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By Rick Rogers
SAN DIEGO -- Crackling debate over the shape and stance of the Navy, U. S. policy toward North Korea and pirate interdiction took center stage on the second day of the WEST 2010 Conference co-sponsored by the U. S. Naval Institute and AFCEA Interntional.
If the conference's opening day was a curtain raiser, then day two was a scene-stealer marked by candid comments that started early and lasted all day.
During the breakfast dialogue entitled "What kind of Navy Does America Need?" Robert Work, under secretary of the Navy, was challenged repeatedly on the services' blueprint as laid out in the recently released Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). Former "Good Morning America" host David Hartman moderated the breakfast conversation.
|Day 2: View the Slideshow|
"I would suggest the Navy that we need is probably bigger, probably different and probably concentrates on different things than the 313 ship-Navy we have planned," said Bryan McGrath, lead author of the 2007 Maritime Strategy and director of consulting, studies and analysis for Delex Systems, Inc.
"I think we are over-subscribed in land attack. I think we spend entirely too much time and effort on doing things in the Navy that other services do really well. And that we sometimes don't spend enough time and energy on those things that navies and only navies can do, specifically sea control," said McGrath, a retired U. S. Navy commander. "If you can't control the seas, if your access is denied your power projection forces are feckless."
Work countered that Navy strategy is not designed in a vacuum, but shaped, instead, by the priorities of the executive and legislative branches and aligned to mesh with what other services are doing.
He said the Navy's current configuration is poised to prevail in current wars and in the years to come will improve its ability to fight and win both low-end and high-end conflicts.
"What we want is a lot of payload space," Work said in order to quickly project whatever sort of U. S. power is needed for a given circumstance. "I think the Navy is the most flexible fleet we have ever had."
Hartman asked to what extent the Navy should plan to fight a war with China in the next 30 years.
McGrath said today's Navy today is built to fight a non-existent foe: the Soviet Union. He suggested that the Navy should concentrate on training to counter a new potential foe: the rapidly emerging Chinese maritime force.
"A war with China is a superb force-planning construct for this Navy. I am not saying that we should fight a war with China," McGrath said. "I am not saying it is necessary, inevitable or any of those things."
"I am however saying that when you look at the next best, biggest navy that is increasingly showing a desire to operate out where we operate, it is probably useful to start thinking about fighting that navy. And do we have the navy now to fight that navy and beat that navy or do we have to make some course corrections?"
"We need a navy-killing navy if we are going to beat China if it ever came to that," continued McGrath, who commanded an Aegis destroyer that he said lacked the ready ability to destroy another ship.
Work said China is indeed a rising naval power, but that U. S. "grand strategy" is to work with the Chinese in issues of mutual interest. He conceded that China is developing capabilities that could give the U. S. fleet, which was built to fight another foe, a run for its money.
He said the Navy is developing ways to defeat a high-tech maritime force, not specifically assuming such a foe might emanate from China.
"I can state pretty much with certainty that building a fleet to fight China is not the overriding consideration of this QDR," Work said. ""It is to win the wars we are in. It is to hedge and deter against all manners of threats and to prepare our Navy to be able to operate against any adversary."
"Our idea is to work with China and to prevent the rivalry from getting out of hand," the undersecretary said.
Both Work and McGrath agreed that future tight budgets will make maintaining and upgrading the Navy difficult and could lead to internal squabbles for dwindling dollars.
"But you'll have to ask me about that next year," Work told Hartman.
McGrath said that the Navy could get more funding if it only asked for more.
"Congress is cocked and loaded to give us more resources. We just have to ask for them," McGrath said.
Work replied that any bump in the Navy budget would likely come at the expense of another program within the Defense Department. He added that the Navy did well in the current budget by securing funding for two submarines per year and maintaining the 11-ship carrier force.
At the day's first panel seesion – entitled "What can be Done with North Korea?" two panelists enumerated the actions of an recalcitrant regime that seems bent on regional destabilizing by any means available.
"In North Korea, often nothing seems off the table," said Sydney A. Seiler, deputy North Korea mission manager in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
While North Korea's action-cycle is well known: negotiate, prevaricate, escalate and renegotiate, Seiler said ways to influence the country are not. He suggested that maintaining strong alliances with Japan and South Korea while preventing North Korea from exporting nuclear materials is the selected option.
