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Paradigms, Conventional Wisdom, and Naval Warfare
Naval warfare is on the verge of a “paradigm shift.” Scrutiny of the factors that are affecting the “science” of naval warfare indicates that it is changing faster than we would like to think. Although the U. S. Navy is currently experiencing marked improvements in numerous areas, it is questionable whether we are incorporating the necessary changes to be prepared adequately for the unknown exigencies of future naval warfare. We are constrained by bureaucratic inertia and an unwillingness to accept the need to change.
For more than three decades, the U. S. Navy has based its force structure and its employment of naval forces on the paradigm that resulted from World War II. Naval warfare became concerned with the control of an area of the ocean, including the air space above it, from which a nation could project naval power ashore. The situation was new because sea control now encompassed the need for air superiority. In addition, the projection of power ashore increased in saliency as compared with the traditional Mahanian goal of destroying the battle fleet of the enemy. For the U. S. Navy, this expanded concept of naval warfare called for the use of high performance aircraft that could operate from the decks of naval combatants. Thus, a paradigm shift occurred—the aircraft carrier replaced the battleship as the principal capital ship of the U. S. Navy and rapidly became the sine qua non of naval warfare.1
Carriers, with their embarked air wings, were capable of ensuring tactical air superiority, sea control, and the ability to project naval power ashore. Today’s large-deck aircraft carriers are still capable of carrying out these missions, and official Navy policy continues to be based almost exclusively on the large-deck aircraft carrier. In most situations and scenarios, the warfighting capability of the carrier is unsurpassed. However, the important issue is that the nature of naval warfare is changing, and in the not-too-distant future, the large-deck aircraft carrier may no longer be the overwhelming capital ship that she is today.
Of course, no one really knows whether the cri ^ ical juncture of a paradigm shift is taking P*ace.^e not. After it occurs, observers can look back at ^ transition process with the clear and discerning sion of hindsight. But until a change has actuau0 occurred, people normally think that the status ql will continue, at least for the near future.
What should one look for to determine if the ca rent paradigm of naval warfare is becoming; 0 moded? Basically, the paradigm begins to bre £ down. In other words, there is a persistent fa> ^ of the problems of normal science to work ou they should. The paradigm no longer provides adequate explanation or answer to problems or P ^ zles, and the given field of science experiences insecurity that slowly but steadily erodes the ceptability of the paradigm. etl
The emergence of Antoine Lavoisier’s oxyg theory of combustion provides an examt'. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, it was,WI|1|o- accepted that a nonexistent chemical called P giston was released during combustion. Howe the phlogiston theory was hard-pressed to exp j the gain in weight that many bodies experien when burned or roasted. In the 17th century- m aS chemists said that if chemical reactions sue burning could alter the color, texture, and v0 |ter of the material in question, why should they not a the weight as well? Besides, weight gain burning was still an isolated phenomenon, andunnatural bodies such as wood lost weight during ing, in accordance with the phlogiston Parf 0v- During the 18th century, however, chemists dis ^ ered more and more cases in which weight gam companied burning. c£pp
Simultaneously, scientists were gradually aC j ing Newton’s theory of gravitation, which ',Cntjty that a gain in weight must mean a gain in the qua of matter. However, scientists did not rejec phlogiston theory; they simply adapted it. ' eI /,tps they said, phlogiston had negative weight; Per,^ter something from the fire entered the burning as phlogiston departed it. There were many 0 ^e. explanations and elaborations of the phlogiston ory to meet these problems, but the paradigm increasingly called into question and was gra j losing its acceptability. In 1772, Lavoisier prese to the French Academy of Science his theory ^ oxygen was the principal factor in combustion,.^ a new paradigm came into being. The persisten ure of the phlogiston paradigm produced an ^|e curity among scientists which, after a consi t0 period of “stretching” the old paradigm in or reconcile it with new realities, resulted in a se for and discovery of a new paradigm.
