Adding to the concerns expressed earlier by Maj. Gen. Dunlap over the Air Force’s unclear role in Afghanistan, here’s a smart post from Christopher Albon at the U.S. Naval Institute AwesomeBlog asking what the role of the Navy is in the war.

The main obstacle to a major Navy role in Afghanistan is not material, but cultural. The Navy’s leadership is dominated by line officers. This perpetuates an institutional culture valuing warships and warplanes. However, the enemy has neither fleet or coastline. All the carrier strike groups in the world will not find victory in the mountains of Afghanistan. To win over the hearts and minds, McChrystal’s strategy requires a surge of a new sort: of nurses, doctors, dentists, engineers, and civil-affairs units, the domain of the staff corp officer. While staff corp officers have a secondary role in the Navy’s traditional warfighting focus, they have played a major part in the Navy’s humanitarian and development cruises. Staff corp officers might not be able to plan a defense of the North Atlantic, but they can run health clinics, manage construction projects, and coordinate with NGOs. They are America’s soft-power specialists. If the Navy is going to take advantage of the humanitarian and development institutional knowledge of its staff corp officers, it must overcome its cultural biases towards the interests of line officers. In the 1980s, the Soviet Army learned that Afghanistan was not the Fulda Gap. Now, the US Navy must accept it is not the Taiwan Strait either.

I know this isn’t the same thing, but I can think of at least two admirals who are playing a leading role in the Afghanistan war. Oh, and Rear Adm. Greg Smith is doing yeoman work (sorry) as strategic-communications chief.

More to the point, this is an excellent example of thinking through how the Navy can be relevant to war in a landlocked country. But the fact is Afghanistan just isn’t the sort of war where the Navy can play that great a role — though maybe my sailor friends can tell me what I’m overlooking. That’s not disrespect, it’s just sort of the way it goes, through no fault of the Navy’s. When we eventually go to war with Alpha Centauri, smart Army officers are probably going to write smart posts trying to reconcile land warfare with interstellar conflict.

Also, does any other service love the double-bass pedal more than the Navy?

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman