By Vidya Sagar Reddy and Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan
Two events set the stage for India-China strategic competition going underwater – one is the docking of China’s submarine in Sri Lanka’s Colombo port and the other is the loss of India’s submarine INS Sindhurakshak in a major fire incident.. These and subsequent events showed that China is signalling its strategic intentions in the Indian Ocean via its submarines while the resident power is scrambling.
The claim by China that its submarines are deployed as part of anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden has been refuted on the grounds of overmatching capability of these platforms and the timing when piracy is coming down.
Protection of sea lines of communication in the vast Indian Ocean region is in the interest of every state and therefore naval cooperation would be both economical and reassuring. Such an outlook is however not forthcoming from China. Rather it is undertaking unilateral actions without establishing proper communication with other navies in the region.
The submarine deployments can therefore be considered as geopolitical signalling of a rising China. First, the long range deployments showcase the capabilities of a blue water navy. The Indian and Pacific Oceans are the primary theatres of such deployments. Second, the timing of deployments showcases intent.
A Chinese submarine docking in Colombo coincided with the visit of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Sri Lanka. The docking in Karachi came on the heels of India’s Prime Minister Modi’s first official visit to China. It sent warships inside the U.S. territorial waters off Alaska when President Obama was visiting.
The intent behind these strategic signals cannot be missed. China consistently opposes any partnership between the navies of India, Japan, and the U.S. given their capacity to challenge its unlawful assertions in the East and South China Seas.
India’s economic growth and influence in the international order are dependent on the reawakening of its maritime culture. Accordingly, it is taking a number of policy and investment actions in this direction.
The success of these initiatives is dependent on a peaceful and stable neighborhood along with a secure Indian Ocean region. China’s presence and intentions in this region carried out through its submarine deployments signals the contrary. It even finalized a dealto sell eight submarines to Pakistan with little regard to India’s sensitivities.
Considering these developments, India decided to augment its current underwater fleet of only 13 aging diesel-electric (SSK) submarines (nine of Soviet and four of German origin). These submarines constructed during the Cold War have already reached their replacement period. Commissioning new submarines into the force is critical at this juncture as India’s national interests expand and threats multiply across the Indian Ocean.
India therefore initiated Project 75 and Project 75(I) to strengthen its submarine arm. The Project 75 will deliver six SSK of French Scorpene design with the last two added with indigenously developed air-independent propulsion system (SSP). There is also a provision for adding three more platforms.
The Project 75(I) is follow-on to the Project 75 to build six advanced SSP submarines fitted with vertical launch systems to fire BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles and torpedo tubes. India is also designing six nuclear powered attack submarines.
The first of Project 75, INS Kalavari, is undergoing sea trails and is expected to be commissioned by 2016. The remaining five boats will be delivered by 2020. Unfortunately, the INS Kalavari will be commissioned without its main weapon, the torpedo, since the government decided against buying them from a company under investigation.
It will be quite some time before these projects mature and the submarine arm of the Indian navy operates at its full potential. The Project 75 itself is running almost four years behind schedule. Additional Poseidon P-8I anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft can be acquired to fill the gap initially and to later form a three dimensional force to counter submarine threats.
The P-8I is the Indian variant of P-8A Poseidon operated by the U.S. Navy for long range maritime reconnaissance and ASW requirements. India contracted Boeing to build eight of these aircraft for the Indian Navy. Indeed, the first platform arrived in 2013 just as the Indian Ocean’s subsurface started heating up.
Its speed, range and endurance enables India to mount rapid surveillance missions deep into the Indian Ocean. It was deployed recently for surveillance in the exclusive economic zone of Seychelles and had been pressed into action to hunt for Chinese submarines probing near the strategically located Andaman and Nicobar islands. The P-8I boasts advanced sensor and communication suites and is armed with missiles, torpedoes, and depth charges.
The P-8I is a key platform enabling interoperability with the U.S. Navy that shares India’s concerns in the Indian Ocean. Both countries have decidedto upgrade their defense relationship to include submarine tracking, communication, and ASW capabilities. The next joint naval exercise will see enhanced ASW practice.
India should also enhance its submarine interoperability with Vietnam, Indonesia, and Australia while extending the scope of partnership beyond the Indian Ocean. Australia recently finalized an agreement with the French firm DCNS to deliver 12 submarines to replace its aging Collins class submarines. Vietnam and Indonesia are set to acquire six and at least two Russian Kilo submarines respectively.
India has already trained Vietnam’s submariners and is in talks with Russia to establish Kilo class submarine maintenanceand modernization infrastructure in the country. South East Asian countries are weary of China’s intentions and are visibly frustrated with its use of force in the South China Sea (SCS). Vietnam is on the frontline while Indonesia is closely monitoring the situation but is also perturbed.
China’s turning out of large number of submarines each year and the associated basing facilities in Hainan and their proximity to SCS islands easily overwhelms other claimants and concerned parties in and beyond the region.
It is absolutely essential to exchange information for forming a joint operational picture of the undersea domain of the Indo-Pacific. Submarine interoperability between the concerned parties is critical to deter and defeat fast emerging threats. India should take advantage of its diplomatic and material capabilities to realize these objectives for the purpose of maintaining peace and stability in the region.
Vidya Sagar Reddy and Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan is a Research Assistant and Senior Fellow respectively at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.
Featured Image: Indian Navy’s first Scorpene submarine being launched in Mumbai, April 2015. Photo: Reuters.
The following article is part of our cross-posting series withInformation Dissemination‘s Jon Solomon. It is republished here with the author’s permission. It can be read in its original form here.
By Jon Solomon
Last winter’s Naval War College Review contained a must-read article on the Soviet Navy’s doctrine from the 1980s for employing its TU-22M Backfire series of bombers against U.S. Navy carrier groups. In “Kamikazes: the Soviet Legacy,” former Soviet Navy officer Maksim Y. Tokarev reveals many details regarding Backfire capabilities and tactics that, to my knowledge at least, have not been previously disclosed within English-language open sources.
As part of my 2011 master’s thesis, I conducted a case study examination of how the U.S. Navy used Electronic Warfare (EW) and tactical deception to counter Soviet long-range maritime strike capabilities such as Backfire during the Cold War. I found that while a considerable amount of information is now publicly (though not necessarily widely) known about the two sides’ tactics, technologies, and real-world operational experiences from the late 1950s through mid-1970s, relatively few details regarding the competition’s late-1970s through early-1990s peak have been declassified by the U.S. or Russian governments. Tokarev’s article sheds a remarkable amount of light on the latter period from the Russian perspective. In doing so, he also underlines timeless maritime targeting challenges that technology can partially ameliorate but never fully eliminate. He additionally paints an intriguing picture of how an advanced attacker might use tactical deception in an attempt to score a lopsided win in a battle at sea. In my posts this week, I will point out the most fascinating of the new details provided by Tokarev and then examine their historical significance as well as contemporary implications.
What Kind of Reconnaissance Support did Backfire Need?
One of the key historical questions regarding Backfire involves the reconnaissance support the bombers’ crews needed to effectively employ their missiles. The earlier TU-16 Badgerseries of Soviet maritime bombers depended upon targeting cues provided by scout aircraft. These so-called ‘pathfinders’ penetrated an enemy’s battleforce ahead of a raid in order to locate and positively identify aircraft carriers or other high-priority target ships. This was necessary because a standoff bomber like Badger simply could not tell whether a large contact held by its onboard radar was an aircraft carrier, a surface combatant or other ship configured to simulate a carrier, an artificial decoy, or a large and perhaps neutral-flagged merchant vessel. Even if a surface contact of interest made ‘telltale’ radio frequency emissions, the vessel’s type could not be determined with high confidence because of the possibility that the emissions were deceptive. Visual-range verification of contacts’ types (if not identities) was consequently a prerequisite for the Badgers to be able to aim their missiles with confidence. Yet, because the Soviet pathfinder aircraft necessarily had to expose themselves to the entirety of a battle force’s layered defenses in order to do their jobs, they represented single-points-of-failure that could easily doom a raid if neutralized before they located, classified, and identified desired targets.
In the mid-1970s, the Soviets began launching Radar Ocean Reconnaissance and Electronic intelligence Ocean Reconnaissance Satellites (RORSAT and EORSAT) into low earth orbit. RORSAT and EORSAT were primarily intended to expand the maritime areas covered by the Soviet Ocean Surveillance System (SOSS), a networked ‘system of systems’ that fused data from a wide variety of remote sensors to locate, identify, track, and target U.S. Navy forces at sea. In theory, Soviet standoff bombers might not have needed the support of pathfinder scouts if SOSS operators were able to provide a raid with high confidence, targeting-quality tactical pictures derived from RORSAT, EORSAT, and perhaps other remote sensor sources.
