into one of simple and base self-preservation – existence for existence’s sake.  The Navy no longer cares whether its acquisitions support any strategic, operational, or doctrinal needs.  It’s sufficient that the acquisitions absorb budget and justify more budget.  We’re lurching from one military fad to the next in the hopes that it will justify more budget:  littoral, unmanned, A2/AD, Pacific Pivot, offset strategy.  These are just marketing buzzwords intended to justify budget.

The Navy seeks to expand simply to expand.  Remember the old saying,

“The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.”

This about sums up the Navy’s purpose as practiced by its leaders:  to grow so as to grow.  To absorb budget in order to sustain itself.

The Navy’s leaders have completely forgotten or abandoned its core purpose.


  1. 1. Cancel the F-35C, and dump the few we got now on the Marines. Buy more F/A-18s that do the same job at half the price.

    2. Cut two carriers to free resources for the rest of the fleet, starting with a carrier at ultra-expensive Yokosuka, which the Chinese can sink in port!

    3. Cancel the LCS. Buy three dozen Ambassador Class ships for the littorals.

    4. Buy more P-8s (with missiles) and proven E-737s to escort them.

    5. Close unneeded bases, starting with useless Gitmo and vulnerable Sasebo.

    6. Buy a new class of LSTs, which are the best amphibs since they don't need LCACs or other "connectors."

    7. Shore base some naval air and Marine assets, like Guam and Sigonella and Bahrain.

    8. Build up wartime munitions, we only have a couple weeks worth for wartime.

    9. Mount Tomahawks on F/A-18s and P-8s.

    10. Cancel new SSBNs and build more Virginas with the extra cruise missile pods and load them with nukes.

    1. Regarding #9 and #10: How sure are you that a peer opponent will not shoot down those Tomahawks? Will they truly provide the same deterrent as the SLBMs on SSBNs?

    2. Anon, I'm not sure exactly how your list pertains to the topic unless you're suggesting that a Navy that has not lost its purpose would do these things. Feel free to clarify.

      Regardless, there are some inconsistencies in your list. For example, you note the vulnerability of a carrier in a forward base and yet also suggest basing more aviation assets in vulnerable bases. If China would attack a Japanese base they certainly would attack Guam, Diego Garcia, and any other base we might operate against them from.

      Regarding nuclear armed Virginias, doing so would decrease the useful loads of those subs and limit the nuclear attack range. SSBNs carry intercontinental ballistic missiles which can strike from vast distances. Requiring a sub to move within several hundred miles of its target puts the nuclear strike at risk. Cruise missiles are also much easier to shoot down than ballistic missiles.

      Your LST and munitions suggestions are spot on.

    3. Our Navy openly says it has no funds for SSBNs, and cruise missile Virginias would cost less than half as much, so they are more viable. Zero development cost! The last batch of cruise missiles had a range of 2000nm.

      All our bases in Japan are open for attack,especially Okinawa and Sasebo. Rand just posted and alarming report, but no one gives a damn.

      The carrier at Yokosuka is a huge target that sits there half the time. The new joke is that whenever there is tension in WestPac, Chinese leaders ask "Where are the carriers?" Hitting a carrier in port is far easier than aircraft spread out in protected hangars , like the USAF has at Kadena. But keeping subs at open piers at Guam is idiotic. Aircraft can move within a few minutes, but suddenly getting a ship or sub underway takes hours. Read that Rand report. The vast majority of Chinese missiles can hit Okinawa and Sasebo while its fighter-bombers can also hit them without airborne tanking, while Guam, Yokosuka, and DG are more than twice as far.

    4. The AGM-129 ACM is an air launched missile which is too big for submarine cruise missile launch tubes even if we wanted to try to adapt it to submarine launch. That leaves us with the 800-1000 mile Tomahawk which is not survivable against a peer air defense system.

  2. While cruise missiles are slower, they are very difficult to track. Moreover, you can't determine their exact origin like with ballistic missiles. If ABM tech is ever perfected, SLBMs are checked. Tracking cruise missiles requires dozens of airborne radar or some kind of massive radar "fence" with hundreds of towers. The best thing is that our Navy could instantly expand or contract the number of nuke subs (assuming treaties are not a factor). Finally, this option will cost less than half that of new SSBNs, which the Navy openly states it can't afford anyway.

    1. I'm not sure that ballistic missiles will ever be countered. They travel very, very fast indeed, and are hard to shoot.

      You are literally trying to kill a bullet with another.

  3. There is a purpose behind all of this and that is to keep money flowing to the defense industry I'm afraid.

    It's a game of self-perpetuation. In exchange those who comply get ranks and money after retirement.

    1. It's hard to tell if the priority is to keep money flowing to the contractors, and thus a large budget must be maintained, or if the actual priority is to keep the share of budget and spending it with the contractors is a way to make that budget acceptable to politicians. I suspect both halves of the "reasoning" apply.

  4. the answer is simple really , when there's no enemy to fight , then there is no purpose of having large standing navy .. needs and reality become obscured and fantasy become the goal of weapons development..

    lasers, EMALS, UCAVs , F35 , all these wonderful technologies , to fight whom ? the chinese with their barely capable navy ? even japanese navy can beat the chinese navy fair and square..

    1. You make two points: one has some possibility of being valid and the other is just nonsense.

      The nonsensical is the suggestion that a large standing navy (and by inference an army) is not needed in peacetime. There are a couple of immediate counters to that: crises and, indeed, wars, tend to pop up almost overnight. Without a standing armed force there would be no way to respond and the aggressor achieves a fait accompli. Related to this is the recognition that modern militaries cannot be constituted overnight when needed. Many of the technologies require years of study and training to operate. Similarly, tactics are not something that one conjures out of thin air. Tactics must be constantly developed, refined, and practiced.

