Every autumn there is a series of internal crises in the Navy Department, growing in intensity until finally the annual budget requests take shape. During the winter the Department of Defense and the Congress work over the budgets of all three services to try to get them into some kind of acceptable meshing. Then finally in the spring, before the Congress goes home for the summer, there is usually some sort of an eruption into public debate related to authorizations or appropriations or changes in laws governing the services.
A couple of years ago it was Reorganization Plan 6. Last year it was the Symington Hearings. No one knows exactly what the subject may be in the months just ahead— budget allocations, or a common supply system, or efficiency, or economy, or civilian control, or an earlier spring, or a combination of any or all of them.
The only thing we can be fairly sure of is that the services will, somehow, find themselves in some sort of public opposition. And, whatever may be the point at issue, each of the services will have strong ideas and clear ones on its own side of the discussion.
The basic problem is why they do not agree. Why does the soldier think like a soldier, the sailor like a sailor, and the airman like neither of these but like an airman?
Let there be no delusion. Even though they all serve the same common purpose and do so in all the honesty and sincerity of able and dedicated men, they do not think alike. There are areas of agreement and coincidence, to be sure, and these are by far the most numerous and inclusive. But there are areas of differences, important differences, even though they may be subtle and hard to isolate and hold up for examination.
Before going further, it would be well to inject a caution: Asking why they do not agree is quite a different matter from asserting that they should agree. On the contrary, these differences of judgment, these clashes of ideas, these almost constant pullings and haulings among the services, are the greatest source of military strength that the nation has. We do differ, within and among the services, and may Heaven help us if we ever enter into a period of prevailing sweetness and light and unanimity. Nothing would be more dangerous to our nation than the comfortable and placid acceptance of a single idea, a single and exclusively dominant military pattern of thought. The political parallel is almost too obvious to mention.
Let Us only recognize that the unique advantage we have over the monolithic organizations which may oppose us is built into our system politically and militarily—the capacity to detect and expose our own weaknesses. As a concomitant of that we have always at hand an intellectual reserve, a reserve of strategic concept, the capacity to put to practice an alternate plan of action.
Strangely enough, the one aspect of the situation that has never really been publicly aired, nor even examined with enough perception and depth to make it worth the effort, is the underlying basis of the disagreement. Why do the soldiers think one way, and the sailors another, and the airmen still a third?
There will be no attempt in this discussion to speak for the soldier and the airman. The aim here will be to try to sketch out some foundations of the sailor’s thought pattern- why he thinks the way he does. To do this, we shall take up a few war-planning assumptions, and then take up briefly the maritime concept of warfare. Then, after that, perhaps the package can be related to the general tasks of war and to one or two specific current problems to demonstrate the effect of these basic patterns of thought on the sailor’s attitude toward the matters of the times.
As for the matter of war-planning assumptions, they are brought into this discussion for two reasons. First, because the planning phase of strategy is the link between the ideas of war and the conduct of war. And second, because recognition of these basic planning assumptions (and most sailors adhere to them whether they have ever consciously phrased them or not) may give some clues to the sailor’s behavior even in situations only remotely related to planning for war. In no sense are they formal or official. They are just an attempt to condense some fairly general tacit understandings.
The first assumption is that the aim of war is some measure of control over the enemy. By control, in this broadest sense, we mean in effect the creation of conditions more favorable to us than would have existed had we not gone to war, a control over the enemy sufficient to re-settle him, after the fighting, into some acceptable status in whatever may be the postwar scheme of the world. The key in this rather loose statement is the idea that control, in one fashion or another, is the distant strategic aim. Our war aim is not necessarily met with defeat of the enemy’s armed forces. It may not even be met by his governmental collapse or surrender. And it is certainly not met if all the enemy citizens (and most of our own) are the victims of a thermonuclear double-suicide. A primary and central problem in warfare is the sensing of what kinds and degrees of control may result from this or that action in this or that situation. And one can reasonably doubt that we can be very specific about it before an actual situation is at hand to be weighed in judgment. A type and intensity of control, direct or indirect, that may be excellent for one situation may be quite inapplicable in another. But the idea of control, as an aim, does markedly widen the horizons open to us in our thoughts and planning for war.
