A great navy cannot be built, nor a sagging one revived, until naval officers of independent judgment and stubborn confidence are ready to rail from the Pentagon rooftops against all that they know to be wrong.
Like a sailing ship in inconstant weather, a troubled U. S. Navy is looking for fair and steady winds. It is a strange time. To many a concerned naval officer, contemplating the relentless hostility of nations whose dominion is over a considerable part of the globe, current mass decommissionings of ships and aircraft are like a fantasy. We are told of a “smaller, but better, Navy” and we repeat it, but without conviction.
That present reductions are directed at all the armed forces should be no solace. The needs of each Service vary, growing and shrinking across the years in accordance with the national response to a changing world, and a seeming equality in sharing today’s economies cannot conceal the truth that we are witness again to evidence of a continuing rejection, both in substance and spirit, of that enlarging role for the Navy towards which the strategic situation of the United States should logically incline. Popular disillusionment with a costly and inconclusive land war in Asia, diminishing reliance upon overseas bases, and the thrust of Soviet naval strength—all looming as new, unbalancing factors in the equation of security—would appear in any reassessment of national strategy irresistibly to focus increased attention on the virtues of seapower. But there are few signs that the American people foresee, let alone are prepared to support, an appropriate maritime strategy, with all the attendant implications for the Navy’s central role. To the extent, of course, that the naval officer chooses to view this fact as one more sign of the landward roots and orientation of the American people, another example of traditional deficiencies in strategic awareness, he may reflect wryly that nothing is new here. But he cannot fail to perceive as well a deep and widespread lack of confidence in the Navy itself at many levels, both high and low. The evidence of how the Navy has used the resources given it thus far have implanted serious doubts that it is capable of creating the kind of Navy that this nation should have. And the sum of those doubts adds up to a repudiation of the potentialities of an effective maritime strategy for the United States.
That this lack of confidence stems from many factors, some beyond the Navy’s control—from weariness with a Cold War struggle that will not go away, to disenchantment with all things military—is recognized. But that recognition cannot shield us from the bitter truth that most of the blame lies not with fate, but at the Navy’s own doorstep. The lack of faith runs deep. It has been truly earned and it is justified.
For all the charges, the familiar litany of criticism directed at the Navy and the military in general, it is a steady source of wonder to the professional at arms to observe how few of them genuinely relate to him. Arrogant militarism, a yearning for wars, and a corrupting alliance of industry and the military all miss the mark. Our true sins, which we share and unburden ourselves of at the cocktail hour in the company of our fellows, are less grand. Not high intrigue, but failure to do our jobs as naval officers—mostly good and patriotic men, meaning well and doing badly—has brought us where we are. The critics have us wrong. Only their anger is valid.
With leaner times, and in the spotlight of the rising Soviet threat, bones are showing, which in less challenging and more abundant eras, were not visible. What we see today are the fruits of decades of mismanagement and inefficiency in a sluggish and ill-organized bureaucracy—all at the service of leadership that has been thin on naval professionalism, weak in imagination, and slow to perceive vital, new, emerging strategic and tactical truths. The result is the unready Fleet of today. Above all, it is a Fleet whose composition and tactical characteristics are fundamentally flawed, deficiencies cast in the mold in obedience to concepts of naval warfare that no longer serve. An allegedly “balanced” fleet, the balance is spurious, illusory; it is a balance primarily within itself and not in relation to its needs. Against the Soviet submarine threat the unbalance of its capability invites defeat.
At the conclusion of World War II, the U. S. Navy, rich with the prestige and honor of victory, bestrode the world’s oceans like a colossus. It was supreme, its new challenges still waiting, invisible beyond horizons of time. Inevitably, the decisive role of the airplane being the greatest single lesson of that war, it became a Navy built around the aircraft carrier. It is fashionable today among the carrier’s critics to draw parallels with another era and to remind us how the thunder of the big guns at Jutland exerted a vise-like grip on naval imaginations and bequeathed a long and unmerited twilight of grandeur to the battleship. Such criticism, of course, is absurd. There is no parallel. At the end of World War II, the carrier was far from its apogee of realization, possessing a potential for growth and adaptation which, as it moved through cycles of change from conventional war to massive retaliation and back to flexible response, was to be demonstrated abundantly over the decades to come. The attack carriers have been primarily responsible for the strength and meaning—the very existence of their missions is unique and invaluable to national strategy—of the U. S. Navy through 25 years of world struggle for which, for all the irony of its name, we have found no better label than “Cold War.” Through a long reign the carrier’s power and versatility have pulled the rest of the Navy along in its wake.
