Category Archives: 1980s Maritime Strategy Series

Irv Blickstein on Programming the POM and Strategizing the Budget

1980s Maritime Strategy Series

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC discussed the 1980s Maritime Strategy with Irv Blickstein, who at the time served in the senior executive service in the Navy’s programming office. In this discussion, Blickstein discusses the tradeoffs programmers help leaders understand, the role Navy Secretary John Lehman played in managing the Navy’s program, and to what extent the Navy’s strategists and programmers had a relationship.

Can you describe the environment in the Pentagon and Navy staff when the Reagan administration was coming in and larger budgets were on their way?

I came in 1982. We knew we were going to get more money as the Reagan Administration came into office and promised an increase in defense spending. We had so much money that as programmers we had trouble finding places to put it. We would actually take ships out of mothballs because we now had the money to repair them and make them available. We could afford to bring more sailors into the Navy. It was a very heady time for programmers in the sense that there was more money to do things that both the CNO and the Secretary of the Navy wanted to do.

John Lehman was clearly in charge. Let there be no doubt. On the civilian SES side, he moved numbers of the senior executive service who didn’t agree with him to far-flung locations hoping they would quit over time, and many did. It is something the Trump administration followed in the past four years. There was no doubt who was in charge in the Navy. In the programming meetings with the Secretary, you generally did not have the CNO present, and you rarely had the Commandant of the Marine Corps either. You had their vice chiefs, the VCNO and the ACMC were there. The chiefs didn’t want to be embarrassed by John Lehman talking down to them or opining on issues they didn’t want to opine on. It was a very tough, contentious setting. But overall, money was not an issue. It was flowing, especially in the first few years of the Reagan administration.

What was Lehman’s influence on the POM and how did he relate it to strategy?

Lehman extensively went through the details of the programming process. He understood the POM in great detail. We had to present individual line items or program elements and budget category items to him and he questioned their veracity in great detail to the Captain who was running this process. I don’t recall him moving money out. He wanted to know why we were spending money on certain things. He was looking to create cash to help fund his 600-ship navy.

The issue you run into is that you can spend money on things, you can buy 600 ships, but you may buy fewer sailors, you may buy less modernization, you may reduce readiness and maintenance funding. That has always been the challenge in the programming process. What’s leadership’s priority?

For today’s readiness, you could say I want X-percent of my ships and planes to be ready at a moment’s notice. Or I’m willing to let that drop because I don’t perceive a big threat in the world and I want to spend my money on new construction. Former Secretary of the Navy Mabus in the Obama administration rejected a POM when Admiral Greenert was the CNO, saying if you don’t buy ships then you’re not going to have any. Thus the Navy bought more ships and the readiness dropped. Secretary of Defense Mattis came in with the Trump administration and said our readiness is terrible. And he put more money into readiness and set goals and standards for mission capability, such as for aircraft, and made sure that they were ready for the near-term fight. Those kinds of pressures have always existed.

The questions that John Lehman was asking as he was going through all those line items and understanding where all that money is going, was A) could they justify this to me, and B) could I agree that we should be spending money on these things. Those were the meetings I sat through.

Lehman was right, the Maritime Strategy convinced the Congress that the Navy had a plan, it had a vision, the vision made sense, it made sense of the Soviet Union, and the Congress was generally supportive. The Office of the Secretary of Defense, not necessarily. Defense Secretary Weinberger was a little less enamored with John Lehman, and Lehman going directly to the Congress over his head. But yes, Congress was very supportive. And Lehman was a wonderful speaker to present his case to them.

If you look at the vision the Navy has today, nobody quite understands what they want to do, such as what they want unmanned vessels to do exactly. They are talking about maybe 40 percent of the future carrier force being unmanned, maybe so, maybe not. The Congress is not convinced, and they would like to better understand what the Navy’s plan is. And unfortunately, the people with vision are not running the Navy at the moment.

Were there people in analysis that said a 600-ship navy was unaffordable? Was there some tension and pushback?

The OP-96 people, Lehman basically fired them. He didn’t allow the promotion of the admiral who was in charge of OP-96 at the time. He was not a great fan of analysis. He had to prove his point, and if it didn’t prove his point, he was against it.

He truly believed what he said in the earlier interview: strategy, requirements, the POM, and the budget. In that order. Well, what if you build a strategy that is unaffordable? It’s easy to build a strategy that says I have lots of ships in lots of places. But you may or may not be able to afford them in the POM, because if you do, then they won’t have missiles or bombs, the planes won’t be ready, and they may not have enough people to crew them. Those were the tradeoffs that you had to have some sense of when you develop a strategy. Navy strategists never had to build a POM or budget. Opining is easy when money is considered “free.”

It seems like Lehman got his way, that they did make those tradeoffs.

Well, you still had to balance the POM. It still had to have something to get through the Secretary of Defense, who may say you’re buying too many ships, you didn’t buy enough readiness, so we are going to move the money. The Office of the Secretary of Defense’s program analysis and evaluation organization PA&E, now called CAPE, would evaluate it in great detail the Navy’s POM as it did the other services, in a contentious process. And once you finished all of that, now that you had a POM that the service and the Secretary of Defense is happy with, you now reverted to a budget process where the claimants came in. Pacific Fleet, Atlantic Fleet, people who own real estate who will sometimes say you don’t have enough money for items in the region of concern. And so the budget officer of the Navy then would have to adjudicate that and add money when it made sense. It may not have made Lehman happy at times, and they would have to have that argument before the budget would be submitted again to the OSD comptroller and then on to the OMB and the Congress.