There are several methods by which control may be sought, either at sea or on the land. Some degree of military control may be achieved by destruction, the direct destruction of enemy strength, the men, the weapons, and the component parts of the physical supporting structure leading from the weapons all the way back through the communications to the basic raw materials. This is an area with which most of the world by now is thoroughly familiar.
A sort of corollary or offshoot of this might be called control by immobilization or paralysis . . . and it is mentioned here because it may be an area worth considerably more thought than has been given it in the recent past.
A more positive degree of control and a more viable one, though a more difficult one to attain, may be had by occupation, i.e., the physical occupation of an area or of selected governing focal points.
A control of sorts may be exercised by the announced or tacit threat of destruction, or perhaps by the threat of occupation. While control-by-threat is variable and sometimes uncertain both in its degree and its durability, it is often politically and militarily the most advisable method of applying force.
There are, of course, the more indirect forms of control by economic, political, social, and psychological pressures, all of which, by the way, have consistently played an important role in the application of maritime strategies.
The second basic assumption for war planning is that we can not with certainty predict the complete pattern of the war for which we prepare ourselves. The time, the place, the scope, the intensity, the course, and the general tenor of a next war are all dim and uncertain matters. Aggressors can fix the initial time and place, and we may not see it until late in its making. Who saw well ahead to Guadalcanal, or Korea, or the Suez? It is the possibility of these situations that we must keep in mind, and the more astute and inclusive is our planning the better can we manage them when they do appear.
When we accept this admittedly oversimplified premise that we can not with certainty forecast the pattern of war, nor its time, nor its place, nor its characteristics, then we arrive at the conclusion that the primary requisite in peacetime planning is more than a single rigid plan for war. Our first requirement is for a planning concept that covers a spectrum of possibilities, for the broadest possible conceptual span embracing in both time and character any military-force situation which might arise. Then, after we have in mind a full span of concept, we can take up specific situations for one of two reasons. The first is for the derivation of logistic and material needs; and the second is to meet circumstances in which the probability or the hazard (either or both of them) is so clearly marked that specific and realistic plans can in fact be drawn on such a basis. We have one such specific situation now in Europe, and it is met by the NATO arrangement. We have another of a different sort in the Middle East, and the nation’s response to that one is not yet clear at this writing.
Recent game theories have sharpened one aspect of this. The player who employs only one rigid strategy runs a great risk simply because his opponent soon detects the single strategy and counters it. The requirement is for strategies of depth and breadth, flexible and adaptable, which by intent and by design can be applied to unforeseen situations. Planning for this kind of relative uncertainty is not as dangerous as it might seem; there is, after all, some order in military affairs. But planning for certitude is the greatest of all military mistakes, as military history demonstrates all too vividly. This point is noted here to indicate that we need not remain always within whatever may be the prevalent opinion of the moment.
The field is wide open.
Leaving this slippery business of assumptions, we come to the maritime concept of strategy, which is a much more inclusive matter than the specific subject of naval warfare. The sailor’s view of strategy presupposes a situation in which maritime communications can have an effect on warfare. The United States, connected to the rest of the world by all its oceans, is in a situation where maritime communications do in fact have great influence on the national conduct and the national policy. It is not necessary here to go into our dependence on ocean transportation as a critical feature of our economy. And hardly more so to comment that our worldwide commitments and our foreign policies themselves, all around the world, are founded on two and only two common factors. One of these is a sort of loose harmony of political aims (individualism as opposed to statism in the broadest sense), and the other is the common link of maritime communications. The most important of our current political alignments actually takes its name from the common linkage of the North Atlantic maritime communications system.
