John Lehman, Secretary of the Navy from 1981 to 1987, has addressed "What the Navy Should Look Like" in response to the service's current array of problems. Under Lehman's guidance in the 1980s, the Navy almost reached his goal of 600 active ships, including 15 aircraft carriers and four battleships. He rejuvenated Marine aviation with both the F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier, and provided modern aircraft and ships for the Naval Reserve.
Speaking at a Hudson Institute conference in Washington, D.C. that addressed Navy shipbuilding problems, Secretary Lehman called for a three-phase program to rebuild the Navy, maximize its capabilities, and boost its image.
First, the Navy "should look the same to everyone," according to Lehman. He explained that everyone should realize that the U.S. Navy "can visit unacceptable violence from the seas." That image should comfort actual and potential friends, and should intimidate and restrain actual and potential enemies.
As Lehman has indicated in the past, naval forces provide persistent presence, for sustained periods, without the need for overflight rights or foreign bases. This is in sharp contrast to those who propose "virtual presence" by long-range aircraft or missiles based in the United States.
Rating the Navy's capabilities, Lehman gives the service high marks for strategic deterrence (i.e., Trident missile submarines). But at lower levels of warfighting, there are "lots of holes," and "this is inviting potential enemies to move into the vacuum."
Second, the former Secretary of the Navy called for "competence" in U.S. military and naval, strategy, and in developing and building ships, aircraft, and weapons. Problems in Navy hardware programs, he contends, are due to a lack of competence among program managers and engineers. "The Navy looks incompetent managing (its) resources," he said. Lehman, however, is quick to point out that the other military services are worse.
The Navy should return to "simple line management and accountability," cutting out layers of bureaucracy. And, he said, the service should concentrate on cost analysis and engineering, not sexual harassment counseling.
Third, Secretary Lehman believes that the Navy must (again) become an "elite organization." It must be viewed as a glamorous service -- "a calling," and not simply a trade. The Navy must attract interesting and creative people.
In discussing the reasons this is not now being done, he cited the many uniform issues that have brought criticism from Navy enlisted personnel. Lehman was stronger in his criticism of the Goldwater-Nichols legislation that forces officers to have "joint" duty before they can screen for command. This takes them away from important assignments and experience, and it adds to "the constant bureaucratic growth" by increasing shore staffs.
In addressing fleet size -- the principal subject of the Hudson conference -- Lehman said, "Numbers do count," and called for a fleet of 350 ships. This, he said, is the minimum needed to carry out the current and predicted Navy missions. But he believes that there will be continuing fleet reductions unless the Navy can develop a realistic shipbuilding strategy as a starting point.