If you want 15 carriers, you will have to afford them, you will have to find the money for them. They bought two carriers in 1983 and 1986 (as I recall). That was money that had not been spent in previous years; it is a loophole that has since been closed. But there was excess cash in the Navy’s program, and a very brilliant Navy civilian SES comptroller said we could use this money to buy two carriers. Lehman was convinced, they convinced the Secretary Defense, and ultimately convinced the Congress.

So there were things you could do, buying carriers, buying submarines, the Secretary could say what he wants to do, but if there wasn’t a path there, the programmers would say there is no use putting your money there to be lost in the PA&E review process and maybe go to another service or priority. We were buying four Los-Angeles class submarines per year those days. Electric Boat could build four per year, but not five. If you want to build-up to 100 submarines then you will have to build many submarines per year, but within the limits of the industrial base. If you put money into that without regard for that limitation, the Office of the Secretary of Defense would take that money and put it somewhere else.

I agree with what Lehman said, that having the U.S. Navy forward deployed scared the heck out of the Russians, and they couldn’t keep up with that. They were mostly landlocked and they were capable, but the U.S. Navy could forward deploy much more easily. We had allies, we had bases. China has a similar problem today.

How did the Maritime Strategy interface with the POM? What was that relationship like?

I confirmed this with some other people, there was almost no relationship between OP-06 and OP-090 and OP-90, which was the programming office, and less so with OP-96 which was systems analysis. So Ace Lyons was OP-06 somewhere in that timeframe, and he led the Maritime Strategy from the CNO’s office. Ace Lyons didn’t talk to OP-090, he just didn’t. I can’t tell you why.

People had a name for the strategists. The OP-06 people were called the “High Priests,” where essentially they would proclaim that “The world should be created in one day, and there shall be this and that.” And the “gladiators” were the programmers who had to fight in the arena for each dollar and to make the dollars work so somebody else wouldn’t take that money away from us. Our measure of effectiveness was: did the Office of the Secretary of Defense change our program? That’s who we cared about. Did the money go to the Army or the Air Force? We cared about keeping money inside the Navy. That was more important than building more ships. There was continuous pressure and tension between the strategists and programmers. But for the strategists, money was not something they evaluated as part of what they thought was important. In their case, it was mainly evaluated against the Soviet Navy.

There was no relationship. As the deputy programmer, I had no relationship with anybody in OP-06. And you’d think, well you’re building a POM and they’re in charge of the Maritime Strategy, shouldn’t you guys be talking all the time? The answer is yes, but did the Maritime Strategy have an impact on our programming work? It really didn’t.

What if something works programmatically, but it doesn’t make sense in terms of tactics, in terms of strategy? Did the programmers have some kind of role in saying something could be bought, but it did not make sense to buy it in that context?

They ought to have that role. With how the POM is built, in those days, there was a three-star baron in charge of each of the major elements. Submarine warfare was OP-02, it is now N97, it was a three-star, now it is a two-star. His job was to build as many submarines as he could, put people in the submarine force, arm the submarines, and get their technology. Same for the admiral in charge of the surface navy and the admiral in charge of aviation. That admiral owned the carriers and he owned the aircraft that flew off the carriers. These admirals were competing with each other.

OP-090’s job was to look for the best meld between them, given the Secretary’s and the CNO’s preference. So if they want to build 100 submarines, 100 frigates, or 15 carriers, is that affordable? It may be affordable if I don’t have any readiness, if I buy fewer people, if I don’t maintain my bases. That’s where the programmers come in and say this is a tradeoff and say this is what we’re going to have to do to get these things funded in the POM.

With the help of the analysts in OP-96 or N81 today, we could tell a particular type of warfare would not necessarily be successful against the Russians or the Chinese as proposed by the resource sponsor. Therefore you ought to move your money from system A to some other system. Those issues were briefed at the two- and three-star levels to the CNO and to the Secretary when Lehman was in office. That tension is running through the POM process all the time. These days it is a bit different because N9 owns the barons, the surface, submarine, aviation, and amphibious barons, the two-star barons are owned by a three-star, and he’s got an integrator, N9I. Admiral Kilby is the current N9, but before that he was the N9I integrator, where his job was to look across the warfare world. But he also owns the people, the maintenance, and the spare parts. In the Navy and the POM process, he owns it all, so it’s a very interesting setup. In those days, however, the barons were quite autonomous.

How would the politics of the communities be adjudicated? They had their preferences, and sometimes they would not want to buy things even if it made sense tactically, such as in the 1980s when the Surface Navy was resistant to fielding the Tomahawk missile.

It would be adjudicated by the two-stars, the three-stars, and maybe even the CNO. You’re buying Tomahawks versus a new missile for surface combatants, or a new missile for a submarine. Those are competing against one another, so which one has the greater firepower? In a wargame, in a battle with China or Russia, which would be more effective? The analysts at OP-96 and more recently at N81 would run those kinds of analyses, and the beginning of the POM process would describe what they believe are the best tools.

They weren’t looking at, “could I really build something that fast,” they were looking at what’s the probability-to-kill. If you’re sitting at OP-02, you had to watch what those analysts were saying about the weapons and the submarines you were building and were they effective compared to something else.

Did this sort of conversation mainly consist of operations research folks talking to systems analysts?

