From U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings May 2016 — Comment & Discussion, page 158:
(See J. Kirk and M. G. Kelly, pp. 18–23, 24–28, March 2016 Proceedings )
Mitchell R. Miller — Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s aphorism, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time,” has a corollary: You go to the war you have, not the war you might wish to have.
Captain Kirk’s and Colonel Kelly’s articles illustrate the point. While a few Zumwalt-class destroyers and F-35-equipped big-deck carriers may have a deterrent effect on potential adversaries, they will likely see no more combat than did General George S. Patton’s fictitious First U.S. Army Group (a D-Day deception) in World War II.
We are in a revivified Cold War. The potential aggressor states—Russia, China, Iran, North Korea—will probe the United States frequently, seeking and obtaining any territorial or other gains they can. But those conflicts will be contests of will, not of technology, for which Patton’s inflated rubber planes, tanks, and trucks would do almost as well as real DDG-1000s and F-35s.
If the United States has the will to block further Russian expansion westward, further Chinese assertion of control over the South China Sea, further North Korean nuclear saber-rattling, or further Iranian threats against its neighbors or the Strait of Hormuz, it can stop them with F/A-18s and Arleigh Burkes just as well as with F-35s and Zumwalts . If we don’t have the will, no amount of fabulous technology will be of any use. (Indeed, F-35s and DDG-1000s may be contraindicated: A President may be more reluctant to put a multi-billion-dollar ship or multi-hundred-million-dollar aircraft in harm’s way than he would a last-generation destroyer or a slow, loud, non-stealthy Warthog.)
Another similarity to the Cold War era will be dozens, if not hundreds, of insurrections, civil wars, and large and small terrorist attacks—“small wars,” with which our Marine Corps, transported and supported by our Navy, is intimately familiar.
The aircraft the Marine Corps needs are close air-support planes—navalized versions of the A-10, upgraded OV-10, or Super Tocano. What the Navy needs are small, fast, well-armed and -armored, real littoral combat ships: a combination of World War II PT boats, Vietnam-era Swift boats, and patrol craft hydrofoils that can ambush a swarm of fast-attack boats, follow a suspicious dhow up a river, sink a narcotrafficer semisubmersible, or infiltrate and exfiltrate a SEAL team on an isolated point. And then there are minesweepers, too (because the mine is the naval asymmetric warrior’s weapon of choice), arsenal ships, and “escort carriers” to bring an aviation punch to a small fight.
I suggest that the time is long past for us to start planning and building for the wars that we will fight, not the wars that we’d like to fight.
PZM’s note: Mitchell R. Miller is a tax lawyer in Beverly Hills, California, and a U.S. Army veteran. He is a member of the U.S. Naval Institute, the National Military Intelligence Association, and the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. He is also the co-author with Phyllis Zimbler Miller of the Navy thriller LT. COMMANDER MOLLIE SANDERS, whose ebook format is free to read via a Kindle Unlimited monthly subscription. Click here now to see LCDR MOLLIE SANDERS on Amazon.