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Dr. James Holmes: The Naval Diplomat - 19FortyFive

Buy More Ships and Renovate the Culture: The Navy’s New Plan to Prepare for War

Ford-Class Aircraft Carrier
NORFOLK (July 22, 2017) Sailors man the rails of the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) during its commissioning ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk, Va. Ford is the lead ship of the Ford-class aircraft carriers, and the first new U.S. aircraft carrier designed in 40 years. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew J. Sneeringer/Released)

Today the chief of naval operations, Admiral Mike Gilday, released an updated “Navigation Plan” for 2022. In effect, the Navigation Plan represents Admiral Gilday’s instructions to the service on how to execute the Triservice Maritime Strategy (2020), along with higher-order directives such as the National Defense Strategy and the interim National Security Strategy. Several things are worthy of note in the Navigation Plan, some of them head-scratchers.

First, a head-scratcher. The Navigation Plan’s drafters make much of the concept of “integrated deterrence,” taking their cue from the Biden Pentagon. Integrated deterrence seems to mean using all levers of national might in concert with allies, friends, and partners to discourage misadventures on the part of the Chinas and Russias of the world. The document declares that integrated deterrence “leverages the Joint Force’s combined capabilities in all domains—in concert with our allies, partners, and the entire U.S. Government—to make the costs of aggression against our vital national interests prohibitive.”

Which raises the question, what has the U.S. foreign-policy apparatus been pursuing in the past? Disjointed deterrence?

If so, shame on us. Deterrence means impressing on potential malefactors that the United States has the capability to defeat or punish aggression and the willpower to deploy that capability under circumstances it says it will. That’s a grand-strategic endeavor, not a solely military one. Deterrence should always be integrated—and should always have been. In any event, the naval contributions to deterrence outlined by CNO Gilday are familiar ones, including undersea nuclear deterrence and a U.S. Navy-Marine Corps fleet able to prevail in conventional combat. He maintains that “our Navy must deploy forward and campaign with a ready, capable, combat-credible fleet.”

Indeed. But again, how Washington envisions coordinating the sea services’ efforts with other arms of national power in novel ways remains to be seen. Integrated deterrence sounds like old wine poured into a new bottle bearing a not-terribly-catchy new label.

Second, a hearty huzzah! goes out to the framers for pledging to husband a culture of humility and problem-solving in the service. They start by making the interesting claim that “over years of study, we have identified pockets of unacceptable variability in our performance,” meaning that “the gap between our best and worst performers is too great.” The Navigation Plan appears to conflate performance with adaptation, though, prophesying that “the navy which adapts, learns, and improves the fastest gains an enduring advantage.”

So steady-state performance doesn’t appear to be the chief worry. Gilday wants to raise the navy’s average performance in the realm of managing change.

And maybe that is the proper way to gauge how mariners acquit themselves in turbulent times. Seldom do things go well for either combatant at the outset of a clash of arms. The limits of foresight make it impossible to fully prepare a force to handle the rigors of warfare. The contender more dedicated to and proficient at self-betterment indeed amasses an advantage over a more lethargic foe.

To bolster the U.S. Navy’s agility the CNO prescribes a ”Get Real, Get Better call to action.” Getting real means navy leaders must be “honest, humble, and transparent” about their strengths and weaknesses, “challenge their beliefs” in Socratic fashion, and take pride in “finding and fixing problems” rather than downplaying them. Getting better means attacking problems early, while they remain minor, rather than letting them balloon into something major and systemic. The Navigation Plan proclaims that “a learning mindset is essential.”

Cultural stewardship is the foremost challenge of leadership in my view. An institution suffused with a thriving culture is well-positioned to get things like technology, tactics, and operations right; an institution beset by cultural malaise mishandles the finest implements handed to it by national leadership. How to instill a learning culture? The Navigation vows to do it through education, for one thing. But the second approach is the kicker: “We will also reform our talent management systems to incentivize Get Real, Get Better behaviors, rewarding leaders for the outcomes they achieve and the culture they create.”

