Joint but Unique

By Captain John G. Morgan, U.S. Navy

Mounting geopolitical pressures will increase our dependency on sea power. While that dependency grows, the Navy faces challenges that are problematic. Neither Joint Vision 2010 nor the joint process that defines military requirements adequately recognizes that there will be service-unique contributions the success of the nation's military strategy.

Today, the naval service faces a crisis of relevance. If left unresolved, the synergy of arms will suffer and "Anytime, Anywhere"—the Chief of Naval Operations' call to action for the Navy—will be challenged. We must prioritize joint warfare requirements as we recapitalize and apportion our military tasks for a different and challenging future. That's what's missing in Joint Vision 2010 .

Assumptions often are more interesting than answers. One crucial assumption in Joint Vision 2010 is the assertion that "Simply to retain our effectiveness with less redundancy, we will need to wring out every ounce of capability from every available source. That outcome can only be accomplished through a more seamless integration of service capabilities." Is that assumption correct? If so, it begs a logical question: At what price jointness?

Integrating service capabilities seamlessly is like solving a Rubik's Cube—each twist introduces a new challenge. Integral to that challenge is the all-important relationship between resilience and relevance. We must understand clearly the enduring purpose, principles, and underpinnings of sea power.

At the end of a century, taking stock of an institution is normal. There is a belief that the U.S. military is in the midst of a revolution in military affairs (RMA). Central to this notion is the obvious implication that revolutions lead to radical new ways of doing business. But, the objective of naval warfare is timeless—even though the new security environment is changing rapidly, as are the tools we use to execute assigned missions. A revolution in the art of war analogous to earlier revolutions that introduced motorized transportation, manned aircraft, and nuclear weapons should not be viewed as a shift away from basic naval principles and the contribution they make to the nation's military objectives. As General Henry Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, "While there is no doubt that the nature of warfare is undergoing significant change, let there also be no doubt that much of what we know about the nature of war will remain unchanged."

The Importance of Resilience

Resilience generally is defined as the property of a material that enables it to regain its original shape or position after being bent, stretched, or compressed—elasticity. Considering the dizzying pace of technological change linked to the RMA, it is easy to lose sight of the value of resilience to an organization such as the Navy. It is an important and enduring characteristic, particularly in light of the security challenges that loom ahead.

To be effective, security policy must deal with two demons—risk and uncertainty. Writing about public policy in general, James Glassman of the American Enterprise Institute addressed these related issues. He sees two alternatives for dealing with them—a choice between "anticipation" and "resilience." He contends that "One alternative (anticipation) tries to predict the future, so we can adapt to it in advance; the other (resilience) lets it happen and tries to take advantage of its benefits and bounce back from its adversities."

Glassman is skeptical of the value of planning and the accuracy of anticipation. To those of us in the military, this perspective might be perplexing at best. But still, Glassman's point is interesting. Did anyone guess that Pearl Harbor would be bombed? Did we anticipate losing the Vietnam War? Did we plan on Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait or that he would be causing so much commotion seven years after Desert Storm?

The distinction between preparation and planning (anticipation) is important here. For any competitive endeavor, preparation probably matters more than planning and, all things considered, resilience matters most. This is the perspective that allows Glassman to conclude that "A world in which planning is revealed as futile is a world in which principle is elevated to its proper place. Because the numbers inevitably turn out to be wrong, we should feel comfortable holding resolutely to the ideals we think are right."

The ideals of sea power, embodied in the original shape of the Navy, served the nation well in the past. Paradoxically, the future will not be much different from the past, despite new and emerging approaches to naval warfare. So when comparing the Navy's original shape to what it is becoming, it is important to return to the entering axiom: The military that controls the sea ultimately will control the land. Intuitively, resilience will be of great value to the next Navy.

Balancing resilience and relevance is no easy task, particularly if both characteristics need to be in equilibrium for the Navy to be fully effective. In today's environment, our relevance is on the rise. As MIT's Dr. Owen Cote writes, "The Crisis of Relevance results from the Navy's multimission platforms being relevant to a larger portion of the nation's post-Cold War military tasks. Compare this to the ‘Crisis of Irrelevance' which occurred after World War II, when the Navy's platforms were deemed by many to be irrelevant to a military competition with a continental power like the Soviet Union."

