Anytime, Anywhere: A Navy for the 21st Century

By Admiral Jay Johnson, USN

Yet, this also is a time of transition, with the concomitant uncertainty, dislocation, and anxiety—a period that will be marked by continued crises and threats to American lives and security and in which maintaining the operational primacy of our naval forces will be critical. We are unquestionably the world's premier maritime power, but I foresee a 21st century in which "power" will be measured differently from today and in which power from the sea more than ever will be the key to shaping the peace and stability of a troubled world.

We already are shaping our Navy to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The landmark 1992 white paper ". . . From the Sea" took the first steps, followed by "Forward . . . from the Sea" in 1994 and the "Navy Operating Concept" earlier this year. Each of these steps revolved around a simple idea: the purpose of the U.S. Navy is to influence, directly and decisively, events ashore from the sea—anytime, anywhere.

That straightforward statement is the core of my vision of 21st-century naval power. It describes who we are and what we do. It encompasses our broad missions of sea control, power projection, presence, and deterrence, and it says how we will use naval forces to meet the requirements of our National Security Strategy and National Military Strategy, while we continue to perform enduring operations such as sanctions enforcement and strategic sealift. But it does more than that. It says to the American people that we, with our sister services, can and will shape the strategic environment and have a decisive impact from the sea on the crises and conflicts of the future; that we can and will fight our way through any opposition at sea or in the air; and that we can project and sustain enough power ashore—carrier air, gunfire, missiles, and Marines—to deter a conflict, to stop an aggressor, or to pave the way for heavier joint forces. That is a bold promise and a greater task than any other navy has ever undertaken. Our challenge—the challenge of every Navy man and woman, and mine most of all—is to implement that bold promise, now and in the decades to come.

New Challenge, Old Realities

Three points are obvious to me from the outset:

  • A military force that cannot win is worthless, in war and peace.
  • War is a messy endeavor with unpredictable outcomes.
  • A big part of being more effective is being able to fight smarter.

The first point means that the focus of whatever we do has to be our ability to win any conflict, anytime, anywhere. We cannot sacrifice today's readiness to invest in tomorrow's promises. We must be able to answer the call both tomorrow and today.

The second point says that there is no simple, absolute technological answer to all our warfare problems. We cannot assume that our future conflicts will be swift and bloodless. We still will face many contingencies in which more traditional combat capabilities on land and at sea will be needed and may be our only option. We must take full advantage of new technologies, but we also must retain traditional combat skills.

The final point says that we must move aggressively to harness change and make it work for us. However, there is more to harnessing change than simply adapting new technologies to current warfare tasks. We must think differently and creatively about what our Navy does and what it might do to better serve our nation in the years ahead. Specifically, we must ask ourselves how we can give a highly trained, well-equipped, but perhaps smaller military force such as ours an impact so disproportionate to its numbers as to make it decisive in peace and in war. That problem is not unique to the Navy; all of our sister services are grappling with the same dilemma. The Navy, however, brings unique sea-based solutions to the equation and can make a unique contribution to our country's security.

Sea and Area Control

Mahan was right: navies are about more than just fighting other navies; they are powerful instruments of national policy whose special strength stems from their ability to command the seas. In fact, at the core of U.S. security requirements lies one prerequisite—sea control. U.S. military strategy is based on forward presence and power projection—maintaining a presence in key regions and, when necessary, deploying and sustaining sea, land, and air forces overseas. If we cannot command the seas and the airspace above them, we cannot project power to command or influence events ashore; we cannot deter; we cannot shape the security environment. That is a consequence of our geography; it will not change in the 21st century.

What will change is our foes' ability to block such presence and power projection. Over the past ten years, it has become evident that proliferating weapon and information technologies will enable our foes to attack the ports and airfields needed for the forward deployment of our land-based forces. I anticipate that the next century will see those foes striving to target concentrations of troops and materiel ashore and attack our forces at sea and in the air. This is more than a sea-denial threat or a Navy problem; it is an area-denial threat whose defeat or negation will become the single most crucial element in projecting and sustaining U.S. military power where it is needed.

The future world that I foresee will demand a new and expanded understanding of sea control and battlespace dominance. It still will be necessary to dominate the air and sea to secure the air and sea lanes and project power ashore; however, we also will have to be able to defeat a foe's land-, air-, and space-based surveillance and strike capabilities over a broad theater of operations. We will have to merge our sea control seamlessly into control of the littorals and fully integrate our capabilities into the land battle. We can and will do this. In fact, expanded sea control and battlespace dominance, as I see it developing, will encompass everything from an information warfare battle of surveillance systems, to precise strikes against critical surveillance nodes, to theater missile defense, to command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) and a cooperative engagement capability that includes a comprehensive defense of both the fleet and forces ashore. Indeed, without the ability to assert such area control, any sustained forward operations, whether by land-based or sea-based forces, quickly could become very costly in American lives and very risky—if not impossible.

