Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy: An Assessment

This article originally featured on the Conference for Defense Associations Institute. It may be read in its original form here

CDA Institute guest contributor Tom Ring, a Senior Fellow at uOttawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, comments on some of the challenges facing the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy.

With some observers and pundits clamouring for the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy to be completely scrapped, we should take the time to examine where we are and indeed whether the program is failing to meet its objectives. In a detailed analysis recently published by the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, the conclusion reached tells a very different story. This blog post provides a short summary of the issues that I explored more fully in the above paper, and concludes with identification of some of the very real challenges involved in implementing such a complex undertaking.

In 2006, the federal Government made a bold strategic decision – it would use the renewal of the Navy and Coast Guard fleets to rebuild Canada’s shipbuilding industry. The concept became the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS). The economic benefits of this construction would accrue not only to the shipyards which eventually won the bidding process. Ancillary benefits would also be received by the hundreds and thousands of suppliers in this decades-long, multibillion dollar commitment.

Rather than the well-trodden practice of shipyards bidding on a project-by-project basis, they would bid on the entire package, one for the combat package, the other for the non-combat package. There would be two winners among Canada’s five shipyards capable of doing this work, meaning that there would be three losers. This was not how shipbuilding procurement had ever been done.

Much has been written recently about the NSPS, not all of which has been favourable. To be sure, any initiative that has the goals and ambitions of the NSPS will be (and ought to be) subject to considerable scrutiny. Healthy public debate on matters of important public policy is vital to democracy. Differing points of view and outright opposition should be a welcome part of a debate on an issue as important as the NSPS. Let me briefly outline the original goals of NSPS and assess where we are in achieving them.

Goal 1 – Rebuild the Federal Vessels in Canada: This is currently being accomplished. While it has been suggested that the ships can be built cheaper elsewhere, no evidence has ever been provided to substantiate this assertion.

Goal 2 – Revitalize the Shipbuilding Industry in Canada: This has been accomplished and the resulting job creation and associated economic benefits are being felt across Canada and will continue to be for some time to come.

Goal 3 – Build The Federal Vessels in a Manner that Maximizes Value for Taxpayers and Fosters Economies of Scale: This goal is perhaps one of the more contentious elements of NSPS, in so far as it implies acceptance by the Government of a “premium” for building vessels in Canada. There is likely no counter argument to the fact that shipyards in Canada cannot match the low labour rates charged by shipyards in Asia. However, for most Canadians, it is also likely a common sense proposition that if we need to invest $3050 billion to rebuild the Navy and the Coast Guard we should do so in Canada – as long as we do it in such a way as to maximize productivity and efficiency. This is why Canada engaged First Marine International (FMI), the recognized world leader in assessing shipbuilding processes. Measuring over 183 different processes, FMI established efficiency and productivity standards for the winning shipyards, based on leading practices world-wide. Any contract to be subsequently awarded is conditional on these standards being maintained. We are only able to assess achievement of this goal after the two shipyards achieve their “target state” as established by FMI, and subsequently verified by them as required by the Umbrella Agreement (UA). If one assumes that target state will be reached, then FMI has stated that the facilities will be a significant national strategic asset. The resulting economic impact for Canada in the long-term will not be only jobs created, but careers created that will last for decades.

Goal 4 – Establish a Long Term Strategic Relationship with Two Shipyards: The elements of this arrangement are set out in the two partnership agreements called Umbrella Agreements, and include all of the provisions needed to permit value for money assessments, open book accounting, risk sharing, cost/capability trade-offs, etc.

Goal 5 – Realization of the Shipyards Commitments on ITB’s and Value Proposition: The achievement of this goal will require continuous assessment but there is no evidence to date that this will not happen.

There are, nonetheless, some very real and problematic challenges to be addressed and, to date, real solutions have not yet been identified. The first of these is the acknowledged inadequacies of the project budgets. The second is the ongoing challenge of program management for a multi-billion dollar endeavour. Neither is new nor unexpected.

The risk that intended capabilities might not be achieved within the established project budgets was identified by officials involved in implementing NSPS even before the shipyard selection process began. Officials with the Department of National Defence (DND) and Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and well as at Public Works and Government Services Canada (now renamed Public Services and Procurement Canada) knew that most of the project budgets had been developed many years earlier and needed updating to reflect cost escalation, technology improvements, and new capability requirements. However, given the delays incurred due to the failed vessel procurement processes, and having nothing better to inform the new budget numbers before design work was well underway, it was decided to proceed with the overall program of work knowing that budgets would have to be re-visited at the design stage in any event.

In his 2013 assessment of the NSPS, the Auditor General noted that inadequate project budgets could constrain the achievement of required capabilities. No specific action was taken to address the observation. Cost estimation on projects that will be realized many years in the future is an imprecise undertaking, to say the least. Of course, every effort is made to account for inflation, currency fluctuations, and other known variables. Nevertheless, some factors cannot be fully accounted for. Innovation, advances in technology, and adjusted requirements due to new threats and changing circumstances will always have an unknown impact on a project that will only be realized in 10 years.

Still, the recent Australian Defence white paper estimated the cost of nine future frigates, to be built in the 2020 timeframe, at more than AUS$30 billion. And this number is for design and construction only, and does not include costs for weapon systems, or project management costs etc. Of course, there is no way of knowing whether Canada’s future naval vessels will be similar but the broad range of numbers provided by the Australian government should be instructive to those who are making similar estimations in Canada.

The second issue is the ongoing management of the program. This is also a critical shortcoming. If not addressed adequately, it will continue to hamper the achievement of the overarching goals and objectives of NSPS. Much like the issue of inadequate project budgets, the ongoing management of NSPS implementation was identified as a significant vulnerability in the fall of 2011, shortly after the selection process was completed. The challenge identified at the time was how to ensure that the entire implementation of NSPS was managed as one program and not a series of related projects. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was engaged in late 2011 to conduct a review and make recommendations on the “most appropriate governance and operating model to manage the Umbrella Agreements and long term sourcing relationships that have been created by the NSPS process.” PwC’s recommendations were never fully implemented.

The major criticisms of the NSPS are well known. The various vessel construction projects are over budget and have yet to be delivered. (It should be noted that construction is well underway on vessels in both packages, and construction on the second vessel in the non-combat package began on March 29th at Seaspan in Vancouver.) Has the Government maintained sufficient control/authority in the UA for its partnership arrangement with the shipyards? Does the UA sufficiently protect the Crown’s interests? Whether such concerns are real or could now be mitigated if they are real, is a question that deserves to be continually examined given the size, scope, and complexity of the program to re-build the federal fleets. In order to contribute to the public debate, I will more fully explore the nature of the challenges outlined above and discuss options for dealing with them in a policy brief in the coming weeks.

Tom Ring is a Senior Fellow at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. He retired from the Public Service in January 2015 following a 39 year career, the last five of which were as the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Acquisitions Branch at Public Works and Government Services Canada. In that role he was responsible for the implementation of the selection process for the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy. (Image courtesy of The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan.)

Terrorists on the Ocean: Sea Monsters in the 21st Century

By CAPT Robert N. Hein, USN

The call of the ocean has enticed generations to explore, and at times exploit her domain. Ninety percent of world commerce transits the oceans. Cruise ships represent a $40 Billion industry, and 30% of the world’s oil originates offshore. It is no wonder criminals and terrorists also feel drawn to the sea. As these groups expand their reach, the question is: When will ISIS and other terrorist organizations bring their brand of mayhem to the oceans?

A senior NATO Admiral, VADM Clive Johnstone, recently expressed concern that ISIS desired its own maritime force to spread its nefarious activities into the Mediterranean. These activities could include launching attacks against a cruise liner, oil terminal, or container ship. Soon after VADM Johnstone’s comments, Former Supreme Allied Commander and retired Admiral James Stavridis weighed in with his own concerns about ISIS entering the maritime domain: “I’m surprised [Islamic State militants] have not, as yet, moved into the maritime world and gone after cruise ships, which I think are a logical and lucrative target for them.”

