CIMSEC discussed the 1980s Maritime Strategy with Admiral Tom Hayward (ret.), who initiated much of the Navy’s efforts toward changing war plans and adopting a more offensive role that would later be embodied in the Maritime Strategy. In this conversation, Admiral Hayward discusses how he came to learn of the Swing Strategy, how he initiated efforts to revise war plans, and how he advocated for these changes as commander of the Pacific Fleet and as the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).
How did you learn about the Swing Strategy as a senior commander and begin to change the war plans for the Navy?
It’s helpful to begin by providing some context. You have to put yourself back in the position of being an operator, and I myself was an operator when the Vietnam War was coming to an end. I’m no academic, I’m a tactician, and you try to get the immediate job done. So I commanded an aircraft carrier in Vietnam, focused on running strikes 24/7. In the context of global warfare, throughout that whole period of time, the Russians and their Pacific Fleet modernized a lot and clearly got to be bigger and better than our Pacific Fleet. But I didn’t focus on that at the time. I’m just the skipper of a carrier and my job is to get the guys over the beach and back safely.
We had a requirement to stand down every now and then to simulate the war plan launching of nuclear weapons, and this went on all over the fleet, as I far as I know. In the context of how the Seventh Fleet and the carriers would respond, our job was to launch nuclear weapons when so ordered. So we would exercise that. I’d pay some attention to it, but not in great detail, and made sure the exercise was taking place and got what we wanted out of it. Just a standard requirement of running the ship.
I got promoted to Rear Admiral and was eventually sent back to Washington. In all of my jobs for the next 10 or so years, I was trying to help get the Navy back on its feet post-Vietnam. When I went out later to command Seventh Fleet, I was dealing with plenty of logistics problems and getting the Navy back into rhythm again, with all the ships being way behind on maintenance. The primary responsibility of me as Seventh Fleet commander and later at PACFLT and so on was getting things back in shape, sorting things out, and getting our readiness back. We had major, major upkeep issues, retention, all those kinds of issues.
After settling down in Seventh Fleet, I said to the staff, “Let’s go through the war plans, what are they? I haven’t paid any attention to them.” And that’s the first time I found out that seriously what we were supposed to do under a certain DEFCON much of Seventh Fleet was to run and hide down among some islands in the South Pacific and pretend they can’t be found. And then they would use nukes when ordered to execute the war plans. And that’s when I started thinking that’s crazy, we’ve got a fleet out here we’ve got a fight, the Russians have a Pacific Fleet here. That was the real start of my working with the staff and my own thinking about other options. Because that was a lousy choice and we needed to start looking at how we should really do this.
How did you work on that while commanding the Pacific Fleet?
Around that time I get promoted to lead PACFLT. So my perspective changes where I’ve got the whole fleet to worry about now and not just Seventh Fleet. In that context, my priorities were still way over on the side of readiness and getting our Navy back to operating again. We had huge problems. We think we have problems now, back then we had horrible budgets, broken down people and platforms, drug problems, all those day-to-day things that affect readiness in a big way. Our readiness was terrible. So my highest priority at the time was readiness.
However, at the same time I had my ops guys start thinking about the war plans. That’s when I became even more familiar with what was in the war plans about the Swing Strategy. That’s around the time when Captain Jim Patton joined my staff and became the action officer for all my thinking on this and did the research and provided the background on these issues. It became very clear to me that the Swing Strategy was the wrong answer.
That’s when I formulated Sea Strike, the staff came up with that name. The idea was that the strategy would take the fight to the Russians and get them to tie down their eastern armies, which they could otherwise have swung to the west in the event of a major conflict. We were going to put them on the defensive. We knew from intelligence the Russians were logically very sensitive to homeland security. It took many months to put together a plan with all the extensive details and then think about how to wargame it, practice it, put it into effect.
But some people would say, ‘You didn’t promote it at the time.’ I said, absolutely not I didn’t promote it. If I had gone to even the CNO, Admiral Jim Holloway, or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and tell him we wanted to change the war plans, it would surely have been squelched.
Furthermore, I didn’t know yet whether it was a practical thing to do. But I knew that what was already planned was definitely impractical. Send all our fleets to the Atlantic? Crazy idea.
That took place when I was at PACFLT, developing the plan, getting it ready to exercise, work out the obstacles and the hurdles to get through it, and get it to the point where we could be confident about it and then take on the issue of changing the war plans.
It was very clear when I got to be CNO, especially after I got all the debriefings about the way in which DoD was heavily biased toward the Central Front of Europe. Bob Komer, he was Defense Secretary Harold Brown’s loud mouthpiece about why we needed to swing the Navy, and saying the only reason we have a Navy is for getting the Army into Europe. I wasn’t aware of his being too much at the forefront of the issue until I became CNO. Prior to becoming CNO, Harold Brown came out and visited me at PACFLT. Before that, Senator Sam Nunn was out in the area and we briefed him on the whole program. He was very taken by it and it wasn’t too much longer after that when Harold Brown came out. That’s when the seed was planted back in the Washington environment that the Pacific Fleet was looking at alternatives.
When I got to be CNO and all the other issues that go with that, I got a briefing on the war plans for supporting Europe. I saw potential for the same sort of strategic logic I saw in confronting the Soviets in the Pacific and the potential for offensive warfare. This was actually a global issue, and the Navy has a major role to play on the flanks. The flanks being the Mediterranean, the North Sea, the North Atlantic, and elsewhere. We could tie down a lot of Soviet options that might be in their playbook to support the central front, but they wouldn’t be able to execute those options with the Navy and the Marines going after their flanks.
I brought in key flag officers, and folks like Bing West and others, and I started articulating where I wanted to take this. We needed to get buy-in from leadership, because the first reaction would be, “This is a crazy idea.” I gave a talk on a global, forward Navy to every War College in their auditorium. I got the flag officers all together and got their interaction. We got buy-in that there was a new role for the Navy, and it was way beyond escorting the Army to Europe.
When you were PACFLT you said it was risky to change the war plans. Were you in a better position to advocate for that as CNO?
I sure was, of course. Remember, the DOD all had other things on their mind, too. The big obstacle was getting Bob Komer to quiet down. But nobody ever came up and said, ‘You guys can’t do that.’ I don’t know precisely where we got to the point that we rewrote the general war plans, maybe Jim Patton knows that. He was down in the trenches making the details come together. I had brought him back to Washington not long after I was CNO and he kept assisting with the development of the global Navy strategy.
As CNO I’m still heavily involved in readiness issues. The drug issue was a huge thing, retention and recruiting was massively difficult. Harold Brown and President Carter were cutting the budget and making it harder and harder. The nation had turned against the military badly at that time. That’s where my attention was, and gradually changing the perception of the Navy’s global role.
About two-thirds of the way through my tour was when John Lehman came onboard. He apparently was having somewhat similar conversations with others on the future Navy posture and strategy. When he took over as SECNAV, he had his own priorities, but in this area, we were in synch. He wanted to raise the visibility of the Navy, increase the size of the Navy, and of course with President Reagan he came in with more money. And a lot of that went to readiness. We got spare parts, got training to where it belongs, more at-sea time and flying time, all those things that get you ready. In the meantime, 2nd fleet out there was getting instructions to do a “Sea Strike” exercise in the Atlantic.
After the Reagan Administration comes in, was there a much more receptive audience, especially with building the readiness needed for that kind of strategy?
The word “strategy” was not the driver necessarily, the Navy and all the services were so worn out and needed to get back into shape. I didn’t sell the budget on the basis of strategy but on the basis of the combat readiness of our units.
