Jerry Hendrix Discusses Rep. Randy Forbes' Assertion That the US Navy Has No Strategy

Jerry Hendrix, late of the Naval Historical Center and now a fellow at CNAS, addresses a letter from Randy Forbes (R-VA) to CNO Admiral Greenert.  Read it all on

A response, but certainly not a rebuttal.  I think the good Captain (Retired) is spot on with his assertions of the victory of the “Technical Rickovers” over the “Humanities Mahans”.   And that the very lack of being able to verbalize the importance of seapower is a major factor in the dearth of strategic eloquence from our Navy leadership.

When senior admirals speak strategically, their message can be summarized as “we do what we do because we have always done what we have done. The oceans are peaceful, we created that environment, and there is no need to change the formula.”

Indeed.  We are saddled with senior Navy leadership that assiduously avoids meaningful discussion about why the US Navy is building a fleet so entirely contrary to the requirements of the Cooperative Strategy.  Inherent in that avoidance is the unwillingness to discuss true ship numbers, or anything approaching a proposition for a high-low mix.  We have ever-smaller numbers of very large and very expensive warships which bodes poorly for forward presence.  The result is an increasing tally of unmet requirements, and of capital ships being employed in very low-end missions, to the detriment of other missions more appropriate and important.

That shipbuilding is a colossal mess, with LCS being the poster-child, should be no surprise.  This is the Navy, after all, that has its senior leadership in critical c0mmand positions offering up such gems as the Navy’s mission not being war at sea, and the most dangerous threat to US interests in the Pacific is not China or North Korea, but global warming.  And, though less openly now, the rather curious assertion that forcible entry is no longer possible or required, that somehow the sea as strategic or operational maneuver space is an outmoded idea.

Have a read, folks, and let me know what YOU think of Hendrix’s assertion.

7 thoughts on “Jerry Hendrix Discusses Rep. Randy Forbes' Assertion That the US Navy Has No Strategy”

  1. Now that humanities are so deeply infected with Leftist nonsense, it is wishful thinking indeed to expect sensible strategic thought to emerge from the muddled brain of a humanities major.

    1. I am not sure that is quite the point. I think it might be, from a Navy point of view, that the knee-jerk urge to seek a technical rather than a cultural solution to the challenges of the 21st century has put us in a short-sighted and expensive bind.

    2. I dunno, if you need a “cultural solution” it is possible that you are asking the Navy to solve a problem that navies cannot and should not attempt to solve. What 21st century challenges are we talking about, exactly?

    3. Sorry, I meant culture within the Navy, not society at large. Developing and rewarding aggressive and innovative commanders, fostering a warrior ethos and appreciation (especially among Officers) of the traditions and roles of US sea power and a historical context for today’s geo-strategic challenges. From that culture you produce strategic and operational thinkers who have a vision for the Navy and its role in national defense above simply the development of gee-whiz systems and weapons.

  2. Beyond the malapropism of “sublimation” instead of “subordination,” it’s a good article.

    Sine WW2, there has been a bent towards solving problems with a technical solution, rather than looking at human nature and how that nature is expressed through culture. It s true that WW2 was a “technician’s war” as Earl Mountbatten expressed it, but the technical side can only supply tools. WW2 was won by considering what the opponent might do within the limits of their culture. Germany, for example, had to be crushed so they would acknowledge their defeat, where the Japs simply required that their monarch be recognized and left unmolested as they knew they had been beaten and were willing to accept it.

    FedGov, on the other hand, has been taken over by technocrats just as much as the services have, and it shows. Vietnam was manifestation of the technocrat’s influence over the strategic thinker. We won in the field, but not because of strategic thinking, but in spite of the lack of it. We saw this throughout the cold war.

    I am of the opinion that Rickover was not really all that much of an Engineering genius. He had some serious eccentricities and the nuke programs succeeded as much in spite of as because of him. One of Reagan’s best moves was the refusal to extend Rickover’s service and force his retirement.

    In my opinion, SAC was probably one of the best manifestations of the balance that needed to be struck between strategic thinking and technical solutions. LeMay (also an Engineer, BSCE Ohio State) saw the problem that the Soviet Union posed and defined the tools SAC needed, and he also determined how they would be used to face Ivan where he lived, on the level of his thinking. As the Technocrats gradually took over the services, SAC was denigrated along with the rest of the services.

    Hendrix is on the money about the Naval War College. The war colleges were meant to be the seat of strategic thinking, and not just a ticket punch. That sort of thinking needs to rise to the fore again, and not just be another technical faction on the Naval Staff. Frankly, if the CSArmy, CSUSAF, CNO and Commandant are not strategic thinkers, then they are not qualified for their positions. It must be in the blood stream of the services with the Technocrats, needed as they are, subordinated to that culture.

    Those that criticize the current humanities regime in academia are also on the money. But, the burden to correct for that has always fallen on the services. That’s nothing new.

  3. I don’t think this is the result of, “the engineers won”. When I look at what we turn out at the Navy’s graduate school, it is clear across the board: The unrestricted line (SWO, Sub, Aviators) could care less about earning graduate education, much less utilizing graduate education. In-residence master’s education is a death-blow to any “production” aviator, and the detailers send only the fodder.

    The proof is in the numbers: Numbers of quotas requested for each curriculum, numbers of graduates. Additionally, the pressure is on to dumb down all of the curriculum at all levels. Cruise the catalog and see for yourself. Mechanical Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Combat Systems quotas were traded in for “Systems Engineering” (whatever that is, but it certainly isn’t hard math/science). Cryptology traded in math and signals propagation for “cyber” which requires neither math nor programming skills. We cashed in the Pol-mil students to crank out MBAs– a sub-specialty that has NO BILLETS IN THE FLEET.

    We produce the best Operations Research master’s in the country. . . and then send the USN officers away never to use it. (Unlike the Army and Marine Corps, who know exactly where to use these skilled officers.)

    No, the answer is “c”: We’re neither strategists nor engineers. As a Navy, we pretty much suck on all fronts now. (Apologies to the small handful of really brilliant students out there– you thrived in spite of the greater system’s effort.)

  4. I think Forbes is on target without realizing it when he speaks of the changes G-N made to to role of the CNO. That should be the focus, rather than lamenting an obvious reaction to the law. The CNO will not be warfighter, so it is asinine to expect a warfighter mindset from a CNO. Instead, look to the actual warfighters of today – the regional CINCs, and have them develop the requirements they expect/require the USN to satisfy. Vital to this actually working is NOT letting the CNO, or any service chief, have much say in changing or negating what comes from the CINCs (or COCOMs or whatever its called after Rummy’s changes). It is then the responsibility of OSD to take those CINC-generated requirements and hand back down specific funding requirements to the services. If multiple CINCs report a dearth of amphibious lift, OSD should be beating the CNO about the head until he can float the required tonnage, Navy “strategy” be damned. If the CINCs require, or project requirements for airlift, then OSD should be beating CSAF about the head for it with no concern for whatever white paper the USAF currently lives by.

    I respected Gates for partly embracing this type of thinking, but he did not go far enough. We have removed any chance for any service to fight on its own, yet we still allow the service chiefs to mainly set the course for budgeting from which all else flows. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. The CINCs are the warfighters, they need to be the primary drivers in generating force requirements. OSD needs to be the mediator and final decision maker in merging the CINC requirements and turning them into orders for the service chiefs to obey.

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