While ISIS’ maritime capabilities have been limited to date, this has not been true of all terrorist organizations. ISIS’ predecessor, Al Qaeda, launched a vicious and successful attack against the USS COLE in October 2000. Somali pirates experienced tremendous success at sea for years, but strong responses from the international community and force protection measures by the maritime industry have limited further successful attacks. ISIS’ limited attempts at sea have achieved some effects though, such as the shore-launched rocket attack on an Egyptian naval ship in August. Additionally, there was a recent attempt by ISIS to conduct an attack from the sea against a Libyan oil terminal, but it was thwarted by Libyan security forces.

Footage of ISIS affiliated insurgent group launching missile at Egyptian Timsah class patrol boat in July 2015. 

How Real is the Threat?

The lure of expanding operations into the maritime domain is enticing to terrorist groups. The relative isolation is real, and external response is limited. Terrorist attacks on land receive a rapid government response, in large numbers, and with many assets to thwart an attack. Case in point is the Al Qaeda attack at a luxury hotel in Burkina Faso in January 2016. Three members of an Al Qaeda group took 126 hostages and killed two dozen more before security forces stormed the hotel, killing the terrorists and freeing the hostages. A logical extension of the attacks in Burkina Faso would be an assault on a large and remote or underdefended luxury hotel- such as an underway cruise ship. The narrative ISIS hopes to convey from attacking a cruise ship at sea is akin to many horror movies: a captive victim with nowhere to turn for help.

Following VADM Johnson’s prediction, the Cruise Line International Association quickly stepped in to reassure its passengers that cruises are still safe, but are they? The last successful terrorist attack against a cruise ship was 30 years ago by Palestinians. Their original intent was to use the Achille Lauro as transport to Ashdod, Israel, to launch a terror attack ashore. This plan rapidly changed when a crew member discovered the terrorists/attackers cleaning their weapons.

Egyptian central security police guarding the gangplank on which diplomats and others go to and from the Italian cruise liner ?Achille Lauro? which arrived, Thursday, Oct. 10, 1985 in Port Said in this port after being hijacked by four Palestinian for more than 48-hours. The four hijackers has left Egypt after they surrendered go to the Egyptian authorities on Wednesday. (AP Photo)
Egyptian central security police guarding the gangplank on which diplomats and others go to and from the Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro which arrived, Thursday, Oct. 10, 1985 in Port Said after being hijacked by four Palestinian for more than 48-hours. (AP Photo)

While the Achille Lauro incident increased levels of security in the cruise ship world, threats to the cruise industry remain. In March 2015, cruise ship tourists visiting a museum during a stop in Tunis were attacked. Cruise lines are quick to cancel port visits in global hot spots, and most employ internal security forces. However, the allure for terrorists remains. Al Qaeda made plans as early as 2011 to capture a cruise ship and execute its passengers. Fortunately, those plans have failed to come to fruition as terrorist groups have found the task is harder than it looks.

While attacks on the open ocean remain a challenge, coastal attacks are more feasible. The Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba launched an attack in 2008 against Mumbai. They hijacked an Indian fishing boat and launched 10 terrorists ashore, ultimately killing 166 and injuring almost 500. The lack of a strong Coast Guard in both India and Pakistan certainly contributed to the terrorists’ success, and served as a wakeup call. In response to the Mumbai attacks, the Indian Navy was placed at the apex of India’s maritime security architecture and made responsible for both coastal and oceanic security. Since then, the Indian Navy has successfully prevented further attacks. However, even with the additional forces, indications persist that ISIS may be trying to infiltrate India by sea, disguised as fishermen.

Arguably, the most successful terrorist group on the sea was the Sri Lankan separatist group, the Tamil Tigers. In his treatise A Guerrilla Wat At Sea: The Sri Lankan Civil War , Professor Paul Povlock of the Naval War College describes how at their strongest, their maritime branch (the Sea Tigers) boasted a force of 3000 personnel with separate branches for logistics, intelligence, communications, offensive mining, and — every terrorists’ favorite — the suicide squad. They conducted sea denial with great success, even demonstrating the ability to sink Sri Lankan patrol boats using fast attack craft and suicide boats.

