America's Strategically Focused Navy

The "Away Team's" Playbook

The crew of the USS George H.W. Bush in Norfolk, Virginia, January 2009. (Jonathan Ernst / Courtesy Reuters)

Lincoln Paine’s recent article “What’s a Navy For?” asks an important question, but his implication that the U.S. Navy does not have an answer is off course. Paine, a prominent maritime historian, correctly points out that fiscal uncertainty and a changing geopolitical scene mean that the navy -- like the other military services and indeed many other sectors of the government more generally -- cannot run on autopilot. But that is hardly what the navy is currently doing.

Like the U.S. Army, the navy is an instrument of national power and provides unique capabilities to the National Command Authority, conducting missions and offering policy options across a full spectrum of operations, from peace to war and back to peace. But its maritime focus and unique global presence give it a distinctive mindset. As Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus noted last April, “Whether ashore, in the air, on or under the world’s oceans, or in the vast cyberspace, the Navy-Marine Corps team operates forward, as America’s ‘Away Team,’ to protect our national interests, respond to crises, deter conflict, prevent war or, when necessary, fight and win.”

On January 3, 2012, U.S President Barack Obama signed the defense strategic guidance “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense” -- the administration’s blueprint for the future of U.S. armed forces. This document set out ten primary missions: countering terrorism; deterring and defeating aggression; projecting power; countering weapons of mass destruction; operating effectively in cyberspace; maintaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent; defending the homeland; providing a stabilizing presence abroad; conducting stability and counterinsurgency operations; and conducting humanitarian operations. To chart its course and ready itself to accomplish these missions, the navy sponsors an ongoing discussion carried out across all forms of media, from books and blogs to congressional testimony and engagement with sailors, their families, and the public media.

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