Utlching platforms are becoming more numerous
fact remains that the best defense against °f j?,nP cruise missiles (ASCMs) is the destruction e launching platform prior to the unleashing of
This description of a paradigm shift in the field of Ij^istry is analogous to what is happening in the Wa f Nayy todaY- The current paradigm of naval jnr are is becoming increasingly inadequate in solv- a8,naval puzzles or tactical and strategic problems, jnhe paradigm is being called into question on an (jur.easingly frequent basis. This, in turn, is pro- theCln§ insecurity among naval professionals, and the Cnsu'n8 scrutiny is shaking the foundations of aircraft carrier paradigm, he large-deck carrier paradigm has reigned su- teertle f°r more than 30 years. However, the con- Phi P°rary environment and the development of so- diffit,Cated weaPons and technologies are increasingly am (|U*t to assimate into the old paradigm. For ex- tiv C’ increasing range, accuracy, and destruc- ([leCaess of antiship cruise missiles seem to discredit ofbehef in the supremacy and continued efficacy Up atde groups centered around—and dependent Cran~~aircraft carriers. This is not to say that air- ipj Carriers are particularly vulnerable to cruise vi<j |S ’ because they are not. The defenses pro- gred by the weapon systems inherent to the battle In ■ T P^ov'de a formidable problem for an attacker. nes ,diti°n, the compartmentalization and “tough- t0 ,s °f carriers enhance their resiliency and ability lan^fP fighting. However, the missiles and their
its missiles. Because of the increasing range of the missiles as well as the increasing number and capabilities of the launching platforms, this option is becoming increasingly impracticable, and we are falling back on purely defensive systems for protection. Unfortunately, even if we could incorporate advanced point defense systems, such as close-in weapon systems, on board all ships, and even if we developed functional point defense systems, using future technologies such as charged particle beams or lasers or whatever, we would still be unable to preclude saturation and therefore leakage.
When viewed in the context of limited numbers of available carriers, each one of which is the principal target of all the cruise missiles fired at a carrier battle group, the ASCM problem is no longer easily assimilated into the aircraft carrier paradigm. It is not a question of sinking the carrier; rather, the ability to thwart or preclude the carrier from conducting effective offensive operations will be the measure of success for an adversary of the U. S. Navy. Large numbers of cruise missiles can accomplish that goal. The aircraft carrier paradigm can no longer adequately solve or explain away the ASCM problem, and there is a discernible feeling of uneasiness in the profession.
A second example addresses the issue of improved strategy or tactics. History is replete with examples of the inferior employment of potentially superior weapon systems with disastrous consequences. The submarine has long been a most formidable weapon system, but she has seldom been described as dominant. Historically, the development of antisubmarine warfare (ASW) technology and tactics in response to submarine technological advances has been perceived to be adequate in countering the submarine threat. However, the numbers of Soviet submarines continue to increase, and their qualitative advancements and capabilities are improving. Consequently, the threat is rapidly increasing in significance.
Germany almost cut the Atlantic lifeline during World War II, although there were seldom more than two dozen submarines operating in the “wolf- packs.” If Hitler had more submarines and if he had employed them more effectively, then the outcome of the Battle of the Atlantic could have been very different. Today, the Soviet Navy operates almost
The Battle of Midway in World War II IS ar^ aj. ample of the catastrophic consequences of blm ^ legiance to conventional wisdom. Even aftc successful carrier-based air attack on Pearl Ha . u and the Battle of the Coral Sea, Admiral 1st’1e(j Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Com ^ Fleet, believed that the war would be decide ^ the big guns of the big ships. His strategy f°r ^ Battle of Midway was an obvious indication o ^ belief in the supremacy of the battleship.4 r*0^, ployed his four aircraft carriers to conduct a Pr^ inary attack against Midway Island to draw 011 jy jor U. S. forces. He planned to use his main ^ of battleships, following behind the carriers, to stroy the U. S. forces in a decisive, classic Sun jjf) tie. His third group, which was a support force f
troop transports, would occupy Midway Islan
the battle. Of course, planes from the two aircraft carriers devastated Admiral Yamarno ^ carriers. The consequences at Midway were -fjC trous for Japan, and the tide of the war in the a turned. , |s0
The cruise missile problems already discusse
400 submarines. If the oft-discussed strategy of denying the use of sea lines of communications to the United States and its allies were employed by the Soviets, their submarine force could conceivably be successful in cutting these crucial lifelines. Their submarines could interrupt the flow of essential crude oil or the flow of U. S. military supplies and material to a particular area long enough for the Soviets to achieve their political objectives.
On the other hand, our ASW capability is con-, siderable, and the introduction of improved towed sonar arrays and better coordination of ASW assets reduce the advantages of the submarine. However, the threat continues to grow, and the Soviets are incorporating new technologies of quieting, internal processing capabilities, propulsion efficiencies, and sophisticated weapon systems in their new submarines. The long-standing rejoinder that the qualitative edge of U. S. submarines and surface ships overshadows the Soviets’ advantage in numbers of submarines is bankrupt. The quality of Soviet submarines is increasing inexorably, and we are about to reach the threshold where the weight of their numbers overcomes the advantages of our slight lead in quality. The point is that with innovative tactical employment, the submarine may be the dominant weapon system in a future naval war.2
Our preference for aircraft carriers over other naval combatants is also called into question because we will never have enough carriers to defeat an interdiction strategy based on the employment of submarines. The efficacy of carrier battle groups in terms of seeking out and destroying submarines if the latter does not desire to engage the battle group is questionable at best. Although submarines pose a formidable threat to all surface forces, including aircraft carriers, submarines do not have to defeat the carriers to achieve the objective of an interdiction strategy. We do not have enough carriers to escort or protect the huge numbers of ships necessary to resupply Europe in a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict, nor can we escort all of the tankers delivering much needed crude oil to the Western industrialized nations. Thus, the aircraft carrier paradigm cannot accommodate the submarine threat, and our continuing dependence on it precludes us from building the forces necessary to counter this serious naval warfare problem.3
Tactical nuclear warfare is another area where the aircraft carrier paradigm is inadequate. As disturbing as it may sound, naval warfare of the future may well include the use of tactical nuclear weapons. The question of carrier vulnerability becomes academic in a tactical nuclear environment. Even if the carrier survives the sea battle, her ability to continue to conduct effective offensive operations is highly unlikely. In the context of a limited number of carriers, our almost total reliance on the aircraft carrier paradigm becomes an unacceptable liability in a nU clear environment.
The naval profession is similar to most other areas of endeavor in that the so-called “conventional "T dom” is generally perceived to be more Pa'ata. than the uncertainties of the future. Although ^ reaucratic inertia and organizational loyalties are p of this syndrome, the primary features are conse vative beliefs and attitudes regarding the force str ture and tactics that have served us so well for mo than three decades.
The problem is that conventional wisdom ■ pecially if it has produced success such as that e perienced by the U. S. Navy over the years -ma ^ change and innovation very difficult to accept a implement. Conventional wisdom is almost alwa perceived to be acceptable because we are nj* comfortable with it. It is a known quantity, an cling to it to continue providing the answers to ^ problems and concerns. This is the principalreas we do not want to admit that the aircraft car^,lS paradigm is failing: we don’t want it to fail- 1 worked for years; therefore, it should continue do so. 0.
Accordingly, like the phlogiston theory Pr0nj nents in the 17th and 18th centuries, we adapt a. “stretch" the paradigm, insisting that it remains equate to solve the problems of the future. If- c(ej ever, the contemporary and future problems no previously are indicative of an impending para _ shift, then this embracing of the conventions j dom and current paradigm is dangerous; it ^ lead to disastrous consequences for the U. S. 1 and the Free World. _
"^Pon in naval 'e‘illy unmanned be able toflvfwrt
ustrate the power of conventional wisdom. Cruise a-lss|les are more than just threats to U. S. Navy rlrcraft carriers. Indeed, they will almost assuredly u,f.ace mar>ned aircraft as the principal offensive warfare. These missiles, which are , nonreturnable aircraft, promise to . -j —her than airplanes, deliver payloads
1 n at least the same degree of accuracy, and chal- 0f enemy defenses without endangering the lives Pilots and other aircrew members.
