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Priors and Prejudice: Planning the U.S. Navy’s Future

Most of us don’t know the place we can be in 2050. But the U.S. Navy ought to — the ships that it’s procuring now will probably nonetheless be in service then. Like its fellow seagoing providers round the world, the U.S. Navy is compelled to have interaction in painstakingly particular planning for the future regardless of nice uncertainty. This is a tough balancing act given the lengthy lead occasions for advanced techniques, from analysis and improvement all the approach via to deployment. All of this needs to be achieved in a budgetary setting that will not stay fertile for naval acquisitions.

When how naval planning matches with future necessities, you will need to take into consideration two key ideas: the military-industrial advanced and innovation. Both may also help or hinder the United States in guaranteeing that its naval forces are match for function over the subsequent few a long time. It is significant that American army planners problem their priors — the assumptions that underpin how they consider protection planning and the issues that they’re making an attempt to resolve — and consider the function that these ideas play. If they’ll do that, the U.S. Navy can be higher positioned to plan, procure, and deploy a power match for the future.



The Military-Industrial Complex

There are three key components of the trendy military-industrial advanced: the army, the protection trade, and the political system. Each of those performs a key function itself in protection planning, however the interactions between the three even have an enormous impact. It is the conversations inside and between these teams that form how army capabilities are constructed and deployed, and no conception of naval planning is full with out understanding this interaction.

The interplay between the army and the authorities is a central a part of planning for the future. Both elected congressional representatives and bureaucrats want to know how the armed forces work, and the army should recognize the political elements concerned in decision-making. When it involves naval planning, Navy leaders ought to make sure that they’re clearly speaking the wants of their service to these in authorities who don’t essentially have army expertise. Rep. Mike Gallagher and Rep. Rob Wittman have referred to as for higher communication between Navy leaders and elected representatives, together with through wargaming classes. Many officers in the Department of Defense have deep data of the armed forces, and there are a major variety of congressional representatives who’ve served. However, expertise can’t be taken without any consideration, and assuming expertise the place none exists can result in miscommunication. Likewise, politicians and Department of Defense officers should clearly talk the course of coverage and the budgetary limits on what could be completed. Communication is a two-way avenue. Continuing to maintain strains open and relationships robust between the authorities and naval personnel will do a fantastic deal to make sure that the U.S. Navy will get what it wants in future years.

The army and the authorities additionally want to have the ability to talk with the protection trade. The bureaucratic processes concerned in U.S. protection procurement could be daunting (with a guidebook that runs to over a thousand pages), and conversations about enhance these are very important to making sure a easy acquisition course of that fulfills the U.S. Navy’s necessities at a value and timescale that may be politically justified. If solely the largest and oldest corporations have the expertise and personnel to have the ability to navigate the vagaries of protection acquisition, smaller and newer companies with recent concepts could also be unable or unwilling to place ahead their merchandise, resulting in a big alternative value for each army service. Given the globalized nature of the protection trade, militaries that don’t demystify byzantine procurement processes will lose out on applied sciences and platforms to nations that make it simpler for corporations to work with them. Even although butting heads with the Department of Defense procurement system can be unlikely to power a Western firm to maneuver towards working with Russia or China, the United States may lose out on capabilities to different free-market nations — a pleasant competitors, however a contest nonetheless.

It can also be essential to know the political dimensions of the protection industrial base. When selections on procurement are made by elected politicians, it’s simple for the massive protection corporations to foyer for a specific consequence. This could be completed by political donations, direct persuasive lobbying, or by siting manufacturing amenities inside a specific district or state to incentivize representatives through native jobs. Many of the case research I have a look at in my analysis (like the littoral fight ship) contain selections in favor of shopping for merchandise which can be pointless, shopping for too lots of a platform, or shopping for weapon techniques that merely don’t work. Such selections are taken largely as a result of lobbying by producers, in live performance with the usually cynical political pursuits of Congress and the wider political system. When contemplating future naval necessities, American planners must be conscious of this issue. They mustn’t permit naval capabilities to be undermined or steered in the mistaken course by the affect of the protection industrial base, nor by the entrenched pursuits of both Congress or, certainly, the U.S. Navy itself. The focus must be on buying and deploying the right capabilities, not on the political or financial fortunes of the gamers in the military-industrial advanced.

Each of those relationships is formed by the particular tradition of the members. Organizational and service cultures are sometimes unstated and unnoticed, however they’ll play an enormous function in how that physique and its members take care of others and what targets they determine as essential. Even inside a single army service corresponding to a navy, which could have its personal overarching tradition, there can be subcultures round floor warfare, submarine operations, aviation, and so on. These concerns apply much more so between nations, even these which were allies for a few years. Language obstacles, variations in doctrine, and divergent service cultures can all contribute to allies speaking previous one another, or not speaking in any respect. Naval planning can’t be completed in isolation, and a sturdy and wholesome relationship between allied navies and between their governments is significant to making sure not solely interoperability in theater, but additionally a wider live performance by way of course and capabilities. NATO members have historically excelled at this — and have solely turn into higher at it with the looming risk from Russia — however the United States and its shut allies ought to stay conscious of sustaining and extending partnerships with pleasant naval powers additional faraway from the European theater, corresponding to Brazil and Peru. I’ve gleaned from my very own conversations over the previous couple of years that some in the international south can really feel indifferent from American-led maritime operations, and the extra the U.S. Navy can do to maintain such beneficial companions on its facet, the higher.