Backfire made its Soviet Naval Air Force (SNAF) debut in 1976. Unlike the subsonic Badger, Backfire could make its final approach to its firing position—and then its subsequent escape attempt—at supersonic speed. The SNAF’s Backfire-C variant, which reached Initial Operational Capability in 1981, carried enough fuel to make an indirect approach against a targeted naval force operating well beyond 2000 nautical miles from the Soviet coast. Defending against a Backfire raid was therefore an order of magnitude more complicated than defending against a Badger raid. The tactical dilemma facing a U.S. Navy battleforce would have been further exacerbated—potentially decisively—if a Backfire raid received its targeting data directly from SOSS instead of from pathfinders. Some later Backfire-Cs were even equipped with a communication system that allowed them to download RORSATs’ and EORSATs’ tactical pictures as those satellites passed overhead.
From a purely technical perspective, though, it seemed quite unlikely Backfire could completely do away with reliance upon pathfinders or other visual-range scouts. As I detailed in my thesis, RORSAT suffered from the same contact classification challenges that inherently plague any radar. In fact, RORSAT’s shortcomings were even worse: its sensitivity was apparently so poor that it could only detect large ships, and even then not reliably when the area it was searching contained inclement weather. EORSAT was completely dependent upon ships complacently radiating telltale radiofrequency emissions, and as a result could not compensate for RORSAT. Lastly, as neither RORSAT nor EORSAT could report their data in ‘real time,’ their contact pictures generally suffered from tactically-significant lateness. Nevertheless, other than anecdotes from U.S. Navy veterans of the 1980s who directly observed SNAF operations when their carrier groups steamed into the “Bear’s Den,” and beyond some open source scholarly interpretations of Soviet doctrine dating to the early 1990s, until Tokarev there has been virtually no authoritatively-sourced evidence available to the public confirming or refuting Backfire’s dependence upon pathfinders.
On that note, Tokarev first relates that SNAF bomber forces:
“…always tried to use reconnaissance and targeting data provided by air assets, which was also most desired by their own command structure. Targeting data on the current position of the carrier sent by surface ships performing “direct tracking” (a ship, typically a destroyer or frigate, sailing within sight of the carrier formation to send targeting data to attack assets—what the Americans called a “tattletale”), were a secondary and less preferable source. No great trust was placed in reports from other sources (naval radio reconnaissance, satellites, etc.). Lieutenant General Sokerin, once an operational officer on the Northern Fleet NAF staff, always asked the fleet staff’s admirals just to assign him a target, not to define the time of the attack force’s departure; that could depend on many factors, such as the reliability of targeting data or the weather, that generate little attention in nonaviation naval staff work.”(Tokarev, Pg. 73)
He later amplifies this, noting that Backfire crews
“…had the targeting data that had been available at the moment of takeoff and kept the receivers of the targeting apparatus ready to get detailed targeting, either from the air reconnaissance by voice radio or from surface ships or submarines. The latter targeting came by high-frequency (HF) radio, a channel known as KTS Chayka (the Seagull short-message targeting communication system) that was usually filled with targeting data from the MRSC Uspekh (the Success maritime reconnaissance targeting system), built around the efforts of Tu-95RC reconnaissance planes. The Legenda (Legend) satellite targeting system receiver was turned on also, though not all planes had this device.” (Tokarev, Pg. 74)
These statements tell us two things. First, while Backfires could use direct satellite-based cueing, they relied heavily upon—and in fact placed greater trust in—targeting provided by scout aircraft. Second, a Backfire (or any Soviet maritime bomber) sortie depended upon raid planners being told approximately where a U.S. or NATO naval group was operating. If SOSS or any other surveillance or reconnaissance capabilities supporting this general cueing was disrupted or deceived, a raid might be dispatched to the wrong location, might be wasted against a decoy group, might be exposed to an ambush, might be held back until too late, or might never be launched at all.
We must keep in mind that launching a SNAF raid was no small undertaking. Per Tokarev, an entire air division—up to a hundred bombers—might be hurled against a single carrier’s battle group. Furthermore, doctrine called for the Soviet Northern and Pacific Fleets to be equipped with three air divisions each in order to counter multi-carrier battle groups. Tokarev also mentions that the bomber attrition rate for a single raid was expected to be as high as 50% regardless of whether or not the objective U.S. or NATO warships were successfully struck (Tokarev, Pg. 73, 78). With a finite number of bombers, missiles, and trained crews, it is reasonable to think Soviet commanders would have been somewhat hesitant to dispatch such irreplaceable forces into battle unless they had some degree of confidence in their situational picture’s accuracy; the operational-strategic penalties that would be incurred if they ‘got it wrong’ simply seem too high for this not to have been the case. Accordingly, it will be extremely interesting to someday learn the criteria that had to be satisfied for SNAF commanders to order a raid.
In part two of the series, just how effective was U.S. Navy counter-targeting?