, P's is not to imply that manned aircraft or sea- sed tactical air will no longer be viable or necessary uture naval warfare. Indeed, they will be indis- usable. However, they will be used more for mis- „ ?s such as reconnaissance, identification, and tar- j^e la8- The point is that the nature of naval warfare u . anging, but current naval policy is a contin- ca l0n of a soon-to-be-outdated philosophy. The nventional wisdom is so strong that we refuse to CePt what are fairly clear and discernible future
Tactical nuclear warfare is another area in which nventional wisdom is impeding meaningful and c , essary change. For years, the prospect of inccu|able destruction that would ensue from a ^ °ssing of the nuclear threshold made the likeli- th°^ nuclear war at sea remote. Unfortunately, s is no longer the case. Tactical nuclear weapons JJ sea differ in many important aspects from use of same type weapons on land. First, tactical nu-
a first national objective, the need to avoid general nuclear war. Given the maintenance of a strategic balance, it is much easier to envision a war, nuclear or conventional, limited to the theater than a deliberate escalation into general nuclear war. Should war develop, it is clearly in the interests of both parties to keep it from escalating into general nuclear war. And, the Soviets vigorously challenge any approach that they perceive as increasing the “coupling” between theater and general nuclear war. . . ,”s
Thus, if hostilities between the navies of the United States and the Soviet Union break out at sea, tactical nuclear weapons could be employed without their automatic or inevitable use ashore.
clr weapons can be employed against naval targets |a(.Sea without collateral damage to civilian popu- Plo°nS ant* Pr°Perty- Accordingly, they can be em- tin ^ecl without automatic escalation to an intercony. Catal nuclear exchange. This is especially true in w of the fear of general nuclear war by both Perpowers. Quoting from a recent analysis of So- literature by Joseph D. Douglass, Jr.:
^oth the U. S. and the Soviet literature now stress the dangers of general nuclear war and, as
No longer can we hope that political or moral inhibitions will preclude decision makers from crossing the nuclear threshold. In fact, the advantages that accrue to the Soviet Navy in a tactical nuclear environment actually increase the likelihood of tactical nuclear warfare at sea. Whereas the U. S. Navy has only recently begun to think seriously about using nuclear weapons at sea, the Soviet Navy has formulated detailed plans for it.6 In addition, the Soviet Navy has a tremendous and disturbing advantage in terms of numbers and types of tactical nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the composition of the two navies favors the Soviets in a nuclear warfare environment. The U. S. Navy is based on limited numbers of high-value units—i.e., the car-
carrier, we are selling out our maritime o[,e
the future. One ship can be in only one plaC|La jVe time. Moreover, the predominance of our otic
riers—which make excellent targets for nuclear weapons. The Soviet Navy, on the other hand, is comprised of large numbers of diverse, widely dispersed air, surface, and submarine platforms, many of which are capable of launching nuclear weapons at our ships.
Perhaps most importantly, the Soviets know that if we lose the war at sea, we have lost the war ashore. In any major conflict with the Soviet Union, continued use by the United States of the sea lines of communication is a necessity. The Soviets are rational and relentless in terms of achieving their objectives. Thus, if-the Soviet Union can defeat the United States and its NATO allies by using nuclear weapons at sea, then we can assume they will use nuclear weapons at sea. The conventional wisdom that a nuclear war at sea simply will not happen is
a major factor in the U. S. Navy’s continued _ riage to an increasingly outmoded paradigm- clear war at sea occurred, the aircraft carriei V adigm would be quickly rendered obsolete. » This essay is not a call for doing away with al ^ carriers. Indeed, we must continue to have batants capable of operating high-performance^.^ craft at sea. However, it is essential that we to reduce our dependence on the large-deck cu ^ The national interests of the United States ca^-reS a global maritime strategy which, in turn, red flexible and diversified naval forces with °‘ jjnlie power. If we forego this diversification and con ^ to depend almost entirely on the large-deck ^
capabilities is confined to that one hull. nl-
The carrier is not as vulnerable as most con porary naval combatants, but she is not invUvv,ar- able. Indeed, in the context of tactical nuclear fare, the vulnerability debate is meaningless- ^ future of naval warfare is uncertain, of course- ^ indications that the large-deck aircraft carrier p ^ digm is approaching obsolescence are becoming ^ too numerous and meaningful to ignore. We ca
fe ? Platforms, again in order to diversify our of- qdSlVe striking power. Naval officials continue to r,u -e ’he numerous studies which conclude that the c0ear~Powered Nimitz-class carriers are the most qe "Effective aviation platforms available for the pe7, fii’ure. Unfortunately, these studies are de- feent upon many assumptions, and this author fares ’hat one unstated assumption is that naval war- prohT^l not change appreciably for many years. The car . ern's that it is already changing. The aircraft We ^Paradigm is in question today, and although
'ito^p * ^ave several M’m/Vz-class carriers operating
tn r ^even if we never build another one—we need u be
jonger be obdurate to the realities of change. The arch tor a new paradigm is ongoing whether we
KrIZe °r noL
fNaval professionals must unshackle their un- vest|oning belief in the continuing efficacy of conditional wisdom. The Navy must break free of 'istitutional commitment to the current force picture and theory of sea power—if only to allow analysis of how best to build and employ the ire Navy. We must subdue the tendency to emcace lhe familiar way of doing business and be arageous and open-minded as we look to the future. Cr i terms of actual programs, the Navy should in- ^ease the deployment of Harpoon and Tomahawk Julies on board our ships and submarines. In ad- >°n, we need to accelerate improvement pro- thelrnS ^°r l^ese anc^ ^ture unmanned missiles. Fur- dcvr70re, we must expand our research and , e|opment efforts to investigate new weapon sys- Syms ar>d new tactics which will employ these future ach'CrnS most effectively. In this manner, we will ■ leve the diversification of offensive power that ^sential for the future.
0f ae Navy needs also to adopt alternative means str,f)rov'tl'ng tactical aircraft for use in maritime Coategy. Despite the oft-cited argument that the fieldinUOUS ava-ilat,ility of overseas land-based air- ll(. s uncertain because of rapidly changing poly al winds, we must increase our reliance on the our -sec* a‘r resources of our sister services and div. all'es. It is ridiculous to continue the current |jnIS|°n of tasks and missions according to service llrn W^en t*ie basic challenges and needs are less sev er°Us ar,d *ess capable of being addressed by Sera* of the services. We must overcome deeps', ^ or8anizational traditions and biases that ob- 0(l re f’oth the need and the ability to cooperate with er services more effectively and productively. nere is a need for more numerous aviation-ca- tulhc second or third decades of the next cen- cgin reducing our reliance upon them and dll'1 lying our offensive power throughout the fleet.7 F0rn h|s novel of World War I, The General* C. S. |ea 5s’er describes a nation’s civilian and military ers who were unable to perceive and accept the
changes in the nature of warfare brought about by changes in the tools and tactics of war. Their failure resulted in the unnecessary deaths of millions and almost lost the war before they could adapt to the imperatives of the changed battlefield. We must not allow the inclination to cling to the conventional wisdom, or an unwillingness to accept a paradigm shift in naval warfare, to be the first step in a similar debacle for the U. S. Navy. Naval warfare is changing. Naval force structure will likewise change, but the change will be slow and for a time uncertain. We need to begin that change now by diversifying our offensive capability throughout the fleet and by reducing our reliance on the large-deck aircraft carriers.
