Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson Discuss China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations

By Dmitry Filipoff

On March 15th, the Naval Institute Press will publish China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations, a volume edited by professors Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson from the Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute. CIMSEC recently reached out to Erickson and Martinson about their latest work.

Q: What was the genesis of your book?

Erickson: In the last decade or so, China has dramatically expanded its control and influence over strategically important parts of maritime East Asia. It has done so despite opposition from regional states, including the United States, and without firing a shot. Others have examined this topic, but we found that much of the public analysis and discussion was not grounded in solid mastery of the available Chinese sources—even though China tends to be much more transparent in Chinese. We also recognized a general lack of understanding about the two organizations on the front lines of Beijing’s seaward expansion: the China Coast Guard (CCG) and the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). This volume grew out of a conference we held in Newport in May 2017 to address some of these issues. It contains contributions from world-leading subject matter experts, with a wide range of commercial, technical, government, and scholarly experience and expertise. We’re honored to receive endorsements from top leaders in sea power, strategy, and policy: former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead, former Secretary of the Navy J. William Middendorf, Harvard Professor Stephen Rosen, former Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Fleet Commander-in-Chief Vice Admiral Yoji Koda, Dr. James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, and former Pentagon Director of Net Assessment Andrew Marshall.

Q: The title of your book is China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations. How does the term “gray zone” apply here?

Martinson: We usually prefer to use Chinese concepts when talking about Chinese behavior, and Chinese strategist do not generally use the term “gray zone.” But we think that the concept nicely captures the essence of the Chinese approach. We were inspired by the important work done by RAND analyst Michael Mazarr, who contributed a chapter to the volume. In his view, gray zone strategies have three primary characteristics. They seek to alter the status quo. They do so gradually. And they employ “unconventional” elements of state power. Today, a large proportion of Chinese-claimed maritime space is controlled or contested by other countries. This is the status quo that Beijing seeks to alter. Its campaign to assert control over these areas has progressed over a number of years. Clearly, then, Chinese leaders are in no rush to achieve their objectives. And while China’s Navy plays a very important role in this strategy, it is not the chief protagonist. 

Q: Who, then, are the chief actors?

Martinson: The CCG and the PAFMM perform the vast majority of Chinese maritime gray zone operations. Chinese strategists and spokespeople frame their actions as righteous efforts to protect China’s “maritime rights and interests.” The CCG uses law enforcement as a pretext for activities to assert Beijing’s prerogatives in disputed maritime space. PAFMM personnel are often disguised as civilian mariners, especially fishermen. Most do fish, at least some of the time. But they can be activated to conduct rights protection operations. And a new elite subcomponent is paid handsomely to engage in sovereignty promotion missions fulltime without fishing at all. Meanwhile, the PLA Navy also plays a role in disputed waters, serving what Chinese strategists call a “backstop” function. It discourages foreign countries from pushing back too forcefully and stands ready over the horizon to come to the aid of China’s gray zone forces should the situation escalate.

Q: Most readers will have heard about the China Coast Guard, but fewer may be familiar with the PAFMM. How is the PAFMM organized?

Erickson: The PAFMM is a state-organized, developed, and controlled force operating under a direct military chain of command. This component of China’s armed forces is locally supported, but answers to China’s centralized military bureaucracy, headed by Commander-in-Chief Xi Jinping himself. While most retain day jobs, militiamen are organized into military units and receive military training, sometimes from China’s Navy. In recent years, there has been a push to professionalize the PAFMM. The Sansha City Maritime Militia, headquartered on Woody Island in the Paracels, is the model for a professional militia force. It is outfitted with seven dozen large new ships that resemble fishing trawlers but are actually purpose-built for gray zone operations. Lacking fishing responsibilities, personnel train for manifold peacetime and wartime contingencies, including with light arms, and deploy regularly to disputed South China Sea areas, even during fishing moratoriums.

Three types of maritime militia vessels depicted in the Office of Naval Intelligence’s China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), Coast Guard, and Government Maritime Forces 2018 Recognition and Identification Guide. (Office of Naval Intelligence)

There are no solid numbers publicly available on the size of China’s maritime militia, but it is clearly the world’s largest. In fact, it is virtually the only one charged with involvement in sovereignty disputes: only Vietnam, one of the very last countries politically and bureaucratically similar to China, is known to have a similar force with a similar mission. China’s maritime militia draws on the world’s largest fishing fleet, incorporating through formal registration a portion of its thousands of fishing vessels, and the thousands of people who work aboard them as well as in other marine industries. The PAFMM thus recruits from the world’s largest fishing industry. According to China’s 2016 Fisheries Yearbook, China’s fishing industry employs 20,169,600 workers, mostly in traditional fishing practices, industry processing, and coastal aquaculture. Those who actually fish “on the water” number 1,753,618. They operate 187,200 “marine fishing vessels.” An unknown portion of these are militia boats. To give a sense of the size and distribution of PAFMM forces, our volume includes figures showing the location of leading militia units in two major maritime provinces: Hainan and Zhejiang.

Q: How is the CCG organized for gray zone operations?

Martinson: When we held the conference in 2017, the CCG was in the midst of a major organizational reform. It was only set up in 2013, the result of a decision to combine four different maritime law enforcement agencies. Before 2013, most rights protection operations were conducted by two civilian agencies: China Marine Surveillance and Fisheries Law Enforcement. They did not cooperate well with each other. Moreover, neither had any real policing powers. After the CCG was created, it became clear that Beijing intended to transform it into a military organization. In early 2018, Beijing announced a decision to transfer the CCG from the State Oceanic Administration to the People’s Armed Police. At about the same time, the People’s Armed Police was placed under the control of the Central Military Commission. So, like the PAFMM, it is now a component of China’s armed forces. Moreover, CCG officers now have the authority to detain and charge foreign mariners for criminal offenses simply for being present in disputed areas of the East China Sea and South China Sea (although they have yet to use this authority in practice).

Q: How is the CCG equipped to assert China’s maritime claims?