This should be enough, on behalf of the sailor, to establish that the United States is legitimately concerned with matters maritime in its strategy. He does not claim that our national interest is exclusively maritime by any means, but he does insist that maritime interests and the maritime elements be considered among the fundamental factors in any total assessment.
In the maritime pattern of thought, the sailor sees his tasks falling into two major fields, and while they are separated here simply for convenience in this discussion, one should recognize that in practice they are so closely interwoven that it is hard to tell where one stops and the other starts.
One half of the task is the establishment of control of the sea which, of course, includes the depths of its waters and the air above it. The other half is the exploitation of that control of the sea toward extension of control from the sea on to the land.
Control of the sea is a very terse phrase for a very fluid and dynamic and many-faceted series of situations. It is seldom absolute and it seldom need be. In a great many situations, a potential control of the sea is all that need be exercised. We are doing that today, all around the world. Without potential control, the NATO and the SEATO and all our other formal and informal organizations would at once collapse. Limited degrees of control may suffice, or local controls. We need not go further than to indicate that control of the sea is a situational problem that we adapt to whatever may be the requirements of the moment.
The business of setting up and holding and enjoying control of the sea is an early and potent step in establishing control over the enemy. It sets the scene of war closer to his territory, not ours, and it gives us the strategic choice of the next move. It makes it more readily a case of “what shall we do?” instead of “what do we think he will do?” When we own the world’s maritime communication system, the strategic freedom of choice is ours more than his.
Then there is the extension of control from the sea onto the land—control sought in part by destruction, in part perhaps by paralysis, in part by injection of soldiery when and where it serves our needs. In general, our control of the seas imposes on the enemy a very real limitation on his freedom of action and this pervasive stifling operates quietly but continuously to project our control onto the land. The seas are to him a barrier rather than an avenue. The restrictions that bind him, militarily, economically, politically, psychologically, are not less real because they are subtle and elusive. Every U. S. soldier in Europe or in the Far East today is an extension of this nation’s maritime power. Every one of our air bases outside our continent is an extension of our nation’s control at sea toward the establishment of control over the enemy.
From these two, control of the sea and its exploitation, come the missions of the Navy. They are clear and direct. These are the sailor’s reason for his being:
The Navy will defend the United Slates from attack across the seas.
The Navy will seek out and destroy enemy naval forces, shipping, bases, and supporting activities.
The Navy will deny to the enemy his use of the seas.
The Navy will control the vital sea areas, the narrow seas, the ocean approaches, the Mediterranean, the China seas, and our own adjacent waters.
And the Navy will exploit our general sea supremacy to project, protect, and sustain the combined military and civilian powers of the United States across the seas.
Against this background, then, we approach the full span of war contingencies and the part the Navy must play in any war, large or small, limited or unlimited, local or general, nuclear or non-nuclear.
It should be amply clear by now that the United States has no intention of starting any wars. So that leaves two alternatives. First, a war could be deliberately initiated against the United States by an enemy. If he did start a war, he would hardly do so in expectation of his own early defeat. It might be by a sudden blow (which is the way wars often start), or it might be at the culmination of a period of heightened tension with attendant warning of his preparation. In either event, he would have some sort of plan which would give, as he saw it, promise of a fairly sure victory over us.
The other way it might start would be from a gradual and unwanted expansion of a local conflict because of increasing friction and expanding tension in some local area. A good melee in the Middle East, for instance, might very well be expanded by growing intransigeance to include Europe, and then we would probably be well into it.
No matter how it might start, the operational stages of almost any kind of war might be classified by the sailor in this fashion:
Defense of the United States
Maintenance of our world wide communications
Stabilization of the war
Taking control of the pattern of war
Establishment of control over the enemy.
This is not quite the orthodox method of breaking down a war for analysis, and so a little explanation here may be in order.
The first of these, defense of the United States, is fairly clearcut. As far as the sailor is concerned, it is the indisputable task of the Navy to defend the United States from attack across the seas, be it by submarine, or by missile, or by aircraft, or by ship. By standing ready between the United States and any enemy, it is the duty of the Navy to ensure that a war is fought overseas instead of over Chicago.