The Navy risks being victimized by its own success, because resilience and relevance are linked in a difficult way: As the Navy takes on more and more joint missions relevant to 21st century needs, it becomes less resilient. That's the conundrum.

Every action has a reaction. With more relevant missions to be performed by fewer naval platforms, obviously something has to give. A bridge's elasticity and resilience in the wind are the secrets of its strength. So it is with the future Navy.

Some recent examples of multimission creep in new and untested areas include ballistic missile defense, overland surveillance, and expanding options for precision land attack. These are relevant missions, but there is no free lunch. As the Navy undertakes new endeavors there is more than just a fiscal cost. Other intangible but expensive costs that translate to a strain on resilience include:

  • A multimission penalty—becoming a jack of all trades and master of none as we struggle to do more with less
  • Opportunity costs—an investment in one opportunity precludes investment elsewhere in a zero-sum budget environment
  • A growth in expectations—often at the expense of flexibility and mobility

If we do not examine the effect of our growing relevance and expanding applications, we jeopardize our original shape and greater strength. The Navy's core mission and strength is sea control. It enables the other services to do their jobs. Interestingly, the other services are becoming increasingly dependent on maritime supremacy to execute their missions. As defense budgets inevitably tighten and present difficult choices, the Navy must never abandon its resilient core, and must preserve its sea-control capabilities as its first priority.

The Sea-Control Imperative

The military strategy spelled out in Joint Vision 2010 depends on the ability to move and resupply our joint arsenal by sea and to defend it once it is in theater. Sea control is vital to the success of Joint Vision 2010 . While the United States and its allies currently enjoy a clear qualitative and quantitative advantage over any potential adversary, this advantage does not guarantee total maritime dominance, particularly against high-leverage weapons such as submarines, cruise missiles, and mines. Despite the U.S. Navy's superpower status, uncertainty in its ability to dominate the ocean stems from two factors—strategic asymmetries between U.S. goals and those of our potential adversaries, and operational asymmetries that strongly favor weaker navies using submarines, cruise missiles, and mines.

In the near term, no potential adversary is likely to develop the capability to go head-to-head with the United States in a classic naval battle and win. The greater risk is that they will develop strategies that attempt to exploit perceived U.S. weaknesses to disrupt operations. Key U.S. vulnerabilities that an enemy might choose to exploit include:

  • An economy heavily dependent on unimpeded flow of crucial goods across long sea lines of communication
  • Rapid reinforcement and resupply plans that depend on unimpeded movement by sea and are intolerant of delay
  • Operational objectives that depend on or assume maritime supremacy as a prerequisite for control of the land
  • The perception that the United States is unwilling to accept casualties or embarrassing losses in pursuit of its national objectives

Our adversaries will be able to prepare for warfare in a single theater of operations—their backyard. The United States must be prepared to deal with a number of contingencies in diverse environments at considerable distance from home.

Ultimately, the United States must dominate the battlespace to "win." For the adversary to "prevail," it may only need to disrupt, delay, or demoralize. Ours is clearly the greater challenge. We cannot assume our ability to dominate the seas; we must possess and demonstrate the requisite military capability.

Economic vs. National Security

Vice President Al Gore has suggested that "As we journey into the next century, we are finding that national security and economic security are becoming inextricably linked." This relationship further highlights the value of naval presence—particularly forward presence.

In an interesting event, the U.S. Naval War College and Cantor Fitzgerald, the preeminent broker of U.S. government securities, brought together national security specialists and leading experts in the financial sector to conduct an economic security exercise on Wall Street in December 1997. The exercise involved an escalating crisis in Southwest Asia in the midst of the 2000 U.S. presidential primary elections. The scenario developed as outline below:

  • A rise in Shia fundamentalism in key Gulf Cooperation Council countries threatens U.S. access to the region in the short term, and Western access to oil supplies in the long term.
  • Attacks on freedom of navigation for merchant traffic lead to a partial blockage of the Strait of Hormuz and escort operations.
  • Regional terrorism and escalating attacks on merchant ships lead to a military response by the United States, reaction by Iran, and closure of the Strait.

