I would like to lead off with a broad examination of the responsibilities facing the Navy, in order to provide a baseline from which we might judge the adequacy of our naval forces to meet our national needs—and from which we might come to grips with the questions nagging the analysts these days, such as, “Why do we need a Navy?” and “What kind of Navy should it be, anyway?”
An excellent starting point is a discussion of the U. S. requirement for “maritime superiority.” I wish to emphasize this point of maritime superiority because it is a concept that has been given insufficient recognition in recent years, yet it is one which must form the basis for the planning of all our naval forces. It provides a clear and unambiguous yardstick against which to measure the adequacy of our naval forces—present and prospective. Its opposite is “maritime parity,” or worse, “inferiority”—both of which are anathema to me, and which are wholly inconsistent with this country’s most essential national interests.
The requirement for maritime superiority recognizes the strategic realities of our geographic position as an island nation connected to overseas allies by two broad oceans, and confronting a great land power which has chosen, for reasons of its own, to challenge our traditional supremacy on the seas. It is not surprising that the Soviets see benefit in doing so, for they recognize, as we must, that control of the seas is absolutely essential for the survival of the United States as a viable economic entity—as it is to any island nation which wishes to preserve its independence and freedom of action. I personally regard maritime superiority as the “first principle” of our national strategy—indeed, the foundation upon which all other aspects of it rest.
Maritime superiority does not mean that we must control all the ocean expanses simultaneously. It does mean that we must control those areas which we need to use in peace and war, against whatever forces may challenge that control. These essential sea areas include the strategically critical waters around the Eurasian periphery, and the economically vital sea lines of communication (SLOCs) through the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans on which the advanced industrial economies of the United States, Western Europe, and Japan so heavily depend. In controlling the seas we must look to our allies and sister services for important support. But in the final analysis, the United States must have the clear ability to prevail over any maritime adversary if it is to protect its interests worldwide, and to deter actions which could lead to a major war.
That, in a nutshell, is what maritime superiority is all about, in my judgment. Without it, we can neither prevail in war nor protect our essential interests in peace.
In the NATO area I believe it is almost universally understood today that the U. S. Navy would play a critical role in the reinforcement and resupply of allied forces in the Central Region, if the war lasts more than a few days. It is similarly recognized that the Navy is uniquely suited to play a key—some would say the predominant—role in the defense and support of NATO’s flanks which, washed by the Mediterranean and Norwegian Seas, are theaters with very heavy maritime overtones.
What is less clearly recognized, on occasion, is the importance of the role our Navy would play in the Pacific and Indian Oceans during a NATO war, although 1 must confess that with the unsettling effects caused by the recent turmoil in Afghanistan, Iran, and elsewhere in the Mideast, people are beginning to understand what I have been trying to impress upon them—that there is a direct linkage between our security objectives in central Europe and stability in the Persian Gulf. We should never forget that in war the U. S. Navy would confront substantial Soviet naval and air forces in these regions, and we would have the predominant responsibility, not only for assuring allied access to oil from the Persian Gulf, but for supporting U. S. forces and allies throughout the Western Pacific—which is one of the Soviets’ most important strategic frontiers. The consequences of our letting this vital region go by default would be incalculable, and would directly impact on the outcome of a NATO-Pact War and the post-conflict global balance of power.
In peacetime, our Seventh Fleet, operating in the Western Pacific—and backed by the full strength of the U. S. Pacific Fleet—gives credence to our oft-repeated statement that we are, and intend to remain, a Pacific power. It is the visible manifestation of our commitment to Japan; and clearly signals to the PRC, and the other nations of the Pacific, that the United States has the capability and will to defend its interests, to maintain stability and balance, and to support its friends and allies in that part of the world. Our routine deployments in the Indian Ocean, which include periodic augmentation by a carrier battle group from the Western Pacific, clearly demonstrate our capability to control the oil SLOCs which are vital to the industrialized world in general, and to our European and Japanese allies in particular.
