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Each year, the Chief of Naval Operations delivers his posture statement to Congress, and that message has been a uniformly gloomy one in recent years. The Navy is stretched thin now, and if present trends continue, the Soviet Navy will be superior to ours by the mid-80s. Somehow, this ominous message does not seem, to be getting across to Congress or the people.
On 3 1 January 1980, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Thomas B. Hayward, appeared before the House Armed Services Committee to appraise the current state and future prospects of the U. S. Navy- His testimony, reprinted in A Report of the FY81 Military Posture and FY81 Budget of the U. S. Navy, should be required reading for all naval officers.1
Admiral Hayward told the House committee that ours is the best navy in the world. He cited our excellent air and submarine forces, the ongoing modernization of our surface force, improvements in combat readiness, and the skill and dedication of our people. But he pointed out that the Navy “is stretched thinner than at any time since the late 1940’s,” and he expressed concern about our ability to meet growing worldwide commitments if force levels continue to decline and if we cannot retain enough experienced officers and petty officers to man our ships and squadrons.
Admiral Hayward also noted an ominous trend in the U. S.-Soviet naval balance. The Soviet Navy, already larger than ours by more than 3 to 1 overall, is increasing its lead, expanding its operating radius, and improving its staying power. It has several new classes of large and capable cruisers, amphibious assault ships, and submarines (including the titaniumhulled “Alfa” class) under construction. Introduction of the “Backfire” bomber, soon to be equipped with air-launched cruise missiles, has significantly extended the reach of Soviet land-based naval air; deployment of a second Kiev-class carrier and construction of others in that class indicate that the Soviets value and are acquiring the flexibility of a sea-based tactical air capability. At the same time, a new class of modern replenishment ships and expanded access to overseas port facilities have improved the Soviet Navy’s capacity for sustained operations. Reflecting both this growing capacity and an expansionist naval
’Adm. Thomas B. Hayward, USN, CNO Report: The Fiscal Year 1981 Military Posture and Fiscal Year 1981 Budget of the United States Navy (Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1980).
poI‘cy, Soviet out-of-area ship deployments now exCeed our own.
testimony before Congress in the early 1970s, a rmer CNO, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, warned that trend of increasing Soviet versus U. S. force evels and capabilities threatened our naval preeminence. His warning was taken up and repeated by his successors. Last year, in his fiscal year 1980 posture statement, Admiral Hayward stated, “. . . we can Project a point in the not-too-distant future when the trend lines will cross, and we will lose our margin of superiority to [the] Soviet Navy. ...” Admiral ayward went on to suggest that the “not-too- dlstant future” is the mid-1980s.
In the interim, the CNO asserted, we have a slight u^rgin of advantage over the Soviet Navy. We have ewer ships, submarines, planes, and sailors than the °viets, but our capabilities are about equal when 0rce levels and mix are adjusted for differences in JU'ssions and functions. Our margin accrues in sea- ased tactical air systems; in superior submarine, antisubrnarine warfare (ASW), and amphibious forces; 'u our staying power; in advanced technology; and in c e quality of our people.
. ^h*s margin should be comforting, but somehow U *s not. Except for sea-based tactical air (the Soviets ave only experimental vertical/short takeoff and anding planes [v/STOLs] operating from their two tw-class “carriers”), our margin is qualitative. Cer- ta‘uly quality is not to be discounted; the history of Warfare teaches us that it can count for more than Quantity. But quality is subjective, and the measure of tI)e U. S. Navy’s quality is largely our own. No matter how hard we try to prevent it, our evaluation is bound t0 be biased.
A case in point is our comparative ranking of the American and Soviet sailors. We give ours high marks: he is well-educated, highly motivated, competent, and hard working. Admiral Hayward considers him “one of our major advantages over the Soviets.” In our eyes, the Soviet sailor is the archetypical Russian: apathetic, fatalistic, culturally backward, and lacking in imagination or initiative.2 But are these objective assessments or the value judgments of our democratic Western society? To his officers, the Soviet sailor is not apathetic, but obedient; not fatalistic, but inclined to heroic selfsacrifice. His cultural backwardness frees him from capitalist decadence, and his plodding is persistence and single-minded determination. Add to these attributes great physical and mental stamina (those Russian winters!) and intense patriotism, and the Soviet sailor looks like a formidable fighting man. He is no less a product of his society than is the American sailor, and in his highly structured, centralized navy, under the close supervision of his commanders, he is every bit as effective. The point is that when we size up the relative strengths of the Soviet and U. S. navies, we must be careful to compare capabilities, not ideologies.
