Land Forces Will Fade, Navy Rise

As the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan and Iraq and land forces encounter more and more obstacles to operating -- fenced in by rising insistence on sovereignty -- the U.S. Navy's role will only grow in importance, says the chief of naval operations, Adm. Gary Roughead. Climate change will only highlight the rising importance of the Navy as fishing patterns shift south and north. The Navy, he said, is better positioned for such an environment because it can operate offshore free of the constraints of inserting forces where they may not be wanted.

As the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan and Iraq and land forces encounter more and more obstacles to operating — fenced in by rising insistence on sovereignty — the U.S. Navy’s role will only grow in importance, says the chief of naval operations, Adm. Gary Roughead.

Roughed, speaking at a conference hosted by the University of Chicago on Capitol Hill, offered new versions of the old Marine and Navy mantra that the littoral is where it’s at globally, with at least 26 mega-cities in the littoral zone and much of the world’s production and natural resources moving across the blue oceans from manufacturing plants and oil and gas fields to consumers.

Climate change will only highlight the rising importance of the Navy as fishing patterns shift south and north. And the importance of the opening of the Arctic for longer and longer periods to shipping and fishing fleets “cannot be overstated,” Roughead said, saying it’s the biggest shift since the last Ice Age.

The Navy, he said, is better positioned for such an environment — political and physical — simply because it can operate offshore free of the constraints of inserting forces where they may well not be wanted.

After his talk, I asked Roughead if this meant a larger or a different fleet than the current mix of 313 they aim for. Not really, he said, adding that there will be much more cooperation with other navies. He specifically rejected the 1,000 ship construct, which argues the US and its allies constitute a huge force should they work together. He said his vision is more inclusive and would include non-governmental organizations, a wide array of other groups and organizations, as well as other countries.

In other news, the admiral said he thought the news media had over-hyped the importance of problems with an engine of Lockheed Martin’s Littoral Combat Ship that came to light the middle of last month. He said such engines are routinely replaced and said he wasn’t just trying to talk up the program. Turbine blades had broken. That is a not uncommon problem with jet engines, the CNO said. “To cite that as a flaw in the ship just doesn’t make sense,” he said. The contract for the next tranche of LCS should be awarded next month, he said.

Also, Roughead told us his service has identified $28 billion in efficiencies over the Future Fears Defense Plan (FYDP). “Most of the savings” were scraped from multiyear buys, new product lines (no examples offered) and from “overhead structure.” He said the Navy moves have “actually enhanced readiness<' in part because they have moved more people to serve on ships.