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CDR Nathaniel French Caldwell, Jr., USN(Ret.) served on USS BIRMINGHAM (SSN 695) and USS BATON ROUGE (SSN 689)-both Los Angeles-class boats that were decommissioned long before the end of service life-and USS WILL ROGERS (SSBN 659(B)), another casualty of early decommissioning. He is now a senior manager at Arthur Andersen LLP.

Five years ago while working for Secretary of the Navy John Dalton I proposed that the Department of the Navy should bring together its many constituencies in a series of seminars to debate the future of American sea power. As the Secretary’s congressional special projects officer, I was very aware of the confusing signals that various parts of the Department of the Navy, industry, and the many naval and defense associations were sending to Capitol Hill. It was very clear then, and remains so now, that strategy and naval policy are out of sync.

I did receive approval to work with one of the naval associations on this project, but the initiative fell flat due mainly to a lack of urgency and a sense that the roles and missions of the Navy-Marine Corps Team had been resolved with the publication of … From the Sea. At the time, very few people shared my sense of urgency about the future direction of naval forces and the funding to secure that future.

After an early retirement from the Navy in 1994, I continued to promote the idea of a project on American sea power. Finally, I, last summer, long after having given up on seriously pursuing the project I mentioned it casually to Ms. Cindy Brown, President of the American Shipbuilding Association. Ms. Brown’s response was: Let’s make it happen.”

Joining Forces

Ms. Brown’s association represents the big six private naval shipyards-Newport News Shipbuilding, Electric Boat, Ingalls, Bath Iron Works, Avondale, and National Steel and Shipbuilding. Earlier this year, with funding from the American Shipbuilding Association, enthusiastic support from Ms. Brown, and lots of hard work from her and her staff, I brought together a coalition of defense assciations the Naval Submarine League, the U.S. Naval Institute, the National Defense Industrial Association, the Navy League of the United States, the Surface Navy Association, and the Association of Naval Aviation. This coalition was joined by over four dozen congressional co-sponsors and representatives from the Secretary of the Navy, the Joint Staff, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps to present a series of three seminars called American Sea Power in the 21n Century. To maximize the participation of congressional staff, the seminars-one each in January, February, and March took place in the U.S. Capitol Building. The first seminar chaired by Senator John Warner focused on sea power and the role of the United States in the post-Soviet threat era. The second seminar chaired by Congressman Ike Skelton laid out the naval requirements for the United States if it is to be a 21 11 Century sea power. The third seminar chaired by Senator Thad Cochran described the challenges of maintaining a shipbuilding rate to support the 21st century fleet. So overall the series addressed the following three questions:

  • What is sea power in the 21st Century?
  • What kind of Navy is needed to maintain the role of The United States as a sea power in the 21st Century?
  • What naval policy is required to meet the requirements of that 21st Century fleet?

Project Findings

Summarized below are my personal findings from this project. They are drawn heavily from the comments, observations, and papers of the participants-the panelists, the audience, the working groups, and others associated with this project and especially from the remarks of Senator John Warner, Dr. Robbin Laird, Mr. Ron O’Rourke, Dr. Scott Truver, Dr. Paul Kaminski, and Admiral Frank Kelso. However, they are not in any way official findings of the project, and, unfortunately, the question of how to pay for the ever-shrinking 21st century fleet remains.

The nature of global leadership is changing in that no one size fits all security system is satisfactory for all regions or U.S. interest. The security environment continues to respond to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and also to the twin revolutions of democracy and economic development around the world. How- ever, despite the emergence of a sweeping American-European- Asian zone of security, large pockets of turbulence and violence in the Mid-East, the Mediterranean, Southern, and Central Asia, the Korean Peninsula, and Central America threaten international security and stability.

Regional instabilities demand regional solutions. However, when some solutions fail there is often a need for an international and global crisis response. The United States is the only global power, in that only the United States has the capacity to maintain credible security arrangements in all regions. Therefore as a supra-regional power, the new leadership role of the United States is to facilitate networking between regional security arrangements in a way that allows the rapid development of inter-regional coalitions-a networked security strategy.