People respond to incentives and disincentives. What types of incentives the leadership puts in place, and how—and how rigorously—it applies them will determine the future of cultural reform in the service.

Third, Admiral Gilday offers specific numbers. This week a team of Politico coauthors mocked navy grandees for being all over the place touting different figures for the future fleet inventory. They point out that estimates have ranged from 316 to 327 to 367 to 373 to 500, this year alone. Judging from the Navigation Plan, the leadership has alighted on the proper fleet size: “In the 2040s and beyond, we envision this hybrid fleet to require more than 350 manned ships, about 150 large unmanned surface and subsurface platforms, and approximately 3,000 aircraft.” (The Politico team may have neglected to count the uncrewed contingent while collecting various tallies.)

The CNO also broadcasts a warning about budgets: a bigger fleet will cost the taxpayers. “To simultaneously modernize and grow the capacity of our fleet,” he says, “the Navy will require 3-5% sustained budget growth above actual inflation. Short of that, we will prioritize modernization over preserving force structure.”

Forced to choose, in other words, the Navy Department prefers a smaller but well-maintained force to a bigger but ill-maintained one. This is a lesson from the hollow navy of the 1970s. Having settled on specific figures, one hopes the navy leadership will stick to them. Five hundred is a nice round number with lots of zeroes in it, and has that sort of mystic appeal that made the campaign for a 600-ship navy go during the 1980s. The 500-ship navy makes a better banner to rally behind than a figure that’s seemingly more precise.

Fourth, and here’s another head-scratcher, the Navigation Plan hints that dissent over the design of the future fleet lingers between U.S. Navy and Marine leaders. The document presents desired numbers of hulls for each category of vessel. When it comes to amphibious warships it sets a goal of thirty-one large transports, which codifies the agreed-upon figure for both sea services. But it envisions a flotilla of just eighteen light amphibious warships, while the Marine Corps wants thirty-five—almost double the Navy’s number.

That’s a significant disparity in operational and strategic terms. Marines have premised their “expeditionary advanced base operations” operational concept on acquiring light amphibious warships in bulk to move missile-armed marine littoral regiments from island to island in China’s (or other nemeses’) backyards. Regiments will flit from island to island on reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance missions while walloping hostile ships and planes when the opportunity presents.

It sounds as though the navy is capping the marines’ future operations by declining to furnish them adequate sealift. Now it’s up to sea-service leaders to reconcile their differences on the numbers and ship types comprising the gator navy.

So there’s a quick look from your humble scribe at the CNO Navigation Plan for 2022. It dispenses solid guidance—now, let’s see how well the service executes it.

A 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. James Holmes holds the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and served on the faculty of the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. A former U.S. Navy surface warfare officer, he was the last gunnery officer in history to fire a battleship’s big guns in anger, during the first Gulf War in 1991. He earned the Naval War College Foundation Award in 1994, signifying the top graduate in his class. His books include Red Star over the Pacific, an Atlantic Monthly Best Book of 2010 and a fixture on the Navy Professional Reading List. General James Mattis deems him “troublesome.” The views voiced here are his alone. Holmes also blogs at the Naval Diplomat

Written By

James Holmes holds the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and served on the faculty of the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. A former U.S. Navy surface-warfare officer, he was the last gunnery officer in history to fire a battleship’s big guns in anger, during the first Gulf War in 1991. He earned the Naval War College Foundation Award in 1994, signifying the top graduate in his class. His books include Red Star over the Pacific, an Atlantic Monthly Best Book of 2010 and a fixture on the Navy Professional Reading List. General James Mattis deems him “troublesome.”



  1. Bill

    July 26, 2022 at 2:51 pm

    Also, soap-on-a-rope will become standard Navy issue.

  2. HAT451

    July 26, 2022 at 3:05 pm

    In the army there is no substitute for a deployed solder with a loaded rifle in his hands. Following this logic, in the navy there is no substitute for a contemporary, fully armed, and deployed warship. Without control of the seas, we will not be able to secure commerce in peace and logistics with our allies in war.