Martinson: When Beijing’s gray zone campaign began in earnest in 2006, China’s maritime law enforcement forces were fairly weak. They owned few oceangoing cutters, and many of those that they did own were elderly vessels handed down from the PLA Navy or the country’s oceanographic research fleet. They were not purpose-built for “rights protection” missions. In recent years, however, Beijing has invested heavily in new platforms for the CCG. Today, China has by far the world’s largest coast guard, operating more maritime law enforcement vessels than the coast guards of all its regional neighbors combined. As the chapter by Joshua Hickey, Andrew Erickson, and Henry Holst points out, the CCG owns more than 220 ships over 500 tons, far surpassing Japan (with around 80 coast guard hulls over 500 tons), the United States (with around 50), and South Korea (with around 45). At over 10,000 tons full load, the CCG’s two Zhaotou-class patrol ships are the world’s largest coast guard vessels. The authors project that in 2020 China’s coast guard could have 260 ships capable of operating offshore (i.e., larger than 500 tons). Drawing from lessons learned while operating in disputed areas in the East and South China Seas, recent classes of Chinese coast guard vessels have seen major qualitative improvements. They are larger, faster, more maneuverable, and have enhanced firepower. Many CCG vessels are now armed with 30 mm and 76 mm cannons.

Q: It appears that these gray zone forces and operations are heavily focused on sovereignty disputes such as in the East and South China Seas. Are they also pursuing other goals and lines of effort?

Erickson: That is correct. The vast majority of maritime gray zone activities involve efforts to assert Chinese control and influence over disputed maritime space in what Chinese strategists term the “Near Seas.” When conducting rights protection operations, these forces help Beijing enforce its policies regarding which kinds of activities can and cannot take place in Chinese-claimed areas. The CCG and PAFMM intimidate and harass foreign civilians attempting to use the ocean for economic purposes, such as fishing and oil/gas development. Since at least 2011, for instance, China’s coast guard and militia forces have been charged with preventing Vietnam from developing offshore hydrocarbon reserves in its own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), part of which overlaps with China’s sweeping nine-dash line claim. China’s gray zone forces also protect Chinese civilians operating “legally” in Chinese-claimed maritime space. The 2014 defense of Chinese drilling rig HYSY-981, discussed in detail in our volume, is a classic case of this type of gray zone operation. By controlling maritime space, China’s gray zone forces can also determine who can and cannot access disputed features. Since 2012, for instance, Chinese coast guard and militia forces have upheld Chinese control over Scarborough Reef. Today, Filipino fishermen can only operate there with China’s permission.

Q: What are some of the tactics employed by China’s gray zone forces?

Erickson: Most CCG cutters are unarmed, and PAFMM vessels are minimally armed at most. They assert Chinese prerogatives through employment of a range of nonlethal tactics. In many cases, Chinese gray zone ships are themselves the weapon: they bump, ram, and physically obstruct the moments of other vessels. They also employ powerful water cannons to damage sensitive equipment aboard foreign ships and flood their power plants. Foreign states are often helpless to respond because China has the region’s most powerful navy, which gives it escalation dominance.

Q: How have regional states reacted to Chinese maritime gray zone operations? Have some had more effective responses than others?

Martinson: Regional states have not presented China with a united front. They have each handled Chinese encroachments differently. China’s strongest neighboring sea power, Japan has taken the most vigorous actions. As Adam Liff outlines in his chapter, it has bolstered its naval and coast guard forces along its southern islands. It has also taken bold steps to publicize China’s gray zone actions. Vietnam has been a model of pushback against Beijing’s maritime expansion, as Bernard Moreland recounts in his chapter. But even its resistance has limits. In July 2017, Beijing likely used gray zone forces to compel Hanoi to cancel plans to develop oil and gas in its own EEZ, in cooperation with a Spanish company. Other states have taken a much more conciliatory approach to China’s incursions in the South China Sea. The Philippines, for example, is apparently acquiescing to Beijing’s desire to jointly develop disputed parts of the South China Sea—areas that a 2016 arbitration ruling clearly place under Philippine jurisdiction. Meanwhile, China continues to push Manila in other ways. Philippine supply shipments to Second Thomas Shoal are still subject to harassment. China has recently concentrated a fleet of gray zone forces just off the coast of Philippine-occupied Thitu Island, in an apparent effort to pressure Manila to discontinue long-planned repairs and updates to its facilities there.

Chinese fishing vessels massed off Philippine-occupied Thitu Island in January 2019. (CSIS/AMTI, DigitalGlobe)

At the same time, China itself continues to develop reclaimed land at Mischief Reef, a mostly submerged feature which because of its location clearly belongs to the Philippines. For its part, Malaysia has not publicly opposed Chinese incursions in its jurisdictional waters. But it is apparently proceeding with plans to develop seabed resources near the Chinese-claimed Luconia Shoals. Chinese coast guard vessels patrol the area, but have not forced a cessation of exploratory drilling operations—including those conducted by the Japanese-owned drilling rig Hakuryu 5 in February 2018. This story will be worth following, as Malaysia makes decisions about next steps. In 2016, Indonesia took robust actions to crack down on Chinese fishing activities near the southern part of the nine-dash line, northeast of its Natuna Islands. Things have been fairly quiet in the years since, perhaps because CCG vessels are escorting the fishing fleet to the area.

Q: It seems like China’s gray zone strategy is more often directed at other countries. Why is this topic important for U.S. national security?

Erickson: The U.S. Navy has also been targeted by China’s gray zone forces. U.S. Navy special mission ships such as the USNS Bowditch, USNS Impeccable, USNS Effective, USNS Victorious, and USNS Howard O. Lorenzen have been shadowed and harassed, victims of China’s erratically-enforced opposition to foreign naval activities within its claimed EEZ. To be sure, China’s gray zone campaign is largely targeted at other territorial claimants, but two of these countries—Japan and the Philippines—are U.S. allies. Washington’s robust alliance with Tokyo, in particular, is critical to American presence and peace preservation in a vital but vulnerable region. Chinese bullying behavior threatens to undermine these alliances and could trigger direct American military intervention if China’s gray zone operations were to escalate into armed attack. Moreover, as Jonathan Odom points out in his chapter, China’s activities violate important international conventions and norms. This means they are weakening key pillars of the international maritime order, and with it the global system on which peace and prosperity depend. In many cases China’s gray zone forces are used to assert maritime claims that have no basis in international law.

Q: And how can the U.S. Navy, as a more high-end force, better handle these sorts of Chinese paramilitary forces without risking escalation?

Martinson: If the United States wants to be effectual, it must do more to expose China’s gray zone activities, and it must accept a degree of risk in opposing them more strongly. China’s gray zone activities cannot be easily deterred, because each individual act is calculated to fall below American red lines. If Washington wants to get serious about countering China’s gray zone expansion, it must do more than conduct “presence” and “freedom of navigation” operations—which appear to sit at the heart of the current approach. The former cannot deter Beijing from taking tactical actions in the gray zone. The latter does little to defend the interests of allies and partners. In our concluding chapter, we suggest ways that the U.S. Navy can do more to help them protect their legitimate interests and defend the legal norms and conventions that China’s behavior threatens to erode. In short, the United States should be out there with them, operating on the front lines of China’s seaward expansion. To that end, it must develop a range of nonlethal tactics that it can use to achieve local effects without resorting to use of force.

