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After a half-century of minding the strategic triad, the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command will soon be forced to pass the baton of strategic preeminence. But will the Navy be ready to grab it?
Since the dawn of the atomic age, the U. S. Air Force and its intellectual allies have dominated U. S. thinking and planning for strategic nuclear deterrence. While defense intellectuals and arms control theorists have periodically made ritual acknowledgement of the stabilizing benefits of survivable sea-based systems, in practice these systems have been relegated to the relatively limited role of holding cities and industry at risk, while “true” deterrence has been provided by land-based missiles and bombers targeted on the instruments of Soviet military power.
A decade hence the situation will have changed dramatically. Impressive new capabilities gained by the deployment of the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile, declining political support for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and continued questioning of the viability of strategic bombers will combine to thrust the mantle of strategic preeminence on the Navy. Like it or not, the baton for the single most important military mission in the United States is about to be passed to us. And we are about to drop it.
A credible deterrent involves more than hardware. Even more important are people, plans, and organization. If current trends continue, the Navy will find itself in the year 2010 with the technical capability to assume a much greater part of the nuclear deterrent mission, but also immersed in a “strategic culture” that precludes proper use of these new capabilities.
“Culture” seems a strange concept to use in connection with nuclear deterrence. But there is a set of common American attitudes—a lens through which U. S. decision makers view the strategic situation—that is so pervasive,
so deeply ingrained, and so resistant to change that it coi1' stitutes a recognizable culture. This strategic culture haS three manifestations:
► Prevailing attitudes toward deterrence and nuclear sys terns, largely formed outside the uniformed military
► Joint institutional arrangements, including the relat*ve role of the Navy and other services in those organization that influence strategic nuclear matters
►Navy internal attitudes toward strategic nuclear issue8, as reflected in our organization and personnel policy None of these factors now supports an expanded role > the Navy in the nation’s nuclear deterrent. Today’s stra^ gic culture will not be adequate to the expanded role sea-based nuclear forces a decade hence.
Prevailing intellectual attitudes toward nuclear
These attitudes ignore those virtues—endurance and 0eXl bility—that are traditionally associated with roarin'1’ forces. Fred Kaplan, in his book The Wizards of Armagh don (Simon and Schuster, 1983), asserts that strategy nuclear thought in the United States has been dominatj' by concepts developed in the Rand Corporation in ^ 1950s. These strategic theories are direct descendants the mass strategic bombing theories of World War D a|\ the strategic theories espoused in the period between first and second world wars by Giulio Douhet, Italian1 orist of strategic bombing.
dinated, massive strike delivered by strategic bomL^ would, within a matter of hours, end any war by devas ing all significant enemy targets, military and industry. This remains the prevailing nuclear theology. Despite . fact that almost 20 years have passed since a U. S. PrC^)f dent first called for flexibility in nuclear planning, i-6-’.^, options between capitulation and holocaust, U. S. ^ ing is still couched in terms of a single, massive strike a war that is over in hours.
In such a value system, there is no particular reason ^ place a premium on sea-based forces. Virtually no de'e ^ theorists (or policy makers) have ascribed any Part*c. J j value to the virtues of sea-based forces except the n^1 • j of their survivability and thus their utility as the ^ mate” sanction—holding enemy urban industrial taf$ | at risk.
Douhet’s fundamental concept was that a single,
Joint institutional arrangements: These relation8
While the commander of the Air Force’s strategic forces also directs U. S. strategic targeting, the Navy assigns its strategic matters to the fleet CinCs, who, like Admiral Frank B. Kelso II, CinCLant, have sundry tactical and administrative concerns.
The translation of national policy into specific targetinf guidance is, in theory, the function of the Joint Sta* ■ There are, however, strong institutional pressures on J°* Staff planners not to override unified commanders. cause the unified (actually specified) commander w . cares is SAC, and since he also serves as the Director'1 Strategic Target Planning, the practical impact is that t “guidance” from the Joint Chiefs is dominated by 'v'1 will be acceptable to SAC
In theory, who dominates the actual targeting pr°'
translate general theories into practice. They also devalue maritime contributions. Concepts of deterrence must be given operational meaning if they are to have credibility. In theory, there is a careful, formal process for doing so, a process that involves full Navy participation. Broad guidelines are issued by the President and amplified by the Secretary of Defense. These are translated into detailed annual instructions by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff (JSTPS) turns these instructions into the detailed and complex plan called the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP).
