Sidebar: 'Numbers Do Matter'
Looking at the hologram, Vice Admiral Ulysses S. Grant, U.S. Navy, could scarcely believe the pace of the battle unfolding before him. He had begun with overwhelming combat power at his disposal, and despite the violent consequences of the past eight hours of battle—which previously had been gamed and modeled—his task force was well positioned to take the fight to the enemy. He still had 200 miles to go to reach his best position to strike decisively ashore and even longer before the Marines would be maneuvering against the first of their many objectives. The contested littoral, once a narrow band extending tens of miles off the adversary's coastline, now was a battlespace hundreds of miles deep, transformed by an overlapping and sophisticated defense. Transiting this area was perilous but necessary.
Vice Admiral Grant now was ready to begin a video teleconference with his theater commander-in-chief (CinC), to give a personal after-action report and to recommend that the mission proceed as planned. Waiting for the CinC, Grant thought back to his days as a commander on the Chief of Naval Operations' staff in the late 1990s, and to the numerous debates he had participated in on the size and shape of the future force. Everyone had known then that a turning point in naval warfare was coming, and most realized that there was a limited window of opportunity in which to prepare—even if they didn't know precisely when that window would close. He was thankful that the Navy and the nation had seized that fleeting opportunity. The nation's ability to influence world events rested on the decisions they had made back then.
Today, the United States is master of the seas. Unless we adapt our Navy for future war fighting in contested, close-in waters, however, we risk our ability to influence events. The good news is that we see the change coming, there is some undetermined time to respond, and there is a growing consensus on what action is needed to ensure our continued military potency along the world's littorals.
For a force to be relevant it must have utility to the nation. Because we want our wars to be fought forward, this utility rests on two equally important pillars: the ability to gain and sustain access to the battlespace, and the capability to exploit that access. As the tools available for access denial become available to potential enemies, we will need a force balanced for both pillars.
To put the future warfighting environment in perspective, we must consider four navies: the Navy of history; the Navy that operates at sea today; the Navy that is being acquired today for use tomorrow (the Program Navy); and the Navy after Next, which will follow the Program Navy. We ignore any one of these at our peril. Indeed, we must work on the conceptual development of the Navy after Next even as we are proceeding with the physical development of the Program Navy.
Four related factors are converging that will affect our decisions on the size and shape of the Navy after Next:
- Adoption of network-centric warfare as the U.S. Navy's organizing principle and ultimately as the principle for joint and combined operations
- The need for assured access to the Navy's traditional operating domains on, above, and below the sea, in blue water and the littorals, as well to the newer operating domains of space and cyberspace
- The need for an increase in the numbers of ships, aircraft, sensors, and unmanned vehicles to ensure a force size and balance able to prevail both in the littoral warfighting environment and in peacetime engagement
- Technologies creating new rule sets and opportunities
The Littoral Environment in the Missile Age
Following World War II, the U.S. Navy found itself operating under a rule set dominated by four elements: nuclear weapons, a threatening bipolar world, a reliance on the sea as a sanctuary, and a procurement process dominated by cost-benefit analysis. The basic rule was to maximize combat power per dollar in a fleet of specified size.
Past sizing and shaping decisions within this rule set have served us well, and have resulted in a Navy that is rich in power projection and open-ocean capability. The value of the current force and that of the Program Navy is evident and will continue well into the next century. Indeed, the Navy would be worth its cost even if it focused solely on securing the high seas for international commerce. But the emerging security environment calls for an ever-increasing focus on the close-in littoral.
The new rule set for the new environment is driven by the primacy of precision munitions, principally those delivered by missiles; the ever expanding breadth of the contested littoral; and the need to consider alternative measures of effectiveness to determine the value specific systems bring to the Navy after Next.