Dr. Andrew S. Erickson is a Professor of Strategy in the China Maritime Studies Institute and the recipient of the inaugural Civilian Faculty Research Excellence Award at the Naval War College. He is an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2013, while deployed in the Pacific as a Regional Security Education Program scholar aboard USS Nimitz, he delivered twenty-five hours of presentations. Erickson is the author of Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development (Jamestown Foundation/Brookings Institution Press, 2013). He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University. Erickson blogs at www.andrewerickson.com.

Ryan D. Martinson is a researcher in the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College. He holds a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a bachelor’s of science from Union College. Martinson has also studied at Fudan University, the Beijing Language and Culture University, and the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Navy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: A China Coast Guard ship uses a water cannon to harass a Vietnamese law enforcement vessel near the disputed Paracel Islands on May 27, 2014. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun)

Distributed Maritime Operations Week Concludes on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

Last week CIMSEC published articles on the U.S. Navy’s nascent Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) concept. Authors looked at institutional challenges, capability gaps, and other facets that could inform the development of the DMO concept. We thank the below authors for their contributions.

Look Beyond the Fleet: Finding the Capability for Distributed Maritime Operations” by Walker D. Mills

“The 2016 SFS labels the ‘right mix of resources to persist in a fight’ as one of the three tenets of Distributed Lethality. At a minimum that mix must include Marine and Army surface fires, fast attack craft, Air Force anti-surface warfare, and whatever else is needed to distribute firepower and sustain command of the seas.”

Operationalizing Distributed Maritime Operations” by Kevin Eyer and Steve McJessy

“In the course of operationalizing a viable DMO system and concept, a voyage of discovery will be necessary, and in this, both blind alleys and new approaches will be discovered. What is essential is a clear understanding of what DMO might look like so that a path to a solution can then begin to be envisioned.”

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Nextwar@cimsec.org.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 19, 2019) The guided-missile destroyer USS Preble (DDG 88) changes course after steaming beside the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) during flight operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Bryan Niegel)

Operationalizing Distributed Maritime Operations

Distributed Maritime Operations Topic Week

By Kevin Eyer and Steve McJessy

Origins and Implications

While the concept of Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) may represent the major, new thrust in the Navy’s warfighting thought, it does not arrive out of a vacuum. In order to fully understand both the concept and implications of DMO, it is essential to first understand the seminal documents and thoughts out of which it grew.

The kernel ideas as to what DMO might one day become has existed in Navy circles for some time, and these have grown organically along with certain elemental technological steps. The first of these steps began with the advent of a significant Soviet threat arising with the fielding of a major anti-ship cruise missiles capability in the late 1950s. In response, the Navy undertook two significant programs; a shift in defensive primacy from guns to missiles, and; the development of Tactical Data Links (TDL). Missiles provided the necessary speed and reach, and “TADILs” were designed to share each connected unit’s radar picture among all TADIL capable units in the local force. For the first time forces were knit together by more than flashing light, signal flag, and radio communications.

The second major event was the development of the Aegis Combat System (ACS), which began in the mid-1960s and came to fruition in the late 1970s. It is generally understood that with the advent of the ACS, ships achieved a near full integration of the disparate, elemental combat systems in those ships. Everything in an Aegis ship’s combat systems was suddenly able to work together, synergistically.

The last step necessary in moving from non-integration at any level to full integration of a force occurred with the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), which came out of “the black” in the early 1990s. In a nutshell, CEC operates in a fundamentally different manner than do classic data links. Unlike TDLs, rather than sharing only highly processed symbology in a time-late and low granularity manner, CEC shares raw sensor data directly off a sensor’s buffers, unprocessed, and with such speed and volume that it appears to each every participating unit as if any netted sensor is an actual element of every other unit’s own Combat Management System (CMS). With CEC, an identical, real time, fire-control quality picture of the surrounding battlespace is resolved in every connected unit. Before CEC, an Aegis ship could only engage a threat once that threat was detected by its own radar. With CEC however, if another ship or aircraft detects a threat, any ship in the CEC network can potentially engage that threat because it appears to that ship’s CMS that, “their radar is my radar.” At last not only were Aegis units in a local force internally integrated into a coherent whole, but the entire force was capable of behaving as a single, fully integrated CMS.

But the potential of CEC was much bigger. (Then) Rear Admiral Rodney P. Rempt, Director of Theater Air and Missile Defense on the Navy Staff, saw a more sophisticated future still. A future in which the Navy’s tactical grid would one day be understood as, simply put, an agnostic network of weapons and sensors, controllable by any number of nodes, and without regard to where those weapons or sensors or controlling nodes might be deployed or even in which unit they existed. In the future, if an inbound threat were to be detected, this agnostic, dispersed grid would determine which sensor(s) would be most appropriate, and then, when necessary, the system would pair the most capable and best located weapon with that sensor(s) in order to efficiently engage the threat.

Imagine a hypersonic threat launched from a threat nation. In this agnostic grid, the launch is detected by multiple, mutually reinforcing methods, including satellites of various types and capabilities, as well as by other systems, including for example, intelligence networks. Immediately, other sensors are cued and brought to bear. The mode of a theater AN/TPY2 radar is automatically changed to maximize its tracking capability. As more sensors are automatically brought to bear, a precise track, including origin and aim-point is generated. At the same time, decisions are made at the strategic and operational levels; decisions dramatically aided by the application of artificial intelligence: Is the threat real? What asset(s) is under threat? What hard and soft-kill techniques and systems are best employed? What systems are both in position and possess the capability and capacity necessary for engagement? What is the optimal engagement timeline? What additional sensors should be brought to bear, and when? Jamming? Chaff?  Decoys? From whom and when?  Who shoots? When do they shoot? What ordnance do they shoot?  How many rounds?  Orders are automatically issued to concerned units, yet the entire network, including other decision nodes remain fully cognizant of the larger picture. The system has built in redundancies so that if one node is destroyed, another automatically and seamlessly steps in. And, all of these decisions can be automated, if desired, in order to maximize speed and the optimal response, provided that commanders allow for that automation. Ultimately, only the necessary and best systems are matched to the threat, at only the right time, maximizing effect and minimizing the waste of limited resources. The most effective and efficient method of engagement becomes routine.

So, in fact, if one understands this networked grid of sensors, weapons and controlling nodes, whether at the tactical, operational, strategic or joint levels, then one begins to grasp both the operationalized reality of DMO, and many of the steps necessary in making DMO a reality.

