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    Friday, September 22, 2023

    Fund pioneering approaches to naval warfare

    A fundamental tenet of military planning is to avoid the mistake of preparing for the last war, rather than the next one. Yet there are warning signs the Navy is making that mistake. And political forces are aligned against correcting it.

    War games that analyze a confrontation of Chinese and U.S. naval forces, triggered by a Chinese invasion of Taiwan and the U.S. response, did not go well.

    “Surface ships are extremely vulnerable, with the United States typically losing two carriers and 10 to 20 large surface combatants in game iterations,” concluded the Center for Strategic and International Studies report earlier this year. The CSIC developed a wargame and ran it 24 times. Navy casualties would be staggering if a real conflict played out as the wargames did.

    There may be a way to enhance U.S. response, but so far it is getting little attention and almost no funding. Promising research shows that the development of large fleets of small, unmanned drone boats and submersible vessels, remotely guided, could prove highly effective in a conflict with China or another naval force, while vastly reducing military casualties.

    Yet only a tiny fraction of defense spending is going toward studying and evaluating these new technological weapons for a new century, the New York Times revealed in a recent story. Scaling up large-scale production of such innovative armaments is nowhere on the horizon.

    Both among the Navy leadership and in Washington there is a reluctance to change. Since the Cold War, maintaining a vast fleet of imposing surface ships has been the unchallenged way of projecting U.S. power. Admirals did not build careers by proposing radical departures from that approach.

    As for politics, building carriers, guided-missile destroyers and cruisers creates thousands of jobs, attracts campaign contributions, and keeps incumbents in power. A dangerous byproduct of the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned about is that politics and corporate power can drive decisions, not necessarily what is best for security, the soldiers on the battlefield or the sailors on the sea.

    With defense industries scattered across the country, congressmen are unlikely to seek to cut and redirect defense dollars for another district. Lawmakers well know it could lead to retaliation against the weapon system that may be benefitting their state and district.

    Yet this is not an either/or matter. The Navy can have a formidable surface force — and needs one —and still find funding for modern technologies. Needed is a willingness to adjust priorities, including redirecting some funding from traditional weapons programs toward innovative defense systems.

    “They refuse to take money from the legacy programs. The Navy, big industry and other key stakeholders are vested in the current shipbuilding enterprise,” said Ken Perry, a former nuclear submarine captain who is now an executive at ThayerMahan in Groton. The New York Times interviewed Perry for its story.

    ThayerMahan has invented an unmanned device to track enemy submarines, potentially improving on the fixed seabed sensors the Navy now depends on, while saving money. It confronts a Navy disinclined to change the way it does things.

    We could be accused of having our big defense programs that support the local economy and wanting money for innovation, too. Editorially, The Day has supported increases in funding for attack submarines and for developing a new generation of submarines to maintain nuclear deterrence. We welcome the jobs that construction creates for our region.

    But the fact is the U.S. submarine force and the damage it could inflict may well restrain China from playing the Taiwan invasion card. The wargame analysis found submarines would play a vital role should China be foolish enough to risk an engagement with the U.S. Navy. More subs are needed, not fewer.

    “Prioritize submarines and other undersea platforms,” states the wargames report. “Submarines were able to enter the Chinese defensive zone and wreak havoc with the Chinese fleet, but numbers were inadequate.”

    The Connecticut congressional delegation could play a key role in reallocating resources and making sure funding is available to assess and develop novel approaches to naval warfare. Congressman Joe Courtney, representing eastern Connecticut’s Second District, serves on the Armed Services Committee, the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, and the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee.

    Sen. Richard Blumenthal is a member of the Committee on Armed Services. Its responsibilities include military research and development. Senator Chris Murphy serves on the Appropriations Committee, which controls the purse.

    They have effectively used these positions to help direct defense contracts to Connecticut. But they also have a responsibility to ensure military spending is used effectively.

    The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, retired executive editor Tim Cotter and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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