Jon Solomon is a Senior Systems and Technology Analyst at Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. in Alexandria, VA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity on his own initiative. They do not reflect the official positions of Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. and to the author’s knowledge do not reflect the policies or positions of the U.S. Department of Defense, any U.S. armed service, or any other U.S. Government agency. These views have not been coordinated with, and are not offered in the interest of, Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. or any of its customers.
Former U.S. president William Clinton once said that whenever a crisis breaks out, the first question that comes to everyone’s mind would be “Where is the nearest carrier?” In the half century after World War Two, Washington employed force in response to some 200 crises, and carriers were involved in two-thirds of them. On the other hand, the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force (USAF) were involved in 38 and 53 of these incidents respectively.
This contrast came about because the large-deck carrier of the United States Navy (USN) offered a number of unique advantages over other combat platforms. Esteemed naval analyst Norman Polmar said: “(The) survival of the aircraft carrier… can be attributed to… territorial independence, flexibility of striking power, (and) mobility.” These three attributes will be explored in this article.
During times when defense spending is tight and when different branches of the American military vie for the budgetary pie, the aircraft carrier would often be subjected to criticism by other services, especially the Air Force. This is because the vessel is deemed to be a major competitor for scarce resources, owing to its high price tag and a perception that it is taking over some USAF roles. Nevertheless, even some of the harshest critics of the USN have begrudgingly alluded to some advantages unique to the carrier, the most important of which is arguably the territorial independence that allows it to conduct operations unconstrained by political limitations.
For instance, General Ronald Fogelman, the USAF Chief of Staff from 1994 to 1997 and who was known to be a fierce critic of USN expenditure, was cognisant of this attribute when he said: “Aircraft carriers give you the ability to sail into a littoral region and not have to worry about diplomatic clearance… The… crisis during Taiwan’s elections… was an ideal use of… carriers.”
A U.S. carrier strike group, with its own logistical infrastructure and force-projection capabilities, makes an ideal tool for intervention. This is especially so in cases where American interests are not aligned with those of allies, and this could result in Washington not having access to air bases. The carrier’s territorial independence would thus come in handy if local issues were to make it difficult for land-based airpower to be deployed.
A related issue is that of friendly air bases being attacked. According to a RAND report, the U.S. has 28 major air bases on the geostrategically and economically critical Eurasian landmass. Although land bases are closer to potential hotspots, they are also closer to likely adversaries and could be targeted more easily during a conflict, making them more vulnerable than carriers. As a USN officer maintained: “I can’t tell you where… our carriers are… but given a few moments of research at Base Ops, I can give you the coordinates of every Air Force runway… and hangar worldwide.” The proliferation of missiles and their enabling systems such as satellites in the post-Cold War period has led to several nations gaining the capability to target U.S. bases.
Indeed, this threat has become more serious with the advent of more advanced weapon technologies in recent years. This is arguably why Washington is realigning forces from Okinawa to Guam and setting up a new Marine contingent in Australia – to hedge against American forces in north-east Asia being targeted by China’s A2/AD systems during a conflict. There have been no studies that do not acknowledge the vulnerabilities of land bases to anti-access threats; furthermore, even the most optimistic of such reports.
Equally troublesome for America in times of crisis is the refusal of nations to grant over-flight  and aircraft deployment rights – an issue which the carrier does not face. The denial of over-flight rights to land-based aircraft could complicate Washington’s strategy. During Operation El Dorado Canyon, France, Spain, and Portugal denied over-flight rights to U.S. aircraft; consequently, the USAF F-111 Aardvarks involved had to be refueled in mid-air several times, a problem not faced by the carriers involved in the same operation as the ships were situated contiguously in the battlespace.
As for the constraint of needing political clearance before U.S. aircraft can operate from foreign bases, a 2013 study contended that: “The attitude of host countries… is difficult to predict, raising… uncertainties regarding the basing of aircraft. The United States can bring enormous pressure to bear on a host country to accept U.S. forces, but success… cannot be guaranteed.”
Examples abound of allies being hesitant or unwilling to allow U.S. aircraft to operate from their territory. Even when Iraq was poised to invade Saudi Arabia after taking over Kuwait in August 1990, the House of Saud hesitated before it permitted coalition forces to be deployed on its soil. Similarly, the USAF could not operate out of Saudi Arabia and Turkey for Operation Desert Strike, leading a USN official to comment that the air force had been “castrated.” He then extolled the territorial independence of the carrier in this instance: “With an aircraft carrier, you get 4.5 acres of Americana with no diplomatic restrictions.”
