Spending Towards Strategy: Restructuring the U.S. Navy to Support Offshore Balancing (Marcellus Policy Analysis)

By Tyler Koteskey, Fall 2020 Marcellus Policy Fellow

America is entering a period where greater economic constraints will force overdue reevaluations of its grand strategy and security priorities. As our nation contends with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the credibility of our current commitments abroad is increasingly under strain. America’s grand strategy should reflect these limitations on U.S. capabilities by shifting to an offshore balancing approach, which calls upon
regional allies to act as the first lines of defense in maintaining their local balances of power while offering support as a last resort if needed.

Our current grand strategy of deep engagement has involved waging multiple open-ended wars at once and maintaining a widespread network of permanent forward bases. Offshore balancing offers a more fiscally sustainable posture that still protects vital interests. To ensure that America can continue to credibly deter, and if need be, defeat its adversaries through offshore balancing, the right defense investments are critical. The most important service branch to properly invest in to meet these strategic needs is the U.S. Navy.

Three Naval spending priorities stand out. By expanding its sealift capacity and modernizing its shipyard operations, the Navy can credibly demonstrate the United States’ ability to rapidly deploy overwhelming force against aggressors without having to rely on a multitude of expensive, vulnerable, and politically contentious forward bases. Finally, by orienting its fleet structure to achieve dispersible mass, strike range, and survivability in a fiscally sustainable manner, the U.S. Navy can also reduce its vulnerability to anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) networks, which are likely to feature heavily in any future near-peer conflict. These fleet structure changes will also improve the Navy’s ability to contribute to the A2/AD capabilities of regional allies to deter would-be aggressors.