Over the last decade, the nature and utility of sea power have changed fundamentally from a sea-control force to a force enabling the projection of U.S. power and influence. Sea Power in the 21st century is fundamentally different from its historical antecedents in that it is the capacity to project power from the sea to affect outcomes onshore, rather than control of the seas, that will be the measure of global military capabilities of the United States in the next century.

Sea-based forces are not subject to the same diplomatic restrictions as are land-based forces and hence the Navy and Marine Corps become the central enabling force for not only military action, but also for the credible projection of diplomatic efforts, as pointed out by U.N. Secretary-General Koffi Annan recently after his efforts toward resolution of the Iraq crisis. Sea-based forces are central to enabling a networked security strategy.

As an enabling force, the number of naval ships is determined by the number of places that you want to be. U.S. interests overseas range from security interests to economic interests to diplomatic interests. The effect of naval forces on the protection and promotion of economic and diplomatic interests is difficult to access absent a crisis. However, the Iraq crisis and the Taiwan Straits crisis both show the inter-connection of security, diplomatic, and economic interests, and the presence of naval forces made the difference with regard to providing a credible, effective crisis response in areas of tremendous U.S. economic and 48security importance.

The tangible benefits of maintaining U.S. naval forces in a region absent a crisis include the development of combined procedures for working with regional forces, both sea-and land-based, and improved access to regional facilities, which improves crisis response time. In the event of a crisis that threatens U.S. interests, the presence of U.S. naval forces improves not only the response time of other U.S. forces, but also the coalescing of regional forces and international response to the crisis.

Based at sea and thereby not encroaching on the sovereignty of potential partners and allies, only naval forces have the peacetime diplomatic acceptance that allows the United States to project its power and influence in regions around the world.

The numbers of naval ships affect not just the siu or the fleet, but the overall capabilities or the fleet. New technology is driving the Navy toward the concept of network-centric warfare. In this context, network-centric refers to the electronic connectivity of the fleet, enabling ships and even forces ashore to share surveillance, detection, fire control, and even weapons resources. This newly enhanced connectivity of systems is leading to new concepts of naval power projection such as Operational Maneuver From the Sea which focuses on operations of dispersed forces in the non-contiguous littoral battlespace.

The capabilities of a netted task force will in tum depend on the number of ships available for that task force. For in broad terms, the numbers of ships will dictate the numbers of aircraft, unmanned vehicles, weapons, sensors, combat systems, and even Marine
Expeditionary Units are available to the Task Force Commander.

The reduced size of the t1eet is already impacting the U.S. ability to project power and influence. While the connectivity of network-centric warfare improves the quality of the fleet, the numbers of available ships remain the major factor in providing regional presence and hence the ability to project U.S. leadership in support of international peace and regional stability. For example, to maintain two aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf region requires leaving the Mediterranean and the Western Pacific with no carriers. This reduces U.S. influence in those two areas at a time of increased tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean and economic insecurity in the Far East.

The reduced size or the fleet will continue to reduce readiness. With 12 total aircraft carriers in the fleet, the two deployed in the Gulf confine a 6 to l ratio for maintaining these ships in the Gulf region. This ratio correlates to previous studies by the Congressional Research Service, that show that the fleet size must support forces anywhere from 4 to 8 times the size of the task forces that are to be projected, with the ratio increasing with an increase in the transit time from the homeport. While temporary surges of naval forces in a crisis may decrease the ratios in the short term, for long-term projection of forces, the ratios hold true.

Recognizing these deployment ratios, the Quadrennial Defense Review, and the Bottom-Up Review before that, called for a fleet of 346 ships. With the force structure today already at that level, officials in the Pentagon are projecting that the fleet will be down to 306 ships by the end of the current FYDP. Although the future fleet will still contain 12 aircraft carriers, other types of ships will be drastically reduced in number with a corresponding decline in the ability to project forces ashore.

