WASHINGTON — An ongoing Global Posture Review and a 2022 update to the National Defense Strategy will provide the U.S. Navy more clarity on what its roles and expectations are in the future, as the maritime space increasingly sees activities that the service considers aggressive but under the threshold of war.
Both China and Russia are taking part in these gray zone activities — in the competition phase of the warfare spectrum, but not yet reaching the crisis phase. In these instances, the Navy can’t respond kinetically like it would in conflict, but a lack of any response is not a precedent the service wants to set.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told reporters there are still questions on what the Pentagon and the Biden administration will want the Navy to do and buy to prepare for this environment, but answers should start coming together in the next few months as the Global Posture Review wraps up and the new strategy is unveiled.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s National Defense Strategy “should give us additional guidance in terms of how the globe is going to be postured, how he sees us in the competition phase and poised for potential crisis against China. And it’s not just in the Indo-Pacific; again, it’s transregional and it’s also multidomain. And so I do think that the NDS should refine how our forces are postured and how we’re going to use them, and it should also give us probably more refined guidance on what our investment strategies need to look like going into the future,” Gilday told reporters Sept. 15 following a speech at the International Seapower Symposium in Newport, Rhode Island.
The NDS should help refine ideas, such as how many carrier strike groups the Navy should have deployed at any given time and how many should be in ready status for a contingency, he said. That information would help the Navy shape its future budget request and understand how much maintenance, training and operations to fund.
The Global Posture Review will contain more specifics, including what the Navy should expect to provide to combatant commanders now that the fleet is freed from the mission of supporting ground wars in the Middle East. The Navy, for the bulk of the last two decades, has had a constant one- or two-carrier presence in the 5th Fleet’s area of responsibility, straining the service and leading to a backup of maintenance and a shortage of available carriers in recent years. The Navy is coming out of the maintenance backup at the same time the Afghanistan mission ended, leaving some to wonder what comes next for the service.
Gilday said last week during the Defense News Conference that the joint force must be able to provide an over-the-horizon counter-violent extremist organization capability following the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan. That’s still under development through the posture review “in terms of tactically how we’re going to carry that out,” and those decisions would affect the final force posture recommendations, he added.
He said the service should continue operations in U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, but “the extent to which we are engaged, we need to figure that out with respect to other global commitments, but it’s a maritime AOR with three major chokepoints that we can’t walk away from. So there has to be a maritime presence there. And I don’t think it necessarily has to be a 1.0 continuous carrier strike group or [amphibious ready group] presence, but we can’t be absent from that important theater.”
He also said naval presence in the Pacific and around Europe will be important and must be balanced.
He also told reporters that the Global Posture Review “drew some conclusions before the drawdown from Afghanistan” that would have to be revisited once the counter-VEO tactics were hashed out, but he did not provide a time frame.
Gilday told Defense News during the call with reporters that the Navy needs to shift its mindset to prepare for deployments to areas of competition.
“I don’t think that the United States necessarily needs to be provocative; I do think we need to be out there, I do think we need to be out there in numbers,” he said. “It’s why readiness and training have been my top priority right in the beginning — is that it doesn’t matter how big a navy you have if you can’t sustain it, if it isn’t ready to go, if its magazines aren’t full of ammunition, if you don’t have the right people in the billets on those ships, if you don’t have the right training, if you don’t have parts in storerooms.”
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro was also at the symposium, during which he gave one of his first major speeches since being sworn last month.
“The United States believes that every nation has a right to defend itself when truly threatened — when truly threatened. Every nation has a right to build, exercise and operate military forces to protect legitimate national security interests — legitimate national security interests. Every nation has the right to promote prosperity, opportunity and innovative capabilities of its own people. And every nation has the right to navigate the sea lanes and the skies in accordance with international laws,” he said.
“But no nation — and I say this again — no nation has the moral high ground to deny these rights to its peaceful neighbors. No nation has the right to claim longstanding international waters as their own. No nation has the right to sponsor cyber crime and theft. And no nation has the right to endanger sailors and pilots with reckless approaches and harassing, bullying behaviors. Our hand will always be extended to any nation willing to support and defend the international norms that we depend upon.”
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs, and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.