Early, proto-progress has already been made in this direction. For example, Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA), enabled by CEC, allows ships to engage air threats located far over the shooter’s radar horizon. CEC also enables the “Engage-on-Remote capability which allows one unit to launch defensive missiles against a threat prior to detection of the threat with that ships own sensors. Also, in-flight retargeting allows dispersed units to contribute to an in-progress kill chain ensuring that the data remains as current as is possible. Still, there has been less incentive, post-Cold War, than might have otherwise been expected in a Naval Surface Force determined to lead in this arena. As the primary mission of the Navy shifted away from sea control and into power projection, directed against less sophisticated challengers, the need to operationalize this vision was far less dire. Moreover, in a resource constrained environment, leaps forward were forestalled. For some time, other needs and priorities took precedent.

The Motivation to Leap Forward

In January 2016, Admiral John M. Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) released a document entitled, A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority. This paper discussed the necessity of a return to a larger strategy of Sea Control, following a lengthy, post-Cold War, period in which no blue-water challenger presented, and during which “Power Projection” was the Navy’s primary strategic approach. Moreover, this document set the table for the Navy’s return to “Great Power Competition,” sighting China and Russia as primary threats to U.S. and global interests. Perhaps most importantly, while DMO per se, was not mentioned, the CNO created a context in which DMO became the only viable solution: “We will not be able to ‘buy’ our way out of the challenges that we face. The budget environment will force tough choices but must also inspire new thinking.” The implications of this phrase were, and are, of enormous significance and these are only now coming more fully into the light.

In January, 2017, Vice Admiral Thomas S. Rowden, Commander, Naval Surface Forces, responded to the challenge posed by the CNO’s, A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority with his Surface Force Strategy, Return to Sea Control. This document discussed an approach which it called “Distributed Lethality.” Distributed Lethality or “DL” may perhaps be best understood in the context of the catchphrase: “If it floats, it fights.” DL was intended as an operational and organizational principle, which will ultimately ensure that U.S. sea control will be reasserted and then sustained, despite a persistent decline in overall fleet size. DL was aimed to reinforce initiatives intended to drive collaboration and integration across warfighting domains; synergies, out of which the sum would exceed the parts. More specifically, and from a programmatic point of view, DL required an increase in the offensive and defensive capability and capacity of surface forces, now and in the future.

The 2017 Surface Force Strategy describes Distributed Lethality as being composed of three tenants:

  • “Increase the lethality of all warships”: There is a clear tension between the undiminished, if not growing, mission sets assigned to surface ships, especially in light of the geographic demands associated with a return to Sea Control, and the total number of ships available. Moreover, in light of the collisions experienced in the summer of 2017, a lack of sufficient time and funding for maintenance was observed. Correction of this issue will inevitably result in fewer ships available at any given time as maintenance shortfalls are corrected.

Back to the tag-line, “if it floats, it fights,” this should be considered to represent the realized necessity that cruisers, destroyers, and frigates cannot be endlessly tied to High Value Units (HVU) whether those are amphibious ships or permanently constituted Carrier Strike Groups (CSG). Those ships must also have an ability to defend themselves, of course, but also a capability to strike hard in order to contribute to the larger mission of sea control. This suggests a compelling need to “upgun” these platforms, making them dramatically more capable both defensively and offensively.

  • “Distribute offensive capability geographically”: This speaks to a wider dispersion of ships, in order to hold an enemy at risk from multiple attack axes, and force that enemy to defend an increased number of vulnerabilities, created by that dispersion. This point suggests what will become clear later, and that is the disaggregation of forces, which is part and parcel of DMO. So, in a genuine DMO environment, amphibious ships and aircraft carriers may be required to operate independently for periods of time.

In 2018, the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (CSG), demonstrated a new concept called, “Dynamic Force Employment (DFE).” The strike group was the first to venture north of the Arctic Circle in nearly three decades, spending significant time patrolling the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (GIUK) Gap. Fundamentally, DFE speaks to deploying Navy forces in a much more diverse set of environments than those which have become common since the close of the Cold War. In the case of East Coast CSGs, standard deployments have featured passage through the Mediterranean to launch air strikes on Middle East targets from either U.S. 6th Fleet or U.S. 5th Fleet waters. According to the CNO, “…we don’t have to go too far back to sort of recapture what it means to be moving around the world as a strike group or an individual deployer and really kind of making everybody guess, hey where’s this team going to show up next? What are they going to bring to us next?”  In short, there are tremendous incentives to spread the available force, for a variety of reasons, and this will require making each unit more capable of operating independently.

  • “Give ships the right mix of resources to persist in a fight.” This point talks to an increase of defensive capability in ships, not only against kinetic threats, but also cyber and electronic warfare. Every ship must be a shooter and also every ship’s sensors must contribute to the larger network. Now all units become integrated, not only internally, but within the larger network, providing geometric synergies. In order to do this, it is essential that ships are able to send and received large amounts of timely and secure data as required, even when under cyber and electronic attack.

What is not discussed directly, but what must be appreciated, is the point that DMO is the necessary connective tissue, which must be built in order to stitch these up-gunned, widely dispersed ships together into a coherent whole.

In December 2018, the CNO released, A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, Version 2.0.  According to the CNO, this update more clearly aligned with both the latest National Security Strategy (NSS), released December 2017 and the supporting National Defense Strategy (NDS) of January 2018. While a new National Military Strategy (NMS) will follow, it is plain that these documents orient national security objectives more firmly toward great power competition with China and Russia.

It was here, in this document, that DMO made its first official, public appearance. The CNO called to “Continue to mature the Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) concept and key supporting concepts. Design the Large Scale Exercise (LSE) 2020 to test the effectiveness of DMO. LSE 2020 must include a plan to incorporate feedback and advance concepts in follow-on wargames, experiments, and exercises, and demonstrate significant advances in subsequent LSE events.”

Further, the Navy was tasked to: “Design and implement a comprehensive operational architecture to support DMO. This architecture will provide accurate, timely, and analyzed information to units, warfighting groups, and fleets. The architecture will include:

  • A tactical grid to connect distributed nodes.
  • Data storage, processing power, and technology stacks at the nodes.
  • An overarching data strategy.
  • Analytic tools such as artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML), and services that support fast, sound decisions.

Not only will DMO aid in the attack, but it will be critical in the defense. DMO will stretch an adversary’s ISR capabilities as wider areas much be searched to find “Blue” forces. Perhaps more important, widely dispersed forces will hurt “Red’s” ability to mass fires on Blue as their forces much also be more dispersed (though not linked in the same way that is possible in a full instantiation of DMO).