We must also be careful not to overrate our more sophisticated technology. We may have occasional doubts, as evidenced by the current debate over commercial nuclear power, but deep down, Americans trust technology. We grow up with it, forget- ing that it is a double-edged sword. Planes that fly higher, submarines that dive deeper, and weapons that are “smarter” are also more complex and costly. Their costliness means there must be fewer of them; their complexity means they are more difficult to operate and maintain. For the sake of a performance edge, we forgo simplicity, flexibility, redundancy,
2See Capt. W. H. J. Manthorpe, Jr., USN, “The Influence of Being Russian on the Officers and Men of the Soviet Navy,’’ Proceedings. May 1978, pp. 128-143; and Capt. James Kehoe, USN, "Naval Officers: Ours and Theirs,’’ Proceedings, February 1978, pp. 50-60.
and survivability. We compound our training problem, create a dangerous dependence on civilian contract maintenance, and increase our ties to the repair depot ashore.
Perhaps the strongest argument against basing our margin of advantage on technology is that the technological lead is volatile and difficult—not to mention expensive—to sustain. Major breakthroughs in acoustics and the ocean sciences may still be possible, but the cornerstone of our combat capabilities, electronics, is a relatively mature technology. Greater potential for increased capabilities now lies in the physical integration and tactical cooperation of our sensor and weapon systems rather than in exotic new hardware. We respect the Soviet Navy’s expertise in electronic warfare; what makes the Soviets so good is not technological superiority but their skill in coordinating and exploiting their collection opportunities, plus the fact that a greater proportion of their ships is equipped with active electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment.
So our margin of advantage is, in part, qualitative and subjective. But it has a far more troubling aspect: it is scenario-dependent, varying with the scale and type of conflict. For example, we have in our carrier battle groups a proven capability to project power ashore in contingencies short of general war. But, as Admiral Hayward points out, we have until now rarely had to deal with more than one crisis at a time. Confronted with simultaneous crises in several geographic theaters over the past year, we are, Admiral Hayward notes, “trying to meet a three ocean requirement with a one-and-a-half ocean navy.” The outlook, in the near term at least, is for continued geopolitical instability and heightened worldwide tensions. In this changed international environment, numbers of ships become as important as, or perhaps more important than, individual ship capabilities.
Military planners expect that any conflict with the Soviet Union will be worldwide. In fact, the U. S. Navy’s force structure and strategy of forward deployment are predicated on a global war. Certainly such a conflict would be protracted and difficult, but this is the “worst case” scenario for which we plan and train, and for which we are, by our experience in World War II, better prepared. Our qualitative margin of superiority just might hold up over a numerically superior Soviet Navy that is also stretched geographically. Then our sea-based tactical air systems and staying power could be decisive. But there is another conflict which would pit our Navy against the Soviets’, and in which we would have grave difficulties bringing our qualitative margin to bear. This is precisely the conflict many planners think is most likely: war on NATO’s central front.
Soviet intentions have been the object of exhaustive analysis and endless conjecture, much of it obtuse and highly classified. But with the publication of General Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War: August 1985, laymen have been admitted to NATO’s councils of war.3 The Third World War traces the buildup of a political crisis in Yugoslavia following Marshal Tito’s death. At the invitation of Yugoslav Communist partisans, Soviet forces invade that country. NATO counterattacks, and there follows the rapid, inexorable escalation to global nuclear war. Most planners share Sir John’s hypothesis that World War III is inevitable, and many are questioning the Navy’s traditional wartime role—or whether we need a navy at all.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the planners have more often been wrong than right. In every era, they have consistently overrated their own ability to end war quickly and have underestimated their enemies’ capacity to continue it. French elan was interred in the trenches of the western front, German blitzkrieg mired in the Russian mud, and America’s light at the end of the Vietnamese tunnel flickered and finally went out. Yet today’s planners persist in their predictions that the next conflict will be brief and decisive. It seems not to have occurred to them that nuclear deterrence might work after all. Certainly, if in accordance with its current, explicit policy, NATO uses its tactical nuclear weapons, the Warsaw Pact nations will retaliate in kind. But the Soviet Union might refrain from widening the nuclear exchange so long as there exists at least an/ implicit understanding that the United States will as well. The Soviets’ motives, as they contemplate the nuclear holocaust and wanton destruction of cities and populations, may not be very different from our own. Or they may simply conclude that they can
3John Hackett, The Third World War: August 1985 (New York: Macmillan and Co., 1979).
