Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said Tuesday the Navy’s global focus won’t change much as it begins to feel the squeeze from reduced budget growth, but it will double down on a few key strategies and goals.
Greenert told a packed auditorium at the Surface Navy Association’s trade show outside Washington that the Navy would focus on keeping open the world’s most important and most vulnerable “choke points,” key corridors for commerce, particularly in the Western Pacific and the Middle East.
“We need to be where the maritime crossroads are,” he said. “That’s what keeps the world economy rolling along.”
He showed a diagram with markings on the Strait of Hormuz; the Bab al Mandeb, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden; and the Strait of Malacca, among others. Not all of them were obviously in need of Navy attention, and Greenert said the service must keep that in mind.
“The Panama Canal is going to be widened,” he said. “What does that mean for the Caribbean? I dunno, but we need a place down there to operate, and that is Guantanamo Bay.”
Greenert segued into his concept for “bases” and “places” – U.S. or friendly international ports where American sea and expeditionary power will remain important going forward. A familiar example is Japan, but a new one is Australia, he said, or Rota, Spain, which will host four Aegis destroyers as part of the Euro-BMD mission. And there could be others: Greenert said that the Navy and Marines could someday use other Australian “air heads” or naval bases beyond the one in Darwin where Marines will spend their standard rotations.
Singapore could be another future hub for the Navy, Greenert said. Its government has offered to host some forward-deployed facilities for littoral combat ships, where tomorrow’s LCSes could at least swap mission packages or put in for repairs. That, in turn, would put the U.S. Navy in a very convenient place to ensure the safe transit of trade through the Strait of Malacca.
What Greenert did not discuss was what a new focus on critical straits would mean for the Navy’s goodwill deployments to Africa and South America, which have picked up over the last few years with frigate, hospital ship and other visits. They may fall off as part of the new strategic guidance that calls for a smaller American military presence in Africa and South America, especially if the Navy’s frigates start to leave the fleet in numbers.
Beyond the larger strategy, Greenert also talked about some of his top acquisitions principles for the austerity Navy. He took a soft shot at the F-35C, saying that in anti-access, area-denial environments, “stealth and platforms have a limit,” though he was careful to include a boilerplate endorsement of the program. But he asked rhetorically whether it was better to invest in “payload,” versus “platform,” implying that he wants new longer-range standoff weapons that would agnostic about what kind of fighter delivered them.
He said he wanted “modularity,” and “a common hull” in a theoretical replacement for the Arleigh Burke destroyer class; he’s “excited” about the Unmanned Combat Air Systems down the line; and threw in the standard praise for cyber-warfare.
Specifically, Greenert said he wants the Navy’s long-discussed anti-torpedo torpedo – a hedge against certain navies’ growing submarine fleets – as well as more unmanned underwater vehicles that can hunt for mines and submarines. He also said he will bring a big push about electronic warfare and electronic attack:
“In some areas, our probability of a kill right now is zero,” he said. “If we can get that to only 15 percent, that’s good, coming from zero.”
Greenert’s biggest near-term worry is what he called “wholeness” in the fleet, he said – that no matter how impressive a cruiser might appear as it put to sea for a deployment, its crew actually was ready for any missions it might be asked to take. The Surface Force was, in some ways, a hollow force before that term was ubiquitous, so Navy leaders are constantly stressing their commitment to basic competence, maintenance and training.
Historically, the surface Navy disposed of ships well before the end of their service lives, but today’s leadership sees the budget writing on the wall. So Greenert, like his predecessor, is stressing the need to make sailors as skilled as possible at running and maintaining their ships and gear to squeeze the most possible good from them.
That will especially apply of more drawdowns and budget reductions means the Navy under Greenert continues to shrink, he said.
“No matter the size of our force, particularly if it’s a little smaller, we’ve got to be able to do the job right.”