The “surge” model developed by the Center for Naval Analyses has the bulk of U.S. Navy combat power – the Second, Third, and Fourth fleets – based in the United States, with three fleets positioned forward: the Seventh Fleet in the Western Pacific, the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, and the Fifth Fleet in the Arabian Sea-Persian Gulf. Of the three forward-deployed fleets, the Seventh would be by far the strongest, with forces similar to those in play today. In the CNA model, however, all three forward-deployed fleets would provide ballistic-missile defense for other U.S. forces and for friendly states.
The key to the success of the surge model is the Seventh Fleet. Before World War II, the Navy had nothing like the Seventh Fleet. Instead, the forward-deployed Asiatic Fleet, based in the Philippines, was a token force. As such, it could not deter war or protect the Philippines when Japan struck in December 1941.
Critics of surge say it is a case of too little, too late, and that therefore it will not deter conflict. But that criticism hides what may be the most important reason why the Navy wants to maintain two forward “hubs” – because the pressures of operating forward sharpen Sailors’ skills and simultaneously allow senior enlisted personnel and officers to learn which of their subordinates are best-suited to take responsibility and exercise command. That is why a strong, forward-deployed Seventh Fleet would be essential. It would be the constant proving ground of personnel, systems, and tactics. And it would guarantee that the Navy could surge effectively if necessary.
What would be the advantages of this surge model? Operations and infrastructure costs would be less than with the other models. Sailors and Marines would have more time with their families in the United States. And assuming a roughly constant level of expenditure on the Navy, there would be more funds for research and development, software upgrades, and modernization of existing units.
Except for the forward-deployed Seventh Fleet, the Navy would act as it did before World War II, when individual units, divisions of ships, task forces, and aircraft squadrons went to sea to exercise and conduct tactical and operational experiments (called “fleet problems” then). Aegis ships based in the United States would rotate through assignments to the missile-defense stations, and individual ships, submarines, and aircraft squadrons would rotate through assignments in the Seventh Fleet.
This model has several important implications. First Navy logistics would need to be able to respond relatively quickly to support any surge and to replace lost or damaged equipment. Second, there would have to be a highly trained naval reserve that could populate new units quickly and replace any Sailors lost or disabled during surge operations. Third, the Navy would have to change its current relationship with its industrial base. Both the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Navy would have to complement the current acquisition process with one that would permit rapid acquisition of those items – like missiles – that would be quickly expended in a shooting match.
Fourth, a surge Navy would look different from today’s Navy. It would have more nuclear-powered submarines, for example, because those submarines are ideal surge units. They can move quickly and stealthily into a tense area or a region of conflict, and they can also carry large numbers of tactical missiles, as the guided-missile SSGNs do now. In 1982, the Royal Navy was a surge force. Its nuclear-powered attack submarines were the first major naval units to reach the Falklands after Argentine forces invaded the islands. The Royal Navy nuclear submarines blockaded Argentina’s navy and prevented Argentine surface ships from resupplying or evacuating ground units occupying the Falklands.
Fifth, a surge force would have to be able to counter anti-access and area-denial systems – at least long enough to allow Marines to achieve their objectives ashore. In 1982, the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarines cut the water link between Argentina and Argentine military forces in the Falklands, but intrepid Argentine airmen flying from land bases almost decimated the British amphibious force. To forestall such a threat to U.S. amphibious forces, the Navy much field adequate defenses and find ways to mask its intentions and the location of its forces.
Finally, a surge Navy would have to show potential enemies of the United States that (a) it could surge – that it could reach the scene of a possible or actual conflict quickly, and (b) the U.S. Navy could apply force effectively once engaged. Fleet can play a critical role, routinely demonstrating the Navy’s combat capabilities, its ability to stay at sea for long periods, and its capacity to deploy significant forces. Keeping the Seventh Fleet forward deployed is key.