achieve their objectives without resorting to a strategic nuclear attack. Facing off, not directly but p rough their surrogates, NATO and the Warsaw act, the nuclear superpowers could contain the con- ict by not attacking or provoking attack on other onts or in other theaters. Other strategic nuclear powers such as England and France, unsure of U. S. 'otent and wary of the full Soviet counterblow, would reject a preemptive nuclear attack.
his quasi-nuclear, limited war could go on far oger than the planners envision. If the Warsaw ct nations, with their far larger and more capable c°nventional ground forces, seize early territorial &ains, the NATO nations would Find a quick political Settlernent unpalatable. NATO’s political as well as Hnditary options would then depend on its willingness t0 continue the war and its ability to reinforce ar,d resupply its armies, a task that will fall largely l° U. S. Navy. The Soviet Navy has only to fall ack on classic Soviet naval strategy: go on the defen- SlVJ’ huddle under the protection of land-based air, an protect the flanks of the Soviet Army. This is the Sltuation for which the Soviet Navy has planned, Gained, and structured its forces. The Soviets invite t0 carry the war to them and fight it in the rela- t,ve)y restricted waters of the Norwegian, North, and Mediterranean seas, where our margins are di- H^nished. There our carrier battle groups must operate continuously in a high-, multi-threat environ- rrient- Supporting amphibious landings or convoy transits, our ASW forces will have the difficult task of aSserting control of local ocean areas against a numerically superior enemy which can concentrate its rces more quickly and easily. Our tactical aircraft have their hands full defending the fleet against k°viet land-based naval air. Seeking it out at its ^^es, our aircraft will come up against the more °rrnidable Soviet continental air defenses. Our submarine force may not be inhibited by restricted Raters, but in the last analysis it cannot significantly 'srupt the Warsaw Pact’s lines of communications a°d supply^ which are primarily overland. The submarine may still be our trump, although in the ASW and direct support roles, her stealth is compromised atld her effectiveness reduced by communications and f°0rdination difficulties. Finally, our at-sea sustaina- "T. which is our essential margin of superiority, is not a margin at all but a prerequisite for the Navy to c°nduct effective operations in such a conflict.
So our Navy’s margin of superiority is qualitative, objective, and situational. It is also, in our own es- |jmate, narrower than at any time since World War • The Navy Net Assessment, a comparative evalu- atl°n of Soviet versus U. S. naval capabilities, strate-
gies, and tactics cited by Admiral Hayward, concludes that the Navy is only “marginally capable of carrying out its mission. ...” Yet our strategy is that of the clearly superior navy. In a conflict with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the U. S. Navy will attempt the early destruction of the enemy’s forces while our NATO allies carry out ASW, convoy escort, and mine warfare tasks. We are determined to take the offensive and carry the war to the Soviet Navy, keeping it preoccupied with defense. Realistically, we cannot expect to have an easy time of it. Admiral Hayward notes, “A strategy of sequential offensive campaigns based on a careful prioritization of our objectives would be required for the U. S. to succeed in gaining effective control of [the] sea. ...” Our ultimate success depends upon our ability to fight with what we have and the attainment of favorable attrition ratios.
Our lack of substantial reserves and the long development and procurement lead times of our complex weapon systems dictate that we must fight with what we have. Throughout our history, however, we have had to adapt our forces and tactics to the special requirements of each war. In Vietnam, for example, we organized, trained, and equipped a brown water Navy. During World War II, the best we could do in the Pacific was hold the line with our prewar fleet. The naval offensive that turned the Japanese out of their island strongholds and took the war to the doorstep of their homeland did not begin until 1943, when America’s factories and shipyards had begun to supply the fleet with new ships and planes in unprecedented numbers. But history is not the only argument against this doctrine. Soviet naval strategy calls for preemptive attacks against our forces at the outbreak of global war. Some of those attacks are going to succeed. Our margin, heavily based on technology, is going to be challenged, and we must have the capability to respond by rapidly upgrading or replacing our weapon systems.