Reality, unfortunately, is somewhat different. In a 30- year-old compromise, the Director of the JSTPS is also the Commander in Chief of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). While the JSTPS Vice Director is a Navy flag officer, most major posts in the organization are held by Air Force officers, often also responsible to SAC. The two most important JSTPS components deal with target identification and SIOP construction. One is always headed by an Air Force officer, who also works for SAC. The other has been headed by a Navy officer only once in the past 25 years.
The Air Force organization, with a specified command (SAC) that is also an Air Force major command, provides an institutional source of both expertise and bureaucratic pressure. In contrast, the Navy has (correctly) chosen to emphasize the operational aspects of submarines, not their strategic aspects. Thus strategic nuclear issues and strategic nuclear planning are sidelines for the people who operate Navy strategic forces; they are central for the people who operate Air Force strategic forces.
should not be particularly important. Basic policy is,
all, set by the civilian leadership, not by JSTPS targete^ Unfortunately, institutional arrangements outside the a formed military also foster a “SAC mentality.” The ^ space industry has been a principal source of senior o cials in the Department of Defense. Similarly, it fornl^e prime source for such important advisory groups as ‘ Defense Science Board. Historically, these indivi“° ^ have been deeply influenced by the Rand/SAC way thinlcing.
The internal Navy approach: The Navy tends to deva^ or discourage a greater Navy role in strategic nuclear terrence. This is reflected in both organizational and P
sonnel policy. With regard to organizations, the Navy ^ never had more than a single two-star admiral with resp
sibilities for strategic nuclear matters. For much past 20 years, there has been no flag officer with inst ]| tional responsibilities in this area. In addition, as a re*
of Admiral Arleigh Burke’s concern in the early 196^, ensure the Navy’s independence from SAC, those tional matters assigned in the Air Force to SAC are ,jc signed in the Navy to the Commander in Chief Ada ^ (CinCLant) and the Commander in Chief Pacific Pac). The theoretical result is that we have our mos1^ portant maritime-oriented unified commanders involve^, strategic nuclear matters. The practical result is that * ^ matters are dealt with by relatively small staffs heads" ^ captains because the relevant flag officers must f°cU.S,eil operational, tactical, and organizational matters unre * to strategic nuclear planning. .^g,
The Navy’s organization for planning, program^
Hin pi w v uy uiuat wtiw me nucitai pi a
tho^ Su^sPecialists but not yet proven subspecialists, i.e., Ie(Se who have had a single tour in a nuclear-related bil- Cern lhe same mid-1984 period, there were 26 such offi- |n 5 0n>y eight of whom were not eligible for retirement. rnee Past five years there has been only a slight improve- y in this situation.
he0se officers who do gain nuclear expertise tend not to sin Upwafdly mobile. The passover rate for officers as- to the JSTPS in the early 1980s, for example, was Rouble that of the Navy as a whole. No officer as- to the Strategic and Theater Nuclear Warfare Divi-
3Vy u .
ffj *as twice demonstrated its priorities by assigning to Vj6rs as vice director of JSTPS who were not promoted j0e admiral upon assuming the assignment. this ^lat- The most obvious question is whether any of Pr0vnatters- The Navy has risen to a position where it •Hicjees the most important component of the strategic exjstar forces during a period when all of these trends
Why, therefore, should professional Navy offi- tVhi-ny about changing these cultural factors, most of
nd budgeting is based on the concept of a platform spon- , r- As a result, institutional pressures force trade-offs e>Ween strategic submarines and attack submarines rather an between strategic forces and tactical forces. One re- 1 has been that on occasion in recent years the Navy has ■ etTIPted to ignore presidential direction and skip a year bie Trident submarine construction program.