The kamikaze attacks during the Battle of Okinawa often are considered the first cruise missile attacks against the U.S. Navy. Many ships were sunk and more were placed out of action; nevertheless, when we think of a destroyer sustaining a kamikaze hit amidships during that campaign, the picture is one of guns firing fore and aft. The destroyer continued to engage. That "robustness" must characterize the Navy after Next, and it will be developed through the careful balancing of reduced susceptibility to being hit and reduced consequences and vulnerability if a hit is sustained. This is a consideration at the platform level, the fleet level, and the total warfighting systems level.
Stable Combat Power in Littoral Waters
If a force's combat power grows out of proportion to its survivability, however, it becomes tactically unstable. And a tactically unstable force has diminished utility to the nation because it becomes risk averse. This already is happening in some areas. In Kosovo, for example, the most needed use of air power was proscribed in both time and space. As a result, allied aircraft remained at high altitudes. In short, commanders will be unwilling to risk forces because of the human dimension, because of the disproportionately large percentage of the force's combat power represented by a single platform, and because of the high cost in time and treasure when even one such platform is lost in battle. The Navy after Next could become tactically unstable in the face of sophisticated area denial strategies—great eggs, but too few baskets.
History and analysis have demonstrated that to achieve a given level of combat power, numerical advantage is the single most important force attribute. This is why Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jay Johnson repeatedly has stated that in today's environment there is an unacceptable level of risk associated with a force of fewer than 300 ships. Of course, these 300 ships are of different types for different tasks, but numbers contribute to robustness and combat power, strength and combat power are the components of tactical stability, tactical stability underpins access, and access plus power projection equate to a relevant U.S. Navy. Determining the right balance between numbers of ships and the shape of the force is key to leveraging the power of numbers while maintaining affordability.
The future warfighting environment will stretch our reliance on weapons reach to the breaking point, because many critical missions will have to be done from within the contested littorals. In addition, access to coastlines is the sine qua non of the tremendous power projection capability represented by the U.S. Marine Corps. Whether Marine forces are placed ashore or remain at sea holding enemy forces at risk, the adversary must know that the Navy-Marine Corps team has access from blue water to the beach that he cannot deny.
There are equally important tactical reasons why the contested littoral is valuable battlespace for the U.S. Navy to occupy. They include deepening the battlespace ashore, increasing a commander's tactical options, capitalizing on the dimensions of speed and time, reducing the sanctuary from which an adversary can attack, collocation with the trade routes the nation pays us to protect, and the psychological impact of "in your face" proximity.
The Navy cannot afford to abandon a contested littoral and expect to prevail.
Rebalancing Combat Power and Stability for Access
To rebalance the fleet for future access and power projection, we need to adopt a mixed approach, much the same way as we mixed conventional and nuclear forces to achieve synergy during the Cold War years.
This rebalanced fleet would be a mix of:
- Existing and planned systems that focus on cost-effective strike and reach (the Economy A force that sustains the power-projection pillar)
- A new networked series of systems that are surveillance and maneuver intensive, achieve positional advantage, are risk tolerant, and are built in accordance with new measures of effectiveness that embrace robustness in future force evaluations (the Economy B force that underpins the access pillar)
Both of these forces derive power from their networked environment.
Practically, this means that investment in our current Navy and the planned investment in the Program Navy are on the mark. "Power" remains honored in the future warfighting environment, and combat power must continue to underpin the Navy after Next. Forces such as our aircraft carriers, carrier air wings, and DD-21—along with our ability to reach with weapons such as tactical Tomahawk missiles and create sanctuary while at range with our Aegis systems—make our current and Programmed Navy a critical component of the Navy after Next. This is good news because it means the capital investment we are making today will serve us well in the early decades of the 21st century.
Combat power without access, however, will have little utility in the Navy after Next. Submarines help enormously in attaining access, but they have insufficient payload. Capabilities such as maneuver, sensing, envelope management, speed, force size, risk tolerance, and robustness will be particularly valued—and although our power-projection forces contribute to some of these, they are best for reaching beyond coastal waters, not for fighting in them. We must develop an Economy B force that complements and enables the capabilities of our Economy A power-projection force. Proportionally, this force should be envisioned to cost less than 10% as much as Economy A, comprise more than 25% of total numbers, and be expected to suffer most of the combat losses in littoral warfare.
