- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 24, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

With all due respect to Adm. James A. Lyons, who retired from the U.S. Navy more than a decade ago, his May 13 Commentary column, “Better ships, please,” misses the fact that the strategic environment has changed markedly over the past decade and the Navy’s current shipbuilding plan is aligned with today’s environment as well as a range of alternatives for the future.

Adm. Lyons recently asserted that the U.S. Navy needs “better ships” to cope with “the known military modernization programs by our potential challengers - e.g., China, Russia.” Specifically, he calls for fewer - but more expensive and capable - ships. What if he is wrong?

There are many questions left to be answered. What if a new global system emerges where sea power becomes more important but in new and different ways? Seeing that most of the Earth is water and most of the world’s population lives within 200 miles of an ocean, what if more - not fewer - ships are needed to patrol the “great commons” (the oceans upon which those populations depend for commerce, energy and the defense of their moat)?

Finally, what if technology is changing so that ships can be modified or networked to slip a punch or counterpunch in a way that would encourage an adversary to keep its big guns holstered?

Here’s the point: Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, is pursuing a balanced, affordable portfolio of ships that is well suited for a new maritime era. The traditional power-versus-power arguments no longer apply. The world is being reshaped by new power dynamics and demographics.

Choosing the right maritime strategy will be vital. Though sophisticated, expensive power is enticing, there is something more important. The U.S. Navy must be out and about in the world. In naval parlance, we refer to being out and about as “forward presence.” That is the ability to operate in the far corners of the world, sensing the environment to prevent conflict, protecting the safety of the oceans, and to be ready to respond to all sorts of crises.

Presence is the U.S. Navy’s reason for being. It takes numbers of ships to post the presence we need. They must be both affordable and capable. Here Adm. Lyons misses the point. As noted by the Congressional Research Service, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) easily is the most affordable combat ship in the Navy’s shipbuilding plan.

It represents the critical building block in ensuring that our Navy possesses the number of ships needed to maintain sea control of the global commons. Moreover, its revolutionary modular design and “plug-and-play” electronic architecture will ensure that needed war-fighting capabilities can be provided when and where needed. The LCS provides an affordable forward presence to address evolving maritime needs in this ever-changing world.

The Navy’s shipbuilding investment plan is striking the right balance. This is the best strategy: Balance is better.

JOHN MORGAN

Chief strategy officer senior vice president

Sensis Corp.

East Syracuse, N.Y.

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