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The U.S. Navy Must ‘Stand Separately’ to Take on China’s Rise

U.S. Navy Funding China
PHILIPPINE SEA (Sept. 29, 2021) An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the “Golden Dragons” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 192 prepares to launch off the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), Sept. 29, 2021. The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability through alliances and partnerships while serving as a ready-response force in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Isaiah Williams) 210929-N-IW069-1057

In the face of China’s 17-year-old program to surpass the US Navy, U.S. naval leadership must independently advocate for a greater slice of the Defense Department budget. Such advocacy would break with the expected joint budgetary front before congress and draw comparisons to the infamous 1949 Revolt of the Admirals. However, weak naval advocacy will ensure an unchanged budget allowing China to eclipse the Navy’s, and subsequently joint force’s, deterrence and warfighting capacity. Inter-service decorum is not worth the risk of inaction – and speaking unpleasant truths is not the simplistic “parochial shouting” some may dismiss.

Political observers and military professionals recognized whichever administration won in 2020 would ultimately flatten the defense budget. So, any major increase in the size of the Navy must come  from other services – ideally the Army, since the U.S. has concluded its mission in Afghanistan. Advocating for a reallocation of DoD funds, however, is not an attack on the Army but a recognition of the new strategic reality and the Navy’s critical position ensuring the success and survival of its joint force partners.

It was Navy parochial fears over the Air Force’s rise that drove the 1949 Revolt. The original revolt is a blemish on the Navy’s character, when leadership traded credibility and character to fight a fellow service. Unlike the 1949 internal revolt, a full-throated call for a larger, more capable Navy is directed squarely at the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) relative rise. Per Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, “advocating for a larger Navy is not service parochialism.”

With bicameral, bipartisan direction for robust Naval advocacy from sealift to shipbuilding –providing independent navy-centric perspectives is constitutional obedience. Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chair, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, provided an opportunity for supporting answers when he bluntly labeled a 355 ship navy as an “arbitrary goal” and has now demanded them through the new NDAA. Representative Elaine Luria of Virginia notes the Navy’s joint-hedged budget is, “not a serious budget for great power competition.” Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas’ Surface Fleet Fighting Culture Report further demonstrates Congress concern and demands for honest assessment and bold, practical recommendations. Congress has gone as far as starting its own shipbuilding program. Navy reticence verges on insubordination. The Navy owes good faith compliance to the chain of command’s budget, but also owes Congress the requested independent assessment and vision.

Fortunately, Congress provided answers with their questions. First, hetorically and strategically, the Navy must embrace Representative Luria’s Battleforce 2025 rather than Battle Force 2045. Fifteen years ago, the Navy falsely predicted an operational Zumwalt rail gun, Littoral Combat Ship rapid modularity, a Remote Minehunting Vehicle (RMV), and rocket-propelled 5” rounds – but not the scale of PLAN development. The Navy can no longer afford to rely on over a decade of technological mirages.

Supporting a Naval Battleforce 2025 vision requires separate analysis and budgetary proposals from DoD scrubbed products. SASC has already provided the grounds for such separate analysis and presentation in the spirit of  2021 NDAA language requiring direct reports to Congress. The DoD process is captured by the inter-service balancing act. Providing objective maritime-focused analysis demands testimony, requirement lists, and realistic, sub-optimal wargames without imaginary technology. Developing unfunded lists in the necessary tens of billions of dollars, rather than a constrained 5.5, is an appropriate channel for communicating these needs. The new Navy Fleet Study being conducted parallel to the Defense Department’s is an indication the Navy is on the right path, but time will tell if the Navy  can be accurately communicate its position whiling standing by its congressionally-desired independence until the process is complete and presented.

Finally, the acquisition needs must be clear and bypass the arthritic traditional processes. The Coast Guard’s Island and Legend classes production lines provide the Navy platforms to surge alongside the Constellation. The Navy’s Constellation and Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s success with Littoral Explosive Ordnance Neutralization teams demonstrates the Navy’s existing tools for quick turnaround design development and fielding.