In other words, the time has arrived to define and build DMO. As to exactly how DMO will look and be employed, it is evident that the jury is still, very much, out. Not only is DMO the ultimate fruit of years of thought and effort, but it has become a necessity: Fleet size is not increasing, while demand for ships remains unabated. Sea Control requires a larger fleet – and if not a larger fleet, then new ways of thinking and fighting. DMO is the leading edge of this need.

Setting a New Table in the Fleet

With regard to the actual warfighting side of all of this, activity has been initiated. In February 2018, Admiral Scott Swift wrote a series of articles for Proceedings Magazine. In order to understand the possible Concept of Operations (CONOPS), which will be rendered possible by DMO, it is essential to read Admiral Swift’s essays. He describes a tactical grid, overseen by an operational/fleet-level Maritime Operations Center (MOC) which is charged by a Joint Forces Command (JFC) to implement various “effects,” in different campaigns (for example logistic, anti-submarine, amphibious) across time and space in order to achieve strategic goals.

This is a CONOPS which moves the conduct of warfare to a higher, more broadly-seeing level, above the long-standing primacy of the Carrier Strike Group. Further, it seems plain that in order to successfully carry out these campaign effects it will be necessary to disaggregate the once sacrosanct Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs). For example, a threat submarine is detected in the vicinity of a key logistics asset. The Theater Anti-Submarine Warfare Commander (TASWC) is tasked by the MOC to destroy the threat. In order to execute this task, the TASWC may have to draw a destroyer from a CSG, not only owing to proximity, but in order to bring that ship’s sensors and weapons, including helicopters, to bear on the target. Once the threat is passed, the destroyer returns to the CSG. In short, a general paucity of assets in any high-end fight, in any theater can only be addressed by the precise delivering of only the exact right force to the exact right place at the exact right time.

The point is that the big picture, regarding these campaigns and the respective effects associated with each campaign, resides up the chain-of-command. This picture, which is essential in operationalizing DMO, includes data of all sorts and not simply sensor data. Certainly, the issues associated with classified data being shared, system-to-system and unit-to-unit must be addressed, and this will necessarily be a major factor, requiring understanding and solution as the system evolves. However, while the current flow of data – and the ability to process that data – is directed to the top, this creates a potentially single point of failure. This speaks to a need in future instantiations of DMO to render the system “node-less,” by which is meant that more than one command is potentially capable of running the show. If the MOC is destroyed, the system will require that another command; another shore command or a CVN or a cruiser can seamlessly take over; this is the promise of Artificial Intelligence, more fully realized.

However, even if the desire to achieve DMO exists at all levels, a certain force level will be necessary in order to operationalize the concept. The question is, will that force exist? Currently, the Surface Force has specific numeric requirements for both Large Surface Combatants (LSC) and Small Surface Combatants (SSC). Whether these numbers are attainable is in doubt. Whether fleet size will continue to decline or whether the LCS class is a meaningful element in the DMO construct are, at this point, unknown. The Navy’s number one priority is building the Columbia class, and this means that in order to accomplish this effort sacrifices in other build programs, including the Surface Force, may be necessary.

A glimpse at what may be the Surface Force’s intention regarding the address of both raw ship numbers and the requirements of DMO’s operationalization, may have been on display at the 2019 Surface Navy Symposium, in Washington DC. The Navy may be arriving at the cusp of a true revolution in the shape of the Surface Force. In addition to the SSC and LSC types, which may be thought of as “classic” warships, what was freely discussed was the Surface Forces intention to embark upon the construction of an entirely new universe of Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV), both large and medium in size. It is these platforms; the medium being primarily a weapons carrier and the medium being primarily a sensor platform, which may light the way to an actually dispersed force of weapons and sensors – achieved within a sustainable budget. These USVs will be substantially less expensive than fully manned, multi-mission ships, and they will be the essential population necessary to actualize the distributed grid of sensors and weapons which will enable DMO.

It is also important to consider that even as fleet size remains problematic, the advent of new systems provide a key opportunity, which can be geometrically capitalized upon through DMO. According to Dmitry Filipoff of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC):

 “The Navy’s firepower is about to experience a serious transformation in only a few short years. Comparing firepower through a strike mile metric (warhead weight [pounds/1,000] × range in nautical miles × number of payloads equipped) reveals that putting LRASM into 15 percent of the surface fleet’s launch cells will increase its anti-ship firepower almost twentyfold over what it has today with Harpoon. New anti-ship missiles will cause the submarine community and heavy bomber force to also experience historic transformations in offensive firepower. The widespread introduction of these new weapons will present the U.S. Navy with one of the most important force development missions in its history. This dramatic increase in offensive firepower across such a broad swath of untapped force structure will put the Navy on the cusp of a sweeping revolution in tactics unlike anything seen since the birth of the aircraft carrier a century ago. How the Navy configures itself to unlock this opportunity could decide its success in a future war at sea. The Navy needs tacticians now more than ever.”

The Brain of DMO

If one considers that the vision of DMO has been described for some decades; that a requirement for DMO has been forwarded by the CNO; that a detailed thinking process has been undertaken in both the Surface Force and at the Fleet-level, and that budgetary limitations may force fundamental changes in Fleet composition, then the stage is set to begin thinking about the detailed connective tissue necessary to fully operationalize the concept.

First and foremost, in order to be fully realized, it is essential that Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) have nodes which are able to control the widely dispersed forces elemental to the system. All of these units must be stitched together by what may be thought of as a Battle Force Manager (BFM) resident in the many and varied (potential) command nodes. For purposes of security, this capability may be fully instantiated in some nodes, and only operationalized in others, as required. But, more than one unit will have to have full capability in order to guarantee the reliability and flexibility of the overall architecture.

With regard to the specific attributes of a BFM – the element of a command node which makes DMO command possible – the first requirement is the ability to ensure the composition of a single, commonly held and fully integrated picture of the battlespace, encompassing air, surface and subsurface domains, from the seabed to space, a true cross domain picture. Every node in the grid must possess a real-time, fire control quality picture, whether at the tactical or operational level, and this picture must be identical in every way to every other unit’s picture. Without this single, integrated, real-time, fire control quality picture, confidence is diminished and subordinate systems are dramatically sub-optimized.

It should be understood that this required picture of the battlespace currently does not exist. Despite the much touted “Common Operations Picture,” the Strike Group/Force, Maritime Operations Center (MOC) or Joint Force Commander’s (JFC) picture of the surrounding world is only similar to (but not tactically useful to) that of the Strike Group, the MOC or anyone else. One is reminded of a more powerful, Link 11 picture from the past. It may be useful at the operational level of warfare in that it provides broad, situational awareness, but it is completely insufficient to the challenges inherent to DMO.

