Growing up in New York, Eric Wertheim was the definition of a naval geek. He devoured everything he could about warships and aircraft. As a teen in the 1980s, he saw an ad in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine for an anti-submarine warfare conference in the nation’s capital.
“I convinced my family to take a vacation to Washington,” Wertheim said. “I packed my suit and went to the conference.”
USNI’s graybeards took the young enthusiast under their wing. Decades later, Wertheim is a preeminent voice on naval issues as a defense consultant, a Proceedings columnist and the author of the definitive “Combat Fleets of the World.”
What issue on the surface or below the sea do you think is of utmost concern to the U.S. Navy today?
I think ensuring our technological advantage undersea is going to be very, very important. We must maintain that capability, which will include keeping our submarine capability as strong as possible and ensuring that our anti-submarine warfare capability is not neglected and has the ability to meet the threats of today and tomorrow.
Which advancement in the surface community most intrigues you?
I think directed energy is really big. It’s very important because when we’re fighting where the enemy has a home-court advantage and has the ability to lob a lot of stuff at us, we have to be able to engage and remain in the fight. Directed energy allows us to have the ability to keep fighting in the face of what would have otherwise been overwhelming numbers of withering attacks.
The Navy has never been closer to fielding directed-energy weapons.
How would directed energy, or lasers, help the fleet in a future fight against an adversary like China?
You could potentially see a lot of missiles coming at you. Directed energy would allow us to engage those weapons and engage in the fight without emptying our magazines.
What are you tracking up in the sky?
Getting the F-35 (Joint Strike Fighter) right is going to be very important. And learning to adapt to unmanned systems, learning to exploit them and use them to our advantage…unmanned systems are going to play a very, very important role.
What else in the air domain?
Cooperative engagement. Being able to tie all our systems together, so that you can use the best platforms and the best systems to engage what you need to, you can tie sensors together and tie weapons together and you have a fully networked capability.
The Navy isn’t necessarily synonymous with space, but space obviously factors into everything a modern military does, given the dependence on satellites today. What do you see as the sea service’s priorities way up there?
Our dependence on what could potentially be vulnerable assets. We need to make sure our assets are protected and make sure that we can continue to operate in space and deny our adversaries.
They could also be ground stations, anything in that process of operating with space that deals with information. It’s such an interconnected system. There’s so much of it that needs to be protected. There’s such a highway of information that’s able to be exploited. It’s a very difficult job.
Thanks for taking time to speak with us. Now for the important stuff: What’s your all-time favorite Navy ship?
The Ticonderoga-class cruisers. They had a very good mix of weapons, a good magazine size, they had room for growth and they are still arguably the most powerful warship afloat, in terms of the number of missiles they carry and the capabilities.
For me, if you’re going to go into battle with one surface ship, I think it’s the Ticonderoga.