submarine

Member Round-Up Part 7

Good evening CIMSECians and welcome back to another edition of the Member Round-Up. Our members have had a busy few weeks posting on a variety of security topics. We have shared a few of them here with you for some light reading before the holiday season.

Patrick Truffer returns this week with an article featured on the Swiss security policy blog, Offiziere. His piece on ‘traditional’ Russian institutions, such as the Orthodox Church, as well as Russian language, culture and identity, feature heavily in President Putin’s rhetoric. This is a must-read for observers and analysts who may not be well-versed in Russian culture. Without this understanding, according to Patrick, it may make Russian foreign policy appear irrational.

INS Arihant during its launch in 2009.
INS Arihant during its launch in 2009.

Bringing the subject back to the topic of submarines,  The National Interest’s managing editor, Zachary Keck, returns with two posts for this week’s round-up. The first post reports that India began the first-of-class sea trials for INS Arihant, India’s first ever indigenous ballistic missile nuclear submarine.

The second post reports that the Philippines wishes to continue along the same veins as other Asian nations and procure three of its own submarines. Whilst no official statement has been made regarding which submarine the Navy will procure, given the number of submarines proliferating in the region this new development will most likely be a prominent feature in any upcoming analysis of maritime security in the region.

BEFORE JUTLAND: The Naval War in Northern European Waters, August 1914-February 1915.  Source: USNI Press
BEFORE JUTLAND: The Naval War in Northern European Waters, August 1914-February 1915.
Source: USNI Press

James Goldrick also returns this week with two contributions. His analysis of the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, and the recent announcement by outgoing SECDEF Chuck Hagel to continue plans to purchase the remaining 20 ships, first featured on the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s The Strategist blog here. It can also be accessed on The National Interest’s websitebefore jutland. Also, for those who are interested in all things historical (and naval) before jutlandJames Goldrick’s latest book, Before Jutland, will be available circa May 2015 through USNI Press. It provides an historical analysis of one of the key periods in naval operations during the First World War.

Over at The Daily Beast, CIMSECian Dave Majumdar, reports that several Pentagon insiders are concerned that potential adversaries, such as Russia or China, have the capability to counter any competitive advantage that the US’ latest stealth fighters may have in their long-range missiles. The article can be accessed here.

As always we continue to look for works published by CIMSEC members. If you have published, or know of another member who has published recently, please email dmp@cimsec.org so that we can promote your work. Keep an eye out for the next Round-Up in the new year.

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Gabon’s Growing Navy

Kership-class OPV
2 Kership-class OPVs are on order for Gabon

2014 has been a significant year for African maritime forces. As the threat of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Gulf of Guinea endures, many African countries have been rapidly expanding their maritime forces. Of particular interest are the procurements made by those states which are not typically counted among Africa’s leading military powers. In June 2014, small but oil-rich Equatorial Guinea unveiled a jury-rigged frigate to lead its emerging naval force. But now Equatorial Guinea’s southern neighbour, Gabon, is also looking to expand its navy.

Gabon’s coastline is substantially longer than that of Equatorial Guinea, stretching out to 885 kilometres total as compared to the latter’s 296 kilometres. But the Gabonese have long had only eight small patrol vessels and a single fast attack craft to rely upon for coastal defence. While attending the Euronaval 2014 exhibition in October, however, Gabonese officials decided to acquire two new offshore patrol vessels from France, both of which boast impressive features that should greatly expand Gabon’s maritime capabilities.

This procurement was not made on a whim. In July 2013, Gabon became the most southerly African victim of piracy when an oil tanker was hijacked off the Gabonese coast. The 24-member crew was unharmed and the tanker – minus some of its cargo – was released in Nigerian waters five days later. This experience doubtless led Gabonese officials to consider the security of the country’s coast and in particular, Port Gentil. This is one of Gabon’s most important port, through which much of Gabon’s oil and lumber exports pass amounting to roughly $6.8 billion each year.

Port Gent
Port Gentil

With the emergence of Equatorial Guinea as a maritime power and Gabon’s force expansion, the security of the Gulf of Guinea’s southern end will be greatly improved. It is now the northern end of the Gulf which will require greater attention in regional efforts against piracy. In particular, the Togolese and Beninese coasts represent a gap in the defences. The Togolese Navy currently consists of two patrol boats, while Benin has turned to private military contractors to secure its main port of Cotonou. These small states lack the resources and personnel to support professional naval forces on the scale of neighbouring Nigeria or Ghana.

West African pirates have a demonstrated capacity to adapt to changing circumstances, relocating to where patrols are less frequent. In order to avoid Beninese and Togolese waters’ becoming a safe refuge for the region’s pirates, it may be necessary for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to promote joint patrols by the maritime forces of its member states. Although this certainly would not apply to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea – both are members of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) – such joint patrols could help to plug the gaps, bringing together Beninese and Nigerian vessels to patrol Benin’s coastal waters. This increased presence could serve to deter even the most determined pirates.

There are some hopeful signs that West Africa may be moving in this direction. In June 2013, an ambitious summit in Cameroon led to the adoption by the ECOWAS member states of two important documents: a Code of Conduct on Counter-Piracy Efforts, and a Memorandum of Understanding on Maritime Security. A month later, naval chiefs from thirteen West African countries gathered in the port city of Calabar, Nigeria, to further articulate a regional counter-piracy strategy and exchange best practices. This dialogue may be precisely what is needed to bring about defence sharing, or at least the intensification of joint patrols.

Paul Pryce is a Research Analyst at the NATO Council of Canada. With degrees in political science from universities in both Canada and Estonia, he has previously worked as a Research Fellow at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and an Associate Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs. His research interests are diverse and include maritime security, NATO affairs, and African regional integration.

This article originally appeared at the NATO Council of Canada and was cross-posted by permission.

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CIMSEC High School Scholarship Essay Contest

The Center for International Maritime Security is pleased to announce our first annual Maritime Security Scholarship Essay Contest. In an effort to further our mission of spreading awareness of security issues impacting the ocean commons, CIMSEC is issuing  a call for papers from secondary school students around the world. It’s time to put on your nautical caps and think, read, and write about maritime security. A broad range of paper topics are encouraged, but should exhibit an awareness and interest in maritime or naval affairs. Submissions will be judged on originality of thought, logic, and ability to demonstrate the importance of the chosen topic to maritime security.

Awards:

  • First Place: “Hipple Prize for Eloquence in Defense of the Seas” – $500 US
  • Second Place – $250 US
  • Honorable Mention – $150 US

Prize winners and other exceptional essays will be published on CIMSEC’s “Next War Blog.”

Eligibility: The contest is open to any Secondary/High School Student, internationally. Submissions should include proof of student status (copy of student ID or transcript) along with the entrant’s full name and address.

Deadline: Contest entries are due no later than 15 January 2015 and the winners will be announced in the early spring.

Submissions: Entries of no more than 1,500 words in length should be emailed in Microsoft Word or .pdf format to rayyagari@cimsec.org.  Submissions will only be accepted in English, but we will be happy to help with light editing for non-native English speaking entries.

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China’s Nine-Dashed Line Faces Renewed Assault

China’s ambiguous claim to the South China Sea, approximately demarcated by a series of hash marks known as the “nine-dashed line,” faced objections from an expanding number of parties over the past two weeks. While a challenge from the United States came from an unsurprising source, actions by Indonesia and Vietnam were unexpected in their tone and timing.

8-e48b8c470eOn December 5th, the U.S. State Department released its analysis of the compatibility of China’s nine-dashed line with international law. The report attempted to set aside the issue of sovereignty and explore “several possible interpretations of the dashed-line claim and the extent to which those interpretations are consistent with the international law of the sea.” The analysis found that as a demarcation of claims to land features within the line and their conferred maritime territory, the least expansive interpretation, the claim is consistent with international law but reiterated that ultimate sovereignty is subject to resolution with the other claimants.

As a national boundary, the report went on, the line “would not have a proper legal basis under the law of the sea,” due to its unilateral nature and its inconsistent distance from land features that could confer maritime territory. Alternately, although many commentators have indicated China bases its claims on “historic” rights pre-dating the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982, the report argued that the history China points to does not fit the narrow “category of historic claims recognized” in UNCLOS under which historic rights may be conferred. Lastly, the report noted that as China has filed no formal claim supporting its nine-dashed line, the ambiguity over the exact nature and location of the line itself undermines under international law China’s argument that it possesses maritime rights to the circumscribed waters, concluding:

“For these reasons, unless China clarifies that the dashed-line claim reflects only a claim to islands within that line and any maritime zones that are generated from those land features in accordance with the international law of the sea, as reflected in the LOS Convention, its dashed-line claim does not accord with the international law of the sea.”