But the above is only a prologue to the future, and the carrier’s supremacy is an increasingly fragile and imperiled truth. To be sure, the carrier is not the battleship; these are not the 1920s; and in a world of accelerating change, history does not repeat itself in forms easy to recognize. Yet every age has its own astigmatism, and the challenges that the attack carrier faces, and the inextricable challenges as well to a Navy such as that of the United States, its orientation and priorities long subordinated to the requirements of the carrier, have been swiftly growing in magnitude and variety. The tide of change in naval warfare is flowing strong. If the U. S. Navy does not sense it and change—more wisely and decisively than in the past—then the decline of U. S. seapower will continue until its ability to control the seas has passed to the Soviets. At that point, the historic maritime supremacy of the Western powers, that tremendous single fact which, like a cord of steel, has bound all strategies of this century into a common unity, will be broken.
In the absence of significant challenge upon the high seas, the U. S. Navy for the past several decades has been one whose form and operations have been primarily dedicated to the projection of naval power upon the littoral and the seas close by. Looking back, the period from the mid-1950s into the early 1960s, which spanned the crises of Suez and Cuba, were a kind of golden age for the Cold War prestige of the U. S. Navy. Through a virtual continuum of turmoil and confrontation, the Navy was able, again and again, dramatically to serve the national policy.
It roamed the world freely, its ships visiting virtually all the nations of the world in tangible evidence of U. S. power and concern, offering an ideal instrument of flexible response, capable of exerting influence, from the mildest of presences to strong and overt force, in fine gradations.
Important to our present understanding, however, it was a Navy which also had grave defects. It was, as it is today, a Navy reflecting an inability to grasp the benefits of modern technology and harness them effectively. Its fleet was forever in the process of becoming, and seldom being, pursuing, and lagging badly, a will-o’-the-wisp of readiness and performance. Major shipboard systems went from birth to death with their vaunted capabilities on paper only and not at sea. Successes were few, the most notable being our emerging nuclear submarine force, then as now, a shining enclave of professionalism. And if it be argued that although the Navy had its troubles, it nevertheless fulfilled its missions, the argument is weak. Comparatively little was demanded of that Fleet. Size and presence were usually enough to achieve its purposes. It was not tested.
That age of our luxury upon the seas is past. Out of a gray, northern world, from ports we do not visit, around the North Cape, through the Kuriles, from Kamchatka, come ships whose features we will get to know better. We encounter them on all the warm seas we have long taken as our own. The challenge is here in the rise of the Soviet Navy.
The foremost expression of Soviet naval power is its submarine force. It is bold in outlook, varied in type, technologically capable and moving steadily towards a predominantly nuclear-powered fleet built around the advantages of ballistic and tactical missiles. It is far and away the largest submarine force ever created prior to war, a fact whose unique significance can best be judged by contrast with major submarine campaigns of the past. Germany in both World Wars, and the United States in World War II in the Pacific—for all the near-decisive results their submarines were ultimately to attain—at the outset of hostilities, each had a limited number initially and could deploy only a handful. But for the Soviets, there will be no protracted wait for their underseas power to rise with the measured rate of their building yards. Their force is in being, it can take immediate and full advantage of the historic disarray, the always belated awareness and the slow cranking up of skills and organization that characterizes antisubmarine warfare’s beginnings in every war. Their submarine force can strike hammer blows from the start.
Though their submarine force constitutes the dominant threat, Soviet progress in other aspects of naval warfare has been impressive. The extensive and varied capabilities incorporated in new types of ships, their imaginative liberation from stereotypes of the past, indicate a high order of professionalism and creativity which are more portentous than the still modest numbers of those advanced types in their inventory. Coupled with the rise of Soviet naval capabilities is the intelligent awareness of the potentialities of seapower. Like an outmoded dwelling that no longer serves, the view that their Navy has no greater role than the support of the traditional primacy of defense of the homeland, has been put aside. The only surprise here can be that it took so long for Mahan to come through in Russian.
Something else is theirs—an asset intangible and yet powerful—the thrust and vigor of a Navy that has come virtually out of nowhere in just 25 years. Knowing where it is going, inspired by that deep Russian patriotism that seems to outlive all the abominations of Communist rule, it enjoys the pleasurable stimulus of discovery, of new worlds to conquer, and strange ports to visit. It is the old story of the underdog, looking forward to the chance to topple the champion.
Even today there is much disbelief in the Soviet challenge. The habits of U. S. naval supremacy are too ingrained to be easily set aside. We take comfort in our numbers, the simple excess of tonnage, the advantages of our overseas bases. Our confidence has been heightened by the variety of our forces, their sophistication (ambiguous virtue!), and the multiplicity of their missions. All these have reinforced instinctive feelings of superiority when contrasted with the more narrowly-structured Navy of the Soviets. Narrower in structure the Soviet Navy definitely is, but its leaders perceive our vulnerabilities and are building well. Bypassing many options that would take them into direct competition with the United States in all aspects of naval warfare, they are moving towards that one capability without which the others are meaningless: ability to control the seas.
In some areas the Soviets already have that control when they choose to exert it. To deny the magnitude of the Soviet threat is both to assert that we can control the submarine and to believe that our attack carriers and their defensive forces are sufficient in numbers and capability to continue to dominate naval engagements. The first belief is untenable; the rising ascendancy of the submarine as an instrument of naval warfare continues unchecked, and the U. S. Navy’s ability to cope with it lags disastrously. The second necessary portion of that faith, particularly when weighed against the negation of the first, is problematical. Our belief in the superb qualities of the attack carrier, and its pre-eminence is, of course, not something to be put aside simply because of theoretical studies or the implications of circles drawn on a sheet of paper. Thus, it may remain true for a time that in showdown engagements with major Soviet naval forces the attack carrier would still prove to be the dominant factor. But this draws limits around engagements too neatly, and sets a stage for events that the sudden sweep and unpredictability of modern warfare will seldom permit to develop so classically. With the near certainty that our national policy will concede most of the first initiatives of war to our enemies, it is unlikely that task forces will be assembled early with all of their defensive forces in full and ready array. Engagements may occur at times when the attack carriers lack sufficient protecting forces and, on the other hand, when large numbers of dispersed units are compelled to fight and defend themselves without carrier support.
The attack carriers, in their limited and still-shrinking numbers, represent too many eggs in too few baskets. They present the Soviet strategist, keenly conscious of the Navy we have built around them, with a small number of enormously high-value targets upon which to focus extraordinary and intense aim with every kind of force that can be brought to bear. And when we look at what we would have left without sufficient attack carriers, a collection of ships whose capabilities have been so tailored—indeed, some crucial assets suppressed in their design—to the requirements of carrier defense, it is plain that the rewards of such strategic aim could be decisive.
Fundamental unease should haunt us at the contemplation of a Navy whose parts are meant to function only in intricate, dependent relationship to one another, its specialized ships not having the versatility to acquit themselves formidably in many kinds of tactical scenarios. Our guided missile frigates, able to contribute to AAW defense but lacking adequate surface-to-surface missile capability, are independently no match for advanced Soviet frigates of equal tonnage. Other examples are the 1040- and the 1052-class DEs (of which more will be said), their entire mission focussed upon a narrow spectrum of ASW of diminishing relevance—and even those presumed talents are an illusion—lacking a single solid capability across the entire spectrum of naval warfare. Our submarine force, generally a rare source of satisfaction in our Navy, finds itself with a generation of submarines deficient in both speed and weapons capability.
Across the board, in a persistent pattern of grave tactical myopia, the U. S. Navy’s lack of suitable weapons stands out against the darkening background of this excellence in the Soviet Navy.
Yet of all the U. S. Navy’s failures of perception, its inability to see the threat of the modern submarine in its full dimensions has been the deepest and longest abiding. It is also the least defensible failure, for the handwriting was plain on the wall the day the Nautilus first got underway. The words grew larger when nuclear power was placed in the hull of the Skipjack. The message stood out in clarity a decade ago when tactical and ballistic missiles were introduced. Thus, the threat did not come upon us all at once, but in its evolution it gave ASW the chance to bring forward its own capabilities. This is not to say that we could have kept pace stride for stride with the growth of the submarine threat, nor that the threat would now be under control. But, with the wisdom and the will, we could have been incomparably farther along than we are.
Failure to appreciate the totality of the submarine threat and its fateful import has been the cause of our fragmented and insufficient response. We have not understood the fundamental alterations mandatory in our approaches towards the nuclear submarine, the difficult and radical decisions to be made, and the reordered priorities that must be set, if we are to proceed logically towards control of the threat. Over the years, ASW, by fits and starts of concern, has been granted large sums, but lack of vision and mismanagement have seen to it that we have gotten too little for our money. The sense of alarm is cyclic; it passes in waves of false hope and we lapse into our former habits of inaction and complacency. ASW has remained a step-child, a branch of naval warfare which, though we stress its importance in words, is still regarded as peripheral, a sideshow outside of the main, and supposedly decisive, arenas of naval warfare. This attitude is responsible for the fact that we do not train and educate our officers for ASW; it is something they are expected somehow to pick up along the way. From among those who do understand ASW, we select few for flag rank, nor are they placed where their knowledge can best serve. In another form, this attitude persists in the view that the submarine is the logical weapon of the poorer nation—presumably conferring upon the richer one a psychological boost. Some like to call ASW “guerrilla warfare of the seas,” another imputation of its having neither full respectability, nor the capability ultimately to succeed. We forget that guerrillas have brought down empires.
The platform orientation of ASW, the cutting of the monetary pie into many slices, to provide something for everyone—but enough for no one—is its curse, a mental and organizational block that stands in the way of broad, illumined perception and the proper allocation of resources. Against the totality of today’s submarine threat we have slighted the imperatives to (a) identify those systems and forces which give us the greatest return, and (b) to set our priorities accordingly. Indeed, so far have we diverged that we have clung to the fiction of a primary, and even offensive, ASW role for the surface ship long after it has become obvious that it cannot fulfill that role against the modern submarine. In pursuit of an impossible goal, we have championed the building of an entire class of ships thus dedicated and, in a uniquely unhappy mixture of strategic and technological shortsightedness, coupled with political maneuvering to bring more hulls into being, we have wrought the 1052-class of DEs, the greatest mistake in ship procurement the U. S. Navy has known. In seeking to justify their primary ASW role we have built sonars whose size has been the fundamental determinant of many of the ship’s characteristics and, in vainly trying for longer detection ranges, we have given up irrecoverable features of simpler, less costly sonars, to get one whose very operation is tactically self-defeating. The 1052s cannot compete in the threatening environment of today; they cannot defend themselves, let alone provide protection for others. Their engineering plants are unreliable and their single screw provides neither the speed for ASW nor the redundancy that a worthy warship must possess. Unable to fulfill the ASW mission, their single gun barrel is evidence of their slighted ability to perform the many valid general purpose missions which destroyer types customarily fill and which, with the decommissionings of older and more versatile types, can no longer be filled today. In yet another sense they represent our continuing fascination with electronics of which we are so strangely proud and ever willing to place aboard at the cost of intrinsic fighting capability. Let no one demur that this present perspective is one of hindsight. Not so. We forged ahead with the 1052s against the evidence of storm flags clearly visible years ago.
In the circumstances which brought that unfortunate class of ship into being are to be found the causes which, so long as they continue strong at work, will deny the United States the Navy it must have.
One main root of the Navy’s problem has derived from the very abundance of its resources, the immense sums of public money, and the choices involved, that are inextricable from considerations of political power. And out of a presumed necessity to adapt to political realities, as well as to the new ways that the giant business of defense has spawned, the naval officer has adapted—but at a severe cost to his professionalism.
