"With the emphasis on sea control and sea-based projection forces that a maritime option entails, we would automatically have a force structure that provided a credible deterrent and significant quick-response capability in a NATO flank war, a conflict-at-sea, a unilateral intervention or a sub-theater war."
There is a momentum to military and strategic concepts which on the one hand is reassurance against whimsical tampering, but on the other hand is the cause of the traditional accusation that the military are always planning for yesterday's war. Surely there have been enough jolts in recent months to accepted patterns of diplomacy and military operations to warrant a close review of whether our overall military strategy fits our best understanding of national interests and aspirations.
Three changes in our strategic environment are particularly pertinent: (1) the movement away from a bipolar world, (2) the waning domestic support for traditional policies, and (3) changing Soviet capabilities and strategy.
By the end of this decade, we can expect to be dealing with four other major power centers: the U.S.S.R., China, Japan, and a united Western Europe. China is already a factor politically and militarily, including nuclear capability. It needs only economic strength to become a full major power. Japan has more than enough economic leverage and needs only an increased military potential, including nuclear weapons, to move into the major league. United Western Europe has all the ingredients of a major power now, and needs only political cohesiveness.
The world's political structure is beginning to acknowledge this potential five-sided power relationship. The freedom of each of the major powers to maneuver is becoming affected by the positions of the other four. In the future, alignments are likely to vary from issue to issue. Each major power will seek to avoid being on the minority side of any issue, especially the one-out-of-five side. While these restrictions on maneuver are likely to act as a damper to rash destabilizing moves by the large powers, they have the disadvantage of tempting smaller nations into actions that could result in pitting the major powers against each other.
The American people appear to be desirous of reducing the world-wide roles we have been filling for the past 25 years. Whether or not this represents a long-term change of attitude, it supports current pressures to reduce defense spending. Those pressures will be difficult to reverse, even if there is a change in attitude toward our world responsibilities. The portion of our Federal budget that can be considered discretionary is largely in Defense. Thus, any sizable increase in Defense spending would require that Congress reverse various legislative actions which have created "non-discretionary" demands on the budget; e.g., social security rates. This would be difficult, in view of pressures for increases in welfare, education, ecology, etc. These sections of the budget are already growing at three to five times the rate of the GNP.
Thus, it is becoming increasingly difficult to pay for all the forces needed to support the strategy of containment of Communism that has remained largely unchanged over the past quarter-century. This strategy was carried out first by maintaining strong NATO forces, then by helping threatened nations around the world. The means until now have been large balanced Army, Navy, and Air Force forces keyed mainly to controlling a possible ground war in Europe. This strategy is beginning to change and the thrust of the changes have been defined in the Nixon Doctrine.
For instance, the reduction of our forces in Korea and the accelerating withdrawal from Vietnam, plus the Presidential statement that we expect our allies to carry a greater share of the burden for their defense indicate that the future will see less reliance on the use of U. S. military forces.
Because of the reductions in our forces and the changes in Soviet capabilities, we are now being forced to make hard choices, both between the Services, and within the Navy. If national objectives have changed, we must develop military capabilities that serve these new policies, or we may find that we have insufficient resources to meet the old strategy and have not developed the right kinds of forces to support a new one.
There are two facets to trends in the Soviet threat. The first is the unchanging nature of the buildup and improvement in Soviet general purpose force, as well as strategic capabilities. The second is the changing emphasis of the threat towards its maritime features.
One apparent reason for the accent on Soviet naval forces is that the Soviets are using their seapower to leapfrog the stalemate we both face on the central front in Europe. They, as we, recognize how destabilizing any attempt would be to change the territorial frontiers in Central Europe that have been frozen since 1948. Thus they are exerting strong pressures on the flank nations of NATO. They would like to create the impression that the eastern Mediterranean and the Norwegian Sea are areas which the U.S.S.R., not NATO, will control. Without firing a shot, they hope to pressure these flank NATO nations into " Finlandization." Additionally, the Soviets are increasingly concerned with the threat on their eastern front, even to the extent of redeploying sizeable forces to their Chinese borders. On top of this, they must contend with uncertain lines of communication across Eastern Europe. Overall, the probability of a Soviet military assault into Western Europe today is lower now than in many years.
This does not mean that we can disregard the Soviet threat to the land areas of NATO Europe. Any of a number of events could reverse the apparent movement toward detente and heighten tensions rapidly. It does seem mandatory, though, that we regard the Soviets' growing capabilities at sea as providing them with the option of expanding the traditional areas of confrontation and potential conflict beyond Europe to include other areas reachable by sea. In short, the contingencies which we may have to face have multiplied, while the resources and facilities available to us, owing to a combination of escalating costs and constrained budgets, are, in effect, declining.
The United States is facing a new challenge. We must review our strategies to determine whether the changes in the world situation that we have discussed call for substantial changes in our military posture.
NATO: Looking at NATO first, we see that our strategy is based on a joint conventional defense with our NATO allies. Of the three changes in the world environment, the one that most affects this strategy is the emergence of a united Western Europe as a major power. If that united Europe elects to cooperate more frequently with the Soviet Union than with ourselves, there will be little significance to our military alliance and strategy. Our military, diplomatic and economic actions in Europe, then, must be keyed to ensuring close relations with Western Europe. One way in which military strength can help is to offer assurance to the Europeans that we can and will assist them if they are attacked either frontally or in nibbles.
The cornerstone of such assurance is our ground forces in place in Europe. There can be no clearer earnest of our intent. Yet, those forces today are only a small part of the help we estimate that we would have to provide against a major Soviet attack. And the size of that contingent in Europe is under pressure from the Senate, the doves in general, and from mutual and balanced force reduction negotiations. It is obvious that, even without further reductions, our strategy in Europe is viable only if rapid sea resupply is feasible.
This brings us up full against the third change in the world environment, the increasing Soviet challenge at sea. The real challenge lies hidden below the seas and on Soviet air bases. The Soviets have, however, made pointed efforts to make their threat visible by means of an impressive surface fleet. The utility of Soviet surface forces after the first blow in a war with the United States is highly questionable. Their peacetime usefulness in making the Europeans aware of the threat lurking in the wings is highly effective.
A key issue in our review of our NATO strategy is what, if any, steps we might take to accommodate possible uncertainty in the European mind of our ability to reinforce them in an emergency. No change would be necessary if:
- We, and the Europeans, estimate that our combined naval forces can prevail rapidly enough to strengthen the central front on time; or
- We agree that the front can be stabilized by the forces in place and airlifted forces with their pre-positioned equipment and supplies; or
- We agree that the war will be over or go nuclear so rapidly that reinforcement could not take place.
If none of these assumptions is acceptable, we must consider trade-offs for improving our forces that can ensure the rapid reinforcement of Europe by sea. If we voluntarily or involuntarily reduce ground forces and land-based air forces in Europe, we could decommission those forces to pay for increased sea control capability. If we do not reduce forces in Europe, we could decommission ConUS ground or air forces and rely more heavily on mobilization of Reserve and National Guard forces. Either of these courses of action would increase the time for us to complete our reinforcement of Europe by the mobilization factor (though this might not really be the case if the seas were not safe for shipping in the early days of war). The choice of strategy should be made largely by answering the question as to whether the West Europeans would feel a greater assurance with our present posture (with possibly some force transfers to (ConUS) or with our having a greater capability to reinforce them by sea at the expense of some readiness in ConUS back-up forces.
There are two related considerations. One is whether the West Europeans could and would pick up the expense of improving our total sea control capabilities. This would playas naturally into the Secretary of Defense's Total Force Concept as would greater reliance on Reserve Army and Air Force forces for ConUS back-up. The problem is complicated by a divergence of views within NATO. The United States wants its allies to recognize sea control as a problem to be solved by all NATO nations. Most allies are allocating an increasing percentage of defense resources to land and air forces so that they may be in a better position if U. S. forces in Europe are reduced. Their navies receive, on the average, 17% or less of national defense budgets and the trend throughout NATO Europe is toward smaller, less expensive navies. In particular, the number of open ocean escorts is declining while coastal capabilities are increasing. On balance it appears unlikely that we will be able to divert our allies from emphasizing their land-based forces and coastal navies at the expense of open ocean sea control forces.
The second consideration is how a mix of forces that was richer in sea control than our present force would respond to possible non-NATO requirements. This leads us to a review of our other national strategies for military force.
Asia: Of the three changes in the world environment, again the emergence of the five-sided world is the primary consideration in our Asian policy. Three of the major powers are resident in Asia. We enter the scene as outsiders and are anxious not to end up on the short side of 3-against-1 alignments on particular issues. One way to achieve this would be to maintain our past close ties with Japan. If we also assume that only on unusual issues such as Vietnam are China and the Soviet Union likely to take the same side, we can expect to be on the high side of three-against-one if we stay close to Japan. Thus our military input to an Asian strategy should be keyed to promoting close ties with Japan.
The second change in our world environment, the reduced national will to become involved abroad, markedly limits our options for doing this. Clearly we are neither likely to station more forces in Asia, nor are we likely to become involved in new ground conflicts there. We are more likely to reduce our earnest forces in this theater. This may not be all bad." In terms of our relations with the Japanese, reduction of U. S. ground forces throughout Asia would lessen Japanese concern that its ties to the United States could draw it into a conflict against its will. Additionally, relative to the Chinese, withdrawal of our inevitably visible ground forces from the periphery of China and replacement with less obtrusive sea-based forces and Guam-based bombers would remove what must be a major irritant to our relations with China.
If, in partial compensation, we increased the naval component of our Asian force posture, there would be several advantages. Japan is totally dependent on sea communications. It clearly cannot have naval forces adequate to cover its extensive sea lanes for many years. To the extent that U. S. sea control forces in Asia appear to be capable and available, they could make it attractive for the Japanese to maintain their ties with us.
A maritime accent in Asia would also have its impact on our relations with China. As China re-enters the mainstream of world affairs, we wish to remove irritants from our relations with it and afford it the opportunity of working constructively with us. At the same time, we want to be in a position to apply appropriate pressures to China if it should move in an expansionist direction. Asia, after all, is an area of potential instability in the decade ahead. Naval air and amphibious forces are appropriate to signalling U. S. attitudes toward China according to whether they are paraded visibly and threateningly or held in remote reserve.
In summary, our primary interests in Asia lie with Japan, a maritime nation. A force posture with a maritime accent is appropriate. Such naval air and amphibious forces would not have the staying power to take on a major Chinese ground thrust, but we really do not have a practical option of planning a strategy around winning a ground war on mainland Asia. We would do well to have strong and "relevant" naval power in this theater—relevant in the sense that a President might be able to deploy it for its deterrent impact or even engage it in lower order conflicts. This leads us to consideration of possible conflicts in Asia and elsewhere not involving the Soviet Union or China directly.
Conflicts in Asia, Africa, or the Indian Ocean Basin Not Involving the P.R.C. or U.S.S.R. (Sub-Theater Wars).
The objective of our military forces in all situations is deterrence. Our specific military posture may have greater deterrent impact on possible sub-theater conflicts than on major tensions in Europe or Asia simply because there are not so many other factors involved such as the restraint stemming from the magnitude of the stakes. The role of military posture in the sub-theater situation is also important because of the dangers of our precipitately relinquishing the responsibilities we have shouldered in these situations for the past quarter of a century. It is therefore important to examine the characteristics of different forces for such conflicts with a view toward determining which are best suited for deterrence.
Forces stationed overseas are the best deterrent. There are, however, four factors working against reliance on overseas basing. One is the domestic pressures to bring such forces home for both policy and financial reasons. The second is the pressures of negotiation for mutual reduction in forces. The third is the pressures from some of the host countries themselves. The fourth is that the diminishing size of our armed forces will make it increasingly difficult to provide adequate coverage in many areas of the world and still have any contingency reserve. Overall, then, we should not anticipate any increased reliance on stationing forces overseas in the near future.
Thus, what we want to consider is how we can substitute a capability to introduce ground and or air power into a troubled sub-theater. Basically we are talking about rapid introduction of modest-size forces. Most wars of this type are likely to be small initially and the application of sufficient power in the early stages may be decisive. In light of the Nixon Doctrine that we will support our allies in Asia primarily through air, naval, and economic means, the emphasis is on air power. There are essentially three separate means by which we can introduce air power into such conflict.
