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A Warfighting Imperative: Back to Basics for the Navy


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U.S. Naval Institute

The service must think about what it will take to fight and win in a future great power war.

Captain Gerard D. Roncolato, U.S. Navy (Retired)

January 2022

The enemy is coming. He is capable, determined, and well-equipped. And if the Navy is not focused on war-fighting as its central and predominant characteristic—the “why” of the profession—it will fail.

Gone are the post–Cold War days when U.S. enemies had limited capacity, when the Navy operated from the safe sanctuary of the sea, when it set the timing and place of action, when, in short, the enemy had no vote. The kinds of wars that are coming will be different.

At core is the stark reality that a ship or aircraft must go into action, strive mightily to accomplish its mission against fearful odds, survive damage and casualties, and then bring home the crew and platform to do it all over again. But not all will come home; the mission may require a decision to act, even though that action might result in the death of self, crew, and ship or aircraft.

This is the reality commanders and crews must wrap their heads around. It is different from what most sailors today have seen. It will require seizing opportunity in a tempo-ruled environment. It will require deep loyalty and commitment, courage, the trust of subordinate, senior, and self, and the resolve to give the fullest in support of mission, Navy, and country. The service must think long and hard about what it will take to fight and win in a future great power war—specifically the mind-set and professional focus of those on active duty.

History as Guide

On the evening of 12 November 1942, as the cruisers and destroyers of Rear Admiral Dan Callaghan’s task force steamed toward battle against a powerful Japanese force that included two battleships, Callaghan’s flag captain, Captain Cassin Young, opined, “This is suicide.” Callaghan replied, “Yes, I know, but we have to do it.”1



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