Friday, January 01, 2016

Well, It Was Fun While It Lasted

 We've had a good run of assuming we possessed control of the seas for a quarter century. That's over.

This short interview about how naval warfare has changed since the end of the Cold War is interesting but misses the main change that this final comment only hints at:

The Navy has not fought a war at sea against a major adversary since 1945, and has not faced a capable competitor since the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. The character of war is changing, and China is rapidly becoming a capable competitor. Both have considerable implications for the Navy: what it buys, the concepts it develops, and how it educates and trains its sailors.

This rightly speaks to the effect of the rise of China will have on our procurement, concepts, and training in the future. But it doesn't really address how the end of the Cold war affected those factors.

The demise of the Soviet navy led us to neglect anti-ship warfare especially, as our Navy let the Harpoon anti-ship missile fade from our surface and submarines fleets, as we failed to develop new longer-range anti-ship missiles, and as we failed to extend the range of our carrier aviation--and let it decline, in fact--to strike enemy fleets.

The reason we did this was because the disappearance of the Soviet navy gave us sea control by default. Not needing to fight to control the seas--which needs all those anti-ship weapons and doctrine to use them--we could focus on power projection missions.

Power projection missions involve fighting enemies on land who are weak in anti-ship power, allowing us to move carriers close to them without fear and use our planes and cruise missiles to support land campaigns.

This difference between sea control and power projection is why our carrier debates have been pointless. Carrier backers point to strengths in power projection missions while carrier critics point to weaknesses in sea control missions.

Our Navy evolved to a power projection force during the post-Cold War era and now must evolve back to a sea control force as Chinese aero-naval power shoots up.

We will have to fight to control the seas again. Let's have a sense of urgency about equipment, doctrine, and training. And debate the value of carriers for the sea control role, I say.