Sunday, November 20, 2011

Gorillas, Battleships and America's global presence

Goma, DRC, by Pascal Maitre, Natl Geography
Mountain Gorilla, Joel Sartore-Natl Geography

Like many of the posts on this blog, the topic springs from something I read and was moved to tie them together in an effort to provide a ginned up intersection where the ideas can be perused and pondered in an effort to inform, or encourage understanding that will help foster an opinion. Today the catalyst came from an article I was reading in the November edition of National Geographic Magazine about Africa's Alberttine Rift and how an exploding population is fostering unrest and will in all probability see an extinction of the Mountain Gorilla and other species, as people impoverished by war and the highest birth rates on the planet, overrun the national game parks in a search for arable land. The article richly illustrated with photos of both paradise and human conflict, informs the reader and asks the question, "is there enough for everyone?" The conflict has been blamed on ethnic rivalries, but the competition for natural resources has led to conflict that has seen over five million people die due to disease and starvation brought on by constant tribal and ethnic war. In the short run, this part of the world is not part of the strategic interest of either the United States or any great power. That said, some unnamed great powers would be happy to see the population kill each other off, so the resources would be easier to extract for their own needs.

Read more:
Rift in Paradise

This morning, as I checked the latest posts on Facebook in what has become a sort of town meeting bulletin board, where friends and publications post the latest links to relevant articles, I was drawn to a link to an article a fellow faculty member had posted. The article  questioned the ability to continue to sustain a overwhelming military presence in the face of the need to retrench our global military footprint in order to again move forward, and not end up on the ash heap along with other former great powers. The article by Joseph M Parent and Paul K MacDonald asks the reader to consider whether it is necessary or sustainable to continue the present level of military commitments across the globe. I don't agree in total with their prognosis, but it merits consideration for the valid questions it raises.

Read more:
The Wisdom of Retrenchment: America Must Cut Back to Move Forward

There are several good reasons to question the wisdom of building platforms to fight the last wars well into the future. Just as it is important to remember our past history before believing that societies don't change or challenge even their closest trading partners. One only has to read the first chapter of Ian W. Toll's new book Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 to gain an understanding of how Japan moved from a feudal society to challenge the combined might of the United Kingdom and the United States in less than a century. However, just as then, we might be possessed to be preparing for the last war with massive building programs spending billions on a few massive platforms such as this reported by Galrahn, at Information Dissemination.
The enormous cost of this new surface combatant in the context of an emerging age of global naval power growth and more capable anti-access, area denial capabilities raises legitimate questions regarding the future force structure of the US Navy. As the high end surface combatant suffers from legitimate mission creep, now requiring capabilities towards military superiority against ballistic missiles, combined with all the other tasks found in the development of multi-mission capable warships, is the Navy properly accounting from a holistic perspective the impacts of more and more investment in sustaining multi-mission capable ships that can perform at the highest end of every mission area? How long can the Navy sustain generational growth at the high end of surface warfare at a cost of an extra ~$1 billion added cost per ship before the fleet is too small to meet the primary mission of the Navy vs the threats given primary mission focus for the Navy?
Read more:
AMDR Will bring very high fleet costs

Galrahn is not done questioning the present direction of shipbuilding, and posts this about the need for having more Amphibious Ready Groups or ARG's.
While ARG deployments in the Pacific are old hat for the Navy and Marine Corps, it is becoming increasingly rare to see an ARG deployed from either coast to spend any significant amount of time anywhere other than operating under CENTCOM command in the 5th fleet. I have heard many suggestions that the Makin Island ARG has been working overtime during deployment preparations training for activities specific to activities one might find around Somalia and Yemen - like piracy. If I was a pirate warlord, my advice is to take the best deal you can for ransom as soon as possible, and start looking for a new job with less associated risk.
All I'm saying is that I have noticed the US is giving the Horn of Africa a lot of attention lately, and if we are ever going to see a shift in US policy towards piracy, that policy change will arrive in the form of an ARG that added extra training specific to the piracy issue - and a new ARG just deployed to that region following rumors of intense anti-piracy training....

...For the record, Bataan ARG represents a visible data point regarding the need for more amphibious ships. When amphibious ship deployments start breaking modern deployment length records - which WILL happen with Bataan - that means the Navy has not built enough amphibious ships. Politicians in Washington have held many hearings on the topic of dwell time for the Army, but right about now I'm thinking the Navy and Marine Corps folks who have been on ship for over a year in training and deployment are probably wondering who the hell their dwell time advocate is in Washington DC. At what point will Congress get the message that without more amphibious ships - which consistently has by percentage the highest number of days at sea annually of any surface vessel type - the nations leaders are asking way too much of the smaller, always desired but usually-overlooked-by-big-Navy amphibious force. 10 months is a long time for a battalion of Marines at sea, but because they are Marines - no one will ever hear a single complaint about it.... 
 Read more:
The Makin Island Deployment - Another Reminder the US Needs More Amphibs

Now one might ask what does our naval preparedness has to do with Mountain Gorillas and the conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa? The on going greater need seems to be to field platforms that are able to both control the sea lanes in the tenor of Alfred Mahan's vision of a great power, as well as continuing to do what we have done the past decades since the end of World War II and after the Cold War; by spreading our source code of free enterprise, and encouraging a global middle-class that will ensure peaceful decades for our grandchildren. The above articles are shared in order to capture your attention to the world we live in and that we can't do everything, nor can we ignore the gorilla in the room any more than we can ignore the poverty of spirit and natural hunger. We can't intervene, but we can do as we have since the founding of the republic and the launching of the Six Frigates that founded our navy and used our naval power for the greater good.

 Our own nation is resilient and over time, do as Winston Churchill used to say about us. "The Americans will always do the right thing... after they've exhausted all the alternatives."


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