There are readiness categories, C1, 2, 3, and 4. C1 means I’ve got everything I need for combat. C2 means I’m short some things but we’re in pretty good shape. C3 means we’re getting kind of shaky, and at C4 you’re real shaky. Our readiness was so bad I created C5. That rattled around the building a lot. I was accused with playing games with the budget, and you’ve got to face that kind of thing all the time. But C5 meant that I am unsafe to steam or fly. Lo and behold, an AOE out of Norfolk was about to depart on deployment when the skipper rang the C5 bell. All hell broke loose, ‘Oh Hayward is playing games,’ and so on. I got in front of Congress and I told them to get down there and see what was going on.
That was the start of a major turnaround. That year I think we got about a 26 percent increase in pay, and many readiness-related things. When the real world finally got their attention, all this typical game playing that goes on between budgeteers and accountants, it got pushed to the side a bit. It was an honest effort to see how bad we were getting. That skipper called it right. He didn’t have enough qualified people onboard that ship to go on deployment. Today you wouldn’t get that far.
In the context of the Swing Strategy, I told staff to basically ignore it and we would build our own strategy, and if we can do our due diligence and do this thing right, then we could change the war plans.
What is the value of having a global Navy that can go on the offensive, rather than a more narrow purpose? What lessons are there for today?
The concept of having the enemy worry about you is a major element in deterrence. That was the overriding, broad strategic thrust of having the Navy play a proper and significant role in presenting the adversary with a meaningful threat. A new strategy would give the Navy a valuable deterrent role. The Navy could be in a position to constrain the Soviet ability to launch nukes and affect their ability to focus on a conventional assault on the central front.
We shouldn’t fight China today, whether it’s nuclear or non-nuclear. We have to posture and work all of our policies, foreign policy, commercial policy, and so on to be oriented toward presenting a deterrent in all its dimensions against what President Xi may be thinking about doing, and which could upset the global balance of power.
The role today in the broad sense remains the same, it is to deter. We can’t fight a land war with China. We have to use maritime power in a very constructive way to present deterrence.
Admiral Tom Hayward entered the naval service in World War II through the V-5 Naval Aviation Cadet Program, then transferred to the Naval Academy, from which he graduated in 1947. He has commanded a fighter squadron, a carrier air wing, and an aircraft carrier. In 1973-1975 he was the Navy’s Director of Program Planning, then served as Commander, Seventh Fleet from 1975-1976. From 1976 to 1978 he was Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, then finished his career as the 21st Chief of Naval Operations from 1978-1982.
Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Content@cimsec.org.
Featured Image: November 15, 1985 – An elevated stern view of the aircraft carrier USS SARATOGA (CV 60) underway. (Photo by PH1 P.D. Goodrich via the U.S. National Archives)
Vice Admiral Hank Mustin had a reputation as a tactical innovator and operationally aggressive commander at sea. At the apex of his career in the 1980s Cold War U.S. Navy, Admiral Mustin played a critical role in the Navy’s force development, especially with taking the Maritime Strategy to sea and working out its operational and tactical foundations. In a piece entitled “Maritime Strategy from the Deckplate,” Admiral Mustin declared, “The difference between strategy and tactics depends on when the shooting starts: prior to the shooting, we talk strategy; after the shooting starts, we talk tactics…The Maritime Strategy provides the basic tactical framework for success and the stimuli to keep our tactical thinking alive to meet tomorrow’s challenges.”
Below are select excerpts from Admiral Mustin’s oral history, conducted by Dave Winkler of the Naval Historical Foundation and republished with permission. In these excerpts, Mustin shares his insights on developing operational and tactical methods for executing the Maritime Strategy at sea, how the bastion strategy of the Soviets affected tactical development, and how the offensive thrust of the Maritime Strategy required operational experimentation.
Winkler: …[CNO] Admiral Zumwalt was concerned about this battle for the Atlantic because of the onrush of Soviet submarines, keeping the sea lanes open. In the late ’70s the Soviet submarine force kind of retracts, and because of the range of their ballistic missiles they could hit you from Murmansk now; they kind of develop a bastion strategy and actually retract from their forward positions in the Atlantic. What was the assessment to this?…How was the Soviet threat being reassessed?
Mustin: …the bastion theory really came into play after Bud Zumwalt on the watch of [CNO] Jim Watkins and [SECNAV] John Lehman, with the development of the Maritime Strategy—’79, ’80, ’81. What the bastion strategy meant was that, just as we were saying we wanted to move more of our strategic nuclear response capability to sea, so were the Soviets…In order to protect their bastions, instead of sending their SSN force out into the Atlantic to attack our convoys, they were going to retract their SSNs up into the North Cape area and the Kola area to protect their boomers, just as you said. And they would attack our convoys with long-range Soviet naval aviation—the Badgers and the Bears and the Backfires. They had aircraft that could fly all the way down to Cuba from the North Cape.
What this meant to us, all of a sudden, in the surface Navy was that, whereas before we had looked at protecting the sea lanes as a predominantly ASW problem— which the submariners loved, because that meant more submarines—now we looked at it as an AAW problem. That meant that you de-emphasized ASW, because now their submarine force is all going to be way up north. We’ve got to pick convoy routes that go down south, and we’ve got to be prepared to defend against regimental-size raids of Soviet aircraft that could fly down and attack our convoys. That was one of the principal arguments for the Aegis system that we were going to put in the DDGX. The FFG 7 had no, essentially, air defense system. It had an SM-1, open-ocean capable. So there was an enormous shift in threat assessment in the surface Navy that we started in conjunction with the bastion theory.
Which meant that we really butted heads with the submariners. Our logic, which was later confirmed by the bastion theory, was even if they send their submarines out into the Atlantic, when you looked at the numbers of submarines they could send, you found that the only way they could saturate your defenses was with large numbers of aircraft firing large numbers of missiles at you. So we figured that we could handle the ASW threat with the towed arrays and the things that we had bought, but we could not handle the saturation air raid threat that now was brought into place with the advent of Soviet naval aviation and their long- range capabilities, and the AS-4 [missile] and their long range missions. You know, they had 200-mile air-to-[surface] missiles. We had no way to deal with that 200-mile missile, even with carrier air. This brought into sharp focus the need for Aegis, in the NATO context. Luckily, we had seen these kinds of issues coming in that ’73 war. And the Aegis ships were just starting to trickle in….When I was ComSecondFlt we only had two Aegis ships in the Atlantic Fleet. That was 1984. That’s how long it took to get it to sea…
…[Vice Admiral Joe Metcalf] said that he thought that the Striking Fleet Atlantic, which was the only striking fleet in NATO at the time, was a NATO position that had not been given sufficient emphasis by the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Government. So he thought that the Second Fleet Commander ought to tilt more toward the Striking Fleet role and less toward the Second Fleet role. The Second Fleet role being essentially one to handle the Caribbean, but to work forces up to deploy to the Sixth Fleet. He viewed the Striking Fleet role as very, very important. I would never really have considered that in that light unless he had made those observations.
I started thinking more and more about it as the background for the Maritime Strategy started to emerge. As the notion that we would no longer be fighting the battle of the Atlantic in the Atlantic became extant, mainly because we thought the Russians would retreat to their bastions up in the Murmansk area and the Kola Peninsula area, the way that the Navy could contribute in the battle for Europe became very, very different.