As for the discrete capabilities resident in a BFM, it requires several:

  • The BFM will monitor connectivity with every unit, on every circuit, automatically correcting issues of connectivity, and without operator intervention.
  • The BFM “knows” in detail the nature of all ordnance and the weapons posture of every unit in the force. Who has what and what is the availability of that ordnance at any given time.
  • Remote Control Capability: The BFM will be able to change the operational parameters of sensors and weapons systems, grid-wide, as appropriate. It also will know the mission, priority, survivability, and material condition of each unit, with regard to fuel and damage.
  • Sensor/Weapons/Target Pairing Algorithms. The BFM will understand which sensor/weapon combinations are best versus any force threat and automatically issue commands to cause those weapons and sensors, no matter where they are located, to work seamlessly together. This will include both hard and soft-kill systems.
  • A system which knows the operational limits of each node, including the weapons/sensor capability and capacity of each node, either manned or unmanned.
  • The BFM will require access to and ability to sort enormous amounts of data, including intelligence, while at the same time aiding the decision makers by funneling only the most salient and correct prompts to the command team.
  • The BFM will include aspects of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in order to ensure that decision-makers are presented only information which aids decisions, and holds other information in check unless called for. Moreover, this AI is the necessary “brain-power” which enables all other aspects of the BFM, and by extension, DMO.

There are “religious” issues in operationalizing a BFM. To a certain extent it means that a commanding officer may have to cede their absolute control of the systems subordinated to them. Moreover, it is not evident whether the Navy or industry fully grasps what will be necessary or of how to get there. What may be necessary in order to get “there” from “here” is a sort of modern-day, “Manhattan Project,” incorporating all of those companies and commands with either a stake in the problem or a critical capability. Otherwise, one may expect a suitable, capable BFM to only arrive in the long-range time-frame, and in balky fits and starts.

The Two Achilles Heels

Regardless, there are vulnerabilities here. Only now is the Navy awakening to the fact that a profound vulnerability exists in its ability to wage the sort of warfare that has been planned and worked toward for decades. Today, it is increasingly understood that Electronic Warfare (EW) is becoming a sort of sand foundation upon which the entire edifice of Navy warfighting capability shakily stands. In this case, EW should be thought of as the effort by which unfettered and complete access to the entire Electromagnetic Spectrum (ES) is ensured, rather than from the small, tactical perspective of Electronic Attack, Warfare Support and Protection.

Curiously, this situation has presented itself primarily as a result of the Navy’s focus upon an explosive growth in C5I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems and Intelligence) capability and capacity. Over time, a remarkable and unique ability to bend all elements of a widely dispersed force of weapons, sensors, and information into a single, integrated, global Combat Management System (CMS) has been developed for and by the U.S. Navy. This CMS enables implementation of the new strategy of DMO: Smart War. The BFM is the unit-level foundation which enables that ability. It will exist in all ships and aircraft, perhaps with different capabilities which can be enabled as necessary, making the entire system fully redundant and durable.

Unfortunately, any sensible adversary will recognize the advantage conferred on the U.S. Navy through an undisturbed access to the ES. In a Post-Arabian Gulf era, it becomes increasingly plain that this uninterrupted and secure flow will be a primary point of attack by any enemy possessing the means to do so. So, while it may be desirable to plan to employ this awesome capability, it also seems plain that in any real fight, full employment will be problematic.

Consequently, the Navy must develop the tactical approaches necessary in order to win in an ES-denied environment: An environment in which connections to higher authorities – any connections – may either be interrupted or severed. A CO is cut off from both leadership and external support for warfighting systems. What to do? Seek and destroy? Wait for a solution from above? Go to port? What about fuel?

Former Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Scott Swift evidently grasped the conflict between a maturing, global CMS and the possible loss of spectrum with the 2017 publication of his “Fighting Orders.” While the content of these fighting orders is classified, the shape of them can be guessed at, and perhaps they offer answers to some of the questions which arise in a “Dark Battle” scenario. Nevertheless, it seems essential that still more intense and critical thought be given to these issues, and now. And of equal import, these tactics should be practiced. Where shall I go? What shall I do?

Second, while this issue is somewhat beyond the specific conceptual scope of the DMO problem, there is an overwhelming need to address problems with the size of the Combat Logistic Force (CLF). This is particularly the case with regard to oilers. A combat ship refuels, in general, once every three days, but this can be stretched provided that increased risk is taken as far as available fuel is concerned. As it currently stands the number of replenishment ships available is a problem, even in a non-distributed environment. The days of the Navy possessing a sufficient numbers of oilers so that one could be attached to each CSG are gone.

What will happen as the fleet is broadly dispersed? Where will the fuel come from? Perhaps more worrisome, how can stealth be expected to be maintained when it must be clear to even the most casual enemy observers that not only are oilers are in terribly short supply, but that they travel directly from one HVU to another. Beyond this, oilers are operated by the Military Sealift Command (MSC). Not only are these ships manned by civilians who are in no way obligated to go into war zones, but they are completely defenseless without escorts and where oilers may warrant an escort contingent on par with that of capital ships.  

Opening the Aperture

With distribution comes challenges. Not only in terms of connectivity but in terms of the discrete elements in the tactical grid. Far from either shore-based assets or the air wing resident in the aircraft carrier, one must ask how ships will be able to maintain a picture of the surrounding world beyond the range of their own radar. Any hostile surface ship, for example, more than 20 or so miles away may be undetected and undetectable. Not only does this create vulnerabilities for the single unit, but it severely limits the ability of controlling nodes – at any level – to fully grasp the battlespace. A larger, more complete understanding of the tactical grid is required.

Owing to issues ranging from maintenance to crew availability even ships equipped with two helicopters cannot sustain around-the-clock air operations – far from it. It seems plain that the solution to this must lie in a greatly expanded capability and capacity in terms of ship launched and recovered Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). UAVs will serve several primary needs in a DMO environment; sensors, weapons carriers, and communication assets. First, small UAVs with sensors can greatly expand the footprint of dispersed ships. And, if they are long duration, this footprint can be maintained around the clock. A good, early example of this type of UAV is the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle. ScanEagle carries a stabilized electro-optical and/or infrared camera on a lightweight inertial stabilized turret system, and an integrated communications system having a range of over 62 miles (100 km), and it has a flight endurance of over 20 hours. Subsequently, improvements to the original design added the ability to carry Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), infrared cameras, and improved navigation systems.

Second, these UAVs can extend the attack reach of widely dispersed units. Today, the MQ-8B “Firehawk” is capable of carrying hellfire missiles, Viper Strike laser-guided glide weapons, and, in particular, pods carrying the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS), a laser-guided 70 mm (2.75 in) folding-fin rocket. Depending upon the size of the flight deck, ranging from the very small in the case of LCS class ships to the larger flight decks in amphibious ships, like LPD class ships, the variety and capability of UAVs seems limited only by imagination.

Third, is the matter of communications relay, without which the “distributed” part of DMO ceases to exist. As it stands today, Navy communications face a number of vulnerabilities, not the least of which is a reliance on commercial satellite channels. By lowering the connectivity grid from satellite level to long-endurance UAVs, the grid gains a redundancy which could make the difference between fighting the next war, “in the dark,” and fully realizing the potential of DMO.

The same thinking applies to Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV). Based upon the presentations given by the senior officers of the Surface Warfare Community at the 2019 Surface Navy Association (SNA) it seems abundantly clear that a major shift may be in the offing. Not only is the Surface Force activating a squadron aimed at USV experimentation and development, but it is also plain that the Navy intends to move into the USV world in a big way and in the near future. Evidently, these USVs will be divided into two primary classes:  Medium-sized, which will be carriers of ordnance, and small-sized which will be sensor platforms, potentially of great variety.

With regard to the Medium USV, the need is abundantly clear. A modern Navy has the need for many and varied types of weapons, ranging from short-range point defense to ballistic missile interceptors, to anti-submarine weapons to long-range surface and land strike missiles. The number of cells resident in even the largest Vertical Launching System (VLS) is 122. It is easy to envision these weapons being expended quickly in a real shooting war. Will floating magazines help remediate this problem?  Will they potentially be able to host directed energy weapons?

As for the small USVs, what sort of sensors are under consideration? The problem is that modern radars generally emit a very specific signal, and are consequently, easily identifiable. What can be done to protect sensor UAVs from detection and destruction?  If they are only intended to be activated for short periods and then moved, how useful can they be? Or, if they are all passive sensors, what is the nature and utility of these. Regardless, they will have to pass data and this also creates a threat of counter-detection.

Today, not much is yet known about the potential shape or nature of these USVs, but they are coming. Having said that, there are aspects of these USVs which should be of enormous concern and interest. First, what is the likely stay time on station for these units? How will they arrive on station and what sort of mobility will they have? Is it possible for them to move, perhaps hundreds of miles from station-to-station? What power source will they employ?  Potentially, either variety of USV will have significant power needs, which speaks to greater energy production than may be found in modern batteries.

Perhaps more important, and this is especially the case of those USVs which carry sensors, how will detection by enemy forces and subsequent capture or destruction be avoided? How seaworthy? Semi-submersible weapons carriers?  How will they be serviced and how often will that be required? Perhaps more than any element of a DMO instantiation, with the possible exception of a BFM, the nature of these USVs is critical.

In the Long Run

This discussion only touches upon the surface of what could well be called a “plastic” discussion. In the course of operationalizing a viable DMO system and concept, a voyage of discovery will be necessary, and in this, both blind alleys and new approaches will be discovered. What is essential is a clear understanding of what DMO might look like so that a path to a solution can then begin to be envisioned. Further, it is critical that those involved in these discussions put aside their parochial views in favor of achieving and maintaining a critical edge which will ensure American command of the seas for decades to come. It will take much more than directed energy weapons or UAVs or AI to maintain this command. In order to attain this goal, the necessary effort lies in stitching these systems all together into a single, fully integrated Combat Management System, lying far beyond that which is possible today.

Steve McJessy is a Reserve Commander, living in San Diego. He also works in the defense industry supporting Navy programs.

Kevin Eyer is a retired Navy Captain. He served in seven cruisers, commanding three Aegis cruisers: USS Thomas S. Gates (CG-51), Shiloh (CG-67), and Chancellorsville (CG-62). 

These views are presented in a personal capacity.

 Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (Nov. 8, 2018) The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), left, and the Japanese helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga (DDH 181), right, sail in formation with 16 other ships from the U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) during Keen Sword 2019. Keen Sword 2019 is a joint, bilateral field-training exercise involving U.S. military and JMSDF personnel, designed to increase combat readiness and interoperability of the Japan-U.S. alliance. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaila V. Peters)

Look Beyond the Fleet: Finding the Capability for Distributed Maritime Operations

Distributed Maritime Operations Topic Week

By Walker D. Mills

The United States is becoming increasingly challenged at sea. Last year the Admiral Philip Davidson, current commander of Indo-Pacific Command, told The New York Times that “In short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.”1 This increasing anxiety is echoed in the 2016 Surface Forces Strategy (SFS), which identifies a “new era” of threats and challenges.2 In response the United States Navy has been at work on new concepts to help bolster combat power like Distributed Lethality and Distributed Maritime Operations. While neither have been released to the public in full, unclassified versions, the gist of both are clear. The SFS ascribes three tenets to distributed lethality – increasing the offensive and defensive capability of all platforms, distributing platforms, and improving the survivability and complimentary nature of their systems. The Navy is on the right track but can achieve a much larger increase in distribution and offensive capability by looking beyond the surface assets it already owns. The Navy has argued that it requires a 355-ship fleet to perform all of its missions, but the current shipbuilding program will not meet that goal anytime in the next three decades.3 Recently the Under Secretary of the Navy lamented the state of the under-resourced fleet “no decrease in operational requirements, and yet there are not enough ships to do the mission.”4 The Navy needs to look for combat power elsewhere if it cannot soon build or buy the ships it needs.

In a fight for sea control, the Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) are currently a wasted asset. MEUs are powerful, mixed purpose units built around a Marine infantry battalion with significant additional ground capability in tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery with a full range of air combat and lift capability. But Marine doctrine and training emphasize only operations ashore, and operations in getting to shore. The Corps has traditionally failed to consider their role in maritime operations like sea control or sea denial and husbanded its resources for the terrestrial fight. This is changing slowly – the unreleased Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) concept is expected to emphasize the Marine role in a maritime campaign, but EABO is a Marine-led concept. The Navy needs to push Marines back into a role where they support naval operations and stop allowing the Marines to build a capability focused only on power projection ashore.

Marines already have some capabilities that can contribute to a sea control fight. They had the first operational F-35 squadron, ahead of the Air Force and the Navy and they have experience training and operating their jets in rugged and austere environments. Marine rocket artillery (HIMARS) recently fired at their first floating targets and have also demonstrated a rapid infiltration and raid capability with the same platform.5,6 They are going further and investing in a new Group 5 Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) program called the MAGTF UAS Expeditionary (MUX) that would contribute to targeting, reconnaissance and strike architecture.7 The Marines need to focus their training and planning around employing these assets in support of maritime operations not operations ashore.

