Indeed, events in 2008 underscored the Founding Fathers' wisdom of building those first six frigates to form a nucleus of sea power for an upstart republic intent on protecting critical interests at risk from pirates and the great powers of the day. In the CNO's accounting, last year:
- 46 percent of the Navy's ships were under way at any given time, conducting more than 120 exercises and almost 350 port visits—an operational tempo that all-but "redlined" the 280-ship Navy, numerically the smallest Fleet since 1916.
- In the Pacific Rim alone, 76 surface ships and aircraft carriers, 34 submarines, and 62 military sealift command ships were under way or deployed to forward operating areas.
- 46 percent of fixed-wing aircraft that supported U.S. and coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan came from aircraft carriers.
- The Navy provided 75 percent of the electronic attack capacity to defeat improvised explosive devices in Iraq and to disrupt communications among insurgents, fully 100 percent in Afghanistan.
- In the Middle East, more Sailors were ashore than at sea—on the average 14,000 Navy personnel in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Horn of Africa compared to 10,000 Sailors at sea in those regions.
- Navy SEALS, construction battalions, explosive ordnance disposal, riverine forces, and intelligence professionals were "in incredible demand, so much so that they're meeting themselves coming and going in order to fulfill the needs of the commanders."
- The "steel bridge" provided by the Navy's Military Sealift Command "fed the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan"—in all, MSC delivered 7 million square feet of dry cargo and more than 2.3 billion gallons of fuel worldwide last year.
- The Navy stood up the Fourth Fleet to focus attention on Latin and South America, particularly in support of numerous soft-power initiatives fostered by Southern Command.
- The Navy also established Combined Task Force (CTF)-151 in the Gulf of Aden to deal with the age-old problem of maritime piracy.
These events and more over the past year highlighted the value of the Navy to the nation, but also underscored uncertainties as the service looks ahead.
Where No Navy Had Gone
In late 2007, an inactive 5,000-pound U.S. reconnaissance satellite was predicted to reenter the Earth's atmosphere, posing a threat of injury, death, and destruction. The potential hazard of having the non-functioning satellite's highly toxic hydrazine propellant survive reentry and land in a populated area was a growing concern. President George W. Bush directed the U.S. Strategic Command to develop a course of action—codenamed Operation Burnt Frost—to destroy the satellite at an altitude where it would pose no danger to population centers and other satellites in earth orbit.
Virtually nothing had been done in the United States to facilitate such a scenario since the U.S. Air Force shelved its aircraft-launched antisatellite system in 1989. But now, the United States had less than two months to develop a way to destroy the satellite before re-entry.
To carry out Burnt Frost, the United States had to go where no Aegis—or any other navy's—warship had gone before. The technical and operational challenges posed by the President's decision to destroy the satellite were significant. The satellite was higher, faster, and larger than any target engaged over years of testing. Given the higher closing velocities, a successful intercept would require longer radar and missile-seeker ranges, extended missile flight time, and greater guidance accuracy than any previous antiair warfare (AAW) or ballistic-missile defense (BMD) problem.
The satellite's orbit was dwindling, allowing only seven weeks to plan, analyze, develop, test, and install shipboard modifications, make critical adjustments to surface-to-air missiles, train ships' crews, and execute the mission. Three Aegis warships—the USS Lake Erie (CG-70), Russell (DDG-59), and Decatur (DDG-73)—were assigned the task, with the Lake Erie designated as the principal firing ship.
A joint Navy-industry-academia team developed modifications to intercept the satellite and coordinated with the Navy for ship availability, modifying mission-critical systems and training ships' crews. Several warships and shore-based sites tracked the satellite, providing daily data to government, industry, and research centers to determine a feasible intercept: the launch window, optimal engagement locations and ship positions, and the best time of day to engage.
Engineers rewrote thousands of lines of Aegis weapon system computer program code to identify the satellite as a valid target, declare the satellite an "engageable" track, and compute valid intercept points. Engineers and Sailors worked hand-in-glove to confirm the software changes. This real-time collaboration between engineers and Fleet operators was a critical factor in meeting the tight timeline for the mission. Once approved, the Navy delivered and installed the modified tactical programs in the three warships.
Concurrently, engineers worked on modifications to the SM-3 missile, which included extensive modeling and simulation efforts to evaluate engagement and intercept performances. Three SM-3 missiles were modified and shipped in only 26 days.
At the same time, the Aegis Training and Readiness Center developed a new syllabus to train the crews on each ship. The best ship trainers were selected, and training teams went to the ships. Training continued while the ships were under way, with crews carrying out many rehearsals, receiving track data from land and space sensors, their own ships' radars searching, detecting and tracking the satellite, and simulating engagement after engagement.
On 20 February 2008, the Lake Erie launched a single modified SM-3 missile, which intercepted the satellite at an altitude of 153 nautical miles and a combined closing speed greater than 22,000 miles per hour. The results were spectacular, leading Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps General James E. Cartwright to note: "This was uncharted territory. The technical challenge was significant. You want to reach out to all of the Sailors on the ship, the technicians and the software programmers, grab them by the hand and thank them for what they did."
With a credo of "build . . . test . . . learn . . . deploy . . ." that has shaped five decades of technical and engineering excellence and operational success, Aegis BMD and Operation Burnt Frost in a sense anticipated President Barack Obama's campaign challenge that "We must seek a nuclear missile defense and demand that those efforts use resources wisely to build systems that would actually be effective. Missile defense requires far more rigorous testing to ensure that it is cost-effective and, most importantly, will work." Since the first Aegis BMD intercept test in January 2002, through 2008, the Navy's element of the overall U.S. BMD system has enjoyed unprecedented success: 16 target missile intercepts—14 with advanced mid-course-phase SM-3s and two with terminal-phase SM-2s, including dual intercepts during two test events—against only four misses.
And the President's promise to "focus on adapting and building U.S. military capabilities for current, not Cold War, needs" looks to underscore at least a sea-based defense against ballistic missiles. Indeed, in the July 2008 Foreign Affairs , he wrote, "We must use this moment both to rebuild our military and to prepare it for the missions of the future."
On 6 April 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates confirmed the need to add $700 million in fiscal year 2010 to field more of "our most capable theater missile defense systems," the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System and SM-3 programs, and $200 million to fund conversion of six additional Aegis ships to provide ballistic-missile-defense capabilities.
And Missions from the Past
Hostis humanis —the pirate is the "enemy of mankind." According to the Geneva Convention on the High Seas, piracy jure gentium is:
. . . an illegal act of violence, detention or any act of depredation, committed for private ends, by those aboard a private ship or private aircraft, and directed, either on the high seas against any ship or persons or property thereon or in territory or waters of the nature of terra nullius against a ship or person or property thereon.
The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (which the United States has still not ratified as of May 2009) confirms that perspective and the duty of all states to take all action to combat maritime piracy. Indeed, for centuries piracy jure gentium has been considered a scourge, and pirates may be captured and tried by any state.
The war on piracy, particularly in the waters off the Horn of Africa, escalated dramatically in 2008. By year's end, according to the International Maritime Organization, more than 120 ships had been attacked—from 1984 to 2007, just 440 attacks had been reported worldwide—with 35 ships seized and more than 600 crew held for ransom, with $100 million paid to pirates.
"Instability from maritime piracy in the Gulf of Aden is sending ripples throughout the global supply chain, which is reeling from falling rates brought on by the worldwide economic slowdown," U.S. Navy Captain Brian Wilson and Commander James Kraska wrote in the January 2009 Armed Forces Journal . "Twenty thousand ships pass through the Gulf of Aden adjacent to the Indian Ocean each year, transporting cargo that includes 12 percent of the world's daily oil supply," they wrote. The economic cost to shipping companies from piracy in the Indian and Pacific oceans soared to $15 billion last year.
