Gates Channels CSBA’s Big Brains Warning Navy Ships Risk Becoming Wasting Assets

Ask Washington’s defense cognoscenti to name the most influential think tank in town and I wager most would say the Center for New American Security (CNAS). While that may be true in terms of shaping the counterinsurgency strategy being applied in the current wars, when it comes to leaving a lasting mark on the future size and shape of the military, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made clear in his speech yesterday at the Navy League’s annual conference that the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) is the real brain trust.

At his first appearance before the Navy fraternity, Gates delivered what will be remembered as the beginning of the most radical transformation of the Navy since the fleet peaked at 592 ships in 1989 and then promptly shrunk. Actually, what’s coming is likely to be even more “radical” as the post-Cold War demobilization hit the fleet with proportional cuts across all platforms. Gates wants to change the fleet’s very makeup. And he cribbed heavily from CSBA in his speech outlining the plan.

Gates began by reminding his audience of the size and striking power of the current battle fleet. “It is important to remember that, as much as the U.S. battle fleet has shrunk since the end of the Cold War, the rest of the world’s navies have shrunk even more. So, in relative terms, the U.S. Navy is as strong as it has ever been,” he said. That bit, and the assessment of the fleet’s comparative combat power that followed, is straight out of Bob Work’s CSBA monograph, “The U.S. Navy: Charting a Course for Tomorrow’s Fleet” (.pdf). Work of course has since left CSBA and is now navy undersecretary.

Gates borrowed from CSBA president Andrew Krepinevich’s Foreign Affairs article, “The Pentagon’s Wasting Assets,” when he said the U.S. “virtual monopoly” on precision weapons is eroding, long-range precision anti-ship missiles are proliferating, putting carriers and “other large, multi-billion dollar blue-water surface combatants” at risk of becoming “wasting assets.”

Gates described changes underway in naval warfighting, where the fleet will face enemies in the shallow littorals at the low end and sophisticated land based battle networks at the high end. CSBA is big on the implications of sophisticated battle networks, a spin on Russian military theorist’s reconnaissance strike complexes.

The emerging joint Navy-Air Force AirSea Battle concept is a good start, he said, but changes must also be made it the fleet’s makeup. “The Navy will need numbers, speed, and the ability to operate in shallow water, especially as the nature of war in the 21st century pushes us toward smaller, more diffuse weapons and units that increasingly rely on a series of networks to wage war.” What platform does he have in mind? LCS of course, because its cheap enough to be built in large numbers and can go places “too dangerous for the Navy’s big, blue-water surface combatants.” He also wants more patrol coastal vessels, joint high-speed vessels and a riverine squadron.

At the high-end, to operate in the face of enemy battle networks, Gates said investment must be shifted to systems that can “see and strike deep,” particularly unmanned. In his view, the answer to the anti-access challenge is not to steam carrier strike groups within range of an enemy’s precision missile batteries. Rather than try to roll back an enemy’s missile defenses using carrier strike and large surface combatants, stealthy means must be found to crack that nut. That will require, “A submarine force with expanded roles that is prepared to conduct more missions deep inside an enemy’s battle network.”

“Do we really need eleven carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?” Can the U.S. afford $11 billion carriers, he asked. Pentagon sources tell us he has already made the decision to cut carriers; the question at this point is how many.

Some big, if sometimes subtle signals were sent to the Marine Corps. For years the Marines have been serving as a second land army, he said. “Their critical work well inland will be necessary for the foreseeable future.” That “well inland” point is hard to miss.

This bit was not so subtle:

“No doubt, it was a real strategic asset during the first Gulf War to have a flotilla of Marines waiting off Kuwait City – forcing Saddam’s army to keep one eye on the Saudi border, and one eye on the coast. But we have to take a hard look at where it would be necessary or sensible to launch another major amphibious landing again – especially as advances in anti-ship systems keep pushing the potential launch point further from shore.”

The Marine’s costly coral crawler, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, is not likely to survive the next few budget cycles, if Gates sticks around. The Marines were able to hold the line on amphibs in the QDR and are trying to wait out Gates on EFV. That strategy is probably not going to work.

Gates made clear that DOD is not safe from the budget cutting proclivities of the deficit hawks in Washington egged on by big government hating tea partiers. We’re hearing from sources that Gates was so pleased with the way his massive program cuts turned out last spring that he’s planning a repeat performance for the 2012 budget. Of course this isn’t the first time deficit hawks cut the defense budget which in turn led to deep cuts in fleet size. Remember “Navy Secretary” James Webb?

— Greg Grant

  • blight

    solomon: I remember Carl Meyer (G2mil guy) made a comment about married troops as well, saying that people might even “marry” just for the perks. I don’t see how any other personnel costs can be cut, though G2mil made a big fuss about how to consolidate units and the like to free up large bodies of troops, either to man new units or to draw down the fat.

  • Tony C

    Only a matter of time before the Marines are moved from the Department of the Navy to the Department of the Army. Then there will be two land forces to choose from and there won’t be ay amphibious requirements. Semper Fi meets Big Red One will be a real brawl for who gets control. My bet is on the Marines or their entire officer corps will resign in protest.

  • William C.

    He wants to drop under 11 CBGs? Retire one of the Nimtiz class a decade early? What the hell is wrong with this man?

    592 ships in 1989. We can damn well afford a 300 ship Navy, social welfare be damned.

    Even if the Marines can’t assault a beach defended by a modern Army. They should still be able to assault a beach defended by a weaker force who lacks Mach 3 anti-ship missiles. They still need something to replace the AAVP-7A1.

  • Jeff N

    I think Gates will push for the type of mixed traditional and asymetrical fighting ships many scholars are theorizing. That the number of ships won’t decrease but we’ll see a lot of smaller ships with smaller crews taking on new more targeted roles.

  • SMSgt Mac

    Heh. If CNAS is a ‘player’ among the “insiders”, we definitely need better insiders.
    I think of them more as a sort of ‘New School’ CDI.

  • rjd

    Remember to the Obama-left a weaker America is actually a good thing — we won’t be tempted to use military power as much. Spain and Britain treat terrorism as a law-enforcement problem … because they have no other choice. They no longer possess the military might to force their will on another country. Obama wants us to treat terrorism as a law-enforcement problem. The smaller and weaker our military gets, the more we will be forced to do just that.

    • S.O.L.

      The idea that the left (and Obama is far from the left, he’s a moderate who would have been right of Barry Goldwater on many issues) wants the U.S. weaker is absurd. Even counting for inflation, our 2011 military budget (or “Obama’s Budget” if you prefer) at 708.2 Billion is the largest since WWII. We have by far the largest military budget in the world with some estimates putting our spending at 41.5% of the entire planet’s spending.

      There are many forms of strength and many ways to project power. I also feel that I pay quite enough taxes and there needs to be cuts. Lets just make sure there smart. We all know there is remarkable waste in the military. It needs to be trimmed and we need a budget and a force structure that makes sense.

    • Steve B.

      “Remember to the Obama-left a weaker America is actually a good thing”

      Typical right wing thinking, or lack of it.

      Obama RAMPED UP the fight in Afghanistan, correctly recognizing the threat terrorism from that region means to the US. Remember that Gates was SoD under Bush and it took a president with a brain to keep Gates on, for all the correct reasons. Where were all you right wing nut jobs when Rumsfeld was ignoring the advice of his generals, as he set the tone and limits of the Iraq war and disaster that followed. And Bush let him do this.

      The result of the stupidity and lack of strategic thinking on the part of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld in seeing the real threat, was a 6 year delay and what - 4,000 US servicemen killed in Iraq, when they should have been concentrating on Afghanistan. Obama saw this from the beginning and is now cleaning up the mess that his predecessor left.

      SB

      • rjd

        You might want to read some of the Obama-left's own writing someday. They are pretty explicit in wanting America to have a smaller, weaker military so that we won't be tempted to go barging all over the world.

        But hey, hurling an insult is easier than learning, right?

      • STemplar

        Debating Iraq is pretty silly in regards to Navy budgets. I would counter were l too, that AQ was knocked for a loop in the end of 2001 and seeking a refuge. Zarqawi traveling to the Ansar Al Islam cantonment within Hussein's sphere of control was a disturbing indication that AQ might seek to ally itself with Hussein. Some sort of intervention was likely to be inevitable as Hussein certainly wasn't allergic to financing the wave of suicide bombings in Israel leading up to the Iraq war. He certainly would have leveraged an alliance with AQ to his advantage.

    • S.O.L.

      The idea that the left (and Obama is far from the left, he's a moderate who would have been right of Barry Goldwater on many issues) wants the U.S. weaker is absurd. Even counting for inflation, our 2011 military budget (or “Obama's Budget” if you prefer) at 708.2 Billion is the largest since WWII. We have by far the largest military budget in the world with some estimates putting our spending at 41.5% of the entire planet's spending.

      There are many forms of strength and many ways to project power. I also feel that I pay quite enough taxes and there needs to be cuts. Lets just make sure there smart. We all know there is remarkable waste in the military. It needs to be trimmed and we need a budget and a force structure that makes sense.

  • ArkadyRenko

    Here is a question that opponents of carriers, in light of the Anti Ship Ballistic Missile threat, must answer. Where do they plan to get their air support in the Pacific from? Are they going to fly off of Guam? Odds are, in the first hours of a general war in the Pacific, Guam will be paved with cruise missiles and long range ballistic missiles. Sure, the US may have placed a Patriot batter, with its 64 missiles or so, but China, if their deployment of SRBMs near Taiwan is any indication, is not afraid to go big.

    The net effect is this, the carrier may be the only survivable airfield in the Pacific Rim. Land fields will have to constantly fend off missile attacks and repair their planes. To make it worse, those fields will, given American basing trends, not have hardened shelters and fighters there will be prey to any sub-munition attack.

    Yes, the Carrier will face a new threat. But, Carriers have an undeniable advantage over land bases, they can hide in the ocean. Carrier groups will need to be restructured to fit these long range threats. And, carrier capable UAVs, with a range above 1500 nm, are necessary.

    However, to argue that the carrier is obsolete in the modern ocean avoids another, easier conclusion. That any airbase near the conflict area will be even more obsolete, unless the USAF and the Army want to buy SAMs, in sufficient numbers, to avoid being overwhelmed.

  • STemplar

    I think people are confusing a forced entry with amphib ops in general. I think what Gates is saying about the EFV is that one, it is silly expensive and has problems (which it is and does) and two, do we really need enough to move the equivalent of a Regiment?

    Putting forces ashore for peacekeeping is different than storming Iwo Jima, that is what the EFV is for. LCACs can move anything ashore. The questions is what coastline even exists in this world that is defended and would require that capability? I can't think of any place off the top of my head in the world that is fortified and would require a regiment of Marines to storm it.

    I can think of a lot of places where we might need to deploy from off shore into a potentially hostile area, but none that are going to result in a pitched large scale battle on the beach.

  • @7thwave

    LOL! LOL! at SOL and Steve B’s comments. What a bunch of over thinking nut jobs. Just as Defense sec Gates is wanting to restructure the military into a smaller, less mobile, less capable fighting force, the current way of thinking these two exhibit is very dangerous indeed. Weapons systems are expensive to maintain. Our defense budget is way high. But, do you two know just how much money is wasted on needless domestic and foreign give away programs? Do you realize right now your precious tax dollars are being given away to Yemen to support a failing government that will eventually fail, and the training and weapon systems we give away so willingly will be used against us one day? Do you know your precious tax dollars are given to advisary countries such as China, and Russia to help with their “economy” as they use our money to build weapons systems to be used against us? Come on. Do your research before you post any more stupid comments. Its people like you who put us in a bind, and a cycle that puts us at risk more than any enemy ever could.

