Small Wars Journal

This Week at War: The Navy's Pacific Problem

My Foreign Policy column discusses how Australia will help the U.S. Navy with its challenges in the South China Sea. But the Navy has deeper problems to fix.


A March 26, Washington Post article discussed a new expansion of the military relationship between the United States and Australia. According to the piece, the U.S. Navy is seeking to expand its ability to operate in the Indian Ocean from Western Australia, which would require a major expansion to a naval base in Perth. The Pentagon also hopes to establish a long-range air reconnaissance base on the Cocos Islands, a remote Australian atoll midway between Perth and Sri Lanka.

This expansion of U.S. military capability into the northeast Indian Ocean quickly follows last year's agreement to permanently station a small force of U.S. Marines near Darwin on the north coast and to expand U.S. access to Australian bases and training ranges.

At the time, I noted that U.S. military power in the western Pacific is concentrated in Japan and South Korea (a legacy of the Cold War) while the emerging area of great power contention -- the South China Sea -- lies 2,000 miles to the south. The U.S. agreements with Australia, combined with a major expansion of military facilities on Guam, are an attempt to bolster the Pentagon's capacity to sustain a larger ongoing presence in the South China Sea and Southeast Asia.

The U.S. interest in the South China Sea is in maintaining free navigation through what is arguably the most important commercial shipping passage in the world. The agreements with Australia and the buildup on Guam are helpful in this regard but insufficient. Ultimately, the Navy will need to provide a sufficiently reassuring presence to the countries bordering the South China Sea in order to prevent various disputes over the sea from threatening routine commerce through it. It remains to be seen whether the Navy will have the capacity and realistic plans to accomplish this mission over the long run.

This week, the Navy sent Congress an update of its 30-year shipbuilding plan, which would continue the trend of an ever-shrinking maritime force. The new plan foresees an average of 298 ships operating over the next 30 years, down from last year's forecast of a 306-ship average. And the plan foresees the Navy buying fewer new ships per year, reinforcing another unfavorable trend. The Congressional Budget Office's evaluation of Navy shipbuilding found those plans underfunded and over-optimistic. A few years ago, the Navy had plans for a 313-ship fleet. The bipartisan Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel called for a fleet of 346 ships. There are no plans to reach either of these targets.

Under Secretary of the Navy Robert Work, in a January 2012 speech to the Surface Navy Association, dismissed concerns about the Navy's shrinking ship count. Work asserted that the Navy's robust plans for long-range air reconnaissance, conducted by new aircraft such as the P-8A Poseidon and a Navy version of the Global Hawk drone, will do much of the routine maritime patrolling previously done by ships. Bases in Australia, the Cocos Islands, and elsewhere in the southwest Pacific would support surveillance of the South China Sea. If ships were required to respond to problems, admirals could send them in as always. But under Work's assumption, fewer ships will be needed for routine patrolling. And with less routine steaming, the Navy will save money and keep its ships better maintained.

The question is whether more aerial maritime reconnaissance and fewer ships making fewer port visits around the South China Sea and elsewhere will provide the reassuring and stabilizing presence that the visible presence of Navy ships has heretofore provided. Work's air reconnaissance doctrine and the Navy's slumping fleet size combine to form a new theory for providing a stabilizing presence in global commons such as the South China Sea. We will know that this theory is not working if the leaders of U.S. allies increase their diplomatic hedging behavior. Regional arms races, another response to a perceived decline in U.S. military power, would be another indication of failure. China's ongoing annual double-digit increases in defense spending and a looming submarine arms race in the region are not good signs.

The Navy's task of providing a stabilizing presence in the South China Sea and elsewhere is further complicated the growing anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile threats. These threats are forcing the Navy and the Air Force to develop new ways of operating against adversaries from longer ranges, where ships and aircraft will be less vulnerable to adversary missiles. The missile threat is also encouraging the Navy and Air Force to rely more on out-of-sight platforms, such as submarines, and long-range stealthy aircraft, which purposely stay as hidden as possible. All of these trends work against the concept of a visible forward presence, which the Navy has used to deter threats to the global commons but which may increasingly become untenable due to adversary missiles.