Small vessels employed by the Sea Tigers.
Small vessels employed by the Sea Tigers.

The Tigers continued their attacks against Sri Lanka for 20 years until the Sri Lankan Navy was able to effectively neutralize them. The Sri Lankan Navy now has a formidable maritime patrol, but not before they lost over 1000 men to the Sea Tigers. Hardly a day goes by without illegal fishermen being chased away or arrested by the Sri Lankan government, who is ever mindful that their waters could again be used for more nefarious purposes.

Sometimes terrorists’ appetites are far bigger than their stomachs, as was the case in September 2014 when Al Qaeda operatives attempted to hijack a Pakistani frigate. If successful, it would have had epic implications. However, the attempted takeover was thwarted by a sharp Pakistani gunner who noticed the inbound boat did not have standard issue gear. He engaged, destroying the terrorist boat, while commandos onboard the frigate subdued crew members sympathetic to the terrorist cause.

Defeat and Deter

Operating in the maritime domain is far more challenging than operations on land. The Somali pirates were originally fishermen and familiar with operating at sea, but it still took them years to develop an offshore “over the horizon” capability. The lack of successful attacks at sea by terrorist organizations in spite of their indicated desire is at least a partial validation of the efforts made by the maritime security community.

The effective shutdown of piracy off Somalia served as a model for defeating maritime crime, showing coastal nations the effects of naval presence in deterring illegal behavior at sea. Malaysia has all but shut down sea crime in its waters, and blunted terrorist attempts to enter Malaysia by aggressively patrolling their coasts. Nigeria has similarly stepped up its game in the Gulf of Guinea where their navy stopped two hijackings in one week and separately announced they would soon take delivery of an additional 50 boats- both demonstrations of commitment to peaceful use of their waters. That doesn’t mean the work is over. ISIS, who has the funds for major purchases, is attempting to acquire naval capabilities like 2 man submarines, high powered speed boats, boats fitted with machine guns and rocket launchers, and mine planners made easily available by less discerning arms providers such as Korea, China, and Russia.

While the likelihood of near-shore attacks remains a possibility, including against cruise ships, the chance that ISIS will attack blue water objectives out of sight of land is still remote. However, the odds will remain remote only as long as the navies of the world continue to provide a credible presence on the oceans. When the seas are no longer effectively patrolled, terrorist organizations will take advantage of the same opportunities for freedom of maneuver at sea that they currently enjoy ashore.

Captain Robert N. Hein is a career Surface Warfare Officer. He previously commanded the USS Gettysburg (CG-64) and the USS Nitze (DDG-94). You can follow him on Twitter: @the_sailor_dog. The views and opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Navy or the Department of Defense.

Featured Image: The U.S.S. Cole in 2000 after suffering an Al Qaeda attack in the port of Aden. 17 American sailors were killed, and 39 were injured.

Could Robot Submarines Replace Australia’s Ageing Collins Class Submarines?

This article originally featured on The Conversation. It can be read in its original form here.

By Sean Welsh

The decision to replace Australia’s submarines has been stalled for too long by politicians afraid of the bad media about “dud subs” the Collins class got last century.

Collins class subs deserved criticism in the 1990s. They did not meet Royal Australian Navy (RAN) specifications. But in this century, after much effort, they came good. Though they are expensive, Collins class boats have “sunk” US Navy attack submarines, destroyers and aircraft carriers in exercises.

Now that the Collins class is up for replacement, we have an opportunity to reevaluate our requirements and see what technology might meet them. And just as drones are replacing crewed aircraft in many roles, some military thinkers assume the future of naval war will be increasingly autonomous.

The advantages of autonomy in submarines are similar to those of autonomy in aircraft. Taking the pilot out of the plane means you don’t have to provide oxygen, worry about g-forces or provide bathrooms and meals for long trips.