The phallic reference may sound exaggerated, but it was a fact that American land-based airpower was effectively emasculated when it could not operate out of its Middle Eastern bases for Desert Strike. All in all, American carriers have proved to be useful for their territorial independence. This characteristic – combined with their mobility – essentially allows them to act as “first responders” to any situation.
Our ability to deliver… firepower and generate… high aircraft sortie rates can… impact on… a conflict… during the critical early period of a joint campaign, when… U.S.-based forces are just starting to arrive in theater. – Admiral Jay Johnson, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations from 1996 to 2000.
Owing to their mobility, U.S. carriers are usually the first assets to be deployed to a hotspot. This attribute has made one analyst describe the USN, and for that matter its carriers, as “the… little Dutch boy… (who) can hold a finger in the dike until reinforcements – the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, and allied forces – are in place.”
When the deployment order comes, a carrier group moving at even a moderate speed of 25 knots can cover a significant 600 nautical miles in 24 hours of continuous steaming. To illustrate, a U.S. carrier group near Guam moving at that speed would take just over two days to reach the vicinity of Taiwan in the event of a Taiwan Strait crisis. Suffice it to say that it would reach there even sooner at a higher speed.
The mobility that enables a carrier to act as a first responder was manifested as early as the Korean War. From the invasion of South Korea by the North in June 1950 until the Inchon landings in September, American and British carriers provided the sole tactical aviation assets as the number of South Korean-based aircraft was small and the USAF platforms in Japan were too short-ranged to have significant loiter time over targets.
In a more recent conflict, during the 1990 Gulf crisis, Army General Norman Schwarzkopf said the Eisenhower and Independence battle groups were in range of Iraqi targets within 48 hours of the deployment order being given, adding that: “The Navy was the first military force to respond… and… was also the first airpower on the scene. Both of these deterred, indeed, I believe, stopped Iraq from marching into Saudi Arabia.”
To get such a glowing assessment from a top officer in a rival service undoubtedly attests to the carrier’s unequalled utility in responding first to a crisis. In addition, the aforementioned carriers provided air cover for the deployment of equipment to Saudi Arabia since viable shore-based offensive airpower was available only three weeks after the crisis broke out. Had Iraq invaded Saudi Arabia within this period, the two U.S. carriers on station would have been even more crucial as they were the only assets in theater that could take the fight to the enemy.
Another inherent advantage offered by the carrier to U.S. theater commanders is that it can conduct a wide variety of operations because of the different types of aircraft embarked on it. To be sure, land bases can accommodate a wide range of aircraft as well, but they simply lack the unique attributes of territorial independence and mobility offered by the large-deck carrier as discussed earlier. The typical carrier air wing (CVW) today consists of 44 F/A-18 Hornet/Super Hornet fighters, five EA-18 Growler electronic warfare aircraft, four Hawkeye airborne early-warning platforms, and 19 MH-60 Seahawk helicopters. Indeed, during its 50-year service from 1962 to 2012, USS Enterprise operated 43 types of aircraft.
This ability to accommodate diverse aircraft enables the carrier to carry out a wide range of missions. This was evidenced during Operation Deliberate Force when carrier planes participated in the whole gamut of operations: close air support, search-and-rescue, and enforcement of the no-fly zone. Because the carrier is such a large platform, it can integrate assets from other services, even other nations, into its operations.
This is crucial with today’s emphasis on jointness between the American armed services, and interoperability between Washington and her allies. In the current combat environment characterized by fluidity, the capabilities needed in one region or situation may not be the same as another, and thus why the ease of modifying the CVW is useful.  To illustrate, during Operation Uphold Democracy, USS America and USS Eisenhower carried elements of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and the aviation component of the 10th Mountain Division, the ship’s organic air wings having being temporarily removed.
The carrier has proved to be an extremely useful platform for the U.S. National Command Authorities, but it must be noted that the deployments delineated above occurred where anti-access threats were at best marginal. In an anti-access/area-denial environment, would the carrier be given carte blanche to project its airpower? Would its survivability be seriously questioned by the submarine and other anti-ship systems? These are but some of the key questions shaping the debate over the utility of the aircraft carrier, and my full article addresses some of them.
Ben Ho Wan Beng is a Senior Analyst with the Military Studies Programme at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and he received his master’s degree in strategic studies from the same institution. Ben is a CIMSEC member and has published with the likes of The Diplomat, The National Interest, and Real Clear Defense.
 Sam J. Tangredi, Anti-Access Warfare: Countering A2/AD Strategies (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2013), p. 68.
It must be noted that this point applies only to states contiguous to the sea where the carrier is deployed; overflight rights are still needed for aircraft seeking to reach countries situated landward of a coastal state.