      Your potentially valid point is the suggestion that we have overbuilt or overfocused on certain technologies. This is possibly valid and certainly poses a dilemma given limited budgets. Of course, the counter to this is the notion that we should never fight fair. We should always strive to have overwhelming superiority.

    2. as you said before , why is it the training of tactics today never really potray possible peer to peer conflict , like the use of EMCON and degraded sensors simulation ? or the attack of numerous supersonic ASM that most peer opponents have in their arsenal ? years of fighting insurgents and pirates will take it's toll on readiness of the combatant..

      when a boxer reached the top and then continue to fight lesser opponents below him , his senses become dulled and his ability become lessened , because he never got challenged to the best of his abilities , if suddenly a capable opponent appears , he will get smacked down badly due to his overconfidence and laxness..

    3. "Chinese with their barely capably Navy?"
      That seems a bit of an overstatement. Even if only half their ships, aircraft, sensors and weapons work as advertised I think they present a potent force Especially in the areas near their shores we claim we still need to have dominance in.

  5. I wonder how much of it is an abandoning of core purposes and how much of it is an uncertain transition from the post-Cold War "Gunboat Navy" back to a Cold War era "Hegemonic Navy."
    Low-end Littoral Warfare conflicts (epitomized by the LCS) and high-end A2AD conflicts (epitomized by SM-6 & F-35) are worlds apart. It is tough to buy a Navy that has a useful middle ground capability between the two. Which means we end up buying expensive equipment for both, with little overlap capability.
    I don't know if this is as structured a negative as purposeful expansion for the sake of expansion. Perhaps instead it is expansion without a well-defined, or more appropriately an agreed upon, end-state. Arguably this is an equally bad outcome as mindless expansion. But I give the civilian and military leaders of the Military (it certainly isn't just the Navy) credit for pursuing the mission as they see it, the problem is that they are pursuing differently perceived missions. And certainly a different mission set than this, and many other Blogs, would like them to, or think they can, attain.

    1. An interesting comment.

      You're missing a key concept, though, regarding the low/hi ends and a middle ground and the resulting difficulty in development and procurement. The low end doesn't require F-35s or whatever other high tech asset you care to name. We can fight insurgencies, terrorism, and other low end battles with much, much lower tech than we're currently doing. For example, there are high performance prop planes that could quite adequately do the pickup truck plinking that we're spending F-18 Hornet lifetime flight hours on. Another example, we don't need to use Aegis cruisers and destroyers to do anti-piracy work when a Cyclone PC would do just fine.

      Hey, here's a wild thought. Instead of a Nimitz carrier and Hornets dropping bombs on pickup trucks, what about a WWII Essex (in concept) with modern prop planes? Hell of a lot cheaper and just as effective.

    2. You know, I just might be tempted to buy in to your line of thought on the well meaning civil servants and military leaders doing the best they can when it comes to acquisition if it were not for the endless series of stunningly idiotic decisions that those leaders have made for a couple of decades now. Minimal manning, deferred maintenance, LCS, on and on - don't make me list them all. At some point, you have to look at the totality of that "wisdom" and acknowledge the unavoidable conclusion that these people are, collectively and individually, idiots and incompetents.

  6. I would argue that the aimlessness of the USN is similar to to that of modern fire departments is the US. While fires do still occur, what most firefighters do these days is rescue operations, if at all. While there are potential threats to the SLOC, no real power of note is actively encroaching on them. Meaning the bulk of what the Navy does is Presence with a little Humanitarian Aid thrown in for good measure. As such, the 85% solution to ADM Mahan's original charter has been achieved. Until those inside the Beltway seriously ask what relevance does ensuring freedom of navigation have in the 21st century, the USN will continue lack cohesive decision making

    1. I'm not quite sure what point you're making. Try again?

      If there is any group that should understand the relevance of the core rationale for a Navy, it's our uniformed leadership. They are the ones who should be making the case. Instead, they are completely focused on securing their budget slice regardless of what that slice does or does not gain for the country.

    2. My point is that it's easy say that the USN should maintain SLOC, but how is that accomplished in a world were there are no threats to that mission?

    3. Huh? Losing me, still. You seem to be asking how to maintain SLOC when there are no threats? If there are no threats then the mission is accomplished. Not sure what you're asking.

      Do you not see potential threats to SLOC? Iran claims control of the Strait. Pirates threaten SLOC. China claims territorial ownership of the entire South and East China Seas through which enormous amounts of shipping pass and they are not exactly inspiring confidence in their respect for international laws. Russia is expanding their influence and control into international (and other country's national !) waters and, like China, demonstrating a lack of respect for international laws and norms. If you don't see threats to SLOC then you're not looking!

    4. I see the threats, but as it stands maintaining SLOC is a non-aggressive operation. Addressing all of the issues you mentioned I think would require essentially throwing people out of the sea. Its obviously the US is reluctant to even designate China, Russia an Iran as hostile.

    5. "Addressing all of the issues you mentioned I think would require essentially throwing people out of the sea."

      No, it simply requires someone (the US) willing to stand up and enforce respect for, and compliance with, international laws and norms.

      There is no need for us to designate those countries as hostile. They are designating themselves hostile by their actions. Still, I get your point and, sooner or later, the US will call them out as hostile and begin to take action.


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