One would hope that the capability to control the SLOCs would never have to be demonstrated in combat. It is obvious that so long as we possess a clear margin of maritime superiority, the incentive to challenge our capability will be greatly diminished. But if that margin becomes tenuous, not only do we invite challenge, but in a more subtle way we undermine the faith which our friends and allies have in our ability to meet our commitments, and risk setting in motion profound political realignments that would be wholly inconsistent with out most basic national interests.
For these reasons, I believe it is essential for the U. S. Navy not only to possess the ability to prevail over any maritime challenger, but to be perceived by the rest of the world as possessing such capability. A thin margin of superiority puts both of these objectives at risk. Indeed, there are so many subjective measurements involved in calculating relative maritime power that a thin margin is really no margin at all. For that reason I personally prefer the term “maritime supremacy” to characterize the naval posture which our country’s interests require, as I believe it connotes a margin of superiority substantial enough to leave little doubt as to the likely outcome should U. S. naval forces be challenged. A posture of maritime supremacy strongly enhances deterrence, while assuring an outcome favorable to our interests should deterrence fail.
Looking at the requirements levied on our forces in peace and war, there are several basic principles which I believe must guide the structuring and employment of those forces. The familiar concepts of Sea Control and Power Projection, which have had some utility in the analytical world, do not serve us well in understanding the real world. Indeed, they have the potential to confuse the issue by suggesting that Sea Control and Power Projection are discrete categories when, in fact, they are closely intertwined. Projecting power against the sources of Soviet naval strength may well be the most rapid and efficient way to gain control of the seas (as contrasted with the simplistic concept held by many that Sea Control simply means escorting convoys to Europe and little else).
So I would like to discuss with you several fundamental principles which I believe are essential to a more complete understanding of naval supremacy as 1 have outlined it.
The first of these principles is the premise that any conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact will inevitably be worldwide in scope. This principle is consistent with Soviet doctrine, and with the geopolitical realities of Soviet and Western interests which, in war, would come into conflict at a number of points around the Eurasian periphery. At sea, a NATO-Pact war would be a multiocean conflict, since our critical SLOCs pass through the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean and Norwegian seas. Additionally, it is clearly in our interest to maintain a worldwide naval strike capability which threatens potential enemies from a variety of directions, tying down defensive forces, greatly complicating the enemy’s strategic calculations and force deployments, and inhibiting his freedom of action.
The second principle is that U. S. Navy forces must be offensively capable. The geographic range of the Navy’s responsibilities is too broad, and its forces far too small, to adopt a defensive, reactive posture in a worldwide conflict with the Soviet Union. I can’t believe any Americans would want their navy to be one that is only reactive to Soviet initiative, that doesn’t have the capability to be sent wherever necessary, under whatever conditions, and to be able to survive and win that battle. We must fight on the terms which are most advantageous to us. This requires taking the war to the enemy’s naval forces with the objective of achieving the earliest possible destruction of his capability to interfere with our use of sea areas essential for support of our own forces and allies. As I suggested earlier, under most circumstances the prompt destruction of opposing naval forces represents the most economical and effective means to assure control of those sea areas required for successful prosecution of the war and support of the U. S. and allied war economies. Our current offensive naval capabilities, centered on the carrier battle forces, are optimally suited for execution of this strategy.
The third principle relates to the fact that the U. S. Navy is outnumbered by our principal adversary and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Our sea- based tactical air superiority, our general technological superiority, and the at-sea sustainability of the U. S. fleet compensate for this significant deficiency and currently provide the critical margin over the Soviet Navy. It is essential that we retain this competitive edge while continuing to place heavy emphasis on maintaining technological superiority across the board.
The fourth principle stresses that we must exploit Soviet geographic disadvantages and continue to deploy naval forces in locales which provide us strategic advantage. It is important that we make the Soviets understand that in war there will be no sanctuaries for their forces. Keeping the Soviets preoccupied with defensive concerns locks up Soviet naval forces in areas close to the USSR, limiting their availability for campaigns against the SLOCs, or for operations in support of offensive thrusts on the flanks of NATO or elsewhere, such as in the Middle East or in Asia.
