Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Surprising Navalists Leave a Marker


It has been a bit more than four years ago that navalists were in their second month of excitement about the prospects for a larger Navy with the incoming Trump Administration. 

As most did not expect him to win in 2016, few of us paid any more than passing attention that he picked up on work already done under Obama’s SECNAV Mabus to mark “350-355” as the number needed given the realities of the evolving global security situation – specifically China’s not so peaceful rise.

Not fully appreciated at the time, partisanship and incomplete information led many to not give credit to the Obama team for their work prior to the election. Likewise, in a few years the larger fleet had a Trump stamp on it and it experienced trouble getting broad support. 

That is a shame.

If everyone could take a deep breath for a moment – and remember national security should be on balance non-partisan – what we really have here is a bi-partisan consensus that we need a larger Navy. Will the Biden team pick up where Trump’s left off? We’ll have to see, but we have a reference point, a Ref. A., a marker.

The expected outgoing National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and the Russ Vought, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, have an article out this week at the Wall Street Journal, The Navy Stops Taking On Water. I'm glad they did, as this is a conversation that has to break out in to the open.

Sadly, it is behind the paywall and as a result will get limited viewing, but let me grab a few pull quotes for discussion.

To start, the most simple concepts are always the most important;
As a maritime nation, the U.S. depends on control of the sea to protect its people as well as the flow of cargo.
In the second paragraph, this fact, and various iterations of it, should be part of any navalist discussion or position paper. Anyone with a map, globe, or paper thin understanding of our history knows this to be true. No other service has an argument so sound in the search for resources. Only the USAF gets close.

This is your marker if you’re a numbers guy. Of course, you have to gain the support in Congress to get the money needed to make it happen;
The plan will provide a battle force of 355 vessels within 10 years and nearly 400 within 20 years. It will end the decadeslong decline in attack submarines by building three a year beginning in 2025, with a goal of 80. It will more than double the number of small multimission ships to nearly 70. The backbone of this ship class will be the new Constellation-class frigates, and the Navy will need a second shipyard to increase the pace of construction. The workhorses of the fleet, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, will be modernized.

There is a bit of wishcasting in the unmanned arena. Yes, I know the PPT is sexy and the manpower savings seductive … but industry only tells you the best case variation of the various best case scenarios. Development, yes … and maybe in 2030 such things can be said, but in 2020, the technology simply is not in reach. Reality is not in line with the PPT;
Finally, the plan calls for significant investments in new unmanned ships, which will enhance the resilient strike capabilities of the fleet at a fraction of the cost of manned ships.
How do we get Congressional and taxpayer support? That is the easiest question;
This road map is accompanied by proposed investments in our country’s shipbuilding industry to increase production capacity and create more American jobs. Stable and consistent shipbuilding investments would employ hundreds of thousands with critical manufacturing skills that are easily applicable to other industries. This new labor demand will inspire young people to obtain the requisite vocational training, helping to sustain U.S. manufacturing strength.
This is something we can give money to with results NOW. We are short of facilities to properly maintain the fleet we have today. If we are to grow our fleet, we will need even more. At a minimum we need two new or re-activated shipyards (spit-BRAC-spit) – most likely three.

This last bit leaves me a bit disappointed; 
The increased costs would be fully paid for by reinvesting savings accrued from drawdowns in the Middle East, managing the size of military personnel, and cutting Pentagon overhead.
Overly optimistic. We don’t have all that much left in the Middle East. There is little, at least on the Navy side of the house, flex in uniformed personnel numbers. As for the always popular “Pentagon overhead,” again, we need Congressional action.

There will be only one way to get more money for the fleet our nation needs; we will have to claw it away from the other services.

Goldwater-Nichols is an albatross around the national security neck. It must be replaced. COCOM reform must be done in parallel. Without that, all else is vanity.  With a conductor’s baton in one hand and a battle axe in the other – walk straight in to the grabasstic acquisition system while we are at it. 

Those three must be done first. I think everyone will be pleased with the results … except for the rent seekers from industry and those who have grown comfortable in their well paid, non-productive billets.

In parallel with this is a 30-yr shipbuilding plan. Yes, I know … I know. However, let’s go to the start of the post; there is a bi-partisan consensus that we need a larger Navy. Have a better way to get there? Well, bring it to the table. Compromise with well meaning people who will also compromise. There is more than one way to get to the fleet we need. The challenge west of Wake Island is getting stronger every month – and for 15-yrs we have moved from weakness to weakness.

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