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FURTHER ALONG “IN HARM’S WAY”

Reviews and reviewers rarely satisfy either an author’s expectation or indeed, ego. Robin Pirie’s recent and generous review of my book, In Harm’s Way: American Seapower and the 21st Century. was no exception to that general rule. My intent in the book was to provide a strategic chart and compass for setting the future direction for U.S. naval forces and not to issue specific “rudder orders”¬†which, in all probability, would have been swiftly overtaken by the extraordi-nary and swifter flow of events that ended the Cold War. Hence, the reviewer’s single qualification that “the author leaves a good deal in this book to further study” seems to have missed this poinL1 However, perhaps a few rudder orders might now be useful in stirring up debate.

As most readers of this and other journals will not know, In Harm’s Way was written in 1990, sent to the publisher in early 1991, and released a few days before the Soviet coup attempt in August 1991 ~recipitated the end of the USSR and its Communist party. The central argument of the book was that the Cold War was over and the traditional American view of national defense was being fundamentally and irreversibly altered by the combination of the passing of the old threat and the emergence of powerful domestic determinants that would redefine the future meaning of national security. . The long-standing and highly successful strategic framework to deal with the Cold War, based on containment and deterrence, was evaporating. For the Navy, the end of the Soviet threat meant a return to the classical and historical role of influencing campaigns and events ashore but \vitbout the menace of any worthy enemy fleet to challenge the use or command of the sea. Simultaneously, domestic determinants no longer checked by Cold War considerations of responding to an overarching threat were changing perceptions of and priorities for national security amidst a government trapped in gridlock and drowning in an ocean of debt that was threatening the well-being of the nation. The consequences of these powerful factors would lead to a much smaller Navy and a difficult period of transition in reaching this end point that could easily prove disastrous to America’s ability to exercise naval power unless there was careful, courageous, well-argued, and disciplined leadership and planning to till the void left by the end of the Cold War.

From this argument, the book reached three broad conclu-sions. First, it was possible to identify plausible, conceptual, operational and political criteria for setting, justifying and maintaining a certain level of naval forces and budgets for the future. Absent a Soviet threat, the book argued that naval forces of about 8-9 carrier battle groups or their equivalent, about 300-350 ships including a Marine Expeditionary Brigade on each coast and an annual budget of about $65-70 billion (FY 1991 dollars) were both politically affordable and acceptable in this new era. This level of capability was reached by examining three independent criteria: the basic combat requirement to respond to a single future crisis on the scale of the war with Iraq; the requirement to respond to two smaller crises simulta-neously; and the level of force and defense budget the public would support Polling techniques were used to determine these force and budget levels and whether such forces would be seen as affordable and supportable by the public. From these three different criteria, the overall size of politically supportable naval forces was projected. Interestingly, each criterion led to roughly the same levels. However, getting from today’s force to the new base force set by the Bush administration and, ultimate-ly, to lower force levels that seemed to be politically and practically inevitable would test our powers of governance. This daunting transition in downsizing led to the second conclusion.

Merely reducing forces and budgets to respond to new conditions would be disastrous unless there were a far-reaching and comprehensive plan that included reducing the support facilities, basing structure, defense industrial base and remaining infrastructure {of which personnel, training, intelligence facilities were crucial parts). Thus, the interested observer or member of Congress would need to see a fully integrated trade-off analysis for specific levels of spending that would present the forces, the infrastructure and the operational consequences of what these forces could or could not achieve. Without such an approach, the book argued that business as usual would magnify the pernicious effects of the defense drawdown and could easily return us to the hollow forces of the 1970s or worse.

Third, the book argued that the Navy and Marine Corps, as this pertains to naval power, must take the lead in responding to this brave new world with innovation, imagination and careful thought To quote: “No matter how relevant our forces and force structure were to prevailing in the Cold War, one conclusion is clear. A change is inevitable. Although we apply lip service to recognizing this condition, as a nation, we have yet to take any substantive action on what to do next” A year later and despite the administration’s base force, that statement still stands.

Let me translate those broad conclusions into specific rudder orders which may prove useful in this period of transition and downsizing. First, the return of naval forces to traditional roles of influencing campaigns and battles ashore has several principal consequences. One is fully integrating the Navy and Marine Corps. This integration is not an argument for specific numbers of ships or marines. It is simply wh;it it means — integrating the Navy and Marine Corps in influencing events ashore. But this may not prove to be as simple as it sounds.

