Is a navy without ships still a navy?

The subtitle of this commentary is ‘pinched’ from a provocative article in the current issue of Proceedings magazine by U.S. Navy Captain R.V. Gusentine.  The author is a Joint Specialty Officer with 23 years of active-duty service and is currently the director for operations, Special Operations Command, Pacific.You can read the article here.

Among the many interesting recommendations in the article are a number that resonate with some of my own ideas:

-         The era of irregular warfare is upon us (I say it has ‘come again) and the navy needs to consider the acquisition of ‘irregular capabilities’;

-         To meet the irregular challenges that will occur in or be connected with the [littoral] maritime environment by geography or social network, we will need new capabilities;

-         The remote and often ungoverned areas along rivers and coastlines that are networked to our areas and populations of interest [necessitate] increased operational reach and sustainability of expeditionary assets. To maximize our return on investment, we should increase the size of our riverine and maritime civil affairs forces to expand into and sustain those assets in all theaters;

-         Consider a people-centric Navy in which the mix of relevant shipboard systems is determined by the CO's "user-defined" tactical preferences and the crew's pre-deployment mission analysis; and

-         Two arms and the use of both eyes [should not be (he uses the example of Horatio Nelson as I do in my “Making Waves” comment in the current issue of Canadian Naval Review)] prerequisites for command-at-sea. We should rethink our personnel policies as we right-size our force and identify what human skills and physical attributes really count in a 21st-century Navy, a force that is being shaped by unmanned and network-centric capabilities.

The article provides a much more extensive list of ideas and recommendations.  However, Captain Gusentine’s final statement is the most interesting:

"Striking the balance between conventional naval power and irregular capabilities is appropriate—the former shapes our security environment in more ways than we often give it credit for and actually affords us the opportunity, and compels our adversaries, to think irregularly. But our Navy is not solely a deterrent force (he refers to the nuclear arsenal), and it never has been. It has always offered much more. Today we face irregular warfare on a regular basis, and our nation requires more options and more hybrid capabilities than ever before."