As everyone knows, a world of operations analysis and war gaming has been developed in order that forces and systems can be made subject to various tests of validity and need. The habits and jargon of that world by now have been absorbed by a generation of naval officers. In concept, it seems logical—putting systems first to competitive test in the theoretical environment—in practice, it becomes something else. An artificial milieu of hypothesis and counter-hypothesis, of assumptions and rebuttals, is created in which facts are usually scant and challengeable; in this milieu, the proponents and devil’s advocates contend through manipulation of abstractions and, amidst the turbulence of numbers and papers flying, truth, as it is said to be in war, is the first casualty. In an unreal world, the bending of facts, the adoption of questionable hypotheses, and the suppression of adverse evidence, do not seem quite real, either. If a program is already funded, is it not foolish—possibly even wrong—to release bad news which might prejudice it? The naval officer is aware, too, that his military knowledge and experience exceed that of most of the civilians with whom he must contend. Lately, many of these civilians have been young and possessed of a capacity for dogmatism that is so freely reputed to be a prime province of the military. The naval officer knows, too, that criticism and snipings from the outside world are often not only uninformed, but stem as well from little more than irresponsible dislike of all things military. The knowledge makes it easier for him to live with temporary compromises; the affronts to his conscience are more easily borne by the supporting faith that his cause is a good one. Finally, it is possible to see all arguments as obscure and to be persuaded that, where so little is clear, it is better to forge ahead than to pause and run the risk of losing the money by the time one is ready to go again.
Thus do programs acquire lives of their own which may last long after time and circumstance have shorn them of merit.
The troubles with this way of operating are legion. A climate is created wherein disagreement is stifled and where there are “party-lines” to which all views must be subordinated in order that faltering programs will not be impacted. We relinquish the traditional and honored military reputation for plain speaking and we find that when we adopt the ways of the salesman or the maneuvering bureaucrat, our words are so taken, with wariness and doubt. No one has been long in the Pentagon without hearing the familiar, disgusted lament, “We’ve lied to ’em so often that now they don’t believe a word we say.”
This game we play is the reason why many naval officers shun Washington duty; it tells of a far deeper aversion than simply a healthy preference for the sea over a desk and papers.
The greatest danger, though, is that we can try to fool others only so long and then we start to fool ourselves. We can repeat our own distorted arguments only so many times, toil to bend all evidence to advance our cause, and we come to believe what we are saying. This way of operating diverts us from substantive considerations; the superficial aspects take our eyes away from facts and fundamentals. It breeds a cynicism destructive to the spirit. It does not develop the serious student of naval warfare and is antithetical to the clarity of vision, integrity of purpose, and depth of understanding that are needed in the tremendously complex business of modern naval warfare. Men having such characteristics have always been in short supply, of course, but so long as the system in which an officer matures is one that esteems the juggler of figures, and rewards men who can “sell” shaky programs over a man who stubbornly insists that a bad one be killed, then we will stay in trouble. For the former will not be the man who, later on, in hard and lonely decisions, can maintain with confidence and knowledge a relentlessly strong naval position. More likely, he will carry with him, to whatever heights he gains, the habits of the horsetrader, the compromiser, or the nimble-footed politician.
Inseparable, of course, from these ways of operating has been the Navy’s failure to take hold of modern technology and make it serve. Several decades have been witness to a succession of failures of new systems that have never met the minimum demands of Fleet need, let alone the original specifications of performance laid out for them. A recurrent theme has been that of costly, complex systems, insufficiently evaluated and prematurely introduced, proving to be miserable flops, with the inevitable, dreary follow-up of costly “fixes” and retrofits which seldom do much better. Training, operability, and technical support have been habitually slighted, as details to be taken care of later, once the hardware is in hand, but which in actuality never do catch up. Entire classes of ships—graceful and handsome as they cut the waves in those full page advertisements flaunted by the very contractors who have let us down—have been pretentious beauties, a facade behind which their ostensible capabilities are in disarray. We have been only too willing to stretch the “state of the art” beyond its always elastic limits and to believe the promises of contractors that prices and performance of systems as yet unborn can be met. For all our extensive postgraduate programs, we do not have officers able to sift fact from fancy, to distinguish the core of reality from the colorful brochures, and to assess skeptically the promises of the men with their pointers and slides. In spite of all the sad evidence of the years we are as ready as ever to commit ourselves to new weapons systems without their ever having undergone evaluation in prototypes to prove their worth. Even basic propulsion systems, one area, above all, where we might have proceeded conservatively, we have botched, bringing to the Fleet engineering plants less reliable and little better in performance than those of a generation ago.