The operations research folks were sprinkled with military officers, like the admiral or the deputy. The chief analyst was for years a guy named Trip Barber. Trip was a great analyst and retired naval officer. I knew him as a Lieutenant Commander as a programmer. He retired as an O-6 and then became the chief analyst in N81 and was a very powerful person. He understood the analysis, what it had to do, where it had to go, what works and what didn’t. And when he spoke, the flag community paid a lot of attention to him. You didn’t have somebody like that back in the 80s. There was no one with the kind of clout he had.

Is that a good model for how it should work, is that how it should work in current times? Some have said that N81 during that time became perhaps too powerful.

If an organization succeeds wildly and people pay attention to them, there will be naysayers that say, “look what’s happened, we’ve got the analysts and the programmers now running the Navy.” I’ve looked at the Air Force programming system, and it’s different from the Navy’s, but in the final analysis, programmers still have to put a POM together, and still have to balance the accounts within them. It still has to work, and it still has to go through CAPE.

In the old days, CAPE was PA&E, and David Chu led it for about eight years. Brilliant guy, very brilliant. He questioned almost everything that we did, and we knew he was going to. We knew the arguments had to stand up. It couldn’t just be John Lehman opining. It couldn’t just be a strategy. Strategies are interesting, but show me the program, show me how effective these programs are against what we know the Soviet Union can do or the Chinese or what whoever can do. We would argue, “hey you can’t take this argument downstairs, they’re going to kill us. Here is what that argument is going to do.”

There were naval officers who worked in CAPE, so we had people who understood how they thought, what analysis was used. CAPE had its ups and downs over the years as well. It got very powerful. But there is an ebb and flow of power. But there are people who will attack those organizations. Our own measure of effectiveness was: did the money stay in the Navy? If they moved it that was one thing, but if it stayed in the Navy, we were happy.

It remains a continuous battle. They are talking about reducing carriers today. Particularly today, with the kinds of missiles the Russians and the Chinese have today. But being a floating base is a real advantage. A base is a fixed base, you know where it is, you know where it is going to be. In a wargame it’s a lot easier to fight against a base than a ship that can move at 30 knots.

In terms of the relationship between the strategists and the programmers, how should this work? Are there lessons from the 1980s on how this could work better today?

When the strategy is being built, you ought to have the analysts in N81 and the programmers in N80 involved in what they are doing. So that they can have a voice, and say, “I understand what you want to build, but what you are suggesting may not be executable. You can’t build at the rate you want to build.” That’s one set of questions. Another set is, if you do build even at the acceptable rate, you will have to find money to pay for other bills, and some of that comes out of shipbuilding.

Historically, there was no relationship between strategists and programmers, but I think it would be a good thing to have.

Irv Blickstein is a senior engineer at the RAND Corporation. He has 50 years of experience in the field of defense analysis and management with a specialty in planning, programming, and budgeting, as well as acquisition. He has served in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations as Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (N8B) from 1996-2001, the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Acquisition & Technology) as Director, Acquisition Program Integration from 1994-1996, the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations as Associate Director for the Programming Division (N80) from 1984-1994, and in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations Systems Analysis Division (OP 96) as Branch Chief from 1976-1984. He received the Department of the Navy’s Meritorious Public Service Award in 2011 for his service on the CNO’s Executive Panel. He holds an M.S. in engineering management from The George Washington University.

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: September 1, 1986 – A port quarter view of the amphibious assault ship USS INCHON (LPH 12) underway during NATO Exercise NORTHERN WEDDING 86. (U.S. National Archives photo by PHAN William Holck)

Dr. Stanley Weeks on Briefing the Maritime Strategy and Making the Strategic Difference

1980s Maritime Strategy Series

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC discussed the 1980s Maritime Strategy with Dr. Stanley Weeks, who as a Navy Lieutenant Commander helped assemble the first briefed iteration of the Maritime Strategy in 1982. In this discussion, Weeks looks at how that briefing came together, how it rapidly traveled up the chain of command, and how maritime forces can make the strategic difference in great power conflict.

After you received the initial strategy memo and became the action officer, how did you view the gravity and scope of what was being asked for?

I felt that there was a great opportunity for the Navy and Marine Corps team to claim and be recognized for a leading role in U.S. global defense strategy. With a new administration, committed in general strategy terms to an enhanced maritime role, and to ensuring that funding and resources would be made available to support that role, it would have been a grave mistake for the Navy not to articulate a clear and detailed strategy to justify that lead role.

How did the Maritime Strategy briefing come together in terms of how it was drafted and what sources were consulted?

The Maritime Strategy briefing came together very quickly in September/early October of 1982. Though I was the junior officer (pre-XO LCDR) in the CNO Strategic Concepts Group (OP-603) office, I requested to be the action officer to develop the Maritime Strategy, which then-VCNO Adm. Small had requested to kick off the CNO annual budget process. I drafted the briefing in a couple of weeks in early September 1982, primarily based on my own operational and academic experiences (including a Ph.D. in international relations and having just come from 13 months at sea running the operations of NATO’s multinational Standing Naval Force Atlantic (STANAVFORLANT) for British and Dutch admirals). It was also very much based on the work I did earlier in the summer of 1982 as co-action officer for the first-ever rounds of tank briefings by the combatant commanders for President Reagan.

After my initial drafting work, the Navy office which coordinated budget matters provided an officer, Commander Spencer Johnson, who added more detail to the defense planning elements of the briefing. Then after a quick review by our branch head and OP-06 (both in an acting capacity at this time) the Maritime Strategy briefing made it to the 2-Star Program Development Review Committee (PDRC) at the end of September 1982. In a very unusual move they blessed it on the spot and directed it to go, within the week, to the CNO and his 3-star deputies at the CNO Executive Board. They received the briefing the first week of October 1982, with new CNO Admiral Watkins approving the strategy that day—which was then briefed to Secretary of the Navy Lehman, who termed it consistent with his general strategy thinking and the best product he had seen as Secretary.

In assembling the war plans of the various theater commanders, did you see much friction or alignment in how they came together and how they planned to employ naval power in conflict?

I saw that, if properly articulated by the Navy, there was a basic symmetry between a maritime strategy of forward pressure on the Soviets in the northwest Pacific and the North Atlantic/Norwegian Sea, to threaten the preferred Soviet focus on the Central front in Europe, and therefore allow the Navy to make the strategic difference in a major conflict. Admiral Hayward, as CINCPACFLT before he became CNO, had already a couple of years prior indicated such a forward pressure focus in his strategy in the Pacific. Although the (Army) CINCEUR commander’s strategy briefing to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the president just delivered in the summer of 1982 had little mention of the Navy/Marine Corps role in that theater, NATO had a new NATO Maritime Concept of Operations (which then-CINCHAN UK Royal Navy Admiral Sir James Eberle had shared in draft with me in 1981), and CINCUSNAVEUR London reflected that in their planning. The biggest problem which our briefing to the CNO Executive Board highlighted was that the theater commanders in the Atlantic and Pacific were each assuming they would be able to have allocated to them many of the same maritime forces. It was this “fat” that would have to be highlighted and then trimmed in our CNO Executive Board presentation to ensure the maritime strategy was operationally realistic.

What were some of the core tenets and takeaways from the briefing on the Maritime Strategy? How original and innovative were these concepts at the time?

The core tenets were, as noted above, “full forward pressure,” to posture and employ U.S. and allied maritime forces forward in peacetime presence, crisis, and conflict, to pressure the Soviets on their flanks, threaten their homeland (including, at the highest strategic level, their nuclear forces in the bastions) and therefore deter conflict. If deterrence failed, the U.S. would threaten the Soviet focus on a quick and overwhelming victory on the Central Front in Europe—all in order to use maritime forces to make the strategic difference and ensure war termination on favorable terms. The originality of this strategy was articulating how the maritime element of the national military strategy (and that is what we called it, despite aspersions later cast on a “service strategy”!) would, in the circumstances of that time, coordinate a global maritime response in multiple theaters using classic forward and away pressure.

How was the briefing received by its audiences? What sort of follow-on action did it precipitate?

As indicated above, the briefing was surprisingly well-received and approved within the space of ten days by both the Program Development Review Committee and then the CNO and his CNO Executive Board. In the process of the Executive Board deliberations, subsequent action was called for by the CNO to enhance certain aspects of readiness and munitions (which were being overlooked), and to emphasize the role of allies. Under the officer who relieved me as the OPNAV Maritime Strategy Action Officer in March 1983 when I went back to sea for my XO tour, my excellent officemate Peter Swartz, the strategy would undergo annual refinements (with many more aspiring cooks now lined up at the pot to no doubt help complicate Peter’s days!) until it was finally published in unclassified form in the January 1986 USNI Proceedings article by Admiral Watkins. (I confess to this day that I dislike seeing references to the “1986 Maritime Strategy” since this was essentially the October 1982 Maritime Strategy.)

Why did the Maritime Strategy “work,” if it did, and what about the process has been challenging to replicate since then?

I like to think that the Maritime Strategy was a success because it clearly articulated the case, in a way accepted inside and (largely) outside the maritime services, of how the maritime forces would make the strategic difference in the strategic context of the time. Perhaps the best metric of our strategy’s success was that it became the baseline for almost a decade for how the maritime services budgeted their forces, and for how they planned and exercised these forces. As Secretary of the Navy Lehman’s recent book Oceans Ventured indicates, such force posturing and exercising had already begun in 1981 based on the general strategy outlines of the new administration, even before the more detailed actual Maritime Strategy of October 1982 was formally articulated and approved. By the time I was commanding the 1987 Baltic Operations flagship and the 1988 NATO STANAVFORLANT flagship USS Hayler (DD-997), such exercising to the tune of the Maritime Strategy was in full bloom.

What lessons can be taken from the 1980s Maritime Strategy for engaging in modern great power competition?

Leaders must articulate clearly how the maritime forces element of the National Military Strategy will make a strategic difference to deter great power conflict and, failing that, to threaten vital strategic geography and forces of the enemy to help bring war termination on favorable terms to the U.S. and its allies.

Based on this strategy articulation, maritime force leaders must press tirelessly for funding for the maritime forces required, but ensure a force balanced in readiness and numbers—and ready to work together with the other services and with allies.

U.S. allies are still a vital political and military force multiplier, the likes of which other great powers do not have. Each ally though is a relationship requiring routine cultivation—and, when frustrations arise, requires us to remember Churchill’s observation that the only thing worse than fighting a war with allies is fighting without them.

Dr. Stan Weeks has extensive strategic and operational planning experience in business, defense, foreign policy, and international and regional security contexts. He joined Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) in 1990, following a prior 24-year career in the U.S. Navy, including duty on the OPNAV staff as the first action officer and drafter of the Maritime Strategy in 1982-1983, and service as an OSD exchange officer to the State Department Politico-Military Bureau. From 1994 until his retirement in 2016, he was also an Adjunct Professor of the Naval War College, teaching the National Security Decision Making (NSDM) graduate course (strategy and force planning, and executive leadership) to Washington area students from the military, government agencies, and Congressional staffs. From 2007-2012, Dr. Weeks was an Adjunct Professional Staff Member at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), supporting the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where his work included Asia-Pacific engagement and force posture, Defense Planning Scenarios for QDR 2010, counter-piracy strategy, and the outline for a new National Defense Strategy. From 2009-2011, he was a Research Analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA)’s Center for Strategic Studies (where he wrote the study on recent evolution of Joint and services strategies. His education includes:  U.S. Naval Academy 1970; Olmsted Scholar, University of Madrid, Spain 1974-76, Doctoral and graduate Latin America Studies; M.A. 1973 and Ph. D. 1977 in International Studies, The American University; Strategy Faculty, National War College 1988-1990.

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: March 12, 1986 – An A-6E Intruder aircraft is launched from the aircraft carrier USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67) (U.S. National Archives photo by PH1 Phil Wiggins)

Barry Posen on Risking Escalation and Scrutinizing Plans

1980s Maritime Strategy Series

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC discussed the 1980s Maritime Strategy with Professor Barry Posen of MIT, who at the time emerged as a challenger of some of the strategy’s precepts. In this discussion, Posen discusses the possibly escalatory nature of the strategy, the nuclear risks involved, and how operational war plans deserve to be scrutinized by civilian policymakers.

What were your thoughts on the Maritime Strategy when it published during the 1980s?

I had two views because it was both a surface and air warfare strategy, and an undersea warfare strategy. The surface warfare aspects, especially the plan to move aircraft carriers north to strike the Kola Peninsula, seemed absurdly risky to the ships given the minor gains to be had from those airstrikes. The forward anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations against Soviet ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) struck me as needlessly escalatory. The purpose of “Flexible Response” was to prolong the conventional phase of the war. Conventional strikes on Soviet SSBNs turned the conventional phase into the first phase of a counterforce nuclear attack. I was concerned that the Russians might see it that way, and perhaps use nuclear weapons to warn the U.S. to back off. No nuclear-armed country likes losing its secure second-strike capability.

Did the offensive spirit of the Maritime Strategy adversely affect deterrence and escalation dynamics?

It is hard to know what were the effects on deterrence. The advocates thought the threat helped deter by increasing the risks the Soviet would run in a large-scale conventional attack on the West. I am unaware of any deep dive into Russia’s (Soviet) archives that would answer the question of whether it worked that way. I feared that it would intensify escalation dynamics in many ways. Fortunately we never ran the experiment.

How do you think the Maritime Strategy was received by allies and the Soviet Union, and how would you explain their reactions?

I think the Soviets knew exactly what the U.S. Navy was going to do. That is why they planned to turn the Barents Sea into a defended bastion. (They probably also had pretty good naval intelligence during that period through the Walker spy ring.) I don’t know what most U.S. allies thought about the strategy. Insofar as they were always worrying about nuclear decoupling, they probably liked the U.S. threat and thought it enhanced deterrence. Whether they would have questioned going through with it in the event deterrence failed is another question. I do remember the Norwegians were so happy to hear that the U.S. was coming that they did not wish to ask too many questions about why.

What alternative would you have advocated for in terms of strategy and how American naval power might be applied?

The U.S. and its allies had a very effective system of ASW barriers between the Soviet bases in the Kola Peninsula and the Atlantic sea lines of communication. One argument for threatening Soviet SSBNs was that it tied down their attack submarines defending the bastion. My view was that the very existence of U.S. SSNs created a contingent threat to the bastion no matter what we did. Therefore the Soviets would not risk their best submarines running the barriers off the North Cape and the GIUK gap, or even the convoy escorts to try to sink resupply shipping. I would have relied more on those barriers and held the SSN offensive in reserve. My estimate at the time, however, was that the Navy was so invested in the offensive that they would not hold back. Indeed, because finding Soviet SSBNs was much easier if you could trail them as they deployed, my fear was that the U.S. Navy’s search for tactical leverage would lead them to advocate a crisis surge of SSNs into the Barents. This would have accelerated the pace of any crisis and might have produced an entirely unnecessary war.

What lessons from those strategy debates best apply to understanding modern great power competition today?

I am unaware that the debate at the time had much impact. The one positive aspect of it was that it illuminated for civilian policymakers that to manage or avoid escalation in anything as large and complicated as a NATO–Warsaw Pact War, that they should look at the operational plans for themselves. This was not done much in those days and probably isn’t now. But I do know that some in the policy community were at least prompted to think about this. It is known that civilians have had a very hard time over the years even getting good access to the nuclear war plans. So this is a hard organizational politics problem. That said, the debate has had legs. Scholars of the emerging competition in Asia are also asking some of these questions.

One is always tempted to look at the past through rose-colored lenses. But it is increasingly my view that attentive civilians, even those without clearances, somehow had more visibility into fundamental military issues during the Cold War than they do now. Everyone involved took the Cold War very seriously, and the U.S. government and the military had to explain themselves. This surfaced a lot of useful information.

By comparison the Global War on Terror has produced a very strong penchant for secrecy. I am not convinced that we have as much visibility into military issues now as we did then. In part this is also due to the Congress relinquishing its oversight role and to the growth of the prestige of the U.S. military in society. Too few people are asking hard questions, and the military has an easy time waving them off. This may all be set to change, if and as the competition with China grows more serious.

Barry R. Posen is Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT, Director Emeritus of the MIT Security Studies Program, and serves on the Executive Committee of Seminar XXI. He is the author of, Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy, (Cornell University Press 2014), Inadvertent Escalation: Conventional War and Nuclear Risks (Cornell University Press 1991), and The Sources of Military Doctrine (Cornell University Press 1984 ). The latter won two awards: The American Political Science Association’s Woodrow Wilson Foundation Book Award, and Ohio State University’s Edward J. Furniss Jr. Book Award. He is also the author of numerous articles, including “The Rise of Illiberal Hegemony—Trump’s Surprising Grand Strategy,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2018, “It’s Time to Make Afghanistan Someone Else’s Problem,” The Atlantic, 2017, “Contain ISIS,” The Atlantic, 2015, “Pull Back: The Case for a Less Activist Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2013, and “Command of the Commons: The Military Foundation of U.S. Hegemony,” International Security, (Summer, 2003.) He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2016 he was appointed Henry A. Kissinger Chair (visiting) in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress, John W. Kluge Center. He is the 2017 recipient of the International Security Studies Section (ISSS), International Studies Association, Distinguished Scholar Award. He has been a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow; Rockefeller Foundation International Affairs Fellow; Guest Scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Woodrow Wilson Center Fellow, Smithsonian Institution; Transatlantic Fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States; and a Visiting Fellow at the John Sloan Dickey Center at Dartmouth College.

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Featured Image: September 30, 1987 – Crew members prepare to go ashore from an Ohio class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (National Archive photo by PH1 Harold J. Gerwien)

Mike McDevitt on the Strategic Studies Group and Connecting Strategy with Programming

1980s Maritime Strategy Series

By Joe Petrucelli

CIMSEC discussed the development of the 1980s Maritime Strategy and the role played by the CNO Strategic Studies Group with Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt (ret.). RADM McDevitt served on the second SSG and went on to serve in operational and programmatic roles implementing the Maritime Strategy. In this discussion, he discusses changes brought about by the Maritime Strategy, the attempts to bureaucratically ensure that strategy informed navy programming, and what lessons the Maritime Strategy and the SSG have for the modern era.

What was new about the Maritime Strategy and how was it a shift from 1970s concepts and plans?

The maritime Strategy was new in a number of ways. First, it was strategically dangerous, and as a result was controversial because it embraced the use of U.S. anti-submarine forces, primarily nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs), in a campaign to sink Soviet nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). The goal was to eliminate or substantially reduce the Soviet nuclear strategic reserve (follow-on strike capability). The argument in support of this course of action was that as Soviet SSBNs were sunk this would negatively affect Soviet “correlation of forces” calculations, creating a perception of increased vulnerability and lead them to seek war termination. The counter argument was it would cause the Soviets “to use them rather than lose them,” thereby triggering nuclear war.

Secondly, the Maritime Strategy was intended to be a global strategic approach, in short, the navy would “horizontally escalate” the conflict. The assumption was that war would break out on the Central Front (a Soviet invasion across the inter-German border). Rather than merely fighting the Soviets in and around Europe, the U.S. Navy would expand the war to Asia by using Pacific Fleet capabilities, especially those stationed in Japan, to attack Soviet bases in the Soviet Far Eastern Military District (TVD). High on the list were Soviet Backfire (TU-22M) bomber bases. The main implication for the navy was that the Pacific Fleet would stay in the Pacific and not be “swung” to the Atlantic. Today of course any conflict with China would require Atlantic Fleet forces to “swing” to the Pacific. Admiral Hayward, who was the CNO who established the SSG, was a big proponent of attacking the Soviet Navy on a global basis, especially in the Pacific. He was a former Pacific Fleet commander who hated the “swing strategy.”

Thirdly, it promoted an offensive use of the 600-ship navy and explained how and why the 600-ship navy would actually be used. The strategic intent of the strategy was to put pressure on the Soviet “flanks” by using carrier air (keep in mind in those days each air wing included aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons) and SSNs. While I do not claim to be an expert on navy strategies in the 1960s and 70s, they all revolved around the primary mission of securing the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) to Europe so the bulk of the U.S. Army could get there in time to keep the Red Army from overrunning western Europe. Based on intelligence, the Maritime Strategy judged that the vast Soviet submarine fleet would not be involved in attacking SLOCs and instead would be protecting their own SSBN forces. Yet another reason for an anti-SSBN operation.

Finally, the strategy was strongly informed by the absolute best intelligence available. It was not simply an aspirational document, many of the ideas and concepts (including novel tactical ideas) embedded in the strategy found their way into official war plans, were constantly wargamed, and practiced in major fleet exercises.

I would also add that it rested on a number of assumptions regarding Soviet behavior and their reactions to U.S. operations that could have been very wrong. Similarly, some innovative tactics suggested by the SSG such as using the radar shadows created by steep walled fjords and small islands emerging from deep water in the Aegean and in Northeast Asia to protect carriers were very risky. The idea was that anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) radar seekers could not discriminate between the merged radar return of the land and ships operating nearby, thus protecting them from Backfire-launched ACSM’s. This implied that carriers might have to fly from anchor, something I witnessed years later in Diego Garcia.

What was your personal involvement in the Maritime Strategy development process?

On the eve of detaching from destroyer command in July 1982 and heading to a good assignment in Washington, my orders were changed, and I was assigned to the second Strategic Studies Group (SSG) at the Naval War College. I had no idea what the SSG was and did not want to go. I received a phone call from the CNO’s office and was told to shut up and execute my orders. It turned out to be a transformative career experience because it exposed me, for the first time, to real world maritime strategy and exceptionally good intelligence. Note the small “m and s,” what we know today as “the” Maritime Strategy” did not exist, it had not yet been written. SSG 2’s task was to globally expand, if practicable, the concepts developed during the first SSG that sketched offensive operations beyond the GI-UK gap against the Soviet Northern Flank.

The eight of us were divided into two teams, one to focus on the Pacific, and one to focus on the Mediterranean. I was the surface guy on the Med team. It is probably best to not go into any details about our work beyond what I suggested in responding to your first question. It was a full year of study, wargaming, discussion, many visits to the Office of Naval Intelligence and CIA, and travel to LANTFLT, NAVEUR, and 2nd and 6th Fleets. And of writing, theorizing, arguing, and then finally briefing our product to the CNO and many three-stars and four-stars. Former Under SECNAV Robert Murray led the SSG. He was, and remains, a notable strategist in his own right and was a terrific leader and mentor to all of us. His presence during our travels guaranteed that we had access to senior officers and officials, who left to their own devices probably did not look forward to being questioned by five captains, two colonels, and one commander about how they planned to fight the Soviets.

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. 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? 

The SSG was not the key. The Maritime Strategy had many parents, it was an iterative process; it did not emerge full-blown overnight. The most influential player by far was CNO Admiral Tom Hayward who started the U.S. Navy down the maritime strategy road. He saw a need for naval strategic thinking and made it an imperative. When John Lehman became SECNAV he completely embraced what Hayward had initiated, and brought the energy, vision, and political savvy necessary to link his 600-ship navy vision to a believable concept of operations that came to be called the Maritime Strategy. It was not a passing fancy for him, he kept his foot on the gas pedal in terms of training and exercises once the initial headwork was done. SSG work caught his eye because it provided an operational template of how naval forces could actually be used to make a strategic difference in what had long been viewed as a continental conflict that only demanded safe and efficient taxi service from the Navy. Because of his interest, the most senior naval officers had to consider seriously the work of the SSG.

But, in terms of pulling all threads together into a coherent strategic document that took seriously inputs from fleet commanders, the credit should go to the OP-603 team. Those of us in SSG 2 did not think we were writing “the” maritime strategy. At the end of our year however, we did think we had knit together a concept of operations that would be effective in the two theaters of operations we addressed.

Finally, I think it would be a grave mistake to not acknowledge the seminal importance of the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE 11-15-82D of March 1983). It was being written while SSG 2 was doing its work, and all the players mentioned in your question were aware that it was being prepared and benefited from its findings. It has since been declassified and is included as an appendix in John Hattendorf’s Naval War College Newport Paper 19, “The Evolution of the U.S, Navy’s Maritime Strategy, 1997-1986.” It is definitely worth reading today.

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, and the feedback received from the theater commands and flag ranks, help influence the strategy? 

It is important to keep in mind that only the first two SSGs had any direct influence on what we know today as the Maritime Strategy. OP-06 was already briefing an early version of the maritime strategy in late 1982, early 1983. By that time, the fleet commanders recognized that both the new CNO Admiral Watkins and SECNAV Lehman had positive views about both the OP-06 work and the products of SSG1 and 2, and as a result were testing many of the supporting operational concepts and tactical ideas at sea. In short, by the summer of 1983 the institutional navy was engaged, and the work of subsequent SSGs was certainly important but not central to the Maritime Strategy itself. 

Why did the Maritime Strategy “work,” if it did, and what about the process has been so hard to replicate? 

It worked because it provided a credible answer to key strategic and budgetary questions. Why do you need a 600-ship navy? What will you do with it? It explained to the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House, and most importantly the Congress why you needed a navy that size. It did this by having a good story that explained how the navy would actually be used in case of general war in Europe. And it explained how the Navy “would make a strategic difference” to the country.

It also worked because the United States had what I would call an “official enemy.” It was politically correct to talk openly about what was needed to stop Soviet aggression in Europe, and to punish the Soviets globally by attacking them wherever found. When the Cold War ended, other than North Korea or Iran, the U.S. ran out of “official enemies,” and as a result, the rationale for naval forces shifted to an era that CNO Admiral Watkins had dubbed the “Violent Peace.”

Necessarily, the Navy’s public rationalization had to shift to what the Navy actually had been doing throughout the Cold War except, of course, fighting Russians. The focus became the importance of combat credible forward presence and fighting limited wars. This was an accurate operational characterization of what the Navy did, and continues to do, but these are very hard arguments to shape into a compelling “naval strategic story.” In short, since 1991 there has been no widely agreed upon enemy that could generate a significant enough demand signal for a major navy buildup or naval strategic story like that of the early 1980s.

It appears that China may now be filling that gap today. Thwarting Chinese aggression against treaty allies and important friends (e.g., Taiwan) is a major strategic problem. Interestingly, what the Office of the Secretary of Defense calls China’s operational concept, anti-access/area denial (A2/AD), is nothing more than a derivative of what the Soviets had planned to do to keep U.S. Navy carrier forces as far away from Soviet territory as possible. Of course today smart ballistic missiles and 24/7 space-based surveillance and targeting make it a lot harder to deal with that threat compared to 35 years ago. The problem of how to credibly honor our defense obligations to countries that live in the shadow of China’s capability suggests to me that a new SSG is needed to focus on this problem.

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? As part of this, can you describe the Summary Warfare Appraisal process and how that worked? 

A perennial complaint from those that critique the POM (the program objective memorandum) process in OPNAV is that it is strategy-free. In reality this is not entirely true since systems have been assessed against threats to be credible. In my day, the navy program was the domain of DMSO of Navy Program Planning (OP-090). To inject strategy into the process CNO Hayward transformed an existing DMSO into a new organization named Director of the Office of Naval Warfare (OP-095). Shortly thereafter the VCNO (Admiral Bill Small, another very influential strategic proponent) told 095 to assess the navy program against the emerging Maritime Strategy. He wanted to make certain the Navy was programing capabilities that were relevant to the strategic concepts embodied in the strategy. This involved a number of assessments, directives, and so forth from the CNO directing that program sponsors follow the strategic objectives, as defined by 095.

After my SSG assignment ended in July 1983, I wound up in the middle of this “experiment” when assigned as the Deputy Director of OP-950 (Warfare Appraisal Branch), an office headed during my time by Rear Admiral Bobby Bell and then-Rear Admiral Bill Fogarty, both terrific bosses. Our job was to create a “report card” for the CNO on how well the rest of OPNAV was doing in following the dictates of the strategy. The report card would be in the form of a briefing to the CNO and all his three-star DCNO and DMSOs. It was called the Summary Warfare Appraisal. My main job was to oversee the building of this briefing and then be the one who briefed it to the CNO and others. At the time OP-095 was headed by Vice Admiral Lee Baggett, a brilliant officer, who left no detail to chance. Since the Summary Warfare Appraisal was full of individual programs, all of which we had to evaluate/grade, Vice Admiral Baggett and I spent hours in his office while he annotated his copy of our report card with telling programmatic details, including recommendations to kill, enhance, or sustain a given program based upon whether they contributed to the Maritime Strategy or not. There was a great deal of preliminary work that went into this process, especially detailed programmatic assessments of individual warfare areas (e.g., ASW, AAW, Strike, and so forth) which were measured against maritime strategic criteria.

The goal of the report card brief was to obtain CNO approval. Once CNO approved, as modified by discussions during the brief, we (OP-950) drafted a directive from CNO to OPNAV on how to modify the program to bring it into line with maritime strategic objectives. During my two-and-a half years of doing this, the process had many twists and turns as three-star personalities changed, and the Maritime Strategy became more widely understood and accepted within the higher levels of the Navy, especially OPNAV. On balance it was a process that CNO Watkins liked and was comfortable with, and it did connect strategy with programs. When he retired, as usual, the next CNO had his own ideas on how he wanted to address strategy-program integration. By that time I was back at sea, and that was someone else’s problem.

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? 

Dealing with two great powers is going to be harder than it was to deal with one. While Russia and China are not allies, and probably have no intention of joining a war against the United Sates in support of their close neighbor; they may share intelligence and surveillance information, sell weapons systems and ammunition, and take advantage of Washington’s distraction with the other. Washington should not, but could easily, ignore treaty allies who might be threatened by an unengaged Russia or China. These are all unique problems that do not map well against the 1980s.

We cannot forget that the Maritime Strategy never had to be executed. For all our clever ideas, we could have gotten our asses kicked conventionally. Just consider, in 1982 the Soviet Navy had 278 submarines, not counting SSBNs, and 1,200 naval combat aircraft. The Maritime Strategy’s timing was fortunate. Less than a decade after it was issued the Soviet Union put itself out of business. That had a lot to do with Mikhail Gorbachev and not much to do with the Maritime Strategy. It was an incredibly risky strategy, and frankly in hindsight, I doubt the president would have permitted an anti-SSBN operation because of the risk of escalation to nuclear war.

What was important about then that needs to be applied today was the totality of the intellectual horsepower the Navy Department brought to bear on the signal task of making a case for a navy that could make a strategic difference in the event of great power war. Today, the navy needs to recognize that in a fight with China its biggest problem is not just the PLA Navy; it is also the PLA Rocket Force, the PLA Air Force, and the PLA Strategic Support Force. It is the totality of China’s military power that can be brought to bear in East Asia. If it were strictly a navy-to-navy faceoff, the PLA Navy would be in deep trouble. 

Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt (ret.) served on the second SSG after a destroyer command and went on to command a destroyer squadron, and after flag selection, an aircraft carrier battle group. He subsequently served as the Director of the East Asia Policy Office for the Secretary of Defense, the Director for Strategy, War Plans and Policy (J-5) for U.S. CINCPAC, and the Commandant of the National War College in Washington, D.C. He founded CNA’s Strategic Studies division in 2000, and since stepping down as a Vice President in 2012, has been active as a Senior Fellow, leading several major projects related to maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas and China’s ambition to become a “great” maritime power. He is the author of the recent book China as a Twenty First Century Naval Power, published by the U.S. Naval Institute Press.

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: May 1, 1985 – A port bow view of the Spruance class destroyer USS HAYLER (DD 997) executing a high-speed maneuver. (National Archive photo)