Adapting Naval Strategies to Match 21st Century Developments

As the U.S. has concluded its large-scale military involvement in Afghanistan, Congress has deemed it appropriate to decrease the percentage of the American budget devoted to defense. This has caused the armed services to analyze which aspects of their operational functionality require what amount of funding. One of the results has been a steady decline in the number of uniformed personnel throughout the armed services, which is expected to continue; barring U.S. involvement in another major armed conflict.

Last month the Naval Postgraduate School’s Naval Research Program released a report titled Navy Strategy Development: Strategy in the 21st Century. This report examines how the current fiscal conditions and the overall global defense landscape has affected the process of developing “big-picture” Naval strategies. It also speculates as to what degree it has impacted the Navy as a whole. The report uses the Department of Defense’s Dictionary of Military Terms to define strategy as “A prudent idea or set of ideas for employing the instruments of national power in a synchronized and integrated fashion to achieve theater, national, and/or multinational objectives.” The Navy subsequently uses this definition to “formulate an organizational strategy that enables the Navy to support higher-level policy objectives.”

In brief, the report’s key takeaways are as follows:

  • The combination of fiscal austerity and high tensions throughout the international geostrategic landscape are placing pressure on the Navy to alter its strategy formulation process.
  • One of the flaws of current strategy development is that it is heavily based on “past practice and institutional interests” as opposed to “a systematic assessment of the future security environment.”
  • Consistent with the statement of Virginia Congressman Randy Forbes, the report criticizes Naval strategic development for formulating strategies to fit operations and force structures in place. Instead, the Navy should first develop a strategy and then alter manpower and operations accordingly.
  • It is extremely difficult to rapidly change the strategy and structure of the Navy, especially without a substantially larger budget: “The force structure of today’s Navy is the result of decisions made more than a quarter century ago due to the long life cycle of its ships – decisions that were made in a very different global environment. […] Worse yet, the conceptual definition and multi-year planning rigidities of PPBE [Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution] ensures that changes in money today will not be felt in the Fleet for 5 years.”
  • The Department of the Army has been able to adapt its strategic development to budget cuts and is continuing to refine its formulation process, whereas sequestration had an extremely adverse effect on the Department of the Air Force’s “Strategic Master Plan.”

Visit the Homeland Security Digital Library for more resources regarding National Strategy Documents including Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower; National Military Strategy of the United States of America 2015; and Department of Homeland Security Strategic Plan: Fiscal Years 2012-2016.


Article formerly posted at