the first person view from Bob Work
Thanks to both of you for a great discussion of the situation. We need more clear thinking and desire to “work the problem” inside and outside the Pentagon. Our need for a capable Navy is always at hand, so we need to do both things- keep what we have and pla/build for the future - without gimmicks.
Part of what made LCS such a debacle was a small multi-mission ship already existed; MEKO 100. Giving one of our allies a couple bucks per ship would have saved us a LOT of money.
What a solid, reflective, useful trip down Memory Lane! And per the date on my driver’s license, I too recall those days of yore. To which I must add:
The 1990s were a time of a general DOD (and Big Navy) war on people; not to put too fine a point on it. Cuz “man”-power is expensive and an easy way to fast-reduce the cost element. Ergo… Retire. RIF. Force-shaping. BRAC. De-emphasize the people-pipeline, from HS to recruitment, ROTC to OCS. Just neglect the seed corn. Cuz fewer ships need fewer people and (we now regret) fewer shipyards. With a future, tantalizing vision of… ahem… reduced “man”-ning. Applicable to both military and civilian support; y’know… no need for so many of those paycheck-collecting contract specialists, estimators, naval architects, inspectors, welders, pipe-fitters, etc. And now we are deep into the second generation of this people-shunning attitude, and in the midst of a recruiting crisis, in a culture where a mere 9% of youth even consider a military career, and… hmm… where do we go from here? Lots of legacy problems on the table.
On a complete different tangent, there’s that long-term DOD/Big Navy emphasis on shiny platforms like ships, airplanes & stuff, to the neglect of things that shoot and inflict harm. Do we have better, oh… I dunno… guns? (DDGX Gun was a disaster; LCS fielded a mighty 57mm thingie; better CIWS even?). Or better missiles? (Aircraft AAMs seem to take forever to get incrementally better; Standard Missile series long ago reached its Boeing 737 moment; and lack of hypersonic reveals scandalous failure of both intel/foreign analysis and internal R&D — esp the “D” part — by the Big Brains who must do these technically difficult things). Or even torpedo systems? (MK-48 traces industrial DNA to the 1960s and yeah-yeah-yeah, it’s better today. But is it, too, at its B-737 point?). And how about EW? Which still seems like a collateral duty for specialists, versus an overwhelming issue that ought to dominate everyone’s waking thoughts. That is, just as everyone on a ship should be a firefighter, so should everyone associated with war fighting be an EW geek.
And to borrow from Mark Twain, “Forgive the length of this note. I’d have written less if I had more time.”
Great article. But I am not sure if the U.S. Navy is still the finest Navy in the world. I believe we have lost more than a step for a variety of reasons ranging from crooked contractors to DIE CRT PC wokeness. Also, those CVNs may be as obsolete as Dreadnaughts in the age of missiles and drones. Worse is underestimating the capabilites of our adversaries. Those Russian and Chinese sailors look impressive.
An excellent essay - thank you.
One other problem is the lack of inspiring leadership. Can you think of one admiral in today's Navy that inspires a young sailor the way that a Bull Halsey or a David Beatty did in the last century? Today's admirals seem more concerned about their post retirement plans than they do about their ships and crews.
Does anyone remember the Packard Commission that was set up by Ronald Reagan to deal with Pentagon overspending?
Thanks to Bob Work for this interesting walk down memory lane. Getting name-checked in a piece by a former Deputy Secretary of Defense is a high honor. I'm quite certain when Bob wrote these words, he knew he'd get a rise out of me:
"The implosion of the Navy’s shipbuilding program was accompanied by a resurgence of the presence school. Their cries reached a crescendo with the 2007 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS21), which implied that naval presence was the key to preventing war, and “preventing war is as important as winning war. I mark this as another major disruption to the alluvial plain. In fact, I’d argue it was nearly as consequential to Navy thinking as the end of the Cold War. In my view, NOTHING is as important as winning our nation’s wars and being always ready to do so. I think CS21 is where the Navy stopped thinking like warfighters and started thinking like diplomats. I know that to my friends Bryan McGrath and Jerry Hendrix and all card-carrying members of the presence school, these are fighting words. I have written elsewhere about what I see as the Navy’s misguided emphasis on presence rather than warfighting but can’t bring myself to expound on it here."
Bob does an excellent job of providing context where it is supportive of his narrative. Here--not so much. What he fails to address in the CS21 run up was the existential crisis that Navy leadership felt as Navy force structure FOR WHATEVER USE was coming down 20% as the nation waged its "global war on terror" including two simultaneous land wars. The amount of "why do we even have a Navy" in the air at that time was deafening, as were the number of "we'll never have another war with major fleet engagements like WWII again". Bob wanted the 2006 Navy leadership to focus on winning wars that precious few political masters thought were even possible. There was at least one year during the GWB administration where ZERO combatants were acquired. Some argument OTHER than just "winning wars and being able to do so" had to be made in order to ensure that there was a Navy in existence to address those functions, and the best we we came up with was to describe just what it is that the Navy does---oh, 99.99% of the time it isn't shooting at anyone. If Bob thinks that all we had to do was make a better warfighting argument in 2006, not only is he wrong, but he ignores the degree to which 20 plus years of Goldwater-Nichols had watered down anything even resembling services advocating for themselves. Where Bob is right--in fact, spot on--is our inclusion in CS21 of "naval presence" as a mission of the Navy, a continuation of something the Navy had claimed as a mission for the previous 22 years since VADM Stansfield Turner offered it up in the mid 70's. This was a huge mistake, and I urge current Navy leadership not to repeat it.
Presence is not a mission, it is a posture, an operating habit. A nation must choose whether it needs a Navy. If the answer is yes, it must then decide what it is it wants that Navy to do. This basic decision on what the function of the Navy is to be determines the posture or operating habit of that navy. Some navies are local/coast guards. A Navy can be a "cruising navy", sending its fleet(s) out as necessary to "show the flag". A Navy can be a "surge navy", operating mainly out of home fleets and then pressing forward in response to threats to national interest. Our geography and interests caused us to maintain forces forward (presence), and post WWII free world leadership codified it. We do not maintain forces forward for the sake of presence. We maintain forces forward to deter, to assure, to respond to crises, and to be favorably positioned to fight and win. If we could effectively and economically look after our national security and economic interests with a surge navy, we would. If we could effectively and economically look after our national security and economic interests with a cruising navy, we would. If we could look after our national security and economic interests with a coast guard, we would. But we cannot adequately meet the missions we are handed by political leadership with any posture except one that is forward. Being forward is not its mission, it is a means to meet the mission.
The most damaging thing about Bob's rhetorical "presence" jihad is the influence he's had on a generation of (mostly) Democratic national security thinkers who have taken maximal views on Navy force structure that lead to the conclusion that if it isn't in the China fight, it isn't worth having. The Congress disagrees with Bob and his acolytes, so much that it CHANGED the Navy's Title 10 mission in 2023 to include those annoying things it does when it isn't guns ablazin' against its latest foe, like advance our security and prosperity.
I greatly appreciate the former deputy secretary's remarks but a lot of this leaves me with even greater raging heartburn. A great many assumptions that carried enormous risks with them if they failed to live up to expectations... as clearly many did not. Did that alter senior leadership's thinking? Did we learn from hugely successful Aegis' model? Theoretical and mathematical modeling serving to "validate" transformation concepts that cannot possibly be validated under realist operational conditions; especially given the Navy's propensity to go with narrowly confined and scripted "do over" & "resets" wargames. The absence of vigorous ground testing of new tech before it went into a hull to determine, not only its efficacy, but "could we even maintain this $#&#@"????? Lead times for critical components? Validated before it went into a hull? Think not. Realistic T&E to determine what personnel it would take to maintain this new wizardry of high tech. The passionate love affair with new tech and concepts while ignoring the mundane headaches that directly impact the Navy's ability to stay in the game, e.g., replenishment of VLS on ABs without forcing each hull to transit thousands of miles once they've exhausted their cells... Ignored that one for decades. One didn't need a crystal ball to imagine how an adversary could employ huge numbers of deceptive decoys, electronic jammers and low cost cruise missiles in saturation attacks in order to rapidly exhaust an AB's magazine. We knew of a predecessor saturation strategy from the time of Soviet's and prop driven Bears with their bellies loaded up with cruise missiles... sprinkle in decoys and jammers. Known... imminently predictable from observable data and what? Lasers and thousands of unmanned vehicles. Yeah OK...
Was in the "transformation" game for over a decade. Joint Experimentation (IMO) was a major contributor to the collapse of all the service acquisition failures of the last 23 years. "Experimentation" literally became a four letter word for overpromising and underdelivering and deserved it. The concept development to acquisition was not broken because it never existed (see JCIDS chart for reason why). The Iron Triangle of the Pentagon, Congress, and major defense contractors drive the force development process in directions that benefit them (contracts, jobs in districts, promotions and retirement jobs on company boards) and only use concepts when they align with what they want to do. When they don't line up, justification is title 10, services "organize, train, and equip, so stay out of our business. That's how you end up with LCS, over or underemphasis on "presence", USAF aircraft development failures, Future Combat Systems, etc. Warfighting is not a priority these days, which is sobering considering our thirty year track record of starting conflicts but not finishing them. Perhaps that's on purpose?
Another set of questions.
Since we don’t have a lot of large shipyards, when are we going to realize we need designs that can be built at smaller shipyards? In bulk? Where are the 30kt CVEs? The DDs, and the FFs? And if our shipyards are maxed out, the Build American argument goes out the window - have our closest allies build to our specs since our shipyards have nothing to lose.
And tell me again why something like a Soryu/Taigei conventional submarine, based and operating near the SCS, not roaming the world (as is always pushed as a critical need necessitating SSNs), would fail? Kilos and the like are deadly dangerous in the hands of our less tech-evolved adversaries but are useless in the hands of those that literally wrote the book on submarine operations? I think not, and I throw a BS flag on the field.
And as we explore this new naval world, how about some love for the support ships? How old are those tenders? How old are the C2 ships? Steam-powered merchants? Are you kidding me??? How will any of this new world move forward without them?
Either we are in a wartime mentality, or we are not. This is 1940, but our shipbuilding is dragging, our weapons procurement can’t even keep up with Ukraine usage and we can’t even keep our VLS cell count break-even. Our organizations are not remotely ready, with all of our datalinks and high bandwidth drone video, to deal with cut undersea cables, or blasted comsats or operating in EMCON, let alone compromised networks that run our logistics (civilian and military) and will likely crash in times of war.
To be blunt, I’m not seeing anything that tells me we aren’t putting up the mother of all bluffs on Taiwan. This is not the leadership and not the Navy that will fight and lose massively for Taiwan, despite big talk. This is not a national leadership, nor a Navy leadership, that is serious.
Many thanks to Bob for the thoughtful piece, Sal for hosting, and all of you for weighing in.
From my own humble perspective: I think Bob's piece mostly overlooks the foundational issue here, possibly because it is too simple and unsexy to attract the attention and analysis of anyone serious who has devoted their life to national security matters. The issue, IMO, is execution; pure and simple. Not presence VS projection, not this gun design VS that gun design, not manned VS unmanned. These feel like reasonable areas to focus and draw in the engaged mind, because we are in a bad spot and SURELY therefore better or different decisions would have resulted in a better or different outcome. They would not. And I suggest that pretending so is harmful wishcasting in and of itself, albeit of the intellectually stimulating variety.
When it comes to weapon systems, it is time to accept that we quite simply **cannot** reliably deliver a thing we set out to do. The Navy can't. The Army can't. The AF & USMC can't. Beyond the weapon system context, we as a society have become functionally disabled in the area of large scale public sector procurement and development. Until this is root-caused and fixed, or a workable model for even further privatization is accepted, count on more of the same, regardless of how correct we may be re: strategy, intent, or future forecasting.
"........but these failures had less to do with the transformation problem and more to do with a failure in cost-informed ship design and inability to contain operating costs. That’s the original sin, and one the Navy continues to commit."
Ain't that kinda' a NAVSEA function that's overseen by the highly paid Senior Executive Service employees? Perhaps a purge is overdue.
one additional and very dangerous drug that the Navy and the DoD were high on during the time was (and is!) outsourcing. i can show how outsourcing caused the debacle at Red Hill, the problems with sustainment of the F-35, and high costs of maintenance of LCS, and on and on and on. Only now are traditional views on sustainment starting to restore some semblance of readiness for specific weapon systems... Additionally, the increased dependence on DLA, without growing their working capital fund, is one of the main causes of Submarine maintenance delays, and will also be our achilles heel in the next fight. "Change it: Get a Medal. Change it back: Get a Medal!". it's time to 'Change it Back'!
The old cold war military vanished when Desert storm ended, massive cuts a wind down of forces.
The world wasn't gonna do war anymore and if we did well we had nukes.
Bad planning bad leadership and a bad government happened and here we are.