Ships assigned to "presence duty," for example patrolling the South China Sea and making port visits in the region, will be most at risk from missile attack at the start of a conflict. This fact will increasingly encourage the Navy to hold the most capable and prestigious surface ships, such as its aircraft carriers, out of sight of allies located within adversary missile range. As the missile threat matures, the Navy's new and modestly capable Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), a few of which will be stationed in Singapore, may perform the forward presence mission, showing the flag during peacetime and serving as expendable "trip wires" if shooting breaks out. Meanwhile, the main fleet and other long-range striking power will wait over the horizon and out of sight.

In this case, policymakers in Washington will be counting on the small, fragile, and lightly armed LCSs to inspire awe in U.S. military power. With the new expansion in its relationship with Australia, the Pentagon is groping toward a way to bolster its presence in the South China Sea. As it does so, it will have to figure out how to continue to provide a reassuring naval presence -- something the Navy has done for decades -- while the missile threat to that presence grows. Compounding the problem is a Navy shipbuilding budget under pressure and inadequate for even the now-reduced plans. The Navy's leaders are attempting to devise new tactics and new structures to adapt to a deteriorating situation. But will those measures be sufficient to reassure allies and deter potential adversaries?



I agree with Carl’s succinct responses including the concluding paragraph’s perceptive statement that: “There really isn't anything new here. We just have forgotten what sea fighting actually entails.”

Col. Robert C. Jones however raises some interesting points in his queries. At the tactical level, should a battle between naval forces take place ships like aircraft and armored vehicles have some degree of vulnerability and some may be to a successful attack. It is a mathematical fact of naval warfare. Conceptually, therefore, escort vessels protecting a Task Force’s most valued assets such as aircraft carriers, amphibious ships, supply ships, etc. will be optimally assigned in numbers needed to protect all points on the compass with back up accompanying escorts to replace those lost, at least in the ideal situation—rarely met given the scarcity of resources generally impacting all branches of the armed forces.

Surface fleets are only “insanely” vulnerable to diesel subs and air launched missiles when they lack sufficient destroyer or cruiser type escort vessels carrying standard defensive weaponry for combatting submarines, attack aircraft, and incoming missiles. A dilemma exemplified by the small size of naval task force was that sent by the Royal Navy against the Argentinians during their Falkland’s War. An undersized task force that would have been vulnerable to massed air attacks or submarines during transit had the Argentinians been perceptive enough to employ their resources in that manner.

Submarines have been the weapon of choice for weaker nations lacking the industrial base to build large numbers of ships. Subs have been use to challenge larger and more capable surface fleets since World War I, yet despite some initial tactical successes against unprepared opponents they have never succeeded in driving surface fleets from the oceans.

One of the U.S. Navy’s primary missions is Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). Rarely discussed outside the Navy major emphasis is placed on developing and improving the technical capabilities and tactics used to hunt down and destroy submarines. It is technical and systematic warfare, major parts of which are / or at least were kept secret. Absent a local commander’s lack of preparedness or plain stupidity diesel submarines will be on the losing end of that game.

Shore based anti-ship missile platforms are simply the technically improved coast artillery of the 21st Century. Just another technical challenge that will be nullified using combinations of ECM, high speed radar, computer power for tracking and targeting of the incoming missile and its launch platform, and a combination of defensive and offensive weapons systems all located on the same ship.

For anyone interested there are a series of lengthy articles concerning the capabilities and controversies of the LCS provided by Defense Industry Daily. Each article has links to additional articles. See…. From a detailed and technical prospective, the operating controversies surrounding this class of ship is well documented in this free article.

If the LCS is meant to be a replacement for MSO’s (Mine Sweepers capable of crossing the Ocean) and FFG’s (Frigates previously called Destroyer Escorts used primarily for ASW and smaller volume Naval Gunfire Support (NGFS) for ground forces, and if they are stable platforms when operating on the Ocean—a much rougher ride than many realize, that is one thing, however, if they are intended to be a replacement for Cruisers and larger destroyers that will prove to be a serious problem.

