Dr. Gross asks “Can The Case Be Made For Naval Power?”

Summary:  Today we look at a powerful and provocative article challenging the very basis for America’s large and hugely expensive navy.

G. I. Wilson points us to an article posing a powerful question, especially timely as the US approaches the mother of all budget crunches.  It’s worth reading in full; afterwards is Wilson’s analysis.  “Can The Case Be Made For Naval Power?“, Daniel Goure (bio), Lexington Institute, 2 July 2010 —  Excerpt:

For more than six decades, the U.S. Navy has kept America safe, guarded our overseas interests, reassured allies, patrolled the global commons and assisted the victims of manmade and natural disasters. Under the rubric of forward deployed credible combat power, the Navy designed a force structure based on the close integration of space, air, surface and subsurface platforms and systems. This is the Navy that helped win the Cold War, made Operation Enduring Freedom possible and served as the core around which international task forces have been built to patrol the waters off the Horn of Africa. Historically, the case for a strong U.S. Navy was unassailable. This is no longer the case.

The U.S. faces no great maritime challengers. While China appears to be toying with the idea of building a serious Navy this is many years off. Right now it appears to be designing a military to keep others, including the United States, away, out of the Western Pacific and Asian littorals. …

More broadly, it appears that the nature of the security challenges confronting the U.S. has changed dramatically over the past several decades. There are only a few places where even large-scale conventional conflict can be considered possible. None of these would be primarily maritime in character although U.S. naval forces could make a significant contribution by employing its offensive and defensive capabilities over land. …

It will be up to the Navy and its supporters to fashion the argument. The rest of DoD and the national security establishment will be too busy arguing about whether we need a military at all.

Today’s guest author is GI Wilson, who puts this is a broader context (his bio appears below):

This kind of thinking must be challenged.  Sadly the Navy is incapable of debating its own fate to make things worse.  Small “boats” packed with explosives, a precision guided missile (e.g. to include simple Manpads), or rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) can be a credible maritime threat, especially if swarming tactics used — a la Somali pirates. Also, remember the USS Cole just for starters. Maritime threats are not necessarily manifested in naval forces/ships that look just like us.  This escapes the Navy for they are still looking for the Japanese fleets of WWII and Soviet fleets of the Cold War to square off against to preserve their large carriers perceived-utility and naval manhood.

Nonetheless, asymmetrical mismatches (small boats/ultra light aircraft, yachts, barrages, sea-going tugs, sail boats, anything that floats, or drug gangers’ semi-submersibles, packed will explosives, RPGs), in maritime environments are credible maritime threats and have not been explored or recognized. 

Recall our lack of imagination before the 911 attacks. Many never imagined terrorists armed only with box cutters could turn commercial airlines into improvised cruise missiles (terrorists’ ICM).   We face a failure of imagination today as al Qaeda publishes online websites today in English.

“Our failure was not an intelligence failure but a failure of imagination”
— “Terrorist Organizations And Criminal Street Gangs“, Sandia National Laboratories, 21 November 2002, page 1

Another perspective on the US military, especially the Navy

One of the 12 maxims for military success in the 21st century, from “Fred: A True Son of Tzu“, Fred Reed, 23 January 2007:

(8)  It is a good idea to bracket your exposure. Be ready for wars past and future, but not present. The Pentagon does this well. Note that the current military, an advanced version of the WWII force, is ready should the Imperial Japanese Navy return. It also has phenomenally advanced weaponry in the pipeline to take on a space-age enemy, perhaps from Mars, should one appear. It is only the present for which the US is not prepared.

About GI Wilson

G.I. Wilson is a Marine Corps Colonel, who retired after 33 years of military service. He teaches in the Administration of Justice Department of Palomar College, San Marcos, CA. and consults for ABC-7 Los Angeles, Knowledge and Intelligence Program Professionals (KIPP), and the Emergency Response Research Institute (ERRI).  He is a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and serves on the Board of Directors for the Bossov Ballet Theatre.

His major publications:

  • The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation“, Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989 — Co author with William S. Lind, Keith Nightengale (Colonel, USA), John F. Schmitt (Captain, USMC), and Joseph W. Sutton (Colonel, USA).
  • “Uncorking the information genie”, G I Wilson and Frank Bunkers,  Marine Corps Gazette, October 1995
  • “Fourth Generation Warfare – Another Look”, William S Lind, John F Schmitt,and Gary I Wilson, Marine Corps Gazette, November 2001
  • On Gangs, Crime, and Terrorism” Gary I. Wilson and John P. Sullivan, 28 February 2007

Other posts about naval power

  1. Recommended reading: an autopsy of the 2002 Millennium Challenge war games, 14 January 2008
  2. A 4GW puzzle: what happened in the Straits of Hormuz?, 17 January 2008
  3. DoD Death Spiral – the US Navy version, 31 January 2008
  4. Update to the “Navy Death Spiral”, 22 April 2008
  5. A lesson in war-mongering: “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief”, 8 July 2008
  6. A step towards building a Navy we can afford, 16 July 2008
  7. “Amphibious Ships are the Dreadnoughts of the modern maritime era”, 2 September 2008
  8. All about Pirates!, 12 December 2008
  9. More about pirates: why we no longer “hang them high”, 5 January 2009
  10. What Tom Barnett should have told Congress about America’s 21st century Navy, 3 April 2009
  11. A Piracy SitRep, 12 May 2009
  12. How to design a naval strategy for a crazy nation, 16 July 2009
  13. What is this “justice” that war-loving Americans speak of?, 31 December 2009
  14. More about those pirate demons in Somalia, 2 January 2009
  15. The real pirates sailing the seas, in whom we have no interest and from which we will suffer massive damage, 4 January 2010
  16. New research about pirates!, 3 March 2010

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