To Provide and Maintain a Navy: An Interview with Dr. Jerry Hendrix
“Join the Navy, see the world.” Dr. Henry “Jerry” Hendrix was in high school when a Navy recruiter made this pitch to him. He was sold. After high school, he attended Purdue University on a Navy ROTC scholarship.
As a naval officer, Dr. Hendrix spent the first half of his career in the P3 community tracking submarines. He began the second half of his career working for the Chief of Naval Operations. Additionally, he earned a PhD from King’s College and worked in the Office of Net Assessment. Finally, he served as Director of the Naval History and Heritage Command.
In his current role, Dr. Hendrix has worked as a consultant on strategic issues related to the Navy. In this podcast interview, we discuss his book, To Provide and Maintain a Navy.
The Book’s Thesis
Dr. Hendrix believes that the U.S. Navy currently has multiple challenges. To be blunt, he believes that the Navy is in trouble. Part of the problem stems from a U.S. defense mindset that he calls “continental.” This means that America has focused too much on land-based conflicts and strayed from its naval roots.
The title of his book is derived from Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution states that “the Congress shall have the power… to provide and maintain a Navy.” In his view, the Army is “episodic” while the Navy was authorized to be indefinite. Due to the importance of the oceans for commerce, the Navy has historically helped preserve a system of free trade.
Furthermore, the concept of the “free sea” is firmly rooted in Western political tradition as it relates to natural law and the principle of individual liberty. This political tradition conflicts with the Chinese system that recognizes the state as being the supreme authority rather than the individual. Dr. Hendrix describes the sea as a “vector” for ideas that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) finds destabilizing.
We discuss the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This is the current treaty that defines exclusive economic zones that are typically 50 nautical miles outside the borders of a country as well as the territorial zone that is 12 nautical miles off a nation’s coast. Ironically the United States enforces UNCLOS but is not a signatory to the treaty. On the other hand, China is a signatory to the treaty, but seeks to undermine it.
China and Russia’s Strategy
China and Russia have historically focused on acquiring land and territory. However, they have adapted a maritime strategic mindset. As a result, China has used a system of artificial island chains to build defenses at sea. Dr. Hendrix points out that the both China and Russia have adapted their territorial mindset to the sea. China has developed three types of aircraft carriers. Their latest aircraft carrier, Fujian, is the first to be built exclusively by Chinese engineers. The previous two carriers were based on Russian engineering.
China’s ambitions are to become a “blue water” Navy. This means that it would have the capability to operate globally. In the future, China could project force far from its shoreline and sail ships toward American coasts and throughout the western hemisphere.
In the interview, we also discuss the anti-access area denial (A2AD) threat. China possesses a DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile, which is also referred to as the “carrier killer.” The purpose of the missile is to destroy the radar, sensors, aircraft, and weapons capabilities of an aircraft carrier. The Chinese have also developed a DF-26 missile that has more range than the DF-21. Dr. Hendrix explains that these technologies have forced the Navy to rethink its tactics and the way it operates.
Current State of the U.S. Navy
The U.S. Navy has struggled in the wake of the Cold War. The number of ships has declined from 600 ships after the Cold War to 271 ships by 2015. However, the operational tempo has remained the same. This has had an adverse impact on maintenance cycles as well as training. The consequences of this dynamic has been manifested in several high profile accidents.
Two accidents occurred in 2017. The Navy destroyer, USS Fitzgerald, hit a commercial vessel. Seven sailors were killed. The second collision occurred in August, 2017 when the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, USS John S. McCain, collided with a Liberian tanker. Ten sailors were killed. These accidents and other incidents raise concerns that the Navy is in poor operational shape.
U.S. Navy Needs
Dr. Hendrix breaks down the current needs of the Navy to include the idea of “going big with frigates.” The American Navy currently has zero frigates. Dr. Hendrix describes the frigate as a the “cop on the beat ship” and recommends that the Navy needs 60-70 frigates. Frigates also allow for effective partnering with other nations and our allies’ navies.
He also believes that the Navy needs more attack submarines. In his book, he details that the 2020 Navy has 50 attack submarines and his recommendation is 62 by 2040. Overall, Dr. Hendrix wants the U.S. Navy to grow from a total battle force of 295 to over 450 by 2040.
There are significant challenges to grow the Navy. Shipbuilding infrastructure is a huge challenge with a limited amount of drydocks capable of supporting a naval buildup. Furthermore, shipbuilding requires a robust labor force specifically welders. Dr. Hendrix claims that the U.S. does not have enough skilled laborers at the moment. Thus, he concludes that the rebuilding of the Navy would need to be complemented by an overall rebuilding of America’s industrial and manufacturing base.
Some books and resources that Dr. Hendrix recommends include the following:
- History of the Navy by Edward (“Ned”) L. Beach Jr.
- Six Frigates by Ian Toll
- Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James Hornfischer. This book captures the Navy at its crowning moment during World War II.
- Winning a Future War: Wargaming and Victory in the Pacific by Dr. Norman Friedman
- To Train the Fleet by Albert A. Nofi
For more information on China’s ambitions, check out the podcast interview with Ian Easton.
Support Dr. Hendrix and the PME Podcast
- Dr. Hendrix book is called To Provide and Maintain a Navy and can be found here.
- Dr. Hendrix has a Twitter account @jerryhendrixII and can also be found at the Sagamore Institute
- Two of his recent articles can be found at National Review and Foreign Policy.
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