Every so often in its military experience, a nation arrives at one of those critical points beyond which it finds itself no longer able to continue doing the things it has been doing in the way it has been doing them.
To the relatively few who actually saw them and to the millions more who read and heard about them, the Soviet satellites which appeared in the skies above the United States last fall seemed to herald such an event. But the truth is simply that Sputniks I and II, for all their spine-chilling implications, were but two particular items in a long procession of political, military, and technological events which had already determined that the United States would at some time prior to 1960 reach a crisis of the first magnitude in its national security policy.
This crisis compounds both a budgetary and a strategic dilemma. Our terms of reference for the present conflict require that we maintain forces and weapons suitable for use against the contingencies of both general war and limited war. These weapons and force are frightfully expensive and becoming more so, and, as they are now organized, they are largely mutually exclusive in the nature of their prospective employment. The fiscal effect of our having to maintain this dual panoply of armaments is such that we cannot continue the force levels we now have under anything remotely approaching a balanced Federal budget. At the same time the range and destructive effect of modern weapons have increased enormously, and as they have done so, they have swept away the spatial limitations which used to form such useful guides in assigning tasks and missions. Finally the deep and troubled stirrings of the world beyond our shores now urgently demand a review of the assumptions upon which our current military posture is based.
In the critical and deeply earnest re-examination that the nation will surely make of its military posture in the forthcoming months, the Navy will fare according to the contribution it is demonstrably ready to make to the security of the United States. The world “demonstrably” is vital, for unless the American people are presented with a clear picture of the opportunities of sea power within the context of the strategic situation confronting them, they will not only fail to realize these opportunities, they will dissipate and eventually lose the sea power they now have. The object of this paper is to invite attention to these very great possibilities open to us as the world’s premier sea power and to suggest ways in which the power of modern naval weapons may be used to advance the prospects of our nation.
First, the cost of weapons. There was a time when the Navy could buy a destroyer for six million dollars and a submarine for something over four. We paid less then $30 million apiece for the Enterprise and the York- town. The later cruisers built during World War II priced out at $60 million, including ordnance, or approximately the cost of the Nautilus. Today we are converting those cruisers to missiles ships at $90 million each, and we shall have to pay a minimum of $150 million for a new atomic-powered missile ship. The estimated cost of the first atomic- powered carrier is about $300 million, with an aircraft load of at least $ 100 million more.
The experience of the other services follows the same pattern. The Army Nike I replaced a gun battalion that cost one third as much and is due to be superseded by the Nike B, which costs four times as much. The B-52 at $8 million is twice the cost of a B-36 and nearly fifteen times the cost of a B-29. To replace our B-47’s with B-58’s, together with the new jet tankers required, the Air Force will need twenty-four billion dollars. And we shall be extraordinarily lucky if we are able to get our intercontinental ballistic missiles into operational units for anything less than a billion dollars a wing.
The full budgetary effect of this weapons revolution had only begun to be felt in earnest when Sputnik I shot across the sky last October. But as far back as a year ago, we could see that to maintain our forces at the then current levels over the ensuing three years, meanwhile outfitting them with new weapons already in production, would require a defense budget of well over fifty billion dol- lion dollars a year. This is twelve billion above the figure to which we initially tried to hold our expenditures for fiscal 1958 and substantially more money than is being spent annually on either the Army or the Navy. Even in the likely event the debt ceiling is raised and substantial amounts of new money are voted for missiles and other advanced weapons, we have still to reckon with the fact that we are currently running at a rate of twelve billion dollars per annum behind the figure necessary for the maintenance and adequate reequipping of the forces we already have. This is the meaning of the two 100,000-man cuts we have so far experienced, and the further cuts we may yet experience, and the clamor we shall continue to experience for the realignment of forces and missions. This is a basic disorder which will not be cured by anything short of the most drastic measures. On the present Federal revenue base, our military establishment is simply insolvent.
The strategic effects of the skyrocketing costs of weapons are equally far-reaching. By and large they are rooted in the fact that atomic weapons, alone out of all the important arms we own, have become vastly cheaper and more plentiful as they have become vastly more powerful and efficient. In all other cases, cost has gone up in virtually geometrical ratio to performance. Today’s operational fighter flies twice as high and three times as fast as its World War II predecessor—and costs twenty times as much. In many other cases we have paid exorbitant prices for what turned out to be marginal gains in performance. To a large extent the heavy emphasis which our strategy now places on atomic weapons is due to the simple fact that we have priced ourselves out of any conventional capability in many fields. We pay so much to get the weapon on the target that nothing less than an atomic warhead makes it worth the effort expended.
Supplemental appropriation or no, we are headed for eventually lower personnel levels. We are part of a mechanized, automated economy, and the solutions to our cost control problems will reflect this fact. At the materiel level, this trend finds its complement in bigger, more expensive, and hence fewer units. This means a smaller establishment, both in terms of numbers and units. And because there will be fewer units there is a powerful incentive to build into each of them as much destructive capacity as possible.
These two trends, of rising costs and ever greater destructive power of weapons, combine to rob us of much of our former flexibility. The concept of “Bigger Bang for a Buck” is not merely a clever slogan: it expresses very well this translation of the economy of mass production into the economy of mass destruction. There is in each case an enormous investment in the physical agents of the process, and, to make these costly agents pay their way, there is a like demand for enormous output: production in the one case, destruction in the other.
We are thus reaching a point where, for the first time in military history, what has always been the very hardest thing to do has now become the very easiest to do: that is, to destroy an opponent utterly. And precisely for this reason such a capability has no positive value whatever to a nation whose opponent can do the same thing. What will in fact be the hardest thing for us to do is to restrain the use of force to the minimum necessary to attain our political objectives.
This loss of flexibility of our own forces, combined with the great growth in Soviet nuclear power in all categories, has produced a fundamental change in the character of our alliances and the function they were designed to perform.
Our immediate strategic problem since World War II has been how to prevent Soviet domination of the remaining portions of the world, particularly those parts of it in Europe and Asia which are immediately and directly menaced. The present focus of the conflict is thus in the peripheral lands of the Eurasian mass which lie between the ocean areas and Mackinder’s central “Heartland.” To accomplish our objectives in this critical area, we have actively sought to consolidate and strengthen the resistance of these threatened nations to further encroachment. This has led to large economic grants-in-aid and substantial military contributions undertaken under several bilateral and regional security agreements intended to give these nations some promise of security against not only atomic attack, but a variety of other physical threats to which they, but not we, were being subjected. The essential quid pro quo, where there was one, took the form of permission to base elements of our Strategic Air Command on territory owned or controlled by these allies. These advanced bases were, of course, fully as vital to our own security as they were to the security of the countries on whose territories they were built.
These agreements were consummated several years ago, when we had what amounted to an operational monopoly on atomic weapons. The risks incident to the construction of our new air bases were of an order acceptable to our allies, particularly those in Europe who had the rapidly growing NATO defense structure to undergird their hopes for an air- ground shield which would keep the Russians out. But the surprisingly rapid development of Soviet nuclear capabilities over the past eight years has brought a completely new face to the problem these agreements were designed to deal with. Because of it, the risks arising out of the prospective employment of these air bases have now been transformed into the risks of all-out atomic war, and these are the ultimate risks assumed by a nation. They are risks to which no government permits another to commit it for any reason whatever. They are risks that will only be taken at the time they are presented by the nation whose survival is the stake in the game.
Put simply, any arrangement whereby the acts of one sovereign nation put at risk the very survival of another will operate only where there is absolute identity of interest, and these occasions represent only a narrow band on the total spectrum of possibilities confronting the partners to the alliance. The remaining eventualities will be met with vagueness, delay, and dangerous irresolution, at the very time when speed, preciseness, and decision are urgently needed.
This serves poorly the interests of all parties concerned. Through it our allies—small, crowded, and geographically much closer to Moscow than they are to us—are made liable not only for their own failures and indiscretions, but for ours as well. In our turn we suffer a large and uncompensated loss in flexibility and freedom of action by having our feet quite literally in concrete around the Eurasian perimeter—concrete owned in the last analysis by the host countries and subject to their disposal in the event of a showdown.
This does not mean that we cannot have viable security agreements with these smaller, weaker, more exposed members of the non- Communist world. It means rather that we should recognize that there is one particular category of risk in which we cannot reasonably expect them to participate with us on a general average basis: that of all-out war. It happens that this eventuality is the very one whose likelihood we are seeking by every means to reduce to zero. If we are successful in this undertaking, our allies can play a very meaningful role in the cold and limited war situations with which we shall still be confronted. And this is of prime importance to our strategy, because it is within the context of those less violent situations that we must look for the answers to the security problems which now beset us. If we cannot win here, we cannot win anywhere, in any terms meaningful to a free people. Whether the cold war goes on for ten years or for a hundred, we shall urgently need the environment we can only have within a large confederation of free peoples. As Admiral Burke has said, “We shall not long be able to exist as some happy magical island in a world engulfed by Communism. We might maintain some semblance of physical security for a while, but sooner or later we would lose the vital character that distinguishes us as a free people. We would become something ugly and degraded—the mirror image of our Communist enemy. In our garrison state we would lose the very purpose for which we were organized as a nation.”
The years ahead will inevitably see a progressive dissociation of our overseas allies from any responsibility for the American strategic striking capability. Considering the large and perhaps fatal chance of misfire in our present arrangements, this development can only be a good thing. It should be noted, too, that during the same period there will be a further loss of European power and influence in the remaining portions of Asia and Africa as the breakup of the colonial empires continues. Whether this is on balance good or bad is debatable, but it is none the less inevitable. The newly-ransomed states will in almost every instance tend to be neutral and to stand aside from the main issue between the Communist and Anti-Communist Blocs.
There will thus be a steady falling-away of land areas about the Eurasian crescent which will be available to the United States for military purposes in its struggle with the Soviet Union. Modest concentrations of conventional and tactical atomic forces may still be acceptable to certain host nations, but we shall have to look elsewhere for sites on which to base our all-out deterrent capability.
This was the situation we faced before Sputnik put its own heavy stamp on our defense thinking. We were already headed for a fundamental revision of our strategy forced by the factors just discussed. The impact of the Soviet missile program will serve greatly to accelerate and intensify these changes which were already under way. Our reaction to the new conditions had been evidenced in our efforts to produce a truly modern intercontinental bomber and a 5,000 mile missile, together with a much lesser degree of interest exhibited in sea-based deterrent systems. Until recently, however, there was a lack of the necessary sense of urgency required to insure full budgetary support of the programs established in these fields.
Now we have the sense of urgency, and we may expect great expenditures of effort and funds to be made on nuclear delivery systems which will be wholly and exclusively under U. S. control. This can either be a blessing or a curse of unprecedented magnitude, depending on the direction we go, because the actions we are now at last prepared to take are sufficient to commit us irrevocably either to a sound and balanced strategy, still at the service of the larger purposes of the Free World alliance, or to the discredited, outmoded, and self-defeating concept of a Fortress America. The danger is not that we shall at the outset choose the latter deliberately, with our eyes open, but that we shall be led up to it gradually by the unintended consequences of actions we undertook with quite different objectives in mind.
In view of the demonstrated Soviet competence in long range missilry, it is altogether natural for us to press for an operational capability in this field with the utmost speed. In the interim it would seem logical for us to broaden by every feasible means the base of our own piloted striking force by increasing both the numbers of its planes, and the bases from which they operate. And finally, there is a strong incentive to adjust our Continental Defense to the new operational requirements as ballistic rockets replace manned bombers as the major threat to our security.
These are objectives which no one could oppose. But the real problem is how to accomplish them and at the same time provide for the other necessary concomitants of a balanced defense—for however great, these are not the only threats confronting us.
Two things deserve to be mentioned here. The first of these is that to achieve its objective in general war, the Soviet Union must first disarm us, and it must do it conclusively and early. Our atomic delivery capability is thus the prime target system in the Soviet war plan, the one whose destruction must be assured before any weapons may be allocated to the destruction of our economic and population base. Second, because this is true, the location of any portion of our delivery forces in the continental United States will inevitably draw down counter-battery fire upon it. If all our delivery capability comes to be based at home, we shall have enormously increased the value of the United States as a general target for thermonuclear weapons. At the same time, we shall have greatly simplified the enemy delivery problem by providing him with fixed targets of known locations, and we shall have further presented him with an important bonus effect in the havoc wrought upon our cities and countryside by the blast and fallout from the warheads delivered on the primary targets. This in itself achieves the practical effect of having increased the enemy stock pile by several dozen weapons.
The notion that this basically unfavorable set of relationships can be remedied by dispersal and the multiplication of planes and bases within the same general three-million square mile target area has always been a snare and a delusion and will become more so as the Soviet missile capability increases, for the simple reason that it is infinitely cheaper, and easier, and quicker for our enemy to build missiles than it is for us to build bases. This is a race we cannot possibly hope to win. Ironically, the addition to our offensive strength in this particular manner compounds our own defensive problem rather than the enemy’s, since every one of the new locations requires an elaborate point defense and throws a further load on our warning and control nets. We can easily spend ourselves into bankruptcy and on balance come out with less security than we had before, because each new base we create assures a measurable increase in the number of weapons that will fall on the United States in the event of Soviet attack, without securing a compensating decrease in the likelihood that such an attack will occur.
Indeed, there is every reason to believe that this kind of action on our part might well serve to increase the chances of attack. In the age of ballistic missiles, the great inherent flaw of a fixed and immobile striking system is that it confers an enormous, and quite conceivably decisive, advantage upon the side which hits first. If, as it now seems entirely possible, our enemy achieves an operational capability in intercontinental missiles before we do, there will be the added temptation to strike while he still has this very considerable advantage. The combination of these inviting circumstances may well prove irresistible.
Other thoughts present themselves. Since once begun the requirements of a “crash” program in these kinds of armaments are bottomless, our capabilities in other fields of military effort, already squeezed and straitened by the heretofore “moderate” demands of these larger competitive programs, would simply disappear. Inevitably this would lead to the loss one way or another of the remaining non-Communist portions of the Eastern Hemisphere and our unceremonious retreat three to five thousand miles to our own shores. This forfeit of the seas and the Eurasian littoral would vastly weaken our defense, no matter how much effort we poured into our three-dimensional Maginot line. And, as the conviction of the utter hopelessness of our situation settled in upon us, our whole nation would take on the form of an armed camp.
This transformation may indeed happen. Arms races are common enough in military history. But it need not happen. We can do far better—and at far less cost and risk. There is a real and promising alternative. Instead of confining our critical military activities to the land, and deploying our forces so as to insure that a thermonuclear war, if it comes, will be fought on and over the land (including our own), we can play for all it is worth the role of the very great sea power we are. We can exploit the sea, not only in pursuit of the great new opportunities which modern technology has now opened to naval forces.
As was previously mentioned, the great, perhaps fatal disability of a land-based nuclear delivery system is its lack of security, which richly rewards the aggressor’s initial surprise strike and, for that reason, greatly increases the chances of such a course being undertaken. We have enjoyed a degree of stability so far because our enemy has not fully developed his long range strike capabilities and because our warning net seriously degraded the prospects of genuine surprise by piloted aircraft. These factors which have aided us up to this point will vanish with the advent of a Soviet long range missile capability, against which there will be neither defense nor warning.
Well before this point is reached we must have taken the action necessary not merely to destroy the advantage of the aggressor’s initial strike, but to attach a severe penalty to it. Only if we can accomplish this can we hope to break out of the pernicious grip of strategic instability which will lead us not only to sap our strength in a futile arms race but will tend powerfully to promote the very attack which we went to such great lengths to forestall.
Yet it is extremely unlikely that we can restore this critical element of stability to our relationships with the Soviet as long as we continue to base the major part of our retaliatory capability on land. For on land there is not only no place to hide, there is no place to go. The all-important features of mobility and concealment are effectively denied any land installation the size of an airfield or missile launcher. Only in the vastness of the world’s oceans can we hope to base a striking force which, through its inherent capabilities for movement, concealment, and dispersal, can be made virtually immune to surprise attack. And with this immunity assured us, the whole advantage of such an attack disappears. Since the enemy must as a first requirement eliminate our retaliatory capability which he cannot even locate, he is left with nothing to shoot at. He would be effectively deterred from attacking other vital targets by the knowledge that such acts would bring down upon him the full force of our sea-mounted striking force, unreduced in any important way by his own strike. Moreover it would descend upon him from all directions, rather than along a narrow band of polar trajectories. This is not the kind of considerations that encourage an enemy commander to bold action.
The security available to naval forces buys a second important effect. It establishes the governing relationship as being that between our offensive forces and the targets they are designed to destroy, rather than that between our own offensive forces and those of the enemy. The very name “retaliatory force” implies that our long range aircraft bases and missile launching installations will begin any engagement as potential targets of an enemy attack. This means they must be sufficient in number to endure such an attack and still retain the capability of destroying their preselected targets. In the absence of any real security, it follows that the size of our offensive base must be related, not to the targets it must hit, but to the prospective order of damage it may receive. But as we have already seen, the enemy can increase this order of damage far more readily than we can expand our offensive base. If, on the other hand, our retaliatory forces are secure, there is no measurable increase in order of damage to be received, no matter how greatly the enemy increases his offensive force, and therefore no requirement to increase our own on this account. The problem, once solved, tends to stay fairly well put, and we shall be left with adequate resources available to apply to lesser contingencies.
This means something very much more than the simple availability of dollars, material, and manpower for translation into U. S. Forces capable of dealing with limited war situations. It means that we also have something left over for military aid and the buildup and support of allied forces. It means that we can do a whole spate of things in the political and economic fields necessary to promote the strength and solidarity of our Free World collective security system. But most important of all, it means that our big war deterrent, our limited war forces, and the forces of our allies can all be worked together in harness toward the common objective of maximum security for the resources expended. Our allies, freed from the paralyzing fear of being made the targets of a surprise thermonuclear attack, can employ their forces boldly in the common defense, knowing that they have much more to gain than to lose by so doing. Moreover, they would be further encouraged to resist by the knowledge that we had the forces to back them up which met the tactical and political requirements of the situation—and that we ourselves had some place to stand between the extremes of retreat and total war.
Thus the outlines of our new military posture begin to emerge. We must continue to have an adequate general war deterrent, and to make it truly effective we must base a significant part of it at sea. If this is done, the size of our deterrent forces can be substantially less than it is now, and very much less than it is likely to become if we attempt a target-building contest with the Soviet Union.
The seaborne portion of this deterrent would have its major strength in a force of nuclear powered, missile-launching submarines, which combine maximum concealment, mobility, and dispersion in the same system. Long range, missile carrying seaplanes, jet and eventually nuclear-powered, and based upon ships operating in remote water, offer an additional system with many of the desired virtues. There is mobility, dispersal, some degree of concealment, and an ability to approach from many directions. Finally, there is the important capability represented by naval carrier forces, which can apply the full range of air power from conventional high explosives to thermonuclear bombs. Together, these systems offer the best hope for preventing general war that we have had since the atomic age began.
In regard to Continental Defense we would do well to recognize that its chief value today is that of a warning mechanism, and that this value will diminish to the vanishing point as missiles take the place of bombers. Since the purpose of such a warning is to deter enemy attack by making its results unpredictable, the loss of this capability will not be serious if we have established our seaborne deterrent by the time it occurs. As for the “defense” aspect of the term, we might as well swallow the unpleasant fact that there isn’t going to be any— and proceed to apply our resources to more promising programs.
In the more active field of limited and brush-fire wars, it seems inevitable that all services must come to depend largely upon low yield nuclear weapons—of an order of 2 KT and below, for the good reason that we shall often lack the necessary number of units to achieve the required fire effect with HE weapons. This admittedly means the loss of some flexibility, but the alternatives—surrender, or all-out war—represent the loss of flexibility altogether. Even so, there is adequate basis for mixing both atomic and conventional weapons capabilities in the same structure, and this we are doing.
The tactical problems of employing low yield weapons will, of course, be easier to master than the political problems they create. But these problems are susceptible of solution provided our general war deterrent is made secure. A nation enlarges a conflict to better its prospects, not to worsen them, as our enemy would surely do by attacking us directly before eliminating our nuclear strike capability. There is obviously much we have to learn about the nuances of applying power of this order, but it seems appropriate to start with the assumption that it can be done without its getting out of hand. Unless we do this, we shall have made the capital error of supposing that small nuclear war is necessarily equivalent to big nuclear war and is therefore to be risked only for the ultimate stakes.
Whether nuclear or conventional weapons are called for, the requirement for mobility, versatility, and discrimination will remain. Prompt and spirited action is the essence of controlling local conflicts, as we have seen time and again. The time in which a military objective can be attained is perhaps the decisive factor in an enemy’s calculation of risk. Days, even hours, arc of crucial importance.
These special demands for time and place in the exercise of our national power have particular application to naval forces. Since the site of the present phase of the conflict is in the peripheral lands of Eurasia, most outbreaks of aggression will occur in areas readily accessible to the seas. The mobility and sustained combat power of the Navy’s carrier and amphibious forces remain continuously at the service of the Free World in these vital areas. These forces contain their own strong defenses. Their logistics are part of the ready package. They have their own versatile, precise, tactical aircraft, able to deliver both conventional and nuclear weapons effectively. And the same forces can be used repeatedly in different parts of the world as the needs for their services develop. There is no problem of salvage or rollup, no duplication of effort, no costly, unused facilities left behind in the backwash. On the basis of utilization of effective capacity, naval forces represent the best money the nation ever spent on its national security program.
In summary, several things may properly be said about the requirements of our defense posture and programs. We need a secure, effective general war deterrent, constituted so that it will penalize, rather than reward, a surprise enemy attack. This deterrent must be stabilized at some level within our capacity to support over the long term. We want forces adequate to achieve our military and political objectives in small wars, and this too must be supportable over the long term. We want loyal allies, with working arrangements between us of a nature to develop the greatest possible combined strength out of the assets each brings to the alliance. We must find a way to meet the new challenge of Soviet missile technology without getting involved in an arms race and without walling ourselves off from the rest of the world. To accomplish these things we must effectively use whatever contributions the various services are capable of making to the national defense.
These are some of the aspects of our basic security problem, which we must deal with, and we must continue to deal with them for the rest of our lives. It has been the object of this paper to show that these conditions can be met by the proper application of sea power, and that it remains only for the American people to grasp this all-important fact. If we do so, we stand to win for our country and the world a larger measure of security than we have known in a quarter century of turmoil and strife. We have the capacity to accomplish this and more. History now waits upon our vision and our will.