Finally, it is impossible for a nation to sustain a strong navy without a strong industrial base. This country’s industrial base continues to be moved offshore and that spells disaster for our being able to sustain a capable navy over the long term. Too many components of the LCS are provided by foreign sources. First Lord of the British Admiralty, Sir John Fisher faced that same problem at the turn of the previous centuries and realized that if England’s industrial based continued to wither away (move elsewhere) they would someday not be able to build the ships the RN needed. He also realized that England’s tax base benefited substantially from Industry and the replacing financial and services businesses would not provide the amount of funds for the level of expenditures necessary to maintain a strong navy. He also faced a parliament whose members had lost interest in funding their Navy’s worldwide missions. This country is entering / has entered into that same economic and political dilemma. Manufacturing and its payroll provided the funds needed not only for our country’s social programs, but for all components of our military as well as providing employment for the engineers and scientists we need to develop our rather advanced weapons systems---whether they be ships, nuclear submarines, fire finder radar driven artillery, the laser based targeting system on the M-1 tank, the F-22, anti-missile defense components, etc. After losing its homeland located industrial base England went from being a world power to a third rate power at best despite the competency of their servicemen. This country is traveling down the same road. Will this nation restore its manufacturing base or will it resize downward its military, their missions, and change our relationships with many so called current allies. However, that question obviously is outside the scope of the Small Wars issues?

Move Forward

Sun, 04/01/2012 - 10:18pm

Everyone likes to bash the LCS. Yet it eventually will be able to counter subs, small boats, and mines...three primary threats described in the article and owned by realistic threats. At a small price per ship in crew and dollars, it can thwart pirates and terrorists in the vicinity of Yemen and Somalia. It can prevent both near the Straits of Malacca. It can assist the coast guard in countering drug runners. Most of all it can be part of the advertised "force for good" that is more likely than any repeat of Midway. When was the last major ship-on-ship battle? Compare that to how many major earthquake tragedies there were in the past decade?

What is neglected in all this talk is that few country's even attempt to compete in the air or sea with us because they cannot win and cannot afford the air/sea assets. In addition, Cold War threats like North Korea remain a threat that air/sea power could not thwart alone. In fact, while some measure of normalcy exists between the U.S. and Russia/China, that is anything but the case with North Korea. How will AirSea Battle bomb key infrastructure of a nation that has none? How will they bomb unseen infiltrators? Only South Korean and U.S. ground forces can battle infiltrators in the south without extensive collateral damage.

The few nations that can afford air/sea assets and missiles in substantial numbers are deterred by MAD or gross overmatch in conventional capability (Iran and DPRK). So why are Russia and China going to launch those A2AD missiles when it might start WWIII? Add to the deterrence the simple reality of mutual dependence for trade and open sea routes for oil and manufactured goods. Who's trade ports are more at risk of mining and bombing if the Chinese start launching missiles? Whose oil supplies are more at risk of being stopped? How long would the week long traffic jam be if we bombed a few Chinese highways and rails at night?

Now consider the cross-domain effects offered by stealthy F-35s launched from big and small carriers. These aircraft can use JSOW to sink any ship well before any surface ship detects them, if ever. They can do the same to any missile assets or air defenses launched from close to coasts. They can sink amphibious ships attempting to cross to Taiwan, and any supply ships that go there if they do get forces on the island.

We know we can use the F-35 because we are selling it to allies. Have we used the F-22 yet? No, perhaps because of perceived loss of secrecy regarding signatures. So if we decide to replace all our B-1s and B-52H with B-3s, will we ever use them or will it become another closet asset that we are too afraid to use. We already saw what happens when we use stealth UAS over bad guy territory. Do we want to risk losing such technology found on a B-3?

As for A2/AD, in a recent analysis, numerous quotes of the Chief of Naval Operations stated that he was not overly fearful of the DF-21D ASBM. Nobody can dispute that our subs and counter-sub capabilities far surpass any other nation. Having a trip wire like the LCS has benefits if it exposes only 75 instead of 200 or 300 on a frigate or destroyer. It can launch the same number of helicopters as either larger surface ship. It can be more places with the same numbers of sailors. It essentially is the Combat Outpost of the seas, able to be cued by aerial assets like P-8 and BAMS to areas where subs or surface ships/piracy may be a problem.