Although such analysis reflects prior U.S. policy positions, less expected were the pointed signals from Indonesia, which has built a reputation as a mediator among ASEAN states in dealing with China and striven to downplay the overlap by the nine-dashed line of its own claimed exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea from Natuna Island. On Tuesday at the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, senior Indonesian presidential advisor Luhut Binsar Panjaitan emphasized that the country was “very firm” that its “sovereignty cannot be negotiated,” while stressing the importance of dialogue to peacefully manage matters. Further, in response to a question from an audience member, Panjaitan stated (56:00 mark in the video below) that the development of gas fields offshore Natuna in cooperation with Chevron would “give a signal to China, ‘you cannot play a game here because of the presence of the U.S.’” Meanwhile Indonesian Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti noted that after sinking Vietnamese vessels the Indonesian Navy said it had captured illegally fishing she was considering sinking 5 Thai and 22 Chinese vessels also caught.

As Prashanth Parameswaran notes at The Diplomat, Indonesia is playing a balancing act – seeking at the same time to protect its sovereign interests as it attempts to align new president Joko Widodo (Jokowi)’s “Maritime Axis”/“Maritime Fulcrum” initiative with Xi Jinping’s “Maritime Silk Road” and play a leading role in China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. To some observers, sinking the Thai and Chinese boats is now necessary to preserve Indonesia’s image of impartiality, while others believe such action may be redundant if China heeds the warning that such behavior will no longer be tolerated.

Vietnam too took surprise action over the nine-dashed line, in a move long-mooted but unexpected in its timing. Vietnam’s foreign ministry announced last week that it had filed papers with the Hague arbitral tribunal overseeing the case submitted by the Philippines, asking that its rights and interests be considered in the ruling. Vietnam supported the Philippines position arguing that China’s nine-dashed line is “without legal basis.” While a regional source in The South China Morning Post noted that the action was as much about protecting “Vietnamese interests vis-à-vis the Philippines as it is directed against China,” and Professor Carlyle Thayer described it as “a cheap way of getting into the back door without joining the Philippines’ case,” Thayer also told Bloomberg News that it “raises the stature of the case in the eyes of the arbitrational tribunal.”

China-Vietnam-RigIf the actions taken by the United States, Indonesia, and Vietnam were surprising, China’s reactions were not. On December 7th, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a white paper of its own on the Philippines’ arbitration case. The document states that China’s policy, as established in its 2006 statement on UNCLOS ratification, is to exclude maritime delimitation from compulsory arbitration. Additionally, the paper says that while the current arbitration is ostensibly about the compatibility of China’s nine-dashed line with international law, “the essence of the subject-matter” deals with a mater of maritime delimitation and territorial sovereignty. The paper goes on to say that until the matter of sovereignty of the land features in the South China Sea is conclusively settled it is impossible to determine the extent to which China’s claims exceed international law.

In effect, China is taking the position that only after it has conducted and conclude bilateral sovereignty negotiations will its nine-dashed line be open to critique. While the foreign ministry may be right that the Philippines is attempting to force the issue of territorial sovereignty, its argument that this prevents scrutiny of the nine-dashed line’s accordance with international law rings hollow.

At the end of the day, China has repeatedly stated, and its new policy paper affirms, that it will “neither accept nor participate in the arbitration” initiated by the Philippines. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei likewise remarked of Vietnam’s filing with the tribunal that “China will never accept such a claim.” So it is prudent to ask what benefit will come of the legal maneuvers. Some, such as Richard Javad Heydarian, a political-science professor at De La Salle University, point to the economic harm already incurred by the Philippines in opportunity costs and the danger of having created a worse domestic and international environment for settling the disputes. Yet given the lengthening list of states willing to stake a legal position on the matter and the moral weight of a potential court ruling, China can claim and attempt to enforce what it wants, but it will be increasingly clear that it is doing so in contravention of international law.

Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founder and president of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), a graduate of Georgetown University and the U.S. Naval War College, and a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council.

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Members’ Round-Up Part 6

Welcome back to another edition of the Member Round-Up. As always there is a wide variety of topics covered by CIMSEC members. There his, however, a distinct ‘air power’ flavour from our USAF members this week and I am sure that all of the featured articles will make for good reading leading into the weekend.

Dr Ioannis Chapsos recently joined CIMSEC and has a strong focus on researching maritime security issues. At The Conversation, he recently published an article concerning the United Kingdom’s new ‘Counter Terrorism and Security Bill.’ The danger, according to Chapsos, is that continuing to pay ransom money to pirates could lead to flow-on effects that the bill is trying to prevent. This should certainly be at the top of the weekly reading list for those interested in piracy and counter-terrorism issues.

Fellow CIMSECian, Chuck Hill, provides some brief thoughts from the recent US Naval Institute Defense Forum Washington 2014 seminar. His post, naturally, has a distinct focus on the Coast Guard elements of that session. You can also access Scott Cheney-Peters‘ points from the seminar here at CIMSEC.

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Preserving the knowledge edge: Surveillance cooperation and the US–Australia alliance in Asia

From down under, James Goldrick co-authors a report for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute titled ‘Preserving the knowledge edge.’ Along with co-authors Stephan Fruhling and Rory Medcalf, thereport discusses the current state of surveillance cooperation between the United States and Australia. It also goes on to discuss the ways in which the existing relationship may evolve to meet the changing security situation in the Asia-Pacific. You can access a copy of the report here.

In the Air and Space Power Journal (Africa & Francophonie), Maj David Blair, USAF, provides his thoughts on some of the organisational challenges facing military professionals. In his essay, Blair provides lessons from historical examples of how organisational failures led to strategic defeat on the battlefield. Case studies range from the fall of the Roman Empire, to the developing of the F-16. Even though he does not provide the ‘answer’, his essay will certainly provide a basis for tackling the problem.

Over at The National Interest, Dave Mujumdar continues the air power theme with his own ’roundup’ of the US Air Force’s five most lethal weapons of war. For those who are not well versed in the capabilities of the world’s largest air force, it provides an up-to-date analysis of these platforms and some of the issues concerning some of the ageing aircraft.

Zachary Keck, provides two articles this week concerning foreign military technology and the global market. Firstly, he reports that a senior Chinese official boasted that China’s J-31 would easily rival the F-35. If one were a betting man, it would be safe to say that that was exactly what the J-31 was intended for (see picture). In any case, the Chinese aircraft would certainly be of interest to those air forces who are unable to afford the F-35. Keck’s second article reports that the Mexican government may be looking at purchasing Iranian-made drones in order to stave off drug cartel operations. Links to the articles can be found here and here, respectively.

China's J-31 Stealth Fighter
China’s J-31 Stealth Fighter

In other news, the CIMSEC team wish to congratulate Major Jeremy Renken, USAF, for having his work recognised by the wider Air Force. Jeremy’s CIMSEC article, ‘Strategic Architectures’, was selected for inclusion in the Air War College’s Campaign Design and Execution Course. You can find a link to his article here.

As always we continue to look for works published by CIMSEC members. If you have published, or know of another member who has published recently, please email dmp@cimsec.org so that we can promote your work.

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Sea Control from Ashore

The following, written by guest author Niel Kaneshiro, is an abstract from a US Naval War College Directed Research Project of the same name submitted in response to our call for Amphibious Warfare articles. Please direct response articles to nextwar(at)cimsec.org.

The United States faces an increasingly complex security environment in the Indo-Pacific. In the event of a crisis, China’s growing Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) capabilities will allow it to challenge U.S. military access to the region, as well as raise the risks and costs to the U.S. should it intervene on behalf of a regional ally or partner.