The fifth principle recognizes that the current narrow margin of U. S. Navy advantage requires that every effort be made to integrate relevant capabilities of the other U. S. services and U. S. allies into the campaign to defeat the Soviet and Warsaw Pact navies. In this respect the trends suggest a continuation of the existing division of labor under which the U. S. Navy provides the bulk of offensively capable forces while the allies complement our effort with forces for convoy escort, mine clearance, and port protection.
The sixth principle is that we will fight a major war with essentially what we have at its outset, augmented by the Naval Reserve, which will enhance our capabilities in certain specialized warfare areas and provide some unit and personnel augmentation for active forces. As General Haig says, it will be a “come as you are war.” Given the long lead time for production of today’s complex ships and aircraft, neither side will have a substantial opportunity to reconstitute major naval units, even if the war is relatively protracted. Every major engagement must, therefore be regarded as potentially decisive in terms of its impact on the naval balance; and every U. S. naval unit must have the maximum offensive capability we can build into it consistent with its mission. It also means that our total force structure in peacetime, including the important supplement represented by the Naval Reserve, must be sufficient in size, capability, and readiness to prevail in war. There will be little opportunity to expand it significantly once war has begun.
The seventh principle is that U. S. naval commanders must be governed by the concept of calculated risk. That is, in war they must select engagement opportunities which promise attrition ratios clearly favorable to the U. S. side. This is a critically important point for any navy that lacks the numbers needed to assure a reliable margin of superiority. It was the principle, you may recall, which Admiral Nimitz enjoined Admiral Spruance to follow at the Battle of Midway—which Spruance then translated into a brilliant tactical victory, which proved the turning point of the naval campaign in the Pacific. Given the nature of the U. S.-Soviet naval balance and our essential inability to reconstitute battle losses, achievement of distinctly favorable attrition ratios offers the only prospect of progressively defeating the Soviet Navy in a worldwide war at sea. Even a one-to-one exchange ratio is a strategy for defeat.
The final principle relates to the adequacy of our residual forces. Though often overlooked in planning, the force balance existing at the end of a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict would be of critical importance in determining not only the terms of settlement, but in protecting U. S. vital interests in what would undoubtedly be a highly unsettled and conflict-prone world. The inherent mobility of naval forces, and their relative lack of need for land bases, would make them particularly useful in this kind of a post-conflict environment.
I have not thus far addressed the question of Soviet naval capabilities. I know you are familiar with the trends in that area, and their very unsettling implications— particularly when measured against the projected U. S. Navy posture post-1985. The trend line projected by the current five-year shipbuilding plan forecasts an inevitable decline in the size of the Navy, commencing in the mid-1980s. The Soviet Union, at the same time, is embarked on an aggressive program to expand the quality and quantity of its high seas naval forces (including naval aviation), to extend their reach and sustainability, and to optimize their combatant capabilities against the U. S. Navy. The picture is one of a dynamic program to increase Soviet capabilities for offensive operations worldwide. This effort is sustained by an expanding submarine and aircraft construction base, and a heavily financed naval investment program. As might be expected, given the Soviet aim of reversing the naval balance, the trend in Soviet ship construction is very much towards larger, more complex, more expensive, and more capable units, with the 25- to 30-thousand-ton nuclear-powered cruiser we believe to be under construction in the Baltic (about twice the size of our own CGNs), the Ivan Rogov amphibious assault ship, the Kiev class carrier, the Berezina class underway replenishment ship, and the Delta III SSBNs being prime examples—all pointing to the kinds of priority which Admiral Gorshkov has determined best suits his Navy.
Looking at the implications of all this for our own naval posture, I think several general conclusions follow.
