Government officials give lots of speeches. Most of them are, at best, uninspired and boring or, at worst, uninformative and even annoying. Some, however, are interesting and even enlightening. An example of the latter was a speech yesterday by the acting Deputy Secretary of Defense, Christine Fox, to the Armed Force Communications and Electronics Association and the Naval Institute. Prior to taking the DepSecDef position, Ms. Fox was the Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. In that position, she was responsible for conducting much of the analytic work supporting the Administration’s 2010 Defense Strategy and the Strategic Capabilities and Management Review directed by the current Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel. Currently, she is deeply involved in the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review.
Ms. Fox’s message to the Navy was simple, even stark. If the Navy wants to retain its long-held domination of the world’s oceans, it will have to be prepared to fight for it. Other officials and government documents have made the same point but without the bluntness the DepSecDef provided. “The U.S. Navy is unique amongst the military services in never having been seriously challenged in direct at-sea combat since the end of the Second World War. The U.S. enjoys a margin of military superiority today in the Pacific, but we cannot ignore the reality that American dominance of the seas, in the skies, and even in space can no longer be taken for granted going forward.”
Ms. Fox warned that U.S. forces can no longer assume that the environments in which they operate will be permissive. The threat to all U.S. forward deployed forces, particularly naval assets, is growing rapidly due largely to the proliferation of advance sensors and long-range precision munitions. This is particularly the case in the Western Pacific as China builds a formidable anti-access/area denial capability but it is true elsewhere too.
The DepSecDef went on to suggest that the Navy needs to reexamine the fundamental assumptions of its shipbuilding plan and its other acquisition programs.
I believe it is an imperative to devote increasing focus and resources to the survivability of our battle fleet. Niche platforms that can conduct a certain mission in a permissive environment have a valuable place in the Navy’s inventory, yet we need more ships with the protection and firepower to survive against a more advanced military adversary. Presence is important, presence with a purpose and with capability.
The Navy needs to focus more on capabilities that can avoid detection such as submarines or those that can strike from outside the range of enemy defenses. It also must invest in critical enablers and in electronic warfare and counter countermeasures to defeat adversaries’ efforts to employ electronic warfare and other means to negate the Navy’s advantages in precision strike. Ms. Fox observed that, “In many respects, the U.S. Navy has been so dominant for so long at sea that I worry we never really embraced these solutions at all. The time to start investing in the next generation of electronic warfare is now.”
The DepSecDef could have mentioned a number of other programs the Navy is pursuing that would substantially increase the survivability of its battle fleet. One of these is the Navy Integrated Fire Control Counter Air (NIFC-CA) program. NIFC-CA integrates a family of sensors, platforms and weapons including the E-2 D Hawkeye, the Aegis air and missile defense system, manned aircraft and even shore-based capabilities such as the Patriot air defense system in a robust area defense capability. There is also the Navy’s rapidly advanced program to deploy a directed energy weapons system at sea. Directed energy weapon lasers, to be specific, could provide an affordable and effective counter to the massive investments by prospective adversaries in long-range anti-ship weapons.
All these new investments will cost money. Unfortunately, the DepSecDef’s speech offered her audience no solutions to the problems of declining defense budgets, rising personnel costs, excess infrastructure, a heavy overhead burden or unnecessary and expensive acquisition rules and regulations. Instead, the force will have to get smaller, go fewer places and do fewer things. As a result, the risk to the Navy and to national security will rise.
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