Navy personnel policies also tend—consciously or un- nsciously—to devalue strategic nuclear planning and . e strategic nuclear mission. For example:
he officers actually involved in strategic nuclear plan- § are designated as proven subspecialists in strategic s vear planning (nuclear). There simply are not enough l a °fficers with the requisite expertise, and those who f()VC are near'n§ the end of their careers. In mid-1984, the examP*e> there were 20 captains and commanders in yeer,tire Navy with this designation: 14 had more than 25 0fjars service and five had more than 20, which left only e officer not eligible to retire. The supposed backup for Se officers is provided by those who are nuclear plan-
w oudicgiL aiiu inedier iNuuear wariare tic ■ ^»TPS, or the nuclear planning cells in the Atlan- ran?nd Pacific commands has ever been selected for flag °rga advent °f the Goldwater-Nichols JCS re-
Ccnt]niZation *e8tslat*on may be changing this, until re- ^ *■ Was widely perceived outside the service that the ^•aff ^ not ass*§n *ts best officers to billets on the Joint lari 0r in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, particu- histQ !^ose billets associated with nuclear planning. The letsr'Cai experience is that officers assigned to such bil- ^Oru t'rC, correctly perceiving that they have no profes- fiilcj‘i future. Thus a disproportionate number of officers tlw ^t the tour in which they gain nuclear expertise is i pr nnal tour.
Nav,C^ with a chronic shortage of three-star billets, the
j uitat. kuuuiai iauuis, musi Ui
c°ntr | 3Ve dieir origin either in factors outside the Navy’s loon i°r 'n l^e imperatives of dealing with preparing for c ear war? Why not continue on the course that has bureaucratic and budgetary success for 25 years? &nts^ou*d not change course simply because the pre- whether the Air Force or the Navy dominates joint billets or strategic spending. The Air Force has chosen to invest, fiscally and intellectually, in a mission the Navy has ignored. That is to the Air Force’s credit. At a time when most Navy officers thought of nuclear deterrence—if at all—only in simplistic terms of “mutual suicide,” Air Force strategists and their civilian colleagues recognized that deterrence means threatening destruction of what the Soviets value—the control of the Communist Party over the Soviet empire and the military power that enforces that control. If the technology of the past did not allow holding these targets at risk in an enduring or flexible fashion, that is not the fault of those who did the best they could with the tools they were given. Why then do we need to change when deterrence has obviously worked?
The problem is that the future may not be like the past. Until relatively recently, no matter what the prevailing strategic theory, the fact was that naval forces primarily provided a survivable countervalue capability. Relatively little planning or strategic insight is required for such capability. Thus, the nation could safely turn over its strategic nuclear planning to those who did not fully understand maritime capabilities, because it was relatively difficult to misuse those capabilities.
This situation will change dramatically in the coming decade, for several reasons. First, the advent of the Trident II missile’s true hard-target kill capability, coupled with the United States’s chronic failure to solve the ICBM vulnerability problem, may mean that if the nation wants to engage hard targets with ballistic missiles in the 21st century it will have to do so with sea-based systems. This will demand officers who understand both the realities of maritime operations and the concept of strategic counterforce targeting.
Thus far, reports of the ICBM’s imminent demise have proved premature. This may not be true much longer. The MX missile may prove to be the last gasp for the land- based ballistic-missile forces. If so, the Navy may be forced to assume a greater role in the development of strategic targeting in the future, because officers who understand maritime capabilities will be required, and because the core of SAC missileers will be much smaller.
Second, and equally important, the trends in strategic theory are toward flexibility and endurance, clearly implying a greater role for sea-based forces. The operation and deployment of an enduring strategic submarine force will require knowledge of both nuclear planning and submarine operations.
Third, the advent of nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missiles such as Tomahawk requires a new approach to nuclear planning. Such missiles are hybrids: nonstrategic nuclear weapons with an important strategic role as part of the nuclear reserve. With recognition of Tomahawk’s capability and the size of the deployed force both growing, there is an urgent requirement for those who understand both national and nuclear policy, and the fundamentals of maritime operations.
The ideal future: The prevailing strategic culture—the theoretical, organizational, and personnel practices of the past—may not be good enough for the demands of the
'nRs 1 June 1989
not merely in their physical aspects, but also in our ab>  to employ them to deter war. Ignoring the issue will ° longer work. No one knows for certain what really dete^ but the penalties for a failure are so apocalyptic that have an obligation to the nation and the future to do 0 utmost to ensure that deterrence succeeds. That fl1® ending our comfortable habit of letting someone e worry about strategic issues. (
The cultural change will be immense, perhaps n1 . than any of us realize. Our traditions are exclusively *a|(j cal. No one ever sat around the officers’ club bar and *°‘a sea stories of maintaining alert coverage or design’0-js better target package. Thinking about nuclear deterrent^ not much fun and does not seem related to our day-*0' j
21st century. We need a new strategic culture—new theory and practice to meet the challenge about to be thrust upon us. What should the ideal 21st-century culture include?
