The White House, DOD and the Navy Envision Three VERY Different Future Navies

by admin on September 15, 2013

111017-N-5324W-005What happens when U.S. Navy priorities, Department of Defense priorities and and the Obama Administration’s National Interests are misaligned?  And what are the implications when the differing priorities each suggest a very, very different future for the Navy?

There is a dilemma afoot here.  Think back to why the Navy lost the fight to keep the Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike drone (UCLASS) a high-tech unmanned penetrator–well, a glance at the differing priorities of USN, DOD and the White House show that at the White House and DOD, power projection in an A2/AD environment do drive requirements for the future force.  On the other hand, Counterterrorism is a DOD and White House priority, so DOD carried the day, making UCLASS a cheaper, not-totally stealthy bomb taxi. Given present DOD priorities, anything the Navy portrays as an A2/AD instrument will be at risk.

It is critical that the U.S. Navy realize that these “Grand Strategic Documents” actually carry consequences.  The Navy must also become smarter about arguing their case, and seeing to it that Navy priorities are seeded into wider government policy at an earlier stage.  It isn’t enough to stay out of the policymaking scrum.  If the Navy is seriously committed to the goals sketched out in CNO Greenert’s Sailing Directions, then the Navy needs to work harder to see that their larger, longer-term Navy goals are, in the future, reflected accurately in DOD and the White House.

If not, then the Navy had best brace itself to loose procurement fights–or, worse, get tasked to engage in a bad fight someplace.  Here’s why:

White House National Security Strategy:

I am not a fan of the White House National Security Strategy.  Where was the Navy when the 2010 National Security Strategy was formulated?  Did the Navy agree to this?  Or, put another way, what kind of Navy would be appropriate to pursue America’s list of “Enduring National Interests” in the 2010 National Security Strategy?  And would the Navy like it?

I cannot see the Navy liking the 2010 National Security Strategy.

To recap, the White House defines America’s enduring national security interests as:

  1. The security of the United States, its citizens, and U.S. allies and partners;
  2. A strong, innovative, and growing U.S. economy in an open international economic system that promotes opportunity and prosperity;
  3. Respect for universal values at home and around the world; and
  4. An international order advanced by U.S. leadership that promotes peace, security, and opportunity through stronger cooperation to meet global challenges.

This, as I have suggested before, is an audacious (albeit ill-defined) recipe for a very active, intervention-oriented Navy–but not a Navy focused on blue-water battles or strategic deterrence.

I know this strategy is somewhat dated.  But, to the Administration’s credit, the President’s use of force in Libya and the threat of use of force in Syria has–thus far–aligned with these priorities–priorities that were established back in 2010.

But now, let’s take a look at Defense Strategic Guidance–how the Defense Department responded to the National Security Strategy.

DOD Defense Strategic Guidance:

Here are the mission sets that DOD grew out of the National Strategy:

  1. Counter Terrorism and Irregular Warfare
  2. Deter and Defeat Aggression.
  3. Project Power Despite Anti-Access/Area-Denial Challenges
  4. Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction
  5. Operate Efficiently in Cyberspace and Space
  6. Maintain a Safe, Secure and Effective Nuclear Deterrent
  7. Defend the Homeland and Provide Support to Civil Authorities
  8. Provide a Stabilizing Presence
  9. Conduct Stability and Counterinsurgency Operations
  10. Conduct Humanitarian, Disaster Relief and Other Operations.

A note about the list: While all the missions are important, the Strategic Guidance notes that bolded missions will drive the requirements for the future force (Take note of this, my friends in procurement!).

What sort of Navy would be built using the DOD’s list of priorities as a starting point?  I’d suspect we’d still build an “intervention” oriented Navy, while still maintaining a heavier, albeit less stealthy strike capability, complete with missile defense assets and a far larger focus on maintaining the SSBN nuclear deterrent. This would be a Navy built to rely upon nuclear strike to deter big conventional rivals, while focusing upon maintaining conventional strike forces for rogue states, hammering terrorists, and doing some “light” interventions around the world.

Obviously, these priorities don’t fully mesh with the White House.  A closer look at the verbiage in the Defense Strategic Guidance suggests that the key priorities for the future force might be mis-aligned as well.  Given the White House’s way forward with Libya and Syria, WMD control (Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction) and atrocity prevention (listed under the “Conduct Humanitarian, Disaster Relief and Other Operations” mission) may be far more important long-term priorities in the Administration’s eyes than “Nuclear Deterrence” and “Deterring and Defeating Aggression.”

That disconnect just gets larger at the Navy level.

CNO Greenert’s Sailing Directions:

Here are the Navy’s Missions, as articulated in CNO Greenert’s Sailing Directions:

  1. Deter aggression and, if deterrence fails, win our Nation’s wars.
  2. Employ the global reach and persistent presence of forward-stationed and rotational forces to secure the Nation from direct attack, assure Joint operational access and retain global freedom of action.
  3. With global partners, protect the maritime freedom that is the basis for global prosperity.
  4. Foster and sustain cooperative relationships with an expanding set of allies and international partners to enhance global security.

The Navy that springs from these priorities is very different from those that flow from the Administration’s–or even the DOD’s–priorities.

Greenert’s vision hints at a Navy more concerned about power projection and confronting larger-scale, conventional conflict–there is no direct mention of shaping, or limiting regional conflicts.

The White House may note that there is no mention of “universal values” or any hint at “an international order advanced by U.S. leadership”, while the DOD may note that this calls for a Navy far less concerned with counterterrorism, support for civil authorities or WMD control, and far more focused on the basics–maintaining freedom of operation and, overall, freedom of the seas.

Mahan would be proud.

Conclusion: It’s going to get ugly

These three different documents suggest three very different directions for the Navy.  And while this shift may simply reflect an evolution in priorities over time (the White House strategy was generated first, Greenert’s Sailing Directions last), the White House’s steadfast adherence to their strategic priorities suggest that their 2010 National Security Strategy is an enduring document. The Navy’s loss of the penetration-oriented UCLASS in favor of some sort of less-ambitious ISR and counter-terror bomb truck suggest that DOD’s priorities are holding steady.

This puts everyone on a collision course.

To prevent this, the Navy, in the future, must do a better job of defining their operational environment, and to work tirelessly to see that it is accepted by top policymakers.  The Navy’s input should be the guiding metric for the establishment of wider national security documents.

Unlike most states, the United States is blessed with uncontested and unthreatened land borders.  That makes the sea America’s front line, making the Navy the appropriate entity for promulgating a good, cohesive national vision for national defense.  The Navy has a choice to make.  Either it can keep it’s head down and focus on the basics–Warfighting first, Operate forward and Be ready–or it can focus on the basics while also working to better align policymaker goals with the fleet. This has been done in the past with things like “Plan Orange”, and it can be done again.

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