The U.S. Navy of the 1980s provides a reminder what serious peer competition in the naval sphere looks like and the resources and human willpower that it requires. E. B. Potter describes the 1980s buildup to counter the Soviet Union as the “most expensive peacetime military buildup in the nation’s history, to cost $1.5 trillion in five years . . . the Navy would be built up from 456 to 600 ships, including 15 carrier-centered battle groups.”1
The 1980s maritime strategy and naval buildup was advocated by senior officers in uniform, approved by civilian leadership, and then laboriously implemented across all levels. Growing pains were worked out, and complex exercises in frigid environments executed. The renaissance of naval strategic thought in the late 1970s and subsequent buildup of the 1980s should provide a source of strength and inspiration to today’s sailors and civilian defense officials. Lessons in strategy, fleet exercises, and force structure remain directly relevant.
1. E. B. Potter, Seapower (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2014), 386.
2. Joseph Stanik, “Twilight of the Cold War: Contraction, Reform, and Revival,” in James Bradford, ed., America, Seapower, and the World (West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2016), 312.
3. Stanik, “Twilight of the Cold War,” 312.
4. John Lehman, “Is Naval Aviation Culture Dead?” U.S. Naval Institute: Proceedings 137, no. 9 (September 2011).
5. Stanik, “Twilight of the Cold War,” 312.
6. John Lehman, Oceans Ventured: Winning the Cold War at Sea (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2018), 116.
7. Lehman, Oceans Ventured, 58.
8. ADM Thomas Hayward, USN, “The Future of U.S. Sea Power,” U.S. Naval Institute: Proceedings 105, no. 5 (May 1979).
9. Lehman, Oceans Ventured, 80.
10. Lehman, “Is Naval Aviation Culture Dead?”
11. John Lehman, “The 600-Ship Navy,” U.S. Naval Institute: Proceedings 112, no 1 (January 1986).
12. Lehman, Oceans Ventured, 58.
13. Lehman, Oceans Ventured, 92.
14. Sam Lagrone, “CNO Richardson: Navy Shelving A2/AD Acronym” USNI News, 3 October 2016.
15. Lehman, Oceans Ventured, 94.
16. David Larter, “The U.S. Navy Returns to an Increasingly Militarized Arctic,” Defense News, 12 May 2020.
17. Lehman, “Is Naval Aviation Culture Dead?”
18. Lehman, Oceans Ventured, 116.
19. Hayward, “The Future of U.S. Sea Power.”
20. Hayward, “The Future of U.S. Sea Power.”
21. Aaron Mehta, “Flournoy: Next Defense Secretary Needs ‘Big Bets’ to Boost ‘Eroding’ Deterrence” Defense News, 10 August 2020; Joe Sestak, “The U.S. Navy’s Loss of Command of Seas and How to Regain It,” Texas National Security Review 4, no. 1 (Winter 2020/2021).
22. SENS Jim Inhofe and Jack Reed, “The Navy Needs a Course Correction: Prototyping with Purpose,” U.S. Naval Institute: Proceedings 146, no. 6 (June 2020).
23. Admiral James L. Holloway III, Naval Warfare Publication 1 (1978), in John Hattendorf, ed., U.S. Naval Strategy in the 1970s: Selected Documents, Newport Paper no. 30 (Newport, RI: Naval War College, 2007).
24. David Lague and Benjamin Kang Lim, “The China Challenge: Ruling the Waves,” Reuters, 30 April 2019; RADM Michael McDevitt, “China’s Navy Will Be the World’s Largest in 2035,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 146, no. 2 (February 2020).
25. Hayward, “The Future of U.S. Sea Power.”
26. Stanik, Twilight of the Cold War, 316.
27. Stanik, Twilight of the Cold War, 317.
28. Stanik, Twilight of the Cold War, 320.
29. F. J. West Jr., CAPT P. K. Fitzwilliam, USN; CAPT R. A. Gallotta, USN; Col J. J. Grace, USMC; Col C. A. Jorgenson, USMC; CAPT P. Skarlatos, USN; CDR J. J. Dittrick, USN; CDR W. G. Lange, USN, et al., Sea Plan 2000 (1977) in Hattendorf, ed., US Naval Strategy in the 1970s.
30. Peter Ong. “U.S. Navy Will Not Replace the Patrol Coastal With a New Boat of Similar Size and Type,” Naval News, 30 January 2021; Joseph Trevithick and Tyler Rogoway, “The Navy Wants to Get Rid of its Nearly Brand New Patrol Boats” The Drive, 15 February 2021.
31. Rick Berger and Mackenzie Eaglen, “Hard Choices and Strategic Insolvency: Where the National Defense Strategy Falls Short,” War on the Rocks, May 2019.
32. James Webb, “Future Use of Reserve Forces: Memorandum for the Under Secretary for Policy written to the Honorable Fred Ikle,” November 1984, in Bradly F. Hanner, “The Resignation of James Webb: A Perspective from the Present” (Monterrey, CA: Naval Postgraduate School, 2000).
33. Webb, “Future Uses of Reserve Forces.”
34. West et al., Sea Plan 2000.
35. West et al., Sea Plan 2000.
36. Hayward, “The Future of U.S. Sea Power.”
37. Paul Mcleary, “CNO Fires First Budget Salvo: We Need More Money than Army and Air Force,” Breaking Defense, 14 January 2020.
38. Thomas Spoehr, “Six Blind Men and the Elephant: Differing Views on the U.S. Defense Budget,” War on the Rocks, 14 January 2021.