As readers of this journal know, concern has been growing for several years now over the increasing naval capabilities of various peer competitors and the anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) challenges they present to the U.S. Sea Services. Heading this list are China, Russia, and Iran. Whether it’s China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy developing an aircraft carrier and antiship ballistic missiles, Russia expanding its naval reach into more theaters, or Iran threatening passage in Persian Gulf waters with potential swarm attacks and mines, it seems there is no end to the threats facing our forces. But amid all the hand-wringing over these dangers, it’s easy to forget that the U.S. Navy can pack a pretty powerful punch too—especially when that punch is delivered by its venerable submarine force.
Longtime Proceedings contributor retired Rear Admiral W. J. Holland Jr. reminds us of that fact this month. He explains that U.S. submarines offer an overwhelming advantage against likely adversaries and should play a vital role in what has been dubbed “the Offset Strategy” meant to counter Russian and Chinese military-modernization programs. The author points out that building an effective submarine force is more than just numbers of hulls; “it requires serious investment of money, intellect, people, and time.” There is no substitute for the experience gained over years and decades, and the United States, notes Admiral Holland, possesses “a major force of submarines manned by experienced crews, practiced in the operations at sea and in the far corners of the world.”
Another regular in our pages, retired Navy Captain George Galdorisi, weighs in with a variation on a tried-and-true idea to counter A2/AD threats. During the Cold War, the United States had “an airborne constellation of aircraft and missile ships linked by a network to form an effective shield” against Soviet threats from the sky. Today, U.S. naval forces also need an undersea constellation to ensure freedom of access and operation. This constellation will connect all manner of platforms and systems, from submarines to unmanned surface and subsurface vehicles, aircraft, sensor networks, and undersea cables. “The undersea constellation offers capabilities for warfighting effectiveness not even imagined a decade ago,” the author proclaims, and “has the potential to deliver on the promise of providing information dominance and decision superiority to the warfighter when and where it is needed.”
In the wake of the nation’s strategic shift to the Pacific, so much of the conversation has revolved around the “partnerships-are-important” mantra that it’s easy to start taking the efficiency of such partnerships for granted. Commonality of intentions against a shared adversary is not enough to make a coordinated effort work, however. History, as it so often does, offers up an example. To illustrate how naval cooperative efforts can fail, Lieutenant Commander Kevin M. Moeller takes a look back at the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II, and the doomed-to-fail attempt by Germany and Italy early in the conflict to launch a combined U-boat offensive. For those countries currently aspiring to provide a united front against a potential Pacific A2/AD threat, there are lessons to be gleaned from the Axis’ mistakes.
Lest we become too enamored with shiny new technology, let’s not forget the poor man’s naval weapon of choice: mines. Although it has been decades since a U.S. Navy ship has struck a naval mine in the Persian Gulf, the service is wise not to discount this danger. Cheap to produce and capable of inflicting severe damage, mines are an ideal asymmetric weapon for an outmatched enemy. “Our naval surface forces—particularly those operating independently—need an organic, self-contained, and integrated mine-queuing system that will preserve their freedom of movement even when mines are thought to be present,” proposes Navy Captain Steve J. Coughlin. To achieve this, he recommends that the Navy develop technology similar to the airborne laser mine-detection system for installation on the Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle. “For the ship driver, operating with the mine-countermeasures Fire Scout should become an everyday skill set similar to standard helicopter operations, underway replenishment, or taking station on the aircraft carrier for plane-guard duty.”
Since its public release in March, the newly revised U.S. maritime strategy has been the subject of much discussion and plenty of fanfare. Retired Coast Guard Captain R. B. Watts offers a contrarian view in this issue: To wit, there’s really nothing much new about the new maritime strategy. He believes that U.S. naval thinking remains mired in Mahanian capital-ship theory in a world that, as Captain Watts argues, is no longer all that Mahanian. The author’s call for “naval heresy” should stimulate a great deal of healthy, lively debate—and Proceedings, of course, is just the forum for it.
Paul Merzlak, Editor-in-Chief