In preparation for future shifts in military priorities and resources,
Navy officials have gone to great lengths to spell out their vision
for the service’s roles in protecting U.S. interests and bolstering
a few months ago, the primary message was the Navy’s relevance
in the U.S. war on terrorism, homeland defense and maritime security,
as well as preparing for a possible war in the Pacific.
But naval contributions to relief efforts following major natural
disasters during the past year—the Asian tsunami, Hurricane
Katrina and a devastating earthquake in Pakistan—have prompted
a rethinking of naval roles and missions, noted Adm. John B. Nathman,
commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command.
Recent relief and humanitarian assistance operations “imply
significant changes to the Navy,” Nathman said in a keynote
speech to the U.S. Naval Institute symposium, in Virginia Beach,
One significant lesson from these events is that the Navy must
remain resilient in its ability to rapidly transition from combat
to humanitarian efforts.
Underpinning the Navy’s efforts to be more “agile”
in shifting from one mission to another is the Fleet Response Plan,
which was introduced in 2003 but continues to be fine-tuned. Under
the Fleet Response Plan, the Navy does not conduct regularly scheduled
deployments, but rather “surges” when called upon to
intervene in global hotspots or domestic crises.
“We’re ready now, and because of the Fleet Response
Plan, we’re ready sooner, and we’re ready longer,”
said Nathman. “You see a Navy that can be steadily scalable
for major operations. And that’s how we’ve been behaving
recently,” he added.
At the peak of hurricane relief operations, the rotary wing fleet
comprised 384 Defense Department helicopters, exclusive of what
the Coast Guard brought, said Rear Adm. Joseph F. Kilkenny, commander
of Carrier Strike Group 10.
“That’s a pretty sizeable effort,” he told USNI
conference attendees. Officials noted that, for Katrina alone, the
Defense Department deployed a force almost equal to the size of
the United Kingdom’s armed services.
Kilkenny, who served as joint force maritime component commander
for Joint Task Force Katrina and Rita, noted that his ship, the
USS Truman, was able to return to sea for the second half of a training
deployment that was interrupted by the hurricane operations.
“So now we go from search and rescue, humanitarian assistance,
back to switching my hat around to combat capability and if I have
to, go deploy on a moment’s notice,” Kilkenny told the
The Navy, meanwhile, has been surging its ships for anti-terrorism
operations off the coast of Somalia, in the Mediterranean, in the
western Pacific and in the Philippines, said Nathman.
The Fleet Response Plan “allows us to deliver a Navy that
is strong and rotational for major combat operations and phase zero
operations while delivering enough capability for maritime security,”
Rear Adm. William E. Gortney, director for operations, plans and
policy for U.S. Fleet Forces Command, told National Defense that
Navy leaders are in the process of refining the plan.
“It’s about time to step back and take a look at how
it’s doing and where we can make improvements to make it better,”
Part of the refining is standardizing terms and designations, he
said. “If there were 50 people here and we asked them to define
emergency surge, you’d get 50 different answers,” he
Another big piece of that is defining which forces are “surgeable”
and when they surge, he said.
“Right now, we know our carriers and our air wings and our
attack submarines are at maximum capacity in normal forward deployed
forces, so we want to not surge them [except] for major combat operations
or something like that,” Gortney said.
Experts caution that it may be premature for the Navy to assume
that Katrina lessons will have long-lasting impact upon its operations,
and in particular, upon its emergency assistance responses. Karl
Hasslinger, a retired Navy captain who is manager of Washington
operations for General Dynamics Electric Boat, said the Navy also
must prepare to respond to terrorist events in the United States.
“If there were something like a nuclear weapon or a radiological
weapon or a biological attack in the United States, I see something
very different from what we had with Katrina,” he said. The
U.S. military was typically welcomed with opens arms by the hurricane
victims, he said. In the event of a weapon of mass destruction attack,
there might be a situation in which large regions will be quarantined,
and the military would be called in to enforce those quarantines.
“Today, they don’t have the powers that you might say
they need. I suspect those powers will be developed on the fly,
when they literally are told, ‘Nobody goes past that interstate,’”
he said. “I think it’s that type of a circumstance that
if we don’t think through and look at the organizational issues
in addition to the wonderful technology that we like to develop,
we’ll be caught short.”
The Navy’s leadership also must confront a potentially grim
budget outlook. Military analysts predict the Navy could see its
fleet drop from 280 ships currently to possibly 260 within the next
decade, unless shipbuilding budgets go up. The Quadrennial Defense
Review is expected to justify cutbacks in Navy big-ticket programs,
for example, to pay for more pressing priorities such as fighting
the war in Iraq and modernizing ground forces.
Nathman said the Navy’s plan to retool itself must go on,
even in the face of declining resources. “You can spend a
lot of time and effort buying a lot of different platforms, but
if you have a low recap rate, you’re not going to change the
Navy. So if you’re going to transform the Navy, you transform
the Navy through its operational model.”
Much of the focus in naval planning today is the emergence of China
as a global power that could threaten the U.S. Navy’s dominance
in the Pacific region, military officials and outside experts said.
“Some analysts believe that China seeks to replace the United
States as the preeminent power in the Pacific—even globally,”
said Peter Brooks, of the Heritage Foundation. “By some estimates,
China now has the world’s third largest defense budget after
the United States and Russia, ranging from $70 billion to $90 billion
per year,” he told a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.
China has been purchasing many of its weapons from Russia, including
Kilo-class diesel submarines and Sovremennyy destroyers, said Brooks.
In addition, he said, China continues to make progress on developing
cruise missiles, fighters, submarines and surface ships.
In October, during his first visit to China as the head of the
Defense Department, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with several of
the country’s leaders.
During a joint press conference with Rumsfeld, China’s Minister
of Defense, Gen. Cao Gangchuan, downplayed the significance of his
country’s military buildup. Cao said that China’s current
defense budget is $29.5 billion, but conceded that “funding
for the development of certain equipments is not calculated in our
defense budget,” for example, the funding for the manned space
mission, Shenzhou VI.
In his remarks, Nathman said that part of the Navy’s strategy
in preparing for a conflict in the Pacific is to sharpen the services’
anti-submarine warfare skills.
“We need to close our gaps. We need to close our theater
ASW shelves in the Western Pacific, as that threat, the capability
of that threat, grows,” said Nathman.
Hasslinger raised concerns about China’s and other potential
enemies’ advances in missile technology. “They pose
a significant threat for which we’re probably not completely
prepared… Although the United States has put a lot of effort
in preparing for this threat, emerging technologies seem to favor
A likely scenario would be a terrorist attack using a weapon of
mass destruction, he said. In late September, President George W.
Bush signed the National Strategy for Maritime Security, which stated
that the most likely venue for delivery of WMDs is across the oceans.
Nathman made a case for the Navy to be at the forefront of thwarting
such potential attacks.
“Do you want the Navy forward, stopping a container in the
Gulf of Yemen, or do you want that same container to transit the
Pacific Ocean and be stopped on the approaches to Long Beach with
the Coast Guard?” he said. “Our hole in the fence starts
overseas, because we want the global war on terror to be an away
Nathman also said that the most compelling point of the National
Strategy for Maritime Security is that the Navy will lead this effort.
“Why? Because we have the command and control, we have the
connectivity, we have the credible presence, and we have distributed
commanders around the globe,” he said. “If you want
to stop a terrorist in Iraq, you have to be there. If you want to
stop a terrorist on the high seas, you’d better be there.”