The second, the maintenance of worldwide communications, means control and use of the seas. The sailor feels that this is critical. Unless we do this, the ground forces have had it, and the deployed Air Forces have had it, and our allies are all done, and we are all in a truly serious situation. If we do not have a control of the sea adequate to deliver food to Europe and fuel to the overseas pipe-lines and ammunition to the troops abroad, then things will be black indeed.
The third item listed was stabilization of the war. This is worth a moment of comment. We noted earlier that the United States has no intention of starting the war. If an enemy starts it, he will, of course do so on terms that are favorable to him. No one is so silly as to start a war any other way. Therefore we can expect a fair measure of initial success by whoever may be the enemy. We are, one way or another, probably going to get our ears pinned back in the beginning. Our early task, then, is to bring into being some sort of a stabilized situation where we can get our breath and flex our own muscles. We will have to reinforce and shuffle our forces to accommodate to his initial moves, hold what we can, and whittle down his forces until we get some kind of dynamic balance in this total sum of the fighting.
Then, unless we are willing to fight the war through on his terms (as we did, for instance, in World War I), we will have to take control of the pattern of the war and shift it to a character or locale of our own choosing, some type of war in which we are strong and in which, preferably, he is weak.
The process of deliberately changing the character or the scene of the war is a matter that has not been consciously thought through as thoroughly as it deserves. It requires a far more searching study than can be covered in so short a space as this. In World War I, the entire war was fought by the Allies along the pattern initially set by the Germans. Once World War II was more or less stabilized, the Allies changed the character of the war both in Europe and in the Pacific. In Europe, once the Western forces were driven off the continent, the centers of pressure were moved in succession to North Africa, to Italy, and then back to France. The center of air interest was moved from the channel to Germany itself.
In the Pacific, the Japanese had their initial interest in the southern islands. The war there was finally stabilized by actions at Midway and in the South Pacific, and then we took charge and shifted the main scene of that war at our will to the Central Pacific and eventually to the Empire itself. It made a far easier problem than it would have been had we kept to the Japanese plan and tried to work back over their chosen routes from, let us say, Singapore and New Guinea through Indonesia and Southeast Asia.
In Korea, we were having the devil’s own job in the south until the scene and the entire character of the war were shifted by the move to Inchon and Seoul. Later in that war, incidentally, the intense desire of a goodly number of the participants to shift the scene and character of the air war was not granted for reasons outside our interest in this discussion. There is no need to speculate on what the effect might have been; there are strong opinions on both sides of that matter.
These are cited to illustrate a concept that is a little difficult to describe in precise terms. The contestant who controls the pattern of the war has an inestimable advantage. He can, in great measure, call the tune and make the opponent dance to it.
Let us assume for illustration that the main feature of the war, as an enemy might start it, is a drive to conquer Western Europe. If he wants this, he will of course have to attempt many other tasks, such as denial to us of our sea communications and destruction of the United States industrial and military support, but these latter would be means to his end of conquering Western Europe.
Then let us assume that somehow or other we have managed to stabilize the war, holding somewhere in Europe, keeping our sea lanes sufficiently clear for use, keeping the United States militarily and economically functioning under whatever may be the damage from the air. Then how do we go on, how do we aim to take control over the enemy?
One school of thought feels that a sufficient degree of control can be had by destruction, massive and near-total destruction of the enemy war-machine. Since we have postulated that this war does, somehow, start, then we must recognize that an enemy will have figured either that he can absorb our punishment, fend it off, or deliver more than he gets. The point to be made is that there is a possibility that destruction alone will not force him to quit. Knowing what he would of his own strength and of ours, we cannot assume that he would start a war in the face of certain defeat. This means hard fighting ahead. Even after a nuclear exchange, tough men will fight on. Once we have stabilized the war, we may have to do something more than try to impose our control by destruction alone. We may well need to inject troops—the classical man on the scene with a gun—to exercise the durable and continuing control that can rarely be had in any other way.