A succession of SACLants had said that they were somewhere around a hundred ships short of being able to escort the convoys to Europe that the European strategy, the SACEur strategy, said were required to be there within ten days, and then to support the war. So you had a SACEur European strategy that required a continuous stream of convoys, and you had a series of SACLants who said: We can’t do the job because we don’t have enough forces. Of course the SACEur strategy said: If I don’t get this stuff then I start to lose, and if I start to lose, I go nuke. So this was not a small-time political exercise by any means.
And separate from all of that, the Navy’s role had been envisioned by the Army as being only one of providing the convoy escorts, because the principal operation that the Army viewed this as was a central front operation through the Fulda Gap and the plains of Germany, and the Navy’s role, principally in the Sixth Fleet, was very, very peripheral. So NATO funding put the Navy at the bottom of the pecking order, and the arguments in our Pentagon for U.S. funding put, in the NATO context, the Navy at the bottom of the pecking order—way, way behind the Army and the Air Force. All of this stuff was in the back of my mind when I started to look at the battle of the Atlantic. I determined that we can’t fight the battle of the Atlantic in the Atlantic, based on the testimony of a succession of Supreme Allied Commanders in the Atlantic.
But if the Russians are going to go up into their bastions, what we should do is go up into the fjords in Norway, and from the shelter of the fjords we can attack, not only the Soviet fleet and keep it penned up in its bastions, but the Soviet facilities in Kola. And also we can prevent the loss of Norway. So we can win the Battle of the Atlantic in Norway.
The SACEur’s counterpart of the Center for Naval Analyses had done a study that said: If the Soviets invaded Norway they would take it over in three days. The reason that they would take it over in three days was because they had total air superiority. They’d do this in the winter and these Soviet tank divisions would just come across the northern plains of Norway and then just stream right on down through the country. Then you would lose the Baltic Sea and things would get very dicey in the central front, because the Soviets would have the northern flank.
I did some analyses. I said, okay, we have all the SACEur study estimates, and we did some analyses with the Center for Naval Analyses rep on my staff, Dave Perin, who’s now a big wheel over there. He was my OEG rep. We said, okay, we’ll take the Norwegian air order of battle, which is the key operation here. Now if we add in one carrier, you still lose the land battle. If we add in two, it becomes a wash. And if you add in three carriers, air wings, we win. So the secret is that we have to get three carriers up there. But they have to be there when the war starts. They can’t try to fight their way up, because the Soviets will have taken over the place in three days, so fighting your way up will get more and more difficult. The only game in town to do this, to offset this Soviet air superiority, is carrier air, because there aren’t enough airfields in north Norway to support a U.S. Air Force TransLant or influx of U.S. airplanes. No air strips. Therefore you need to have the carriers up there.
And how are we going to figure out how to make the carriers survivable in the face of this enormous Soviet fleet? The answer was: If we would go operate inside the fjords, we could use the radar shadowing provided by the mountains to confuse the Soviet air-launched anti-ship missiles. So we could handle Soviet air attacks, and we could seal off the fjords by mining so that Soviet submarines couldn’t get in there. We should be able to do this in the time that our spooks had determined it would take the Soviets to reinforce their forces in the region enough to make this eight-division purge across the northern tip. That was a period of about twelve to fourteen days. So what I developed was a logic that said: When we think we’re twelve to fourteen days away, we should send the two Atlantic Fleet carriers up there, and take the carrier out of the Sixth Fleet and send it up there. That was the strategic plan.
Now, in order to do that we had to figure out a number of practical things. Number one, we had to figure out whether we could operate airplanes in the fjords, because they’re a very restricted space. Number two, we had to determine whether all of my thoughts about the radar shadowing were accurate. And number three, we had to see whether we had the force structure and the rules of engagement and things like that to permit the sealing-off of these fjords so that the three carriers could operate in there. In order to do that we structured a series of NATO exercises, major exercises with all the forces, to test this theory out.
We did this twice on my watch. The first time we went up and just flew a few sorties, and it turned out to be a piece of cake. We also took a bunch of B-52s to see about dropping the Captor mines to seal off the fjords from submarines, and we started to work on the idea of integrating with the air defenses of Norway. We got some airborne radars that were equivalent to the best that the Soviets had, and we flew passes at the carriers. What we determined was that the radar shadowing was so effective that the Soviet airplanes could not launch air-to-ground missiles at these carriers until they were inside the minimum range of these missiles. Plus, in order to come in to even try to get a shot, they had to get within the range of our surface-to-air missiles from our missile destroyers and cruisers. So that, instead of shooting at their missiles, we’re now shooting at their airplanes. There’s a very, very significant difference.
So their saturation air raid attacks on the carriers were absolutely neutralized by the radar shadowing idea. And the notion that they would go nuclear against U.S. forces, which had always been one of the problems with the war at sea, now meant that they were going nuclear against one of the land components in Europe, because we were inside Norwegian territorial waters and near Norwegian cities. So there was no way to isolate this conflict at sea, which is one of the big bugaboos in the rules of engagement. The rules of engagement in NATO are no different from the concerns that the U.S. military has today, but they’re exacerbated because at the time you had sixteen countries worrying about it instead of three services…
…The utilization of the Marines and the amphibious forces and how we would operate them all became part of that strategy. This was all done at very high levels by me, with the senior commanders in NATO on board with this. It became an important element in the U.S. position in NATO and the U.S. strategic concept for NATO. And of course the salesmanship of it was very difficult because there are a lot of people in NATO who say that this was a defensive alliance, and these were offensive moves. I was falling back on Admiral Sharp’s problems in Vietnam, where he said that there has never been a war won by a solely defensive strategy. You can have an overall defensive strategy but there must be offensive elements in it.
Therefore the basic strategy that I was proposing was that we would go up and defend Norway. The way we would defend them was that we would defeat these attacking Soviet armies by guaranteeing air superiority in the northern region. A lot of people in Washington did not realize what was going on up there. When I went up the first time with the America, the commander of the Norwegian air forces in the northern region came out for lunch with the prime minister and the minister of defense. He said, “How many airplanes have you got on this ship?” I said, “We have about a hundred.” He said, “That’s three times as many as I have in all of northern Norway.” So when you talk about adding three carriers up there you are talking about nine times the air power suddenly available…
…Anyway, in that particular element of the Second Fleet tour, I was able to significantly change the organization of the NATO structure in the Atlantic, and to make major changes in strategy for how the U.S. and NATO navies would be employed in the NATO tactical sense. And to try it all out and work it. Books have been written about this by NATO historians. One’s called, “The Battle for the Fjords.” There’s about a chapter devoted to what I just told you in this book, about all this stuff. It meant that I was concentrating on this particular bag of tactics, and not very much on working up the forces to go to the Sixth Fleet, because I was working them up to go up and fight in the fjords. That was a very different kettle of fish, and a whole different bag of tactics. All of a sudden the exercises that we were running down in the Caribbean, now we’re drawing off little geographic sections that look like fjords and operating in them, instead of pretending that we’re operating somewhere in the Med. Having said all that, we got all that done.
It was a very, very significant development of the Navy’s evolution of the Maritime Strategy, and how we played in the overall Cold War…I’ve been told by a number of people that that was one of the pieces that persuaded Mr. Gorbachev that he’d go broke trying to defeat the free world in the Cold War, so he just decided to stop. There were many others, but that one happened to come at a time when a number of other things cascaded along, arms control developments and things like that.
So I was very proud of that strategic concept. There were a lot of opponents of that. Many of the aviators didn’t think we could do it at all, but after the first time we got in there and flew some, they were the most enthusiastic supporters.…That was a very interesting set of events in NATO. All done under the Striking Fleet Atlantic hat, and all sort of started off by that little kernel that Joe Metcalf planted during our turnover when I relieved him.
Henry C. Mustin was born in Bremerton, Washington on 31 August 1933, the son, grandson, and great-grandson of distinguished naval officers. Vice Admiral Mustin, a destroyerman, served at sea in the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets in USS Duncan (DDR 874); as Commanding Officer USS Bunting (MHC 45); as a plankowner in both USS Lawrence (DDG 4) and USS Conyngham (DDG 17); as Commanding Officer USS Henry B. Wilson (DDG 7); as Commander, Destroyer Squadron 12, homeported in Athens, Greece; as Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Group 2; and as Commander, U.S. Second Fleet and NATO Striking Fleet Atlantic. He served ashore in Vietnam with the Delta River Patrol Group; as Flag Lieutenant to the Commander-in-Chief Pacific; as Executive Assistant to the Commander-in-Chief U.S. Naval Forces Europe; as Director, Surface Combat Systems Division in the Office of Chief of Naval Operations; as Deputy Commander Naval Surface Force, Atlantic Fleet; as Naval Inspector General; and as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Plans, Policy, and Operations). He retired January 1, 1989. He passed away on April 11, 2016.
David F. Winkler earned his Ph.D. in 1998. from American University in Washington, DC. He has been a historian with the non-profit Naval Historical Foundation for over two decades. His dissertation Cold War at Sea: High Seas Confrontation between the U.S. and Soviet Union was published by the Naval Institute Press in 2000, was republished under the title Incidents at Sea: American Confrontation and Cooperation with Russia and China, 1945 – 2016 in December 2017. He was selected in early 2019 to be the Class of 1957 Chair of Naval Heritage at the U.S. Naval Academy for the 2019-2020 academic year and the Charles Lindbergh Fellow at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum for the following year. Winkler received his commission as a Navy ensign in 1980 through the NROTC unit at the Pennsylvania State University. In addition to a B.A. in Political Science, he has an M.A. in International Affairs from Washington University. He is a retired Navy Reserve commander.
Featured Image: December 1, 1985 – A starboard quarter view of the guided missile cruiser Valley Forge (CG 50) firing a missile from its aft Mark-26 Launcher during sea trials. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)
CIMSEC discussed the 1980s Maritime Strategy with Captain Spencer Johnson (ret.), who was instrumental in assembling the first briefed iteration of the Maritime Strategy in 1982. In this conversation, Capt. Johnson discusses how the strategy had to quickly come together to inform Navy programming, how it was received in its initial briefings by senior leadership, and how the Soviet Union reacted to the Maritime Strategy toward the end of the Cold War.
What was your role in OPNAV when the Maritime Strategy got started?
I went back to OPNAV in January of 1982, on completion of a three-year tour in command of USS Bigelow (DD-942). When I arrived in the Pentagon and checked in, I was told I wasn’t going to 965, I was going back to OP-06, because Vice Admiral Arthur Moreau who was OP-06 at the time had told the bureau that I was coming back to 06. I had had a previous tour at 06 and had a tour on the Joint Staff and Moreau wanted me back in OP-06. So back I went.
I went to OP-603, Strategic Plans. I was there for maybe 3-4 months when I got called up and told by Admiral Moreau himself that he had a new job from me. I was going to be the OP-06 liaison to the programming side of the Navy staff. Irv Blickstein said in his interview there was no connection between plans and policy, and the programming side of the house. But in fact in the spring of 1982 there was a connection, and that connection was me.
I sat in on the deputy program review committee (DPRC) meetings, the two-star level on the programming side of the house. I was liaison to all of the programming side of the house, O-90 and O-9, at that level. I had as a counterpart a captain from intelligence, I believe his name was Alexander, who also was a liaison to the programming side of the house.
This liaison position was something new. It hadn’t existed before. I think I was the first one and who knows, maybe I was the last one. But I was it. I was certainly very grateful because I learned a lot about how the vast bulk of the Navy staff works because they are all basically with their noses down in programs and line items within the Navy budget.
What kind of feedback were you able to give from a strategic sense? What input did a strategy office or a strategy person have in that kind of liaison role?
Well, number one, I wasn’t asked too much. But in OP-06, OP-06B would attend the deputy PRC meetings. Our three-star, Admiral Moreau, would attend the 3-star PRC-level meetings, and I was able to back brief them before they attended those meetings as to what was on the table and what was going to be discussed, and so on. And I sat in a chair behind them when that happened.
How did you initially get started on the first draft of the Maritime Strategy?
In late August or September of 1982, I was the one who received the tasking to produce a maritime strategy. The “snowflake,” we called taskings “snowflakes” because it seemed like they fell out of the sky like flakes of snow, landed on my desk. The reason why was because VCNO Admiral Shear, who wrote the snowflake, said that they wanted a maritime strategy presentation as the kickoff for the POM programming season.
This strategy was to inform the programmers as to what they were spending their money for, so they would have an idea of how the aircraft, submarines, aircraft carriers, destroyers, and so on fit into the big strategic picture. So originally the maritime strategy was not intended to be a tactically executable strategy, it was intended to inform the programming side of the Navy staff as to what they were spending money for. And when it did later become a maritime strategy that was being exercised at sea and so on, that was kind of an offshoot of what originally began as a budgetary strategy.
The snowflake landed on my desk because I was the liaison to the programming side of the house, and if this was to be the kickoff to the programming cycle then I was the guy who was responsible. I spent several days producing three legal pad-sized handwritten outlines of what I thought this ought to look like. And to this I brought several advantages. First, I knew the audience it was going to. Nobody else in OP-06 knew the audience the way I did because I attended the meetings. Secondly, I had had three years on the Joint Staff and I was very familiar with the joint strategic planning system from my seat in the director’s office on the Joint Staff. So I drew up an outline of what I thought this ought to look like for our target audience of programmers.
From my time sitting in on programming meetings at the two-star and above levels, I was pretty well convinced that the programming side of the house didn’t know anything about the strategic planning side of the house. What’s more, they didn’t really care very much because after all strategic planners didn’t command or control any money. On their side of the house, what really counted was money. The deputy DPRC-level meetings were chaired by Rear Admiral Joseph Metcalf. He was quite a character, a very salty dog. He ran these meetings.
When OP-06 was tasked to produce a strategic overview, there were a lot of people around that table, including Metcalf, who thought it couldn’t be done. The Navy had never had a global strategy before. Even in WWII it was not a global strategy, it was theater strategies. This was an effort to produce a global strategy that would inform how the Navy was spending its money in the programming cycle. So there were even bets made that we couldn’t do it.
With the outline in hand, I went to my branch chief in 605 and I said, “Sir, this is bigger than me. We’re going to need some help.” I recommended we go across the hall to 603 and enlist them in the effort. Because when we get down to the actual planned consolidation and execution, that’s not in our shop, that’s in theirs. So we walked across the hall and enlisted the help of 603, and that’s where Stan Weeks was. Roger Barnett, who was a commander at the time, and Stan Weeks essentially shouldered the burden in OP-603, and I produced my end from 605.
Now, we only had about three weeks to do this, which is a pretty fast time. We had to beat the deadline of putting this at the beginning of the next POM cycle. We had a hard deadline. So obviously it was split, with everybody in 605 and 603 making their contributions, and 605 was primarily myself. I started out with an overview of the joint strategic planning system and what the joint strategic operation plan, the JSOP, called for in the event of a war with the Soviet Union. And we went through the three tables of forces in the JSOP, the JIL-READ, and the JEEP. JIL-READ was a joint document that stood for the joint long-range estimate for planning. The JEEP was the joint intelligence estimate for planning. We used those two things for background for what we could expect from the Soviet Union in the maritime sense. And then we’ve laid out what the Joint Staff, what the joint planning system expected from the Navy in the course of a global conflict with the Soviet Union.
Here we began to get into numbers. At the time the JSOP called for three different Navy force levels. One was what we actually had. The second was what we would have at the end of the FYDP, in other words, five years down the road. And the third one was what we actually needed.
We had at that time 12 carrier battle groups. If you go all the way to the end to what we actually required, the number was something like 23 carrier battle groups. It was that sort of thing that I laid out. And believe me, none of the flag officers in the OPNAV staff outside of OP-06 had ever seen any of this. So we were at the Secret level, and we were really laying it out. And then we said, ‘But we don’t have that many carriers.’ We have 12, but one of those was in SLEP, a two-year program that essentially rebuilt the carrier for extended service life.
In drafting the maritime strategy, we said in effect we’re going to have 11 carriers. We assume that within 60 days of the opening of hostilities that we can have all 11 at sea. We have 11 carriers to distribute amongst the theaters for their various needs. Then OP 605 took the strategic plan for each naval commander in each theater and laid it down and with maneuver and whatever, could show each theater command how many forces they would have at any particular point in time, beginning with the two carriers in the Mediterranean doing their business in the Eastern Med with the Russians. The Navy would be sweeping out with carriers from the East Coast and attacking the Russians in the far north in the Atlantic and even as far north as the Russian north. We did the same thing with the Pacific. If we had a carrier in the Indian Ocean he would do his business with the Russians in the Indian Ocean area, then sweep around and join the carriers in the Pacific and then going up to the north Pacific.
At that time the Navy was pushing for 15 carrier battle groups and 600 ships. So we did two excursions here. We did one with the 11 carriers that we had, and we did one with the 15 carriers that were in the FYDP, or what the Navy was building toward. We could demonstrate the difference what the Navy could do with 11 carriers versus 15 carriers.
That basically consisted of what we titled the Maritime Strategy. We titled it “the Maritime Strategy” because we took all elements that would participate in this strategy. It was not just the Navy, we wrapped in the Army, the Air Force, and the Marine Corps. And we didn’t ask them, we didn’t say ‘mother may I do this.’ We didn’t have meetings with the other services, we just didn’t have the time. We took what was in the plans and we wrapped them in, and I was a little permissive and imaginative with some things that weren’t even written in the plans.
For instance, in the Maritime Strategy we did a lot of offensive minelaying. And the best minelayer we had was a B-52D bomber aircraft because it could carry more mines than any other aircraft we had in the Navy inventory. So we wrote Air Force B-52s into the Maritime Strategy, we wrote the Marines and the Army into securing islands in the Atlantic and elsewhere. The Marines going first, then being relieved by Army forces so the Marines could push on to other things later in the implementation of the strategy.
We didn’t ask them. We just did it. We wrote it in. And we called it a maritime strategy to indicate this was not just the Navy.
We had to do this very quickly. We had almost daily late-afternoon run-throughs and rehearsals with three or four flag officers. And they included OP-60, our immediate boss Rear Admiral Bob Kirksey, his deputy, Commodore Dudley Carlson, and Vice Admiral Art Moreau, who was OP-06. And we would have these rehearsals, these run-throughs, and it was interesting because it wasn’t so much them correcting Stan Weeks and I, it was really us familiarizing them with what was in it. And so they had it down literally by heart. And so we gave the first presentation in October to the DPRC, at the two-star level, chaired by Admiral Metcalf.
Once the presentation was ready, what happened with those first few briefings? How was it received?
Stan Weeks and I had a presentation ready. We each did about half, and it took a little over an hour to make the presentation. But before almost anyone could say anything afterward, Admiral Metcalf picked up the phone at his end of the table, called the CNO’s office, and said “You’ve got to see this right away.”
We were not prepared for that kind of success. Within 48 hours they had convened a PRC meeting, program review committee, and now we are at the three-star level. This time the meeting is attended by the CNO and the Vice Chief, as well as all of his principal three-stars on the OPNAV staff. This is Admiral Watkins, he is the new CNO.
We made the presentation, and at the end of it there weren’t many questions. Admiral Trost, who was O9 at the time, made one correction to one of our slides where I showed the number of VP squadrons in the Navy Reserve and we had dropped a digit, it wasn’t three, it was 13. That was his principal feedback.
It was very interesting. We opined that we could put 11 carriers to sea within the first 60 days of a conflict, everybody except the carrier in SLEP. Admiral Watkins asked Admiral Dutch Schultz, who was OP-05, the head of Navy Air, “Is that true Dutch, could we do 11?” And Vice Admiral Schultz said, “No, Sir.” And Watkins asked, “Well, how many do you think?” And Schultz said, “I think between four and six, maybe.”
Woah, this really got Admiral Watkins’ attention. He asked, “Why is that, Dutch?” “The answer is that we don’t have enough yellow gear,” (the little tractors that pull planes around the flight deck), “we don’t have enough ammunition, and we don’t have enough aviation spare parts to put more than four or five carriers at sea on a wartime footing.”
What the Navy was doing at the time was that they offloaded that stuff and put it on the guy who was about to go. They were crossdecking it. Not just people, but spare parts, gear, and munitions as well. Vice Admiral Dutch Schultz said, “I just don’t have that stuff to put all those carriers to sea and expect them to fight.”
Admiral Watkins at the end of that meeting laid down a number of mandates. Number one, he wanted all of those deficiencies corrected in the budget cycle. He wanted to be able to put all of those carriers to sea with the munitions, the yellow gear, and the aviation spare parts they required.
Number two, he wasn’t going to buy anything in the program that was to be put together that didn’t support this strategy. Now, this posed a logistics problem for us, because we only had two sets of slides and now we had to provide everybody with copies of the briefing so that they could tune their program submissions to what they thought their role was in executing the strategy.
The programmers were very quiet. In terms of feedback, it was mostly Admiral Trost making his comment about the squadrons in the Navy Reserve and some finger pointing about putting those carriers to sea.
The next thing Admiral Trost said was, “I want this sent to the War College and I want it wargamed. I want it exercised in our active fleet exercises, and I want it updated and reviewed every year.” So those were immediate outcomes from the first time the CNO saw the briefing.
The next time, and this went in rather rapid order, soon after the PRC meeting there was a quarterly meeting of the fleet commanders-in-chiefs. Admiral Watkins took this to the fleet CINCs meeting. The presentation was given by Admiral Moreau, OP-06. The feedback from that meeting was that the fleet CINCs were all delighted with this because they saw their own fleet theater plans mirrored. We didn’t change their plans, all we did was essentially say, “This is the sequence in which they will be executed, and with what forces.”
It got a big upcheck from the fleet CINCs, which I think made the CNO feel a lot better about its viability in terms of becoming a strategy, a tactical-strategic strategy, as well as a programming tool.
The next major briefing was given to SECNAV. Again Admiral Moreau was the presenter. I’m sure the CNO and VCNO and a number of the 3-stars were there when that happened. John Lehman immediately saw this as the rationale for his 600-ship Navy. He ordered, among other things, that all captains and admirals in the Pentagon who are going to make any kind of an appearance before Congress had to see this strategy. Lehman wanted all these people, if you were going to Congress, he wanted you familiar with this, because he was going to go to Congress with it, and he did. So now we presented it in iterations of one or two sessions in the Army auditorium of the fifth floor of the Pentagon.
The next significant presentation we did was we briefed the Strategic Studies Group of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Recall that we had written the Air Force into the strategy, and this was us telling them how we had done that. They were delighted. The Air Force was now given a maritime role, which they really hadn’t been pushing before but they had it now.
Then the presentation was given to the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Weinberger, in the Tank. I believe Vice Admiral Moreau was the briefer. We were told move it fast, keep it moving, because Mr. Weinberger is known to drop off to sleep in some of these kinds of meetings. So we kept it fast, kept it moving, and at the end of the presentation when all was said and done, Mr. Weinberger walked out and put his arm around the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Vessey. And he said, “When can I see the Army and the Air Force one?” That turned up the heat on what the Army and the Air Force had been working on for years, called AirLand Battle. And that became the Army and the Air Force concept, which the maritime strategy helped provoke.
The briefing was well-received by all its audiences. The reason why I say that is that this was the first time many of them became privy to what was happening in the plans and policy side of the house. They were being read in on the Navy’s core planning projects. So it was well-received.
Without asking the other services, we brought them in at the beginning. For all of them, it meant a new mission to accomplish or an old mission to accomplish. Major General Tom Morgan out of the Marine Corps Commandant’s staff, he attended every briefing we gave because General Morgan learned a lot from it and took that back to the Marine Corps and learned how the Marine Corps was going to be supported by this Maritime Strategy.
I know that General Morgan and the Commandant were really right on board with this because again we used Marine Corps forces to secure necessary islands that we needed to use for island hopping and other things in the conduct of war in the Atlantic and the Pacific. The Marines were happy that they were being utilized in this manner. On the Atlantic side the Marines were training to go to Norway. We also used the Marines initially to secure basic islands that we had to have like Iceland and Greenland to keep the GIUK gap closed. We put submarines up beyond the gap to attack Russian submarines and even bases up around the northern cape there. In the end the carriers go through the GIUK cap and attack Russia. Not nuclear necessarily, but they attack Russia. The strategy was kind of all-encompassing. I never got the sense the Marines were antithetical to the strategy.
The Air Force bought into this because of their B-52s. Within four or five weeks of producing and briefing the strategy we devised several MOUs, a couple of which I helped write, which gave the Air Force the Harpoon missile, which they added to their B-52s and maritime surveillance aircraft. So they now had an anti-ship punch they could use. Initially I was kind of against giving them Harpoon because every one you gave them was one we didn’t have, and I was told, “Don’t worry, the ones we gave the Air Force were the ones Iran bought before the revolution.” We gave the Air Force this maritime role, and they were delighted. I can’t think of anybody that was opposed to or anti this Maritime Strategy.
If we had not written the other services into it, it would just be a Navy strategy and viewed as a Navy push for budget dollars. But since we wrote everybody else in, I mean we put everybody that had a maritime impact into the strategy. Nobody to my knowledge was left out, even though we didn’t ask them. If we said it was a pure Navy strategy, they would just close the door on us.
Did the Army have some issues with it at this point?
If they did, I didn’t hear about it. We used the Army and the National Guard in occupying Atlantic islands and other islands. We had these islands initially taken and occupied by Marines and then relieved by Army. Places like Iceland, Azores, other places. It was Marines first and then Army coming in behind them.
The Army liked it because we were still protecting from Soviet interference with the convoys to Europe, which were crucial to the execution of the European campaign. They were rapidly convoyed to Europe and the U.S. Navy in the Maritime Strategy was still removing the threat to those convoys that were so important to the execution of the European campaign. And the Army in those days was almost totally focused on central Europe.
How was this Maritime Strategy different than the Swing Strategy?
What was different about the Maritime Strategy was that we simultaneously executed strategy on a global basis. Before that it might have been this theater and then that theater in some form and sequence. But here we simultaneously executed operations in all the theaters.
When we did the Joint Strategic Operation Plan in the Joint Staff, the most contentious annex to the JSOP was Annex K. Annex K allocated strategic lift, both airborne and maritime. It told theater commanders what they were going to get and when they were going to get it. That was contentious. When you added it all up it was about 300 percent more than what we actually had available to use. Annex K had essentially divided it out sequentially rather than simultaneously.
How did you continue to work on the strategy as an assistant to SECNAV Lehman?
After the Maritime Strategy went down, it was not too long after that I got a phone call on a Friday afternoon from my detailer. He said, “Pack up your briefcase and move up to SECNAV’s office, you’re now working for John Lehman.” For the next two years before I went back to sea again I worked in the Office of Program Appraisal (OPA), but I was a special assistant to John Lehman, with the title of “Special Assistant for Policy Implementation,” which was made up.
I essentially wrote a lot of his Congressional testimony. Much of it revolved around the 600-ship Navy and the Maritime Strategy. I also helped with his annual statement before the various committees on the Navy and I wrapped in what the Navy had done in the past year in those statements.
Did you see much conversation and inputs being shared between the programmers and the strategists? Is there an ideal way this relationship should work, any lessons for today?
My guess is they don’t talk much to each other today (but I’ve been retired 30 years). I know in the years when the Maritime Strategy was alive and well, it was still the kickoff presentation for the programmers. It’s probably not the same today because when the Soviets went away and our major adversary disappeared, and the Maritime Strategy became something else, it just may have fallen off the plate. I don’t know. But I will say, when we gave this for the first time, we were really telling something to the admirals and the senior officers on the programming side of the house. It was opening their eyes to something they’ve never seen or heard before.
From the OP-06 point of view, it may not have even been a need-to-know. All these plans were SECRET or above, and they were not planning in the strategic sense, they were procuring the equipment with which to carry out the plans.
In putting together a strategy for the programmers, I assumed they knew nothing. I was pretty well correct in that. Fleet commanders-in-chief, they are planners in their own right for their particular theater. They are familiar with this to a degree. The programmers on the OPNAV staff were not, they knew nothing about any of this.
I had to start with that front part which I guess you could call a tutorial, to bring them into the broader picture. At one of our late afternoon rehearsals very early on, Commodore Carlson suggested that we drop the tutorial to shorten the briefing a bit. But Admiral Kirksey told him no, and that it is critical toward understanding the whole thing. Carlson probably suggested that because he knew this stuff, but nobody on the programming side of the house knew any of that.
You had said that nobody had tried to do this before, this kind of strategy.
As far as I know, something like this had never been done before. Even in WWII, you had the Atlantic, the Pacific, the South Pacific strategies and force allocations, there was no, as far as I can tell, global plan, in Admiral King’s office or anywhere else for the conduct of WWII.
The Maritime Strategy was a global concept of operations that had to be broken down in a further amount of detail by the fleet commanders and the theater commanders. It wasn’t the end all. It was the big picture, if you will.
Before we actually did this, people like Admiral Metcalf were betting that we couldn’t do it. Maybe they thought it was just too big for anyone to wrap their arms around it, I’m not sure. In meshing those theater plans together, that’s where OP 603 really made a major contribution because they were the guys that did it.
How did the Soviets react to the Maritime Strategy?
For a period of years, the Russians watched us exercise the Maritime Strategy at sea, and in 1986 they saw the unclass version in Proceedings. We learned later after the Iron Curtain fell that they believed everything we said we could do in that Maritime Strategy, because it was being practiced.
Admiral Crowe, who was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, made a trip to Russia. He was a guest of his counterpart in Moscow. The Russians then later came to the U.S., including Crowe’s counterpart, Marshall Akhromeyev. When the Russians came to this country, Crowe took them to an aircraft carrier in the Virginia Capes and they were aboard for the day and watched air operations. They found themselves pretty amazed to be onboard an aircraft carrier, which sparked some more conversations. They believed we could do it.
There was a map that Admiral Crowe and others were shown when they visited Moscow. It showed how the Soviets were ringed by the American Navy.
A priority for them became protecting their submarine-based nuclear deterrent under the ice. That became a major focus of their submarine operations. And our people eventually concluded that they were less of a danger to the convoys to Europe because they were staying above the Arctic circle to protect their own submarines. Similar things could be said in Vladivostok on the Pacific side.
Over the years, up through 1988-1989, our exercises became more expansive. In the Pacific we had combined exercises with the First and the Seventh Fleets, with carriers joining to simulate attacks on Vladivostok and elsewhere. The exercises were becoming larger and more extensive.
The important thing was that the Russians believed it all, that we could do it. The Maritime Strategy in a way acted as a deterrent. That was perhaps the principal, ultimate outcome.
What are the challenges in replicating a similar strategy for today?
We have a different strategic environment today than we did in 1982. We had one major maritime adversary and that was the Soviet Union, and they went away in 1989. Navy maritime strategy then went through a number of fluctuations, such as From the Sea and the focus on littoral warfare and so on.
If you wanted to replicate it today you would have to take in more than one major maritime threat. Today we’ve got Russia and China. You have to reproduce something similar, but now you’re dealing with two major competitors. That makes it more difficult.
I know the Navy is in trouble today with the Congress because the Navy today can’t really explain what it needs and how it is going to use it. We are almost back where we were in 1982, when the Navy had to pull it together.
Captain Spencer Johnson graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1963 and served as a Surface Warfare Officer for 30 years, retiring in 1993. He has served on three destroyers, held command of a destroyer, and commanded a destroyer squadron. He served five tours in the Pentagon, including three tours in OP-06 (Plans and Policy). He has served as executive assistant in OP-06, as special assistant for three years to the director of the Joint Staff, and as special assistant to Secretary of the Navy John Lehman. He holds degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He concluded his uniformed service as Chairman of the Department of Strategy and Operations at the National War College.
Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Content@cimsec.org.
Featured Image: November 1, 1987 – An aerial view of Battle Group Echo in formation. The ships are, from the left, top to bottom, row 1: USNS HASSAYAMPA (T-AO-145), USS LEFTWICH (DD-984), USS HOEL (DDG-13); row 2: USS KANSAS CITY (AOR-3), USS BUNKER HILL (CG-52), USS ROBERT E. PEARY (FF-1073); row 3: USS LONG BEACH (CGN-9), USS RANGER (CV-61), USS MISSOURI (BB-63); row 4: USS WICHITA (AOR-1), USS GRIDLEY (CG-21), USS CURTS (FFG-38); row 5: USS SHASTA (AE-33), USS JOHN YOUNG (DD-973) and USS BUCHANAN (DDG-14). (Photo by PH3 Wimmer via the U.S. National Archives)
CIMSEC discussed the development of the 1980s Maritime Strategyand the role played by the CNO Strategic Studies Group with Admiral William Owens (ret.). Admiral Owens was part of the first SSG during 1982. In this discussion, he discusses changes brought about by the Maritime Strategy, the implementation of the Maritime Strategy concepts by the fleet, and what lessons the Maritime Strategy and SSG have for the modern era.
What was new about the Maritime Strategy and how was it a shift from 1970s concepts and plans?
For the Navy and the Marine Corps, for the entire Defense Department, and for our country the Maritime Strategy was a turning point in the Cold War! For most of the years since World War II the United States Navy and Marine Corps had been focused on how to most efficiently get land and air forces into Central Europe to protect against a Soviet attack. This was the focus of all our force planning. All our analytic efforts in the Pentagon and the grand majority of money in the defense budget was organized around that particular task. The Maritime Strategy changed all of that in profound ways.
Can you briefly describe your personal involvement in the strategy development process?
My personal role was as a member of the first Strategic Studies Group, the SSG. This SSG and the concept was set up by Admiral Tom Hayward, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). And it is thanks to Tom Hayward, his vision, and his leadership style, that we wound up with a Maritime Strategy that materially changed everything.
Tom Hayward established the group under Bob Murray, a wonderful gentleman who had been the Under Secretary of the Navy. My personal involvement then was as one of the eight members of that first SSG. Admiral Hayward had personally chosen the eight of us, one from each branch of the Navy and two from the Marine Corps, to spend a year together. That was a transformative year for me and for all of us. As a submariner, I had spent all of my years, about 18 of them, in the submarine force, and had very little experience in the grand strategy of the Navy or the Defense Department. Indeed, I had very little knowledge of the other branches of the Navy, such as the fighter community, the surface navy, the amphibious forces, or the Marine Corps. This year changed all of that for me personally and immersed me in what was, we thought, the principal effort to bring together a very different position for our Navy.
While Secretary Lehman had talked about a different strategic force and several had talked about the need for a more offensive Navy, never before to my knowledge had we put together such a broad view of what the Navy and Marine Corps could possibly execute as principal members of U.S. forces. It is important to note Admiral Hayward’s role in the formation and tasking of the SSG, and in his leadership in imagining the entire year for the eight of us. I will always remember that as a precious lesson of how to lead! The CNO told us personally when we asked “what was the deliverable,” that he did not know. He said, “I formed this group because I have tremendous confidence in each of you, and I expect you to spend a year with no restrictions to do something good for the United States Navy and to make the year worthwhile in every respect, including for yourself.”
Follow-up sessions with Admiral Hayward occurred only two or three times during the year, and under Bob Murray’s leadership we had no restrictions, all doors were open, and all lines of thought were encouraged. This was the only time in my entire time in the Navy that I saw this degree of complete confidence and “gutsy” leadership to do something very special for our Navy and our country.
The SSG is often cited as a key (if not the key) driver behind the emergence of the Maritime Strategy. But at the same time, other initiatives and groups, including exercises such as Ocean Venture ’81, the OP-603 strategist community, the Advanced Technology Panel, and Secretary Lehman’s personal involvement were combined with pre-SSG elements such as Sea Plan 2000 and the Global War Games. In your opinion, which of these elements were the most significant and how did they interact with each other to create what we know as the Maritime Strategy?
While many of these products were well-known to us, there were none in my opinion which laid out the specifics of a new Maritime Strategy, one that would indeed change all of the force analysis, and that would change the thinking in the Congress and in the inner halls of the Kremlin. Regarding which organization came first with the Maritime Strategy, I leave it to the readers. But from our standpoint in the SSG, we had been sent by Admiral Hayward to “do good for the U.S. Navy,” and after many, many discussions among ourselves and many other potential activities that we could have undertaken, we chose to look at how the United States Navy and Marine Corps could play a much more offensive role in what was then the great challenge, the Soviet Union. I know that others were interested in this work, the CNO’s staff was doing work on strategy, and Secretary Lehman had done some work thinking about the Navy of the future.