First and foremost, we need an evolving strategic nuclear theory that looks at nuclear deterrence through a maritime lens. Ideally, we want articles by the seminal strategic thinkers of the 21st century to sound like they were written in a submarine, not on a SAC base. Such a strategic theory should stress endurance, the inevitability of retaliation (but not its immediacy), and flexibility. It should be a far more dynamic theory, owing more to a continued attempt to understand what deters the existing Soviet leadership than to the Strategic Bombing Survey of World War II.
Second, we need a series of civilian defense officials who view strategic nuclear deterrence through a maritime lens. When the director of Defense Research and Engineering is as likely to have served on a Navy strategic advisory body as he is on the SAC Scientific Advisory Board, the culture will begin to change. When officials who enter government after a career developing nuclear weapons at Los Alamos or Livermore National Laboratories are as familiar with the benefits of sea-based forces as with ICBMs, the change will be complete.
Third, we need a restructured JSTPS, independent of SAC and moved from Omaha, that serves as a true joint body, probably with command rotated between the Air Force and Navy. To complement this, we need a Joint Staff in which the billets associated with strategic nuclear planning are held by naval officers competitive for promotion—not because we have established such a policy by fiat, but because the expertise resides in the Navy and gaining that expertise is one of several recognized paths to advancement for our top performers.
Fourth, we need institutional change within the Navy that provides for a three-star officer who views his primary responsibilities as strategic nuclear matters, and a revitalized nuclear planning subspecialty community to aid this officer and his counterparts in the unified commands. This revitalized subspecialty community must not become a core of pure specialists. The most important strength of the Navy is that those who do its planning and shape its future understand going to sea because they have been there. The Navy has historically rejected the concept of a “wet” and “dry” Navy for the excellent reason that it will not work. It will not work in the nuclear area either. In the 21st century we need a large number of operationally competent officers who also understand nuclear planning, just as today we have a large number who understand communications, or electronic warfare, or antisubmarine warfare.
Fifth, we need advisory boards (analogous to the Defense Science Board or the SAC Scientific Advisory Board) that advise Navy senior leadership on strategic nuclear matters. The existence of such advisory boards will be important because of the dominant role of naval forces and because such boards will serve to disseminate a mari- time-oriented view of nuclear deterrence into the civilian professional community.
The nation’s strategic direction will soon have the flavor of those who have viewed the world from SSBNs. The Navy must begin now to develop these people and the thinking necessary to carry the strategic baton in the 2ls* century.
Sixth, we need to do in fact what we have long claimed to do in theory: look at strategic deterrence from a nations perspective. This will require an altered planning, Pr0' gramming, and budgeting system that, after a quarter ce” tury of trying, finally implements a strategic budget. Tltf trade-offs should be between sea-based and land-base nuclear forces; they should not be between ballistic missile and attack submarines. A national perspective W’ require officers who understand and appreciate land-base systems, perhaps because they have had exchange toub early in their careers. We may even need to take a ft®* look at a unified strategic command. Historically- 1 Navy has feared such a command would involve Air Fore domination of Navy systems. The strategic realities of* 21st century may require Navy domination of Air For systems. -s
Grasping the Baton: The issue before the Navy whether any of these changes are desirable—or even eS sential—and, if so, what should be done now to ensU that the strategic forces of the 21st century are adequa concerns. But if we fail to do the needed thinking a planning, it will be done by those lacking understanding maritime forces and the nature of going to sea. Or, worse, it will not be done at all.
Navy contributions to deterrence are immeasura The Polaris, Poseidon, and Trident programs have ^ hailed as the best managed, most successful weapon velopments in modern times. The operational compe*° v of the ballistic-missile submarine force is legendary- ^ we need to apply those standards of excellence *° ■: equally important, and equally difficult, world of str thinking, and help the nation to understand how best to these incredible tools to deter war. to
Ready or not, the baton is passing to us. It is our du; be ready. >-
Winner of the 1987 Arleigh Burke Essay Contest, Captain o' Director of Defense Programs on the staff of the National Security w cil. He spent most of his at-sea career in the submarine force. As ,jCy. has served in a variety of assignments associated with nuclear V maritime strategy, and arms control.