    It takes time, in years, to design, build, resource ships, develop the infrastructure to sustained them and train the sailors and their leaders to man them. Catchy slogans and staff studies only delay the actions such as that need to be taken today, while we are at peace.

  3. Omega 13

    July 26, 2022 at 4:24 pm

    There was nothing wrong with navy “culture” until the proggies and political officers started “reforming” it.

  4. cobo

    July 26, 2022 at 4:44 pm

    The United States needs to begin to align itself with a war posture that is open ended. Universal conscription is a must, other programs to build capable forces also need to be implemented, with the services taking the best candidates and rigorously shaping them into the fighting force of the near and long-term future. The home infrastructure needs are also in demand. They say we aren’t going back to what we came to view as “normal,” so let’s get ready for making the future bend to our ways. The industrial and resource base also needs to be brought into alignment to assure that our military and our country and its allies have control of all of the inputs that we need to dominate. Yeah, some house also needs cleaning.

  5. Jacksonian Libertarian

    July 27, 2022 at 2:44 am

    The Marines are the only service that is adapting to the “mature precision strike regime”. Under this regime surface ships are obsolete, which the Navy refuses to acknowledge. Subs, stealth, and attritable unmanned systems in the thousands are the future of the Navy. But the Navy will likely have to lose an Aircraft Carrier Battle Group, before the Woke Admirals can be fired/court-martialed, and adaptation to the regime can occur.

  6. Error404

    July 27, 2022 at 4:46 am

    US Navy (and other military branches of US war machine) mustn’t forget the antics of general jacob smith who ordered american soldiers to turn samar into a howling wilderness after the natives rebelled at american occupation.

    But it looks like today, general smith is much in vogue, or has become very great inspiration for US Navy.

    Diplomacy should always be the way foward to solve issues, but today america’s militarized foreign policy together with goebbellian utterances from state dept and hunger for greater/higher DoD budgets mean that diplomacy is dead meat and way forward is general smith’s battlecry-turn the incalcitrant’s homeland into a howlin’ wilderness.

  7. David Chang

    July 27, 2022 at 11:14 am

    “We have men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”
    Armistice Day speech (10 November 1948, in Boston, MA)

    “In this book I have tried to achieve one purpose: to explain how war is waged on the field from the field command post. For it is there, midway between the conference table and the foxhole, that strategy is translated into battlefield tactics; there the field commander must calculated the cost of rivers, roads and hills in terms of guns, tanks, tonnage- and most importantly in terms of the lives and limbs of his soldiers. How, then, did we reach our critical decisions? Why and how did we go where we did? These are the critical questions I have been asked most often. And these are the questions that gave me justification for writing this book.”

    “To tell the story of how and why we chose to do what we did, no one can ignore the personalities and characteristics of those individuals engaged in making decisions. For military command is as much a practice of human relations as it is a science of tactics and a knowledge of logistics. Where there are people, there is pride and ambition, prejudice and conflict. In generals, as in all other men, capabilities cannot always obscure weaknesses, nor can talents hide faults.”

  8. David Tate

    July 27, 2022 at 11:17 am

    The United States maintains overwhelming military superiority over any single potential adversary or any combination of potential adversaries. The United States spends well over $750 Billion annually on defense. The United States has formed the most comprehensive military alliance structure in history. European (NATO) allies spend over $350 Billion annually on defense. NATO is the most powerful military alliance on Earth.

    US Pacific allies including Japan, South Korea, and Australia spend an additional $150 Billion annually on defense. Now let’s compare this to Russia and Communist China. The Russians spend a paltry $70 Billion annually on defense. Communist China spends less than $300 Billon annually on defense.

    It is very clear that Russia can’t defend itself against NATO in the on-going proxy war in the Ukraine. The US, NATO, and Ukrainian alliance have decisively defeated the Russian military. The US government has made US war aims very clear. These war aims include collapsing the Russian economy, regime change, and perhaps the break-up of the Russian Federation. Russia is in no position to stop it.

    It is also clear that Communist China is in no position to challenge the United States in the Western Pacific with any potential for success.

    The United States and her allies have no other potential adversaries. None what-so-ever.

  9. Stefan Stackhouse

    July 27, 2022 at 12:24 pm

    Given how long it takes us to build ships these days, we’ll have this 500 ship Navy by when? Mid-century, maybe? Will they still have any seas left to defend west of Hawaii by that point? Or will the count of 500 include the ones resting on the bottom of the ocean?

    The Powers That Be inside the Beltway have been pursuing their neo-imperial pipe dreams on the cheap for decades, but that run is about to end. Either we can pull back to a more reasonable and defensible perimeter, defended with a defense that actually is built for defense, or we can continue to be pushy until the inevitable hard push-back comes, forcing us (at great cost) back to where we should have been in the first place.

  10. Yrral

    July 28, 2022 at 9:32 am

    The US 7th fleet was a Racketeering Influence Corrupt Organization under the administration of Admiral Leonard Google Fat Leonard

  11. David Chang

    August 1, 2022 at 6:50 am

    God bless people in the world.

    Admiral John M. Richardson tells us that don’t lost in current operation environment, we should decentralized operating and move by commander’s intent.

    In” “Navigation Plan for 2022″, Marine Corps have to understand naval strategy in terms of traditional missions of Marine Corps.

    The Marine Corps is tasked with accomplishing the tactic missions, but Marine Corps in trouble since Navy decided decentralization command to accomplish strategic goals and hand over strategic tasks in the brown-water to Marine Corps.

    Yet the Navy’s strategic mission, from the balanced fleet to the Littoral Combat Ship program, is to extend the mortal danger of aircraft carrier blue-water operation to brown-water.

    And the brown-water operation of aircraft carrier is like building a military base on the enemy’s border. So Navy hand over this difficult strategy operation to Marine Corps. Then Marine Corps share this difficult operation with Coast Guard, and say this defensive area is gray area.

    But Integrated Deterrence is just like NATO of socialism, Marine Corps and Navy should not take responsibility for it, but President, Congress, and Federal Reserve Board should.

    Because Eisenhower tell us that America will not be Roman Empire.

    God bless America.

  12. Mike Tackett

    August 6, 2022 at 8:29 pm

    It is hard to believe the small size of the US Navy now. I disagree with other posters, even though a ship can be wiped out by missiles or airpower, there is no replacement for ships at sea. Having dedicated people in more places is important.

    I served in the Navy from 1979 to 1989 with 7 years living in a frigate. Yes we had the goal of 600 ships, and were deployed EVERYWHERE. It mattered, especially the influence we had. That influence won the Cold War completely.

    Was directly involved in the USS Stark disaster, and saw probably at least 50 oil tankers go down in flames. 1.5 years of direct naval conflict. Then I came back and I was disgusted by people arguing over trivial matters like a parking space and went back to Gulf working contractor for Suadi Navy. My son found a letter I wrote to my father in 1987 “the middle east is great, and the people are wonderful, but they just keep shooting at us”.

    My point is, that the Cold War was won by the Navy completely. We supported as many as three carrier groups at a time off the coast of Kamchatka with hundreds of fighter bombers flying hundreds of miles into Russian airspace with no resistance. The Russians knew they had no chance of dominance over our forces. You should have seen those rusty Russian destroyers, it was a joke.

    I think we should build a large Navy, with assets everywhere to deter the future threats. The price of smaller ships should not be so expensive as they are now. Christ, “Littoral Combat Ship”, what a joke. Our little frigate with a 150 man crew of War Fighters would wipe them out in a heartbeat just by cruising in with all guns blazing.

    Also, and most important, we should avoid a stupid war based upon what the politicians and thinking heads tell us.

  13. Paul Tysinger

    August 14, 2022 at 11:13 pm

    How about training hard, learn to fight, have the best equipment and technology and forget about holding hands and getting in touch with your feelings.

  14. Phil

    August 18, 2022 at 1:52 pm

    The tranny brigade isn’t beating anyone. If you want to reform the culture you never should have let it degenerate to this. Have fun losing the next I’d laugh if I wasn’t imperiled by the weaknesses.

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