Unfortunately, America lacks the domestic capacity to meet all Navy needs. President Biden’s Buy American correction is supported by Federal agencies unironically complaining about a ban on purchasing Chinese drones, but the Navy must advocate for capitalizing on partner production lines. The AUKUS nuclear deal demonstrates a way forward for inter-partner technology licensing and sharing. The Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile already filled a gap in naval surface-to-surface capability. Where America’s minehunting drone boat development failed, a Franco-British program already fields functional technology – and offers a potential source of procurement to assuage French rage. Israel’s anti-radiation suicide HAROP drone provides low-cost suppression of enemy air defenses. Program offices failing to develop even bad versions of allied technology over 15 years is not acceptable. Navy procurement can support expansion as well as the President’s goal of strengthening partnerships.

Naval leadership may hesitate, seeing acknowledgement of the dire situation as politically lethal to their credibility. But Naval decline was duty, not dereliction. For 20 years, the Navy bracketed budgetary expectations to supporting the primary irregular fights in CENTCOM. That’s where America ordered the military, where Americans fought and died, and where the Navy & Marine Corps team supported. The Navy made many grave procurement mistakes in an attempt to cover the increasing operational gaps during this period, but no service escaped expensive, failed hedges against a future outside CENTCOM. But now, no service will escape the lethal results of an unprepared Navy.

America’s shifted focus to China demands the Naval resurgence after a 20-year maritime decline against Beijing’s meteoric maritime expansion. As 20 years of resources funneled to the primary directed fight, the Navy must advocate the same happen now. These demands are not about entitlement or “turn”, but guaranteeing the Navy’s success as keystone to any Pacific strategy – and every service’s reliance on the naval effectiveness. If the Navy channels a fraction of Commandant Berger’s energy on rapid reorientation for the next fight, money will be well spent.

If the Navy’s relative trajectory does not change, America finds itself in Spain’s position before the Spanish-American war – an established global power whose Navy stagnated under financial neglect and bureaucratic inefficiency crossing swords with a heavily armed & energetic rising power.

Before the final collapse of Spain’s global navy during the Battles of Manila Bay and Santiago, Spain recalled Admiral Pasqual Cervera, who had resigned as Minister of the Navy to protest the decreasing budget, to service. Admiral Cervera’s had struggled and failed to prevent the hollowing out of Spain’s navy. As he weighed anchor for Cuba on orders to patrol the Caribbean, Admiral Cervera wrote the Ministerio de Marine:

“Nothing can be expected of this expedition except for the total destruction of our flotilla. With a clear conscience, I go to the sacrifice, but I cannot understand the navy’s decision.”

Today, our Navy’s decision to shrink and accept only minor budgetary adjustment cannot be understood against existential threats demanding the opposite. American  Sailors and Marines join with clear conscience, but pride and diligence cannot win alone. The Joint Force cannot win, let alone survive, without the Navy. The Navy needs platforms, people, and time to exercise and develop. Sims, Mahan, Rickover, Zumwalt, Hopper, Bushnell – naval history is replete with examples of leadership and public advocacy changing the course of our history. Leadership must fight today to keep ADM Cervera’s pen from their successor’s hand tomorrow. In what peace remains, Navy leadership’s duty is to marshal resources for war – hopefully, sufficient to prevent it.

Matthew Hipple is an active duty Surface Warfare Officer and former President of the Center for International Maritime Security. His opinions do not represent official policies or positions of the U.S. Navy, Department of Defense, or U.S. Government.

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Matthew Hipple is an active duty Surface Warfare Officer and former President of the Center for International Maritime Security. His opinions do not represent official policies or positions of the U.S. Navy, Department of Defense, or U.S. Government.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Mario De Losa

    October 5, 2021 at 1:02 pm

    “It was Navy parochial fears over the Air Force’s rise that drove the 1949 Revolt. The original revolt is a blemish on the Navy’s character, when leadership traded credibility and character to fight a fellow service.” Did the author forget that the nascent USAF was laying claim to virtually anything that flew? I will also argue that the USAF should never have been separated from the Army as their primary mission should be supporting the Army. Other than the author made some great points, but considering the Navy’s record with the LCS and the EPF I can see the brass failing to do anything constructive given the funds.

