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Center for Naval Analyses
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The FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Section 913 added new language on the responsibilities of the Department of the Navy (DON). In addition to its mission of preparing the naval services for conflict, DON is now charged with organizing, training, and equipping forces "for the peacetime promotion of the national security interests and prosperity of the United States."

In essence, the FY 2023 NDAA language codifies and reinforces what the Navy does on a day-to-day basis. However, it also brings to the forefront questions about how a Navy that is designed to fight and win the nation's wars must become equally adept at peacetime competition with the People's Republic of China (PRC). The Chief of Staff to the Secretary of the Navy asked the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) for near-term recommendations for how DON can better position itself for such competition in peacetime— that is, below the threshold of armed conflict.

On the next page, we summarize these recommendations, which span investments in new capabilities; highly trained sailors, marines, and civilians; and enhanced relations with allies and partners. If the Navy is to embrace fully its expanded peacetime and wartime roles as laid out in the FY 2023 NDAA, a large strategic investment in naval capabilities is required. Absent such an investment, the Navy will need to make targeted divestments of today's capabilities to allow investment in the capabilities of the future. These will be painful choices that will reduce the capabilities and capacity that are promoting current national security goals during peacetime and wartime.

Up to now, the US has been unwilling to make such stark choices, instead making incremental investments in the future Navy while often delaying or reversing targeted divestments. That course of action will need to come to a close if the Navy is going to embrace and execute an expanded role in the peacetime promotion of national security in an environment of global competition. Following the recommendation summaries below, we also summarize our concluding thoughts for this paper on the specific choices the Navy faces in terms of capability trade-offs in an era of global competition with the PRC.

The broad nature of this paper's tasking required a whole-of-FFRDC approach. Consequently, every research division at CNA participated. Data for this project came from four sources: a review of key US government (USG), Department of Defense (DOD), and DON strategic documents; a series of workshops conducted by CNA with US Navy (USN), US Marine Corps (USMC), and US Coast Guard (USCG) stakeholders; discussions with active and retired DON officials; and a review of a large body of pertinent CNA research.

As a Quick Response Project, this effort was required to be limited to 90 days. Consequently, the CNA project team had to be very selective in the issues covered and the recommendations offered. With that in mind, this paper is offered as a vehicle to generate discussion, stimulate ideas, and focus thinking on the way ahead in this era of remarkable strategic challenges in facing the PRC, which has become an increasingly competitive and assertive global maritime power.

Strengthening maritime dominance: recommendations

A fleet designed to engage in protracted competition while preparing to fight and win must be larger, more distributed, more lethal, and better able to operate both around the globe and within an ever-expanding weapon engagement zone (WEZ)in the Indo-Pacific theater. Although expanding ship construction and fielding new ships is likely to take a decade or more, near-term options can "grow" the fleet's capacity and capability using nontraditional approaches to both force-multiply in the Indo‑Pacific theater and "out-capacity" the PRC across the globe. Key recommendations to deliver such a fleet include the following:

  • Maximize the reach and capability of each surface unit through expanded investments in current and future munitions, electronic attack capabilities, and organic intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) options.
  • Operationalize and scale the future of unmanned systems (UxS) by increasing investments in UxS and the infrastructure, training, manpower, R∓D, and procurement necessary to field larger systems.
  • Run up the score undersea by maintaining DON's significant advantage in this arena through additional munitions and enhancements across manned and unmanned undersea systems.
  • Increase operational availability and reinvigorate a "whole-of-government naval approach" by improving maintenance planning processes and industrial capacity while expanding integration and interoperability with the USCG and the US Maritime Administration (MARAD).
  • Act now to realize strategic change by working to develop new pathways for rapidly transitioning and fielding demonstrated capabilities while focusing on options to operationalize the future fleet.
  • Reprioritize and balance across portfolios absent a large strategic investment in the future of the Navy. Transitioning to a fleet with the requisite capability and capacity for an increasingly competitive environment means either planning for a large Navy topline increase or facing difficult choices. If it is the latter, prioritize those areas that can provide enduring qualitative advantages or the means to offset the PRC's inherent advantages in geography and capacity and reassess the size, shape, and capability of ship classes like carriers and amphibious ships.

