The Navy and Marine Corps need to think about how to be more innovative, including leveraging experiences learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the face of budget challenges that could become more acute, acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine H. Fox said April 7.
"Whether sequestration returns or not, the reality is we're counting more than ever on your leadership and innovation to solve problems and meet new and often unfamiliar challenges to our nation's security," Fox told students at the U.S Naval War College in Newport, R.I., in one of a series of addresses she has delivered in recent days at war colleges around the nation.
In each, Fox's theme has reflected warnings senior defense officials have been making since last year's budget sequester and the likelihood of further spending cuts to come: that the Pentagon is going to have to re-examine priorities, reduce overhead and shrink the force while finding ways to continue vigilance in what officials describe as an increasingly unpredictable global environment.
"Our Marines have excelled at everything we've asked of them in the [counterinsurgency] fight, ... and they continue to do so in Afghanistan today," Fox said. "So even as we make this transition, we need to capture as much of these hard-won experiences as possible, because we'll undoubtedly need it again in the future."
Fox also challenged the students to rediscover their service's core capabilities, "even as you build from the lessons of the immediate past to take on new missions."
"There are now many young, battle-hardened Marines who have spent little time inside of a ship, much less practicing to conduct an assault from sea," she said. "As you regain your sea legs, I also hope you will work to innovatively update your amphibious concepts of operations."
Regarding the Navy, Fox said, "we need to confront the reality that there's more demand for ships than budgets allow, and I don't see this changing any time soon," emphasizing that no one is expecting the end of the Iraq war and the winding down of the conflict in Afghanistan to yield a peace dividend.
"Our naval forces need to think creatively about how to provide presence, getting more out of the ships we currently have," she said. Fox challenged the audience to determine whether to change deployment concepts and keep ships deployed longer. "There must be some innovating approaches out there that people like you, our future leaders, can find and adapt," she added.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is in the Asia-Pacific region, and just announced the addition of two ballistic missile defense ships to Japan, Fox noted. "What other opportunities like that are out there that would help us meet the needs of our strategy?" she asked the students.
Ultimately, Fox said, it's not about numbers but capabilities.
"We need to make the financial and intellectual investments in technology and modernization programs now," she said, "before we no longer have the massive technological advantages we've enjoyed over the past 60 years."