It also has great potential for future upgrades. It very easily could support SOF at a fraction of the cost of a Virginia class sub while providing air access for SOF helicopters not available on a sub. I liked Bill M's idea of a semi-submersible that could raise up higher in the water to allow helicopters to use it as a lily pad for island hopping. Use the cross-domain ideas of the Joint Operational Access Concept...and don't leave out the ground component. Predators/Gray Eagles/Reapers could launch from the Cocos Islands and Philippines at a fraction of the cost of a BAMS or Global Hawk. The Army has a history associated with the Philippines and would be less susceptible than Naval or Air Force assets on those islands.


Mon, 04/02/2012 - 7:46pm

In reply to by Bill M.


I think with ships it is different than with airplanes. If the ship is seaworthy enough to stay afloat and keep the cargo from getting wet, it is seaworthy enough to keep the men alive. I don't think there is much extra cost associated with keeping the ship habitable. What extra cost there may be might be exceeded by the costs of having a fully radio controlled ship.

Airplanes are different. An airplane, the vehicle itself, can fly along fine at 35,000 feet and depending on what it is carrying, so can what it is carrying. Fuel, motors, a wing and space to put things, not much else is needed. But if you want to put men in it and keep them alive, you have to make a very different design and that will cost.

But even with airplanes, when you figure in the total costs including systems, ground controllers needed and the fact that drones crash an awful lot, they aren't much, if at all cheaper than manned aircraft.

Drones of any kind have their place but they are vastly overrated.

Bill M.

Sun, 04/01/2012 - 8:28pm

In reply to by CBCalif

While I appreciate Bob's arguments, I find his logic questionable in a couple of regards. First, the fact that our ships are vulnerable is one reason we need more. Our ships were vulnerable in WWII, but that didn't stop the US Navy from eventually dominating the seas. The impact of losing 50 ships in combat is significantly greater for a 300 ship Navy than a 500 ship plus Navy. Furthermore, unlike WWII we no longer have the industrial base to rapidly replace ships lost in combat. Mass allows us to within some punishment, and since we haven't fought a major Naval engagement since WWII (to my knowledge) and endured those types of losses I suspect some lessons are long forgotten. The fact that our Navy is/was so strong in my view deterred other nations from pursuing building strong Navies (except the Soviets)because they knew they couldn't compete in the maritime medium. When we're talking major investments like this, we're talking years, so we can't base our risk off the current strategic reality, but have to make some assumptions about the future (they're generally always flawed, but a process we're obligated to go through), and I agree with CB as do many others Russia is re-emergent and a potential challenger in the out years. We can no longer rapidly build a Navy quickly in response to current realities, so we need to start building now for future possibilities (within reason).

Two, maintaining a strong Navy may prevent a Navy arm's race among nations that currently assume the U.S. will underwrite global maritime security. I agree some of that responsibility should be shared, as we're seeing off the Horn of Africa, but we all know the through, by and with (sharing) has very real limits when it comes time for other nations to actually invest in and then employ military assets. Each nation will decide based on its perceptions of its national interests, not ours, and even among our closest friends those interests will not always align.

Third, I agree with Bob that disruptive technologies can change the picture dramatically, and it is possible that some weapons may eventually severely limit the impact of the future Navy, but that is true for Air, Ground, Space and Cyber also. Agreed the future fleets need to evolve based on known and projected threat technologies. While not a sailor, I would think it would be possible to have unmanned supply ships in the future, that can travel fast, even while semi-submersed to lower the risk of detection and attack, to link up with manned fleets to resupply them. The savings could be substantial, you only design a ship to transport goods, not sustain human life.

Bottom line I have a lot of concerns about the new Defense Strategic Guidance. It seems based on rather hopeful assumptions about the future.


Mon, 04/02/2012 - 6:29pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Robert C. Jones:

1. Surface ships will always be needed. The bigger the war the more will be needed. Only surface ships can defend other ships against air attack and only surface ships can carry ABM systems. Only surface ships can carry large cargo loads economically. Surface ships are much better suited to combat small surface ships and I think it would be very hard to stop, board and search a surface ship with a sub. Bill M. is right. We had better relearn the lesson that if you are going to fight at sea, you will lose ships. And you had better have enough ships so you can lose some or many and still keep on fighting.

2. Japan probably can secure its own interests in Korea. But if they do, how likely will they be to field nukes of their own in order to do so? That may not be something we would like to see.

3. If China and Taiwan re-unite amicably, no big deal. However, if China were to take Taiwan by force or threat of force, that would be a very big deal. For if that were to happen it would mean either that Red China defeated the USN or they forced us to stand aside while they had their way with a formal ally. The only way either one of those could happen is if we were so weak as to be shoved around at will. The world would notice that and make accommodations accordingly and we probably would not like it.

4. You're right about the LCS. What exactly is it good for?

5. China and the US both need free sea trade in peacetime. In wartime, God forbid there will be one, we need to be able to stop their imports. They will try to prevent that. That is not a shared mission.

6. I don't know about the British Empire, but in order for us to field an adequate navy, we need a strong economy obviously. That is mostly a matter of domestic political policy which is far beyond the scope of our discussions.

Navies aren't any stronger or weaker than they used to be and they are just as expensive as ever. Subs have been around for 100 years and guided missiles have been around since the early 40s. We withstood and prevailed against the most sustained and lethal guided missile campaign in history at Okinawa. There really isn't anything new here. We just have forgotten what sea fighting actually entails.

Robert C. Jones

Sun, 04/01/2012 - 4:25pm

In reply to by CBCalif


I begin by affirming that I recognize that America is a Maritime nation, and that in times of peace, such as we enjoy now, our nation needs to weight its defense investments toward Naval (and more modernly, Space, Air, and a wise mix of Cyber and SOF) power, and can assume risk in going short on land power. Continental powers don't have that luxury, so must maintain larger ground forces as that is their most existential threat as well.

But I have to admit, your argument goes back and forth against itself:

1. Surface fleets are insanely vulnerable to relatively cheap diesel subs and missiles, so we need a larger surface fleet?

2. Because Japan can secure its own intersts in regard to a potential Korean threat, we need to stay the course in Korea?

3. We lose face if China re-unifies with Taiwan; though we recognize that Taiwan is part of China?

4. Littoral Combat Ships are of little value as a ship of the line (and cannot launch, recover or general support SEALs either), yet that is the ship the Navy invested in?

5. China and the US both need to be able to move oil from the middle east, and all manner of trade goods back and forth across the Pacific to each other to maintain our economies; so we need a large navy to defend against China? (Why would this not be a shared interest and shared mission?)

6. Now you do raise an interesting point as to how Britain raised money, taking the profits from their vast empire to fund various sides of continental conflicts to keep things in a general balance that kept any one side from becomeing too strong. But not only was their declining revenues at home, but the cost of Empire went up as well as Britain entered the 20th century, unitl it became unprofitable altogether and was converted to a common wealth. Also Britain NEVER paid retail, and frankly, never paid wholesale either. Great examples being the pennies on the pound they paid for Iranian oil, and the forcing of China to take opium in exchange for tea; all efforts to keep their capital at home. The US, on the other hand, has enriched despots and elevated the economies of others around the globe by paying retail for everything. We too face a cash crunch as to how we might continue to fund a system of global naval control.

Maybe it is time to rely more on Air, Space and other means that provide more bang for the buck than the old stand by of naval power. Probably not for another generation, but such a shift is likely coming. So now we find ourselves trying to fund it all. A wartime Army though we are not a nation at war; a globally dominant navy, though we could share that mission with others, dominant Air, Space, Cyber and SOF as well. All on a shrinking budget. All the more reason to take a hard look at what our interest really are, where they are, who we share them with, and begin to rebalance and refocus for the world (and economy) we live in and with today. This is not "abandoning," this is making sure we are not the ones standing there without a chair when the music stops.

This calls for a major top down review of our entire security structure. The latest strategic guidance is largely a half-measure. It adds missions without taking old ones away (other than large-scale COIN ala Iraq/Afg), and says to rely more on sea, space, air, cyber and SOF; but does not really get at what policies and diplomatic changes will also be made to help balance the books.

Yes, we need a strong navy, but as you point out, even strong navies are much weaker than they used to be, and many nations are fielding the very subs and missiles you talked about...

We live in challenging times.

A former Naval Officer who spent much of his deployed time in the Western Pacific (Westpac) area, both in the Northern areas, the South China Sea, and in the vicinity of Singapore region near the Straits of Malacca, I agree with the tenor of this paper and the commentary by Bill M.

To those comments I would first add that those who believe the Russian Navy will not rise again (as it did under Admiral Gorshkov in our post-Vietnam era) and that it no longer poses a someday to reappear geo-political threat to our interests are doomed to one future day see high seas history repeat itself. One should note that the Russians are resupplying Syria by sea as we debate this issue and remember that Putin has promised to aid China in the event of a naval clash over Taiwan. While the Chinese are probably not interested in his assistance and currently it is essentially a hollow threat—give the Russians time. In addition, from a maritime strategy perspective it would be foolish to disregard our naval commitment to the Mediterranean Sea area which of course is closer to the Russian Naval Base at Sevastopol. And don’t count on the Turk’s to have the courage or interest to block the Bosphorus on our behalf.

The Navy is one branch of the military where both the number and technical quality of its assets count. All the strategic thinking, deployment strategies, technical advancements, etc. are not a substitute for numbers of ships. The sea is large and deep providing an enemy so many places to appear and reappear, it would exhaust and doom a smaller force should they need to contest opponents (especially those submarine based) in multiple areas at once.

Remember what happened to the Russian Navy during the Russo-Japanese War. Pre-war, they had strategically elected to maintain most of their naval forces in their Northern European and Black Sea ports and had stationed few ships in their Pacific ports. As a result they had to hurriedly transfer fleet assets into the Pacific Ocean area where an awaiting enemy sunk their transiting ships. This is the day and age of the very quiet electric diesel submarine. There are only so many transit points to a distant theater, even if one has bases along the way.

If the Argentinians had possessed just a few of today’s electric diesel boats, they could have quietly positioned them between the Falklands and the British advertised use of the Canary Islands staging area. Even if sacrificed, they only needed to sink a few ships on which the British relied upon to transport their troops and supplies and that conflict would have had a different result. Further, if the Argentinians had concentrated their land based air power and simultaneously sent large numbers of those bomb and Exocet missile carrying planes against the English fleet off the Falklands they could have overwhelmed the Royal Navy and again it would have only required the loss of several key supply and transport ships and their Aircraft Carrier to have defeated the British effort in that war.

You can rest assured our enemies (current or potential) have studied that conflict and learned lessons from it.

Given our need for Middle-Eastern oil (as the currently controlling political party refuses to exploit our actually massive oil reserves), our economy’s dependence on manufacturing goods from China and Southeast Asia, our need to insure stability on the Korean Peninsula else Japan will go nuclear for self-protection, our commitment to Taiwan the loss of which would make us look even weaker to our enemies (real or potential) around the globe, our need to secure access to the Middle East from the Mediterranean Sea to at least secure Europe’s access to oil, our need to insure that Israel is never placed in a position where they feel a need to use their large and far ranging nuclear weapons resources requires we have a strong naval presence over the globe.

Littoral Combat Ships pose little threat, if any, to our enemies. They are the equivalent the gunboats and monitors of the 1800’s or the Yangtze River gunboats of the 1930’s when it comes to force capability, and every Naval Officer realizes that fact. They will be basically useless in any future conflict. They are to small with too little fire power.

This country is faced with the same naval force situation / Maritime Strategy dilemma that the Royal Navy faced at the end of the Nineteenth Century. To secure their country against the rising Sea Power of several continental nations, especially Germany, and to secure their trade routes with their worldwide colonies the British required a large fleet. During the mid to later 1800’s England had been an industrial nation, whose output generated large sums via taxation for their government, thereby providing adequate funds for the Royal Navy’s ever more costly ships. Naval ships were undergoing major technological advances in size, engineering, and firepower at that time. However, by the late 1800’s Britain’s industrial might had declined and her economy was becoming / would become a services / financial based. As a result, Britain was losing her industrial capacity which was negatively affecting that nation’s ability to design and build warships technically or structurally adequate for their mission. In addition, that nation’s ever shrinking tax base was depriving it of the funds needed to build sufficient numbers of ships required to successfully compete with the types of naval vessels (surface and submarines) the Royal Navy’s enemies were constructing and deploying. Strategically and economically the Royal Navy faced the same conceptual problem faced by the U.S. Navy today. See “Sir John Fisher's Naval Revolution (Studies in Maritime History)” by Nicholas A. Lambert (Aug 1, 2002) for an excellent treatment of this RN dilemma. Britain’s eventual failure to solve its economic problems and its strategic elections would eventually lead to the almost impotently sized Royal Navy Fleet of the current era and end Britain’s position as a world power. This country is headed in that same direction.

