Navy Strategy Focuses on Maritime Dominance in Complex World

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

The global security environment is rapidly changing, with new actors entering and old threats resurgent. These groups will seek to exploit the maritime domain as well as the global information system, which includes satellites and networks, the chief of naval operations said Jan. 11.

“The character of the entire game has changed,” said Adm. John Richardson during a speech at the National Press Club. “In particular, the pace of things has become so accelerated. … If we do not respond to those changes, if we do not recognize and adapt to the changing character of the game, we are a Navy that is at risk of falling behind … our competitors.”

Thirty years ago, the world was bipolar with the United States and the Soviet Union as the globe’s two superpowers. Now, it is much more crowded, with competitors including a resurgent Russia, along with China, North Korea, Iran and terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State, he said.

“For the first time in what I would say is roughly 25 years, the United States is back to an era of great power competition,” he said. “When I was deployed in 1983 … it was a different world. When the Soviet Union dissolved, the Cold War ended, we really entered a period where we were not … challenged at sea, not in a very meaningful way. That era is over.”

Both Russia and China have advanced their military capabilities significantly, he said. “Their goals are backed by a growing arsenal of high-end, war-fighting capability, many of which are exploiting those three forces that I mentioned and are focused specifically on our vulnerabilities,” he said.

As outlined in the Navy’s new strategy, “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority,” which was released in early January, some of these actors are seeking to exploit what Richardson calls the three global forces: traffic in the ocean, the global information system and the increasing rate of innovation.

“I’m focusing on three forces that for the Navy are sort of defining our way forward. The three forces that are causing our world to be more used, more trafficked, more stressed, more important and perhaps, most interestingly, more competed then ever,” he said.

The maritime domain looks physically the same, but it is becoming more congested. Since 1992, maritime traffic has increased by a factor of four. For example, new trade routes are being opened in the Arctic, he said. “That is going to be exploited. This is going to be something to which we must pay attention.”

Technology is also making previously unreachable parts of the ocean floor accessible. That is opening up certain areas to mineral, oil and gas exploration, he said.

The global information system is also rapidly expanding, Richardson said. Undersea cables, satellites and wireless networks connect the globe. Citing data from IBM, Richardson said 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day. Ninety percent of the data available in the world today was created in the last two years. 

There are also rapid advancements in technology, such as material science, robotics and artificial intelligence. “It is coming at us faster and faster and they are being adopted by society just as fast,” he said.

Potential adversaries are exploiting all three of these forces, he said. To respond, the Navy has four lines of effort, including “warfighting, learning faster, strengthening our Navy team and building partnerships,” according to the strategy.

This includes maintaining and modernizing the undersea leg of the nuclear triad. Additionally, it must develop concepts and capabilities to “provide more options to national leaders, from non-conflict competition to high-end combat at sea.”

The service must also “advance and ingrain information warfare” as well as explore alternative fleet designs “including kinetic and non-kinetic payloads and both manned and unmanned systems,” the strategy said.

And as more threats arise, the Navy’s budget would be under pressure he added.

Photo: Navy

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Policy

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