The Promise of Innovation

The sensible points that the United States faces when contemplating future naval planning are usually not peculiar to the U.S. Navy — navies round the world are grappling with related questions on finest incorporate technological advances into platforms, techniques, and operations. Budgets are usually not infinite, and could properly turn into tighter, so the U.S. Navy must make selections about prioritization and sustainability with a purpose to meet the second.

There is an ongoing development towards mission modularity in ship design, and navies now demand that their platforms be extra versatile, extra multifunctional, and extra operationally versatile. This can manifest via ships coming into service with modular capabilities to allow the swapping out of their function. Platforms will also be developed with a better stage of adaptability to be up to date all through their life when technological advances warrant. However, this kind of modularity is just not a easy factor to realize. Although it appeals to each U.S. Navy and political planners, and can simply promise to resolve myriad issues, making a ship multifunctional can compromise its design and due to this fact its effectiveness. These platforms should be totally evaluated at the earliest attainable stage with a purpose to make sure that the tempting prospects of modularity are usually not protecting up a mess of sins in the small print of the design.

Navies are additionally wrestling with the downside of crewing. Personnel are a big contributor to the through-life sustainment value of a ship, and it’s turning into tougher for navies to recruit and retain the proper folks. Greater ranges of automation and autonomization inside crewed vessels imply a diminished want for personnel, so long as a enough crew is retained for processes that can’t but be automated. Integrating such techniques into new and present ship designs will enhance their adaptability and give commanders extra choices. However, uncrewed ships will kind a major a part of the reply to the crewing downside. Smaller autonomous and remotely piloted vessels are already being included into naval operations, and though we won’t see giant uncrewed ships for a while, they’re on their approach. It is significant that the U.S. Navy asks the proper questions with regards to guaranteeing that doctrine and operational ideas are evolving to capitalize on the potential benefits introduced by these new applied sciences. This is a novel space for planners, and one the place you will need to rigorously check new approaches with a purpose to get issues proper. This 12 months’s International Maritime Exercise and the institution of Unmanned Surface Division One to supervise operations and experimentation are some encouraging steps in the proper course.

The reply to those issues has usually been that the majority horny of phrases: innovation. How can we struggle our adversary? We innovate! How can we clear up issues round crewing and autonomous platforms? We innovate! How can we get our ships to do extra with much less? You guessed it: We innovate! Much of the language round future naval planning tends in direction of the thought of speedy change, usually making us really feel that expertise is operating away from us at a pace we can’t sustain with.

Innovation is, after all, wanted, and it’s how we clear up many issues. However, a be aware of warning is required. Novelty or change for its personal sake dangers turning into extra of a fetish than an answer. Not all improvements characterize progress, and not all progress requires substantial innovation. Often, protection leaders consider with out query that innovation offers momentum, that feeling that one thing is going on. However, that “happening” doesn’t in itself imply that progress is being made, or {that a} resolution to issues is simply over the horizon. While inertia feels stultifying — and is just too simply a brake on progress when allowed to take root — a dose of it may be beneficial in slowing issues down sufficient to present planners time to evaluate the course through which they’re heading and whether or not there’s a higher path to get to their vacation spot.

Challenge Those Priors

Ultimately, we can’t know what is going to occur in the subsequent decade, a lot much less the subsequent half-century, and, as at all times, flexibility and adaptiveness can be the key for naval forces. The military-industrial advanced, whether or not one has a constructive view of it or not, is the setting through which these forces are formed and procured. Naval planners must be conscious of its results on how capabilities are chosen and acquired. A posh made up of robust relationships, with clear communication and political transparency, will assist the U.S. Navy in guaranteeing that it is ready to face the challenges of the subsequent few a long time. Incorporating and capitalizing on new applied sciences can be integral to fixing the issues confronted by navies round the globe. However, you will need to keep in mind that innovation for its personal sake is just not essentially useful.

If the U.S. Navy and its civilian masters can problem their priors about the military-industrial advanced and the idea of innovation, they are going to be capable of keep away from the pitfalls of entrenched pursuits and the fetishization of novelty — and America’s naval forces will be capable of preserve their pre-eminence on the excessive seas.



Emma Salisbury is a Ph.D. candidate at Birkbeck College, University of London. Her analysis focuses on protection analysis and improvement in the United States and the military-industrial advanced. She can also be a senior staffer at the U.Ok. Parliament. The views expressed listed below are solely her personal. You can discover her on Twitter @salisbot.

This article is predicated on the creator’s remarks at the Kiel International Seapower Symposium 2022. She wish to thank the Institut für Sicherheitspolitik Kiel and the members for his or her beneficial suggestions.

Image: U.S. Navy