Home » Budget Industry » Randy Forbes to CNO Greenert: ‘The Navy Desperately Needs A Strategy’

Randy Forbes to CNO Greenert: ‘The Navy Desperately Needs A Strategy’

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.). Naval Institute Photo

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.). Naval Institute Photo

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) is “concerned at the deficit of strategic thinking” in the Navy and how long time institutional restrictions inside the Pentagon produce, “flag officers who are focused on managerial concerns such as budgeting and engineering rather than executive concerns such as strategy,” according to a July letter sent to Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert and recently obtained by USNI News.

“I find the degree to which we as a nation are devoting any real intellectual energy to the subject [of strategy] to be minimal, just as I find that our capacity to devote such energy to be waning,” read the July 28 letter from the chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces to Greenert.
“I write to you because of my sense that an effort to restore strategic thinking in the U.S. government must be started and championed by a strong advocate. I believe the Navy can be that champion and the Chief of Naval Operations can be its chief advocate.”

The letter did not cast blame toward the CNO or Navy leadership but rather on institutional restrictions like the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act.

Goldwater-Nichols put operational military control in the hands of the individual joint combatant commanders (COCOMS) around the world who report to Department of Defense leadership and moved the service chiefs into roles focused on training and equipping forces.

“‘Jointness’ has brought great benefit to many areas, but I fear that it has reduced the perceived position of Chief of Naval Operations to the Navy’s head programmer and budget-maker, rather than the nation’s foremost expert and advocate on the nexus between Seapower and National Power,” the letter read.
“It makes eminent sense to start with the Maritime Strategy, developed by the Chief of Naval Operations, but in recent years we seem to have turned ourselves upside down by increasingly emphasizing programs and force structure rather than starting with a strategy based on what we need naval forces to do and in what scenarios.”

In particular, Forbes singled out China’s growing military capability as a strategic consideration that needed more attention from the service.

“Unfortunately, I see the Navy approaching China’s rise in much the same way as it has other strategic planning challenges in the past 30-plus years: with marginal changes to scenarios that drive minimal changes in program decisions,” Forbes wrote.
“For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the time is approaching when the Navy may be required to wrest sea control from a determined and capable maritime opponent. The Navy has yet to come to grips with this fundamental change.”

The Navy and the Pentagon’s public posture toward China has been admittedly cautious.

In June, Greenert told an audience at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. that open conversations on how to counter the People’s Liberation Army forces could, “unnecessarily antagonize” China.

“It would be antagonistic to any country to openly say that we are preparing [for conflict],” Greenert later told reporters the same day.

Following Greenert’s comments, Forbes wrote an opinion piece for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Pacific Forum encouraging more open discussion about China’s military and political ambitions.

“If China is indeed ascending to the position of a great power — which I believe they are — they too need to be able to listen to criticism and assess their actions without simply resorting to retaliation,” wrote Forbes.
“To let Beijing dictate to us the parameters of our domestic conversation about their rise and role in Asia out of a fear for how they might react would limit the transparent process by which our nation generates sound foreign policy.”

The Navy’s Strategic Strategy

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert speaks to sailors, civilians and families on Aug. 5, 2014. US Navy Photo

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert speaks to sailors, civilians and families on Aug. 5, 2014. US Navy Photo

The Navy told USNI News it has spoken with Forbes since the letter was sent.

“CNO did receive the letter and has since had a private discussion with Congressman Forbes,” Greenert spokesman Capt. Danny Hernandez told USNI News on Wednesday.
“Without getting into the details, the meeting was an opportunity for CNO to fill Congressman Forbes in on what the Navy is doing with regards to strategy and to discuss critical capabilities our Navy is pursuing.”

As for the Navy’s larger strategic questions, the service has told USNI News it’s been making progress in recent months

A renewed internal strategic discussion led by Vice Adm. Ted Carter — current superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy and former president of the Naval War College and Rear Adm. James Foggo III — assistant deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy (N3/N5) and nominated to lead the Navy’s 6th Fleet — has been ongoing.

In the last few years the Navy has been also working toward a refresh of its Cooperative Strategy of the 2007 21st Century Seapower (CS 21), along with the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard, to develop a unified strategic document to guide all three U.S. maritime services.

The CS 21 refresh has gone through several revisions in the last few months and planned to be released later this year.

Moving forward, the Navy intends to refresh the strategy every few years, Foggo said.

Along with the refresh, the Navy has also established a strategic studies specialty at the Naval War College to easily identify strategic thinkers in the service with a classification code.

