Like good NFL defensive coaches, naval commanders should draw up and field test a variety of defensive schemes, ordering in plays fitted to the times, the political and strategic circumstances, and the PLA opponent.
To close out the NFL analogies, it’s doubtful the DDG-1000 would excel as a linebacker. Linebackers generally array themselves just behind the line. They are the defense’s principal tacklers, but they oftentimes act as “quarterbacks of the defense” as well. As field generals, in other words. Zumwalt boasts sensor and communications capabilities adequate to perform a nautical linebacker’s command-and-control function, but that would mean making near-constant electronic emissions—transmissions that would betray the vessel’s position and, potentially, permit PLA units to bypass this hard point in the American defense. There’s little point in building stealth combatants only to deliberately expose them to enemy sensors. Better to leave the field generalship to others and reserve stealthy men-of-war for what they do best.
When girding for future Leyte Gulfs, let’s consult the military classics—and experiment with moving around Xs and Os on the chalkboard. As we do, remember: Carl von Clausewitz and Bill Belichick make an all-star staff.
James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College. The views voiced here are his alone.