In this kind of crisis, one barometer of interest is the price of oil. Using the spot price of oil, the financial community participants estimated the effect of the crisis. The crisis spanned three months in the year 2000, and events evolved from a baseline through a brink and concluded in conflict. Analysis suggested a 60% increase in the price of oil from baseline to brink and a 117% increase from baseline to conflict. The players also believed that prices would retreat one year after the hostilities, but the residual impact of the crisis is nearly a 27% increase in the price of oil. Such estimates are consistent with historical precedents found in the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, the 1978 Iranian Revolution, and the 1991 Gulf War.

Using a Disruption Impact Simulator developed by the Energy Information Administration, the exercise also examined "how bad could it get?" The following excursions were run for a 90-day sustained disruption in the world's oil supply:

  • 15% disruption (closure of the Strait of Hormuz, offset by Saudi Arabia diverting their production to the pipeline across the Peninsula)
  • 10% disruption (mitigating the disruption through the use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve)
  • 6% disruption (resorting to additional use of all world reserves)

The decline in oil prices from December 1997 to April 1998 does not dilute the key insights of this exercise and its report. As George Will wrote, "This golden moment cannot last forever."9 The lesson of history is constant. The cyclical nature of oil prices affects every American. If another oil crisis occurs, the consequences will be significant and accompanied by the expectation that the U.S. military will be called upon to dampen the effect on the national security.

As geopolitical pressures grow, the need for sea control will become an increasingly public and political issue that must be addressed. Inevitably, the United States once again will have to fight for control of the seas. It won't be another Battle of the Atlantic, but it will be important nonetheless. Our current military advantage is significant but not insurmountable, particularly if we must fight in an adversary's backyard. Assuming sea control in the 21st century is a trap for the unwary.

What's Next?

By virtue of technological and political imperatives, the Navy simultaneously is being pushed and pulled to adopt new joint roles and missions. The long-term challenge for the Navy is to balance its inherent need for resilience with its laudable ambition to remain relevant to the security task at hand. A natural tension should exist between these two characteristics.

Fortunately, the Navy's resources and capabilities are fungible. But, there is a limit to our elasticity. Adoption of new roles and missions might well be inevitable and appropriate but, if pursued incorrectly, could distract the Navy from its core competencies and original shape.

To preserve the vital and uniquely naval contributions to the national defense, the following observations are offered:

  • The Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) validates requirements in joint mission areas and then the services apportion the funds to meet those requirements. That process probably needs to be updated. Dr. Cote suggests, "The JROC might consider and validate requirements for joint enabling missions like sea control that benefit all the services, even though in its execution, sea control is a Navy specific mission."
  • The migration of joint missions to naval platforms, such as ballistic missile defense, may be a necessary condition for more agile and deployable air and armed forces. Also, to the degree that the Navy can satisfy some of the Army and Marine Corps requirements for precision fires ashore, the nation will be able to project power more quickly and effectively. But contrary to the fiscal reality that imposes a zero-sum restriction, adding joint missions often robs the Navy of sea-control capabilities. More missions should translate to more funding.
  • These observations are not about inter-service rivalry. The stakes for the nation's security, both economic and military interests, are too high. A new era with different and difficult challenges demands a refined joint process to apportion the defense budget.

The confluence of events at the start of the 21st century highlights the relevance of the U.S. Navy to U.S. security interests. Without the influence of sea power, the nation's strategic and military objectives cannot be met. But there are limits to what the Navy can and should do. In both peace and war, both resilience and relevance count.

The Navy cannot allow itself to become excessively distracted from its defining ideals and principles with implications that it cannot accept. Faced with fewer ships, aircraft, and sailors, we first must preserve the Navy's unique contributions that enable other vital missions to be performed by the other services.

There is much about the nature of war that has not changed. But as we shape and size the next Navy, we cannot justify reinvention that risks our ability to control and project power from the seas.

Captain Morgan is the Director, Antisubmarine Warfare Requirements Division (N84) on the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations staff. He has commanded the USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) and Commander Destroyer Squadron 26.



Conferences and Events

Maritime Security Dialogue

Wed, 2016-11-02

You are cordially invited to: The Role of Space in Maritime Operations A discussion with RADM(SEL) Christian "Boris"...

Defense Forum Washington 2016

WEST 2017

San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, CA

View All

From the Press

Guest Lecturer & Book Signing

Sun, 2016-10-30

Book Launch Party

Wed, 2016-11-02

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 135 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership