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Defending Freedom at Sea
U.S. Navy Reassessing “Global Posture” in Response to Russia

It’s not easy being the world’s policeman; you can’t just afford to focus on one issue at a time. Case in point: As the U.S. settles on a plan to conduct regular freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea, the head of the U.S. Navy tells the Financial Times the force is “reassessing its global posture in the face of the Russian activity.” Admiral John Richardson says the Russian navy is more active now than it has been in twenty years, and that the U.S. needs a new strategy to confront Moscow.

It’s very good that the navy is paying attention. Last week, we learned the Kremlin has been eyeing critical undersea cables that carry internet communications across the Atlantic. The free flow of goods and information are core American interests and maintaining freedom of the seas has been one of America’s chief responsibilities since World War II. The Russians would like to make that job harder—and America appear more hapless at doing it.

The Navy will need support from the White House and Congress to make any new strategy work. The Admiral has spoken. Is Washington listening?

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  • Daniel Nylen

    With the resurgence of competition from somewhat comparable militaries (not equal but at least in the same league or close to it), the US Navy needs to reassess its survivability and its missions. It is one thing to project power into a broken Iraq, but quite another to project power against top line Russian or Chinese equipment with competent and trained operators. After 20+ years without any real prospect of opposition, are we capable of the strategic thinking necessary when faced with threats we haven’t faced since the 1980s, or perhaps have never faced (today’s technology is much more deadly to naval vessels than 1980s tech)? Reallocation of a few assets does nothing when one realizes that the assets have little to no effectiveness in the envisioned missions with today’s technology.

    That is not to say that the Navy has no mission, it has tremendous capability, but it doesn’t have the same invincibility we are used to. Naval war strategies in the cold war were deterrence based and understood the huge losses that modern warfare would inflict on both sides. I am appalled that we are striding quickly forward toward those same ends today with today’s more deadly technology.

    • Jim__L

      What deadly technologies are you referring to? I first saw the “nuke sub beats surface ship” observation in Keegan’s “The Price of Admiralty”, and that came out in ’88. I’m not sure what we have today that’s more deadly than that.

      • Daniel Nylen

        Missile technology is increasingly deadlier each year as the missiles get smarter (smaller chips, more target discrimination) and faster (less time to intercept). While we have the premier anti-air capability in our surface force suite of Aegis ships, it is a large problem with our expensive ships and our sensitivity to loss. Other deadly tech: smart mines, AIP diesel subs, and the always convoluted world of electromagnetic countermeasures.

        The changing technology and our shrinking fleet and conventional forces means we have to rethink our strategies with the “opposition” major powers in ways we haven’t in the last 20 years. It is easy to get locked into tunnel thinking that everything is the same as it has been for the last 20 years, but not it isn’t. From the end the Cold War and for the next 20 years we were relatively invulnerable to the conventional forces opposing us in our areas of conflicts–Iraq, Bosnia, Iran without latest Russian tech. Today’s leadership developed in this invulnerable era. With a possible reduced tech lead, and a top tier opponent, as opposed to the ‘B’ or ‘C’ team, are we really contemplating any strategy with our smaller Navy against capable opponents?

        Russia rearms, and China has modernized and both are flexing their oats. We need to ensure we appreciate that we aren’t the only big dog running around the streets of the world. We aren’t the only hyper-power of the last 20 years. What we see as normal posturing the other side might see it as arrogance because the balance of forces is so badly against us in the local area. I don’t see the US starting another early 1980s Naval build-up to match any strategy that has us going toe to toe with China in their backyard and territorial waters, claimed or de facto. With a shrinking defense force, we need to be realistic about the relative forces in an area. Chinese leadership is not the same as the old Soviet leadership and we shouldn’t expect the similar treatment. Freedom opes in the South China Sea isn’t the like those in the Black Sea in the 1970s and 1980s. The history of the relationship isn’t the same, nor is the history of freedom of the sea the same. So we need to tread carefully.

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