In 1900, the Secretary of the Navy, John Davis Long, established the General Board of the United States Navy. Despite the impressive title, the General Board was simply an advisory board that pontificated on various naval issues brought forth by the Secretary of the Navy. Comprised of senior Navy personnel at the end of their career and with no obligations to other posts, the General Board provided an environment where members could simply think about the various naval topics of the day. Everything from strategy to ship design was discussed. Throughout the five decades of its existence, the General Board produced various innovative and creative ideas. It was disbanded in 1951, following conflict from other highly ranked Naval positions.
Fast forward to today and the Navy appears to be grasping for straws. Strategic thinking is largely political with no clear plan to deal with various issues. As far as ship design goes, the Navy appears to be designing ships first and then figuring out what to do with them. The Littoral Combat Ships, barely a decade in service, are already being replaced with a new ship. All in all, some things are not much different than they were before 1900. The Navy needs a dedicated think tank made up of career Naval personally to once again guide the aims of the United States Navy. In short, it is time to resurrect the General Board of the United States Navy.
The General Board helped develop many of the ideas that shaped Navy strategy and policy. Their idea that combat ranges would continue to increase led to the Introduction of the All or Nothing armor scheme. They helped lay the foundation for the Iowa class battleships by examining how the Japanese would react to America’s fleet tactics. Today the United States Navy could greatly benefit from that innovation. A naval think tank independent of politics that can focus on exactly what the Navy needs. Their only commitment would be to simply think about and debate about the evolution of naval combat. The General Board would examine how modern naval combat is progressing and how the United States Navy should fight in this environment. Finally, they would once again help to develop the ships to fight it.
I believe that the problems of the Navy are best resolved by the Navy with as little outside interference as possible. The General Board would go a long way in helping to get the United States Navy back on track. Focusing on the bigger picture of making the United States Navy the most effective fighting force to be found across the globe.
Of course, the same things that killed the original General Board are still in place. Its almost a certainty that they would prevent the resurrection of a new board. However, with the current state of everything, perhaps the Navy would be open to new options.
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