Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

How The Fleet Forgot to Fight Pt. 8: A Force Development Strategy

Read Part 1 on Combat Training. Part 2 on Firepower. Part 3 on Tactics and Doctrine. Read Part 4 on Technical Standards. Read Part 5 on Material Condition and Availability. Read Part 6 on Strategy and Operations. Part 7 on Strategy and Force Development.

By Dmitry Filipoff

Introduction

“You sort of take on the role of one of the leaders in those battles and you get to rethink it through and you lead the team through that talk and you’re there on station. It’s a very educational experience, and I’ve always envied the opportunity to do that…I always envied these land battles, and the Army or the Marine Corps that fought them because in our business we have nothing like [staff rides]…We can study our battles but we have nothing like that. At the end of our conflict, at the end of our battles, the winners sail away victorious and the losers sink to the bottom, and the sea washes over them and soon after, there’s almost no trace of what happened. Maybe, if you want to reach, you can think about walking the Constitution, and you get a chance to see what war at sea in the age of sail might have been like. Maybe you can walk the USS Missouri and you get a chance to see what fighting that battleship in World War II might have been like…Pearl Harbor, a naval battle of sorts…you can see where the terrain might have played a role. But in general, we don’t get a chance to do anything close to a staff ride, and it’s a stark testament to the unforgiving nature of our environment, and it imposes a level of accountability far greater than any administrative measures that any Navy could ever take.” –Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson1 

Major conditions are coming to fruition that will allow the Navy to transform itself for the high-end fight. A new national security strategy has officially refocused the Department of Defense on great power competition after decades of focusing on lower-end threats. A new deploying construct based on unpredictability will help the Navy reset its operating patterns and find more time to work on itself. New weapons and networks that will give the Navy greater firepower than ever before are about to hit the fleet. The time is ripe for revolution. What force development strategy will guide the Navy into the future?

Setting Priorities

“NIFC-CA employs ships and aircraft to consummate missile engagements beyond the radar horizon. This execution is operational rocket science. Those who master it will be identified as the best and brightest.” –Captain Jim Kilby, “Surface Warfare: Lynchpin of Naval Integrated Air/Missile Defense,” 20162

Force development is a process of evolution, where the education and equipment of the force is being continually updated to align with visions of how future conflict may transpire. A force development strategy must guide this evolution by aligning the components of military evolution, mainly capabilities, tactics, doctrine, and training. These components can be aligned toward producing specific warfighting concepts, and also toward generating individual tactics that are a key element of succeeding in future combat regardless of the higher-order concepts they serve.

But the major warfighting experiments and training events that make force development flourish are undoubtedly large expenditures of time and effort. Their scarcity can act as a constraint that forces prioritization. Numerous stakeholders will be competing for time in order to fully experiment with tactics, capabilities, concepts of operation, and other ideas. The products of force development will then compete for the time of the Sailor, and force the Navy to prioritize what it wants Sailors to be proficient at. As it considers a wide variety of demand signals, the Navy must deliberate on what specific force development questions are important enough to warrant sustained series of experiments and new training curriculum. If Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) is an operational warfighting concept in need of a force development strategy, then the interconnected nature of force development can be revealed in a specific line of effort that develops a hallmark tactic of DMO.

Distributed naval forces will be able to use networking to aggregate anti-ship firepower from across the force and collect missiles into overwhelming salvos on demand. But it is still practically impossible for the U.S. Navy to execute missile aggregation tactics because almost all of its anti-ship missiles have a meager range of less than 80 miles. That hard limit means U.S. ships can barely spread out and distribute themselves if they want to keep their anti-ship firepower concentrated. A lack of long-range anti-ship firepower will stand in the way of the Navy’s ability to full realize its next major warfighting concept until new capabilities are introduced.

Capability introduction must be matched by tactical development. This will require a heavy experimentation component to identify the best means. What is the ideal method to collect firepower from across a distributed force? What are the best methods to program missiles in such a way as to overwhelm and confuse an adversary? Aggregating missile fires can be a hallmark tactic of distributed naval forces, but will depend on the ability of units to execute other tactics as a prerequisite. Units must be able to use engage-on-remote tactics to cue networked fires from widely dispersed forces, and to use retargeting tactics to keep the kill chains of those missiles fresh. DMO requires new interlocking sets of networking tactics if it is to be fleshed out as a concept. 

Training must prioritize proficiency for executing those specific tactics, and should seek to cultivate an overall tactical sense. Units will need good tactical sense to assess the risks of emissions control while facilitating networking. Units must also be trained in executing tactics for managing datalinks, including through jamming and deception. If Sailors are not well-trained in managing datalinks under contested conditions, then a training shortfall can also be enough to inhibit the Navy from making the most of DMO.

DMO can also take a note from how the interwar period Navy prioritized its own force development. Some of the interwar period Navy’s most important subjects of tactical and doctrinal investigation were fleet formations. The advent of airpower and the diverse types of units that could engage one another in naval combat added a significant degree of complexity in designing fleet formations. These formations attempted to promote maneuverability, facilitate the concentration of firepower, and give room for a variety of command and control options from the fleet commander down to the initiative of the unit leader.

Interwar period fleet formation for cruising. (Source: Trent Hone, “Building a Doctrine: U. S. Naval Tactics and Battle Plans in the Interwar Period“)

The advent of distributed operations and the enormous range of modern weapon systems presents the Navy with a similar challenge, but of greater magnitude. The Navy must focus a significant amount of effort into crafting a variety of distributed fleet formations – fighting stances for how a distributed fleet could steam into a contested zone or meet a hostile force of a certain kind.

Because the speed of a ship is miniscule compared to the speed of missiles, a formation of ships could hardly change during fleet combat. A modern fleet action could be over within minutes, causing fleets to rely heavily on speedy aviation for flexibility and responsiveness. Therefore a distributed fleet formation should also pay great care to a distributed airpower formation, and the nature of that fleet-wide ship-to-aircraft interface can help determine tactics for emissions control, retargeting, and engage-on-remote. Understanding how various distributed airpower schemes can overlay distributed fleet formations is a prime area of interest, as well as how critical networking capabilities like NIFC-CA and CEC can be flexed with different formations.

An animation of a hypothetical scenario demonstrating the Cooperative Engagement Capability and an associated fleet formation. (JHU APL)

Distributed fleet formations are a higher-order force development question for the Distributed Maritime Operations concept. A major fleet action is a complex mosaic of many warfighting dynamics, but the Navy needs to prioritizes specialized series of events that flesh out individual areas to gradually fill in this mosaic and refine the larger exercises and simulations.  

However, experimenting with force development usually suffers from handicaps posed by the numerous artificialities and practical restrictions that come with warfighting simulations. Safety regulations can sometimes be so restrictive that they harm the realism of exercises to an unreasonable degree. The use of special “war modes” for certain sensors and electronic capabilities can also be restricted. Firings are often simulated since it can be highly impractical and dangerous to use real weapons. But these restrictions and artificialities run the risk of hiding valuable insight and hindering force development. Force development must find ways to selectively push these limits for the sake of realism and to ensure that tactical investigations are thorough. A force development strategy should define targeted tactical investigations that are being held back by restrictions or obscured by artificialities, and execute specialized series of events in controlled environments. This will help ensure that the details of certain tactics or capabilities are not overlooked, and that surprise is not incurred.

A strong candidate for frequent live-fire testing and experimentation is the incoming generation of anti-ship missiles that are about to hit the fleet. A significant amount of tactical decision-making could still transpire after an anti-ship missile salvo is fired, and much of that decision-making could be in the hands of autonomous actors. Missiles can use a variety of sensors and networking to close in on their targets, refine their attack profiles, and evade defenses. Other platforms can use networking and retargeting to keep the salvo’s kill chain fresh, and ensure missiles are not deceived by decoys or jamming. Actors could in turn seek to interfere with the datalinks that connect the missiles within a salvo and with the broader force. Evolving the tactics, behavior, and decision-making of autonomous missile salvos and those defending against them is a paramount area of interest for focused tactical investigation. 

Arguably one of the most interesting recent developments in naval arms is the advent of the anti-torpedo torpedo, a novel system the U.S. Navy is currently installing on its capital ships. What makes this system noteworthy is that it introduces a hardkill dynamic into modern torpedo defense for what appears to be the first time. Prior to the advent of this system, it appears torpedo defense was confined to only softkill countermeasures – decoys and other distractions that could lure a torpedo away but not outright destroy it. Introducing a hardkill dynamic into torpedo defense could drastically change the tactics of undersea warfare, and create new offensive/defensive dynamics. If the anti-torpedo torpedo proves to be effective enough and widely proliferates, then it could negate much of the American military’s offensive advantage in the undersea domain until its submarines finally get anti-ship missiles. The tactical effects of this seemingly innocuous system could have serious strategic consequences.