There are three ways to do this. One is to push the enemy armies all the way back where they came from, another is to fly the troops in, and the third is to sail them in. It is a long and dreary walk across an entire continent, and one can only hope that the soldiers don’t choose to try that one. The other two ways offer considerable promise. Flying them in in limited numbers might be quicker, and it offers more choice of destination, but it is far more demanding and difficult in terms of continued support. The logistic problems for a force of any appreciable size are enormous. Injection from the sea offers less latitude in terms of initial destination, but it is a far more manageable proposition both in the strengths of the forces which can be injected and in the continuing support after they get there.
Fortunately, since we have the maritime strength, we can use whatever waters may lead most conveniently to some of the more sensitive areas. That ability we should exploit. Keep in mind, in this respect, that of all the techniques and methods of warfare, there is only one in which any nation holds a monopoly. This is the attack from the sea. No other nation in the world has this great potential to any significant degree. We should exploit it to the fullest. And further, we should combine it with other types of pressures leading toward control, some of them only remotely military and which appear as political, social or economic measures.
All of these are directly involved in the business of waging war to gain some measure of control over an enemy. The peculiar versatility of naval power, in peace or war, serves to keep the sailor constantly aware of the wide range of pressures available in the national power structure.
So, one base of the sailor’s planning process is a tacit appreciation that the aim of war is not limited to any particular military or naval accomplishment, rather, that all our military actions, and our non-military actions as well, must contribute to eventual control over the enemy.
This, to go back to the beginning, is really the aim of war. The other of the two basic assumptions noted that the full shape and course of war were not predictable with certainty.
In this connection, it is interesting to note that our present national attitude toward war seems to lean rather heavily on the expectation of control by destruction and the resultant immobilization. Indeed, the newly appointed Supreme Allied Commander in Europe made this quite clear in one of his first public announcements.
But along with this we have also at hand the not irrational supposition that no enemy would let himself get into a war unless he thought he could win it. So there does appear some possibility, through some combination of defense or mutual air exhaustion or mutual recognition of radiological hazard or something not now foreseen, that we might not attain an adequate control through our nuclear destruction effort alone.
In whatever case may be taken under study, it is the nation with the maritime strength that has the freedom of action. The maritime power need not irrevocably commit itself to any single course of action. Once the war is stabilized, it can pick and choose its opportunities. It is the nation with the maritime strength which is in the best position to control the course of war, to select the strategic pattern of the war, to fit its strength to whatever may be the requirements as the war progresses, and to impose on any enemy whatever kind and degree of control may be needed to meet the nation’s aims.
Perhaps this indicates a little of why sailors think the way they do. Why, for instance, they design and plan the Navy as a versatile and multi-purpose instrument of power, designed to defend the United States and to respond to the needs of national policy in whatever situation may develop.
The conclusion that the sailor has not always been able to explain too clearly is that, no matter what single situation is taken up for discussion be it great or small, nuclear or non-nuclear, it is not adequate to assess the usefulness of naval power only in terms of that one situation. The collateral values in other situations must be brought into the equation to arrive at a valid judgment.
In closing, though, one point should be made quite clear. Although the sailor is no less, and one can hope no more, partisan than any other military man, no sailor is so naive as to suppose that the Navy alone is going to sail out and win all our wars. But what he can do is fix it so the soldier’s strength and the airman’s strength and the sailor’s strength as well as the political, economic, and social strengths of this country can be applied in combinations as needed to defend the United States and to establish whatever kind and degree of control the United States may need.
That is why the sailor asks, when his nation considers these matters, that the nation keep in mind that the maritime strategies are the one field in which the United States has an inherent advantage over any enemy. The sailor hopes the nation, if it is ever forced to war, will take advantage of that, use it, and exploit it for all it is worth. It will save time, and it will save effort, and when all the figures are totalled up, it will probably save a good many lives.