The CNO’s Navigation Plan for 2022: A Critique

There should be a clear difference between efforts to provide unclassified documents that explain and justify U.S. military forces and issuing official reports that are little more than public relations exercises. The U.S. faces major security challenges and the annual cost of U.S. defense is over $760 billion, even if one ignores the cost of nuclear weapons, the Veterans Administration, related activities of the State Department and other agencies, and substantial additional intelligence activity.

The effort to shape U.S. forces and strategy must deal with very real threats. They include a Russia that has invaded the Ukraine, a China that is actively seeking to challenge the U.S. in military and economic power, and regional threats like Iran and North Korea. The U.S. must cope with emerging and disruptive technologies that constantly alter the nature of military forces in unexpected ways, support America’s strategic partners on a global level, and deal with near collapse of many arms control efforts and major increases in Russian and Chinese nuclear and long-range strike programs.

Far too often, however, the Department of Defense issues documents that are little more than sales pitches – filled with slogans, and that are an awkward cross between a shipping list that borders on being a child’s letter to Santa Claus and a used car commercial.

The CNO’s Navigation Plan for 2022 is a case in point. In fairness, does highlight a long list of important points about the threat, and the need to reshape U.S. naval forces, but it comes far too close to burying them in overall and hype. It fails to meaningfully address and justify the cost of the U.S. Navy, to provide any clear picture of the threat, to address the need to cooperate with key U.S. allies, and to provide a clear program for shaping the Navy’s future.

It is scarcely unique in failing to provide a clear and meaningful plan. The defense budget requests talk about being strategic documents, but almost all of their contents are shopping lists for individual military services. U.S. strategy documents have become little more than long lists of broad goals and wish lists with no actual plan, program, or budget.

The U.S. no longer issues a meaningful Five-Year Defense Plan (FDYP) with force levels and costs, and no real “net assessments” have been issued at the unclassified level. Aside from an annual report on Chinese Military Power, there are no documents that summarizes the threat, and reports on Russian and Iranian military power have not been updated for years. The U.S. State Department has finally killed a public report on World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers that once served as a reference for much of the world’s media and military analysis – one that it had already rendered confusing and ineffective.

Still, the Navigation Plan for 2022 represents the kind of empty hard sell that no one needs and highlights the contrast between U.S. defense papers and the far more detailed and useful work done by some other countries – with Japan’s Defense of Japan 2022 being a prime example. The relentless hard sell is bad enough, and so is the tendency to deal with every possible issue by setting a goal that is little more than a slogan with no clear plan or priority for tangible action.

That said, the substantive problems in the Navigation Plan for 2022 go far deeper. The Emeritus Chair in Strategy at CSIS has issued a detailed critique that addresses seven major areas of weakness and omissions in the Plan. They address:

  1. Strategy, Predictability and "the Five-Year Rule"
  2. Assumptions about Future Spending and Resources
  3. Buzz Words and Generic Goals are not a Strategy
  4. Integrated Strategies, AI, Cyber, Space, and JADO:
  5. AI, Cyber, Space, and JADO:
  6. Net Assessment and the Threats the US and its Partners Must Face, and
  7. Strategic Partners and Other States

A copy of the full critique is attached to this analysis, and it can be download from the CSIS web site at: