08 July, 2009

Conventional force structure and asymmetrical conflict

A thoughtful article asks a question I never thought I'd see in Naval Proceedings: why do we need a navy?

If "the naval era" is defined as the era of sea control, it ended in 1945—the last year of Fleet-size combat operations. Because the most recent sea battle worthy of the name occurred in October 1944, we are now into the seventh decade of the post-naval era.

The global war on terrorism is essentially a rifle fight. As much as partisans rankle at the notion, navies are largely irrelevant to its conduct, and the Air Force has been marginalized. In fact, unmanned aerial systems represent the growth industry, approaching the importance of manned aircraft. Meanwhile, the air superiority mission is nearly extinct: American pilots have shot down only 55 hostile aircraft in 36 years, the last one in 1999.

But the problem extends far beyond hardware to the fundamental realm of roles and missions. In a revealing document, the Department of Defense does not consider conventional warfighting a priority-land, sea, or air. In fact, the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review listed four missions under "Operationalizing the National Defense Strategy":

  • Defeating terrorist networks.
  • Defending the homeland in depth.
  • Shaping the choices of countries at strategic crossroads.
  • Preventing the acquisition or use of weapons of mass destruction.5

An inbound question, low and fast out of left field: If not even DOD is concerned about conventional warfare, why do we persist in building a warfighting Fleet?

One of the "disadvantages" of technical and numerical superiority is that other people refuse to play by your rules. When direct experience dies, so does expertise. Some things can't be taught from a book. Even in a world of virtual reality training systems, the political elements--and the knowledge that it really isn't the "real" thing--lead to scenerios and assumptions increasingly divorced from reality. Then, when the real thing comes along, everyone is surprised. The questions become who will learn faster, and how much can they afford to lose while they are learning?

Proceedings Story - U.S. Naval Institute

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