A 298 ship fleet cannot adequately complete the missions that require a 500+ ship fleet, regardless of the allegedly brilliant strategic thinking of those in the Pentagon—who now find themselves in the unenviable situation that once faced Admiral Sir John Fisher. This nation’s future as a world power hangs in the balance and the outlook is not one that is positive.

The requirements for Naval Power in Northeast Asia are as great, if not greater, than ever. These security missions are not based on the Cold War, but on current and projected challenges to U.S. national and global interests. Obviously the current posture of U.S. forces in the PACOM region is largely based on Cold War missions, which is completely understandable. The U.S. is smartly exploring options for realigning that posture to better cover the entire area of responsibility which covers two oceans and numerous seas. It is very misleading to dismiss NE Asia as a legacy region, it is still the most strategic region in the world (the largest economies, the largest militaries, growing tensions), but rest the AOR is also important, so the challenge is finding the right balance. Obviously the math problem becomes more challenging when you're asked to cover more area with fewer assets.

While the Navy is an expensive force to maintain, but no other service contributes more to securing our global economic interests. Reducing the number of ships without developing and employing the advanced technologies needed to mitigate the reduction in ships seems a bit risky.

Bill M.

Sat, 03/31/2012 - 8:03pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Who said the mission shifted south? That seems to be a figment of your imagination. The national guidance is to piviot to the Asia-Pacific, largely due the fact that our economic interests in that region are critical to our security. So obviously that doesn't mean to ignore the most strategically important region in the Asia-Pacific, rather it does mean to "expand" the focus to include the rest of the Asia-Pacific, not shift the focus from one point to the other. We're not talking about maneuvering tactical units, but implementing a comprehensive strategy.

Bill M.

Sat, 03/31/2012 - 8:03pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Who said the mission shifted south? That seems to be a figment of your imagination. The national guidance is to piviot to the Asia-Pacific, largely due the fact that our economic interests in that region are critical to our security. So obviously that doesn't mean to ignore the most strategically important region in the Asia-Pacific, rather it does mean to "expand" the focus to include the rest of the Asia-Pacific, not shift the focus from one point to the other. We're not talking about maneuvering tactical units, but implementing a comprehensive strategy.

Robert C. Jones

Sat, 03/31/2012 - 7:50pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell


Not lecturing, just trying to answer your question.

The country we need to "handle things right" with is China. Too many are interpreting the "pivot" as a call to shift from containing the Russians to one of containing China. As China rises so does US influence in the Asia-Pacific region. We see it happening now. We do not need to contain China so much as we need to find points of shared interest, such as stability on the Korean Peninsula, or open access for commerce through the Malacca Straights and the South China Sea.

I appreciate the history and friction between China, Korea and Japan. Yes, we need to play a balancing role that helps maintain peace between those countries, but we do that best by not being overly in bed with any one of the three.

But I am not convinced of this criticality of the Korean peninsula. Why is it so critical? To the US and our interests, why is it so critical? There are no vital resources there, it controls no key terrain, and the country has the wherewithal to provide their own security against the North.

I grow weary of good Cold Warriors wheeling out the "abandon" word anytime anyone suggests we need to update our security alliances for the world that exists today, rather than the one we envisioned in 1945. Such thinking puts our nation at risk far more than it helps to secure it.

Being overly wed to the Saudis and the Israelies creates unneccessary troubles for the US as well, to include much of the rationale behind the attacks of 9/11. We need to "update" not "abandon" old alliances. Part of that updating is adopting a greater flexibilty that reduces our likelihood of being dragged into a regional conflict against our will.