By leveraging security treaties and access agreements, the United States can employ ground forces in cooperation with partners to secure maritime choke points and littoral areas, denying their use to an adversary during a crisis or hostilities. These land forces can also create protected areas from A2AD capabilities for combined and joint military operations, ensuring continued access into the region. Furthermore, ground forces can allow naval and air forces to concentrate on operations in areas outside the reach of land based weapon systems. Ground forces can help address the problem of sea control in the Western Pacific in the context of A2AD challenges in several ways. First, ground forces can provide persistent control of choke points and littoral areas using anti-ship missiles, helicopters, and drones. Second, ground forces can conduct maritime intercept operations by employing heliborne troops who can board and capture merchant shipping. Third, ground forces can create protected areas for friendly forces, keeping them clear of adversary air, missile, and surface ship threats.

Ground forces also provide reassurance to allies and partners – indicating U.S. commitment to the region and to its treaty obligations. “Boots on the ground” have significant symbolic and practical importance. For many countries in Asia, the most important military service is their army. Ground forces, specifically the U.S. Army and Marines, can develop important and enduring partnerships with those services, even assisting them with building their own military capability.

U.S. military planners and theorists have proposed strategies and operational concepts that take into account China’s A2AD capability, thus allowing U.S. forces to perform their missions despite an increasingly hostile environment. “Air Sea Battle” (ASB) is an operational concept that proposes to employ closely coordinated air and naval power to defeat A2AD threats. A primary tenet of ASB is the habitual coordination of U.S. Air Force and Navy assets to mount joint attacks on various A2AD systems, which include anti-ship ballistic missiles, over the horizon sensors, long-range bombers, and cruise missile equipped surface ships and submarines while defending U.S. naval forces and bases from attack. The actions inherent in the ASB concept would be one part of a larger strategy to address a crisis. [i]

An alternative to conducting ASB operations is “Offshore Control”, a proposed strategy wherein U.S. forces conduct a “distant blockade” against China, avoiding the A2AD problem by remaining out of the range of ballistic missiles and bombers. Offshore Control emphasizes sea control outside of what China refers to as the “first island chain” – the islands that consist of Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Borneo – with the objective of interdicting China’s maritime commerce. This concept would result in a more protracted conflict that would use largely militarily induced pressure on China’s economy to de-escalate a crisis, and would avoid destabilizing attacks on the Chinese mainland; such attacks could lead to escalation, a serious problem when dealing with a nuclear power.[ii]

Neither of the concepts involves significant use of ground forces. The roles for ground forces typically are limited to supporting activities, mainly the defense of ports and airfields from missile attack. Other U.S. military writings suggest joint forcible entry operations, which could consist of air or amphibious raids and assaults against A2AD capabilities or to seize key terrain.[iii] However, a forcible entry operation in the face of A2AD capabilities and the strength of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is likely a risky and costly proposition. U.S. forces operating in close proximity to the Asian mainland will have to face the same A2AD capabilities that they propose to defeat.

Land power defined is “the ability – by threat, force, or occupation – to gain, sustain, and exploit control over land, resources, and people.”[iv] By extension, land power means the ability to exploit land areas for other purposes. U.S. military thinkers largely conceive of the Pacific as primarily a U.S. Air Force and Navy theatre; however, there are key islands that make land power relevant to any military campaign in the region. The Second World War in the Pacific was fought for and around islands. Geographically important islands became bases for continuing naval operations and served as unsinkable aircraft carriers for long-range bombers.

The geography of the Western Pacific has not changed. Modern missiles, sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and helicopters allow ground forces to project combat power out to sea in a way that was not possible before. American ground combat forces – Army or Marine, have the potential to conduct sea control operations and contribute substantively to an offshore control strategy or an ASB type campaign. In other words, land power can be exploited to gain sea control.

Niel Kaneshiro is a former United States Navy and current United States Army analyst as well as a student of the US Naval War College.

[i] Air-Sea Battle Office, “Air-Sea Battle: Service Collaboration to Address Anti-Access & Area Denial Challenges”, May 2013: 4.

[ii] Hammes, T.X. “Offshore Control: A Proposed Strategy for an Unlikely Conflict”, Institute for National Strategic Studies . June 2012: 4-5.

[iii] U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, “Gaining and Maintaining Access: An Army-Marine Corps Concept”, March 2012: 6.

[iv] U.S. Department of the Army, “ADRP 3-0 – Unified Land Operations” 2012: Glossary-4

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With EF21, Marines Struggle to Remain Relevant

This article by Lloyd Freeman is in response to our call for articles on Amphibious Warfare. Also, an editor’s reminder, we DO accept response articles at nextwar(at)cimsec.org.

 

The Marines are no longer America’s 911 force…and it gets worse: If the Marine Corps continues on its current trajectory of developing unrealistic operational concepts and platforms, it risks becoming irrelevant in light of much more capable U.S. warfighting organizations and platforms. The Marine Corps’ decision to go “all in” on the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and its corresponding failure to embrace new, game-changing technologies and corresponding doctrine and tactics will result in a force that is ill-suited for next-generation warfare and will ultimately become subservient to other, much more capable U.S. military fighting forces.
The Marine Corps Goes It Alone
 

Over the past few years, the Marine Corps has started down a dangerous path of developing tactically and operationally unsound vision statements that are designed to protect their outlandish and expensive platforms. The Marine Corps recently rolled out their Expeditionary Force 21 (EF21) “vision,” which states that Marines will need to be able to conduct ship-to-shore operations from 65 nautical miles away—an incredible distance for any kind of surface assault. The analysis (or lack thereof….EF21 was developed independent of the U.S. Navy) behind EF21 is the belief that amphibious ships will be susceptible to coastal-defense cruise missiles (CDCMs). Rather than adhere to joint doctrine, for some inexplicable reason the Marine Corps has decided the way around enemy capability is not to neutralize but rather to swim right through it with future high-speed amphibious combat vehicles (ACVs). In light of U.S. technological dominance, this is puzzling. China has dug thousands of miles of tunnels and has constructed massive fuel-storage depots deep underground for a very obvious reason. Our potential adversaries know that if the U.S. military can see it, it can and will kill it. The Marine Corps refuses to accept that the U.S. Navy and the joint force will first set conditions for any possible future amphibious assault in accordance with Joint and Naval Doctrine, which currently allows for the first amphibious assault wave to be launched within 12 nautical miles (or closer)—not 65 nautical miles. Moreover, the Marine Corps does not consider the possible contributions of unmanned systems to future amphibious assaults. There is no need to place a single Marine into harm’s way if an autonomous system can swim onto or fly over the beach and provide the confirmation and subsequent destruction of enemy forces.

A thorough mechanical sweep of objective areas can be conducted with autonomous systems today in preparation for follow-on forces. It’s even possible that follow-on forces may not even be needed in an age of autonomous and unmanned systems. With such technological dominance at our finger tips, why is the Marine Corps still planning for a “Normandy”-type amphibious landing and creating concepts like EF21 that do not adhere to current doctrine and worse, do not attempt to maximize U.S. technological military dominance? The Marine Corps remains fixated on World War II tactics. This drives the procurement of outlandish and expensive platforms such as the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), or worse: platforms that are not even designed to support your operations and/or tactics….and herein lies the problem.
A 5th-Generation Fighter Mistake
Developing suspect doctrine is bad enough, but the Marine Corps’ procurement of platforms that are not designed to support its service-unique tactics and operating procedures only compounds the challenges it faces today. Although the short, take-off, and landing version of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is possibly the best fighter jet ever built, it is not a close-air support platform and was never intended to be. The F-35 is designed for high-end, air supremacy operations during the setting of battlefield conditions that occur long before landing forces ever arrive in theater. Rather than pursuing aviation platforms ideally suited for close-air support, the Marine Corps aviation community hitched its wagon to the JSF program and now stands to join the elite-strike aviation community. However, in the joint arena, it is the job of the Air Force and Naval Aviation to conduct air supremacy operations. Marine Corps Aviation should be focused on supporting ground troops; close-air support has always been the ‘bread and butter’ of Marine Aviation….until now. The JSF 5th generation fighter is designed to penetrate enemy air defenses rather than loiter over a battlefield in support of ground troops. It truly is a difficult to understand how the Joint Staff and Congress approved such an expensive platform for procurement by the Marine Corps.

As a result of procuring a 5th-generation strike fighter, Marine Corps aviation has logically pursued employment options that actually match this new aircraft’s impressive capabilities. Marine aviation is currently focusing on turning the general-purpose amphibious assault ship (LHA) and the Wasp-class multiple-purpose amphibious assault ship (LHD)LHA/LHD amphibious ships into JSF platforms—essentially “light” carriers—which would deploy with up to 16 JSF platforms at the expense of rotary wing and embarked ground forces. Such an employment concept would provide true “bang for the buck” compared to the expensive deployment of the JSFs from the nuclear carrier fleet. However, for the Marine Corps, there is great danger in this path.