In August the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1772, encouraging governments with naval ships operating in international waters off the coast of Somalia to "be vigilant to any incident of piracy therein and to take appropriate action to protect merchant shipping." That same month, the Navy launched the Global Maritime Partnership initiative by establishing a Maritime Security Patrol Area in the Gulf of Aden and dispatched CTF-150 to the area.
Two obstacles soon arose. First, the U.S. Navy and the other 18 navies active in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden lacked the means to hold captured pirates, described as "people under control" or "PUCs," accountable within a legal system. Captain Wilson and Commander Kraska acknowledged:
The great expense and logistical and legal burdens of transporting the pirates to a Western country are daunting. In 2006, these difficulties caused the U.S. to provide temporary custody for Somali pirates on board U.S. warships for months at a time. These difficulties with PUCs are why several countries, including France and Britain, have simply returned captured pirates to the beach without taking any legal action.
On 2 December, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1846, which overcame the first obstacle. The most significant aspect of this resolution was its inclusion of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts (SUA) clause. Based on the UN Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, this clause applies to nearly all of the attacks occurring in the Gulf of Aden, and obliges parties to criminalize such acts and establish jurisdiction when the offense is committed against their vessels or nationals.
Second, many of the navies participating in CTF-150 were not authorized to conduct counter-piracy missions. On 8 January 2009, the Commander, Combined Maritime Forces, established CTF-151, under the command of U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Terence McKnight (recently succeeded by Rear Admiral Michelle Howard), specifically for counter-piracy needs, while CTF-150 provides a framework for general maritime security tasks.
Vice Admiral William Gortney, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, explained:
Because of the complexity of operations, I determined it was necessary to establish CTF 151—a task force with a mission and a mandate from the UN to conduct counter-piracy operations throughout the area of responsibility. Those nations that are seeking authorities to conduct these operations will bring their collective capabilities to bear to deter, disrupt and eventually bring to justice the maritime criminals involved in the piracy events.
The service established CTF-151 to deter, disrupt and suppress piracy in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1851, to protect the global maritime environment, enhance maritime security, and secure freedom of navigation for all nations. CTF-151 is a multinational task force that conducts counter-piracy operations in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, and the Red Sea and was created to provide a lawful maritime order and develop security in the maritime environment.
"The key to eradicating Somali piracy lies in interrupting the larger, complex system," Dr. Virginia Lunsford wrote in the December 2008 Proceedings  . "It is essential that the pirates be intercepted in action on the high seas. . . . However, the situation is more complicated than that, and the longer the system is permitted to stay in place and grow, the more intractable the piracy problem will become."
In the same issue, retired Navy Commander John Patch wrote, "[B]ut it is perchance time that the many flag states and private companies enjoying the benefits of the global maritime commons contribute to the costs of keeping it secure." He continued, "Because the U.S. Navy lacks the resources to effectively accomplish even a fraction of its assigned missions, treating piracy for what it is—criminal activity—should lessen the demands on an already overtaxed American Fleet."
Humanitarian Operations Close to Home
For more than a month, back-to-back tropical storms and hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike pummeled the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Haiti was hit particularly hard. Four storms flooded eight of Haiti's ten geographic departments, destroying bridges and roads, leaving hundreds of Haitians dead and tens of thousands homeless and desperate for humanitarian aid. The Navy's hospital ship Comfort (T-AH-20) and the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) provided much-needed assistance.
After already seeing thousands of patients in eight countries as part of its planned 120-day deployment, the Comfort arrived in Port-au-Prince on 1 September. By the time the ship left a week later, she had provided medical services in four locations in and around the city of Port-au-Prince, a second small port city, and a town several miles inland. The mission required the skills and experience of the joint-agency crew: U.S. Army, Navy, Military Sealift Command, Air Force, Coast Guard, Public Health Service, Canadian Forces, and the non-governmental organization Project Hope.
Captain Robert Kapcio, the Comfort's mission commander, said the ship's humanitarian mission "was very important, and we hope the medical services and construction assistance we've provided will have a very positive effect on the Haitians we've been able to treat."
