Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Impacts of the Robotics Age on Naval Force Design, Effectiveness, and Acquisition

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Impacts of the Robotics Age on Naval Force Design, Effectiveness, and Acquisition

Article excerpt

It is not in the interest of Britain-possessing as she does so large a navy-to adopt any important change in ships of war. . . until such a course is forced upon her.. . . [T]his time has arrived.

ADMIRAL BALDWIN WALKER, ROYAL NAVY, 1860

he twenty-first century will see the emergence of maritime powers that have the capacity and capability to challenge the U.S. Navy for control of the seas. Unfortunately, the Navy's ability to react to emerging maritime powers' rapid growth and technological advancement is constrained by its own planning, acquisition, and political processes. Introducing our own technology advances is hindered as well. The planning and acquisition system for our overly platformfocused naval force structure is burdened with so many inhibitors to change that we are ill prepared to capitalize on the missile and robotics age of warfare.

Yet by embracing the robotics age, recognizing the fundamental shift it represents in how naval power is conveyed, and refocusing our efforts to emphasize the "right side" of our offensive kill chain-the side that delivers the packages producing kinetic and nonkinetic effects-we may hurdle acquisition challenges and bring cutting-edge technology to contemporary naval warfare.1 Incorporating robotics technology into the fleet as rapidly, effectively, and efficiently as possible would magnify the fleet's capacity, lethality, and opportunity-all critical to strategic and tactical considerations. Doing so also would recognize the fiscal constraints under which our present force planning cannot be sustained. As Admiral Walker advised above, it is now time to change.2

After addressing the traditional foundations of force structure planning and the inhibitors to change, this article will discuss how focusing on the packages delivered rather than the delivery platforms would allow us better to leverage new technologies in the 2030 time frame. What would a naval force architecture look like if this acquisition strategy were employed? This article will present a force-employment philosophy and a war-fighting strategy based on the tactical offensive that align with this acquisition approach. The article does not present an alternative force structure with actual numbers of ships and platforms, but suggests a force-acquisition strategy and force-design concept that provide a foundational underpinning by which a specific force architecture can be developed. Three strategic force measures-reactivity, robustness, and resilience-will be used subjectively to assess this fleet design compared with our traditional programmed forces.

STRATEGIC FOUNDATIONS OF NAVAL FORCE-STRUCTURE PLANNING AND THE GREAT INHIBITORS

Ideally, a country's naval force structure changes with national strategy, national treasure, technological advancement, and potential adversary capabilities. National strategy provides the rationale for, purpose of, and priority among choices to be made in creating a fleet. National treasure defines the resources and constraints dictating strategic choices. New technologies provide opportunities for increasing fleet effectiveness, yet also may endanger fleet survival should potential adversaries expose and exploit vulnerabilities in these technologies. This is a complex problem even when one takes into account only these four factors; however, U.S. naval acquisition also is challenged by other influences that inhibit capitalization of new technologies.

The most powerful of these inhibitions is inertia. The existing fleet represents a capital-heavy investment by the country, one with long build times and lifetimes. Ships and aircraft cost billions to design, build, and maintain. They require a capital-intensive industry featuring heavy equipment, infrastructure, and a skilled workforce-all generations in the making. As a consequence, annual programming and budgeting decisions are marginal in nature. It is the nature of a large fleet to evolve slowly, as opposed to undergoing revolutionary changes to its composition. …

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