There has been much talk over the past few years of a defense “reset” as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end and U.S. attention turns to the Pacific region. Change is coming, if not already here in some cases, and this reset will have different implications for each service. For the Navy, it means an ongoing discussion about strategy and the capabilities and assets required to fulfill its goals. Our offerings this month provide plenty of fodder for those who enjoy a good debate over how the future Navy should look.
We start off with our annual focus on naval aviation. The community is in the midst of a wide-scale platform overhaul, as new, improved, and more versatile aircraft enter the service. At the heart of this great transition is the “why” of it all, notes Lieutenant Commander Guy M. Snodgrass. He gives us a comprehensive overview of the changing state of naval aviation, from the strike community to rotary-wing to unmanned. The name of the game will be interoperability between airframes—a win-win, but something that will require a bit of cultural adjustment. As the author explains, “Individuals need to reorient themselves to emphasize missions instead of their platform.”
Our follow-on pieces drill down to take a closer look at the various platforms Lieutenant Commander Snodgrass discusses. We find that the successor to the EA-6B Prowler electronic-warfare aircraft, the EA-18G Growler, is taking center stage as an important arrow in the U.S. Navy’s aviation quiver. The commanding officer of VAQ-132, Growler pilot Commander Dave Kurtz, details the features that make this aircraft tick, bringing special capabilities to the entire joint force.
While the Navy can’t afford to buy every weapon needed to counter every threat, rotary-wing aviation offers a significant return-on-investment. Commander Ben Reynolds argues that to achieve this potential, the service must focus helicopter tactics on the sea-control missions of antiship, antisubmarine, and mine warfare. In particular, our carrier and expeditionary strike groups are vulnerable from small boats, and defense against these inexpensive threats is a prime example of where improved tactics can make a difference.
The landing of the X-47B unmanned aerial vehicle aboard the USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77) in July generated a lot of buzz, but it was more than just a technological achievement. It also heralded the addition of autonomous drones to the aircraft carrier’s arsenal. Defense scholar Daniel Goure says that drones and the capabilities they bring to the fight against adversaries on the high seas might also help protect the carriers from those closer to home who would reduce their numbers.
Fleet size and composition is always a popular topic in Proceedings, and our pages have featured several articles in recent months advancing different shipbuilding plans or debating whether vessels such as the littoral combat ship can fulfill its assigned missions. But Captain Robert C. Rubel, Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College, warns against getting too caught up in arguments over ship characteristics while ignoring the bigger picture. He attempts to bring strategic logic to the discussion “in the hope that it will provide insights that will inform force design, including ship and weapon characteristics, organization, and personnel management.” Professor Rubel outlines what the future might hold for the Navy as it deals with various threats around the world. The key, he says, might be to adopt the concept of strength in numbers and build small ships to form multiple flotillas that could navigate closer to shore and in tight bodies of water better than their larger brethren in the Fleet.
To complement Captain Rubel’s thoughts, retired Admiral John Harvey, Captain Wayne Hughes, and Captain Jeffrey Kline team with active-duty Lieutenant Zachary Schwartz to spotlight exactly what those “influence flotillas” might look like and how they would work with littoral combat ships and other assets. With change on the way, such ideas could play heavily in tomorrow’s Navy.