The Streetfighter Concept
The Economy B force is a family of capabilities—often referred to as the "Streetfighter Concept"—that, in conjunction with power-projection forces, will enable the U.S. Navy to operate anytime, anywhere, 10, 20, even 50 years from today. It exploits new sensor capabilities and such platforms as unmanned or autonomous air, surface, and subsurface vehicles; a family of numerically larger but physically different surface ships; and submarines capable of contributing substantively to both access and power projection. Streetfighter is intended to gain and sustain access in the face of an adversary's sophisticated (or not so sophisticated) area-denial strategy.
The Streetfighter concept turns the 1970s high-low mix concept on its head. High-low mix put large ships with great combat power in front, and assigned weaker, cheaper ships to less demanding tasks. Streetfighter capabilities, by contrast, are out in front in the most hazardous waters along an enemy's coast, while ships with greater combat power are provided cover in the same way that destroyers screened battleships. That is why its small ships will be tightly manned, numerous, and when in the most demanding threat environment, operated in swarms. Of course, we would rather achieve littoral objectives without loss of any forces. If Economy B's streetfighters help to convince an enemy that he can neither deny us access nor harm the big, combat-powerful ships of Economy A, then we more frequently will be able to accomplish our littoral objectives without having to fight at sea and sacrifice lives and ships.
One subset of the Streetfighter concept is a family of new and different surface craft—also dubbed "Streetfighters"—based on modular adaptability that revitalizes the traditional naval advantages of mobility, surprise, surveillance, and the power of platform numbers, and that capitalizes on the increase in combat power and survivability at the platform level made possible by network-centric warfare. These ships are enabled by evolving hullform technology, some of which is in use today in the commercial ferry sector, that breaks the old paradigms that smaller ships have short endurance, poor seakeeping capability, and a small combat payload.
There remains considerable work ahead in exploring the Streetfighter concept, but the imagination can race ahead to apply this changed model to the future network-centric environment. The ability to distribute combat power among many smaller craft in the Navy after Next and its successor, the ability to adapt to the changing threat environment by anticipating then mitigating an adversary's area-denial strategy, and the ability to redress the Navy's ship inventory deficiency appear within reach.
The focus for the smaller Streetfighter surface craft will be on developing world-class access machines that can be committed in a contested littoral at any time; an enabler for our power-projection forces even in the face of an enemy's formidable area-denial strategy. As currently envisioned, they will combine a speedy and stealthy platform fitted with offensive firepower, armed helicopters, and modular adaptivity that allows a commander to select the variants best suited to the mission at hand. Streetfighters are self-deploying, and will be able to operate independently for limited missions, in squadrons, or move with a battle group. They will operate across the range of conflict, individually or in small numbers at the low end and as fully netted elements of a task organization at the upper end.
Streetfighter takes its name from its core task. Its primary employment will be to compete for control of the enemy's "streets"—his home waters—where an array of forces may wait to ambush us. The enemy's "back alleys" are a rugged coast, little islands, cliffs and forests, coves, shoals, and shallows where he can hide and where our blue-water Navy is not designed to operate. His unsafe streets are cluttered with coastal traders, fishing boats, oil rigs, and boat people of all types who may be innocent or hostile but either way will complicate our search, detection, and targeting enormously. The clutter of air and surface craft give cover for enemy surprise attacks in waters where he knows every nuance of the environment. He can exploit the electronic clutter, too, because the littorals are where radar and radio transmissions are thickest.
Foremost, Streetfighter will be able to clear out the clutter and sort friend from foe. In that risky work, we must expect them to suffer wounds, some of them fatal. Accordingly, they should be designed and trained for that difficult fighting environment.