The service is also creating a strategic mentorship program and has started down other avenues to draw together the fleet’s strategic thinkers, Foggo told USNI News in a June interview.

“There needs to be a greater level of discussion, cooperation, comparing notes and the types of things the Navy’s working on to drive the thing forward,” he said.

So far, Forbes said he’s been happy with the Navy’s initial response to the July letter and is waiting to hear more, according to a Wednesday statement to USNI News.

“I have been pleased with the CNO’s response and initial level of engagement with me on this important issue,” Forbes said in the statement.
“We are now looking to schedule a number of follow-up engagements with myself, other members of Congress, and the CNO to continue the conversation about the best way to develop future warfighting requirements for our sea services and construct a maritime strategy that is more than just a justification for our current posture and programs of record.”

  • Ike_Kiefer

    Those who are thinking strategically and are armed with an appreciation of the underlying demographic trends realize that the real sleeping giant in Asia — the one China is worried about and the one we should be fully engaged with — is India. A vital partnership between the USA and India represents a decisive and ever-strengthening check on China, Russia, and militant Islam in Asia. But, judging by published materials and speaking engagements, The US Navy focuses much more attention and intellectual capital on new platforms and acquisition programs than upon building a cadre of world-class strategists and military diplomats.

    Nothing exemplifies the narcissistic and materialistic flaws in current US Navy military strategic thinking more than its biofuels program. Nearly everyone but the Navy has come to realize that biofuels from any feedstock (food or non-food) compete with food crops for land and water and fertilizer and farm equipment, etc., and have a demonstrated track record of driving up food prices. A consortium of UN and private international humanitarian agencies have been begging G20 nations since 2011 to abandon their biofuels portfolios to bring the international cost of food back down. It was not some mysterious force of climate change but the soaring price of grain linked to the global diversion of resources from food to fuel that forced the Egyptian government to abandon its longstanding subsidies and thus precipitate the bread riots that ultimately led to revolution and the overthrow of Mubarak. The 2013 UNIPCC AR5 scientific report officially finds, in contravention to the 2007 report, that neither droughts nor cyclonic weather have increased since the beginning of the 20th century on a global scale. But what today is putting great additional stress on the water supplies and arable land resources and diverse natural biomes and shaky governments of developing nations is the “green grabbing” of land by rich nations to use for their slash-and-burn conversion to water-hungry biofuel crops. There is little strategic appreciation for the fact that biofuels require 50 to 1,000 times as much water per unit of fuel energy as fossil fuels, and that their land footprint is 300 to 1,000 times greater per unit of energy delivered. There is little strategic appreciation for the critical fossil fuel dependency of biofuels (and all modern crops) that is revealed by the close correlation and equivalent volatility seen in their prices. There also appears to be no appreciation for such fundamental logistic realities as the fact that the US military lacks the tankers to push domestically-produce fuel forward to combat zones, but instead buys its fuel abroad, and that biofuels offer no improvement to the challenge of transporting fuel by convoy in hostile regions.

    The real question for Navy leadership is will they navigate the fleet by the winds of war, or by the winds of domestic political expediency.

    • silencedogoodreturns

      Sadly, I think the answer is pretty clear.

      • Diogenes


  • Diogenes

    Congressman Forbes’ letter to the CNO was certainly an interesting revelation. Not so much because of what he said, many a sailor, airman, soldier and marine has said the same thing without the polite trappings of civility displayed here. Perhaps more startling was the revelation that the Navy’s strategic thinkers have been “making progress in recent months.” Reading that is scary on its face. What have they been doing the last 75 years? The bottom line is the Navy, like the other services, is mired in a zero defect, backward looking, hidebound mentality that is so pervasive the only answer publically revealed to USNI – probably its most affable critic – is how hard the Navy is working to rectify a situation it didn’t acknowledge until Forbes’ letter was published. If history proves true, that kind of thinking won’t change until the US is faced with fighting for survival. All one has to do is look at the Navy’s torpedo practices at the beginning of the second world war to appreciate how hard it is to promote realistic change. The Navy’s tepid response to USNI serves quite well to demonstrate that merely thinking outside the box is enough to bring brave, imaginative, middle-level officers and senior NCOs to their knees. “Problems,” the CNO’s spokesman seems to imply, “we ain’t got no stinking problems.” Until ALL the services are able to accept occasional failure as a component of success, technical change and forward thinking strategic planning will remain mired in indecision. Mr. Kiefer’s concern that eliminating bio-fuels as an energy source is a solution however seems an extraordinary stretch. All the free fuel in the world won’t change the fact the US Navy is being challenged by technologies that lay waste to 75 years of strategic planning centered around power projection using budget sapping fleets of aircraft carrier battle groups and self-sustaining amphibious units full of Marines always ready to be first to fight. It is great stuff for refighting WWII, or pounding into submission emerging regional powers too unsophisticated to present a credible threat, but it is outmoded, outdated, and unrealistic to believe our potential adversaries along the Pacific rim are going to refight WWII.