The Joint Staff and the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) are continuously challenged with the problems of sustaining and maintaining the current nuclear carrier fleet. The Marine Corps concept of using LHA and LHDs as light carriers would be a very attractive capability for policymakers, essentially creating a new, national strategic strike asset in support of national tasking vice support to Navy and Marine Corps amphibious ready group deployments. The Marine Corps aviation community has led the Marine Corps down a path of short-term gain with probably lethal long-term effects for traditional Navy/Marine Corps expeditionary missions. These are exciting times for Marine Corps aviation—right up to the point where the OSD and the Joint Staff determine that the LHA and LHD fleet would be better utilized deploying with a squadron of F-35B aircraft in support of national tasking vice serving as the central asset of the Marine Expeditionary Units. Marine pilots will love their new relevance as LHDs/LHAs and F-35Bs become national, strategic assets at the expense of the lost relevance of the Marine Corps as an expeditionary service. The Marine Corps infantry community is aware of the danger of the F-35B and winces at how much Marine capital has been consumed over a fighter platform that will probably rarely ever support Marine ground forces; but they have been disunited and fragmented in their opposition to the now powerful, Marine Corps Aviation community.

A Force Out of Touch
Very soon, the only relevant capability in the Marine Corps could be the JSF while the rest of the force is relegated to conducting low-end humanitarian-assistance and disaster-relief missions. In fact, if you look closely at the most recent Marine Corps commercials on TV that is exactly how the Marine Corps is depicted, a force providing disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, not an elite force closing with the enemy. Instead, the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has taken on the higher-end, “911” mission sets that require capable, highly trained warriors and it has been extremely successful. SOCOM’s emergence as the new 911 force has been dramatic. It has led the way in leveraging technology with game-changing tactics to maximize technological dominance while employing a very small footprint. While the venerable USMC drill instructor is yelling at his candidates, the Navy SEAL instructor is quietly instructing his candidates how to put two rounds into the center of a target over and over again with devastating consistency. While young Marine lieutenants are learning how to operate and be comfortable in the fog of war, SOCOM operators have figured out how to lift it by using intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) “orbits” from drones and other platforms to provide clear, battlefield situational awareness through all phases of an operation. While the Marine Corps maintains a training curriculum that lauds the automatic response to orders, SOCOM seeks that rare breed of individual who is smart, in superior condition, and can think his way out of any problem or challenge. In other words, SOCOM wants the guys who don’t need orders.

In a world of game-changing technology, the Marine Corps has decided to keep playing the old, one-dimensional war game of running straight at your enemy yelling and hollering. Conversely, SOCOM has perfected the tactical art of surprise-utilizing stealth where the enemy never hears a sound or sees what hit him. SOCOM’s record, which includes killing the captors of Captain Richard Phillips as well as Osama Bin Laden, is already legendary. It has truly established itself as America’s new 911 force while the United States Marine Corps has been relegated to an outdated force.

The Need for New Doctrine
 

To be relevant today, the Marine Corps must revise its doctrine. It must outline how it plans to reestablish itself as a tier-one warfighting capability in a new operating environment in which amphibious operations will probably not require Marines to hit the beach in the same way they did over 60 years ago. As discussed earlier, Marine Corps doctrine is noticeably behind the times in leveraging unmanned systems and examining how this game-changing capability can and will be used in any future military campaign. Amphibious and Joint forcible entry doctrine will still be required. However, how we will do amphibious operations in the future probably differs dramatically from how the Marine Corps envisions it in EF-21.

While the Marine Corps continues to pursue costly, high-speed systems (such as JSF and high speed landing craft), it has yet to outline how an amphibious operation could be conducted with unmanned systems. The use of unmanned surface and aerial systems during the first waves of an amphibious assault would most likely dramatically change unit organization and tactics—and save lives. Furthermore, whether Marines want it or not, policymakers and the Joint Staff will probably force unmanned systems into the equation to reduce operational risk. Marines do not need to “hit the beach.” By letting drones conduct the first waves, follow-on Marines can then occupy ‘cleared’ ground and plan for follow-on missions. However, to make such an argument would call into question the wisdom and relevance of current Marine Corps programs such as JSF, which probably explains the silence among Marine Corps leaders when it comes to fostering real change.

