- The Washington Times
Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Maritime scholars say in a report that the U.S. Navy is not doing enough deep thinking.

They say that for years the Navy has put a low priority on producing cogent strategy papers that tell how its warships and combat aircraft would counter moves by China in the Pacific and Iran in the Persian Gulf, or explain why it needs a larger fleet.

The instructors at the august Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, conclude that the root cause is ambition: The way for senior officers to get ahead is by directing operations from the Pentagon or at sea, not by issuing papers from the Navy’s strategy/policy shops.

“The Navy lacks a process to generate robust thought and debate on the future geostrategic environment upon which to base decisions on the shape, composition, and size of its force structure,” the instructors write in their report, “Navy Strategy Development: Strategy in the 21st Century.”

The result: “The Navy has failed to ensure that strategy drives program development and execution.”

It is one possible reason that the Navy’s fleet inventory remains adrift. Republicans warn that the number of ships could fall from about 280 to 240 despite the Navy’s goal of putting 306 to sea.

The researchers write of the “fractured and incoherent nature of the Navy’s strategic thought community” — a gap that some officers say leads to a lack of budget support on Capitol Hill.

The Navy has felt the sting of such criticism before. Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican and a leading sea power advocate in Congress, said last year that there is no coherent naval policy for confronting the Pacific Ocean ambitions of communist China.

Mr. Forbes, who heads the House Armed Services subcommittee on sea power and projection forces, wrote last July to Adm. Jonathan Greenert, bluntly telling the chief of naval operations that his organization lacks a way to focus brain power on how to use sea power. He used an aggressive China and its navy as an example of this gap.

“My overall concern is that the CNO, the person best and most qualified to create and shepherd a coherent strategy for the Navy, is increasingly dissuaded from doing so because of the way the Defense Department evolved since the Goldwater-Nichols Act,” Mr. Forbes wrote in a letter first reported by the U.S. Naval Institute. “I fear that it has reduced the perceived position of the chief of naval operations to the Navy’s head programmer and budget-maker, rather than the nation’s foremost expert and advocate on the nexus between seapower and national power.”

A Navy spokeswoman at the Pentagon said the sea service is putting more emphasis on strategy and noted that it issued a maritime plan in March as an update of the one from eight years ago.

The report, “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower: Forward, Engaged, Ready,” calls for increasing the Navy’s deployments abroad, or forward presence, to 120 ships by 2020, up from 97 today.

“That really outlines our strategic approach to addressing challenges in the world today,” said Lt. j.g. Kara Yingling.

She said the Navy also is creating scores of positions for strategic thinkers.

The Navy hosted two forums in April and June on current and future strategic planning.

“I think that what it really comes down to is we recognize and acknowledge the importance of strategy, and we’re in the process of executing our plan to further cultivate that environment that carries forward the progress we’ve made so far,” Lt. Yingling said.

The Postgraduate School scholars believe they know the root cause of the problem: It’s not just the focus of Goldwater-Nichols, the landmark legislation of 1986 that reorganized the military. The career path for senior admirals typically follows two routes: operations at sea, and the bureaucracy stateside that shepherds the funding for cherished weapons systems and for readiness accounts.

Lost in the chase to the top are officers who make strategy and policy development their professional centerpieces.

Thus, Navy priorities are pushed by budget numbers and by what combatant commanders say they need, and not by the Navy’s analysis of its role in, say, the Middle East and Pacific.

“The Navy has (and continues to) produce senior leaders that have mastered their tasks in these required competencies,” the study says. “Given this overarching priority, it could be argued that Navy leadership necessarily regards strategy per se as of secondary importance to the man, train, and equip function.”

The scholars write that the center of gravity in day-to-day life at Navy headquarters in the Pentagon resides in the operations side while few senior career admirals, the three- and four-star variety, spend time in the strategy shop.

“It is a commonly accepted fact that the N8 [systems integration] is the most bureaucratically powerful element in the Navy,” the study says. “Most senior leaders in the Navy have done tours in these organizations as they climb up the organizational hierarchy.”

The Navy is simply following what it believes the defense secretary and his staff want.

Said the scholars: “The Navy, like all the services, is principally responsible for manning, training and equipping the force, and to then provide that force for use by the combatant commands, which will deploy that force as directed by the President/Secretary of Defense. This immense responsibility places a premium on programmatic, managerial, and operational expertise — an enterprise of unimagined complexity.”

The report was written by associate professors James A. Russell and Donald Abenheim; James J. Wirtz, dean of the School of International Graduate Studies; Thomas-Durrell Young, Center for Civil-Military Relations; and research associate Diana Wueger.

Said Mr. Russell: “The Navy runs the risk that change in the strategic environment outpaces the institution’s ability to change along with it. The Navy changes only incrementally and extremely slowly for all sorts of reasons. There’s just a risk that the Navy wakes up one day to find that slow, incremental change results in a nasty surprise on the field of battle.”

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