War in the Middle East or among the Persian Gulf states could involve the U. S. and Soviet navies, bringing with it a new set of insufficiently considered problems and requirements. Admittedly, the Soviet Navy is little better prepared than we are for a major conflict in the area, but our margin there— our better access to the area’s oceans—is a geographical accident. Even that may be negated as the Soviets steal a march on us with their bases in Southeast Asia, South Yemen, and the African littoral. Finally, fighting with what we have is an insidious doctrine which forces us to treat every engagement as decisive. When every risk becomes ominous, commanders become tentative, and their determination
°ceedings / September 1980
to seek out and destroy the enemy weakens.
The same can be said for the doctrine of favorable attrition, the principle that commanders should engage only if the odds are favorable. Admiral Hayward argues that . . with our numerically inferior forces, achievement of favorable attrition ratios offer the only prospect of progressively defeating the Soviet Navy.” But will our commanders always be allowed to choose the time and place? The wider strategy of the conflict, or the exigencies of war, may demand that we undertake operations of great risk. That was the situation that led to the Battle of Midway, a turning point of the war in the Pacific. It was the clearly superior Japanese fleet that carried the battle to the U. S. forces. Admiral Chester Nimitz scraped together what forces he could find to contest the Japanese landings, not with any prospect of victory or even of achieving favorable attrition ratios, but because Japanese expansion in the Pacific had to be stopped. Our victory resulted not from adherence to strategic doctrine, but from our knowledge of Japanese intentions (we had broken their code) and the fortuitous timing of the USS Enterprise's (CV-6) air strikes. The doctrine of favorable attrition ratios seems inconsistent with the fundamental principles of an aggressive, offensive naval strategy. We cannot carry the war to the Soviet Navy and threaten that there will be no sanctuaries for its forces if we intend to seek them out only when the terms suit us.
If we are to slip out of the strategic straitjacket of favorable attrition ratios, we must reverse the last decade’s trend of declining force levels, regain numerical superiority, and reassert our willingness to risk our forces in decisive battle. If we heed the lessons of history, we will reject the proposition that we can fight with what we have. We will increase the ready reserve and begin to build the broad industrial base (including a mix of private and naval shipyards) required for the rapid modernization, repair, and construction of ships and naval aircraft. We also need a larger Navy if we are to continue in our role as principal guarantor of U. S. interests abroad. In his military posture statement, Admiral Hayward summarized the problem this way: “Geography requires numbers.” While our navy has grown smaller, the number of trouble spots has increased. This has forced us to draw down forces in other vital areas in order to respond to any new crisis. The expanded worldwide presence of the Soviet Navy, and its newfound willingness to counter our deployments, have further stretched our inadequate numbers.
The fiscal year 1981 budget is a tentative first step toward the larger Navy we need. It proposes a modest increase in new ship procurements—17 versus the 12 requested in FY 1980—but buys 23 fewer aircraft. However, this rate of new ship construction is just enough to sustain current force levels, while combatant ship strength will actually decline. Similarly, the planned procurement of attack aircraft will not replace losses caused by attrition and retirements. Not until the last two years (fiscal years 1984-1985) of the current Five-Year Defense Plan will our force levels begin to increase, and then only if Congress votes the funds to follow through on the plan. Admiral Hayward is not optimistic that it will, noting, “The historical track record is not good in that regard.” Even if we complete the program, our Navy will number only about 550 ships by 1990. That is nearly 100 ships larger than today’s Navy but still one third the size of the Soviets’. Through the next decade, then, we will maintain a small Navy and trust to the quality and capabilities of our people and weapon systems for a margin of superiority. Given the subjective, situational nature of our qualitative margin, we must recognize that our naval supremacy is at risk.
What should be done? First, we must look to our allies to provide a larger share of the free world’s defense; specifically, we should ask them to increase the number and offensive capabilities of their conventional naval forces. Over the past year, U. S. national interests have been shifting away from Europe and toward Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian Ocean. We are realigning our forces and deployments accordingly. Now we must let our NATO allies and Japan know that we will do less and they must do more in the Mediterranean and the Pacific. We have long given lip service to this intent, so our allies have had time to accommodate themselves to it. For a number of mostly selfish but still excellent reasons (not the least of which is the respite it would bring our hard-pressed personnel), we should begin to cut back on our traditional commitments.