But that is not all. The Navy Warfare Development Command is working on a variety of operational concepts that leverage the Streetfighter's mobility and access capability, including offboard multistatic antisubmarine warfare, unmanned and autonomous mine countermeasures, and support to theater ballistic missile defense platforms. Likely initial capabilities for exploration include applicability to operational maneuver from the sea (OMFTS). The Streetfighter's envisioned speed and payload may make this Navy-Marine Corps variant useful in a host of applications focusing on sustaining operations from the sea.
Charting a Course
Streetfighter is a concept wedded to the future warfighting environment. At the U.S. Naval War College, the job is to mature concepts appropriate to this environment through analysis, modeling and simulation, war gaming, and fleet experimentation. In addition, we are going to need experimental craft, sensors, and unmanned vehicles. We need technology platforms for the fleet to use in experiments. Several countries with lesser navies have used experimental craft to great effect. We must study foreign designs and the tactics they use in coastal waters.
The course we must set is evident—a rebalanced Navy whose size and shape are appropriate to a future warfighting environment in which access to battlespace and combat power delivery must proceed in tandem. Considerable work remains to determine the Navy after Next, but its direction is becoming clear, and it is time to steer the ship in that direction. We must seize our window of opportunity with vigor and passion.
Admiral Cebrowski is president of the U.S. Naval War College. Captain Hughes is a senior lecturer in Operations Research at the Naval Postgraduate School and author of Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, 2d. ed. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999).
'Numbers Do Matter'
By Admiral Jay L. Johnson, U.S. Navy
Since the last Quadrennial Defense Review, I've said—and believed—that a force of 305 ships—fully manned, properly trained, and adequately resourced—would be sufficient for today's requirements—within acceptable levels of risk.
But . . . mounting evidence leads me to believe that 305 ships are not likely to be enough in the future. . . .
Prudent competitors have analyzed our capabilities and deduced a range of economic responses centered on their own strategic imperatives and interests. Said another way, our indomitable strength has created the asymmetric competitor, and as we move to the Navy after Next, two important changes are required to keep ahead of him.
First, we must rebalance our future capabilities for the information age. . . .from increased sensor capability to increased combat staying power.
Second, we must reverse our current downsizing trajectory. Continuing to cut our numbers raises the relative target value of each individual ship and accentuates the threat of the asymmetric competitor. Simply put, numbers do matter, especially when it comes to contested littoral warfare.
Our current fleet has awesome striking power, but it must be mixed with combat power derived from maneuver forces and increased sensor capabilities. As the number of ships in the littoral increases, the threat of the asymmetric competitor is diminished. Such a competitor finds that he now has to bear the cost of more difficult surveillance problems, reduced reaction time, defending against a combined arms force, and simultaneous operations.
The Navy after Next must blend the best capabilities of our current force with the capabilities of one specifically designed for assured access in the contested close littoral—speed, maneuver, sensing, and robustness. It must be a fully networked force, capable of dispersed firepower—and with the netted sensors necessary to preserve our weapons' reach advantage. It must be capable of servicing mobile and time critical targets and it must have a high degree of adaptivity so that it can be responsive in a rapidly changing environment. . . .
But none of this will come to pass if we allow ourselves to be constrained by the rules that guided fading paradigms. We must take the opportunity presented to us in the next Quadrennial Defense Review to meet the congressionally mandated requirement to field force levels appropriate to the security environment that we envision. In my view, it is improper to think that Congress charged the Department of Defense with quadrennial reviews simply to reduce the size of the military.
We must analyze our experience in the years since the last QDR; specifically, in terms of how the force has been and will be used, to arrive at a credible, confident, and coherent plan to make sure we've got the force sized correctly. Are 116 surface combatants enough? Are 12 carrier battle groups and 12 amphibious ready groups enough? Do 50 fast attack submarines really meet the requirements of the unified commanders-in-chief? Are we still comfortable with our definition of acceptable levels of risk? If the answer to these or other force structure questions is no, we must be able to articulate the emergent requirements and characterize the risk involved in not meeting them.
Admiral Johnson is Chief of Naval Operations. These are excerpts from an address he delivered at the Current Strategy Forum, U.S. Naval War College, on 15 June 1999.
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