10 March 2015

Touchdown! Scores are in for Debate on What Sort of Navy America Needs—McGrath: 7, Easterbrook: 0

Touchdown! Retired U.S. Navy officer, consultant, and well-established strategist Bryan McGrath has just tackled and scored a major hit on an article that required refutation to ensure that a major component of U.S. public policy is informed by sound facts and logic at a critical time. In case you haven’t see it in the usual naval discussion forums, I’m referring to the misinformed, naïve, politically partisan Op-Ed of 9 March by contributing editor to The Atlantic and American football expert Gregg Easterbrook. Easterbrook argues simplistically that the U.S. Navy does not require budget growth because it is bigger than other navies, and other navies will never dare to challenge it. From this faulty reasoning, he concludes: “there is no reason to increase the Navy’s budget, nor for Congress to fret about how many ships we have.” By my count, the initial scores are McGrath: 7, Easterbrook: 0. McGrath gets the extra point for reaching across the aisle and acknowledging that major Democrats support strong American seapower, too. Yet another fact that he deployed to good effect.

I remain perplexed as to why the New York Times considered Easterbrook’s polemic a substantive piece worth publishing—particularly when there are so many prominent, readily-reachable experts available on this and related topics. The Times opinion pages recently took another credibility hit in the Asia-Pacific zone when they gave voice to unsubstantiated claims by University of Connecticut Professor Alexis Dudden concerning “the Abe government’s expansionist view” and “territorial revisionism,” as well as her curious assertion that “One fraught issue is the United States’ dual obligation, under separate security arrangements, to defend both Japan and South Korea because one could attack the other over territory they both claim.” In the words of Bill Belichick, Do your job. Only by repaying readers’ trust with solid research and assessment can you contribute effectively to public policy debate.

Here’s the one major thing that Easterbrook got absolutely right, to his credit: “Since Navy operations take place far from home, Americans may be unaware of their country’s nautical strength and of the progressive role the Navy plays in world affairs. Many Americans have never seen an active-duty United States warship; ships can’t march in Fourth of July parades or fly over football games. But arguably, naval hegemony is among the greatest American achievements, and one that makes all nations better off.” The line about parades and games is brilliant prose. It cuts to the heart of seapower’s reliance on the taxpayers that fund it—a major reason why the U.S. Navy has held “Conversations with the Country” in cities such as Denver and Phoenix not known for having sea ports. Unfortunately, Easterbrook seems to assume that this achievement can be taken for granted and is somehow self-perpetuating—regardless of how the geostrategic landscape evolves. Public policy is even more unforgiving than football. Easterbrook deserves credit for emphasizing the critical importance of public support, something that no advocate of robust, enduring seapower can afford to ignore. But he needs a touchdown of his own (in the form of a well-grounded argument) before he can score this field goal.

The only major point I would add to McGrath’s hard-hitting analysis is that for a navy (i.e., that of the U.S.) to ensure that it can conduct essential operations within the ranges of a potential adversary’s land-based ballistic and cruise missiles (i.e., those of China—which wields the world’s foremost regionally-focused missile forces) substantial investment in both quality and numbers may be required. Comparing side-by-side navies with very different missions will not elucidate this equation directly or sufficiently. The fact that Easterbrook never mentioned cruise missilesat all—suggests that he has not carefully considered China’s actual military capabilities, which include increasingly-potent systems in this and a panoply of other relevant areas. It’s on stubborn facts and inconvenient truths like these that realistic policy is made.

All aspects of U.S. policy, including the U.S. Navy’s size and composition, should be vigorously debated. Season after season. By coaches, players, and fans alike. That’s as American as any battle on the gridiron. But above all, let’s keep it real. Naval development is hardly a game; it merits serious consideration and long-term investment—all underwritten by relevant facts and sophisticated analysis. And treating naval development as a partisan political football is not productive; that sort of rhetoric is out of bounds for the constructive conversation we need with, and for, the Country. 


Below, links to full text of the McGrath-Easterbrook debate:

Bryan McGrath, “No, the Navy Isn’t Big Enough,” War on the Rocks, 10 March 2015.

A new voice has joined the ranks of those concerned with the size of the U.S. Navy. Gregg Easterbrook, author and contributing editor at The Atlantic, wrote an op-ed at the New York Times on 9 March entitled “Our Navy is Big Enough,” in which he lays out why the U.S. Navy need not grow and why its funding is sufficient. His argument is a tendentious restatement of the poorly informed ruminations of others. He thoroughly misunderstands the role of navies in general, and the U.S. Navy in particular, and he inaccurately portrays the rising support of a larger Navy as a partisan wish of the Republican Party. Let us begin with that last point.

Gregg Easterbrook, “Our Navy Is Big Enough” (Op-Ed), New York Times, 9 March 2015.

AT General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Maine, workers are completing a warship unlike any the world has seen. The $3.3 billion Zumwalt destroyer uses all-electric propulsion, employs stealth features, carries a huge arsenal of guided missiles, and mounts advanced cannons that can hit targets 63 miles away. Most likely it will never be tested in battle, because no other nation is even attempting to build a warship like the Zumwalt, which symbolizes the gigantic advantage the United States Navy enjoys.

Here are some sources that help document the significance of Chinese ballistic and cruise missile development:


Dennis M. Gormley, Andrew S. Erickson, and Jingdong Yuan, “A Potent Vector: Assessing Chinese Cruise Missile Developments,” Joint Force Quarterly 75 (4thQuarter/30 September 2014): 98-105.

Dennis GormleyAndrew S. Erickson, and Jingdong Yuan, “China’s Cruise Missiles: Flying Fast Under the Public’s Radar,” The National Interest (12 May 2014).

Dennis M. Gormley, Andrew S. Erickson, and Jingdong Yuan, A Low-Visibility Force Multiplier: Assessing China’s Cruise Missile Ambitions (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2014).


Andrew S. EricksonHow China Got There First: Beijing’s Unique Path to ASBM Development and Deployment,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief 13.12 (7 June 2013).

Andrew S. Erickson, Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development: Drivers, Trajectories, and Strategic Implications, Jamestown Occasional Paper (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, May 2013).

Andrew S. Erickson, “China Channels Billy Mitchell: Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Alters Region’s Military Geography,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief 13.5 (4 March 2013).

Andrew S. Erickson and Gabriel B. Collins, “China Deploys World’s First Long-Range, Land-Based ‘Carrier Killer’: DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Reaches ‘Initial Operational Capability’ (IOC),” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 14 (26 December 2010).

Andrew S. Erickson, “Take China’s ASBM Potential Seriously,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 136, No. 2 (February 2010), p. 8.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Ballistic Trajectory—China Develops New Anti-Ship Missile,” China Watch, Jane’s Intelligence Review 22 (4 January 2010): 2-4.

Andrew S. Erickson and David D. Yang, “Using the Land to Control the Sea? Chinese Analysts Consider the Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile,” Naval War College Review 62.4 (Autumn 2009): 53-86.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Chinese ASBM Development: Knowns and Unknowns,” Jamestown China Brief 9.13 (24 June 2009): 4-8.

Andrew S. Erickson and David D. Yang, “On the Verge of a Game-Changer,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 135.3 (May 2009): 26-32.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Reaches Equivalent of ‘Initial Operational Capability’ (IOC)—Where It’s Going and What it Means,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 12 July 2011.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China Testing Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM); U.S. Preparing Accordingly–Now Updated With Additional Sources,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 25 December 2010. 

Andrew S. Erickson, A Statement Before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, “PLA Modernization in Traditional Warfare Capabilities” panel, “China’s Military Modernization and its Impact on the United States and the Asia-Pacific” hearing, Washington, DC, 29 March 2007, 72-78; published in 2007 Report to Congress of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 110th Congress, 1stSession, November 2007, 91.


Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China’s Strategic Rocket Force: Upgrading Hardware and Software (Part 2 of 2),” Jamestown China Brief 14.14 (17 July 2014).

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China’s Strategic Rocket Force: Sharpening the Sword (Part 1 of 2),” Jamestown China Brief 14.13 (3 July 2014).

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China Goes Ballistic,” The National Interest131 (May-June 2014): 58-64.

Michael S. Chase and Andrew S. Erickson, “A Competitive Strategy with Chinese Characteristics? The Second Artillery’s Growing Conventional Forces and Missions,” in Thomas Mahnken, ed., Competitive Strategies for the 21st Century: Theory, History, and Practice (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012), 206-18.

Andrew Erickson and Gabriel B. Collins, “China’s Ballistic Missiles: A Force to be Reckoned With,” China Real Time Report (中国事实报), Wall Street Journal, 24 August 2012.

Michael S. Chase and Andrew S. Erickson, “The Conventional Missile Capabilities of China’s Second Artillery Force: Cornerstone of Deterrence and Warfighting,” Asian Security, 8.2 (Summer 2012): 115-37.

Christopher T. Yeaw, Andrew S. Erickson, and Michael S. Chase, “The Future of Chinese Nuclear Policy and Strategy,” in Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes, eds.,Strategy in the Second Nuclear Age: Power, Ambition, and the Ultimate Weapon(Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2012), 53-80.

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China’s SSBN Force: Transitioning to the Next Generation,” Jamestown China Brief, Vol. 9, No. 12 (10 June 2009).

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “An Undersea Deterrent? China’s Emerging SSBN Force,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 135, No. 4 (June 2009), pp. 36-41.

Michael S. Chase, Andrew S. Erickson, and Christopher T. Yeaw, “The Future of Chinese Deterrence Strategy,” Jamestown China Brief, Vol. 9, No. 5 (4 March 2009), pp. 6-9.

Michael S. Chase, Andrew S. Erickson, and Christopher T. Yeaw, “Chinese Theater and Strategic Missile Force Modernization and its Implications for the United States,” Journal of Strategic Studies 32.1 (February 2009): 67-114.