About that Commission on the Future of the Navy
For those who have not been tracking, last year Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA)’s amendment to the NDAA established a national commission on the future of the Navy.
As Everett Pyatt, former assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy for shipbuilding and logistics, outlined in January at Defense News;
The last National Defense Authorization Act included Section 1092, titled “National Commission on the Future of the Navy.” The bipartisan commission will consist of eight nongovernment appointees reporting to Congress. The charter starts more than a thousand pages into the law, becoming a stealth provision.
This section is an important step for Congress to fulfill duties assigned in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution requiring Congress “to provide and maintain a Navy.” It follows the failure of the executive branch to implement any portion of the 2017 law approving the Navy’s 2016 force assessment. This set the goal of 355 ships.
Last week, Justin Katz at Breaking Defense reminded us that, unsurprisingly, Congress is dragging its feet a bit setting up what it put in to action;
Congressional leaders are running over a month late in putting together a congressionally-mandated panel examining the future of the US Navy.
… to date, only three of the eight members have been officially appointed.
According to the congressional record, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appointed Mackenzie Eaglen, currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise who has worked on defense issues in the House, Senate and various Pentagon offices. Sen. Roger Wicker, the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, appointed Mitchell Waldman, a defense and aerospace industry executive whose held positions in HII and Northrop Grumman, staffer positions to various lawmakers and senior civilian roles in the Navy.
Both Eaglen and Waldman declined to comment when reached by Breaking Defense.
“The window is closing for the Navy to address the dire and near-term military threat from China,” Wicker said in a May 9 statement to Breaking Defense. “The Commission on the Future of the Navy will provide a crucial independent assessment of the Navy’s failures and suggest steps to strengthen our naval power in the future. The Commission’s work must begin as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., appears to have tapped naval expert Bryan McGrath as his choice for the commission
OK, members of the Front Porch should have perked their ears up.
People are policy … and yes, government commissions have a spotty record of success … but they are exceptionally important. On the low end, they are a “ref. a” others can point to as they try to move the ball. On the high end, through the timeliness of topic and the intellectual heft of their members, they set the tone for significant action.
We’ll see about the other five, but with 25% of the commission being on the Salamander Platinum List, let not your heart be troubled. If you are a 80/20 person, you should be comforted by these two appointees.
Both have an extensive record to review, but over the weekend, McGrath took a moment to point out his top-10 in a post on his Substack, “What I Believe.”
I’d encourage you to read it all, but here are his points that I am most encouraged that he will bring to the table;
Belief 1: Geography is destiny. The Navy’s centrality to our national story pre-dates the Revolution.
…A continental nation, bordered by friends, bathed by the world’s great oceans, and possessed of global economic and security interests, must always look to the sea, and it must do so with a powerful, global Navy.
Implication: The Commission should consider the wisdom of the Founders and Framers and evaluate whether there have been any important modern developments that should cause us to rethink that wisdom.
Belief 2: The Navy appropriate for a nation of our geography, our position in the world, our global interests, and our international influence, must be postured for strength in peace and war.
What is it then—in a modern context—is the Navy supposed to do? In other words, what is its mission?
Implication: The Commission should interpret its tasking from the Congress primarily through the lens of the new, broadened mission of the Navy contained in the same legislation that created the Commission.
You cannot build anything great - a building or an argument - without first making sure you have a sound foundation. 1 & 2 above are exactly that.
The other two items I highlighted were, first, something everyone seems to want to ignore;
Belief 8: The Navy has a readiness problem that must be addressed first.
The Navy MUST grow in order to carry out its critical missions. But the CURRENT Navy must be resourced sufficiently to achieve higher readiness, and the resources required to maintain higher levels of readiness must be factored into ANY plan to grow the Navy.
Implication: The Commission’s enabling legislation wisely requires it to consider force readiness as part of its force structure/architecture study. The Commission must first see to long-term solutions to these readiness issues before it advocates expending additional resources on growing the fleet. Within the four resourcing options the Commission is required to consider, the resources available for fleet growth necessarily increase as the size of the budget increases. The Commission should be attuned to the “must pay” bill associated with raising current fleet readiness, even as it assesses the “tail” of readiness costs concomitant to a larger fleet.
Secondly is something that, maddingly, few want to argue about;
Belief 10: Recapitalizing the SSBN force cannot be used as an excuse to under-resource conventional naval power.
The deterrent value of the SSBN vis-à-vis Russia remains to a large extent, unmoored from conventional deterrence provided by naval forces.
Implication: The Commission must evaluate the degree to which the creation of the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund (NSBDF) has accomplished the goal of fencing off resources to recapitalize the SSBN force, and report its impressions as to whether those costs are in fact being considered part of the shipbuilding budget for planning purposes at within DoD or OMB.
Nuclear deterrence theory and implementation is long overdue for a baseline review.
So, read it all … and let’s hope the other five appointees will be of a similar caliber as we have seen so far.