Furthermore, the Marines need to rapidly diversify their portfolio of weapons when it comes to sea control and denial. They need to move ahead with a longer range, anti-ship missile on a mobile platform – much like systems Poland has acquired for coastal defense that fire the Naval Strike Missile.8 Such a weapon would drastically increase the range and lethality with that the Corps could project over the water. Employed, on or near narrows, straits and other chokepoints, these missiles could deny an adversary passage or annihilate an amphibious force. The Army has been interested in the NSM and has made Long Range Precision Fires their top modernization priority.9,10 Continued integration with the Navy and Marines should lead to a joint littoral fires capability that provides the fleet more options for distributing their surface fires.

Marines can also increase their contribution by investing in a coastal or fast attack craft capability. Currently the Navy maintains a portfolio of brown water capability in Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) but it is primarily for supporting special operations and harbor defense. A new Marine force, employing Mk VI patrol boats armed with NSMs would be a potent threat to even the largest and best protected enemy vessels at a fraction of the cost of adding more destroyers and frigates the surface fleet.

The Marines should also identify opportunities to up-gun their existing platforms. The MV-22 Osprey, the Marines’ capable, medium, tilt-rotor craft is usually unarmed. It can mount door guns but it is a platform begging for armament like the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) or other types of rockets and missiles – a match that has already been tested.11 Armed with its own precision fires, an Osprey or the Corps’ new CH-53K could hunt enemy small boats to protect larger surface vessels or better support Marine insertions. Other authors at CIMSEC and War on the Rocks have argued for arming L-Class amphibious ships and connectors like Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC).12,13

Another opportunity for increasing the Navy’s lethality and combat power is the Air Force. The Air Force recently acquired the Long Range Anti-Ship missile, a new, stealthy naval cruise missile that can be launched from B-1 bombers. This is a key capability that allows the Air Force to better support the Navy – a single B-1 bomber can carry 24 LRASMs, so a flight of four bombers can launch more anti-ship missiles that an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer and then return to do it again in hours.14  The Navy and the Air Force should continue to expand the number of aircraft capable of delivering LRSAMs and train for their employment jointly. Air-delivered, long range anti-ship missiles are a new capability for the U.S. military but one long employed by Russia and China.

Conclusion 

Sea control is a joint mission. No longer can the Navy alone get it done. America’s control of the sea is fundamental to our peace and security and it will require forces, capabilities, and support from the Marines, Army, and Air Force. In pursuit of new concepts like Distributed Lethality and Distributed Maritime Operations, the Navy needs to look beyond the fleet for ways to increase combat power. The 2016 SFS labels the “right mix of resources to persist in a fight” as one of the three tenets of Distributed Lethality.15 At a minimum that mix must include Marine and Army surface fires, fast attack craft, Air Force anti-surface warfare, and whatever else is needed to distribute firepower and sustain command of the seas.

1stLt Walker D. Mills is a Marine Corps infantry officer. He is currently a student at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.

References

[1] Hannah Beech, “China’s Sea Control is a Done Deal ‘Short of War With the US’” New York Times (20 September, 2018) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/20/world/asia/south-china-sea-navy.html.

[2] United States Navy, Surface Forces Strategy (2016) https://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/Documents/Surface_Forces_Strategy.pdf.

[3] Goeff Ziezulewicz, “Budget watchdog questions Navy’s plan for 355-ship fleet” (24 October 2018) https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2018/10/24/budget-watchdog-questions-navys-plan-for-355-ship-fleet/.

[4] Gidget Fuentes, “Modly: Navy Needs to Radically Change How it Operates in New Era of Great Power Competition” USNI News (14 February 2019) https://news.usni.org/2019/02/14/modly-navy-needs-radically-change-operates-new-era-great-power-competition.

[5] Gidget Fuentes, “Marines Fire HIMARS From Ship in Sea Control Experiment with Navy” USNI News (24 October, 2017) https://news.usni.org/2017/10/24/marines-fire-himars-ship-sea-control-experiment-navy.

[6] Shawn Snow, “ The Corps’ HIMARS are going airborne as Marines bring them to targets via KC-130s” Marine Corps Times (28 December 2018) https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2018/12/28/the-corps-himars-are-going-airborne-as-marines-bring-them-to-targets-via-kc-130s/.

[7] Meghan Eckstein, “Marines Zero In On Requirement for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle” USNI News (23 April 2018) https://news.usni.org/2018/04/23/marines-zero-requirements-future-mux-unmanned-aerial-vehicle.

[8] Jaroslaw Adamowski, “Poland Eyes Third Missile Squadron, Subs for Navy” Defense News (4 November 2016) https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2016/11/04/poland-eyes-third-missiles-squadron-subs-for-navy/.

[9] Joseph Trevithick, “The Army Eyes Getting Into the Ship Killing Business With This Cruise Missile” The Drive (12 February 2018) http://thedrive.com/the-war-zone/18427/the-army-eyes-getting-into-the-ship-killing-business-with-this-cruise-missile.

[10] David Vergun, “Long-range, precision fires modernization a joint effort, Army tech leader says” Army News Service (22 August 2018) https://www.army.mil/article/210198/long_range_precision_fires_modernization_a_joint_effort_army_tech_leader_says.

[11] Shawn Snow, “Marines consider forward-firing rockets for MV-22 Osprey” Marine Corps Times (21 March 2018) https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2018/03/21/marines-consider-forward-firing-rockets-for-the-mv-22-osprey-fleet/.

[12] Chris O’Connor, “Distributed Leathernecks” CIMSEC (23 February, 2019) http://cimsec.org/distributed-leathernecks/22448.

[13] Douglas King and Brett Friedman, “Why the Navy Needs a Fighting Connector: Distributed Maritime Operations and the Modern Littoral Environment” War on the Rocks (10 November, 2017) https://warontherocks.com/2017/11/navy-needs-fighting-connector-distributed-maritime-operations-modern-littoral-environment/.

[14] Oriana Pawlyk, “B-1 Crews Prep for Anti-Surface Warfare in Latest LRSAM Tests” Military.com (3 January 2018) https://www.military.com/dodbuzz/2018/01/03/b-1-crews-prep-anti-surface-warfare-latest-lrasm-tests.html.

[15] Surface Forces Strategy.

Featured Image: Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 11, Headquarters Regiment, 1st Marine Logistics Group, overlook the beach during a field exercise at Camp Pendleton, California, December 12, 2017 (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Adam Dublinske)

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.