Peter Swartz on Creating Maritime Strategy, Pt. 2: Secretaries and Exercises

In Part Two, Swartz discusses the role of Navy Secretary John Lehman in conceptualizing the 1986 Maritime Strategy, major exercises that manifested the strategy at sea, and how Navy strategists “broke the code” of how to present the Navy’s warfighting contributions to the Pentagon bureaucracy.

Read Part One here.

Peeks: …We were wondering if you could discuss the role Secretary [of the Navy John] Lehman played in developing the Maritime Strategy, and was there a connection between it and his 600-ship target for Navy force structure?

Swartz: …When he became the Secretary of the Navy…having thought a great deal about strategy, written about it, and being by now pretty proficient in what he thought was Navy strategy and should be Navy strategy, he declared that the Navy needed a strategy and, fortuitously, it had one: It was what he said it was, as Secretary.

And he did that in a series of [speeches], press conferences, articles and testimony, and so on all through 1981 and 1982, his first year in office. His message was not really codified for a couple of years, but when it was codified, when you look back at it, you could see he developed a very, very clear—and I was a codifier by then—clear, three-part message. The message was: “First, you need a strategy. President Reagan has a strategy—an overall National Strategy—and I as Secretary of the Navy and the Navy as an institution have a Maritime Strategy.”…it was a strategy that was global, but mostly he talked about the Norwegian Sea. It was a strategy that was forward, it was against the Soviets, it was aggressive, and the centerpiece of it were carrier battle groups.

Second, the way he discussed it: “In order to carry out that strategy, I need 600 ships. That’s the bare minimum, but we might be able to pull this off if you guys give me 600 ships.” This was the theme of the testimony. “You shouldn’t give it to anybody who doesn’t have a strategy. You should give the money to somebody that has a strategy, and we in the Navy have a strategy. It’s sound, it’s valid, it’s been validated by war games and exercises and so on, and that’s what you should do.”

Third: “Moreover, 600 ships cost a lot of money. I get it—I’m going to save you money. This strategy and this 600-ship Navy is affordable: through two-carrier buys, getting rid of layers of bureaucracy, competition wherever it could possibly be, no gold plating, no bells and whistles.” …Tell me a program that was innovative and revolutionary that was instituted by John Lehman? Nothing comes immediately to mind. That’s because he wasn’t chasing rainbows. He wasn’t there in order to come up with the next wiz-bang thing 20 years from now. He was about systems there on the ground right now, in the water: “This is what we’re going to do against the Soviets and I need more ships now and I need more money now, and I’m going to save you money by the way in which I’m going to procure those ships and aircraft.” That was his three-part message: strategy, 600 ships, affordability.

So, to that extent, he was definitely involved in shaping the strategy, his own declaratory message, and his view—which he still feels—that if you haven’t got a strategy, you’re out of Schlitz. “You need a strategy and, by God, we’ve got one.” Now, the connection between the 600-ship Navy and the Maritime Strategy was contentious. First of all, the slogan “600 ships” predated much—but not all—of the writing and speaking about the strategy and, in fact, given our system, when you go up to the Hill to get the money to get the ships to implement the strategy, you have to tie the strategy to the ships and the money, whereas there were other people back in the Pentagon that said you don’t need more than 600 ships to do it. My colleague Commander Harlan Ullman in OP-965 said that then and got chastised for his trouble: “You’re never going to get the 600 ships, it’s not going to happen, the country can’t afford it, I don’t care about all of your affordability measures, you’re not going to be able to do it.” He and the Secretary certainly parted ways on that. So did the CNO, Admiral Watkins. They shut down Harlan’s shop, which was 965…

Larry Seaquist, who followed me and Roger Barnett on the strategy desk in OP-60, maintained that there was no linkage whatsoever between the 600-ship Navy and the Maritime Strategy: Strategy was strategy and wasn’t linked to the number of ships you had, and [he] decried anybody who sought to justify 600 ships by using the strategy.

So, different people had different views on all of this. Lehman’s view was pretty clear, and I got to be the guy who spelled it out and fed it back to him: “This is what you believe?” He said, “Yeah, let’s do this: the strategy. Need 600 ships for the strategy. Need affordability measures in order to be able to get the 600 ships.” That was his message as I understood it.

Another aspect of this was that my zeal for making this the Navy officer corps’ strategy ran right into the theology of “this strategy is John Lehman’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’ tablets that he’s brought down from the mountain. This is given to you by John Lehman,” which he did very little to diffuse with remarks that he would make like, “You guys are lucky I didn’t become Secretary of the Air Force,” and so on. Yes, he still does have a pretty healthy ego, and he has a lot to have a healthy ego about. He’s pretty good. But, before I went to work for him, I was no fan of his overwhelming presence in the discussion of Maritime Strategy because it ran counter to what I was trying to do re: the Navy officer corps. I thought that to the extent that it was his and Republican and Reaganite, then it was partisan and therefore not something that I could get involved in, working in OPNAV—and not something that the Navy should advocate.

So, for example, for an effect of my handiwork, when it came time to publish the special issue of Proceedings in 1986, you’ll notice that the first entry in my “Contemporary U.S. Naval Strategy: A Bibliography” is a Hayward article, not a Lehman speech; and, if you take a look at the pictures that adorn it, you’ll notice that the first big pictures are of Admiral Watkins and Admiral Hayward, and then there’s a smaller picture of John Lehman, even though he wrote one of the lead articles. That’s because Fred Rainbow and I arranged things that way. Fred Rainbow was the editor-in-chief of Proceedings, and he and I were in each other’s pockets at that time. The overwhelming association of the strategy with Lehman by some ran headlong into my desire to make sure that I was using the TACAIR guys, the submarine guys, all of the uniformed communities, roping everybody in, showing how they fit and all of that.

And, another aspect of Lehman that I only learned about relatively recently, but which is highly topical…he decided to write a book a few years ago on exercises at sea and the Maritime Strategy, and he called me up and asked me for some help. I said “yes” and that’s all in the book. The book came out [about two years ago] and it’s called Oceans Ventured.

What I had not realized until I got involved in it was how deeply he felt about the importance of the exercises. To me, what had been important was the declaratory policy and the speeches and so on, the Global War Game up at Newport, the activities in the SSG, et cetera. Well, of course! I was a staff puke. I didn’t go to sea. But, that was not Lehman’s view. Lehman’s view was that the very centerpiece of the strategy had been the exercises, and the book title Oceans Ventured is a takeoff, of course, on the title of the first exercise, Ocean Venture, in 1981, in which he and Admiral Lyons were involved—Lyons as the fleet commander —to go to sea and demonstrate to the Soviets at sea, not by some speech that his speechwriter wrote (or some speech that he wrote, because he wrote a lot of his own speeches), or by some staff work that I did buried down in some trench in OP-06. His main method of communicating with the Soviets was by U.S. Navy warships at sea doing things.

I had never really realized and certainly never internalized it, until I got involved with the book and I discovered how deeply he was involved in that. He was involved in the choosing of aggressive admirals to go to sea and do things, hence the salience of Lyons, Mustin, [Vice Admiral Jerry O.] Tuttle, and others—Kelso, who he regarded as a very aggressive submarine commander, et cetera. And, that was another aspect of the strategy that goes hand and hand with that: He was still also a commander in the Naval Reserve. And, as such, he participated in these same exercises: He flew in them. When they were making simulated strikes on the Kola [Peninsula], which he was speaking about before the Congress, he was actually in the cockpit next to Joe Prueher simulating bombing the Kola off some fjord in Norway. He was personally flying there.

And, then the last point I’ll make on Lehman and the Maritime Strategy was, when the Soviets started to crumble, he fell off the Maritime Strategy, way before the CNO, who was a man who didn’t like him and who he didn’t like either, Admiral Trost. [Lehman] said, as a private citizen again just reading the newspapers in early 1990, “Okay, they’re finished. They’re toast and we ought to be using the reserves more”—remember, he’s a reservist—“and we ought to be doing this and we ought to be doing that, we have to put more work in the reserves, and we should be less aggressive.” I don’t remember the exact words, but he said this in at least a couple of venues.

The CNO went nuts. Admiral Trost said—and he said this publicly—“Hasn’t he been watching what they’re doing? Hasn’t he—how can he possibly say things like that?” Admiral Trost went to the very end of his tour, which was the middle of 1990, believing in his heart of hearts—and he still believes it for all I know—that nothing had changed fundamentally on the Soviet side. They were throwing new construction ships in the water. They had seven carriers built or under construction, and he was going, “What do I do with that? Perestroika and Glasnost and peace and freedom and all of that, I’m not seeing it. I’m seeing seven carriers built or under construction.” Kelso fell off immediately when he first became CNO, so the break point was very clear then, but for several months, Lehman and Trost had been sparring, and Lehman had already fallen off the strategy…

Peeks: So, following up on what you said—and this is kind of a delicate question—but you mentioned Admiral Hayward, you mentioned Admiral Trost, and they had well-publicized issues with Secretary Lehman and they certainly weren’t the only senior admirals who did as well—from where you sat in OPNAV and the Secretariat, what, if any, friction between Lehman and the senior leadership of the Navy, what did that look like? Did that affect Navy staff ’s ability to do its job?

Swartz: Probably, but it didn’t affect me very much, and the reason is because there was very little daylight between Lehman and the flags when it came to the Maritime Strategy. The daylight between them was in programs and budgets like the F/A-18 and how much it should cost and who should build it and how fast should the rate be and how it should be configured. The issues had to do with tradeoffs between this and that, the platform shops wanting to put bells and whistles on a new construction and Lehman saying, “No, I want to get it in the water.” There were huge programmatic issues between Lehman and many of the senior flags on programs, F/A-18 being a major one.

But not in the area that I toiled in. This came out when he and I were talking about the book and he would say something about some admiral and I’d say, “But not the Maritime Strategy, sir. He did X or Y or Z or he wrote this.” And Lehman would say, “He did?” And I said, “Yeah, you were fighting with him over programmatics. That’s what Secretaries of the Navy and the Navy staff do. I get it. You did it a lot more than other people because you were you. But on the strategy, I didn’t see very much difference among you all.”

Peeks: So, sticking with the Maritime Strategy and even before Goldwater-Nichols, strategy and operational plans: I mean, they’re the province of the combatant commanders, the Joint Staff, OSD—how did the Navy Department attempt to get other stakeholders to buy in to its new strategy and how successful were those efforts?

Swartz: Well…much of what I’m talking about is before Goldwater-Nichols and even after Goldwater-Nichols. Goldwater-Nichols really didn’t kick in until [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Colin] Powell, which is what, ’89? So, this is all before all of that and before Desert Storm.

So, the Navy said, we thought, and I still believe, that the Maritime Strategy was really the maritime component to the National Military Strategy. That’s how we always presented it. Now, there might have been some people who presented it differently, but certainly myself and Roger Barnett, Admiral Moreau—I can’t remember: I’d say that Admiral Lyons did that, I’m not sure that Secretary Lehman did it, but we certainly always presented it as the maritime component to the National Military Strategy. And, in the strategy briefings and documents we cited—and we went through all the national documents, the NSDDs [National Security Decision Directives] and the Defense Guidance and the JSCP [Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan], so on and so forth, and pulled stuff out. In OP-06, that’s what you did, you contributed to joint documents, and so we knew what was in them and we knew what we liked in them and we knew what we didn’t like in them, and so we knew how to hitch ourselves to them and embed ourselves in them.

The strategy itself, as I mentioned earlier, included discussion of how TACAIR played, how AWACS played, how the Air Force tankers played, how the Army played, what the Army was doing, Hawk [anti-air missile] batteries in Iceland, things that were helpful on the flanks that we could use them for, Air Force space systems, Air Force strategic lift that we needed (and we needed a lot of it), Air Force tactical fighters in Iceland were all part of the Maritime Strategy, they’re all in there. As a matter of fact, by contrast, you won’t see any Navy in the Army’s AirLand Battle and you won’t see any Navy—except decried and, “Gee, we’re not sure what they were actually doing”—in Air Force aerospace doctrine from that period, but you see a lot of positive Air Force and Army references in the Maritime Strategy. That was by design. That was Peter Swartz and Ace Lyons and Roger Barnett.

And, I can remember briefing the strategy internal to Navy with the big three sitting in front of me—OP095, 090, 06, Baggett, Trost, Lyons—and me putting up the slide on Air Force TACAIR and explaining the Air Force laydown and what we expected them to do. Admiral Baggett erupted out of his chair and asked me why was I shilling for the Air Force? “What are we doing?” And, I remember Lyons getting up and cleaning his clock and defending me and protecting me as I was taking all these arrows from this three-star.

Yeah, the strategy was allied, it was Army, it was Air Force, and nobody noticed. Now, why was that? Well in part because at the very same time that we were doing this, and we had this strategy and it was avowedly joint and allied in our view and we built that into the briefing, we were also simultaneously fighting like hell against Goldwater-Nichols. And, so what everybody “knew” was that “the Navy’s against jointness, so how could the Maritime Stra …”—if you didn’t actually read it, which nobody in the other services actually did, right?—“so how could the Maritime Strategy—be joint?” asked the chatterers.

But, if you go in to the documents you’ll see —because I drew the maps, wrote the pictures, wrote the copy—that the Air Force and the Army were given their due. When Admiral Watkins decided to go public with the strategy in January of ’86 in Proceedings, I was talking to Fred Rainbow about pictures. So we, Fred and I, were looking at pictures and I said that we’ve got to get some Air Force and Army pictures. He said fine, so he went to wherever he goes for Air Force pictures and he got AWACS aircraft and tankers refueling Navy F-14s and all kinds of appropriate stuff. So, then he went to the Army. They slammed the door. “No. The Maritime Strategy is a Navy budgetary ploy, why would we support that?” So, there are no pictures in the special issue of the U.S. Army, even though I wanted to show Army Hawk batteries in Iceland. He was told not to do it, got his hands slapped for it, and didn’t do it. The Army was [against] it even though we talked positively about the Army in the Maritime Strategy.

Admiral Bill Pendley, Admiral T. J. Johnson, and other admirals really felt strongly about this. They understood that what had happened was that we in the Navy had now broken the code on how to present how you fight the war. The joint system had reduced everything to pablum. (Well, partly that was because the Navy wanted it to be pablum, because we didn’t want to be told what to do by the joint system, same with the other services, except the Army. The Army wanted to control the joint system. The Navy just wanted to be out of it.)

…First of all, it was my firm belief, Roger’s firm belief, and I believe Admiral Moreau’s firm belief, that the lingua franca, the way to get anybody’s attention in the building, the way to do anything, was through a SECRET brief. That’s how people talk to each other in the Pentagon. Unclass? “Real men don’t do unclass, you know.” TS? Too hard, got to sign for it, go in a special room. Codeword? Even worse. The SECRET briefing is the central vehicle for how the Pentagon communicates with itself and therefore the basic Maritime Strategy had to be a SECRET briefing. (We later will talk about “Well, what happened in the ’90s, when we had an incessant stream of unclassified documents?” Beats the heck out of me why, right? This year the Strategy is finally SECRET again.) But we in the 1980s were clear that the Strategy had to be a Secret briefing.

TS was the war plans and so you were suddenly criticized: “Well, you guys are describing war plans.” “No, no, we’ve dumbed down the war plans. We’ve gone to the war plans and we’ve gone to the SECRET annex or the concept of ops, which is SECRET, and we’ve used that, we haven’t used TS.” We didn’t care whether a plan called for, say, three carriers at such and such a point on D+9. That was TS. What we cared about was the general thrust and intent of the commander and what he was trying to do. That was usually unclass, CONFIDENTIAL, or SECRET.

…Another part of it was, as I just said, I honestly believe that “we broke the code.” We knew how to present Navy strategy in a way that was compelling and truthful, and guys that came afterwards said, “We can’t do it like they did it in the days of the Maritime Strategy because first of all, that doesn’t showcase ‘me’.” Again, I was not big on that. If I had done that to Stan Weeks or he had done that to me, the thing would have collapsed. The point was not to do that. And Larry Seaquist and me and all of that, yes, there was rivalry, but there wasn’t out-and-out warfare and there wasn’t ignoring—“Well, if it was in their strategy, then we’re not going to put it in our strategy.”

We didn’t have that. They have that all the time nowadays: “Well, CNO X put out this, so now new CNO Y is in here.” “I’m [Secretary of the Navy] John Dalton, a Democrat, and every day I come out of my office and I see this picture of [Secretary of the Navy] Sean O’Keefe, a Republican, with . . . From the Sea in his pocket, I need one too.” That was one impetus for Forward…From the Sea.

There are several examples of all of that, many of which I can’t relate. We weren’t in that mode and that was a reason why we were successful.

Read Part Three.

Peter Swartz is a retired U.S. Navy captain, a former CNA Research Program Director, and currently an adjunct Principal Research Scientist at CNA. Most of his Navy assignments related to strategy, policy and allied engagement, including two tours as an advisor with the South Vietnamese Navy; helping set up the Navy’s Zumwalt-era intercultural relations program; coordinating Navy staff talks with key European allied navies; helping conceptualize, draft and disseminate the Maritime Strategy of the 1980s; directing the US Mission to NATO’s operations division as the Berlin Wall was coming down; and serving as Special Assistant to CJCS General Colin Powell during the First Gulf War.  At CNA he primarily focused on analyzing U.S. Navy and Marine Corps strategy and policy, including their historical roots. In 2020 a Festschrift was published  in his honor (Conceptualizing Naval and Maritime Strategy) by several of his colleagues, and the Naval Historical Foundation awarded him its Commodore Dudley Knox Lifetime Achievement medal.

Ryan Peeks is a historian at the Naval History and Heritage Command, and the author of Aircraft Carrier Requirements and Strategy, 1977-2001.

Justin Blanton is a historian at the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Featured Image: June 16, 1983. A starboard bow view of the nuclear-powered strategic missile submarine USS MICHIGAN (SSBN-727) underway. (Photo via the U.S. National Archives)

0 thoughts on “Peter Swartz on Creating Maritime Strategy, Pt. 2: Secretaries and Exercises”

    -Diffusing support for the strategy with a secret level brief, what we call in the Navy GENSER (General Service)
    -Swartz’s name dropping gets a bit unnerving after awhile but he brings it together when talking about how strategy becomes conflated with personality,
    and that that is bad for strategic focus and policy.
    R John T. Kuehn
    FADM King Professor, Naval War College
    The views are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Naval War College, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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