But for us, we were not aware of any macro-level strategy for our country that dealt with the use of offensive maritime forces. Additionally, when we were looking to brief various commands, through Bob Murray and Admiral Hayward, there was a decision that we should go and visit all of the four-star U.S. Navy commanders to represent a new way of thinking about our Navy, which we called the Maritime Strategy. So, regarding who the originator was, from our standpoint we believed that we were taking the lead and had founded something that could be very special for our country, and I believe it was the SSG who dubbed it the Maritime Strategy.
How did the SSG, and through it the Maritime Strategy, influence and spur innovation in real-world fleet operations and exercises, both at the theater and at the tactical levels? What role did the SSG’s extensive travel to operational fleet commands, or the feedback received from the theater commands and flag ranks, help influence the strategy?
Commander Art Cebrowski and I were the two most junior officers on the first SSG. The natural flow had us both involved in developing presentations, doing some writing, and then eventually being the two briefers that took the Maritime Strategy to each of the four-star commanders-in- chief of the theaters. As such we were able to internalize and absorb the many comments that we received, which were at first quite doubtful, and then in a growing way, believing that there was indeed a new way possible to use naval force. Eventually Art and I started to feel more and more confident. With Bob Murray as an enormous mentor, a shield, we had a great interface with CNO Admiral Tom Hayward to continue our work and then to broaden it.
We noticed that within a few months exercises were being conducted in the various fleets, especially Seventh Fleet, to test out some of the concepts in the field. But more importantly, each of us was blessed to move on to become more senior and start exercising these concepts ourselves. As a young one-star admiral, I was able to mass four dozen attack submarines far forward and “demonstrate to the Soviets directly that we were there in numbers.”
When we looked at the ability of the United States Navy to take the battle forward to the Soviet bastions, to the northern flank of Norway and even the Arctic, when we were able to use carriers, surface forces, and the submarine force together far forward both in the Atlantic and the Pacific, we started to realize that we were having an impact on the Soviets themselves. No longer were the bastions and the northern and western flanks totally the property of the Soviet Union. After the Cold War was over, there were intelligence reports reflecting the critical difference the Navy and Marine Corps’ positioning had had on strategic thinking in the Soviet Union and indeed in their reflection that they could not win, no matter how much they poured into their defense systems.
Why did the Maritime Strategy “work,” if it did, and what about the process has been so hard to replicate?
The Maritime Strategy worked because there was an open mind in the leadership ranks of the Navy, there were very active supporters in OP 603, and in the intelligence community. And I would note that Rich Haver was particularly valuable to us in gaming and supporting our efforts. Rich was a senior civilian, an intelligence professional working in the Chief of Naval Operations office directly in what was called Code 009. He was extremely interested in the SSG’s deliberations and participated in many of our wargames and discussions. He was also a source of information from the intelligence community, and we spent considerable time with Rich regarding the intelligence implications of our thoughts on the Maritime Strategy. We saw a lot of Rich in Newport with the SSG.
Underlying it all, of course, was Tom Hayward and Bob Murray’s terrific leadership. They were the single most important factors in driving the success of those first SSGs! I think it was hard to duplicate the work of the first three or four SSGs, as follow-on CNOs did not lead the effort in the same sense that Tom Hayward did, and there was never another Bob Murray. I think the concept is strong and could remain strong under the right leadership. In other words, “take the very best from the warfare communities, give them a free rein for a year, and ask them to deliver a product that is worth the time and effort for their Navy and Marine Corps.” I don’t think that ever happened again after the first two or three SSGs.
How did the strategy interface with the POM process? What was its budgetary and programmatic influence, what mechanisms channeled this influence, and how did these processes change over this time period?
Because of senior leadership and our exposure to all of the Navy’s four-star officers, there eventually was considerable support and understanding of what the United States Navy and Marine Corps capability was, and I believe that flowed through every branch of both services. Especially for those of us who became three- and four-star officers, we drove the Maritime Strategy as part of all of our budgeting and programmatic directions. It was a critical part of my own efforts both as the first N-8 in the Navy staff and as the Sixth Fleet commander, and then the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Putting pressure on the Soviet Union, and indeed realizing that the Navy and Marine Corps were operating forward, aggressively, and offensively, I believe this carried over after the Cold War ended in the way we thought about our service. It changed the paradigms of World War II. Of course, the submarine force had always been operating forward. But now we were able to operate with other branches of the Navy and Marine corps in a very offensive forward position, and we coordinated those actions with other naval forces to make a much larger difference. In many ways the Maritime Strategy was a coming-of-age for maritime forces.
What lessons can be taken from the 1980s for engaging in modern great power competition, both specifically about the role of the SSG and its functionality, and more generally about the centrality of the Maritime Strategy in 1980s great power competition?
Many of the lessons of the 1980s pertain to naval and Marine forces today, and will in the future. And when we are thinking of great power competition it allowed us to think of truly offensive and game-changing actions in the forward theaters, which pertains as much in today’s world as it did then. I predict that this will continue as we look to the future.
The lessons of the SSG were profound for me. The degree of thinking and engagement that a dedicated, supported from-the-top-group of quality officers can provide, was stunning. Art Cebrowski and I, I’m sure, had our lives changed in many ways from this experience. The leadership lessons learned from Tom Hayward, Bob Murray, and others who supported us also had a profound effect on Art and myself. And I have to add, the loss of Art Cebrowski to our entire Defense Department was a loss that is more than one could ever have imagined.
How did the strategy enhance the Navy’s ability to tell its story to outside audiences, such as Congress, the other services, and allies? How was it received and challenged by outside audiences?
The Maritime Strategy dramatically enhanced the Navy’s confidence in what it already knew in part that it could do. Whether it was with Congress, where the demonstration of the Navy and Marine Corps offensive forces working jointly with the other services became known, or with our allies, where this broad naval offensive power was broadly accepted, the maritime strategy was clearly now a part of everything we did. And in many cases, such as the United Kingdom, our allies joined as part of our forward-thinking Maritime Strategy.
Many audiences of traditionalists, including several of our four-star commanders at the time, were strongly unconvinced, even disapprovingly so. But it did not take long with continued exercises, demonstrated capability, and a realization on the Hill that this was something that could truly change America’s position in the world of military power, that there was widespread acceptance.
For many of us throughout our careers, we took pride in showing our friends and allies around the world and in the United States the true power and ability of our maritime forces to operate freely, jointly, and with substantial capability even in the most challenging areas. It is hard to say this needs to be proven now, since this is the way our country’s military services take military force forward, with naval forces on the leading edge!
Admiral William Owens (ret.) is a retired four-star U.S. Navy admiral. He was Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and was Commander of the U.S. Sixth Fleet from 1990 to 1992, which included Operation Desert Storm. Owens also served as the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Resources. Owens was the Senior Military Assistant to two Secretaries of Defense (Secretaries Cheney and Carlucci) and served in the Office of Program Appraisal for the Secretary of the Navy. He began his military career as a nuclear submariner. He served on four strategic nuclear-powered submarines and three nuclear attack submarines, including tours as Commanding Officer of the USS Sam Houston, USS Michigan, and USS City of Corpus Christi. He currently serves as an executive in the private sector, as well as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Joe Petrucelli is an assistant editor at CIMSEC, a reserve naval officer, and an analyst at Systems, Planning and Analysis, Inc.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent the positions of employers, the Navy, or the DoD.
Featured Image: October 22, 1988 – Guests observe the Nos. 1 and 2 Mark 7 16-inch/50-caliber guns being traversed and elevated as the battleship USS WISCONSIN (BB 64) “comes alive” during its recommissioning. (National archive photo)