Meanwhile, closer to home, the recent budget mess and the specter of impending cuts have complicated the Navy’s attempts to establish a future force structure, and the shipbuilding industry is just one of many to feel the effects. Naval shipbuilding is a costly endeavor. Furthermore, it’s a fragile enterprise, vulnerable to economic downturns that can lead to halting construction or laying off key personnel, both causes of irreparable industry deterioration. Examining case studies in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, retired Navy Captain John L. Birkler and fellow RAND researchers John Schank, Mark Arena, Jessie Riposo, and Gordon Lee argue that in order for shipbuilding to stay viable over the long term, it cannot be allowed to languish due to the loss of trained workers, facility closures and their money-draining reopenings, or canceling or lengthening programs. “It is crucially important that decision makers inside and outside government address these industrial-base challenges and develop plans to preserve vital capabilities that might otherwise be lost,” they warn.
Beyond maintaining this valuable industrial base, “the acquisition of ships, ship systems, and aircraft is a succinct statement of the country’s strategic interests,” retired Rear Admiral William J. Holland Jr. reminds us. He takes us on a fascinating and even provocative journey back to the Cold War and reveals what took place behind the scenes when military leadership turned its collective undivided attention toward how best to deter and in the end, defeat, the Soviet Union and, in particular, its navy. “Technical developments directly reflected ongoing operations and thereby influenced both submarine acquisition and the strategy for their use,” he explains, and this led to the origins of the Seawolf class. Advanced capabilities allowed the Navy to conceive new ways of fighting its Soviet counterpart, and these concepts were incorporated into what would become the Maritime Strategy of the 1980s.
Finally, while American politicians and military leaders are loath to discuss—much less admit to conducting—nation-building, Captain David Adams writes that historically it has been a central military mission, particularly for the Navy. While the country may be weary from fighting an extended counterinsurgency in two theaters, we need to recognize that nation-building operations must be a critical component of our national-security strategy. Looking back at successful U.S. and British nation-building experiences demonstrates how uniquely suited navies can be for these exercises, Adams contends.