 According to the author’s calculation, at 25 knots, it would take some 52 hours to cover the distance of about 1,300nm between Guam and the waters off eastern Taiwan, which is derived from Google Maps.
Looking ahead to the Department of Defense’s (DOD’s) fiscal prospects and security challenges in the second half of this decade and beyond, the Services and their partners will have to find ever more ingenious ways to come together. It is time for us to think and act in a more ecumenical way as we build programs and capabilities. We should build stronger ties, streamline intelligently, innovate, and wisely use funds at our disposal. We need a broader conversation about how to capitalize on each Service’s strengths and “domain knowledge” to better integrate capabilities. Moving in this direction is not only about savings or cost avoidance; it is about better warfighting.
The DOD historical track record shows episodic levels of joint deconfliction, coordination, and integration. Wars and contingencies bring us together. Peacetime and budget pressures seem to compel the Services to drift apart, and more dramatic fiscal changes can lead to retrenchment. While Service rivalries are somewhat natural, and a reflection of esprit de corps, they are counterproductive when they interfere with combat performance, reduce capability for operational commanders, or produce unaffordable options for the Nation. Rather than expending our finite energy on rehashing roles and missions, or committing fratricide as resources become constrained, we should find creative ways to build and strengthen our connections. We can either come together more to preserve our military preeminence—as a smaller but more effective fighting force, if necessary—or face potential hollowing in our respective Services by pursuing duplicative endeavors.
Unexplored potential exists in pursuing greater joint force interdependence, that is, a deliberate and selective reliance and trust of each Service on the capabilities of the others to maximize its own effectiveness. It is a mutual activity deeper than simple “interoperability” or “integration,” which essentially means pooling resources for combined action. Interdependence implies a stronger network of organizational ties, better pairing of capabilities at the system component level, willingness to draw upon shared capabilities, and continuous information- sharing and coordination. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey notes, “The strength of our military is in the synergy and interdependence of the Joint Force.” Many capstone documents emphasize greater interdependency between the Services’ structures and concepts including the Chairman’s Strategic Direction to the Joint Force, which calls for “combining capabilities in innovative ways.”
These concepts ring true for the maritime Services. The Navy–Marine Corps team has operated interdependently for over two centuries. Symbiotic since their inceptions, Marines engaged in ship-to-ship fighting, enforced shipboard discipline, and augmented beach landings as early as the Battle of Nassau in 1776. This relationship has evolved and matured through the ages as we integrated Marine Corps aviation squadrons into carrier air wings in the 1970s, developed amphibious task force and landing force doctrines, and executed mission-tailored Navy–Marine Corps packages on global fleet stations. Land wars over the last decade have caused some of the cohesion to atrophy, but as the Marines shift back to an expeditionary, sea-based crisis response force, we are committed to revitalizing our skills as America’s mobile, forward-engaged “away team” and “first responders.” Building and maintaining synergy is not easy; in fact, it takes hard work and exceptional trust, but the Navy and Marine Corps team has made it work for generations, between themselves and with other global maritime partners.
The Services writ large are not unfamiliar with the notion of cross-domain synergy. Notable examples of historical interdependence include the B-25 Doolittle Raid on Tokyo from the USS Hornet in 1942 and the Army’s longest ever helicopter assault at the start of Operation Enduring Freedom from the USS Kitty Hawk. The Navy has leaned heavily on Air Force tankers for years, and B-52s can contribute to maritime strikes by firing harpoons and seeding maritime mines. Likewise, other Services have relied on Navy/Marine Corps EA-6B aircraft to supply airborne electronic warfare capabilities to the joint force since the 1990s—paving the way for stealth assets or “burning” routes to counter improvised explosive devices. Examples of where the Navy and Army have closely interfaced include Navy sealift and prepositioning of Army materiel overseas, ballistic missile defense, the Army’s use of Navy-developed close-in weapons systems to defend Iraq and Afghanistan forward operating bases, and the use of Army rotary- wing assets from afloat bases. Special operations forces (SOF) come closest to perfecting operational interdependence with tight, deeply embedded interconnections at all levels among capability providers from all Services.
Opportunities exist to build on this foundation and make these examples the rule rather than the exception. We must move from transitory periods of integration to a state of smart interdependence in select warfighting areas and on Title 10 decisions where natural overlaps occur, where streamlining may be appropriate and risk is managed. From my perspective, advancing joint force interdependence translates to:
avoiding overspending on similar programs in each Service
selecting the right capabilities and systems to be “born joint”
better connecting existing tactics, techniques, procedures, concepts, and plans
institutionalizing cross-talk on Service research and development, requirements, and programs
expanding operational cooperation and more effective joint training and exercises.