That mission served more than 76,000 patients during the entire deployment, more than 11,800 of those in Haiti. Total patient encounters, which include a single patient receiving multiple treatments, students in training sessions, and even veterinary care services were in excess of 295,000, of which more than 39,000 were in Haiti.
On 5 September, U.S. Southern Command directed Commander, Fourth Fleet to divert the amphibious ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) from its humanitarian and civic assistance mission in Colombia to assist in relief efforts in Haiti. By the time the ship departed on 26 September, Marine and Navy helicopters embarked in the Kearsarge had flown more than 100 sorties, and landing craft transported more than 30 loads, delivering more than 3.3 million pounds of food, water, and other relief supplies to devastated Haitian communities.
The Kearsarge had been deployed to the Caribbean supporting Continuing Promise 2008, a humanitarian-assistance mission that included the participation of U.S. military personnel, military medical personnel from Brazil, Canada, France, and the Netherlands, medical volunteers from the U.S. Public Health Service, the UN Population Fund, and volunteers from non-governmental organizations such as Operation Smile, Project Hope, World Food Program, and International Aid.
Medical teams from the Kearsarge , which included personnel from the U.S. Public Health Service, Coast Guard, Air Force, and Canadian army and air force, worked with other agencies - the Center for Disease Control, Doctors Without Borders, the Pan American Health Organization, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, Project Hope, International Aid, and others—to provide medical services and assessments in 16 villages and to more than 1,000 Haitians. Air Force engineers and Navy Seabees assessed roads, bridges, and critical infrastructures destroyed by heavy rains and flooding from the storms.
Georgia On My Mind
When Russian military forces invaded the former Soviet republic of Georgia on 8 August, the Navy's initial response was to pull out of Operation FRUKUS, a joint U.S.-Russian naval exercise scheduled to begin that week off Russia's Pacific coast. On 17 August, President Bush directed Defense Secretary Gates to put in place Operation Assured Delivery, an air and naval humanitarian mission to Georgia to reach about 118,000 displaced people.
Two U.S. warships and a Coast Guard cutter were dispatched to Georgian ports. The Arleigh Burke - class guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul (DDG-74) delivered more than 34 short tons of humanitarian aid to the southern Georgian port of Batumi, avoiding Georgia's main Black Sea cargo port of Poti that was still controlled by Russia. The Coast Guard cutter Dallas (WHEC-716) also carried 34 tons of humanitarian aid to Batumi. And in early September, the Sixth Fleet's amphibious command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20) arrived in Poti, carrying more than 17 tons of humanitarian supplies for Georgians. In addition, three U.S. naval aircraft flew 62 missions, airlifting 325 tons of humanitarian aid into Tbilisi.
Operation Assured Delivery ended on 8 September, with future U.S. aid efforts to be conducted by civilian agencies. The Pentagon's focus then switched to assessing the needs of Georgia's military, depleted by the confrontation with Moscow.
Russian troops invaded Georgia, a close U.S. ally, after Georgian forces tried to retake the breakaway region of South Ossetia. The United States strongly condemned Russia's actions, prompting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to accuse the United States of provoking Moscow by using warships to deliver aid to Georgia.
Marine Mammals Redux
On 12 November, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of the Navy in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council , concluding that the lower courts had improperly favored the possibility of injuring marine animals over the reality of military readiness and the use of mid-frequency active (MFA) sonar in training and exercises. As a result of preliminary determinations of Navy non-compliance, for example, one court issued a preliminary injunction that made it virtually impossible for the Navy to certify antisubmarine warfare effectiveness in strike groups making ready to deploy. This also imposed additional and broader mitigation measures on top of the 29 measures already employed by the Navy to protect marine mammals. The Supreme Court's ruling vacated the broad limitations that had been imposed on the service.