First, addressing the threat realistically compels us to seek sophistication in our own naval forces. There is no cheap or easy way out of the situation the Soviets have put us in. To put it simply, there is no free lunch in this maritime superiority business. We must control the seas to survive. The Soviets do not need to; but gaining control would give them immeasurable strategic advantage—a fact they clearly recognize. They have made—and are continuing to make—a massive investment in highly capable forces designed to wrest control from us. We must respond with forces capable of defeating that threat. We have no control over the size or sophistication of the Soviet Navy; we can only sit back and watch it grow. At the same time we have no alternative but to respond to the threat it poses with forces that clearly have the requisite capability—hence, sophistication—and probably, expense.
The second conclusion is that in all likelihood quality cannot be traded off in any significant way for quantity, at least not at today’s fiscal levels. We can easily substantiate a requirement for greater numbers of ships; but attaining quantity at the expense of quality (which is another name for capability) simply invites the piecemeal defeat of units which are incapable, either individually or collectively, of coping with the threat. Unfortunately, this conclusion runs immediately afoul of the attractive proposition that the future force posture of the U. S. Navy should rely on many more ships, much cheaper and smaller and less capable.
The third conclusion is that twelve carrier battle groups represent the absolute minimum in capability needed to discharge our missions—in both peace and war. Our present forces, and the sailors who man them, are severely stressed to meet peacetime commitments. They would be very heavily taxed to discharge their global responsibilities in war. We would, in fact, have to rely on sequential campaigns to attrit the threat and successively gain control of essential sea areas, with all the risk and uncertainty such an approach implies. While our numbers of ships will go up in the near term as previously funded forces come into inventory, the trend projected by the building level contained in this and last year’s budgets forecasts an inevitable decline in total ship numbers when the momentum of past years’ investments will run out of steam.
The fourth conclusion is that we must encourage our allies to make a greater naval contribution in those areas I previously described, where their capabilities effectively complement our own. This can help alleviate some of the overall numbers shortfall, and add capability in specialized areas (such as mine warfare); but we should realistically recognize it will add only marginally to our capability for offensive action against the main battle forces of the Soviet Navy.
The fifth conclusion is that we must make attainment of substantially greater standoff capability in our weapons systems a major objective, over the longer term, in order to destroy the increasingly capable Soviet launch platforms before they attain strike range of our own forces. At the same time, we should strive to distribute our own offensive capability among a greater number of platforms, to the extent we can do this within resources available and—most importantly—without diluting the total strike capability of our battle groups.
The final conclusion, which clearly flows from all the rest, is that any major changes in our naval force structure will be evolutionary in nature. Our primary aim must be to preserve the essential capability of our 12 battle groups and keep them responsive to the threat. The fiscal margin for development and deployment of radically new platforms and systems will be small indeed, severely limiting our ability to innovate in major ways. This means we must carefully select those initiatives which appear to offer significant payoff—such as non-CTOL aircraft—and pursue them in a deliberate and carefully structured way so as to maximize the potential technological payoff from our investment.
In summary, we must continue to put sophistication and highly capable systems into our ships and aircraft to meet a rapidly increasing threat. We cannot turn our backs on a realistic assessment of Soviet capabilities. Units which are incapable of meeting the threat are, in a sense, worse than none, because they give some a false sense of our total capabilities vis-a-vis the Soviets. This means that quality cannot generally be traded off for quantity. At the same time, quantity does matter and there is clearly an absolute minimum in numbers of combatant units below which we cannot safely go. In my judgment, at twelve battle groups we have reached that limit. Allies can—and must—complement our capabilities in important areas— but the fact of life is they are unlikely to add significantly to our capability to deal with the main striking forces of the Soviet Navy. Looking to the future, it is clear that we must stress greater standoff capability, and rigorously explore the potential of non-CTOL aviation, so we can identify and capitalize on the most promising technological avenues for the improvement of our force structure. Change, however, will inevitably come slowly.
The essential question is, what must we do to ensure that we retain a clear margin of superiority over a very vigorous and dedicated competitor who fully understands the importance of sea power in the global strategic balance?
I hope that the foregoing thoughts provide some useful insights into the principal considerations which I believe must guide our future decisions on naval force structure.