Supposing that you had just survived a serious case of pneumonia because you took massive doses of penicillin. Then you had to continue to take these pills until the offending germs were totally eradicated — because germs can adapt to the effects of penicillin unless they are overwhelmed fast and totally.
Partial measures in curing disease are like today’s partial measures against organized crime or what is advocated by some for war at sea they’re not only the wrong measures but also the most costly ones.
Just as millions of germs might adapt in unpredictable ways over a long period of time to half measures, so nations of millions of people have adapted to an enemy threat during a prolonged war. This makes an extended war of half measures unpredictable, as was demonstrated by the war in Vietnam.
Witb tbe bope of the world’s peoples resting on the continued success of the U.S. and ber Allies, a victory in war must be predictable and hence the preparations for it must be designed to ensure a rapid victory after the initiation of conflict.
The war most critical to the West will be that conducted at sea. We must thus plan to win at sea quickly. With the outcome of the war on land (in Europe, or Asia) determined largely by the success enjoyed at sea, the rapidity of winning becomes a key to the successful sea support of land operations. With the mobility of land armies even higher today than during Hitler’s regime, a decision in the overall war is likely to occur in a matter of weeks if a significant advantage or victory at sea is quickly gained.
Nuclear wars are felt to be fast and short. Yet, the fact that the Soviets have achieved nuclear equivalence while continuing a conventional buildup, shows tbat they plan for war under the umbrella of the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons. Hence, the U.S. must plan for rapid victory in a conventional sea war — without the use of tactical nuclear weapons.
So vital is sea traffic that it can be recognized how a rapid victory by the Soviets at sea would obviate any future need for continuing a land war. A NATO war could be suddenly finished — with the European continent under Soviet control. In WW II, Hitler’s rapid gains on land were invalidated by his loss of the sea war, as tbe Allies slowly adapted to the German submarine threat over a prolonged period or time. Similarly, Japan’s effort directed towards a knockout blow to produce a rapid victory at sea failed. Tbe germs adapted and killed the patient. It would be foolhardy to assume tbat the Soviets have neglected to learn this lesson.
So what are tbe implications and requirements for a rapid victory at sea today?
Rapid victory implies that sea war must change from a series of episodic engagements to a massive, concentrated destruction process. This is made possible by global reconnaissance and the reach of global weapons. A massive attack on ships at sea has become practical, while ships which formerly enjoyed the havens of ports and hence were immune to rapid attack, can now be destroyed by missiles which can home in on individual ships in a port area. More obviously, ships in port are highly vulnerable to nuclear weapons used in area destruction — but mutual deterrence of such weapons can be assumed. Sabotage bas also been a way to get at ships in their port havens, but sabotage has never proved very reliable for rapid neutralization of large numbers of ships. Interestingly, the Argentines probably prolonged the Falklands War by taking their ships out of action, while the Germans in WW I more definitely stretched out that War by keeping their High Seas Fleet in the safe confines of a port.
Just as the increase in complexity of R & D programs, e.g. Polaris, required new planning and evaluation tools ( PERT ), so planning for a rapid sea war will require new approaches and new assumptions. Weapon design is impacted, but even more critically are the inventories of weapons. As a guess, to insure that a short war is possible, the total number of homing weapons for a given set of targets should be at least 3 times the number of targets. Thus, against 500 submarines there should be available at least 1500 homing weapons. For 2,000 merchant and warships there should be at least 6.000 antiship homing weapons, and the same ratio for aircraft delivered antiship weapons. Mine plants would need an even higher ratio of weapons to enemy targets.
Shortfalls in inventory provide tangible measures of risk. They are also more fatal to well laid plans.
Over a couple of decades, under the guise of economy, the U.S. has consistently short changed the production of weapons and vehicles. In effect, war planning has been predicated on a belief that the u.s. can produce the needed products after a war has started. But manpower and material shortages are likely to totally invalidate today’s plans, while today1s defense process has resulted in the destruction of a subtier or suppliers to the aerospace and shipbuilding industries. This adds to the difficulties in getting war industries into adequate war production. At the same time, stringent red-tape requirements and pricing policies have destroyed productivity incentives. We’ve seen that if only 8J of sales is invested in new plants and equipment by general u.s. industry, the result has been a loss of competitive position. Nevertheless, industry supporting the defense effort has been investing only SJ of its sales into capital improvements.
Since WW II the U.S. has become a have-not nation with respect to many critical materials. To plan for production of submarines and submarine weapons after the war has started is patently fraught with risk. The best way to store critical materials is in the form of completed submarines and weapons. In fact, the industrial situation is now so perilous that it is not known whether a shift to a “war economy” in terms of personnel skills, plants, equipment or materials, is practical! It is ironic that the nation whose industry won WW II has been so mismanaged by improper accounting, taxation and other legislative provision that the u.s. is vulnerable to defeat by a nation which “cant even supply her own consumers.”
In today’s environment, the only way to make sure that the submarine force can do what is required in a war, is to do whatever needs doing before a war starts.
The cost of producing what will be required will be far less if done at a steady pace in peacetime than in the furious rush after a war has started . . . . . particularly since the loss of products is likely to be enormous if the war at sea is allowed to proceed as in WW II, when thousands of ships full of products went to the bottom.
Those who fear that a peacetime stocking of adequate numbers of weapons and vehicles would result in future paralyzing block obsolescence, fail to recognize that it’s the electronic suites — changes to which can be easily backfitted into both vehicles and weapons — which will forestall this obsolescence problem. For example, B-52’s have remained useful for several generations through such an updating. Further, accelerated operational training gradually uses up inventories while improving readiness.
War at sea is unique in that assets of the enemy are readily countable. Their location is also known and can be reached from the sea. Thus an enemy’s navy and his merchant marine can be destroyed quickly, crushing the backbone of an enemy’s war-making effort. Then the land campaign with its greater involvement with population, economies, governments and air-land forces can be more easily controlled.
CAPT R. B. Laning, USN(Ret.)