On 27 December the Navy and several plaintiffs, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Cetacean Society International, the League for Coastal Protection, the Ocean Futures Society, and Jean-Michel Cousteau, entered into a settlement agreement to resolve a worldwide challenge to the Navy's MFA sonar testing and training. The settlement adopted a long-range program for environmental analysis and research that the Navy began in August 2005. The agreement also highlighted the Navy's investment program in marine mammal research—$26 million in fiscal year 2008 and about $100 million during the previous five years. As part of the settlement, the Navy agreed during the next three fiscal years to direct $14.75 million in research and development specifically to marine mammal topics of mutual interest to the Navy and the plaintiffs.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and the Navy in January 2009 finalized marine-mammal-stranding response plans for three of the Navy's largest training areas: the Hawaii Range Complex, the Southern California Range Complex, and the Atlantic Fleet Active Sonar Training area. Similar stranding response plans will be developed for the Navy's ten other at-sea major training ranges and operating areas.
Approximately 3,500 marine mammals strand on U.S. coasts each year. In many cases, the causes of these strandings cannot be determined, though common causes include disease, fishery entanglements, and ship strikes. The impact of sound on marine mammals has been controversial, with fundamental science not supportive of definitive assessments. "We are looking forward to working with the National Marine Fisheries Service on implementing these stranding plans. We want to know why strandings occur," said John Quinn, deputy director of the Chief of Naval Operations Environmental Readiness Division. "Understanding the causes will help scientists understand how these unfortunate events can be prevented or reduced in number," he concluded.
Thomas Fetherston, special assistant for marine science at the Chief of Naval Operations Environmental Readiness Division, added that the stranding response plans would not unreasonably burden the Navy. "Many of the requirements listed in the stranding response plans are just codifying the types of things that the Navy has already been asked to do on a case-by-case basis. These plans simply provide a consistent process," he noted. "We are hopeful that having a consistent process will enable scientists to obtain additional and better data to assist in marine mammal research, which is a major priority for the Navy."
As Goes Zumwalt So Goes the Navy?
At a 31 July 2008 hearing before the Seapower and Expeditionary Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, Allison Stiller, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Ship Programs, and Vice Admiral Barry McCullough, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Integration of Capabilities and Resources (N8), announced a major change in the service's position on what kind of destroyers it would acquire during the next decade or so. They testified that the service no longer wanted to acquire additional Zumwalt (DDG-1000)-class destroyers—named after former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt—beyond the first two or three and instead wanted to procure eight more Arleigh Burke (DDG-51)-class destroyers through fiscal year 2015.
Prior to changing its position, the Navy had been steadfast in its support for the DDG-1000. An initial objective of 32 DDG-1000s had been planned, but as fiscal realities and force structure reassessments subsequently shaped the Navy's programs, the DDG-1000 buy dwindled to 24, 12, and ultimately just seven ships. But, as the Congressional Research Service's naval analyst Ronald O'Rourke described the situation, "Until the July 31 hearing, the Navy for several years had stressed the need for procuring additional DDG-1000s, defended the DDG-1000 program against various criticisms, and rejected proposals for stopping DDG-1000 procurement and for resuming procurement of DDG-51s."
Although concerns about the cost of the program had been aired and remained highly contentious, the Navy in mid-2008 decided to curtail the program at just three—maybe only two— Zumwalt s because the ship "cannot perform area air defense; specifically, it cannot successfully employ the Standard Missile-2, SM-3, or SM-6, and is incapable of conducting ballistic-missile defense," according to Admiral McCullough's testimony at the July hearing. Recent classified studies had determined that "increased warfighting gaps," particularly in the DDG-1000's capabilities for integrated air- and missile-defense against the "pacing threats" from advanced Chinese ballistic missiles and small cruise missiles like those used by Hezbollah against the Israeli navy in the 2006 Lebanon war contributed to the Navy's decision. This was an abrupt change of course. In March, Navy leadership had testified that the Zumwalt design offered "significant capability improvements in every warfare area vs. DDG-51," including air defense using Standard missiles, and was much less vulnerable in littoral operational areas.