John Hill, principal director for East Asia, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, echoed the sentiment, adding that the United States believes China can play a larger role in calming its neighbor. He said denuclearizing North Korea through talks and other non-violent means is favored.
|Day 2: View the Slideshow|
The staid conversation took life when the third panelist, Kongdan "Katy" Oh, a researcher with the Institute for Defense Analyses and a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, suggested the option of ""constructive destruction"" of the North Korean government.
"Waiting for the Kim Jong-il regime to go away might not be the brightest thing," said Oh. "It is time to deal with the hidden 22 million people (North Korea's population) who are getting smarter. If you provided an alternate option, I think constructive destruction is very possible."
She described the options outlined by fellow panelists as "a monkey show that does not work" because "nukes are their platinum card" and "dictators never change."
During the question and answer session that followed, Seiler said, "The end game is certain: the (Korean) Peninsula will be reunited." The difficult part, he said, will be integrating the haves (Southern Koreans) with the have-nots (North Koreas).
Oh said that South Korea is building a fund to assist North Koreans assuming eventual reunification.
New-age privateers were the subject of the next panel discussion: "Pirates: How do we Defeat Them?"
Moderator Virginia Lunsford, a U. S. Naval Academy history professor who has written on the topic, gave a quick overview of the piracy problem, including the fact that a black market stock exchange exists where shares of companies run by seaborne highwaymen are traded.
Business is booming.
Pirates took nearly 900 hostages in 2008-2009 and were paid about $60 million in ransoms last year alone, she said. That very day came word that pirates had seized a 4,800-ton, North Korean-flagged cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden.
Lunsford no sooner restated the panel's question than an answer came loud and clear.
|Day 2: View the Slideshow|
"Kill the pirates," boomed Col. David W. Coffman, commander of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit at Camp Pendleton. "How do you defeat pirates? I think that it's pretty simple: Kill the pirates."
The audience of about 300 broke into applause.
Coffman said making pirates go away would be relatively easy, but there is "no appetite" among senior U.S. military leaders to do it.
"We are ready to rock. This is what we do for a living," Coffman said. "The challenge is not capability. "The problem is … my favorite word from admirals, 'no appetite.' "
Rear Adm. Terence McKnight, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 2, disclosed another – and possibly related – problem: the U. S. Central Command and U. S. Africa Command are at loggerheads over who has mission responsibility.
He said one command is responsible for the sea and another the land, so neither is moving aggressively. "An impenetrable barrier of our own making," McKnight called the pirates' ability to exploit the seam.
Vice Adm. Jack Dorsett – newly assigned dual-discipline responsibility as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance and Director of Naval Intelligence – gave the day's luncheon keynote address.
He offered the audience of 600 – those in uniform and those representing defense industries – the chance to aid the Navy in upgrading its networks and command and control functions. He said the Navy planned to include defense firms earlier in the planning process than in the past and said meetings were planned to hear their ideas.
Dorsett said "gaps" that the Navy hopes private industry can fill to allow them to reach "information dominance" exist in maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; integrated sensors; cyber defense; fire control; undersea connectivity; and ballistic missile command and control.
The panel discussion "Global Maritime Domain Awareness: Can It Be Achieved?" ended the day as experts debated how to identify everything on, in and below the world's seas.
There are two main problems preventing the military from a better understanding of who is doing what where on the world's oceans, said Christopher Miller, SSC Atlantic Technical Director.
"We have a culture problem: We hate to share." The other problem has to do with the timely supply of hardware and software.
"I'm dealing with people who are going to Circuit City and EBay, and I have to deal with Congress. It hurts my head," Miller said. "We have to figure out how to work on the Internet. China and Russia are using Gmail for command and control."
"I am here to tell you that we are not going to win this battle unless we get creative," Miller said.
He added that, in his view, more technology is not the answer.
"We have all this stuff out there, but we haven't figured out how to tie it all together."
F. R. "Joe" Call, III, strategic advisor to the Coast Guard's assistant commandant for intelligence and criminal investigations, offered a striking metaphorical solution to get commanders to actually share information – not just say they will.
"Every once in a while you have to hang a few colonels," Call said. "If you hanged a few colonels for not sharing, I think the behavior would change quickly."