America’s Navy is our nation’s front line in war and in peace, operating on, above and below the sea. Think of the Navy as America’s “away team,” deployed around the world, defending our nation’s interests every day.
This year marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812. So many of the qualities that shaped and helped the Navy win 200 years ago still hold true today: the fighting spirit and boldness of the Navy’s Sailors, the Navy’s innovation and technological supremacy, the direct link between a strong Navy and a prosperous America through free world trade and the Navy’s key role in preserving American sovereignty.
During the War of 1812, America called on the Navy and its warfighting sailors to preserve our country’s security and prosperity. Two hundred years later, that tradition continues.
Today, Navy ships fight on the sea; Navy submarines fight under the sea; and Navy aircraft fight over the sea, taking off from and landing on Navy aircraft carriers.
This ability to act from the sea is critical to national security. It gives the Navy the power to protect America’s interests – anywhere, anytime. The United States is a maritime nation, bounded by oceans on both sides. Consider that water covers about 70 percent of the earth’s surface. About 80 percent of the world’s population lives near the sea, and about 90 percent of all world trade by volume travels by sea.
In other words, what happens on the sea matters. It matters to world peace. It matters to our economy and to the preservation of prosperity. It also matters to our national defense. A strong Navy is necessary to preserve the American way of life.
Maine’s commerce and its maritime economic lifeline have been connected to the Navy from the privateers during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 to Portland’s role as a destroyer base and training center during World War II. Our Navy’s role in maintaining freedom of the seas and free trade is no less important in the 21st Century.
The Navy’s job continues to get bigger. The president’s national security strategy emphasizes our commitment in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions, vast, maritime areas of the world ideally suited for naval operations and in which the Navy maintains a robust presence.
Elsewhere in the world, we face diverse challenges. We are a nation at war. We face a terrorist network that has attacked our country before and vows to do so again. Unstable regimes are developing nuclear weapons. Rising powers have begun military buildups to match their economic growth. Weak and failed states create havens for groups that seek to do us harm, such as Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Somali pirates. Climate change is creating new conflicts, as Arctic melting foments disputes over shipping lanes and oil supplies previously locked in ice.
The Navy is ideally suited for this kind of world because the Navy is fast, flexible and by its very nature, ready and operating forward. Our ships, submarines and aircraft can go anywhere on the sea on short notice, and they can do all of their work from the sea.
From the sea, Navy ships and submarines can destroy targets located far inland. They don’t need airstrips on the ground. From the sea, they take off from aircraft carriers.
From the sea, Navy SEAL teams can carry out special operations worldwide. In a humanitarian crisis like the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan last year, or the earthquake which ravaged Haiti in 2010, the Navy can deliver relief supplies and provide medical care.
On any given day, the Navy has the ability to attack a terrorist camp, capture a pirate vessel and deliver emergency relief, all in different parts of the world. Being able to do all of these things from the sea is important, as we may not be able to get another country’s permission to come ashore.
Our ready force also requires us to be smart about how we power our ships, aircraft and submarines. That’s why the Navy is a leader in pursuing our warfighting advantage through innovation in energy.
By 2016, the Navy will sail the Great Green Fleet, a carrier strike group composed of nuclear-powered ships, hybrid electric ships running on biofuel and aircraft flying on biofuel. We have tripled our solar energy use, and we are exploring wind, geothermal and hydrothermal power. These initiatives will give us a warfighting advantage in the next war. They may help avoid the next war altogether.
In today’s world, power must be ready, fast, flexible and operating forward. This requires warfighter sailors who are highly trained, highly motivated, and courageous, sailors who are capable of meeting any challenge. It requires the best sailors in the world – the men and women of the United States Navy.
Rear Admiral William E. Leigher is director of Warfare Integration for Information Dominance. He is a native of Appleton and a graduate of the University of Southern Maine.