Power projection, preserving freedom of the seas, aiding allies, bothering bullies and the ability to “move U.S. soil anywhere in the world.”
|USS Carl Vinson departs San Diego, headed west. (Photo by Lorna T.)|
Greenert’s Navy, which has fewer (290) but much more capable ships than the Navy had during the Reagan buildup (594), can still move nimbly to put anti-missile ships near North Korea or F/A-18s over the Islamic State. But cascading dangers are compelling Americans to think afresh about something they prefer not to think about at all — foreign policy. What they decide that they want will define the kind of nation they want America to be. This abstract question entails a concrete one: What kind of Navy do Americans want? The answer will determine whether U.S. power can, in Greenert’s formulation, “be where it matters when it matters.”He could have written much of that after WWI, when the Navy was cut way back only to be needed again in the face of a rising Asian power seeking to dominate the Western Pacific.
The question, however, is: Do Americans, demoralized by squandered valor in Iraq and Afghanistan, and dismayed in dramatically different ways by two consecutive commanders in chief — the recklessness of one and the lassitude of his successor — want U.S. power projected? They will answer that question with the Navy their representatives configure. The representatives should act on the assumption that every generation lives either in war years or in what subsequent historians will call “interwar years.”
I should note that our Navy has been long been forward deployed and on a war footing since - what? 1987? We need more ships and more people in them. This is not the time to shrink away from our duties to ourselves and others.
Warships are long lead time investments. They are not something you can run down to the local "ShipMax" and pick up a nice barely used model on the cheap (unless you are a U.S. ally picking up our cast-offs). If you need a great big gray hull out there - to do the nation's bidding- you need to keep the shipyards working. The "quality versus quantity" debate becomes meaningless if you can't meet the demands placed on you due to the lack of hulls to be in the right places at the right times.
"History shows danger of arbitrary defense cuts" expresses the right concerns:
As America embarks on a tough strategic journey in the aftermath of Iraq, and contends with an ailing economy, it is wise to be mindful of the difference between hope and fact. The president and Congress might focus on strengthening the economy and assume for a time that a smaller military will suffice. Pursuing prudent military reductions in this environment makes sense; however, relying on a budget-driven process to make these reductions does not."Plan B" should include sound thinking about the dangers ahead and the tools to face them. In my opinion, a solid Naval force should be item #1 in the tool box.
The nation's leadership needs a Plan B so that a heroic assumption -- or hope -- about the unlikelihood of future wars does not inadvertently lead to strategic disaster. This is harder than it seems. Plan B would allow more flexibility to meet what could go wrong in the strategic environment rather than just making budget cuts.