In place of professionalism we have substituted expediency, an inability to withstand the pressures of each new panic that sends tremors through the Pentagon, of forever reacting, of forever being behind the problem, of having to possess every new system yesterday. The driving factor in many vital decisions is as simple as the fear that funds not spent this year will not be available next year. We seem to be saying that we have no confidence in our nation to provide the wherewithal for a proper Navy, but instead must perpetually maneuver and scheme to get what is needed. Recent, publicized cases of so-called “cost overruns” are a perfect example of our chickens coming home to roost. As every knowledgeable person in defense knows, most cost overruns are no such thing, but rather represent the generally valid cost of a system whose prices were deliberately estimated low because of the belief that realistic estimates would have had no chance of obtaining even initial funding.
The harm we have done by such a way of operating is incalculable, but surely terrible. Proceeding from a denial of faith in the American people to make the sacrifices necessary for their own security, the end results have been both the great loss of the people’s own faith in their Armed Forces and the skepticism as to the validity of the military threat itself. That all of the services, and many of the nation’s leaders, too, have played the game of dissimulation—they, too, with the best (in their minds) of motives, by short term compromise of honor intending to achieve presumably worthy goals whose attainment will render irrelevant the damage to truth along the way—does not excuse the Navy for its own part in this melancholy pattern. Thus, with each year it becomes harder for us to be believed.
For the number of major Navy programs that have met their goals, and have proven those goals ultimately worthy, are few; they shine like lonely beacons across the wreckage of decades of ill-conceived and ill-pursued programs. But the light they shed does not illuminate, and we forge ahead into darkness we have known before, sadder but not wiser.
The matter of how the Navy must change to meet its challenges in the coming decades is hardly to be compressed in a few pages. One thing is certain, that inspired and brilliant leadership is needed to instill in the minds of large numbers of the angered and disillusioned a renewed confidence that our Navy knows where it is going, and how to get there. Such leadership demands both the recognition that there are problems of crisis dimensions, and the will to state them, free of smokescreens. The effort we spend in defending the indefensible mistakes of the past is a drag on energies that should go into correcting those mistakes. We can begin by admitting that the submarine threat is presently far beyond our capability to cope with it, and put behind us those fence-straddling acts that were so much a feature of the 1960s, the absurdity of trying to balance one quarter’s optimistic premise that we had the ASW situation well in hand with the grave dismantling of the premise in the next quarter because suitably gloomy testimony was needed to pry loose funds—except, God help us, taking care not to sound too pessimistic lest our capability be judged so poor as to be unworthy of supporting at all. It was an impossible acrobatic game and it is no wonder that we kept stumbling at it.
Certainly not needed are a host of new studies and analyses and ad hoc committees. We are already deep in mountains of unassimilated paper and if years of experience have not taught many of us what is wrong, then we are beyond enlightening. What is needed is something simpler and rarer: the capacity to see the obvious, the forest rather than the trees, and the stubborn, painful willingness to do what is necessary. In thickets of abstractions we have lost our way, forgotten or slighted the old and primary virtues: speed and endurance, reliability and redundancy, versatility, firepower, the reach of weapons, trained people and readiness. We must return to pragmatism, give first weight to facts, to realities over studies, and take the time and the effort to prove ships and systems thoroughly in prototypes, in the operational environment, before embarking on large-scale procurement.
Progress will not come easily. The needed actions will encounter both active opposition and, more difficult and frustrating, the fixed habits and inertia of the naval bureaucracy. We are, curiously, for all our modernity, not a young, forward-thinking Navy, but, in our resistance to change, an old one. All our hopeful talk of new and bold approaches is mostly talk. A recent article by a naval officer in the U. S. Naval Institute PROCEEDINGS on the subject of ASW still represents the quality of much of our thinking. In the picture the author paints for us we see massed convoys slogging across the oceans and close around them are the familiar escort ships plunging into the swells. This last-ditch defense remains to the author, and to many, the crux of ASW. In the article we find no mention of the missile or the nuclear submarine, little recognition of strategic ASW, nor any awareness of those advanced concepts which offer any real hope of ever controlling the submarine threat. The author’s picture could be World War II or even World War I. For him, time has stood still. Out-of-date thinking, even more than our publicized over-age ships, is our problem. Large numbers of men, entire organizations and laboratories, have sunk their efforts, committed reputations, and moved from youth to crabbed age, in trying to wrest for our surface ships ASW capabilities that the sea will not yield. And, having produced no better than the 1052s, they can offer for the decades ahead only more of the same.