Contingencies that call upon expeditionary military forces, especially the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, have grown since the collapse of the Soviet Empire. This increase can in part be attributed to the fact that former Soviet clients are now no longer stable without Moscow’s leadership. Such a situation might then be considered a blip that would resolve itself as various regions adjusted to the new strategic situation. However, the growing global economy has the added effect of increasing the relevance of regional security to the United States’ own national security.

Furthermore, economic interests are not confined to friendly democracies. China in particular is experiencing tremendous economic growth and, with the economic insecurity of its neighbors, shows every sign of actually increasing its influence in Asia. With an economic might that now surpasses Japan, China is a direct competitor to the United States in the Far East and potentially in Central Asia as that region develops into a major oil-producing region.

The point is that this is an era where there is no direct global competition to U.S. power and influence; there are a number of regional competitors – and these regional competitors are no longer controlled or restrained by an opposing superpower. Therefore, increased challenges to U.S. economic and security interests are occurring and will continue to occur. A 306 ship fleet will be 50stretched thin indeed.

Already, increased steaming days and flying hours are taking their toll on ships, aircraft, and equipment. Personnel who have so far been spared a lengthening of deployments beyond the established policy of six months, can expect deployment lengths to increase with a decrease in the size of the fleet. And with new enlistments at only 91 percent of requirements, sea-shore rotations will certainly be affected.

Without an increase in the naval shipbuilding rate to ten to twelve ships per year, the United States will cease to be a sea power, and hence will cease to be a global power. The math is very simple. Assume a reasonable lifetime for current ships. Most ship lifetimes are in the range of 25 to 45 years, so 35 years is a reasonable number, though empirically 30 might be more appropriate. With an average lifetime of 35 years, and a desired fleet size of 346 ships, then 10 ships per year would seem to be a reasonable building rate.

If the figure is 300 ships, then divided by a 35-year service life, a long-term building rate of about 8.6 ships per year is required. If there are some years when the rate falls below 8.6, there is a need to have other years where the rate is higher, so that it averages out to maintain a fleet of 300 ships in the long run.

However, for several years now the naval shipbuilding rate has fallen short of the average. The rate began to fall below the required figure in FY 1994, and it is programmed to remain below that figure through FY 2003. That is a 10 year period of falling short of the mark. During this 10 year period, a steady-state replacement program would have procured a total of 86 ships. Instead, the Navy will procure a total of 57 ships during this period. So by the end of the current Future Years Defense Plan, the Navy will have fallen 29 ships behind the steady-state replacement rate. Compounding the problem, longer Tenn procurement plans maintain the building rate below the required average of 8.6 ships per year, leading to a further shortfall 12 years beyond the FYDP of an additional 11 to 12 ships. By 2015, the fleet will be over 40 ships behind what would have been procured under a steady-state procurement policy.

Since the Navy has been falling behind for the past four years, an increase soon to a building rate of 10 to 12 ships per year would be reasonable to minimize the length and breadth of the trough in 51fleet size. However, the longer the decision to increase building is put off. the higher the initial building rate will need to be. The danger to the U.S. Navy is that at some point the expense of restarting naval shipbuilding will exceed the political will to do so. At that point and it is not so far away-the the United States will cease to be a sea power. And we will most likely recognize that point not by the size of what will be our small but highly capable U.S. Navy, but by a regional opponent’s growing and highly capable navy.


USS DIABW (SS 479) November 4, 1998, St. Marys, GA. Contact: Ed Shields, P.O. Box 524, Minneola, FL 34755

USS IREX (SS 482) September 3-7, 1998, Albuquerque, NM. Contact: Wally Krupenevich, 81 Apple Hill, Newington, CT 06111, (860) 665-8084, e-mail:

USS PETO (SS 265) November 4, 1998, St.
Marys, GA. Contact: Scott Protho, 8701 S.
Kolb Rd., Tucson, AZ 85706-9607.

August, 1998, Groton, CT. Contact: Larry
Oiler, 12 Meehan Lane, North Berwick. ME
03906, (207) 676-5864, e-mail:

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