I think President Washington had it right in his farewell address. I think President Washington would be shocked by how little we have done to update our post Cold War foregin policy to create greater flexibility and less risk of foreign entanglement.

I don't know what the right answer is, but I have not heard a convincing argument by anyone regarding US policy on Korea, or Taiwan for that matter. We are on the cusp of an additional 500B budget cut. Cutting outdated policies is far smarter than cutting more programs and force structure. Currently we just keep adding more requirements. Time to cut some as well.

Powerful countries have a reasonable sphere of influence. Ours is not the whole world, and everyone elses is not their national borders. We need to figure out how to allow others to exert reasonable influence and determine what is reasonable (necessary and affordable) for ourselves as well.

Dave Maxwell

Sat, 03/31/2012 - 5:25pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Thanks for the lecture Bob. I think I understand a little bit about alliances and I know they are not "friendships.". But you can patronize me all you like. I do not make a case for the alliance out of any sense of loyalty to Korea becuase of long service there. What happens on the Korean Peninsula is going to have global effects but I know that does not fit in your model for foreign affairs and foreign policy. All our Asian friends and allies are watching how we are going to handle things especially in light of whatever the Asian Pivot turns out to mean.. And if we do not handle things right on the Peninsula with our Korean allies as well as in the region with our Japanese allies we are not going to have much credibility in any kind of shift to the South. You are right that there must be the right balance but you do not get balance by abandoning one or more allies and going where you would rather be. Alliances are not about friendship but they are about trust and commitment and when we make alliances that are in our interest as the ROK and Japanese alliances are, then we need to think through the implications of reducing our commitment or abandoning them altogether.

Robert C. Jones

Sat, 03/31/2012 - 4:37pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell


I advocate a focus on shared interests. I advocate developing and posturing forces for the world we live in today. Even DURING the Korean conflict the necessity of our involvement was a very debatable (and hotly debated) intervention.

Do the South Koreans still need our help to deter the North Koreans? Do they lack the economic capacity to counter the economic might of North Korea?? Somehow I suspect they can handle this on their own, but are happy to have the US continue to cover the bulk of a cost that is rightly theirs to bear. The same is true in Europe with our NATO allies.

Alliances are not "friendships." This is not high school. No, we should not abuse our allies, but we abuse them more by dragging them off to engage in US operations where they have no interest than we do by reducing our commitments to them where we no longer have the same interests we had when the relationship began.

So yes, I believe a strong case can be made that Korea is an obsolete requirement. Much easier than the case to prove that it is still an interest so vital that we would go to war simply because North Korea wants us to and decides to act out.

It is time for a hard look at US interests; and an equally hard look at how a major power focuses on shared interests and temporary alliances over shared ideologies and enduring alliances.

As to why people believe sustaining the current status of the ROK-US alliance, there are many reasons. I know you have a long personal history of service there. Loyalty is an admirable trait. My only point is that our number one loyalty belongs to our own popualce and national survival; and I'm not sure that our current degree of dedication to the Korea mission still serves that larger purpose.

Dave Maxwell

Sat, 03/31/2012 - 3:53pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

So is Korea the obsolete requirement? Do you advocate abandoning an alliance just because it was begun in the Cold War? What might be the effects in other alliances when we abandon that one? Jist because someone supports the ROK-US alliance does that mean that person has a "Cold War mind set"?

Robert C. Jones

Sat, 03/31/2012 - 3:31pm

The obvious answer is that if the mission has shifted south, to shift those forces dedicated to the northern, Cold War, missions south as well.

For the Navy to simply say the mission has grown and we need more ships is the wrong mindset. The Navy needs to go to Congress and the Administration and say "the mission has shifted south, and we need relieved of these obsolete requirements in the north."

This is not a problem of inadequate Navy capacity, this is a problem of our inablility to free our minds of our Cold War mind-set.

I would be curious as to whether or not the Navy plans to screen any amphibious readiness group (ARG) out on float. . .or do they even care to?

Additionally, I found the phrase "modest capability" to describe the LCS amusing. . .tact once being described as a leadership trait to me.