However, increasing technology has expanded naval capabilities far beyond what has been possible for other navies in history. Furthermore, changing mission demands in contemporary warfare welcome these new capabilities as well timed and much needed. They demand that today’s surface Navy be labeled more than a mode of support and transport. The possibilities that the Navy brings to power projection, conflict resolution, and crisis response around the world demonstrate that the Navy is as relevant to U.S. interests as ever.
Changing the Label
Following the intense naval battles of World War II, the surface Navy acquired a general label as transporter and defender as ensuing conflicts focused more toward ground and air operations. The Navy carrried Marines to the fight overseas, and concentrated on defense in antiair, antisurface, and antisubmarine warfare. However, experience and technological advancement brought a transformation in the 1980s that showed the Navy to be capable of much more than its generalized label. During the Cold War, in which the Navy was actually heavily active in conflict and crisis response all around the world, involvement suggested that the surface Navy was capable of projecting a more dynamic role than playing defense and providing transport. Additionally, the introduction of the Tomahawk missile in the 1980s propelled the surface Navy from a support- and defense-focused force to one having capabilities to conduct land attack and strike.
Now, three decades later, the Navy faces cuts while it is already undermanned. Again a capability transformation similar to the one of the 1980s is taking place. First, the nature of the warfare environment today has created new and diversified needs that the Navy is still able to fulfill with the Tomahawk capability introduced almost 30 years ago. Tomahawks are capable of pinpoint accuracy and boast a high survivability rate that makes them extremely useful and their implementation by the surface fleet particularly relevant today. 1
The Missile Difference
With the Tomahawk land-attack capability, accurate surface-to-land strikes from off the coast for a diverse range of strategic targets eliminates the need to endanger aircraft and personnel in air strikes, as was seen at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom and more recently during hostilities in Libya. 2 Moreover, long-range land-attack capabilities from the surface Navy have been responsible for suppressing enemy air defenses and movement as well as eliminating strategic targets such as communications posts and energy facilities. 3 In addition to its high accuracy and success rate, the major benefit of this capability is that it removes the human element from the risk equation because it is launched from a remote location.
Another component of the surface Navy that makes it indispensable in today’s conflict climate is the ballistic- missile defense (BMD) program. Largely dependent on the Aegis weapon system that has been continuously improved and updated significantly since its inception, BMD is a crucial mode of maintaining friendly relationships by offering protection, as well as deterring or mitigating threats from extremist regimes. 4 The demand for Aegis-fitted BMD-capable surface ships is increasing; the number of ships outfitted with the capability is expected to increase in the next five years and rightly so. Today’s warfare climate demands that this capability not be overlooked and that the budget for this program remain untouched.
Providing Multiple Capabilities
Finally, a point that has remained unchanged and ever-relevant to the need for a powerful surface Navy since the Cold War is the wide variety of missions and capabilities that only a versatile and powerful Navy is able to fulfill. While the Navy is prepared for the contingencies of large-scale conflict, it often is involved in crisis response, small-scale conflicts, and mission support. The surface Navy has supported relief efforts in the event of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010. Moreover, the U.S. Navy also has assisted other navies in facilitating their own relief efforts. In the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the U.S. Navy cooperated with the Japanese military to conduct rescues and supply the relief effort. Moreover, the surface Navy has maintained international law and safe passage in international waterways by quelling piracy and deterring rogue blockades, as well as resolving small-scale conflicts that have posed a threat to peace and the interests of the United States and its allies. The continued demand for U.S. naval involvement in a wide variety of missions and capacities such as those makes the surface Navy as relevant as ever to the maintenance of peace—and demonstrates that it is capable of going far beyond the realm of transport and support.
The U.S. surface Navy fulfills multiple roles in the global arena. The continued advancement of technology and the increasing flexibility and possibilities for the Navy make it ever more relevant today because the surface Navy is an adaptive, dynamic force that throughout history has consistently met new challenges and missions. For the preservation of peacekeeping efforts and conflict resolution in the future, the maintenance of a powerful and capable Navy will be crucial to meeting the new demands that our ever-changing world may present.
1. “BGM-109 Tomahawk,” Federation of American Scientists, Military Analysis Network, www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/smart/bgm-109.htm .
2. CAPT R. Robinson Harris, LT Robert McFall, “The Transformation (Again!) of the Surface Navy,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings , January 2012.