Second, we must face up to the fact that the allvolunteer force (AVF) does not provide the numbers or the skills needed to man our Navy. Whether the
is considered a success or a failure depends upon whether the analyst gives priority to the nation’s de- ense or its social goals. Robert B. Pirie, Jr., Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower, considers *■ at AVF “has worked reasonably well,” but he Warns that it “faces challenges” as the youth population declines.4 For his part, Admiral Hayward does n°t equivocate. He told Congress that “. . . adverse trends in retention of our key supervisory talent— °Ur most experienced middle-grade leaders—are fast ec°ming the critical constraint on the size, capabil- lry> and readiness of the Navy.” The CNO empha- Sl2ed that we must pay our sailors a competitive Wage and put forward a proposal for sea pay. He also °utlined his comprehensive program to improve requiting and retention; indeed, he has made retention e Navy’s number one goal. Nevertheless, it seems certain that some sort of compulsory national service ls needed, and probably sooner rather than later. Finally, the obvious answer: Congress must au- °rize funds to increase the Navy, and we must em- rli on a major shipbuilding program to carry on c rough the 1980s and into the 199.0s. The objective niust be not merely to replace ships and aircraft that Will be retired but to increase the numbers until our J^argin of superiority is assured. In comparing the ■ S. and Soviet navies, we need not overstate Soviet Capabilities, but we must be realistic in assessing our °wn, and we must make the consequences of our not aving adequate numbers clear to Congress and the rr^rican people.
We need the ships and aircraft that are to be proCured under the defense budget and more. But under rrent fiscal constraints, we will not have them un- ^ss we reduce their unit cost. This means that the rups we build must be smaller and in some cases less Capable than we would like, and that we might forgo nuclear power in some ships in which it has proven ^vantages. It means that we must reject advanced technology for its own sake, opt for it only when the rcturns are greatest, and exploit the full capabilities our existing weapon systems through improved integration and coordination. At the ship system level, or example, we can adopt the proven technology of che microprocessor to decentralize weapon and sensor system processing, reduce development costs, and 'mprove survivability. At the task group level, we Car> improve area antiair warfare defense by equip- P'Og Aegis ships with data links to compute fire con- tr°l solutions for and control the launchers of less Capable ships in company. At the fleet level, we
should press ahead with naval command and control system developments which will integrate ship sensor information with intelligence and locating data collected in our fleet command centers ashore.
The new guided missile destroyer, the DDGX, and a new attack submarine planned as the follow-on to the SSN-688 class will be smaller and less costly than the ships they replace. This trend must continue for other ship classes. In the face of a determined Soviet drive toward technological superiority (they outspend us on research, development, test, and evaluation by a wide margin), the trade-off between unit cost and capability becomes a complex one. But if we must choose either a Navy of insufficient numbers with superior individual unit capabilities, or a Navy of sufficient numbers of good unit capability, then our Navy’s role and mission, and the changing U. S.- Soviet naval balance seem to dictate the latter.
This is not a new prescription; many have argued that we must build a larger Navy of smaller, less costly ships. What has been missing is the resolve to see it through. OpNav systems sponsors and NavMat project managers must be tough-minded, deaf to the temptations of high technology, oblivious to the cries of the “higher (or deeper), faster, farther” crowd, and determined above all else to bring our ship, aircraft, and weapon systems procurements in at cost.
It can be argued, rightly, that this prescription does not recognize the present political and economic realities. It does, however, recognize the reality of growing Soviet naval power and the threat this poses to our maritime superiority, our national security, and our world leadership. It recognizes the dangers of complacency about this threat and the fact that it must be met head-on and turned back. Ir will require difficult decisions by Congress, the people, and the Navy, and it will be expensive. The alternative is the price we cannot afford.
Commander Hoffman was graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy with the Class of 1962 and from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1967. He received an M.S. in management engineering from George Washington University in 1974. His shipboard assignments have included service in the USS Taylor (DD-468), USS Hancock (CVA-19), and USS Topeka (CLG-8). Since his designation as an engineering duty officer in 1970, Commander Hoffman has served duty at the Naval Electronics Systems Command in Washington, D.C., at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, and as NavElexSysCom liaison officer to Commander in Chief, U. S.
ee Manpower for Mobilization,” Command Policy. October 1979, n.p.
Naval Forces, Europe. Earlier this year, he reported for duty in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OP-940).