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Nobody Asked Me But…Revolt of the Admirals: Part Deux

By Lieutenant Commander Sean T. Connaughton, U.S. Naval Reserve

In 1949, the Navy's leaders put their reputations and careers on the line to guarantee the Navy a future. They did this not for personal gain or in some interservice turf battle, but because they believed the naval services had an indispensable role in safeguarding the United States. Those men were visionaries and patriots who understood the responsibilities entrusted to them as naval officers and citizens. They staked everything on their convictions—convictions that history proved correct.

The lack of a comparable reaction to the Navy's current plight is disturbing. Is it a lack of courage or character that has left today's leadership largely silent, or is it something else? I would like to believe that it is the latter—that, unlike 1949, the Navy does not have a coherent and shared vision of its future. The reasons are several. Within a few years, the certainties of the Cold War have evaporated. While this has disoriented all the services, it has hit the Navy the hardest. Now there will be no "Third Battle of the Atlantic" or Soviet naval breakthroughs to keep the service vital and ensure congressional funding.

Further blurring comes from "jointness." This is essential during operations, but it has become a millstone around the Navy's neck in peacetime. Jointness has resulted in the Navy haphazardly surrendering capabilities in order to save money or protect more cherished programs. More important, for the sake of unanimity, the Navy does not rock the boat to challenge aggressively a budget formula that allocates funds more or less equally among the services, even though the Navy and Marine Corps have the overwhelming burden of protecting U.S. interests overseas. As a recent example, the acknowledgement of readiness problems and the call for increased funds came only after the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and each service chief agreed to go public—though the Navy's problems were well known.

Finally, intraservice rivalries have become more pronounced in these lean budget years. Budget battles have turned the Navy against itself with air versus surface, surface versus subsurface, surface warfare versus amphibious, Navy versus Marines, and active versus reserve. These rivalries have components stressing their own capabilities instead of the Navy's mission.

The result is confusion and conflict. While the Navy seems to understand it has a vision problem, and has issued From the Sea and Forward . . . From the Sea , these well-written, glossy documents reflect political realities rather than today's military situation, as seen in the Navy's continued support for a force structure that does not correspond to global realities. Worse yet, with no accepted overall vision, each Navy command now seems to have its own plan—few of which have anything to do with warfighting.

It is time for another "revolt of the admirals," but this one must start from within. The Navy must discard current visions and accept the elemental—that its joint team of air, sea, and land forces is our first line of defense in the post-Cold War era. The Navy must conduct an honest review of the numbers and types of naval forces necessary to counter the threats the nation faces. If the Navy can conduct such an analysis honestly, it can formulate a force structure that will serve the nation well into the next century. This may not please the other services or even everyone in the Navy, but it will result in a vision we can fight for and—more important—believe in.

Mr. Connaughton is an attorney in private practice in Washington, D.C. As a reservist, he is assigned to the U.S. Atlantic Command.



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