FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — The Navy of the future will be smaller, but through technology and innovation must maintain its global reach to protect U.S. interests overseas.
Retired Adm. John C. Harvey Jr. gave that assessment, among other views, Monday night in a speech before the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Council.
Harvey, 60, who headed up the Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk until his retirement in October, also said that how the Navy evolves will impact not only military bases, civilian contractors, and sailors and their families, but also communities, such as those in the Fredericksburg area, that support them.
"Your Navy today is still a ready force, a relevant force and a responsive force in a world where our nation's dependence on access to global maritime commons is as great as it has ever been in our nation's history," he said.
Still, "With all this said, and all that is going on today, there is a sign of cracks appearing in the foundation of our Navy."
Given its current size and structure, it is overextended "at a time when demand for naval forces across the globe is unceasing and increasing."
At this point, the length of deployments has increased, along with stress on service members and their families, "as has the price tag that goes along with sustaining this global effort," he said.
"Very difficult choices confront us, and you in this community. Are we ready to make them?"
Harvey said the nation must come to an understanding of its role in the world.
With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Navy and other U.S. forces were pushed to the limit of their logistical range, he said, at a cost of billions of dollars and the blood of those killed and wounded.
"Does that represent our role in the world in the future, and if not, how do we redefine it? What we have to do is get to balance--the ends, ways and means. A strategy that requires money and resources, ad infinitum, is not a strategy."
The future Navy, he said, "won't be determined just by what we think is good for the Navy. You cannot define the Navy without defining what we want out of the Marine Corps" and other service branches.
There's no consensus on how to proceed, Harvey said, "but we do know that the path we are on is unsustainable."
While developing a strategy, policymakers must keep in mind a drastically changing economic reality.
"More than ever, we are an island nation. Ninety percent of what comes into this country comes by sea. We are an incredibly connected global economy."
And trade "choke points" around the globe, such as the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, through which much of the world's oil flows, are, he said, of vital interest to the U.S.
Such challenges will pale in comparison with the looming "fiscal cliff" and future defense reductions, Harvey said.
If Congress does not act, expiring tax cuts and deep spending cuts will take effect on Jan. 1.
Accounting for upwards of $780 billion of the federal budget, the nation's military faces tens of billions in cuts. Lower-tier defense contractors, Harvey said, would be particularly hard-hit--a big concern in the Fredericksburg area, where scores of contractors do business with Marine Corps Base Quantico and Naval Support Facility Dahlgren.
Harvey said there have been other steep reductions in defense spending since World War II--for example, after the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s--and that more are inevitable.
What kind of Navy does that create?
"I think it's going to be smaller. I think it should be smaller. But if it is, it can't just be a smaller version of today's Navy," Harvey said.
Advances in technology--unmanned aerial and seaborne vehicles, for example--will help fill gaps in coverage and save lives.
"So investment in autonomous vehicles will be of extraordinary importance to the future of this Navy and the Marine Corps."
Harvey said the nation is facing a "perfect storm" of change.
With change comes opportunity, he said, noting that the biggest period of innovation for the Navy was the time between the Great Depression and the end of World War II.
"So our challenge is your challenge. How do you ride this wave of change?"