Experimental Countermeasure Anti-Torpedo (CAT) launches from the fantail of USS George HW Bush (CVN-77) in May, 2013. (U.S. Navy Photo)

Power projection operations presume a degree of sea control in order to be executed, and in a similar sense, naval power presumes a degree of cyber control in order to function at all. Warships are highly complex machines made up of advanced electronics, and fleets form sophisticated networks from among their many elements. The cyber terrain of an individual warship is enormous (let alone that of a fleet), and offers numerous points of failure.

It is not too far-fetched to suggest that a cyberattack on a ship could spark grievous mechanical failures, hijack equipment from operators, or scramble the code of combat systems like Aegis. In a time of war, ships could be stuck pierside or dead in the water if they are being wracked by cyberattacks. No Navy can afford to lose in cyberspace, making cyberwarfare one of the most important areas for force development. In spite of this, those who led the cyberforensics investigation into the USS John S. McCain collision suggested that the Navy is extremely far behind on establishing even a basic cyber defense capability:

“To generate network situational awareness sophisticated enough to do cyber forensics, the team will need to search for electronic anomalies across a wide range of interconnected systems. A key component of anomaly detection is the availability of normal baseline operating data, or trusted images, that can be used for comparison. These critical datasets of trusted images do not currently exist.”3

Cyberwarfare is a prime area for the Navy to loosen the restraints and create a specialized series of tactical investigations and training events. However, it will be challenging to effectively resource and constrain this sort of exploration because of the expansiveness of the cyber domain. In order to resource realistic cyber warfighting practice and experimentation, the Navy should consider taking ships from each class and turning them into full-time cyber battlegrounds. Crews will be able to practice damage control on realistic terrain, and operators will be able to understand how gracefully (or ungracefully) their capabilities degrade. For certain experiments, cyber Red teams must be empowered to break things and attack systems with the relentlessness of a great power adversary. Over time this will help build a base of knowledge on cyber hygiene, and eventually aim to give the Navy the confidence that adversaries have not been able to pre-position cyber weapons into ships and systems during peacetime.

Designing the Field of Application

“Two interdependent activities, exercises and experimentation, help to bring joint concepts to life. Throughout history, military exercises have served to reduce uncertainty, increase readiness, and refine and test new concepts. Recognizing the complexity of today’s strategic landscape, we are reenergizing and reorienting the joint exercise program…” –Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford4

Military tools are more advanced and interconnected than ever, driving warfighting concepts toward more complex tactics and doctrine. Yet it is infeasible to realistically test the complex tangle of a great power battle when it can involve things as expensive as warships, as numerous as missile salvos, or as expansive as cyber warfare. These trends are pushing military experimentation and training further and further into the virtual realm, and making force development more vulnerable to the caveats of simulation. The difference between what can be reasonably tested and the nature of actual combat has grown to unprecedented heights, and surprises may lie within that gulf of the unknown. Because of this, force development must include a robust system of real-world experimentation and training that pushes these limits frequently and with rigor.

Exercises can serve as the bedrock of force development because only they can serve as the real-world field of application short of war itself. How these events and their participants evolve over time can reflect the pace of learning. The concepts and scenarios that are deemed worthy of sustained real-world testing and training will reflect the highest priorities. The standards that undergird the field of application can reflect the seriousness of force development, and the level of understanding on warfighting. The learning architecture that is built around exercises helps determine how stakeholders can make the most of the field of application. Ultimately, how the military makes use of exercises as the field of application can reveal much about the state of a force development strategy as a whole.

Exercise events can be widely dissimilar, depending if they are focused on training, experimentation, or partnership engagement. The Navy must define standards and create formats for its major warfighting experiments and training events. It can also learn from earlier difficulties in designing major experimentation exercises. The Fleet Battle Experiments intended to be exercises that could test out important ideas for the Navy’s development. However, they became overcomplicated. They often combined elements of virtual forces, live forces, readiness evolutions, and wargaming. On top of this hodgepodge they stacked numerous test goals driven by many stakeholders. All of this complexity made it difficult for the Navy to extract value from the events.

Adding virtual forces to live exercises can be driven by the need to create appropriately large scenarios. However, because they are simulations, virtual forces introduce simulation caveats which can complicate analysis. Compared to live opposing forces, virtual units can certainly be more accurate representations of adversaries in a technical sense, but their behavior may be more simplistic. Virtual forces can hold great value for training events, but they must be more carefully used when mixed with experimentation. 

Wargaming is a virtual field of application, and there is already a significant learning architecture built around certain wargaming programs. Wargames focused on tactics and doctrine should work together with the real-world field of application in a process of cooperative refinement, where wargames can refine concepts for eventual field application. But some balance must be struck between the two, lest wargames get too ahead of themselves or too much is spent on real-world trials.

Adding too many goals to the Fleet Battle Experiments made it difficult to organize follow-on events that could build on insights. Because warfighting is highly complex, multiple rounds of trial and error must characterize force development trials. However, if the Navy is to facilitate this sort of trial and error on the field of application, then events must be tightly constrained to focus on narrowly defined objectives. Otherwise, it is extraordinarily difficult to design the appropriate follow-through for a large-scale event that attempts to answer too many questions for too many stakeholders.

Multiple rounds of trial and error must also require that events take the form of a series, and where a single series can be focused on exhaustively probing only a handful of questions, warfare areas, or scenarios. One can look to the Air Force, with Red Flag as the premier combat training event, Green Flag as the main close air support exercise, and Space Flag which focuses on space-based effects. Those who program the schedule of events for the field of application should often think in terms of series, and not just one-off events.

Oversight

In a responsible system of force development, warfighting concepts and programs should live or die by their ability to prove their tactical worth. Arguments on the lasting usefulness of a system are not settled by simply identifying the capability it brings or the mission areas it contributes to. Capabilities have to be tested with an eye toward the specific tactics they produce, and in fleshed out environments. Regardless if the systems are functioning in a technical sense, capabilities can be proven useless or even counterproductive in the context of their application. Poor tactical performance in simulations or exercises should be enough to force changes or cancellations as force development weeds out brittle ideas. If a service or a warfighting community is concerned about the viability of a particular concept or a system, then they should be made to compete through superior tactical innovation. But having realistic proving grounds, a robust learning architecture, and a healthy learning culture is not enough to have the utmost confidence in the military’s ability to change. Despite all the good they can do for military evolution, exercises and wargames have often been deliberately shaped to defend preconceived notions.

Objective tactical investigation and competition requires that trials be realistic, unbiased, and transparent to crucial stakeholders. However, defense programs and warfighting concepts do not exist in an objective vacuum, and involve bureaucratic and political equity. Various communities within each of the services compete with one another for resources for their respective programs, and each has their sacred cows. Multiple tools can exist for the same mission, such as for anti-submarine warfare, but reside among the different tribes and communities. Institutional divisions can emerge along varying interpretations on what will dominate in future war. The services can also compete with each other, such as in the infamous Revolt of the Admirals that was driven by arguments that pitted the Air Force’s strategic bombers against the Navy’s carrier aviation. Questions of tactical effectiveness are but one element of these debates, and sometimes parochial interests can become overriding. These dynamics can also go far beyond the Pentagon and also reach into the halls of Congress. Members of Congress can strongly depend on certain defense programs for jobs and political capital, and can hold other attachments to certain systems of interest. In the past, Congress has forced the military to retain platforms that the services deemed to have outlived their tactical usefulness, including battleships and the A-10.

In How Much Is Enough, Alain Enthoven and K. Wayne Smith pointed to how military culture and bureaucracy can be susceptible to unobjective influences, and how independent analysts in the once-controversial Systems Analysis office were able to compensate:

“Military officers as a group (and some civilians as well) are in a position to have very limited intellectual and career independence. While many individuals succeed in standing up to the system, there are numerous institutional factors working to limit the officer’s intellectual independence…The military man lives in an atmosphere in which many assumptions, attitudes, and beliefs – generally unspoken – are shared…Officers who do not share these beliefs are liable to reprisal on their annual fitness reports…This lack of career independence further helps to ensure conformity to the Service point of view…[independent civilian] analysts could more easily ask the hard questions and pose genuine alternatives, arriving at a recommendation via a more rational and objective process. They were not constrained to defer to rank, age, experience, or chain of command. They had the time to think about important long-range policy problems and [had] the room for imagination, initiative, and fresh thinking. They were comparatively free to gore sacred cows. Such liberties are institutionally very difficult to exercise in a military organization, joint or single Service. There have been loud complaints about civilians ‘muzzling the military’; but anyone who is familiar with the system knows that most of the muzzling is done by the military themselves.”5 

For these reasons and others, the Department of Defense and the Congress should establish an independent body that seeks to provide an unbiased set of eyes on major exercising and wargaming programs. Important independent bodies already exist in the Department of Defense, such as the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE, which is descended from the Systems Analysis office) and Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOTE). These organizations aid in assessing major programmatic decisions and provide oversight and evaluation of weapons testing, respectively. These organizations play important roles in providing independent assessments, maintaining standards, and help act as a check on the military’s parochial interests. An organization that seeks to provide similar functions for major exercises and wargames could focus on accounting for:

  • Nature and extent of exercise/wargame artificialities and assumptions
  • Fidelity and behavior of opposing forces
  • Fairness of adjudication
  • Effective inclusion and communication of results in follow-on reporting

Exercises and wargames can have enormous programmatic implications like the programs CAPE and DOTE assess. However, they are venues that can still be corrupted by institutional bias. One such example includes the Congressionally mandated “flyoff” between the F-35 and A-10, which was supposed to be an exercise designed to assess the tactical merits of the platforms in the close air support mission. However, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), an independent watchdog, released a scathing report on the flyoff that argued the exercise design was deliberately distorted to favor the F-35. While pointing to a variety of flaws, POGO claimed:

“Air Force leaders…are staging an unpublicized, quickie test on existing training ranges, creating unrealistic scenarios that presuppose an ignorant and inert enemy force, writing ground rules for the tests that make the F-35 look good—and they got the new testing director, the retired Air Force general Robert Behler, to approve all of it. According to sources closely involved with the A-10 versus F-35 fly-off, who wished to remain anonymous out of concerns about retaliation, this testing program was designed without ever consulting the Air Force’s resident experts on close air support, A-10 pilots and joint terminal attack ground controllers…”6

The frequency with which it appears the military distorts the field of application to protect assumptions, to include scripting behaviors and other measures, points to an uncomfortable truth of force development. The military cannot be expected to always accept or disclose the most disruptive implications that can come from investigating the future of war. Despite their hefty mandate, the armed forces, like any other organization, can still stifle progress through bias, bureaucratic inertia, and an unreceptive culture. An independent body that assesses major exercises and wargames can add needed discipline to force development, safeguard the field of application, and promote military evolution that is appropriately receptive to change.

Resourcing and Reorganization

“Sailors are the most modular, lethal, and adaptable asset the Navy has. No weapon system, no matter how technologically advanced, is more instrumental to warfighting effectiveness than the person directing it. But competency and confidence are not naturally ingrained in a sailor. Warfighting effectiveness only can develop in a sailor who is properly educated, rigorously trained, and meaningfully assessed—and all these factors require resourcing.” –Lt. Brendan Cordial, “People Over Payloads,” 20187

If strategy is to inform budget in an age of great power competition, then the Navy must decide how it can invest more into learning tactics and doctrine. Resourcing priorities can focus on providing more operational units in order to increase the frequency of major training events and warfighting experiments, as well as investing in the unique personnel assignments that are specifically tailored toward force development. However, the current political environment and other constraints are not going to allow for a sudden major increase in force development funding. When it comes to resourcing, how the Navy makes the most of its force development will greatly depend on how it reinvests its time.

The Navy’s force development agenda and the overseas operational agenda will compete for the fleet’s time and units. The Navy’s current ability to resource its own force development with enough field trials and opposing forces will be heavily tied to its ability to wind down its overseas operations. With respect to becoming a learning organization that intends to learn more about high-end warfighting specifically, the Navy must weigh the learning value of major force development events versus overseas operations. In this vein, it should be plainly clear that advanced training and experimentation events help the Navy learn more about high-end warfighting than virtually any presence patrol or maritime security mission.

If the Navy wants to maximize the “reps and sets” of its force development, then it can invert what it has long been its operating paradigm. Advanced events like SWATT and the Fleet Problems shouldn’t just be the prelude to a long deployment, they can become the point of a deployment. Allowing units to do these events several times in the course of a single stretch will accelerate the Navy’s learning to incredible heights, and give the training audience multiple attempts to better themselves in large-scale venues. More importantly, this will add greater speed to the Navy’s ongoing transition away from the low-end focus and gradually reduce the strategic liability it incurred. How frequently the fleet chooses to conduct high-end training events at the onset of this transition will determine how quickly the Navy can close the door on any adversary that seeks to capitalize on the Navy’s lingering neglect of full-spectrum skills.

A baseline resourcing requirement can include defining a dedicated opposing force, because major real-world trials will often need meaningful opposition as a basic realism requirement, and dedicated opposing forces require adequate time to train to foreign doctrine. By designating a combination of units to act as a dedicated opposing force, the fleet will also have a major unit that can be mostly focused on solving Navy problems and not just combatant commander problems. Such a force can maximize its size and availability by including virtual units and operating on a workup cycle similar to that of forward deployed naval forces. 

Another resourcing requirement will come from how the field of application is organized, and the various series of events that are defined. Some events could focus exclusively on training while others focus only on experimentation, since the two can be distinct types of events. Many tactical investigations will require a series of experiments, and many units will need to pass through training crucibles each year. How the Navy organizes the field of application and then allocates units and spends readiness across the various events can drive resourcing requirements. 

The Navy has a tremendous advantage over its great power rivals when it comes to resourcing force development. The numerous allies the U.S. has around the world can also put their navies to use in answering critical force development questions. Allies can be asked to investigate specific tactical problems, and can offer more units to serve as opposition forces. Every allied navy adds size to the field of application, and can allow for a more expansive force development agenda that is shared among partners.

Aside from investing more energy toward live exercises and away from forward operations, the Navy must learn to better resource learning at the individual level. The Navy must give Sailors the time to focus on what makes them better warfighters, and also improve access to the career opportunities that hold the greatest value for their development as warfighters.

Debriefs and replays can and should be reviewed by many more than those who actually participated. No Sailor needs to wait to participate in order to learn from a Fleet Problem, a SWATT evolution, or a wargame. The Navy can widen the reach of its learning architecture by creating deliverable lesson plans and replays for each of these events. Easily digestible and widely disseminated deliverables will multiply the size of the training audience, and make the most of expensive exercises. However, this sort of learning experience should not be left to the initiative of Sailors, since the Navy’s lessons learned systems are infamously difficult and underutilized. Instead, Sailors should be mandated to review these sorts of replays and debriefs as a part of their training curriculum, which will ensure the Navy multiplies the value of these events. Also, for certain trials, opposition forces need to be capable and unpredictable enough so this sort of reviewing doesn’t amount to finding an answer key.

Sailors still need to be given enough time if they are to have better learning experiences. The Navy already makes plenty of time for Sailors to learn things, but among numerous workshops, inspections, and trainings, not enough are truly focused on making Sailors better warfighters. Leaders have long sought to cut these burdens and have made some progress, but Sailors are still overburdened and their focus spread thin. The Navy must recognize that many of these burdens are the accumulated baggage of a risk-averse culture and a low-end operating focus that was not well-constrained. Similar to how a SWATT exercise teaches more than virtually any presence patrol, spending a few hours watching a Fleet Problem replay teaches more about warfighting than virtually any admin paperwork. The Navy should redefine individual training requirements for the high-end fight, and then force most other burdens to conform to those requirements and not the other way around.

By the time the Imperial Japanese Navy struck Pearl Harbor, 99 percent of the U.S. Navy’s admirals were graduates of the Naval War College.8 All the admirals who graduated from the interwar period Naval War College learned from a curriculum that included a heavy wargaming component. Through multiple wargames that could last weeks at a time, naval officers acted out major fleet actions against great power rivals and became engrossed in warfighting specifics. This shared wargaming experience was invaluable in giving the Navy’s admirals a common baseline of expertise on tactics, doctrine, and operational thinking.

The first move of Tactical Maneuver IV for the Naval War College class of 1923. This chart shows the Red fleet at the upper right and the Blue fleet in the lower left. (“Battle of Emerald Bank, Tactical Problem IV, TAC 94, 1923. Naval Historical Collection) [Click to Expand]
While many of the modern Navy’s flag officers are also graduates of the College, the current curriculum is more diverse and does not come close to producing the base of warfighting expertise the interwar Navy earned through the same institution. Wargaming programs at the College such as the Gravely and Halsey programs have become very exclusive, yet do not often feature in the experience of flag officers. Wargaming experience should become more mainstream throughout the Navy’s officer ranks because it is a valuable training and research experience, and it is far more affordable training than live exercising.

Distinction in wargaming should also be rewarded with better career prospects. This should hold especially true for earning flag rank because wargaming can help compensate for the natural disadvantages of how command experience evolves. Naval officers usually do not have the opportunity to lead multi-ship operations until they have served for decades and are already fairly senior. A more mainstream wargaming curriculum will help the Navy identify leaders with a knack for commanding large-scale combat operations far earlier in their careers, and ensure that the senior ranks are populated with leaders that have experience thinking through high-end conflict scenarios.

Conclusion

Whether artillery begins to rain on the Korean peninsula, or Iranian mines litter the Strait of Hormuz, or a major terrorist attack unfolds, the Navy must never again allow itself to totally do away with preparing for the high-end fight. The story of the modern American Navy is unfortunately that of an organization that was divorced from the main purpose that had long animated its spirit,  and dysfunction radiated throughout its institutions as a result. A difficult transition looms ahead, its urgency underscored by the sudden naval ascendance of a great power rival. 