Building a culture of warfighting excellence: recommendations

The competition for capability advantage is not just about weapons, equipment, technologies, and platforms—personnel is a critical element. Highly capable, experienced, and motivated servicemembers and DON civilians are an advantage the US joint force and the US naval services must continue to maintain by recruiting, retaining, and developing high‑quality military and civilian personnel. The DON force must also have a fundamental understanding of the nature of the strategic competition with the PRC and its armed forces.

  • Continue efforts to increase recruiting resources. In light of recent recruiting shortfalls, increase the number of recruiters, recruiting stations, marketing and advertising budgets, and recruiting incentives until recruiting goals can be met.
  • Maintain recruiting resources even when the recruiting market improves. Although recruiting resources can be cut quickly, it takes time to rebuild the recruiting apparatus and establish presence in the recruiting markets. Maintaining recruiting resources can hedge against market uncertainties and avoid costly recruiting shortfalls.
  • Pursue initiatives to leverage personal preferences to improve retention. The services' talent management initiatives provide opportunities to leverage personal preferences and career aspirations in making initial military occupational assignments and managing naval careers.
  • Develop or expand nontraditional, nonmonetary retention incentives. Examples include offering duty station preference, school seat assignments, or off-base housing for single sailors and marines.
  • Conduct an assessment of current professional military education (PME) institutions and programs. DON should assess whether its PME institutions are providing their students with an adequate understanding of the PRC, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), and the PLA Navy, along with the nature of the strategic competition.
  • Develop learning modules to improve understanding of both adversaries and allies. Most DON personnel will not have the chance to attend PME institutions. Hence, DON should consider developing an unclassified, online, self-paced series of learning modules to improve knowledge of both potential adversaries as well as allies and partners and make these learning modules widely available to all sea‑service personnel.

Enhancing strategic partnerships: recommendations

The need for DON to develop a wide range of partnerships to be effective in long-term strategic competition with the PRC is well established. Beyond these efforts, DON can work with industry to protect critical technologies, better prepare DON personnel to work with allies and partners, and work with US allies and partners to help them mitigate and adapt to climate change.

  • Incorporate technology protection into acquisitions decision-making. This would require a shift in the culture surrounding technology protection, from a reactive "enforcement" approach to a more proactive "risk-mitigation" approach.
  • Provide greater support to industry and R&D by way of demonstrating critical technologies that need to be protected, best practices, and required infrastructure.
  • Conduct an evaluation of the USN and USMC Foreign Area Officer (FAO) programs to ensure the right mix and number of regional specialists so that the FAO pipeline is healthy, their utilization makes sense, and FAOs are competitive.
  • Encourage foreign immersion experiences with allies and partners for unrestricted line (URL) officers to enhance the abilities of future warfighting commanders to engage effectively with their ally and partner operational counterparts.
  • Increase DON engagement in the development and deployment of climate‑adaptive practices, technologies, and innovations with strategic partners.
  • Work with allies and partners in the High North as a hedge against PRC influence in the region as sea ice recedes and shipping routes become more navigable during the ice-free summer months.
  • Increase the scope of DON engagement and assistance in the Pacific Island countries (PICs) on climate change issues to strengthen existing partnerships and create new relationships with regional agencies, including those in countries without a conventional military.

Concluding thoughts

Competition with the PRC will require a concerted effort across every aspect of the Navy: platforms, people, training, and infrastructure. The need for such a concerted effort is clear and present. The PRC has expanded what was once a brown-water, coastal defense force to a blue-water navy—the largest naval force in the world—capable of conducting operations farther and farther from PRC shores. Beijing has invested in a huge military industrial complex and a maritime industrial base that will enable continued growth of this navy and the expeditionary capabilities of the PRC's armed forces.

The recommendations summarized here begin to outline the near-term components of a coordinated approach to preparing the Navy for a globally competitive environment. Yet all of those actions will require additional resources. Absent a large strategic investment in naval capabilities, DON will need to make difficult choices about where to divest. This will require a hard look at platforms and capabilities that, while useful, are less suited for the challenges that the PRC presents. Moreover, the DON will not be able to manage this competition on its own. Just as Beijing leans on its civilian maritime assets and takes a whole-ofgovernment and society approach to gain national advantage in an international milieu, the US will need to do much of the same. All of these factors highlight the need for an integrated national maritime strategy that considers key trade‑offs internal to the DON while also identifying places areas in which USCG and MARAD can amplify and expand DON efforts.

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  • Pages: 44
  • Document Number: DRM-2023-U-036701-Final2
  • Publication Date: 9/1/2023