  • @7thwave

    A way to stop personnel costs which are driving most of defense budget requirements…go to a single man/woman only enlistment requirement for enlisted and junior grade officers. This will eliminate the need for COLA, BEQ, and other types of pay. Go back to the day of military housing that was open bay type. Consolidating junior enlisted (E-1 through E-4)personnel into one building cuts the need for all new single need dorm type housing. Saves money.

    • S.O.L.

      No need to be inflammatory. It degrades your argument and makes you look juvenile.

      This conversation is about military budgets, not about other government expenditures.

      As far as research, research what? The failing programs that will fail? How about some rising costs that will rise? You're making irrational recommendations that are politically and quite possibly constitutionally impossible. Why not just castrate all the privates? Or, the privates privates if you prefer.

    • guest

      The US military is not a conscript force, and if we hope to be able to meet manning quotas, there’s no way you could exclude people that are married, or lower their living standards. Why do you suppose all of these benefits have been added in the first place? It’s because it’s hard to get new folks in/keep folks reenlisting, if there aren’t incentives.

  • roland

    For sea and land defenses, envision this: 500 US unmanned missile / heat seeking torpido stealth boats.

  • DennisBuller

    OK, I have served on carriers.
    We typically have one in the Pacific and one in the Atlantic (Mediterranean) at the same time. One usually sits in the Persian Gulf.
    Two carrier going at all times.
    The question I have is, could we get away with beefing up the size of the carrier force (add planes and ships), and then just have one deployed?
    When things go bad, have carrier forces ready to go. This is already common practice, but I am talking about extending it a bit.
    I am suggesting we structure it so at least two carrier groups are ready to go at any one time, but only have one deployed.
    In this way we cut the number of carriers needed, but do not sacrifice response time.
    The same could also be done with the Marine ships.
    I know this may make problems with ship maintenance, but after a six month deployment the carrier just sits for a year.
    Why not repair and upgrade what needs to be done, then turn the ship over to a new crew and deploy it again?
    The carriers are almost all the same……

    • guest

      How do you cut the response time with fewer deployed carriers? How quickly do you think a carrier battle group could be mobilized, and get into theater vs. being in theater?

  • blight

    My take on the MC issue is why not reduce it in scale in a fashion analogous to how the army drew down the airborne to two divisions post-WW2. The Marines would live on as a smaller, highly specialized force…but then again, look at what happened to the Airborne post Cold War. No airborne tanks, just Humvees and a prayer in comparison to their Soviet counterparts.

    I wonder how much of our carrier issues are related to the powerplant. Nuclear reactors are finicky to maintain and refuelling is not a particularly straightforward task. And in principle, the logistical offsets of using nuclear power are somewhat mooted if you still have conventional supply needs, and still need to do stopovers to replenish items.

    So as a corollary that might possibly be relevant to Gate's questions: is a nuclear power Navy the right way to go? Back in the day there were nuclear powered cruisers, but they no longer exist.

  • blight

    My take on the MC issue is why not reduce it in scale in a fashion analogous to how the army drew down the airborne to two divisions post-WW2. The Marines would live on as a smaller, highly specialized force…but then again, look at what happened to the Airborne post Cold War. No airborne tanks, just Humvees and a prayer in comparison to their Soviet counterparts.

    I wonder how much of our carrier issues are related to the powerplant. Nuclear reactors are finicky to maintain and refuelling is not a particularly straightforward task. And in principle, the logistical offsets of using nuclear power are somewhat mooted if you still have conventional supply needs, and still need to do stopovers to replenish items.

    So as a corollary that might possibly be relevant to Gate's questions: is a nuclear power Navy the right way to go? Back in the day there were nuclear powered cruisers, but they no longer exist.

  • @7thwave

    LOL! LOL! at SOL and Steve B's comments. What a bunch of over thinking nut jobs. Just as Defense sec Gates is wanting to restructure the military into a smaller, less mobile, less capable fighting force, the current way of thinking these two exhibit is very dangerous indeed. Weapons systems are expensive to maintain. Our defense budget is way high. But, do you two know just how much money is wasted on needless domestic and foreign give away programs? Do you realize right now your precious tax dollars are being given away to Yemen to support a failing government that will eventually fail, and the training and weapon systems we give away so willingly will be used against us one day? Do you know your precious tax dollars are given to advisary countries such as China, and Russia to help with their “economy” as they use our money to build weapons systems to be used against us? Come on. Do your research before you post any more stupid comments. Its people like you who put us in a bind, and a cycle that puts us at risk more than any enemy ever could.

  • @7thwave

    Do you want to drop the cost of the defense budget? here is an idea…stop putting so much high technology into weapons systems. Once you design a weapon system for a task, stop adding needless capabilities that the weapons system in general was never designed for. (Classic example…F35. Too many capabilities, and this system is a failure already.) Test the weapons systems better before you buy them, period. Before you invest any money, (even a small amount) put full risk on the weapons systems designers and builders. Stop practices such as incentives and bid with flat cost fees only. Stick with the concept of one use only for a weapons system. (a tanker as a transport, and a air to air fighter aircraft as a air to ground weapons system, or a ISR aircraft as a ISR and attack…these practices puts men and weapons systems in which the system was never orginaly designed for in harms way, increasing risk) Buy more off of the shelf one use only weapons systems. (one use weapons systems…A10 for example, MC12 liberty for example, and the old WWII PT boats for example)

    • guest

      Maintaining large numbers of single purpose platforms is more expensive than having flexible equipment, and provides less capability. Not only does it maintain a much larger logisitics footprint, but you're maintaining a system that may have only very limited applications. We're better served with systems that provide more bang for the buck, and that can be used in a variety of circumstances. In otherwords flexibility is a good thing. As for your assertions about the F-35, you're way off the mark. Costs are way below the ridiculous estimates that have been bandied about, and now that the test aircraft are rolling off the production line, testing is ahead of schedule for this FY. Futhermore, name one system that isn't working(the Radar, EODAS/EOTS, etc…) have all functioned remarkably.

  • Beau

    The cost/benefit ratio of so many of these programs is amazing. Just last week there was the article about GPS guided mortars. I'm sure the cost is astronomical compared to bread and butter mortar rounds, and we have many other weapon systems that offer the same sort of targeted destruction. Just because we can make anything have multiple roles doesn't mean its cost effective. Why does a mortar, an indirect fire weapon need to be smart when we have MANY other systems purpose built to fit the needs without having to invest in the R&D, purchasing the specialty rounds and maintaining them properly.

    • GaigeM

      Name equivalent systems to the guided mortar round.

      • STemplar

        I agree, I’m unaware of precision guided indirect fire at the company level.

      • STemplar

        I agree, I’m unaware of precision guided indirect fire at the company level.

  • STemplar

    In regards to carriers l think it is worth keeping in mind we are now getting to the point in our history potentially where the existing carriers will be in service when oil begins to run out in the Persian Gulf. At that point the middle east certainly loses it’s position of importance. New potential areas of conflict could be the Arctic Circle and its vast energy reserves. In that environment subs might be king and certainly land based aircraft.

  • STemplar

    In regards to carriers l think it is worth keeping in mind we are now getting to the point in our history potentially where the existing carriers will be in service when oil begins to run out in the Persian Gulf. At that point the middle east certainly loses it's position of importance. New potential areas of conflict could be the Arctic Circle and its vast energy reserves. In that environment subs might be king and certainly land based aircraft.