It came as a surprise when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recommended that President Biden name Adm. Samuel Paparo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, as chief of naval operations. The nod was expected to go to Adm. Lisa Franchetti, the vice chief.
Adm. Paparo is a commendable choice. He understands the threat China poses to U.S. pre-eminence in the Pacific. “A pacing threat” was how he described China in a 2021 speech to the U.S. Naval Institute and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.
Charting a course forward requires four steps from the new chief of naval operations:
• Develop a coherent maritime strategy. The Navy has lacked one for 40 years. Its last successful strategy, formulated in 1982, was framed in terms of the threat from the Soviet Union. The explicit linkage between threat and capabilities ensured the Navy’s ability to identify its role in national defense and defend its budgets and force structure.
A new maritime strategy should begin with the reality of Eurasian competition and recognize three overlapping threats: China, Russia and Iran. It needs to articulate the Navy’s role in containing all three threats, both through deterrence and, in the event of combat, by keeping sea lines of communication open and deploying combat power to the Eurasian rimland, particularly the Indo-Pacific.
The chief’s engagement in strategic development is critical. Delegation to subordinates would kill the enterprise. Each military service needs an advocate—particularly the sea services given the Pentagon’s landward bureaucracy. Gen. David Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, recognizes this and has crafted a strategic concept he can defend. The Navy should follow his example.
The future of naval combat as a concept is too complex to understand absent serious long-term reflection and intensive war gaming. The new chief of naval operations would benefit from creating a Project Solarium-style set of high-level assessment exercises that would include naval leadership, senior commanders and expert civilians. These would ensure that the Navy has the intellectual heft to contend with the Pentagon bureaucracy.
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Seth Cropsey is the president and founder of Yorktown Institute.