Taking 40 sailors and 20 torpedoes out of a submarine will do wonders for its range and stealth. Autonomous submarines could be a far cheaper option to meet the RAN’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) requirements than crewed submarines.

Submarines do more than sink ships. Naval war is rare but ISR never stops. Before sinking the enemy you must find them and know what they look like. ISR was the original role of drones and remains their primary role today.

Last month, Boeing unveiled a prototype autonomous submarine with long range and high endurance. It has a modular design and could perhaps be adapted to meet RAN ISR requirements.

Boeing is developing a long range autonomous submarine that could have military applications.

Thus, rather than buy 12 crewed submarines to replace the Collins class, perhaps the project could be split into meeting the ISR requirement with autonomous submarines that can interoperate with a smaller number of crewed submarines that sink the enemy.

Future submarines might even be “carriers” for autonomous and semi-autonomous UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and UUVs (unmanned undersea vehicles).

Keeping People on Deck

However, while there may be a role for autonomous submarines in the future of naval warfare, there are some significant limitations to what they can achieve today and in the foreseeable future.

Most of today’s autonomous submarines have short ranges and are designed for very specific missions, such as mine sweeping. They are not designed to sail from Perth to Singapore or Hong Kong, sneak up on enemy ships and submarines, and sink them with torpedoes.

Also, while drone aircraft can be controlled from a remote location, telepiloting is not an option for a long range sub at depth.

The very low frequency radio transceivers in Western Australia used by the Pentagon to signal “boomers” (nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarines) in the Indian Ocean have very low transmission rates: only a few hundred bytes per second.

You cannot telepilot a submarine lying below a thermocline in Asian waters from Canberra like you can telepilot a drone flying in Afghanistan with high-bandwidth satellite links from Nevada.

Contemporary telepiloted semi-autonomous submarines are controlled by physical tethers, basically waterproof network cables, when they dive. This limits range to a few kilometers.

Who’s the Captain?

To consider autonomy in the role of sinking the enemy, the RAN would likely want an “ethical governor” to skipper the submarines. This involves a machine making life and death decisions: a “Terminator” as captain so to speak.

This would present a policy challenge for government and a trust issue for the RAN. It would certainly attract protest and raise accountability questions.

On the other hand, at periscope depth, you can telepilot a submarine. To help solve the chronic recruitment problems of the Collins class, the RAN connected them to the internet. If you have a satellite “dongle on the periscope” so the crew can email their loved ones, then theoretically you can telepilot the submarine as well.

That said, if you are sneaking up on an enemy sub and are deep below the waves, you can’t.

Even if you can telepilot, radio emissions directing the sub’s actions above the waves might give away its position to the enemy. Telepiloting is just not as stealthy as radio silence. And stealth is critical to a submarine in war.

Telepiloting also exposes the sub to the operational risks of cyberwarfare and jamming.

There is great technological and political risk in the Future Submarine Project. I don’t think robot submarines can replace crewed submarines but they can augment them and, for some missions, shift risk from vital human crews to more expendable machines.

Ordering nothing but crewed submarines in 2016 might be a bad naval investment.

Sean Welsh is a Doctoral Candidate in Robot Ethics at the University of Canterbury. The working title of his dissertation is Moral Code: Programming the Ethical Robot. He spent 17 years working in software engineering for organisations such as British Telecom, Telstra Australia, Fitch Ratings, James Cook University and Lumata. He has given several conference papers on programming ethics into robots, two of which are appearing in a forthcoming book, A World of Robots, to be published by Springer later in the year.

Sean Welsh does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Featured Image: HMAS Rankin at periscope depth. United States Navy, Photographer’s Mate 1st Class David A. Levy


Shifting to Shore Power?

By J. Overton

The concept that a nation’s means to compel its will originates “from the sea” is a fallacy.

For history’s greatest maritime powers, greatest navies, and greatest naval actions, the sea is at best a temporary operating environment. Sea power has always been created, tended, and entirely dependent on land. This is true even for the world’s largest and most globally-active modern Navy. The U.S. Fleet, its Sailors, civilian workers, and Navy family members spend most of their time ashore, in the United States. But this fact is conspicuously absent from both the 2015 version of the maritime strategy, “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower: Forward, Engaged, Ready” (CS21R) and its 2007 predecessor. In these and other recent strategic documents, the Navy’s largest, oldest, most expensive, most resilient, and most complex operational platforms, shore installations in the United States, suffer almost total neglect. [1][*]

To understand the role of America’s Navy in this young century, however, requires understanding the role of Navy shore infrastructure in America. To that end, the following offers a reality check on CS21R, an examination of how the naval resources concentrated in Navy bases gives them a power all their own, and an exploration of the capabilities these bases really contribute.

Design, Organize and Employ the Sea Services

“This maritime strategy describes how we will design, organize, and employ the Sea Services in support of our national, defense, and homeland security strategies. It also sets maritime priorities in an era of constrained resources, while emphasizing warfighting capabilities and forward naval presence to advance national interests today and guide preparations for tomorrow’s challenges.”CS21R[2]

Defining the meaning of “strategy” is difficult, defining a strategy itself even more so. Joint Publication 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, as reliable a source as we have, tells us that strategy is “A prudent idea or set of ideas for employing the instruments of national power in a synchronized and integrated fashion to achieve theater, national, and/or multinational objectives.” [3] CS21R is indeed a set of ideas for employing instruments of national power to achieve objectives, with the employment ideas mostly involving warfighting capabilities and forward naval presence. Many of the instruments mentioned, such as the 300-plus ship fleet, various technological advances, and even some partnerships mentioned, are not currently in existence. They are on wish lists which may never be realized.  Of those which do exist, most are not now employed primarily either for warfighting or in providing forward presence.

121220-N-ZN152-178NORFOLK (Dec. 20, 2012) The aircraft carriers USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), USS Enterprise (CVN 65), USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) are in port at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., the worldÕs largest naval station. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ernest R. Scott/Released)
The aircraft carriers USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), USS Enterprise (CVN 65), USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) in port at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ernest R. Scott/Released).

Another definition of strategy, perhaps more cynical if equally applicable, is “what you’re doing right now, intended or not.” [4] A snapshot “Status of the Navy,” taken in March  2016, shows that of the U.S. Navy’s 272 deployable battle force ships, about 49%  are deployed either underway or overseas. Of the 326,046 active duty Sailors, it can be assumed that a similar percentage is deployed or underway. This leaves less than half of the U.S. Navy’s deployable battle force ships in port, about the same number of her Sailors, and almost all of the 107,115 reservists, 195, 258 civilian employees, and hundreds of thousands of Navy dependents berthed and working ashore in the United States [5]

Strategic proclamations aside, shore installations are where, at any given moment in the year 2016 and the many years preceding it, one finds the majority of the U.S. Navy’s deployable platforms, people, and money.

Where it Matters, When it Matters

“The Navy’s current budget submission will provide for more than 300 ships and a forward presence of about 120 ships by 2020, up from an average of 97 in 2014, to be “where it matters, when it matters.” CS21R[6]

Although some Navy bases are inland, most are necessarily in the littoral, that narrow near-shore area where what happens on land influences the sea and what happens at sea influences the land. When applied to strategic thinking about foreign lands, the littoral realm is often considered a place inundated with both opportunities and threats. This is true when planning for combat or humanitarian operations in developing nations, but true for the continental United States as well. Our coastal areas tend to be the most populated, have the most desirable and expensive real estate, be the most environmentally sensitive, and be the most vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters.[7] They are also, of course, where the majority of Navy installations must exist. Those bases, many consisting of more than one geographic installation separated physically but under a single Commanding Officer, are mostly clustered into a few fleet concentration areas: [8] Significant naval presence in these regions pre-dates World War II, the aircraft carrier, submarine, diesel-power, and in some places, even the formation of the United States as a nation.

Bremerton naval base 2
An overhead view of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton,Washington.