The U.S. Navy still retains its global preeminence, and has the greatest potential of any other navy today. Its history is replete with historic victories, its resources are unmatched, and the world still regards it as a powerful expression of American global leadership. The mettle of the fleet will be forged anew as an emerging era of great power competition infuses it with urgent spirit.

Now the U.S. Navy is embarking on a bold transformation, and soon it will rediscover the power of its essence–to command the seas. 

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

References

1. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, USN, Keynote Speech before the Surface Navy Association, January 9, 2018. https://www.navy.mil/navydata/people/cno/Richardson/Speech/180109_CNORichardson_Keynote_SurfaceNavyAssociation.pdf 

2. Captain Jim Kilby, “Surface Warfare: Lynchpin of Integrated Naval/Air Missile Defense,” CIMSEC, April 4, 2014. http://cimsec.org/surface-warfare-lynchpin-naval-integrated-airmissile-defense/10748 

3. Zachary Staples and Maura Sullivan, “Cyberphysical Forensics: Lessons from the USS John S. McCain Collision,” CIMSEC, January 22, 2018. http://cimsec.org/cyberphysical-forensics-lessons-from-the-uss-john-s-mccain-collision/35254 

4. General Joseph Dunford, USMC, “From the Chairman: Maintaining a Boxer’s Stance,” Joint Force Quarterly, June 19, 2017. https://ndupress.ndu.edu/Media/News/News-Article-View/Article/1218381/from-the-chairman-maintaining-a-boxers-stance/ 

5. Alain C. Enthoven and K. Wayne Smith, How Much is Enough?, RAND , 1971. https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/commercial_books/2010/RAND_CB403.pdf 

6. Dan Grazier, “Close Air Support Fly-Off Farce,” POGO, July 10, 2018. https://www.pogo.org/investigation/2018/07/close-air-support-fly-off-farce/ 

7. Lieutenant Brendan Cordial, “People Over Payloads,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceeings, May 2018. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2018-05/people-over-payloads 

8. John Lillard, Playing War: Wargaming and U.S. Navy Preparations for World War II, Potomac Books, 2016. 

Featured Image: NORWEGIAN SEA (Oct. 26, 2018) Aviation Machinist’s Mate Airman Jadah Martinez inspects an after burner for fuel leaks during an active test on the fantail aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Victoria Granado/Released) 

The Bad Day Scenario, Part 2: Dynamic Force Employment and Distributed Operations

Read Part One here.

By Jimmy Drennan

The first article of this series introduced the “Bad Day Scenario,” reminiscent of a similar scenario the Navy considered in 2003. The Navy went on to test its global responsiveness in the surge exercise Summer Pulse 2004. The scenario posited in Part One involves simultaneous reports of a mine strike in the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, a paramilitary invasion of a Turkish town, and a Chinese attack on a U.S. military aircraft.

The Bad Day Scenario pushes the U.S. Navy, even with its global reach, to the brink of mission failure. Even if none of the three flashpoints boiled over into armed conflict, it is questionable whether today’s Navy could posture to deliver desired effects in a timely manner. There is also no true safe haven to be found in the other military branches or U.S. allies. The preferred military response would probably be a joint operation, but the Navy would likely be called upon to act first, if only to begin moving forces into position. Mobilizing naval forces could provide national leadership with decision space before crossing a strategic “point of no return” while achieving a rapid, politically acceptable result. If the Navy, however, could not position capable forces to respond in a given timeframe, such a response would be decidedly less feasible to political leadership.

Nor could the Navy rely on U.S. allies to save the day. First, prudent planning dictates that in a worst case scenario analysis, one should not assume the benefit of allies coming to their aid. Second, although unlikely, unilateral U.S. operations are entirely feasible. American presidents have routinely reserved the right to act unilaterally to preserve vital interests. Meanwhile, NATO is a shell of the military force that once served as a counterbalance to Russian aggression, and much of Europe is preoccupied with economic and domestic issues. Even if European allies could muster the political will to assist in Turkey, it is unreasonable to assume they would have the capacity to support in the Bab el Mandeb simultaneously. In the Pacific, it is possible U.S.  allies would view the downed aircraft as strictly a U.S.-China issue. There could also be murky questions as to the flight profile of the aircraft relative to China’s contentious claims of territorial airspace. However, U.S. allies in the region are far more likely to come to the aid of the U.S. over issues that impact their sovereignty or economy, such as China’s excessive claims in the South China Sea.

Faced with the specter of having to go it alone, the Navy could capitalize on two emerging concepts to tackle the Bad Day Scenario: Dynamic Force Employment (DFE) and Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO). Both concepts have the potential to improve the Navy’s global responsiveness. Integrating DFE and DMO into actual operations and doctrine creates both intriguing challenges and opportunities for the Navy of the future.

Dynamic Force Employment

Introduced in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, DFE is a concept for employing forces on a global scale in an agile and unpredictable manner. DFE has a significant impact on the Navy by shifting carrier strike group (CSG) deployments away from the routine, almost clockwork, schedules that supported  the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past two decades, and toward a demand-based methodology that could involve shorter or more irregularly spaced deployments to any number of locations based on current events. Among the many changes that DFE will bring, it will immediately impact the advanced training portion of the readiness cycle – ships and strike groups will no longer be able to focus on a predetermined set of threats based on geographic area.

DFE essentially addresses the timeliness aspect of the Bad Day Scenario. It is designed to maximize the probability that forces will be available to respond to global crises and contingencies. It sacrifices presence for responsiveness and agility.

Forward staging forces around the world on rotational deployments provide presence, but this approach has gradually degraded force readiness over the past two decades. In addition, there’s no guarantee forces are deployed where the next crisis will ignite, and it may take just as long for them to reposition as it would for them to deploy from CONUS. Instead, DFE uses responsive deployments. Forces deploy when and where they are needed, and when deployed, they can extend their presence on demand and far more easily than a unit coming off a long deployment.

The value of DFE’s agility is highlighted in the Bad Day Scenario. Under the traditional force employment paradigm, an east coast-based CSG would typically deploy to the Arabian Gulf. From there, it would take nearly as long to respond to the Turkey incident as a CSG in homeport, plus the time, risk, and resources incurred by transiting a potentially mined chokepoint in the Bab el Mandeb Strait or even the Suez Canal. DFE eliminates the “default” deployment to the Arabian Gulf, and increases the likelihood of east coast-based forces being allocated to the European region (6th Fleet), poised to respond to the Russian aggression in Turkey. Forces in the Middle East (5th Fleet) would be preferable to CONUS-based forces to respond to the mine strike in the Bab el Mandeb Strait. However, the unique defensive and force protection challenges of the region (e.g. anti-ship cruise missiles, explosive boats, lethal unmanned aerial vehicles) require capabilities that 5th Fleet’s assigned mine countermeasure forces do not possess. As the Navy’s Director of Expeditionary Warfare points out, having the wrong capabilities available is the same as having zero availability. Critical enablers such as Aegis cruisers and destroyers may need to deploy from CONUS after all. DFE forces the Navy to prepare for the possibility of having to rapidly deploy such a package for unique missions like mine clearance, potentially resulting in improved global responsiveness.

Lastly, DFE is ideally suited for the return to an era of great power competition by presenting unpredictability to potential adversaries, such as Russia and China. To be clear, DFE is in some respects a necessary outcome of budget restrictions and the end of nonstop naval air support to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, it is heartening to see DoD make a strategic transition so deftly. Instead of shifting default rotational CSG deployments from one area of responsibility (AOR) to another, DoD rewrote the game plan, simultaneously forcing potential adversaries to wonder where U.S. forces will show up next, while also creating operational tempo “breathing room” to help reset the force.

As Tyson Wetzel points out on the Strategy Bridge, there are some potential challenges to DFE becoming an effective force management system. Some Combatant Commanders (COCOMs) could view DFE as a threat to force allocations in their AOR since they have long been accustomed to continuous naval presence. Allies may view irregular deployments as a sign of waning U.S. commitment to their strategic partnerships. Above all else, DFE will remain constrained by overall end strength. No matter how dynamic the Navy is, it is ultimately only as responsive as the number of ships it has operationally available.

Distributed Maritime Operations

One way to overcome the limitations of end strength is to rethink how U.S. naval forces operate once deployed. This is, in part, the logic behind distributed maritime operations (DMO), the successor to Commander, Naval Surface Force’s distributed lethality concept. While a universally accepted definition of DMO does not exist, DMO emphasizes multi-domain maneuver and kill chain agility through incorporating lethality into more platforms, offboard sensors, network-optional C2 (i.e. a blend of mission command and networked operations), and unmanned systems, to name a few. It is an operational concept that guides the Navy toward fielding a force capable of applying efficient, tailored force packages to a wide range of potential missions and threats. To some, it represents a significant departure from the near-myopic focus on power projection ashore via high-end capabilities, such as CSG sorties and ship-launched cruise missile strikes to support land-based operations.

If DFE addresses the temporal aspect of the Bad Day Scenario, DMO addresses the spatial and doctrinal aspects. DMO, in concept, would allow the Navy to respond to multiple contingencies in different regions by operating in a distributed manner. Although the Navy has been slow to adopt DMO (due in part to “organizational inertia” associated with the preeminence of CSG operations), deployed CSGs, amphibious readiness groups (ARGs), and destroyer squadrons (DESRONs) are already accustomed to operating disaggregated units, sometimes even across COCOM AOR boundaries. DMO will theoretically take disaggregated operations to the next level. DMO will allow units to disaggregate and then effectively integrate with other distributed units to produce tailored force packages on demand as the situation dictates.

Specific to the Bad Day Scenario, DMO could improve the Navy’s responsiveness in multiple ways. A group or squadron operating in the Mediterranean or Red Sea could rapidly disaggregate to respond to both the Turkey and the Bab el Mandeb crises. And by building lethality into all platforms, there is a greater likelihood the Navy could respond to any of the incidents with the nearest available assets. With the current force, some otherwise capable platforms, such as the San Antonio-class LPDs, could not respond to the South China Sea incident due to a lack of integrated air and missile defense capability. Offboard sensors and unmanned systems are particularly useful in mine threat areas, which create greater standoff ranges in relatively small littoral areas such as the Bab el Mandeb Strait. DMO can integrate lower-end surface platforms with these capabilities, allowing them to conduct missions such as mine warfare without incurring undue risk or having to wait for the minesweepers to arrive.

While DFE has been rapidly implemented, DMO (and distributed lethality before it) has lingered on the Navy’s operational “whiteboard,” with many supportive ideas and unique definitions coming from across the Navy enterprise. The implementation of DFE benefited from top-down Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) guidance, whereas DMO, on the other hand, began with the Surface Force and had to gain acceptance from the broader Navy and Joint Force from the “bottom up” (or at least from a few steps down). DFE was received as a mandate from SECDEF, whereas DMO has to be sold as a valuable concept, which necessarily takes longer. The lack of a unifying guidance document may have contributed to the delay in widespread acceptance. In order to facilitate implementation, the Navy should prioritize publishing a Naval Warfare or Doctrine Publication (NWP/NDP) on DMO as soon as possible.

The Convergence of DMO and DFE

The advent of DFE, coming from the Joint Force, and DMO, being developed from within, create unique challenges and opportunities for the Navy’s global responsiveness going forward. Ignoring the necessary integration of the two concepts and addressing them in a vacuum could lead to sub-optimal implementation of both concepts, or an unnecessary rejection of one concept in favor of the other. (Likely DMO would be the one to suffer, given SECDEF’s endorsement and rapid implementation of DFE.) Instead, the Navy needs to analyze how DFE and DMO will coexist to maximize maritime warfighting effectiveness. With that comes several key implications which will be addressed in detail in Part 3 of this series.

Jimmy Drennan is the Vice President of CIMSEC. These views are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of any government agency.

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (Nov. 16, 2018) Ships with the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group and John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group transit the Philippine Sea during dual carrier operations. Ronald Reagan and John C. Stennis are underway and conducting operations in international waters as part of a dual carrier strike force exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaila V. Peters)

A Question of Time: Improving Taiwan’s Maritime Deterrence Posture

The following essay is adapted from a report published by George Mason University’s Center for Security Policy Studies: A Question of Time: Enhancing Taiwan’s Conventional Deterrence Posture

By Joe Petrucelli

Just last month two U.S. Navy warships conducted a transit of the Taiwan Strait, reminding the world that the status of Taiwan remains contested and unresolved. Although China prefers to use peaceful means to achieve unification, it has not taken the possibility of force off the table. Accordingly, Taiwan remains one of the few states to endure the plausible risk of military invasion.

After visiting Taiwan to study this problem, a team of researchers, including the author, recently released a report advocating for a dramatic shift in Taiwan’s conventional deterrence posture. Among our recommendations, we call for Taiwan’s navy to change its current acquisition priorities and embrace an unconventional-asymmetric doctrine of sea denial.

We suggest this shift in maritime strategy because of what we termed Taiwan’s deterrence trilemma. At a strategic level, Taiwan must simultaneously accomplish three goals that exist in tension with each other:  

  • It must counter China’s grey zone challenges, which means Taiwan must project symbolic strength across its airspace and territorial waters;
  • It must raise the costs of invasion, which means it needs forces that can prolong any conflict and inflict unacceptable losses on the invaders; and
  • It must do both of these things in a resource-constrained environment defined by a general unwillingness to significantly increase defense spending

At least in the near term, a military invasion remains unlikely since the PLA faces a number of obstacles that complicate its ability to mount a successful invasion. Nonetheless, time is on China’s side and Taiwan’s naval doctrine and force posture remain misaligned. Although Taiwan has revised its strategy to emphasize multi-domain, asymmetric deterrence, it remains focused on purchasing high-end, high-capability systems such as the F-35B fighter, Aegis-like destroyers and diesel submarines, the “darlings of their service chiefs.” 

We argue that Taiwan should enhance its deterrence posture by adopting a more coherent and holistic approach. Specifically, we recommend that it adopt an elastic denial-in-defense strategy, which will consist of three core elements:

  • Accept risk in the grey zone. Grey zone aggression does not constitute an existential threat allowing Taiwan to rebalance its force to maintain “just enough” capability to push back against grey zone challenges, such sufficient naval strength to prevent and intercept unwanted excursions into Taiwanese waters;
  • Prioritize denial operations. Specifically, divest as many costly, high-tech platforms as possible so as to invest in large numbers of relatively low-cost, counter-invasion capabilities. This would raise the cost associated with bringing a hostile force close to Taiwan’s shores; and
  • Invest in popular resistance. The prospect of waging a prolonged insurgency will likely deter China’s leadership far more than the threat of fighting a relatively small, conventional force.

We are not the first to propose shifting to an asymmetric maritime force to deny China use of the seas as an invasion corridor. Numerous reports and analyses have suggested specific maritime platforms Taiwan should acquire to execute a sea denial strategy, such as fast missile boats, semi-submersibles, mini-submarines, mines, and coastal defense cruise missiles. We entirely agree with these recommendations and note that to date, despite talk of an asymmetric strategy, Taiwan has made only marginal changes. For example, while it has modestly increased its inventory of missile boats and anti-ship cruise missiles, Taiwan’s navy remains anchored around a relatively small and therefore vulnerable inventory of high-end platforms. 

The political reality is that Taiwan’s navy faces major resource constraints and so must make difficult choices. Accordingly, Taiwan should defer its high-profile procurement priorities, especially the Aegis-like destroyer and the Indigenous Diesel Submarine (IDS). These are technically challenging programs, especially given Taiwan’s lack of experience building similar platforms. Additionally, they are expensive enough that Taiwan will not be able to field them in large numbers and ultimately remain vulnerable to Chinese long-range strike and anti-access weapons systems. Taiwan’s current naval fleet, although aged, is sufficient to “show the flag” and resist grey-zone aggression for the near future. Instead of these planned procurements, Taiwan should significantly increase the numbers of low-cost, lethal platforms, even at the expense of other planned procurements.

These lower cost platforms, by the larger numbers procured, complicate adversary targeting and improve their force-level survivability against PLA strike capabilities. Taiwan should start by fielding a larger fleet than currently envisioned of its stealthy Tuo Jiang missile corvette and build on the lessons learned from these small corvettes to field a future small frigate. Both can fulfill peacetime missions but be built in large enough numbers to possibly survive in a wartime environment. By delaying the more ambitious destroyer and IDS programs and starting with smaller, less expensive projects, Taiwan can best prioritize limited resources.

This incremental approach also helps develop relevant technical capability, so that potential future submarine and large surface combatant programs are less technically risky when it becomes fiscally and strategically appropriate to build them. The immediate savings from delaying the destroyer and IDS programs can be diverted into the sea denial platforms that Taiwan needs now, ranging from the small frigate discussed above to even smaller missile boats, mini-subs and mobile anti-ship cruise missiles.

Moreover, Taiwan should eliminate its entire amphibious force. Bluntly speaking, Taiwan’s amphibious assault ships are strategically unnecessary as they are not immediately useful for confronting limited challenges to Taiwan’s territorial sovereignty or other “grey zone” aggression. They also have no ability to counter a cross-strait invasion. Rather than procure expensive amphibious assault ships and maintain aging landing craft, which generate sizable sustainment costs, Taiwan should retire this entire force. It can then shift these savings into further investments in counter-invasion capabilities.

Because Taiwan’s Marine Corps would be losing its sealift, it should be rebranded as Taiwan’s premier counter-amphibious force so as to fill a gap between the navy’s sea denial role and the army’s ground denial mission. Specifically, it would specialize in defending possible landing zones with mines and spread out hard points in addition to engaging landing craft with dispersed, near-shore weapons such as anti-tank guided missiles.