But there were indications in early 2008 that the Navy's ardor for the DDG-1000 was cooling. In his prepared testimony before the House Armed Services Committee in March 2008, Admiral Roughead made only one reference to the multi-mission Zumwalt destroyer:
The DDG-1000 and the two ships that we have put on contract within the last couple of weeks introduce into our Navy some very important technologies and means for us to look at those technologies as we move forward, particularly to be informed on the CG(X) [next-generation antiair warfare and ballistic-missile-defense cruiser]. The one that is most important to me is the reduction in crew size. It's the first ship that we've designed and will build with such a small crew for that amount of capacity.
Or, as naval analyst and historian Norman Polmar offered, "damned by faint praise."
"This whole thing is very strange," said Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) after learning about the program's redirection. In addition to the DDG-1000/DDG-51 decision, the Navy indicated that it would pursue something called the "future surface combatant" and an advanced "air and missile defense radar" that had yet to be defined. "If the Navy is considering changing its shipbuilding requirements," Senator Collins remarked, "I would expect the CNO to work with me and other members of the Senate Armed Services Committee to ensure a stable, well-funded shipbuilding plan that meets the need for expanded capabilities and keeps our skilled shipbuilding workforce strong."
The DDG-1000 decision stoked a firestorm of debate about the roles of Congress, the Navy, and industry in crafting the way ahead for the 313-ship Fleet—or however many ships might ultimately be afforded in what looks to be a future of squeaky-tight budgets. For instance, in the October 2008 Proceedings , Polmar charged, "the U.S. Navy's leadership is shirking its responsibilities by letting Congress determine the size and composition of the Fleet rather than insisting on a force that reflects the service's view of the ships that are needed." Polmar pointed to the San Antonio (LPD-17) amphibious transport dock and the Freedom (LCS-1) littoral combat ship programs, "both characterized by massive delays and cost overruns," and concluded, "it is obvious that the a new approach to Navy ship requirements and construction is needed. Questions must be asked about the Navy's processes in these critical areas. And, the Navy's leadership must be questioned."
This seems to have come to pass. In a 26 January 2009 memorandum, John J. Young Jr., Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, addressed several funding options for the DDG-1000, DDG-51, and the still-undefined Future Surface Combatant (FSC). Young called for the Navy to update the DDG-51 acquisition strategy for the additional near-term Burke s. He also directed a Program Decision Memorandum III to assess the cost, schedule, and feasibility of outfitting the first three DDGs with required capacity to support the backfit of the air- and missile-defense radar and enhanced BMD capability. Finally, he recommended that an objective technical- and capabilities-based study compare the feasibility and multimission capabilities of the DDG-51 and the DDG-1000 to determine the appropriate baseline for the FSC, before any decision is reached regarding development of the new radar. The Navy should expect similar attention across the shipbuilding board in 2009.
Defense Secretary Gates might have trumped these initiatives in his April 2009 decision on the fiscal year 2010 and future budgets, which included funds to complete the buy of two DDG-51s next year:
These plans depend on being able to work out contracts to allow the Navy to efficiently build all three DDG-1000 class ships at Bath Iron Works in Maine and to smoothly restart the DDG-51 Aegis Destroyer program at Northrop Grumman's Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi. Even if these arrangements work out, the DDG-1000 program would end with the third ship and the DDG-51 would continue to be built in both yards.
If our efforts with industry are unsuccessful, the department will likely build only a single prototype DDG-1000 at Bath and then review our options for restarting production of the DDG-51. If the department is left to pursue this alternative, it would unfortunately reduce our overall procurement of ships and cut workload in both shipyards.
Deja Vu ?
Indeed, last year's DDG-1000 controversy, which seems poised to continue at least through 2009, highlighted the tensions within the Navy about current and future assets needed for traditional, irregular, and "hybrid" conflicts and all the other capabilities that a modern naval force can provide—from ballistic missile defense of the homeland to humanitarian assistance halfway around the world. With its electoral mandate for far-reaching change, the new administration has already challenged the Department of Defense to "take this moment both to rebuild our military and to prepare it for the missions of the future."
In all of this, President Obama, whose esteem for President Lincoln is clear, might also take heed of George Washington's observation: "It follows then, as certain as night succeeds day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and that with it everything honorable and glorious."