For more than a decade Navy has stated its need for total fleet number somewhere in excess of 300 ships. Deployable force ships now stand at about 280, and haven’t been over 300 since 2003. [9] The extra 20 or 30 ships wished for may or may not arrive to fit themselves into CS21R. While there is much debate and handwringing over the optimal size and mission-set of the U.S. fleet and its overseas bases, ships can be built relatively quickly and cheaply compared to acquisition and maintenance of the real estate from which they’ll be based, and the long-term viability of bases not on U.S. soil is never assured.

Stateside shore installations are where it matters, when it matters: here, and now. And they’ve developed their own type of power to sustain them, without major course changes, for the foreseeable future.

Self-Sustaining Naval Forces

Our self-sustaining naval forces, operating in the global commons, ensure the   protection of the homeland far from our shores, while providing the President with decision space and options to deny an adversary’s objectives, preserve freedom of action, and assure access for follow-on forces.” CS21R [10]

There is no robust discussion or controversy about the need for the current fleet concentration areas, or even for most individual Navy bases in the United States.  Navy leadership implicitly recognizes the strategic value of their finite real-estate and unlike the Army and Air Force, is not currently calling for consolidation or closing of their shore infrastructure. [11] The decisions that usually matter about bases are those of policy makers, particularly Congress. Political leadership, generally of both parties and certainly going down from Capitol Hill to mayors and county commissioners of Navy base-dependent communities, has shown little desire to close bases, even if they do espouse curtailing some of the base’s more onerous operations. The smaller overall number of bases now in operation since previous rounds of Base Realignment and Closure, and their concentration into fewer Regions, means that most installations are a major source, if not the major source, of economic life for their immediate locale.

This economic power keeps Navy installations in the U.S. relatively safe from existential political threats. They have developed what journalist Walter Russell Mead refers to as “Sticky Power… [a power] based neither on military compulsion nor on simple coincidence of wills. Consider the carnivorous sundew plant, which attracts its prey with a kind of soft power, a pleasing scent that lures insects toward its sap. But once the victim has touched the sap, it is stuck; it can’t get away. That is sticky power…”[12]Mead was referring to the relationships between countries, such as that between China and the United States, but his theory is applicable for most major Navy bases and their local civilian communities. The two cannot extricate themselves from one another without mutually assured damage. Politicians, business leaders, education officials, and all manner of non-profits physically close to Navy bases are supporters of their local base, even if they disagree with overall U.S. military policy, or have an ignorance or contempt of traditional naval hard-power missions.

San Diego Naval base
San Diego Naval Base, as seen from a commercial airliner. Source: Wikipedia.

The effect of CONUS Naval installations’  power, rooted more in economics than grand strategy or traditional notions of Mahan or Corbett, leaves America a dispersed and networked range of Navy bases fairly secure from foreign attack, fairly secure from political infringement, and fairly secure from credible, capable local opposition. [13].

That Unique Capability: Presence

“Looking at how we support our people, build the right platforms, power them to achieve efficient global capability, and develop critical partnerships will be central to its successful execution and to providing that unique capability: presence.”CS21R [14]

To paraphrase a dead Prussian General, the first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that must be made is to establish what a Navy base actually does, neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature. The disparate missions these bases perform go well beyond simply supporting the Navy’s families and deploying Fleets and fighters. They are not, in the parlance of our most recent strategies and Sailing Directions, fighting wars or operating forward. But they are engaged, and they are ready.

Perhaps the best analogy for the collective power and capability they provide America would be that of a “Fleet in Being,” a concept historically applied to a naval force which, though not deployed or concentrated for battle, provided a deterrence function or caused some reaction on the part of an opposing force.[15] A “Fleet in Being” has a strategic value because, even if seemingly uninvolved in the most pressing contemporary operation, it has great potential.

Likewise, U.S. Navy bases are on American soil. They are dispersed around America, and nearly all share each of the following attributes: on Federal property; located in or near major commercial ports; located in areas prone to natural disasters; and having ample and diverse infrastructure, equipment, and personnel under Federal control.

Pearl Harbor naval base 4
A satellite view of Pearl Harbor. Photo Source: NASA.

This simple but rare combination of characteristics gives the Navy base great flexibility and potential. In recent years they have done essentially whatever need they were able to do, when they were asked. Navy bases in the United States have been used as relief, staging, and command centers during floods, fires, and terrorist attacks. They’ve hosted educational and entertainment venues and events for their local communities. They’ve provided environmental restoration and mitigation functions to local and national organizations. They’ve been used as test cases for experimental energy initiatives. They were even on tap to house unaccompanied migrant children from Central America. [16] Navy bases are the best and only option for decision makers to use in so many situations that have no resemblance to traditional naval missions. Their presence, individually and when used in concert with multiple installations, makes them a unique element of U.S. power.

Building the Future Force

“In building the future force, we will make institutional changes and take prudent risk as we balance investment in readiness, capability, and capacity.” CS21R [17]

None of this is to argue for or against a shift to shore power, be that defined as more bases, more funding for bases, or fewer deployable platforms. Nor is it to argue that such a shift is now underway. Rather, it’s a reminder of what could be described as the Navy’s real strategy, if your strategy is what you’re doing right now: Despite repeated emphasis on forward presence and warfighting, in 2016, the U.S. Navy spends the majority of its time and resources at shore installations in the United States. [18] These shore installations also have their own inherent strategy for self-sustainment, and provide an uncodified but vital national capability. They are the most enduring and most visible instruments of American sea power. Barring the most Stranglovian conflict scenario or a radical adjustment in the current course of budgets and funding, they will outlast the service life of today’s ships, sailors, and maritime strategies. The Navy’s future force has already been here for long time, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

 J. Overton is a civilian writer/editor for the U.S. Navy, and has been an adjunct professor for the Naval War College and Marine Corps Command and Staff College. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government.

[*] CS21R encompasses the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, but this essay focuses mainly on just the U.S. Navy. The other sea services have differing installation realities and requirements.

[1]    “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower: Forward, Engaged, Ready” available at Commander, Navy Installation Command (CNIC) has issued various Shore Investment Strategies or Strategic Guidance documents which focus on “warfighter” support and saving money rather than the range of installation missions. See “CNIC Visit to NAF Atsugi Reveals Navy Shore Priorities” at and  “Chief of Naval Operations Shore Investment Guidance” at

[2] “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower: Forward, Engaged, Ready,” pg.iii

[3] “The Joint Publication 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms” available at 

[4] Ron Ratcliff, “Strategy is Execution” (Newport: Naval War College, 2005), 1.

[5] “Status of the Navy” accessed on March 25, 2016 , available at

[6] “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower: Forward, Engaged, Ready” and “Department of the Navy Releases Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Proposal” available at

[7] J. Overton “Don’t Forget Seapower’s Dry Foundation”, The Northwest Navigator, August 19, 2011, pg. 4

[8] Commander, Navy Installation’s Command web site –

[9]  “US Ship Force Levels” Naval History and Heritage Command

[10] “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower: Forward, Engaged, Ready” pg. 2

[11] “CNO: Navy is not pushing for BRAC” available at

[12] Walter Russell Mead, “America’s Sticky Power,” available at

[13]  “The Battle Is On to Save Military Bases from Closure” available at  and “CNO: Navy is not pushing for BRAC”

[14] A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower: Forward, Engaged, Ready” pg. i

[15] The Merriam-Websters Dictionary has a concise definition at, and the following Naval War College Review article has a more in-depth and nuanced discussion “The Idea of a Fleet in Being in Historical Perspective”–Fleet-in-Being–in-Historical-Persp.aspx  

[16] “Navy Supports Firefighting Efforts and Families” at,  “NASNI Provides Makeshift Shelter Wildfire Victims” and “California naval base becomes home to detained Central American children at

[17] “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower: Forward, Engaged, Ready” pg. 26

Featured Image: Naval Station Pearl Harbor.