These proposals to transform Taiwan’s naval strategy and procurement plans would produce a force capable of waging a sea denial campaign against a conventionally superior opponent, tailored to the specific threat of a cross-Strait invasion. The changes in naval force structure would be mirrored throughout Taiwan’s armed forces, to include a reduction in army ground strength, the termination of plans to procure F-35B fighters, and accelerated procurement of similar asymmetric capabilities. To invest in popular resistance, we recommend transforming Taiwan’s two-million-man Reserve Force into a Territorial Defense Force prepared to conduct a lengthy insurgency campaign. By abandoning plans for a decisive battle and shifting to a posture that increases invasion costs and prevents a quick victory, Taiwan can better deter China.

Read about these recommendations and more in the full report: A Question of Time: Enhancing Taiwan’s Conventional Deterrence Posture.

Joe Petrucelli is a Ph.D. student at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government and a currently mobilized U.S. Navy reserve officer. The analysis and opinions expressed here are his alone and they do not represent those of the Department of Defense.

Featured Image: Tuo Jiang-class missile boat in service with the Taiwanese Navy. (Defense Ministry of Taiwan)

How the Fleet Forgot to Fight, Pt. 6: Strategy and Operations

Read Part 1 on Combat Training. Part 2 on Firepower. Part 3 on Tactics and Doctrine. Read Part 4 on Technical Standards. Read Part 5 on Material Condition and Availability.

By Dmitry Filipoff

Strategy and Operations

“During this time we have seen our once-great fleet cut almost in half and our remaining ships and personnel forced to endure long and continuous deployments as their numbers dwindled while requirements increased, and our nation turned away from international imperatives to attend to vexing problems closer to home…” –Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt, 1973

The Navy is not the only branch of the military facing significant challenges born from a long focus on the low-end fight. After the fall of the Soviet Union and especially after the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan all of the military services pivoted their training toward low-end skills to a significant extent. All of the services dealt with crushing operational tempo stemming from demand driven primarily by the Middle East, and are still paying off large maintenance debts. Now they are all trying to radically reorient themselves to be ready for great power competition.

However, the Navy stands far apart from the other services in how it contributed and adapted to the major wars of the power projection era. The nature of blue water naval power was poorly suited to counterinsurgency, causing the Navy to diffuse its efforts across a broad variety of mission areas. The fleet went on to suffer an especially large divide between what it could do and how it was tasked. Missions that were once considered a luxury afforded by the demise of a great power competitor eventually came to be regarded as inescapable obligations. This mission focus blurred the Navy’s priorities, allowed it to overextend itself, and helped blind the fleet to the fundamental need to  develop itself through proper exercises.

As a result, many of the Navy’s operations undermined enduring strategic imperatives, suggesting the urgency of those low-end missions was built on questionable strategy. In the process, the Navy shed high-end warfighting skills that remained relevant even after the demise of the Soviet Union and is entering an era of renewed great power competition at a disadvantage as China rises. The United States, as a maritime nation, and the world, as dependent on maritime order, now find themselves at greater risk by an American fleet deficient in sea control. 

Missions and Adapting to Power Projection

“Looking at how we support our people, build the right platforms, power them to achieve efficient global capability, and develop critical partnerships will be central to its successful execution and to providing that unique capability: presence.” –A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (2015)

The composition of blue water naval power is often decided a generation in advance of when it actually manifests itself. It takes many years to conceive of a ship, several more years to then build the first ship of a new type, and many more years to build an entire class of ships. The fundamental attributes of the modern U.S. Navy were mostly set or inspired by the national security thinking of the 70s and 80s when sea control defined its focus. The American fleet that sails today is mainly composed of 100,000-ton nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, large surface warships that can carry over 100 missiles each, and nuclear-powered submarines. The modern U.S. Navy is a living relic of the Cold War, where its design was crafted in an era dominated by great power competition.

Something similar could be said for the force structure of the other military services, and the low-end focus of the immediate post-Cold War era demanded they all adapt. The nation-building and counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan required especially radical changes. Adapting to these wars took more the form of different missions and training, rather than building different kinds of force structure. Divorcing units from high-end force structure inspired by Cold War threats became central toward adapting to the low-end fight.

Both the Army and Marines recognized that a significant part of their force structure was barely useful for counterinsurgency and chose to rarely employ their armored units in traditional roles. It appears the U.S. did not deploy tanks to Afghanistan until 2010, and up until at least two years ago no Army armor units have deployed to Afghanistan with their tanks.1 Having been divorced from their main vehicles these units underwent extensive retraining to take on new missions, and the Army’s field artillery branch experienced similar reforms.2 Even though these units were pushed into less-familiar roles these adaptations were viewed as necessary to make them more applicable to the counterinsurgency fight.

The Army and Marines are not alone in having force structure that was hardly useful to counterinsurgency. Most of the tools of blue water naval forces such as powerful radars and sonars, dozens of missile tubes, electronic warfare suites, nuclear submarines, and long-endurance ships are poorly suited to fighting insurgents. Insurgent war is usually a land-only contest, where insurgents almost never field real navies. Aircraft carriers can employ airpower, but most of the Navy’s major capabilities could hardly be applied. This is reflected in how the surface and submarine fleets’ direct combat contributions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were mostly confined to cruise missile strikes conducted in the opening months of those campaigns.3 Beyond that there were virtually no contributions of firepower from most American warships for the rest of these wars.

The Navy had to make its own retraining adaptations. The Individual Augmentee (IA) program pulled Sailors from assignments that usually took them to sea and instead deployed them to serve in augmented roles on land. However, the numbers were very uneven across the Navy’s various communities. Even though tens of thousands of Sailors deployed through the IA program it appears less than five percent of Navy individual augmentees came from the surface fleet.4 This points to a major difference in how the Navy adapted to counterinsurgency compared to the other services, in that even in a time of insurgent war the Navy still continued to operate less relevant force structure at pre-9/11 levels. The Navy never went so far as the Army or Marines who regularly made their armor and artillery units leave their main weapons behind. The Navy’s ship deployment rate went unaffected by any augmentation or retraining.

Pay grade distribution of individual augmentees who were deployed from cruisers and destroyers during Fiscal Years 2006 through 2009. (Source: GAO)

The diminished relevance of blue water naval power in the Global War on Terror is reflected in the work of Lieutenant Commander Alan Worthy, who interviewed numerous Sailors while researching the Navy’s IA program: 

“A significant number of the young Sailors I spoke with joined the Navy specifically to be part of this ongoing war. They joined after 9/11 or after the GWOT began and wanted to get into the fight. In my interviews, I was surprised to learn that a considerable percentage of Sailors did not have a good understanding of the Navy’s role in the GWOT. For Sailors who were in the Navy before the war, their day-to-day duties out to sea had not significantly changed because of the war. For those who joined to fight this war, it has been difficult to see what their daily efforts out to sea were accomplishing. The strategic effects of missions such as maritime dominance and theater security cooperation are often unrealized by the average Sailor as they go about daily sea life. Unlike Marine Corps and Army accomplishments, which are in the daily news media, Sailors do not regularly get to the opportunity to see or hear how the maritime mission directly contributes to the war.”5 

The Navy was poorly suited to counterinsurgency, forcing it to focus its operational energies elsewhere. The low-end spectrum missions opened up many opportunities to conduct diverse operations that would allow the Navy to put the forward presence of its ships to use. Warships conducted missions such as counterpiracy, maritime security, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Ships protected fisheries, caught smugglers, and taught foreign counterparts how to better provide for their own security. Partnership engagements in particular became a leading operational activity for U.S. naval power as concepts such as the 1,000-ship Navy and Global Fleet Station urged greater international cooperation.

A snapshot of missions for ships in the Fifth Fleet area of responsibility. (Source: “Surge Readiness: What the Fleet Response Plan Really Means to a Joint Force Maritime Component Commander”)

The power projection era ushered in what may be remembered as a high time for naval soft power, where the Navy devoted a significant amount of its time and skill on directly helping other nations improve their human condition. However, many of these operations are better described as opportunities offered by the diverse set of missions found at the low-end spectrum of operations, rather than pressing requirements driven by wartime demand. While tens of thousands of Soldiers and Marines were solely focused on advising heavily embattled Iraqi and Afghan counterparts the Navy enjoyed the luxury of frequently partnering with dozens of other nations, almost all of whom were not engaged in any major hostilities.

Despite these low-end missions the Navy’s stringent level of continuous forward presence was mainly for guaranteeing deterrence by denial. The Navy sought to primarily deter Iran, who was perfectly positioned to interfere with the Strait of Hormuz and threaten one of the most important global energy lifelines. Iran has regularly made outspoken threats to close the Strait, has far more naval forces than its Arab rivals, and attacks on international shipping in the 1980s prompted armed U.S. intervention that targeted Iranian assets. By continuously maintaining a carrier strike group in the Middle East the Navy sought to insure the global economy and regional allies against Iran.

The necessity of this demanding level of presence is questionable. Unlike in Europe or Asia, the conventional military balance in the Middle East favors U.S. allies versus Iran. The past two U.S. administrations have given tens of billions of dollars’ worth of advanced military aid to U.S. allies in the region, especially those that are staunch rivals of Iran such as Gulf Cooperation Council states and Israel. While Iran certainly enjoyed some military advantages during the power projection era its temptations to pursue major military action may have been tempered by the tens of thousands troops the U.S. deployed to countries flanking Iran.

The worldwide significance of the seaborne energy that transits the Persian Gulf is perhaps the best security guarantor. Iran could cause global economic damage if it tried to close the Strait or initiate major war with its regional rivals, but this would likely prompt extremely fierce condemnation from across the world. Even if the U.S. Navy couldn’t instantly respond, the overriding factor of politics would likely be on its side. With the advantages of politics and allies, deterrence by denial against a rogue state is less necessary if a superior coalition can be counted on to surge in response. Iran’s ability to close the Strait militarily is highly doubtful, but the possibility of this prompting an internationally-supported counter-intervention is not. The same cannot be said for how the world would respond to many contingencies involving great power war.

The Navy struggled to find a place for itself in the power projection era, but it would not abandon its traditional ship deployment rates as major land wars broke out in the Middle East. Instead, it reacted to a new national security focus by subscribing to questionable logic. During this time the Navy chose to obsessively overspend its readiness on many missions that are completely optional in nature, and on a level of deterrence that was hardly warranted. Yet the Navy was so convinced of the necessity of these operations that for years it willingly sacrificed its material readiness, tolerated severe maintenance troubles, and let its warfighting competence wither away.

This unrelenting insistence on optional missions and a total disregard for full-spectrum competence produced decades of fleet deployments that were driven by a grossly misplaced sense of urgency. In a time of power projection and insurgent wars, if any branch of the military could have safely made time to prepare for the high-end fight, it is the Navy.

Full-Spectrum Competence and U.S. Naval Power

“With the demise of the Soviet Union, the free nations of the world claim preeminent control of the seas and ensure freedom of commercial maritime passage. As a result, our national maritime policies can afford to de-emphasize efforts in some naval warfare areas. But the challenge is much more complex…We must structure a fundamentally different naval force to respond to strategic demands, and that new force must be sufficiently flexible and powerful to satisfy enduring national security requirements.”            –…From the Sea: Preparing the Naval Service for the 21st Century (1992)

With the downfall of the Soviet Union the U.S. Navy could afford to take a step back from high-end warfighting. But a single-minded focus on the low-end fight or heavily scripted training could hardly be justified even with the demise of a great power competitor. Difficult threats remained, and required that the Navy still retain high-end warfighting skills. The failure to maintain full-spectrum competence during the immediate post Cold-War era could now come home to roost with the rapid onset of great power competition in maritime Asia.

The Navy allowed the low-end skillset to dominate the nature of its pre-deployment training, but full-spectrum competence across the range of missions is no option for a Navy tasked with protecting the global interests of a superpower. A ship could be conducting counterpiracy operations one week and conducting a show of force near a missile-armed state the next. Ships en route to the Middle East can pass through the South China Sea and be shadowed by the Chinese Navy. Warships in the Mediterranean could be helping refugees stranded in the ocean while a Russian squadron hangs over the horizon.

The power projection era sought to shift the Navy’s attention to littorals mostly populated by third-world states, but these areas contain no shortage of powerful capabilities and tactical challenges. Iran for example still fields a respectable amount of conventional military capability such as coastal anti-ship missile batteries, fast attack craft, mines, and Russian-made submarines. While the quality and resilience of the Iranian military is questionable in many respects, it is still a multi-domain threat worthy of consideration.

The credibility of littoral threats was already recognized in key strategy papers that announced the Navy’s power projection focus. As the major Navy strategy document …From the Sea (1992) declared “a fundamental shift away from open-ocean warfighting on the sea toward joint operations conducted from the sea” it also recognized that this different operating environment of the littoral still had no shortage of tactical challenges:

“The littoral region is frequently characterized by confined and congested water and air space…making identification profoundly difficult. This environment poses varying technical and tactical challenges to Naval Forces. It is an area where our adversaries can concentrate and layer their defenses. In an era when arms proliferation means some third world countries possess sophisticated weaponry, there is a wide range of potential challenges…an adversary’s submarines operating in shallow waters pose a particular challenge to Naval Forces. Similarly, coastal missile batteries can be positioned to ‘hide’ from radar coverage. Some littoral threats–specifically mines, sea-skimming cruise missiles, and tactical ballistic missiles–tax the capabilities of our current systems and force structure. Mastery of the littoral should not be presumed.”6

The power projection focus still required strong warfighting skills, and could hardly justify scripted training or a lack of attention to high-end warfighting. Perhaps the terms “littoral” and “power projection” somehow became synonymous with “easy” for the U.S. Navy, and allowed it to atrophy its warfighting skills.

Even with the demise of the Soviet Union the Navy still had an obligation to deter powerful states. This was made especially clear in one of the most high-profile shows of force in the power projection era when the U.S. deployed carrier battle groups to deter China during the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis. This event added urgency to China’s desire to modernize its military for high-end warfighting, but apparently it did little to remind the U.S. Navy of its obligations toward full-spectrum deterrence.7 

Perhaps the neglect of full-spectrum competence was built on the assumption that the Navy could easily regenerate high-end skills if a new great power rival presented itself. The Chinese Navy has been given an opportunity to test this assumption. The Chinese Navy’s push for high-end competence overlaps with the American Navy’s generational focus on low-end missions, suggesting the PLAN has stolen a march on the U.S. Navy with respect to high-end force development.

After the Soviet Union fell the U.S. Navy could have taken a different path. The lack of utility of blue water naval power for counterinsurgency could have been a blessing in disguise for the Navy while the other services were heavily tied down by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the power projection era the Navy could have focused on settling complex developmental questions posed by Information Age technologies, and evolved its high-end skills. The Navy effectively missed a historic opportunity to make major progress on force development, where the fleet could have easily focused on securing its future dominance. Instead, it let a rising rival close the gap.

For a generation the Chinese and U.S. Navies have focused their skills and culture on opposite ends of the warfighting spectrum, and this disparity is far more fatal to the American fleet. A superpower navy does not threaten itself by lacking low-end skills, but it can certainly risk its defeat and destruction by failing to be ready for the high-end fight. The Navy assumed great risk by failing to maintain full-spectrum competence while an authoritarian China rose to become both a superpower and a maritime power. A possible historical legacy of the likes of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden could now include helping the U.S. Navy atrophy to such a degree that its decay was taken advantage of by an ascendant great power rival.

Matching Exercises to Strategy

“A final way in which the Maritime Strategy has served as a focus for reform is by shaping an emphasis on tactics and warfighting at the operational level. For too many years, our fleet exercises suffered from a lack of realism and focus, and our routine operations seemed to be lacking in purpose. But the Maritime Strategy now forms a framework for planning realistic, purposeful exercises, and provides a strategic perspective for daily fleet operations in pursuit of deterrence.” –Chief of Naval Operations Admiral James Watkins on the 1986 Maritime Strategy 

The low-end skillset clearly proved its worth. Navy Special Forces took out numerous insurgent leaders, collected valuable intelligence, and conducted sensitive operations worldwide. Sailors helped save thousands of lives in the wake of environmental disasters like the deadly tsunamis in Asia and after Hurricane Katrina at home. These low-end missions elevated the Navy’s role in many respects by applying naval power to a greater variety of problems and with many partners. These missions developed meaningful relationships around the globe, and were an excellent opportunity to put national values into practice abroad. The skills and relationships that come with low-end missions will remain relevant going forward because great power competition is still whole-of-government competition in peacetime and in war.

But after the fall of the Soviet Union the U.S. Navy did not just double down on these missions, it went all in. High-end warfighting experience barely came from either the Navy’s training or its forward operations. Of the little time that was actually spent on events that approached high-end exercising, few were truly challenging or well-connected to force development because of heavy scripting. Properly resourced force development can still be undercut by heavy scripting, and quality exercises can still be starved of ready units. In the Navy’s case, high-end force development was effectively taken off the schedule and out of its strategy through a self-inflicted lack of both resourcing and standards.

There is not a stark tradeoff between deterrence, force development exercising, and forward presence because of naval power’s mobility. The Navy can easily exercise within the depths of the Indian, Atlantic, or Pacific Oceans and still remain on call to respond to a contingency within days. This mobility allows for a more remote operating posture to still count as forward presence for the sake of deterrence. However, it would not be the sort of upfront presence that supports the type of small-scale exercises that come with most low-end missions. The Navy did not add more forward presence by deploying the usual 100 ships per year, but rather by disaggregating its formations once they came on station to better take advantage of the many opportunities that come with the low-end focus. By often making formations disaggregate themselves within the forward-most littorals the Navy optimized its presence to exercise for partnerships and low-end operations, rather than stronger deterrence and force development.8

The unbalanced logic of focusing solely on low-end missions caused the Navy to operate with far fewer constraints. Concepts of presence, overseas partnership, and undersea surveillance can become boundless and open-ended, where a force can quickly overwhelm itself with the many opportunities that come with these missions. In a well-rounded strategy these missions would be heavily constrained by training and force development requirements alone, where adequate time for force development has to be protected against many other demands. Trying to maintain high levels of continuous forward presence with a shrinking fleet made it difficult to maintain larger formations without disrupting schedules. A strained readiness cycle and a tunnel-vision focus on low-end missions combined to stretch the fleet so thin that it could rarely get enough ships together to properly resource high-end force development with large exercises.

