In what is beginning to look like a concerted effort to position the Navy for expansion in hard times -- or at least to protect what it has left -- Adm. Gary Roughead offered a new version today of a speech he first unveiled last month in which he predicts the rise of naval forces as land forces face increasing obstacles to operations in the wake of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Mega cities will cluster on the littoral, concentrating as many people in their ambit by 2050 as lived on the entire globe in 2004. Africa will loom larger in the next 10 to 15 years Africa than it does today. The expanded, deeper Panama Canal will play a "key role" in altering sea-borne traffic, able to transship over 90 percent of the world's ships and almost that much of the Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) ships, Roughead remarked at the Hudson Institute in a speech billed as a major address.
Perhaps the best news for navy types is that global warming will, very simply, mean there will be more water for navies to secure. And the admiral argued, in a new wrinkle to the speech, that navy ships may be expensive in the short term but provide the country with enormous value over the long term. He pointed to the USS Enterprise carrier whose first deployment was during the Cuban missile crisis. "That is a good investment," he said.
Given his emphasis on the littoral and his discussion of the still-unspecified benefits of Air-Sea Battle, I asked Roughead how much strategic considerations and industrial base issues weighed in the service's decision to buy LCS models from both Lockheed Martin and Austal. The Navy now plans to buy 10 ships from each company, as opposed to the earlier plan to buy 15.
"I'm not a math whizz, but 20 is better than 15," he offered. On top of that, the two designs bring different strengths although they both meet the program requirements. This will require authorization from Congress to buy the increased number of ships, something Roughead said "we've been working very closely with the Hill over the last couple of weeks." The clock is ticking since the bids from the two companies expire on Dec. 14. But for the chief of naval operations the first priority was the "ability to get more ships."
It also, as one observer at the address noted afterwards, makes an expensive protest that could delay the program much less likely.