The Future of the Navy: A View from the Top

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The Future of the Navy: A View from the Top

April 26, 2005 4 min read
Jack Spencer
Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom
Jack Spencer oversees research as Vice President for the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity.

How should the Navy be transformed to maximize its future efficiency and effectiveness? In 2002, the Navy outlined its vision for the future in Sea Power 21. And now, as the Navy prepares for the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review, it will have to make even more strategic and programmatic decisions. In a recent lecture at The Heritage Foundation, Admiral Vern Clark, Chief of Naval Operations, outlined the challenges that the Navy faces at the beginning of the 21st century.


The "Three R's"

The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) will be very important in shaping the future Navy. However, it will focus primarily on capabilities of the future force and the fiscal ramifications of developing and supporting that force. The QDR will not detail the exact "size and shape" of the Navy.


As the Chief of Naval Operations and other senior Navy leaders work through the important issues for the 2005 QDR and the challenges of naval transformation, they are guided by three main points of reference: readiness, responsiveness, and relevancy.


Readiness: The current approach to readiness in the Navy is drastically different than it was 5 years ago. Part of this difference results from a better understanding of return on investment-the investment that a nation makes in its military forces and what that investment produces. The refitting, repairing, and modernization of naval assets that will be necessary after Operation Iraqi Freedom will be a great opportunity for progress in transformation.


In 2003, the Navy released its Fleet Response Plan, which challenged everything the Navy believed about organizing, equipping, training, and maintaining the force. At the heart of improved readiness is winning the "battle for people." This is the most important challenge for the future and on any given day. How is the Navy going to compete in the marketplace for the intellectual capital and quality of personnel that it needs? There are two concepts of interest to the Navy's leaders:

  • Developing a modern "Human Capital Strategy." The need for such a strategy is desperately felt across all services and is so important that it has become a personal project of the Chief of Naval Operations.
  • Capturing intellectual capital costs. Unofficial estimates show that a considerable percentage of resources are spent on building intellectual capital, but this is a difficult area to quantify. Industry leaders face similar challenges. Transformation must address intellectual capital; this is an area where the military can and must do better.

Responsiveness: To measure up to the new global and networked threat base, the future Navy must be "out and about." Sea Power 21, which is more of a framework for the future and less about specific budget programs, envisions a distributed and networked force. The concept of "maneuver," while familiar to the Army, deserves more currency in the Navy. The Navy's total mastery of its "maneuver space"-the sea-will be key to facing the diverse threats that are likely to emerge over the next 30 to 40 years.

Responsiveness also includes the "6+2" plan as outlined in the Fleet Response Plan, which calls for maintaining six ready carrier strike groups, with two additional strike groups able to deploy within 90 days. Also important is turning technical advantage into tactical advantage. The future Navy will have to be networked and will have to be able to exploit the benefits of that technical advantage.


Relevancy: The Navy and other services now find themselves preparing for "4th generation warfare." Earlier generations, which incorporated historical progress in technology, maneuverability, and speed, are involved state-on-state warfare. But 4th generation warfare is a new thing, involving non-state actors and the battle for ideas, enemies that are looking block U.S. military advantages and exploit seams in existing systems, and the use of asymmetric means to achieve goals and objectives. The Navy may not be properly balanced and shaped now for the kind of tasks that will be required, but Navy leadership is excited about the transformation that is already underway. The Navy's current budget program embodies this shift. Every platform that is in the budget currently before Congress, with the exception of the Virginia-class submarine, is a future capability. These will change the size, shape, and balance of the Navy and address how the Navy, as a distributed force, is going to be able to deliver "twice the combat capability in half the time."



The Navy must retain major combat capability while fulfilling its duties related to the War on Terror, stability operations, and homeland security and defense. Different forces, with overlapping capabilities, may be required to address these requirements. How the Navy's overlapping obligations are merged to optimize future capability across a wide spectrum-and thereby assure continued dominance in the maritime arena-will be an important part of the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review.


For more information on maritime defense issues, see Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum No. 967, "Congress Should Restore Funding to Refuel Attack Submarines;" and Special Report No. 3, "Making the Sea Safer: A National Agenda for Maritime Security and Counterterrorism."


Jack Spencer is Senior Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Kathy Gudgel, Research Assistant in Defense and National Security, contributed to this piece. This WebMemo is based on a presentation given at "The Future of the Navy: A View from the Top," a public event held at The Heritage Foundation on Thursday, March 31, 2005.


Jack Spencer
Jack Spencer

Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom