Report: To Provide for the Common Defense
By JAMES D. HESSMAN, Editor in Chief
More than 10 years have passed since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact,
the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War. As each
year passes, the possibility of a global nuclear holocaust seems ever
more remote, and the potential for a major theater war involving the United
States and its allies also becomes less likely.
Nonetheless, as Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda, East Timor, and numerous other
regional conflicts demonstrated during the last decade, the world is still
not entirely at peace. Most Americans recognize that when those conflicts
threaten vital U.S. interests--Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, for example--or
jeopardize global or regional stability (Kosovo) it may be necessary to
commit U.S. air, naval, and ground forces.
The Persian Gulf War against Iraq proved--although no proof really was
needed--that the U.S. armed forces are by almost any measure of magnitude
clearly superior to the armed forces of any other nation in the world.
They are, in fact, probably the best-trained, best-equipped, and most
combat-capable naval/military forces fielded by any nation in all world
Despite the overwhelming combat success of the U.S.-led coalition that
defeated Iraq's overrated Republican Guard and liberated Kuwait, the war
would have lasted much longer, and U.S. and allied casualties would have
been much greater, if Saddam Hussein had not made two colossal mistakes:
(1) not crossing immediately from Kuwait into Saudi Arabia; and (2) allowing
the United States and its allies six virtually uninterrupted months to
build up huge in-theater inventories of tanks, aircraft, weapons, and
ammunition and other consumables of all types before the beginning of
full-scale combat operations. As it was, it took the greatest single sealift
effort in history to ensure a quick victory with minimum U.S. and allied
casualties. That effort entailed the transport of literally millions of
tons of supplies--more than 95 percent of it carried by ships--over a
12,000-mile logistics pipeline from the United States to the combat theater.
It seems most unlikely that any future Saddam Hussein would make the same
Chance and Circumstance
The air war over Kosovo serves as another relevant example--both of the
superiority of advanced U.S. technology and of the totally unpredictable
role played by chance and circumstance. U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps
(and, to a lesser extent, allied) aircraft and smart weapons exacted a
very heavy toll on Serbian forces and on the Yugoslav infrastructure.
However, if Slobodan Milosevic had not suddenly capitulated U.S./U.N.
ground forces would undoubtedly have been required, and the results would
have been a logistics nightmare, perhaps many thousands of allied casualties,
and a conflict of much longer duration.
All of which underscores a continuing geopolitical fact of life understood
by most Americans--namely, that, despite the end of the Cold War, the
world is still an extremely dangerous place and therefore, to protect
its own political and economic interests throughout the world, the United
States--now the world's only true military superpower--will have to maintain
a relatively large naval and military force structure for many, many years
How large that force structure should be and how much it is likely to
cost are perhaps the two most important national-security questions facing
President-elect George W. Bush and his advisers. To answer those questions
it might be well to begin with the fact that the current force structure
is based on: (a) the findings of the 1993 Bottom-Up Review (BUR); and
(b) the recommendations of the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR--which
postulated, among other things, that the Navy, for example, would require
a minimum of 305 ships to carry out all of its assigned missions).
Over the past seven years many members of Congress, and numerous independent
defense analysts, have charged that the 1993 BUR findings were based primarily
on predetermined budget ceilings rather than on validated naval/military
requirements. Whether those charges are true or not, it has now become
abundantly clear that: (a) the defense budget requests submitted to Congress
in recent years have been less than adequate to meet the more credible
1997 QDR recommendations; (b) the peacetime operating tempos of all of
the nation's armed forces are much higher than had previously been anticipated;
and (c) the force levels postulated in the 1997 QDR report are in any
case, therefore, significantly below what are needed to meet U.S. national-defense
Points to Ponder
The following points--which focus on Navy ships but also are applicable
in varying degrees to aircraft, tanks, weapon systems, etc.--might be
useful in determining what force structure would be adequate to meet those
1. Toward the end of the Cold War there were almost 100 nuclear-powered
attack submarines (SSNs) in the Navy's active fleet. There are now only
55 SSNs in the fleet. A study commissioned by Gen. Hugh H. Shelton, chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has determined that to meet future CINC
and national-command requirements the Navy will need a minimum of 68 SSNs
by 2015, and 76 SSNs by 2025.
2. According to a long-range Navy shipbuilding report submitted to Congress
by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen on 26 June, the Navy will need
an active fleet of 360 ships "to accomplish all likely joint and
combined warfighting requirements, [provide] overseas presence, and support
... contingency operations." Included in that total, according to
the report, would be 15 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers (CVNs), enough
amphibious ships to form 14 amphibious ready groups (ARGs)--there are
now 12 ARGs in the active fleet--a 20 percent increase in SSNs, and a
10 to 15 percent increase in surface combatants.
3. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have told Congress many times in recent
years that the Navy needs a minimum of 15 carriers to maintain a continuing
presence in overseas areas of potential crisis. There are now only 12
carriers in the active fleet, and for that reason the Navy has been forced
to adopt a "gapping" policy that leaves one or more of the world's
potential "hotspots" unprotected for varying lengths of time.
During the air war over Kosovo, according to the commander of the U.S.
Sixth Fleet, "the Navy was forced to juggle aircraft carriers around
the globe, to NATO's disadvantage when hostilities began. ...The Western
Pacific had no carrier presence for 86 days." The gapping policy
has been defended by some DOD and Navy spokesmen--uniformed as well as
civilian, it should be noted--as entailing only what is described as "a
prudent level of risk." Critics of the policy, however, have likened
it to an insurance policy that is in effect only five days per week--with
the specific days varying from one week to the next.
4. The QDR limit on surface combatants is 116 ships, but a new Force
Level Study prepared by the Navy calls for a level of 134 to 138 surface
How Many Is Enough?
A credible case can be made that the Navy's real need is not the 360
ships called for in the long-range shipbuilding report sent to Congress
by Secretary of Defense Cohen but a larger fleet of 400 ships--the number
long advocated by former Secretary of the Navy James Webb. One reason
why more, rather than fewer, ships are likely to be needed is that within
the next several years there may well be additional reductions in the
number of U.S. forces stationed overseas; this would, of course, put an
even greater strain on forward-deployed Navy and Marine Corps units. A
second reason is that the proliferation throughout the world of weapons
of mass destruction (WMDs--chemical and biological as well as nuclear),
and of cruise missiles and other advanced-technology delivery systems,
also would put a higher premium on the use of naval forces to defuse potential
The third and perhaps most important reason for building an additional
increment of ships, though, is their unique suitability as mobile platforms
that could serve as the foundation for a sea-based national missile-defense
(NMD) system. There is no true national consensus yet on whether an NMD
system should be built at all, much less whether such system should be
land-based, the option favored by the Clinton administration, or sea-based--or
perhaps a hybrid of both. The proponents of a sea-based system point out
that a sea-based system: (a) would be virtually impossible to target and/or
destroy; (b) would be able to destroy hostile missiles in their "ascent"
phase, significantly lessening the possibility of collateral damage; (c)
could easily be shifted from one theater to another, eliminating the need
for multiple systems; and (d) could perhaps be deployed earlier, and at
lower cost, by building on the technologically advanced fleets of Aegis
air-defense cruisers and destroyers now in the active fleet. Most of the
Navy's Aegis ships already have been paid for, and the Aegis system itself
has already been thoroughly combat-tested (but not yet in a full NMD role).
It is reasonable to ask why, in any discussion of overall national-defense
issues, the principal focus should be on ships, and on naval forces in
general. The short answer is that ships take longer to build, and are
exponentially more complex, than any other weapons platform in the U.S.
combat inventory: anywhere from two years for a destroyer to six years
or more for a carrier from keel-laying to commissioning and delivery to
the operating forces. It is worth pointing out, though, that today's combatant
ships often enjoy service lives of 40 years, sometimes longer.
The Primary Mission: Deterrence
There are other answers, though, that are much more specific--and those
answers begin with strategic deterrence. Few if any Americans knowledgeable
in national-security matters would argue against the need to maintain--far
into the future, in all probability--a powerful and secure U.S. nuclear-deterrent
force. The Navy's current fleet of Trident ballistic missile submarines
(SSBNs)--soon to be reduced to 14 Trident boats--is by far the most survivable
leg of America's strategic triad of long-range bombers, SSBNs, and land-based
ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) and is likely to become even
more important as other nations develop their own nuclear weapons and
It is not always recognized that deterrence, not warfighting per se,
is the primary mission of America's conventional forces as well. This
is why, throughout the Cold War, the United States stationed several hundred
thousand troops in Europe and more than 100,000 air and ground personnel
in South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and elsewhere throughout the Pacific.
They were there, of course, to fight a war if need be, but their principal
purpose was to prevent a war from even starting--and then suddenly escalating
to levels increasingly dangerous and increasingly unpredictable.
For almost four decades the nation's, and NATO's, principal deterrent
to the start of a major conventional war were the U.S. and allied forces
concentrated on the Central Front in Europe--which is now arguably among
the least likely area of potential future conflict anywhere in the world.
The post-Cold War closure of several hundred U.S. air and ground bases
overseas has transferred a much greater share of the collective defense
burden to the U.S. Navy's forward-deployed carrier battle groups (CVBGs)
and the Navy/Marine Corps amphibious ready groups.
In many areas of the world, in fact, the CVBGs and ARGs already in-theater
are today the only fully combat-ready conventional power-projection forces
immediately available to the president and the regional CINCs (commanders
in chief). Moreover, the CVBGs and ARGs are not only instantly deployable,
they also are immediately employable and, when their mission is accomplished,
can just as quickly return home. Or, as has often been the case in recent
years, steam at flank speed to another area of potential crisis.
The First Question Asked
Even during the Cold War, though, according to former Secretary of State
Henry Kissinger, the first question any U.S. president asked in times
of international crisis was "Where are the carriers?" The reason
for this question, of course, is that there are several advantages to
using naval forces to send a political message. To begin with, ships leave
no footprint. The U.S. Navy's CVBGs and ARGs were designed and built to
be self-sustaining, which means that they can operate at sea for weeks,
sometimes months, without support from a complex, and costly, infrastructure
ashore. This is extremely important from a diplomatic and political as
well as military point of view.
A corollary advantage is that ships operate over the horizon--out of
sight, but not out of mind--in international waters, violating the sovereignty
of no other nation. The president can send them into action without first
having to secure the permission of one or more foreign powers. This is
seldom true of America's air and ground forces stationed overseas--which
are sometimes resented by the local population, unfortunately (and inaccurately),
as garrison forces. There are no "Yankee go home!" signs in
Ubiquitous and Peripatetic
Ships also are mobile, making them extremely difficult and sometimes
impossible to target, much less destroy. During the Vietnam War, according
to former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, "over
400 allied aircraft were lost from ground attack alone, and more than
4,000 other aircraft were damaged." In contrast, Moorer also pointed
out many times in speeches and interviews, "During the whole Vietnam
War not one sea-based aircraft was lost or damaged on board any U.S. carrier
as a result of enemy action."
The same mobility that makes aircraft carriers--submarines, surface combatants,
and amphibious ships as well--so hard to hit also gives them tremendous
operational flexibility. The same carrier on combat patrol in the Adriatic
this week and enforcing U.N. sanctions against Iraq next week could be
on station off North Korea in another fortnight and only two or three
days later on a peaceful "showing the flag" transit of the Taiwan
There is an important cost factor to consider as well: The ships now
operational in the U.S. Navy are extremely well designed and were so sturdily
built that their normal service lives--depending on operating tempo, environmental
conditions, and other factors--will be anywhere from 25 to 50 years. Again,
this is not true of U.S. air and ground bases on foreign soil overseas.
It was not too long after the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam just 25 years
ago that the Soviets were using the facilities at Camh Ranh Bay and other
bases built with American dollars--and defended with American blood.
The Soviets also used the former Wheelus Air Force Base in Libya, built
by the United States but now owned by Libyan strongman Muammar Qhaddafi.
A much larger "cost factor" was the principal focus of the
welcome but relatively muted "defense debate" in last year's
presidential election. The key question seems to be not whether defense
spending should or should not be increased in the future, but by how much.
President-elect Bush has said he will propose a defense budget increase
of approximately $45 billion over the next 10 years; Vice President Al
Gore said that an increase of $100 billion would be needed during the
same time frame.
The Four-Percent Solution
The totals projected by the two candidates still might not be enough,
though, according to the nation's military commanders, to many members
of Congress, and to numerous independent defense analysts. On 27 September
2000, JCS Chairman Shelton and the other members of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff testified before the House and Senate Armed Services in what has
become a traditional end-of-session review of the current U.S. military
posture and likely future requirements. During those hearings the Joint
Chiefs spelled out a list of funding needs that easily could add $50 billion
or more a year to current Pentagon spending.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Floyd Spence has offered a somewhat
higher estimate (between $60 billion and $100 billion more per year for
the foreseeable future). The nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International
Studies and the Project for the New American Century both have estimated
that an additional $100 billion annually will be needed for at least several
years and perhaps longer to remedy currently foreseeable defense shortfalls.
Former Secretaries of Defense Harold Brown and James Schlesinger, Gen.
Gordon Sullivan (a former Army chief of staff), and Adm. Jay L. Johnson
(who retired last year as chief of naval operations) all are on a long
and growing list of former DOD officials and uniformed service leaders
who also support the $100 billion add-on--which is now being called the
"Four Percent Solution" because it would increase, to about
4 percent, the share of GDP (gross domestic product) spent on national
A Blueprint From CBO
For purposes of comparison, the current defense budget consumes about
2.9 percent of GDP--vs. the Cold War average of approximately 8.0 percent
of GDP. This means that the 4 percent solution, if embraced by the new
president and funded by the 107th Congress, would increase the defense
share of GDP to only about half what it was for the four decades between
1950 and 1990.
The increases in defense spending advocated by Vice President Gore and
President-elect Bush made impressive headlines but were not overly specific.
Understandably, perhaps, neither candidate provided a detailed defense
budget plan broken down into major spending categories--readiness, O&M
(operations and maintenance), procurement, RDT&E (research, development,
test, and evaluation), etc.--much less into line-item numbers. The importance
of the increases advocated, therefore, is neither the size of the increases
nor the different totals enunciated by the two candidates but simply the
fact that both candidates were in agreement that major increases in defense
spending are required in the immediate future.
Fortuitously, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)--respected by both
parties for the accuracy of its estimates and the integrity of its reports--has
completed a new study, "Budgeting for Defense: Maintaining Today's
Forces," that could serve as a helpful blueprint for any future president
sincerely dedicated to maintaining a strong U.S. national defense posture
but not yet willing to embrace the Four Percent Solution per se.
The CBO report, released in late September, postulates--in specific,
concise, and very well-documented numbers--that appropriations of approximately
$340 billion per year (in 2000 dollars) will be required for the foreseeable
future simply to maintain the current U.S. naval/military force structure.
"Many advocates of increased spending for national defense argue
that not just more money but additional forces and weapons are needed,"
CBO says in the report--but immediately adds that the Office "did
not analyze the effects of those kinds of changes to current forces."
The approximately $50 billion per year increase the agency said would
be needed to maintain the current force structure, the agency emphasized,
should be considered strictly that--a "sustaining level" estimate.
In the study the CBO makes the following additional points that might
be considered relevant to the formulation of a new U.S. defense strategy
adequate to meet America's own national-defense needs and to support global
peace and stability:
* In fiscal year 1989 the United States spent $391 billion (in FY 2000
dollars) on national defense; by FY 1999 that total had dropped to $296
billion (again, in FY 2000 dollars)--a 24 percent decrease.
* The biggest cutback by far in the major defense budget accounts from
FY 1989 through FY 1999 was in procurement--which suffered an overall
reduction of 47 percent. Primarily for that reason, the biggest increase
projected in CBO's "sustaining level" budget also would be for
procurement, which would have to increase from $53 billion (in FY 2000)
to an estimated $90 billion annually.
* If the next president and the next Congress do not increase defense
spending, "the Department of Defense would need to cut roughly 25
percent of today's forces to reduce its total sustaining budget to $290
billion (the defense appropriation for [Fiscal] 2000, excluding supplemental
funding). That kind of reduction would mean cutting more than two divisions
in the active Army, three carrier battle groups in the Navy, and the equivalent
of more than three active fighter wings in the Air Force. Such cuts ...
would have a substantial effect on the capability of U.S. forces [emphasis
The NLUS Position
It has long been the position of the Navy League of the United States
that the most important constitutional duty of the legislative and executive
branches of government is to provide for the common defense. In keeping
with that principle, the Navy League's 2001 National Maritime Policy Statement--approved
by the NLUS membership well prior to last year's elections--advocates
the development, enactment, and implementation of a long-term national
defense program based on validated naval/military requirements rather
than on predetermined budget ceilings.
Various follow-on sections of the NLUS Maritime Policy Statement urge:
(1) That the president and his senior defense advisers develop, in cooperation
with Congress, the objective, requirements-based, and inherently flexible
long-term defense program needed to meet America's global security needs
for the foreseeable future; and
(2) That the current future-years defense program (FYDP) be immediately,
and significantly, revised upward to ensure: (a) that the men and women
serving in America's armed forces, both active and reserve, are adequately
compensated for their service and that they and their families are afforded
a reasonable quality of life; (b) that the ships, aircraft, spare parts,
and weapons, sensors, and electronics/avionics systems provided to all
of the nation's armed forces are of the highest quality and produced not
only as economically as possible but also in the quantities needed to
meet and defeat all currently foreseeable threats; and (c) that personnel
and operating tempos be maintained at reasonable levels, particularly
in times of peace.
President-elect Bush made it clear during last year's presidential campaign
that one of his highest priorities would be "to rebuild the U.S.
military." He also suggested several times during the campaign that
the commander in chief of America's armed forces has not only the constitutional
duty but also the moral obligation to take proper care of the men and
women serving under his command. To meet that obligation, and carry out
that duty, means ensuring that those forces are properly equipped, well-trained,
well-led, and well-motivated.
The new commander in chief cannot do it alone, however. He will need
the support of the U.S. Congress and the American people--all of whom
have the same moral obligation to provide for the common defense.
Several other members of the Sea Power Magazine
staff also made major contributions to the preceding Special Report, as
did NLUS National Executive Director Charles L. Robinson, Senior Director
of Communications David W. Thomas, Shannon K. Graves, the Navy League's
director of legislative affairs, and members of the staff of the American
Requests for reprints of this report should be
addressed to: Joseph C. Sacks, Business Manager, Sea Power Magazine and
The Almanac of Seapower, Navy League Headquarters, 2300 Wilson Blvd.,
Arlington, Va. 22201-3308; phone: 703-528-1775; Fax: 703-528-2333