Most Marine leaders would acknowledge that we will not fight a future war the same way we fought during World War II or the Korean War, yet they never seem to propose serious efforts to review current doctrine, organization, and what might be needed in light of emerging technologies and capabilities. Publications like EF-21 do not offer new doctrine but instead are repackaging of old strategies that propose the same old requirement for robust platforms that can bring Marines ashore from great distances offshore. Behind the glossy cover page is the same old World War II doctrine of “hitting the beach.”
Start Thinking Joint
 

The Marine Corps is notorious for ignoring the tremendous assets that are available in the Joint community. Hampering possible change is the Marine Corps’ fixation on the Marine-Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF), a holistic concept that aims to ensure it has an independent ability to logistically sustain a robust ground force with a capable aviation component in an expeditionary environment. The Marine Corps takes great pride in its ability to maintain this organic capability, but this has resulted in a reluctance to think outside Marine-Corps circles. Conversely, SOCOM is probably the most joint organization in the Department of Defense today and their results speak for themselves. SOCOM’s impressive performance reflects the very best capability of joint platforms that comprise its operating forces. Unfortunately, the Marine Corps continues to attempt “going it alone,” which is unfortunate: There are incredible intelligence/surveillance and support platforms that could enable the Marine Corps to conduct higher-end missions along the lines of SOCOM. Joint platforms such as predator drones, the P-3/P-8 Advanced Airborne Sensor, AC-130, or many of the other joint platforms would be much more conducive to supporting Marines on the ground. However, instead of investing in practical platforms ideally suited to supporting ground troops, the Marine Corps inexplicably decided to buy the multi-billion dollar JSF, a platform ill-suited to supporting ground troops.

The Marine Corps probably cannot reverse its commitment to the JSF. However, it can stop constraining itself to its own organic assets and reach out to the joint community to enhance its ground combat capability. The Marine Corps must also begin focusing resources on future platforms that can better support lethal, highly mobile ground forces that can leverage data-centric support platforms—or better yet, start pushing itself to begin operating more jointly during training and deployments as SOCOM presently does. However, to gain access and allocation of high-demand, joint assets, the Joint Staff and senior policymakers will probably want to know how the Marine Corps can contribute in today’s security environment. Focusing on lower-end security missions such as non-combatant evacuation operations and humanitarian assistance are not going to get anyone’s attention.
Change or Become Irrelevant
SOCOM is increasingly creeping into the missions that have historically been the bread and butter of the Marine Corps during peacetime operations. The Marine Corps must assess and revise its current organization from a top-heavy, rigid command structure designed to fight large land campaigns toward a smaller, better trained, highly skilled organization designed to conduct surgical strikes organized around robust ISR and advanced aerial strike assets if it hopes to get in on some of SOCOM’s action. Small high intensity missions will most likely dominate the security environment for decades to come. The Marine Corps could complement the capability of SOCOM by providing a more robust, combat-oriented version of SOCOM. This would of course require much greater cooperation with SOCOM and could affect Marine Corps manpower and training if SOCOM standards are to be met partially or in full. The Marine Corps needs to swallow the bitter pill and recognize that its current World War II organizational structure is outdated, impractical, and increasingly irrelevant on today’s battlefield.

The day of reckoning will come. Eventually, someone will again ask what makes the Marine Corps unique, and the F-35B JSF better not be the answer. The Air Force and Navy will have many more JSF platforms deployable from many more locations. By also failing to adapt ground forces to new tactics and doctrine and by failing to utilize new platforms that can virtually lift the “fog of war,” the Marine Corps is stuck in a time warp. New aspirational concepts such as EF21 that are not grounded in sound analysis and run counter to doctrine make the Marine Corps look even more disconnected and out of touch with modern tactics and technological capabilities. If the Marine Corps does not change and adapt to new technologies and tactics and focus on a clear vision of how it is to operate in the rapidly changing security environment, the future will consist of simply looking good in uniform.

 

Lloyd Freeman is a retired Marine infantry officer.

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