The Navy’s Messaging Choke Point
Some say the service needs to stop using jargon like “littoral operations” and “sea denial” if it wants to connect with more Americans.
SAN DIEGO—The Navy’s top officer says he’s seeing success in the service’s efforts to win more trust from Congress and more support from the American people, and he’s got some data to back that up. But others say the Navy needs to work on its message.
Rep. Elaine Luria’s advice: stop talking about sea lines of communication and choke points.
“Does the average person know what ‘choke points’ are?” Luria, D-Va., said Thursday in the day’s opening panel at the WEST 2022 naval convention here. “Navy communications should just constantly be beating that drum about how important having a navy is and the role they’re playing around in the world in all aspects of our lives and national security.”
Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, says the service is getting better at pushing its message. In a call with reporters on Wednesday, he pointed to a public-opinion poll that the Navy pays Gallup to take several times a year. For the past two years, the poll says, Americans have listed the Navy first or second when asked what service branch is “most important to national defense.” And the December poll found this: ”More than half (53%) of those who say the Navy is more important to national defense emphasize its global protective reach, a 24-point increase over July 2021.”
As for Congress, whose trust in the Navy was eroded by cost overruns on the DDG-1000 and Ford-class carrier programs, Gilday said he has taken lawmakers’ concerns to heart, and that’s why the service’s unmanned programs are now moving in “an evolutionary manner, not a revolutionary manner.”
Luria, a Navy veteran who represents Hampton Roads and advocates for a bigger fleet, has occasionally taken the service to task for what she calls less-than-clear communication. On Feb. 9, she reacted to a Navy tweet (“Our sea-denial exercises with naval expeditionary integration and littoral allies prepares us to counter potential adversarial aggressive actions.”) with her own take: “I have no idea what this means and I served in the Navy for 20 years. And you wonder why Americans don’t understand why the Navy is essential to many aspects of their daily life?”
Quipped panel moderator Bill Moran, who served as vice chief of naval operations before retiring in 2019, “Maybe we talk that way to confuse our enemies?”
Elbridge Colby, a panelist who helped write the 2018 National Defense Strategy as deputy assistant defense secretary for strategy and force development, said the Navy should talk far less about its role in safeguarding commerce and more about how it deters and fights wars.
“It’s true that economic leverage is ultimately what the goal is. But the means is the Navy and Marine Corps as a denial force,” Colby said. “If you talk concretely about that, I think people will get it.”
A corollary to that, he said, is talking more directly about what it needs to deter and fight those wars.
“What does the Navy need to win a Taiwan fight at a reasonable cost and risk?” Colby said. Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger “is pretty clear about what the Marine Corps needs. Why isn’t the Navy clearer?”