2018: Readiness, Peer Competition, and China
The year has flown by, and the Proceedings team has been talking about major themes in the magazine over the past 12 months. I want to draw attention to some of the key articles. If you missed them, it’s not too late. Naval Institute members can access every article in every issue back to 1874 online.
After the 2017 collisions and groundings, “readiness” was a major them of 2018. Was our Navy ready? How could such mishaps occur? Was the force “ridden hard and put away wet?” Even the Marine Corps and Coast Guard wondered if they were ready for the challenges that faced them and the nation.
The discussion started with retired Navy Captain Kevin Eyer’s “What Happened to Our Surface Forces” (January), a thorough look at the decisions made over the past 20+ years—some made for good reasons—that hollowed out the surface force. It answered a question on everyone’s mind: How could two Aegis-class destroyers collide with merchant ships? The January issue included three other articles on surface Navy readiness—including a counterpoint by then-Commander, Naval Surface Forces, Vice Admiral Thomas Rowden that said surface leaders were focused on better training for shiphandlers and watchstanders.
In May, a provocative essay from the Pacific Fleet’s director for intelligence, Captain Dale Rielage, envisioned a not-too-distant future war in the western Pacific that the U.S. Navy could lose. “How We Lost the Great Pacific War” is the most-read article of the year on our website, and in my opinion, it is seminal. That issue also featured Navy Lieutenant (j.g.) Daniel Stefanus’s “There Is Rot in Our Hulls”—a detailed and hard-hitting look at the Navy’s readiness shortcomings—and Lieutenant Brendan Cordial’s “People Over Payloads,” which pushed back at the tendency to cut personnel to save money for platforms and weapons. He wrote one of the best lines of the year: “No weapon or sensor system ever will be as modular, adaptable, or effective as the people who man Navy ships.”
Peer competition—specifically with China and Russia—took front-page status with the release in January of the National Defense Strategy, which calls interstate strategic competition “the primary concern in U.S. national security.” In February, March, and May, Admiral Scott Swift, then-Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, wrote a series of articles about the transition from carrier-strike-group-centric naval operations toward fleet-centric operations. Swift, who had served as a strike group commander, Pacific Command J-3, Seventh Fleet Commander, and then Pacific Fleet Commander, offered that standing up to a peer competitor requires mastering the art of command and control, fighting for sea control (an issue the Navy has largely taken for granted since the end of the Cold War), and realistic and challenging exercises harkening back to the Fleet Problems of the interwar years.
Many of the 20 international navy chiefs appearing in the March international navies issue addressed how the United States’ allies are thinking about high-end threats. Estonian Navy Commander Ott Laanemets penned an insightful piece about the Baltic’s geography problem and how Russia could catch NATO flat-footed.
In April, Commander Mark Metcalf wrote about China’s view of the United States as an interloper in east Asian security issues. Other articles included Lieutenant (j.g.) Andrea Howard’s primer on Russian Navy tactical nuclear weapons and Lieutenant Joe Hanacek’s argument that the Navy’s constant forward presence does not equal deterrence.
The following month, Marine Major Nicholas Nappi analyzed the geopolitical realities underlying the possible actions of U.S. friends and allies in a future fight with China. His “But Will They Fight China?” asks tough questions that need to be answered if the second line of effort in the National Defense Strategy (Strengthen Alliances and Build Partnerships) is to be strong. The Coast Guard joined in the great power competition discussion with Captain David Ramassini’s “Build a Great White Fleet for the 21st Century”—arguing the Coast Guard can provide added capacity to meet combatant commanders’ needs.
Preparing for the high-end fight continued in July with the winner of the mine warfare essay contest, a Marine second lieutenant’s article on electromagnetic warfare, and Milan Vego’s thoughtful piece, “Mission Command and Zero Tolerance Cannot Coexist.” The realities of a denied electromagnetic environment in a peer fight were raised by retired Navy Commander Carl Graham in his August article, “The Mirage of Mission Command.”
Submarines came into play in the October issue with two feature articles discussing the role of U.S. submarines in a high-end fight. In addition, retired Captain Don Donegan wrote that the Navy needed to rethink the role of carrier strike groups in its 355-ship future force structure, particularly for the high-end fight.
In an excellent historical article in November, Marine Brigadier General William Bowers and Dr. Christopher Yung wrote that China learned the value of amphibious operations during its civil war and is now preparing a modern amphibious force to ensure future strategic opportunities will not be missed.
In the current issue is a must-read article for those looking to understand more fully the strategic competition between the United States and China. Former-Prime Minister of Australia, the Honorable Kevin Rudd, was a keynote speaker at the Naval Institute’s New China Challenge Conference at the U.S. Naval Academy on 10 October. His speech illuminated China’s grand strategy, the state of the relationship between the two most powerful military and economic powers in the world today, and how that relationship affects the immediate region and the world. An edited version is featured on pages 20–27.
In 2019, great power/peer competition likely will continue to fill the pages of Proceedings. Preparing for that competition, building and maintaining readiness, procuring the right platforms and weapons, and leading the Sea Services will dominate the New Year. The best way to avoid war is to prepare for it. Your ideas matter. What do you think the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and the greater national defense community need to focus on now to prepare for and deter a peer-level war? I look forward to hearing what you have to say.
Captain, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Life Member since 1993
Where We Were
December 1918 Proceedings—In “The Duties and Responsibilities of the First Lieutenant,” Captain T. A. Kearney, U.S. Navy, wrote: “It is desirable that the officer to be detailed as first lieutenant of a ship nearing completion and commissioning should be assigned to inspection duty at the builders four to six months prior to commissioning. The position is one of great professional importance; for upon the energy, initiative, and constant follow-up of the first lieutenant rests the determination as to whether the ship is to be a clean, smart, and efficient ship.”
December 1968 Proceedings—In his essay “How Young We Were,” Captain Paul B. Ryan, U.S. Navy (Retired), wrote: “In the years before Pearl Harbor, U.S. strategic philosophy, as crystalized in folklore and popularized by military experts, was picked up by Washington leaders. It became a political habit of mind to assume that the Japanese could never attain victory in the Pacific until the U.S. fleet was sunk—in a battle fought at sea—and that Hawaii was an ‘impregnable fortress.’ Such phrases caused an automatic reflex in Americans, assuring them that even if the Japanese invaded Southeast Asia, they would never provoke an all-out war with the United States.”
December 1993 Proceedings—In “Creating Deployable Harbor Defense,” as the Sea Services prepared to fight along the littorals, Lieutenant R. B. Watts, U.S. Coast Guard, warned, “Ports will not always be the target of conventional ground offensives; however, they would be vulnerable to modern naval special-operations forces and weapons—e.g. midget submarines. Explosives could disable crucial cargo-handling facilities; sinking a ship in a channel or at pierside could close a harbor. Even if the ports are located in friendly nations, the potential for infiltration by special-operations forces or terrorists would be high.”
A. Denis Clift
Golden Life Member