Long-range, land-based bombers operating from distant bases such as Guam can be effective against well-identified large targets. Their shortcoming is their limited capability for accurate, quick-reaction, direct support of ground forces in changing tactical situations. This problem would be magnified if it were a question of direct support for foreign ground troops. Additionally, we must always be cautious in the employment of strategic forces anywhere near the U.S.S.R. or the P.R.C., e.g., Korea. The potential ambiguity between a long-range conventional strike and a surprise strategic nuclear attack could be most dangerous.
The second means of introducing airpower into a conflict would be through the tremendous air lift capabilities of the C-5A. This transport gives the Air Force a considerable capability to introduce tactical aircraft into sub-theater areas through the use of "bare base kits." This concept provides us maximum flexibility with minimum forces since a force based in ConUS can react equally quickly in either an easterly or westerly direction. The bare-base concept has three principal limitations. The first is dependence on en route over-flight and staging rights. The second is reliance on the availability of bases with prepared runways, adequate security and a capacity for rapid buildup of water supply, POL storage and ammunition storage. The third limitation is the fact that the trends of the time in terms of increased sophistication of aircraft, and hence maintenance and repair requirements, makes it more difficult to have confidence that all of the elements necessary for a true combat capability will be available in a timely manner.
The third means of introducing tactical air power into a sub-theater situation is the attack carrier. Non-deployed attack carriers cannot arrive on the scene as rapidly as long-range or air mobile land-based air if we are caught without adequate warning. If we do have some warning, sea-based tactical air can be in place well in advance of hostilities without committing us to intervention. Sea-based tactical air carries its own spare parts, personnel, maintenance equipment and hence is as much a going concern in peacetime as it is in wartime. It takes with it its own POL, ammunition, and water supplies. Additionally, carrier vulnerability is essentially nil in a sub-theater situation. It is clearly less than that of land-based air located in the area of combat.
A similar situation exists with regard to a comparison of the means of introducing ground forces. One means is to air-lift the initial elements of army forces in very rapidly. We are again dependent on both internal security at the arrival base and upon assurance that sea support will be forthcoming shortly for both logistics and reinforcement. Another means is to introduce ground forces from amphibious ship platforms. If security exists, they can be introduced administratively. They have the added advantage of being able to go in against opposition if required. Amphibious ground forces have the obvious disadvantage of lesser relevance to situations remote from the sea.
Going back to our basic purpose of maximizing deterrence with a minimum commitment of forces, there are several other aspects of these alternatives which must be borne in mind.
First, long-range bombers, bare-base tactical air and air mobile ground forces are capabilities which are difficult to demonstrate to others in peacetime. They are thereby less useful in creating the impressions desired for deterrence, namely that they probably would be dispatched and that they likely would succeed if they were. Sea-based forces, on the other hand, can be paraded as much or as little as desired to create a deterrent impact, e.g., Jordan in 1970.
Secondly, we must also consider the fact that the use of sea-based forces, especially carriers, minimizes the likelihood of extended military involvement. At least as far as aviation is concerned, there is no commitment on the ground because there need be no introduction of forces in-country. If a decision should be made to introduce ground forces, but subsequently we elect to withdraw that commitment, amphibious forces have the advantage that they can be withdrawn by the same means as they arrived even in the face of opposition.
Finally, a distinct limitation on reliance on sea-based air and amphibious forces is that they constitute a limited war fighting capability in the event prolonged conflict ensues. It is thus essential that they be backed up by mobile Army and Air Force forces. Thus the unique contribution of naval forces is that they provide the most credible deterrent that we can offer short of stationing forces overseas, but they do so essentially by evidencing a commitment of the United States to rapidly introduce its full gamut of Army and Air forces if necessary.
Unilateral Involvement. Still another situation that requires review is what is described as unilateral involvement. This is simply a situation in which we become involved with the Soviet Union militarily without drawing in our respective allies. Support for two client states such as Egypt and Israel is the most frequently cited instance of this possibility. In the Middle East case, our assistance would almost certainly have to be primarily naval. To begin with, keeping the sea lanes open would be a prime requirement. Conducting amphibious assault operations might well be another.
For air superiority and air strike missions we would have options of sea-basing, basing on foreign allied bases, or of introducing forces directly onto Israeli bases. The latter course depends on staging and transit rights, would encounter base-loading limitations, and would be ultimately dependent on resupply and support by sea. The use of allied bases in Greece, Turkey, or Cyprus could bring land-based air within extreme range for such support. The issue here, and with the unilateral case in general, is whether we want to count both on handy allied bases within reach of possible involvement, and on our allies being willing to become involved along with us.
