Dr. Robert Farley

Dr. Robert Farley


In a recent article, you discussed Governor Romney’s assertions about the size of the U.S. Navy. While America’s Navy is nothing like that of its 1916 vintage, many analysts agree with the governor that the Navy is too small for the global missions it must carry out. Looking out over the next ten years in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific, what capabilities do you feel the U.S. Navy must improve on? Does the Navy need, for example, more submarines, missile defenses, LCS? Are there things the Navy could do without?

I think we need to emphasize that the U.S. Navy (USN) works in concert with a host of regional navies, some of which are among the most powerful fleets in the world.  U.S. partners include South Korea, Japan, Australia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, and the USN continues to maintain close relations with other regional players such as Indonesia, India, and Malaysia.  In assessing fleet requirements it’s not quite correct to assert that these various capabilities can simply be added to the USN, but it’s also quite wrong to suggest that the responsibilities for global maritime maintenance fall solely on the shoulders of the USN.  As even Governor Romney noted, the United States and China share an interest in stability.  The primary strength of the Cooperative Strategy is recognizing that the USN operates in a collaborative context, with strong allies and effectively on the side of the angels.

This is a long-winded way of saying that I’m not convinced that the Navy needs to be considerably larger than it is today.  I think that some capabilities are overemphasized, and I like (for example) Secretary Lehman’s new frigate concept.  I also think that USN amphibious capabilities are underrated in strategic terms and generally misunderstood.  Finally, I think that shifting resources between the services would do the Pentagon a great deal of good.

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Turning to American airpower, many have called for the cancellation of America’s F-35 fighter program, calling it a relic of the Cold War, unsafe, and too expensive. Others feel the F-35 does not do enough to outclass new 5th generation fighters being developed by China, India and Russia and therefore advocate reopening F-22 production lines. What do you think? Does the F-35 meet the needs of the U.S. Air Force in the coming decades?

I think that re-opening the F-22 line at this point is a practical impossibility, given the costs associated with restarting the various elements of the supply chain.  The escalating cost of the F-35 has certainly left the USAF in a difficult position, however.  Experimenting with a high-low mix of F-22s, F-35s and generation 4.5 fighters (such as the F-15 Silent Eagle) might make sense for the USAF, with the former contributing quality for cracking open difficult anti-access environments and the latter contributing quantity necessary to have decisive effect in (newly) permissive environments. There are some missions that only an F-22 or an F-35 will be capable of conducting; there are many more (even in high-intensity peer competitor combat) that less capable legacy aircraft can capably address.

Much has been made of China’s Anti-Access/Area-Denial capabilities – one reason why many American planners argue for an increase in U.S. military spending. Many have charged that such capabilities could deter U.S. forces from moving into a conflict zone as Chinese forces could shower U.S. forces with anti-ship missiles and other advanced weapons. Other scholars and analysts contend Chinese capabilities are unproven and at present do not represent any sort of challenge to U.S. military capabilities. What is your view?

A little bit of both.  Chinese capabilities don’t have to be proven in order to deter the United States; the chance that a combination of missiles, subs, surface ships, and aircraft could destroy U.S. carriers might in itself be enough to dissuade the United States from intervening in an East Asian maritime dispute. However, at this point we simply have no idea how Chinese military capabilities would come together in a real war.  The Chinese haven’t undertaken the combination of low and high intensity conflicts that the United States has worked through over the past two decades; there are many problems with inter-service and inter-agency coordination that won’t become obvious until an actual hot conflict.  But then the point of developing such capabilities is, in larger part, never to learn if they’ll work very effectively.

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