The Air-Sea Battle (ASB) concept, and the capabilities that underpin it, represent one example of an opportunity to become more interdependent. While good progress has been made on developing the means, techniques, and tactics to enable joint operational access, we have much unfinished business and must be ready to make harder tradeoff decisions. One of the principles of ASB is that the integration of joint forces— across Service, component, and domain lines—begins with force development rather than only after new systems are fielded. We have learned that loosely coupled force design planning and programming results in costly fixes. In the pursuit of sophisticated capability we traded off interoperability and are now doing everything we can to restore it, such as developing solutions for fifth-generation fighters to relay data to fourth-generation ones. ASB has become a forcing function to promote joint warfighting solutions earlier in the development stage. For example, the Navy and Army are avoiding unaffordable duplicative efforts by teaming on the promising capabilities of the electromagnetic railgun, a game-changer in defeating cruise and ballistic missiles afloat and ashore using inexpensive high-velocity projectiles.
Additional areas where interdependence can be further developed include the following.
Innovative Employment of Ships. The Navy–Marine Corps team is already developing innovative ways to mix expeditionary capabilities on combatants and auxiliaries, in particular joint high speed vessels, afloat forward staging bases, and mobile landing platforms just starting to join the force. We see opportunities to embark mission-tailored packages with various complements of embarked intelligence, SOF, strike, interagency, and Service capabilities depending on particular mission needs. This concept allows us to take advantage of access provided by the seas to put the right type of force forward— both manned and unmanned—to achieve desired effects. This kind of approach helps us conduct a wider range of operations with allies and partners and improves our ability to conduct persistent distributed operations across all domains to increase sensing, respond more quickly and effectively to crises, and/or confound our adversaries.
Mission-tailored packages for small surface combatants such as the littoral combat ship, and the Navy’s mix of auxiliaries and support ships, would enable them to reduce the demand on large surface combatants such as cruisers and destroyers for maritime security, conventional deterrence, and partnership- building missions. We cannot afford to tie down capital ships in missions that demand only a small fraction of their capabilities, such as contracted airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) services from Aegis destroyers. We are best served tailoring capability to need, interchanging platforms and their payloads suitable to the missions that they are best designed for. At the end of the day, it is about achieving economy of force.
To make these concepts real, the Navy would support an expanded joint effort to demonstrate roll-on, roll-off packages onto ships to create a set of specialized capability options for joint force commanders. Adaptive force packages could range from remote joint intelligence collection and cyber exploit/attack systems, SOF, modularized Army field medical units, humanitarian assistance/ disaster relief supplies and service teams, to ISR detachments—either airborne, surface, or subsurface. Our ships are ideal platforms to carry specialized configurations, including many small, autonomous, and networked systems, regardless of Service pedigree. The ultimate objective is getting them forward and positioned to make a difference when it matters, where it matters.
Tightly Knitted ISR. We should maximize DOD investments in ISR capabilities, especially the workforce and infrastructure that supports processing, exploitation, and dissemination (PED). SOF and the Air Force are heavily invested in ISR infrastructure, the Army is building more reachback, and the Navy is examining its distribution of PED assets between large deck ships, maritime operations centers, and the Office of Naval Intelligence. While every Service has a responsibility to field ISR assets with sufficient “tail” to fully optimize their collection assets, stovepiped Service-specific solutions are likely too expensive. We should tighten our partnerships between ISR nodes, share resources, and maximize existing DOD investments in people, training, software, information systems, links/circuits, communications pipes, and processes. To paraphrase an old adage, “If we cannot hang together in ISR, we shall surely hang separately.”
ISR operations are arguably very “purple” today, but our PED investment strategies and asset management are not. Each Service collects, exploits, and shares strategic, anticipatory, and operational intelligence of interest to all Services. In many cases, it does not matter what insignia or fin flash is painted on the ISR “truck.” Air Force assets collect on maritime targets (for example, the Predator in the Persian Gulf), and Navy assets collect ashore (the P-3 in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom). Yet each Service still develops its own particular PED solutions. We should avoid any unnecessary new spending where capability already exists, figure out dynamic joint PED allocation schemes similar to platform management protocols, and increase the level of interdependency between our PED nodes. Not only is this approach more affordable, but it also makes for more effective combat support.
We can also be smarter about developing shared sensor payloads and common control systems among our programmers while we find imaginative ways to better work the ISR “tail.” Each Service should be capitalizing on the extraordinary progress made during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in integrating sensors, software, and analytic tools. We should build off those models, share technology where appropriate, and continue to develop capability in this area among joint stakeholders.