  2. Kevin Rose

    October 7, 2021 at 12:06 am

    How much money has congress provided to the Navy for their little c***** ships, the DDG1000, the CG(X), and that giant NMC hole in the water for the last 5 years. How many Burkes would that have bought? How come every ship in the Navy looks like the dying Soviet navy, covered in rust? Did the congress ram merchant ships or run aground? How come every year the navy gets further behind in maintenance? Why are forward deployed Burkes short of sailors while harbor queens have two crews? Why was Fat Leonard II allowed to happen?

    Perhaps the problem starts with the CNO, not congress?

  3. Duane

    October 9, 2021 at 8:00 am

    The author may not be advocating another revolt of the admirals but he is still guilty of Naval parochialism. Of the type that brings to mind the old quip, that “to a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”.

    There is zero evidence that any navy can alone, or even in the lead, win a war. It is always control of key land masses and destruction of enemy ground assets that wins wars. Naval sea battles did not win the Pacific war in the 1940s – it was the grubby, bloody, island by island, bunker by bunker, cave by cave ground fighting that set the stage for the coup de gras administered by the Army Air Force that finally forced the Japanese surrender. Sure, the US Navy served a key role in carrying out the island hopping campaign, and interdicting Japanese supply lines. But the US Navy was not the primary force responsible for finally defeating the Japanese.

    It is always boots on the ground, combined with aerial destruction of enemy assets, that wins a war.

    Saying that the Chinese are delivering ships to the IndoPac faster than the US is doing is irrelevant. Firstly, it can never be a bipolar, China vs. US war, or we will simply lose, period. It must be, as it is now, China vs. everybody else. Even Russia is no China ally – Putin would love nothing more than to gobble up north China if she were defeated and left in a weakened state. Right now China has no serious allies. In which case the allied naval numbers greatly exceed those of the PLAN.

    Secondly, China is mostly investing in what is already an obsolete surface warship fleet that will quickly be sent to the bottom by allied anti ship weapons in the opening days of any IndoPac – and China knows that fact. Of course, the allied surface warships will suffer the same fate in a mid-21st century naval war that will most certainly be won by aircraft, submarines (as in WW Two) and long range land based anti-ship missiles.

    So greatly increasing our US assets in obsolete surface warship fleets is exactly what China hopes we will do. They have attempted to goad us into misappropriating our defense dollars.

    Shrink our surface fleet, especially our CVNs and the half dozen surface escorts required to protect each CVN. Use the savings to buy many more SSNs, stealthy attack aircraft, and more anti-ship missiles deployed all over our 4 thousand mile long unsinkable aircraft carrier, for us and our allies.

    That is how we prepare for war with China, and therefore discourage China from starting any such war. While giving our taxpayers good value.

  4. Brian Foley

    October 9, 2021 at 11:23 am

    Another ridiculous “Op Ed” piece. The fault in the argument jumps out at us in the title itself. The best hope against a rising China threat is close cooperation with vital allies like Australia, Japan, South Korea…and maybe some day India (but I wouldn’t hold my breath). America has no bases in the region, the closest is Guam, so obviously the US Navy has to rely on steadfast allies for resupply and safe harbors. The combined weight in tonnage and capability of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces is impressive, making them the third (or second) best navy in the world…and the author suggests we either can’t or should count on a seventy five year ally ? The Australians have a smaller but ship for ship, man for man no less capable navy. The South Korean navy is also impressive in size and capability, but the author would have us believe the US Navy must be able to stand alone…well I have a sad and rude awakening for the author…the US can not afford to “fill the gap” left by our allies, not in ships (which we can’t afford nor build fast enough) nor in manpower (which we just don’t have)…so learn to rely and trust our allies….the alternative is defeat.

  5. Al HORVATH

    October 9, 2021 at 1:57 pm

    Today the US Navy is the least prepared branch of our armed forces for a major 21st century war with a near peer competitor. The navy training issues, leadership problems and lots of bad decisions like too much emphasis on diversity and other woke nonsense instead of concentrating on winning the next war.

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