By Lieutenant Doug
Robb, U.S. Navy
Best Defense guest
shifting strategic focus of the United States, alternately referred to as a
"pivot" or "rebalance," has crystalized a debate among our national leadership
about how the military can and should achieve its security goals in the coming
years. At the operational and tactical levels, it is irrefutable that we must
have an adequate number of highly-capable warships -- and a sophisticated
logistics system to support them -- operating forward and ready for tasking to
maintain the timely, efficient, and metered response to which we have become
and their capabilities are tools ("means" in military parlance) used to achieve
tactical, operational, and strategic objectives ("ends"). However, they differ
from other military hardware because a constant naval presence -- simply "being
there" -- has characteristics of both ends and means. As a result, the
"one-third, one-third, one-third" budget allocations traditionally apportioned
among the service branches simply will not achieve current or future security
goals. Policymakers should recognize not only the immense payoff that naval
forces provide, but how they can strengthen America's security prospects in the
years to come.
the debate about the size and capability of the U.S. Navy must not narrowly
view ships as "means" to a tactical "end." Rather, it should acknowledge that
the routine non-wartime presence Navy ships maintain is an end itself -- one
that delivers tangible benefit to American security, influence, and
responsiveness unmatched by any other service or platform.
Unique to the Navy's
routine presence mission is the ability to provide these security requirements
in near real-time without the requirement of a host country. Naval forces are
inherently different from Army garrisoned forces because, while long-term land
occupations risk undermining security objectives, a strong naval presence can
reinforce them. Maritime forces require no diplomatic approval to operate in
international waters; they do not force domestic or foreign leaders to expend
political capital in order to place troops within striking distance of hot
spots; they do not put allies in awkward positions by asking them to house U.S.
forces when the local population may be averse to such presence.
garrisoned forces require policymakers in both the United States and in the
forward-deployed country to make decisions that could weaken broader security
goals. For example, an augmented American ground presence in Germany or Poland
would surely increase regional tensions already stoked by the crisis in Crimea.
Moreover, it would be difficult for military strategists to argue that placing
such forces in Europe would help the outlook in the Pacific, where our security
focus will be for the foreseeable future.
ship on which I serve, the USS Kidd
(DDG 100), illustrates the value routine naval presence provides. Kidd recently concluded its 10-day search for missing Malaysia
Airlines Flight 370;
this journey took the ship from the Gulf of Thailand to the Java Sea, through
the Singapore Strait and Strait of Malacca, past the Andaman Sea and on to the
Bay of Bengal at the northern edge of the Indian Ocean. In total, Kidd transited more than 3,500 nautical
miles conducting visual and radar searches; its two MH-60R helicopters used
state-of-the-art sensors to comb nearly 15,000 square nautical miles during
some may claim it was "luck" that Kidd
and Pinckney (DDG 91), which also
participated in the operation, were able to respond to this tragedy so quickly,
this timely reaction was made possible only by the U.S. Navy's continued and
persistent presence in the Indo-Asian region. Kidd was conducting routine operations in the South China Sea -- only
a one-day transit from the initial search location. "Luck," said Branch Rickey,
the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who signed Jackie Robinson, "is the
residue of design."
U.S. Navy's presence in neighboring waters permitted a rapid response to the
search effort for the missing jetliner without the cost that would result from
deploying a San Diego or Pearl Harbor-based ship. Conversely, a deployment
announced specifically for the Flight 370 search might have sent a potentially
negative signal to the Malaysians that the U.S. distrusted their search
the transit time (no less than three weeks) would have limited the value of the
U.S. contribution. This same logic applies to humanitarian assistance, disaster
relief, or any other situation in which tensions rise and threaten free access
to waterways essential to U.S. economic and security interests. Deploying to
these areas after an event occurs or tensions flare -- especially when American
naval presence has historically not been routine -- can limit the efficacy of
response and might well raise the very apprehensions the Navy's presence was
meant to quell.
Navy is omnipresent in every major geographic area around the world. The very
presence of naval ships simultaneously deters military aggression and assures
our allies, safeguards the sea lanes and the commerce that flows through them,
preserves territorial waterway boundaries and the right to resources contained
therein, and facilitates a response to natural disasters and other catastrophes
-- like the disappearance of MH370. In this case, showing up is well more than
half the battle.
U.S. Navy's resilience can only endure with the understanding that a firm
commitment to building and maintaining a first-rate Navy -- capable of being
present where our national interests lie -- is not only desirable, it is
necessary. This commitment is a policy prerequisite if the United States -- a
maritime nation whose interests have been safeguarded by the Navy since the
country's founding -- wants to retain the ability to influence outcomes, create
additional windows of diplomacy, and control escalation.
Lieutenant Robb holds
graduate degrees in security studies from Georgetown's School of Foreign
Service and the U.S. Naval War College. He currently serves as the operations officer of the USS Kidd (DDG 100) on deployment in the Asia-Pacific. The views
expressed are his alone.