Truly Interoperable Combat and Information Systems. The joint force has a shared interest in ensuring sufficient connectivity to effect information-sharing and command and control in all future contingencies. We cannot afford to develop systems that are not interconnected by design, use different data standards/ formats, come without reliable underlying transport mechanisms, or place burdens on our fielded forces to develop time-consuming workarounds. We still find DOD spending extraordinary time and effort healing itself from legacy decisions that did not fully account for the reality that every platform across the joint community will need to be networked.
Greater discipline and communication between planners, programmers, acquisition professionals, and providers for information systems at all classification levels are required. We must view all new information systems as part of a larger family of systems. As such, we should press hard to ensure convergence between the DOD Joint Information Environment and the Intelligence Community’s Information Technology Enterprise initiatives. Why pay twice for similar capabilities already developed somewhere else in the DOD enterprise? Why would we design a different solution to the same functional challenge only because users live in a different classification domain? Ensuring “best of breed” widgets, cloud data/storage/ utility solutions, advanced analytics, and information security capabilities are shared across the force will require heightened awareness, focused planning, inclusive coordination, and enlightened leadership for years to come.
In the world of information systems, enterprise solutions are fundamentally interdependent solutions. They evolve away from Service or classification domain silos. We are not on this path solely because we want to be thriftier. Rationalizing our acquisition of applications, controlling “versioning” of software services, reducing complexity, and operating more compatible systems will serve to increase the flow of integrated national and tactical data to warfighters. This, in turn, leads to a better picture of unfolding events, improved awareness, and more informed decisionmaking at all levels of war. Enterprise approaches will also reduce cyber attack “surfaces” and enable us to be more secure.
In our eagerness to streamline, connect, and secure our networks and platform IT systems, we have to avoid leaving our allies and partners behind. Almost all operations and conflicts are executed as a coalition; therefore, we must develop globally relevant, automated, multilevel information-sharing tools and update associated policies. This capability is long overdue and key to enabling quid pro quo exchanges. Improved information-sharing must become an extensible interdependency objective between joint forces, agencies, allies, and partners alike. Improving the exchange of information on shared maritime challenges continues to be a constant refrain from our friends and allies. We must continue to meet our obligations and exercise a leadership role in supporting regional maritime information hubs such as Singapore’s Information Fusion Center, initiatives such as Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (SHADE) designed for counterpiracy, and other impromptu coalitions formed to deal with unexpected crises.
Other fields to consider advancing joint force interdependence include cyber and electromagnetic spectrum capabilities, assured command and control (including resilient communications), ballistic missile defense, and directed energy weapons.
To conclude, some may submit that “interdependence” is code for “intolerable sacrifices that will destroy statutory Service capabilities.” I agree that literal and total interdependence could do just that. A “single air force,” for example, is not a viable idea. Moreover, each branch of the military has core capabilities that it is expected to own and operate—goods, capabilities, and services no one else provides. As Chief of Naval Operations, I can rely on no other Service for sea-based strategic deterrence, persistent power projection from forward seabases, antisubmarine warfare, mine countermeasures, covert maritime reconnaissance and strike, amphibious transport, underwater explosive ordnance disposal, diving and salvage, or underwater sensors, vehicles, and quieting. I cannot shed or compromise those responsibilities, nor would I ask other Services to rush headlong into a zone of “interdependence” that entails taking excessive risks.
Joint interdependence offers the opportunity for the force to be more efficient where possible and more effective where necessary. If examined deliberately and coherently, we can move toward smarter interdependence while avoiding choices that create single points of failure, ignore organic needs of each Service, or create fragility in capability or capacity. Redundancies in some areas are essential for the force to be effective and should not be sacrificed in the interest of efficiency. Nor can we homogenize capabilities so far that they become ill suited to the unique domains in which the Services operate.
Over time, we have moved from deconflicting our forces, to coordinating them, to integrating them. Now it is time to take it a step further and interconnect better, to become more interdependent in select areas. As a Service chief, my job is to organize, train, and equip forces and provide combatant commanders maritime capabilities that they can use to protect American security interests. But these capabilities must be increasingly complementary and integral to forces of the other Services. What we build and how we execute operations once our capabilities are fielded must be powerful and symphonic.
Together, with a commitment to greater cross-domain synergy, the Services can strengthen their hands in shaping inevitable force structure and capability tradeoff decisions on the horizon. We should take the initiative to streamline ourselves into a more affordable and potent joint force. I look forward to working to develop ideas that advance smart joint interdependence. This is a strategic imperative for our time. JFQ
Admiral Jonathan Greenert served as the 30th Chief of Naval Operations of the United States Navy from 2011-2015.
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