As the Navy moves to develop a future fleet designed to reflect the strategical and tactical ideas that are prevailing in our time, we believe it is going to require new calculations in balancing the requirements of major war and soft power. As we noted last week, the Navy surface fleet of 2012 will be the greatest naval force in human history when measured by raw firepower. As we have also noted many times in the past however, the surface fleet has a number of emerging requirements which trend towards a greater capacity in security operations, in both blue and brown water, and a surface navy of fewer but more powerful large warships is ill suited to meet that challenge.
To meet future challenges, we believe the Navy should add a new dimension to its future fleet studies. We observe that on the advice of Julian Corbett, the US Navy should disconnect traditional function from traditional classification in its future fleet designs, and only by doing so will the balance between the strategic peacemaker and warfighter requirements be achieved in the future fleet while at the same time, potentially expanding tactical capabilities.
In all eras of naval warfare fighting ships have exhibited a tendency to differentiate into groups in accordance with the primary function each class was designed to serve. These groupings or classifications are what is meant by the constitution of a fleet. A threefold differentiation into battleships, cruisers, and flotilla has so long dominated naval thought that we have come to regard it as normal, and even essential. It may be so, but such a classification has been by no means constant. Other ideas of fleet constitution have not only existed, but have stood the test of war for long periods, and it is unscientific and unsafe to ignore such facts if we wish to arrive at sound doctrine.
The truth is, that the classes of ships which constitute a fleet are, or ought to be, the expression in material of the strategical and tactical ideas that prevail at any given time, and consequently they have varied not only with the ideas, but also with the material in vogue. It may also be said more broadly that they have varied with the theory of war, by which more or less consciously naval thought was dominated. It is true that few ages have formulated a theory of war, or even been clearly aware of its influence; but nevertheless such theories have always existed, and even in their most nebulous and intangible shapes seem to have exerted an ascertainable influence on the constitution of fleets.
-Some Principles of Maritime Strategy by Julian S. Corbett, page 107
We are observing emerging trends and discussions towards the future fleet structure as the Navy struggles to match future resources with the future requirements outlined in new Maritime Strategy. With existing force structure plans in place, the challenge to meet the future strategic challenges with new future force structure requirements while also incorporating best tactical approaches that are counter to traditional roles is a daunting challenge for the Navy. We know the process is already underway, we acknowledge the challenges both political and institutional, but we have also observed the trends particularly apparent with the recent shuffle in leadership.
We recently observed a comment by Thomas Barnett, whom we believe is heavily influencing the strategic ideas that in turn contribute to the strategic requirement set for the future fleet. His influence in several articles of the January 2008 issue of Proceedings is further evidence of his strategic ideas taking hold within the Navy. We see this trend as a good thing, however we also note that his recent comment highlights Corbett's warning that it can be "unscientific and unsafe to ignore" alternatives to function and classification on the basis of tradition alone.
Truth on subs is that they're only good at three things: go after shipping, go after each other, hold nukes.
The last one is still marginally useful in small numbers.
The challenge in the design of the future fleet is to connect the strategical and tactical ideas that are driving future fleet metrics, but also connect those ideas to manage not only the warfighters major war role, but also manage the Navy's emerging peacemaker role in addressing the non integrating gaps driving the approach outlined in the new Maritime Strategy. To meet the future challenge, the surface fleet that is currently around 75/25 high/low mix warship structure will need to shift to a high/low mix somewhere closer to 40/60, perhaps even 35/65 if it is to meet the metrics of the surface navy peacetime requirements. We have previously outlined those metrics to include manned presence, persistence on station, quantity of force, and distribution of force to the vast regions involved. As we have previously noted, unmanned systems can be force multipliers for the warfighter, but there is no substitute for the presence of a sailor as a peacemaker. If the Navy is going to bridge future requirements of both warfighter and peacemaker, we believe part of that bridge should be built underwater.
As Corbett notes, function based on classification needs not to be constant, and we believe it is past time for a new calculus that addresses the emerging tactical and strategic requirements of our time. Barnett is discussing 'traditional' roles for submarines, but like many aspects of the nations military force designed in the cold war, the Navy is learning that 'traditional' isn't always best. In this regard, new ideas are required to maintain tactical superiority while also addressing strategic priority. We believe the submarine is best suited to be such a bridge.
The emerging future submarine force is very different than the submarine force of the cold war. Today's active duty submarine force offers the Navy 574 VLS cells specific to a cruise missile deep strike capability. A future fleet projected to include all 4 SSGNs, and perhaps 48 SSNs with VLS will feature close to 1200 cells for cruise missiles. From a tactical perspective, a true stealth platform like a submarine can conduct launches of land attack cruise missiles much closer to the enemy coast, allowing it much greater range, and can do so against a minor power with limited sea denial tactical capability, or a major powers with an advanced anti-access / area denial capability that would keep surface ships far back from the engagement line.
Strategically speaking, migrating a portion of the strike firepower the Navy requires for supporting warfighter requirements from sea off the surface fleet reduces the size requirements of the surface vessels that make up the surface fleet. The reduction of size implies not only a reduction in cost per unit, but a greater number of units that can ultimately be leveraged for the Navy's peacemaker roles.
Submarines offer very little to peacemaker roles beyond intelligence gathering and special operations, both of which (as Dr. Barnett accurately points out in a later comment) can be conducted to equal effect by surface forces. If the Navy intends to build a peacemaker force in the future that aligns to the ideas and ideals expressed in the new Maritime Strategy, the Navy would be both strategically and tactically wise to migrate more of the warfighter responsibilities to the submarine force, with the intention to expand the peacemaker capabilities of the Navy of which can only be conducted by the surface navy.
The truth on submarines we see is that for the Navy to evolve and balance its Leviathan role and SysAdmin role in the spirit of Thomas Barnett, the Navy should apply the strategical and tactical ideas of our time by transitioning the warfighter function to the underwater service as a means to enable the peacemaker capabilities of the surface fleet. The surface fleet, when relieved to some degree of one of its many primarily traditional functions, should then be in a better position to offer the contributions required to meet the strategic peacemaker objectives desired in spirit by the Cooperative Maritime Strategy.
We see it as both ironic, and understandable, that Dr. Barnett would dismiss the submarine casually as an instrument of the Leviathan to conduct war. Indeed it is exactly that! However it is also the key enabler for the Navy to remove some of the warfighter burden from the surface fleet, a surface fleet that is in high demand in dealing with the world that emerges within the content of Dr. Barnett's writings and vision.