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By Commander John L. Dailey, U.S.
The Navy would be imprudent not to look for opportunities in the upheaval now overwhelming the Soviet Union. It simply makes good sense for any threat-driven force structure to reexamine its composition if the forces it expects t° face in battle alter in style or substance. In addition, and per- naps more important, domestic fiscal pressures will probably °rce the Navy to reassess its Position in any case. The Navy wfil better serve the nation by considering appropriate responses before the heat of a Public debate in which passions often dominate reason.
The stakes of such a major Policy review are high, however. Therefore, planners would oe wise to establish certain guidelines at the outset. Without Sl|ch limitations, any product w'fi lack a realistic focus. The guidelines should center on the Political life of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and the operational lives of naval ships.
First, major policy changes should not turn on any single Soviet future. Three outcomes are possible for Gorbachev: he "fill either succeed at perestroika °r fail (neither option is necessarily favorable to U.S. interns), or he will muddle through. If successful, he will have trans- lorrned the Soviet Union into a dynamic, productive place, uruch better equipped to reassert Uself worldwide. If he fails, the result probably will be the installation of a regime whose major task will be reimposing the totalitarian controls necessary ;° create order in the disintegrat- lng empire. As French statesman anfi author Alexis de Tocqueville remarked, there is nothing more dangerous than a dictatorship ^tempting to reform itself. The most likely scenario, however, is that Gorbachev will merely muddle through for five or ten years. In this instance, the maritime strategy and NATO will at least have time to adjust to these new realities.
Second, those contemplating major changes in the U.S.
Navy’s force structure must confront the harsh reality that ships take a long time to build. A nuclear-powered, large-deck aircraft carrier, for instance, can take up to ten years to fund and build. The nuclear carriers CVN-74 and -75, now under construction in Newport News, Virginia, will not be ready to deploy until 1997 and 2000, respectively. The USS Arleigh
Burke (DDG-51), the lead ship in the DDG-51 class of destroyers, will have spanned six years from initial funding to commissioning. Even taking a ship out of mothballs requires a long time—30 months in the case of the USS Wisconsin (BB-61).
The combination of those two factors has obvious implications for national-security planning. First, the intentions of statesmen can change rapidly, and the unintended consequences of their decisions are unforeseeable. We cannot overstate the direct connection between those decisions and the required capabilities of competing states. Second, capabilities, especially in the case of naval forces, can improve only slowly. The resultant gap between ends and means is the risk that a statesman must assume when setting national priorities. If a president chooses badly, he may well create the conditions that invite a “new adventurism” by a transformed Soviet Union.
Options: Given the Navy’s historical role and the long lead time required to modify its force structure, maritime forces are arguably the last place arms control practitioners should look in their search for bargaining chips. The nature of the threat is at best uncertain, and changing the Navy’s mission of timely, global, sustained combat operations would literally take an act of Congress.1
Nevertheless, if policymakers altered two areas—force structure and deployment patterns— marginally and carefully, they could provide some response to Soviet initiatives yet not place traditional U.S. interests at greater risk. Recent budget compromises between Congress and the President have, in fact, al-
ready started the process.
Deployment patterns are the easiest factor to change and, more important, the simplest to reverse. After thorough and genuine consultation with our allies, Navy planners could reduce naval presence in forward areas, such as the Mediterranean and the Western Pacific. Last year, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney assured then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William J. Crowe, Jr., after the initial cuts were announced that the United States would pursue such consultations.2 Scaling back the forward operational tempo could reduce wear and tear on ships, providing some savings, and act as a good-faith gesture to the Soviet Union.
The downside is that some of those savings may well be spent anyway as the United States responds to increasing, and continuously uncertain, Third World turbulence. Even the sagest of foreign policy observers in the 1970s would not have predicted contingencies in Grenada, Nicaragua, Libya, Lebanon, and the Persian Gulf, to name but a few, all of which required a maritime response. None of this intervention comes cheap and, to be fair, all of the deployment reductions may amount to the functional equivalent of rearranging the furniture to accommodate visiting relatives. In the end, the total combat capability required at sea is not likely to change at all, let alone cost less money.
Force structure does not enjoy the malleability of global deployment patterns. The 15- carrier battle group (CVBG)- Navy previously budgeted for the 1990s falls well below the 20-plus battle groups that the Unified Commanders in Chief agree are required to provide a reasonable chance of victory in war. Any reductions to the peacetime force of 15 CVBGs places additional strain on U.S. alliances, invites Third World problems, and makes victory in
a war with the Soviet Union even less likely.