So be it; to set the Navy to rights it will have to be to the accompaniment of old ways cracking, the tinkle of falling empires here and there. Great Navies have not been built, nor sagging ones revived, nor great programs advanced, nor essential positions of strategic indispensability maintained, other than by assaults on the ways of the past by men of independent judgment and stubborn confidence. Such officers are painful to have about, of course; they prod us out of our comfortable ways, and demand response. But then, we have always had a surfeit of “team players,” the easy virtues of the accommodater. The cantankerous image of an Admiral Rickover—whose fundamental message, if we will trouble ourselves to learn it, is no less than how to go about building a modern Navy the right way—is a hundredfold virtue. We need more such voices now, enough of them insisting, as only one example, that the U. S. Navy does not want the 963-class destroyer as presently conceived—that it makes no sense to plan to build a ship that even now, on paper (and the first of which is not to be delivered for years), is inferior to competitive Soviet ships which are already at sea. Such an obvious truth one would expect to hear being shouted from the roof of the Pentagon. But, as in the old fable of the emperor who had no clothes, where are the subjects to tell him?
It will be argued that the United States cannot design a ship to match, ton-for-ton, the capability of the Soviets, because we must have the habitability that the Soviets do not. At best this sort of deluded reasoning allows a peripheral concern—the valid need for a higher retention rate—to control profound decisions as to capability for war. In the first place, habitability is only going to be a minor factor in retention (witness our submarines with their excellent retention rate). A little more room around a man’s bunk is scant recompense for a six-month’s absence from his family; the dignity that will be gained by decent pay, far higher than at the present, will be the primary means of keeping the numbers and talents we need. This is what we should be fighting for as an indispensable goal. But even this is tangential; the central point is that we must be able to build ships of the capability we need. To say that we cannot is no less than admitting that we cannot compete ultimately with the Soviets for control of the seas.
Our critics, who, as mentioned before, have had us wrong on so many counts, curiously have missed on yet another. One fault of the age has not been that the voice of the military in the affairs of the nation has been too strong but, paradoxically, that it has been too faint and uncertain. Only a little while ago, it seems, it was deemed a stamp of merit that a military man be judged “to think like a civilian.” Our senior military colleges still order much of their curriculum to the support of that goal, because their civilian masters have convinced them that this is what they ought to do. Belatedly, the taste of that praise is turning flat, for clearly needed are more officers who think like military men and who give their military advice directly and unequivocally, whatever it costs. In trying to think like civilians we have slighted the military side of matters, making or acquiescing in decisions because a political or economic, or some other factor also deserved its own powerful weighting. But it is not for the military man to add his weight to these factors; they will always have champions of their own. By so doing he unbalances the decision-making process, and denies the military factors their own unencumbered representation. The truth, therefore, that it is going to cost a great deal to build and to reorient the Navy, to the proper forces and systems it must have, should not deter the statement of those needs. That the initial reaction will be further shock and anger is inevitable. However, with continued reiteration of these needs, in the form of arguments professionally developed and convincingly presented over the years—a case sure to be emphasized by Soviet seapower making its influence ever more powerful and visible—it is to be doubted that an American people whose confidence has been restored in their Navy, will continue to be unmoved by policies opposed to the best interests of U. S. seapower and the potentialities in a maritime strategy.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of officers and men continue to serve at a personal sacrifice because idealism and a love of country sustain them. These Navymen, repelled and dismayed by the frequently mindless and irresponsible criticism of the news media, are waiting for firm evidence of that sense of direction and movement so desperately needed if the U. S. Navy is to prepare itself for the challenge of Soviet seapower.
A graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy with the Class of 1947, Captain Smith has served at sea primarily in destroyers with tours in mine and service craft. His most recent sea tour was in command of the USS Wilkinson (DL-5) from 1966 to 1968. His shore tours of duty have been primarily oriented towards ASW and Research and Development, including assignments with the Key West Test and Evaluation Detachment and the Operational Test and Development Force. From 1958 to 1960 he was a member of the Executive Department of the U. S. Naval Academy. He is presently serving as Assistant Chief of Staff for Analysis on the Staff of Commander Antisubmarine Warfare Force, U. S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.