Navy Adapts to a New Era with the Cold War over, US Admirals Have Replaced Their Global, Deep-Water Strategy with Plans to Support Limited Projections of American Power

By James Blaker. James Blaker is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. | The Christian Science Monitor, November 4, 1992 | Go to article overview

Navy Adapts to a New Era with the Cold War over, US Admirals Have Replaced Their Global, Deep-Water Strategy with Plans to Support Limited Projections of American Power


James Blaker. James Blaker is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense., The Christian Science Monitor


WHO would have thought that the Navy, the military service pundits claim is the very last to change, would be the first to come up with a radically new strategy in the post-cold-war era? But its white paper, "... From the Sea," makes the Navy the first military service to recognize that it has to do things differently in the new era. To get a sense of how big a change the Navy's statement is, compare "... From the Sea" with what the Navy declared as "The Maritime Strategy" in the 1980s.

At the core of the old maritime strategy was the assumption that, while the Soviets could determine when and where any ground conflict would start, United States naval forces could define where the maritime battles would be joined. Strategically, the problem was sea control. The operational concept was to move the US fleet into areas close enough to attack Soviet territory and missile-launching submarines, and then to destroy Soviet forces as they tried to contest American control of those sea areas. This would, the Navy argued, keep the Soviet Navy bottled up and away from the US reinforcements flowing across the Atlantic, and it would divert air defense and other Soviet forces away from the fight in central Europe.

The focus on sea control and horizontal escalation dominated Navy thinking from the late 1960s on. Two generations of naval officers honed the weapons and other systems for open-ocean warfare and embedded the assumptions of maritime strategy into the Navy's philosophy.

Some of the results were controversial even before the Berlin Wall was pulled down. Some analysts questioned why most of the aircraft and weapons on US aircraft carriers seemed to be there solely to protect the carriers. Others pointed to a widening gap between the Marine Corps and the Navy because of the focus on war at sea. Still others argued that the Navy always wanted its own logistical support and opposed buying weapons and material that were standardized or interoperable with those used by the other military services. To some, these were all examples of service parochialism and arrogance.

But to most in the Navy, these factors were logical outcomes of the professed strategy. Aircraft and weapons designed to protect the carriers were exactly what was needed within a strategy that moved the carriers close enough to the Soviet Union so that the Soviets had to come out and attack. There had to be a gap between the Navy and Marine Corps operations because the strategy focused on controlling places like the Norwegian Sea while using the Marines to bolster the ground defense of Norway.

And if the Navy were going to operate hundreds of miles away from where the Army and Air Force would fight, it made sense for it to have its own logistical support and to optimize the weapons and other equipment for the specific problems the Navy would face on the open ocean rather than worry about how they could be used by the Army or Air Force fighting in central Europe. …

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