'It may appear that the aircraft carrier was not the sine qua non of naval warfare because the Soviet Navy did not build large-deck aircraft carriers. But this is an inaccurate conclusion. The U. S. Navy needed the aircraft carrier because the interests and alliances of the U nited States were worldwide, and naval strategy, therefore, had to be based on forward deployments. Land-based tactical air was not always available, and even in those areas in which it was available, the long-term availability was uncertain at best. Thus, tactical air had to be taken with the U. S. Navy—ergo, the aircraft carrier. The Soviet Union's interests, on the other hand, were confined to the homeland and its periphery. Soviet naval aviation, which was and still is extensive in terms of quality and quantity of aircraft, provided the tactical air perceived necessary for air superiority in a naval war at sea. In short, the Soviet navy has not needed a large-deck aircraft carrier in the same manner as the U. S. Navy.
:A similar statement could be made about mine warfare and the current advantage the Soviets have in that particular field of naval warfare.
'The U. S. Navy depends on ships other than the carriers for ASW. but the building of aircraft carriers precludes the building of these other forces to necessary levels.
4See Saburo Toyama, “Lessons From the Past.” Proceedings, September 1982, pp. 65-66. See also Clark G. Reynolds. Command of the Sea (New York: William Morrow & Company. 1974). p. 517.
'Joseph D. Douglass, Jr., The Soviet Theater Nuclear Offensive, prepared for the Office of Director of Defense Research and Engineering and the Defense Nuclear Agency, Washington, D.C. p. 103.
6Norman Polmar and Norman Friedman, “Their Missions and Tactics,” Proceedings, October 1982, pp. 41-42.
7Some people will say that the concern about a possible naval warfare paradigm shift is unfounded because the Soviet Navy is apparently constructing a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier for fixed-wing aircraft, a development that surely proves the aircraft carrier paradigm is not short lived at all. Indeed, if both superpower navies are building aircraft carriers, the paradigm must be alive and well. However, this is superficial logic. First, it is understandable that the Soviet Navy would include a large- deck aircraft carrier in its inventory, given its expanding naval vision and worldwide interests—plus the government's ability to spend almost as much as it wants on its military forces. The Soviet Union's interests in the Third World call for an ability to provide tactical air capability in areas away from the Soviet Union. Additionally, the Soviet aircraft carriers will not replace other platforms. Any carriers the Soviets build will be few in number. They are not drastically changing their navy; they are just broadening their base and their concept of war. As indicated throughout this paper, this is precisely what the U. S. Navy needs to do.
KC. S. Forester, The General (London: Michael Joseph, 1936).
Lieutenant Commander Parker graduated from Auburn University in 1970 with a degree in electrical engineering. He has served in a minesweeper, destroyer, frigate, and with the staff of Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Group 12. At Miami University, Ohio, he was honored as the nation's outstanding NROTC instructor for 1977-78. Currently, he is the executive officer in the USS Moosbrugger (DD-980). Lieutenant Commander Parker also won first prize in the 1980 General Prize Essay Contest with his entry. "Thinking Offensively," published in the April 1981 Proceeding*.
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), Thomas S. Kuhn discussed the evolution of scientific thought in terms of paradigm shifts. He defined paradigms as universally accepted models that provide the context for understanding and solving problems in a particular field of science. He posited that the advancement of science was not so much a methodical development resulting from the accumulation of facts and information, but rather, the scientific enterprise advanced or matured through relatively few significant, theory-shattering changes. These major changes always resulted from the acceptance of a new paradigm after the discrediting of a previous one. For example, the Copernican revolution resulted in the acceptance of a new paradigm that the earth rotated on its axis and that the planets revolved around the sun. Scientists and philosophers consequently discarded the old, discredited paradigm that the earth was the center of the universe. The new paradigm became the accepted model for the entire field of astronomy.
he c?Ua.htatively advanced. The current ability of era| Navy (and the impending ability of sev-
°ve World navies) to attack with a seemingly CrhelminS number °f air-, surface-, and subsur- rio'launched missiles is causing an increasingly ses feeling of insecurity in the U. S. Navy.
1 he fact rpmtiinc that thp Kpct Hpfpncp an