Former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman’s article brought back memories about the 1985 Ocean Safari Exercise, among others, as a pilot in HS-11 on board the USS America (CV-66). We departed Norfolk mid-summer headed for Norway. Following Hurricane David across the North Atlantic was something I will never forget. As we performed our dipping sonar ops, I noted the radar altimeter fluctuating from 70 feet to 5 feet. The waves looked like snowcapped mountains as they rushed toward the helo. I thought there must be a better way to make a living.
Once in Vestfjord, Norway, we proceeded to do some very interesting and challenging flight ops. Using the sheer cliff to starboard, we raced westward parallel to those cliffs conducting flight ops, often as close as a quarter mile from those cliffs. Plane guard was certainly different with granite clouds that close. The theory
was any Soviet forces using radar to target the carrier could not distinguish between the cliffs and the carrier.
We trained hard, we flew hard, and we felt we had commanders who would fight with us and for us. We were not afraid to innovate, not afraid to challenge the elements, and we felt invincible. We knew we would prevail because we had commanders who were committed to warfighting.
—CDR Michael Murray, USN (Ret.)
Something more is needed to support the U.S. strategy and augment our negotiating position: perception management. Perception management involves providing or denying information to the adversary, specifically designed to shape the perceptions of strategy, operations, and capabilities in ways that are beneficial.
Such an effort can be accomplished by a small part-time group of innovative thinkers from among planning, operating, and intelligence organizations, under the control and with the support of the most senior Pentagon Navy leaders and subject to review and approval by senior naval operational commanders. It was tried for the Cold War Maritime Strategy. Did it work? All one can say is that Soviet perceptions of U.S. strategic strength led to the negotiations that ended the Cold War.
“Because deterrence succeeds or fails inside leader’s minds, a successful strategy must target beliefs held by Chinese leaders,” i.e., their perceptions of our strategy. Thus, to be sure that Chinese PLA maritime leaders perceive that the U.S. maritime strategy is a warfighting strategy with robust forces and capabilities and innovative operations and tactics, more is needed. We must manage their perceptions to ensure they see things our way.
There are two reasons why perception management is needed. First, after a maritime strategy has been developed, it will become publicly known and must be deployed and exercised regularly to remain operationally effective. As it is, the adversary’s intelligence organization will be watching, and the adversary’s planners will be developing plans and capabilities to defeat the strategy. Over time, the strategy and its operations will become ineffective.
Second, a variety of techniques can be used to make them perceive that what they see is not all there is and can get them to waste efforts and resources—planning, stationing forces, developing capabilities—that they will never need but must hold in reserve and ready just in case. That will help the strategy “convince an adversary’s leadership that it would be unprofitable . . . to achieve their desired aims.” “Call[ing] into question the assumptions guiding his strategy and forcing him to reassess.”
—CAPT Bill Manthorpe, USN (Ret.)