Some downward adjustments already have been made, however, although not necessarily for the right reasons. The Navy’s shipbuilding plan, announced in the revised Five-Year Defense Plan (FYDP) of 25 April 1989, already has been stretched in response to budget compromises. To cite only one case, the total purchase of DDG-51s during the 1990-95 FYDP has been reduced from 25 to 23. And, under the same agreement, the USS Coral Sea (CV-43) will be retired in fiscal year 1990, three years ahead of schedule. The Navy absorbed 58% of the proposed cuts. During the next decade, the Navy will maintain only 14 CVBGs, rather than its goal of 15, a significant reduction in total capability for a nation so dependent on maritime superiority for its strategic and economic well being.3
Also included in this agreement were proposals to transfer several units (e.g., 24 destroyers) to the Naval Reserve and mothball still more. The strategic efficacy of the proposals, both attractive at first glance, should not be overplayed. Ships in the reserve fleet would mobilize quickly, thereby ensuring adequate force levels during periods of rising tension. And they would also provide a certain surge capability in the event of multiple crises.
However, this proposal also drives U.S. strategy to emphasize mobilization more heavily.
If both sides pursued this concept, the likely winner of a war would be the country that mobilized first and fastest. One possible outcome of this reflex would be that such war plans would take on a momentum of their own.
The arguments based on cost savings are even less persuasive. First, all ships, reserve or active, need to be manned around the clock, 365 days a year—not just once a month. This means a full-time crew, smaller than normal perhaps, but no less qualified than in any ship in the active fleet. Second, manning a reserve fleet double or even triple the size of today’s Naval Reserve is an expensive, complex proposition. For example, Naval Reserve ships are all distributed along the U.S. seaboards, whereas Naval Reservists are not. Linking people and ships for regular training requires time and money. If we are looking for ways to cut costs, shifting assets to the reserves is like pressing the bubble on a balloon—eliminating one only creates another.
Conclusions: The enduring nature of the U.S.-Soviet relationship, not the tactical maneu- verings of a transient head of state, should shape the long- range planning decisions of U.S. leaders. Access to the rimland means more options for each superpower, and in this nearzero-sum game, one country cannot afford to infer salutary intentions on the part of the other. The tension of the struggle derives from the relative nature of power: to stand still is to fall behind. The Soviet Union, drawing back at present from its ambition of global supervision, cannot remain retrenched for long and still retain equal status with the United States.
Nor should the United States delude itself about the nature and probable outcome of the Soviet experiment. The Kremlin has long recognized the need to implement extensive reforms. In 1983, former Soviet President Yuri Andropov made the first tentative steps upon which Gorbachev has expanded. The movement toward reform, which Gorbachev only accelerated, will continue even if he is deposed; most critically, it will result in either a stronger or a more dangerous Soviet Union.
Specifically, the maintenance of a strong Navy to deal with both the Soviet Union and Third World crises (no longer merely a lesser-included case) should be a dominant consideration in the national-security planning of the United States. Its multidimen- Sl°nal capability, centered on CVBGs and Marine Air-Ground Task Forces, is the force struc- lure and doctrine best suited to deal with the uncertain environment the future promises. Rebuilding a stripped-down version °f the 600-ship Navy ten years hence may take more time and money than a shift in Soviet intentions will allow.
Given the stakes at risk in this ‘great game,” our approach should be cautious and empha- s'ze marginal, reversible options. Dubious budgetary considerations already have placed us on the slippery slope of incremental, seemingly harmless, force reductions. Until the Soviets remove the ground and air threats to our allies on the blanks, the Navy should hold firm against further erosion of maritime strength. Public opinion will necessarily limit U.S. options, but a broad, aggressive Program to educate both the Soviets and the general public will strengthen the Navy’s bargaining position. It will require vision, courage, and constancy, and it has to start now.
2'0 United States Code, Section 5062.
'The New York Times, “Cheney Announces Oefense Cuts,” 26 April 1989, p. 1.
Richard B. Cheney, Secretary of Defense, Statement Before the House Armed Services Committee in connection with the FY 1990-94 Amended Budget for DoD, 25 April 1989.
Commander Dailey, a dual-qualified naval aviator and surface warfare officer, ls the prospective XO of Helicopter Combat Support Squadron One (HC-1). He received a master’s degree in International Public Policy from the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies °f the Johns Hopkins University as an Admiral Arthur S. Moreau Scholar, and a)so holds an M.A. in International Politics from Salve Regina College. His Washington duty has included tours in the Strategic Concepts Group (OP-603) and the Navy Recruiting Headquarters.
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