    • Ike_Kiefer

      The energy economy underpins the fiscal economy. Bad energy policy weakens a nation as much as bad economic policy or inept national security policy. The unfortunate reality of a military biofuels program that undermines its own stated goals while promoting international unrest and food insecurity is simply presented as one illustrative example of the strategic cognitive dissonance afflicting the Navy. There are many examples equally compelling that one could cull from a topical survey of CDR Salamander’s site.

  • rackops

    Sadly, those directing the Navy (and note, not all are flag officers or politicians) are far more interested in forcing the social ideas and direction of a vocal minority rather than actually concentrating on warfare at sea. Over the last few years, where have the battles been? The battles have been against sexual assault. They’ve been against alcohol. They’ve been against smoking. They’ve been against discrimination based on sexual preference. None of those battles are bad on their own merits: no one in their right mind would want to encourage any of those things. However, when the majority of the focus is on those topics, and not on the topics that really matter, like conducting and winning wars at sea, then the Navy is doomed to atrophy. Sadly, no one has realized these issues are only a distraction from what the Navy was created to do…and now these distractions have become the primary focus. I dread what will happen the next time we fight a war at sea; we will have non-smoking, teetotalling Sailors who are well versed on accepting their peers’ sexual preferences, but unable to fight and win on the strategic, operational, or even tactical levels. It will only be when the body bags arrive and the scenes of grey-hulled wreckage dominate the national news that people will finally (hopefully) see the folly in their pursuits.

  • jack anderson

    POTUS has a Nobel Peace Prize and if you don’t wanna get Petrasized you say what you are told to say. While that has always been true for 0-7 and above this administration even throttles ButterBars. No strategic thinking will be permitted or vocalized until the “JV” POTUS has departed for his speaking tour career.

    • Diogenes

      That’s worked out real well. Thank goodness for the peace prize.

      • jack anderson

        They didn’t have a drone prize to give him in 2008

        • Diogenes

          A little late, but that is funny!

          • jack anderson

            probably put me on a list somewhere so I am happy you enjoyed it!!

  • James Bowen

    Very interesting. Lack of/inadequate strategic thinking is a problem in the Navy, but that problem extends far beyond the Navy too. Any student of military history knows how important industrial capacity was in determining the course of the American Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Why the Navy, the DoD, and other government organizations that should be in a strategic mindset are not ringing loud alarm bells about the relative and absolute decline of our industrial base is beyond me. Last I checked, China produces five times as much steel as we do. That margin is comparable to the margin between the U.S. and the Axis Powers during World War II.

  • Tom Bayley

    Perhaps it’s time to put the big “O” in CNO and change the Title X responsibilities. When we have face a global challenge we have assigned it to a Combatant Commander (e.g. Nuclear threat to STRATCOM, terrorism to SOCOM). Our AOR boundaries are more based upon landmass and leave huge seams in the largest portion of the globe — the maritime commons. Who’s in charge of maritime threats and security when most of Geographical Combatant Commanders are forced on geo-political issues focused on the land masses?

  • jdolbow

    We Win. They lose. It worked for Reagan to end the Cold War.

    • Oy

      1. Where we are now.
      2. ???
      3. We win, they lose.

      “Strategy” is the tricky middle part, chief, not the final result.

      To be sure, it does help to have that final result in mind. This administration would probably describe #3 as unfair, racist, unilateralist, nativist, etc. etc.

  • Jonathan

    The War College. The Strategic Studies Group. A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. Has Forbes heard of these things? Just because he doesn’t agree with their output doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

    Forbes is mad because the Navy is developing operational paradigms that utilize programs of record? Should the Navy NOT be doing that? Forbes lives in an imagination-land of endless defense money. The defense budget is shrinking. We have to use what we have in a more efficient manner. Congressmen want new strategies to justify new systems that will benefit their campaign donors with billions of dollars in defense contracts and keep constituent working class voters employed.