At the same time, we must recognize forthrightly that the threat at sea that the Soviets can pose in a region like the eastern Mediterranean would inevitably reduce our ability to mount offensive strikes. If, for example, the Soviets were willing to expand an Arab-Israeli war to an attack on the U. S. Sixth Fleet, a large portion of that Fleet's resources would first have to be devoted to neutralizing the threat from submarines, surface ships, and land-based aircraft. We must keep in mind that in a unilateral war, such as we are discussing here, there would be limitations or inhibitions on how extensive a force the Soviets would commit. Would they, for instance, use aircraft from Europe and from the Soviet Union, or only those few that can be based in Egypt? Still, there is no doubt that the emergence of a threat to us at sea for the first time since World War II limits the speed with which we can react offensively. This, in turn, places a premium on our being able to exert control rapidly over the sea and air environment, primarily by having adequate numbers of carriers immediately available.
Case for a Maritime Strategy. In summary, greater reliance on sea-based forces is not the answer to each of our prospective uses of military force. Under the new strategic considerations which we must take into account, however, sea-based forces have increased applicability across the spectrum of our requirements.
In NATO, those strategy options that do not call for an increase in sea control capability are optimistic about our ability to stabilize the front on the basis of limited prepositioning and air lift capability or be very hopeful about our ability to protect our sea lines of communication. There are risks in relying too heavily on these possibilities. Furthermore, when we consider the NATO flanks, it appears that devoting more of our resources to sea control and sea-based projection forces would be shifting our strength with the shifting threat.
In Asia, we will continue to have commitments and interests that require a means of coming to the aid of our allies rapidly, primarily with air power but maintaining the option for deeper commitment if necessary. Placing primary emphasis on sea-based forces for rapid response with the option of introducing ground-based air forces as the need develops provides a posture of capability without commitment. We probably cannot expect domestic attitudes to tolerate much more than this in the near future.
For sub-theater and presence situations the most visible deterrent forces we can maintain as our numbers of forces stationed overseas diminishes are naval air and amphibious forces. For the full credibility of this deterrence they must be backed by air mobile ground and land-based air forces.
Because unilateral involvement would generally preclude reliance on allied bases, we would be in a dangerous position if we were to count on being able to move forces, other than naval and long-range air forces, into position quickly enough to be effective.
What are the objections to greater reliance on the maritime elements of our strategy? One is the reputed high cost of naval forces. Another is the alleged vulnerability of sea-based forces, especially attack carriers.
Various analyses have demonstrated that naval forces may be shown to be more costly, less costly, or cost about the same as other forces of comparable capabilities. When naval forces are shown to be more costly, it is often because portions of the costs of competing systems, e.g., base defense and logistics, are neglected or understated and certain benefits of naval forces, such as mobility, are under-valued or given no value at all.
The real issue is the spotlight that can be pointed to the initial cost of a CVAN. As a percentage of the life cycle system cost, this is really very small. Moreover, the only significant difference in the cost of building a sea base and a land base is the mobility of the former. Thus the real cost differential lies in our estimate of how many land bases we would need to build overseas to match the mobile sea base.
Recent joint Navy-Air Force efforts to study actual historical costs of sea and land air-basing have shown such close comparability that opponents of carriers have significantly muted their tone on costs in recent months. Overall, the qualitative differences in the basing of land- and sea-based air are clearly the dominant factor in selecting the best mix.
To assess the vulnerability of sea-based forces, we should consider three levels of conflict: presence, sub-theater conflicts (including the P.R.C. but not Soviet involvement), and wars involving the U.S.S.R.
In a presence or peaceful deterrence situation, there is little threat to naval forces, while there is an appreciable one to land-based forces (e.g., abandonment of Wheelus Air Force Base, non-availability of NATO southern flank bases during the Jordanian crisis, etc.). In sub-theater situations, there may be a threat to carriers, but it is likely to be moderate in comparison with the threat to land-based forces. In the Vietnam war, for instance, many hundreds of aircraft were lost on the ground to guerrilla action, while no losses were reported for carrier-based aircraft from enemy attacks on carrier bases.