At face value, this shift in Navy priorities towards what used to be called amphibious warfare sounds like a bureaucratic and strategic victory for the Marine Corps. That is not the case. What will be required, however, is a great deal of compromise on the part of both services in accommodating to the need to support campaigns ashore. In particular, there must be major changes in which service provides what capabilities for these new missions.

Tactical aviation is the first step for this new integration. Fixed wing aircraft must be made largely interchangeable in their ability to operate from ships and from shore stations and in providing capability both for air superiority and ground attack. My own view is to give the Navy responsibility for virtually all fiXed-wing tactical aircraft and fully integrate Marine pilots into Navy squadrons. In action, ship-based airwings can go ashore once basing is secure and reserve wings can be used either in shore roles or as replacement aircraft on carriers whose planes were transferred to land operating bases. Clearly, such a move would likely provide relief for the already strained aviation plan by reducing aviation units some could argue were duplicative and others would agree simply could be reduced.

Marines should become permanent ships company in, say, frigates and above much like the practice in the Royal Navy with its Royal Marines. This would give most combatants a self-contained mini-air, sea and land capability likely to conform with future uses and new operational requirements. And, in fully integrating Navy and the Marine Corps, the political response by Congress is likely to be overwhelmingly in supporl Should the Marine Corps fmd this shipboard assignment distasteful, the Army might not, and Army light forces could conceivably find a role at sea serving on ships.

A second principal consequence of the return to traditional naval missions is the well-understood need to upgrade littoral warfare (i.e., mine detection, close-in ASW and close-air and ground support) and to reduce the need for open ocean ASW and sea control. This will mean far fewer SSNs, probably 50 or less (and less than the 50-60 level of SSNs recommended in the book). This is a tough pill for readers of this journal to swallow. However, with no major navy in sight as an enemy and with more than a dozen SSN-688s still to be built, the U.S. has more than enough underwater seapower for a long time to come. Even though SSNs are relatively inexpensive to operate, advocated developing a still cheaper form of a cadre or stood down status both as insurance in the event of a reconstituted threat and as a way of maintaining a minimum level of nuclear technical proficiency.

One means of coming to grips with the impact and implica-tions of upgrading littoral warfare is to consider combining all the platform “barons” (OP..OZ, -03, and -OS) into a single littoral warfare directorate. This recommendation was made in the book although I did not formally call for a littoral warfare directorate, which I now would.

To cope with the new operational and domestic realities, there needs to be a draconian consolidation of the shore and supporting infrastructure less we have a Navy of few ships and many land installations. My concept is to move towards one or two major operating bases on both coasts combining, where feasible, navy and marine installations. The devil here is not in the detail but in the political mechanism for overcoming the fierce opposition to base closings. Either using the current base closing commission or establishing a new commission charged with the authority to shrink the military safely and sensibly is essential to these ends.

Finally, as spelled out in the book, the requirements and weapons acquisition processes must be recast. Pages 181-182 called for streamlining and codifying all acquisition regulations, removing redundant oversight including the number of Congres-sional Committees with overlapping jurisdiction and reaching pre-agreement between Congress and the President over budget and force structure levels. These steps are crucial and need not be repeated in greater detail.

In retrospect, I would offer a self-criticism not made in the review. My expectation was that 1992 would end up with a massive run on the defense budget. The looming election and political travail surrounding Congress have made that institution unwilling, or more likely impotent, to take action. That will change after November 1992. The nearly $400 billion deficit this year and the symbolism of the recent Los Angeles riots regarding the need to address what is seen as a domestic crisis are likely to constitute clear and present dangers to future defense spending. The trends seem to me to be irresistible. In my judgement, the DoD and the Navy have been granted only a stay of fiScal execution and defense budgets will drop to $150-200 billion a year or lower within a few years.

At the end of the day, we need strong, well-trained, highly-motivated forces. Only, in my view, we can get along with far fewer of them. With no Soviet threat and using my assump-tions, the long-term number would be around a million people in uniform and a budget of about $150-200 billion a year. But, we must be absolutely ruthless in ensuring that any drawdown is done sensibly and protects the military institution that has become perhaps the best representation of the values this nation holds dearest. Maintaining jobs and not destroying the fiber of this military institution through careless cuts are worthy caveats. These are not, however, sufficient justification, in my view, for maintaining even the base force. We need a new, understandable framework.

Whether readers agree or disagree with my arguments and with my framework is far less important than the need for the nation to act in a reasoned and rational manner in charting a safe course in the post Cold War world. That is the most important point I hope In Harm’s Way has contnbuted to the dabate.

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