    But by all means, let’s take the side of the guy who spent his whole life as a lawyer and politician, and never served a day in the military, especially when he is admonishing one of our best and brightest, and the leader of our service. Let’s consider the fact that ADM Greenert might know a thing or two more about the Navy, and might have the Navy’s best interests in mind.

    Can you imagine if a Fortune 500 company was run by Congress? They would drive it into the ground with their misplaced priorities and inefficiency. Yet the Navy must contend with the reality that they are beholden to the interests of our widely-despised legislature. Good luck to ADM Greenert – what a tough job.

    • Aklein97

      The War College certainly gives students the tools to understand strategy, but it doesn’t develop new strategy. Despite misnomer the SSG develops operational concepts. CS21 justifies what the navy already purchases. I don’t think Forbes is mad that the Navy develops op paradigms, he’s mad that the Navy lacks the strategic umbrella to give context to the paradigms. Unfortunately, the Navy has been forced into a position of developing, essentially stop gap programs (the submarine fleet is about to collapse!! we don’t have an aging F/A fleet!! ) and defending them to the last cent. I don’t disagree that congressmen was justification for pork projects (F-35 being built in 47 states, coincidence?), but I think the CNO is responsible for putting all of our current and future programs into a resource unconstrained strategic context. Its Congresses responsibility (if they ever choose to wield it correctly) to prioritize

  • Joe Blow

    Hate to say it, but….having just read over Congressman Forbes’ note to the CNO, I’m inclined to take his position. We (the military writ large, and the Navy in particular) really have no coherent strategy (or strategic thought process), and haven’t for well over a generation (and, I’d almost opine, since the end of WWII). The reality is that we jump from brush fire to brush fire, supporting the other branches because “that’s the way it’s been done”, while relying on a diminishing force structure to do more with less (ships, aircraft, training, etc). It’s a vicious, downward spiral….one which I’ve railed about most of my career…..and we’ve become content to hope that a competitor doesn’t arise. Unfortunately, by the time our leaders pull their heads out of the sand regarding China (who take the “long view” on strategy and policy), it’ll be far to late to make a viable/effective course-correction.

  • Jack Lawrence

    Congressman Forbes is a lawyer who turned politician early in life. His naval expertise appears to be that he was born near the ocean. He has gotten himself the Chairmanship of the Sea Power committee and an award from the Navy League.
    He keeps a copy of the Declaration of Independence (but not the Constitution) on his desk. He is a dedicated reformer, but not much if a doer, from what I can see.
    Do the math.

    • Heh

      Lawyer turned politician with lots of self-declared naval expertise based on living near the ocean… hey sounds like FDR. =)

      • gunnerv1

        Not that I’m for or defending FDR, but he was Secretary of the Navy and always held the Navy in high esteem. A quote from Elanor “Sailors have the cleanest bodies and the dirtiest minds”.

        • Jack Lawrence

          I do not remember Roosevelt involved in this. He was Navy Secretary, which certainly burnishes his credentials. H also reached down and selected King, but that is a tortuous discussion for another day.
          Point is that this guy has the earmarks of a self agvrandixing buffoon who brings nothing to the table but his own ego
          Pronounces things that are you broke
          Soaks up some ink.
          Walks away from the mess until it is time to come back and feed some more.
          I could not find much if significance this man has accomplished.

          • Heh

            Well heck it is more of a problem that the Commander In Chief is a self-aggrandizing buffoon who brings nothing to the table but his own ego and a bunch of hot air than it is that an obscure legislator should be so. Everything the CINC has “accomplished”… has been bad.

        • Heh

          He was not Secretary. He was Assistant Secretary to Josephus Daniels. He was given that post as a political plum despite having no expertise in naval matters. Forbes now has much more expertise in naval matters than FDR did at that time, which was my point. And hey, Forbes too always held the Navy in high esteem!

          So I guess if the next Republican President makes Forbes Under Secretary of the Navy, then the “problem” of Forbes being a “mere” politician goes away.

  • gunnerv1

    The Navy Flag Officers ( CO’s) have gone into “CYA” mode because of “PC” and “Purges” (just like Stalin, but no one has been “Liquidated”) if they don’t match Obama’s ideal.

  • n2n

    Navy Should start investing in deep water ports and have them rent out if not in used.The Chinese are putting capitals in strategically located ports such as Hambantota,Mozambique,etc…how can you finance a NAVY without an income?Chinese will not engage in symmetric naval battle but they will drain your finances and put the NAVY dead on the water.When you have ports you become ambassadors of Good Will.In every port I visited they speak highly of Chinese financed port and how it contributed to their local economy ,never heard from them about US NAvy.