In a war with the U.S.S.R., there would certainly be a serious threat to our carriers. Most frequently, discussions of this issue focus on the question of a surprise from trailing ships and submarines. All military forces are quite vulnerable to a well-timed and organized surprise attack. However, the enemy would have problems of coordination, particularly if the attack amounted to more than a conflict-at-sea. In addition, because the Soviets on an average day have only one or two of our CVAs within firing range of their missile units, they would have to change their posture significantly in order to be ready to inflict major damage on our overall carrier force. Such a change in posture would almost certainly alert us and under these alerted conditions, our tactical commanders could assume progressively improved defensive postures. This could reduce our vulnerability, though damage could by no means be prevented entirely. Initial damage or losses need not be crippling if our force levels are adequate to regain and preserve control of the seas after a surprise attack.
Once hostilities with the Soviet Union have commenced, we have another ball game. As pointed out earlier, we can expect some inhibitions on their commitment of forces in a unilateral involvement situation. This should reduce our defensive problem significantly. In a total war situation, we would undoubtedly give ground, take losses, delay offensive operations and fight a difficult fight (as would ground and air forces also). If we are so pessimistic as to not rely on naval forces at all under these circumstances, we need to return to square one and rethink our entire military strategy. The issue under these circumstances would be whether we can conduct military operations outside ConUS. It is not a question of whether naval forces are more or less vulnerable than Army or Air Force tactical air forces based overseas, but whether the Army and Air Force can have the reinforcements and supplies upon which they are dependent and which only the Navy can assure their receiving.
What would a national military strategy with a more maritime orientation look like?
On the NATO Central Front it would reduce U. S. ground forces and some of their ConUS backup. It would encourage the West Europeans to replace the forces that we withdraw. Of the forces withdrawn, a substantial portion should be replaced by sea control forces and airlift capability. The balance should go into the ConUS reserve.
In Asia, it would acknowledge the improbability of our employing sizeable ground forces and rely on Navy forces for sea control and combined Navy and Air Force forces for projection of power ashore in order to prevent conflicts.
With the emphasis on sea control and sea-based projection forces that a maritime option entails, we would automatically have a force structure that provided a credible deterrent and a significant quick response capability in a NATO flank war, a conflict-at-sea, a unilateral intervention or a sub-theater war. We would want to increase our rapid air lift capability and regularly exercise our air mobile forces to ensure that a maritime-oriented force structure also contained a credible capability for rapid augmentation by ground and land-based air forces. The threat of such augmentation is essential to deterrence. It is the key to any large-scale or prolonged military involvement, and in such event should replace our quick-response sea-based projection forces.
What would be the benefits of such a strategy?
- It would implement the Nixon Doctrine with forces that were less dependent on political constraints arising from overseas basing and the attendant risk of unwanted involvement.
- It would stretch limited military resources by being more flexible and more useful over a variety of contingencies.
- It would make it easy for the President to signal others by means of military forces even with domestic pressures against military involvement.
- By thus providing an improved capability to protect our sea lanes, it would guard our access to raw materials and commerce and impart to our allies a higher level of confidence in our ability to come to their aid.
- It would address directly the Soviet naval build-up, which could, if it continues, shift the balance of conventional war-fighting power in their favor.
For a variety of practical reasons, a shift from our current strategy to a maritime strategy would have to extend over several years. Our allies, for instance, would need time to understand the change in U. S. posture and to realize how NATO can be strengthened by it. Mutual and balanced force reductions negotiations would have to be taken into account. Attention would have to be paid to domestic political factors. And it would take time to rebuild the naval force structure that has been in such precipitate decline in the past few years. It is because of this inherent time constraint that an early, decisive start toward a new strategy is necessary.
A graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy with the Class of 1947, Admiral Turner served at sea for a year before being appointed a Rhodes Scholar. After acquiring a master's degree from Oxford University, he returned to sea in 1950, serving in destroyers in both the Atlantic and Pacific. His sea commands include the USS Conquest (MSO-488) from 1956 to 1958, the USS Rowan (DD-782) in 1962 , and the USS Horne (DLG-30). After a two-year tour as Naval Aide to the Secretary of the Navy, he assumed command of a carrier task group with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. In April 1971, he was assigned as Director of the Systems Analysis Division in the Office of the CNO and, in June 1972, he became the President of the Naval War College.