Power Projection

If expanded area control is our greatest challenge for the early 21st century, power projection is one of our greatest opportunities. I believe we will be able to use sea power in a way that Alfred Thayer Mahan could only dream about at the turn of this century.

The battleships of Mahan's day could fire their projectiles only ten miles inland; the aircraft and missiles of today's Navy can project power to distances 1,000 miles or more from the coast, and MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft can insert Marines hundreds of miles inland. This means that our "littoral" operations even today can encompass most of the earth's land masses, more than 80% of its population, and most of its capitals and major cities. And this is just the beginning. If we accept the challenge of a new age and grasp its opportunities, our future sea power will take on a whole new dimension.

As precision weapons become cheaper and more numerous, naval dominance of the littorals will acquire a new scale and importance. Advanced joint and national information and targeting systems will multiply the impact of our long reach with global battlespace awareness. This will enable us to mass the effects of distributed but precise fires from the sea wherever they will have the greatest effect and to support the land battle well inland. In addition, they will give us the capacity to act and react so quickly as to anticipate and forestall an enemy's moves. In short, we will possess the means to disorient and shock an enemy sufficiently to break his resistance.

When these emerging capabilities are combined with traditional strengths of sea-based power—such as the ability to maneuver freely in international waters and to sustain operations without bases or access for as long as needed—an exciting new dimension of sea power begins to emerge. I envision a hard-hitting future naval campaign that combines highly mobile Marine operations deep into the littoral with responsive close air and fire support and long-range precision strikes—all mounted and sustained entirely from the sea.

Presence and Deterrence

The Navy's enhanced control and power projection capabilities also will have a major impact on the ability of naval forces to prevent war and to both shape and keep an uneasy peace in the 21st century. One irreplaceable element is and will remain the strategic nuclear deterrence of our ballistic-missile submarine force, but deterrence is more than that. Our national strategy places great emphasis on the active use of military forces to prevent conflict, to shape our security environment, and to serve as the basis for a lasting peace. Forward naval presence always has been inextricably linked to conventional deterrence, but I see a new dimension for sea power here, too. I look to a future in which balanced forward naval presence will be increasingly vital in shaping the peace.

One reason for this expanded naval role already is apparent. The number of U.S. bases overseas is declining, and our access to facilities in friendly countries can be problematic—especially in times of crisis. Under such circumstances, the ability of naval forces to get where they are needed and to stay as long as needed is essential. Naval forces are the visible guarantee that the United States can and will react to provocation and will support its friends in time of need.

There is, however, an even more exciting prospect. Forward naval forces offer us the opportunity to combine a demonstrable assurance of protection across the full range of operations—including theater missile and air defense—with balanced power projection capabilities and an implied guarantee of a rapid expeditionary deployment of additional forces from the continental United States. That is, we can use naval presence to foreclose an enemy's options entirely. Naval forces can deter by demonstrating that any aggression, large or small, is doomed to failure. No matter what a foe's intentions or how much he may strive for a swift military fait accompli, he would be forced to recognize that our forces can deny him his objective, defend against his threats, and bring sufficient tailored power to bear quickly enough to prevent even temporary success. In effect, forward naval forces shape the peace by becoming a force-in-being—a tangible part of the local security calculus that any would-be aggressor must take into consideration.
Brief Points

Deterrence also depends on the power our allies can bring to bear. Enhanced forward naval forces will build such deterrence in two new ways. We will provide potential partners an offshore air and missile defense against an aggressor's threats and thereby enable them to freely join us or grant access to our land-based forces. And we will use our technology, especially our battlespace awareness, to help them help themselves by multiplying the impact of their forces and lending a new dimension to what they can do in battle. Truly, forward naval forces are the key to regional stability.

We have the opportunity and the means to make the next century a golden age of maritime power. Over the past five years, we have come a long way. We have experimented with new ideas and technologies and have made some hard choices. Now, the goal is within our grasp. I challenge our Navy to think still more innovatively and to build on the Navy-Marine Corps team's unmatched expeditionary tradition. Together, we will set a new standard for operational primacy both at sea and over vast overland reaches of our chaotic world. We will redefine sea power in new, far-reaching terms that can change the face of 21st-century warfare. And together, we will continue building a strong, balanced Navy that will prevail today, tomorrow, and for decades to come—anytime, anywhere.

Admiral Johnson is Chief of Naval Operations.


Admiral Johnson is Chief of Naval Operations.

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