The Navy can look to what other military branches have done for decades. The Army sends about a third of its brigades every year to the National Training Center, and hundreds of aircraft participate each year in the Air Force’s Red Flag exercises.9 Other military services know that they must guarantee a significant amount of readiness for large-scale exercises.

The Navy still conducted numerous training exercises every year, but their chronic lack of true opposition deprived them of value. The Army and Air Force know to dedicate units to act as full-time opposition forces (OPFOR), to empower those units to inflict meaningful losses, and to mandate them to master the methods of rivals. The Army’s major OPFOR unit is the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, and for the Air Force it is the 57th Adversary Tactics Group. By comparison the Navy has no dedicated OPFOR warship formations.

A flight of Air Force Aggressor Squadron F-15 Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons  fly in formation over the Nevada Test and Training Ranges. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)

OPFOR units are among the most proficient units in the armed forces because their primary mandate is to train hard, they are given plenty of opportunity to do so through large-scale events, and they are well-connected to an extensive learning architecture that is built around their exercises. People serving in dedicated OPFOR units can take unique culture, tactical knowledge, and professional connections with them throughout their careers. Dedicated OPFOR units perform a strategic force development function by acting as incubators from where tactical excellence can spread throughout the force.

Dedicated OPFOR units are also indispensable because superpowers often think about warfighting in widely different ways. Capt. Dale Rielage (ret.), who wields an intelligence background specializing in China and experience leading opposing forces as the senior member of the Pacific Naval Aggressor Team, sheds light on how the U.S. and Chinese Navies have significant conceptual differences in the conduct of war:

“The Marxist-Leninist view of warfare focuses on military science where Western practitioners focus on military art, which creates an objective analytic approach to warfare. While the PLA has developed and adapted Marxist thinking in the almost century since the first Soviet instructors arrived, it still defines its basic approach to warfare as a ‘Marxist view of strategy with Chinese characteristics.’ The result is that the PLAN, like its Soviets predecessors, practices a style of warfare heavily based on what Westerners would call operations research. This focus has a real impact on PLAN forces and doctrine. For example, the belief that warfare has complex but discernible rules likely produces a military more accepting of automating command functions.”10

Conceptual differences in the conduct of war can lead to highly dissimilar tactics and operational plans, which complicates training realism. Regular troops that are asked to act as opposition forces on short notice can quickly fall into mirror-imaging, where by training and instinct they can easily default to their own nation’s way of war. A rival’s view on the conduct of war can be so complex and different that it warrants dedicated units to fully understand it, train to it, and then put that alternate vision of warfighting into practice. By applying a rival’s tactics a dedicated OPFOR unit can reveal how different warfighting methods could clash with one another to produce unique combat dynamics. This is necessary for defining realism, and to know how one stacks up against the enemy’s way of war is a question of the highest strategic importance.

Now in an era dominated by great power competition even more attention must be devoted to exercising for the high-end fight beyond the responsible minimum needed for full-spectrum competence. But as a result of a long overemphasis on low-end missions the budgets and operating norms of the fleet were stretched to their limits in the absence of a major demand signal. The result is a Navy that must dig deeply into its own time and pockets to make painful choices to correct itself. 

Exercises as the Link Between Tactics and Strategy

“In the past tactics has suffered from lack of standard instructions, lack of records, lack of planning and tests of efficiency, lack of a ‘home office’ in the Department, but most of all it has suffered from lack of time in the fleet schedules…The tactical training of our fleet for war has suffered in the past, is now suffering, and will continue to suffer because of the ‘tight’ schedules of the present system.” –Commander Russell Wilson, “Our System of Fleet Training,” April 1925.

Regardless of their immense value exercises still cannot answer plenty of important questions. Exercises cannot probe many of the larger strategic concerns that can inform a campaign, such as political considerations or industrial base limits. These broader questions are more readily assessed using analysis and simulations rather than through the maneuvers of live units. Instead, where realistic combat exercises find their place in strategy is in how they dominate the realm of tactics, and how tactical-level success is the foundation of winning strategy.

Knowing how to organize for tactical success is critical toward crafting strategic plans, and Clausewitz proclaimed that proper strategy is completely contingent on superior tactics:

“…endeavor above all to be tactically superior, in order to upset the enemy’s strategic planning. The latter [strategic planning], therefore, can never be considered as something independent: it can only become valid when one has reason to be confident of tactical success…let us recall that a general such as Bonaparte could ruthlessly cut through all his enemies’ strategic plans in search of battle, because he seldom doubted the battle’s outcome…all strategic planning rests on tactical success alone…this is in all cases the actual fundamental basis for the decision.”11

Failing to understand surprise at the tactical level will eventually beckon surprise at the strategic level because one cannot be too sure of knowing if they can win if they are not sure how to win. Tactical shortsightedness can not only come from a lack of warfighting competence, it can also come from a poor understanding on how capability trends have evolved to redefine tactical ground truth. The unforseen tactical carnage wrought by the machine gun, trench, and artillery barrage in WWI was so devastating it shattered strategic concepts on both sides.12

Exercises come closest to real fighting because only they can use live units to create mock battles, making them the most important activity for understanding the tactical level of war. Only exercises can help thousands of troops practice tactics, and only exercises offer troops the most realistic proving grounds for testing tactical ideas. After having experimented enough to discover the tactical truths that govern the conduct of future war, and after having inculcated the related tactics into the force, exercises can also then be used to reveal tactical skill through bold maneuvers and rehearsals.

Exercises are the best possible means to teach tactics through training, to invent tactics through experimentation, and to showcase tactics for deterrence through demonstration. To strongly emphasize challenging exercises is to pay appropriate respect to how the tactical level of war is the foundation upon which strategy rests. 

Hazarding a Navy, a Maritime Nation, and a Maritime System

“If in the future we have war, it will almost certainly come because of some action, or lack of action, on our part in the way of refusing to accept responsibilities at the proper time, or failing to prepare for war when war does not threaten. An ignoble peace is even worse than an unsuccessful war…” –Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, 1897

A generation’s worth of poor priorities and standards has gambled much of the Navy’s credibility away. Readiness is degraded across the board, from the material state of the ships, to the warfighting competence of the individual Sailor, and to the level of institutional understanding of high-end warfighting. This degraded sea control capability can pose a strategic liability, especially when a rival superpower is focused on creating a powerful sea control capability of its own. The history of the United States and its chosen role of advancing a principled global order points to what the U.S. and the rest of the world stands to lose from an American Navy deficient in sea control.  

The discovery and colonization of the New World was driven by maritime power. Wave after wave of ships delivered settlers, supplies, and influence as the great maritime powers of the time such as Great Britain and Spain sought to expand and compete across a new hemisphere. Here the United States finds its origin story as a colony of a maritime superpower, a nation whose founding was made possible by the sea.

The Mayflower at Sea. Gilbert Margeson (1852-1940)

After gaining independence from Great Britain the United States gained a similar sort of strategic flexibility its English forefathers enjoyed. Nations in most other continents border several neighbors which forces them to always be aware and engaged. As a maritime nation, the United States could often choose to use the large oceans that divide it from most of the world to keep its distance from international events, or actively engage abroad if desired. This relative isolation from international turbulence helped the United States bide its time on developing itself into a first rate power. Soon after the start of the 20th century the U.S. had gained enough in confidence and strength, and announced its ascendancy as a nation of global influence in part through a high-profile naval deployment in the form of the Great White Fleet.

The independence that often came with being a maritime nation is gone today. The world’s oceans have become an even more indispensable foundation for human progress and globalization. By far the most cost effective form of transportation, 90 percent of the world’s trade goes by sea.13 2.4 billion people, a third of  the world’s population, live within 60 miles of a coast.14 97 percent of global communications and $10 trillion in daily transactions flow through undersea cables.15 International benefits and problems can be more readily transferred through the seas, and severe shocks to the maritime system can quickly cascade throughout the global economy.  

In a war at sea these things that make the world’s oceans a pillar of civilization become pressure points at the mercy of the victorious navy. By projecting power through the air, surface, subsurface, and across the coastline blue water naval power can dictate foreboding terms through sea control. The consequences of command of the seas are especially more severe for maritime nations such as the United States, where being isolated by the sea comes with greater dependence on it. A powerful example comes from the U.S. Navy’s own history in dominating the navy of a maritime superpower in WWII. It is a curious thing that several of the Navy’s top admirals came out against dropping the atom bomb when their proposals to end the war included using uncontested sea control to starve millions of Japanese into submission.16

A maritime nation that is separated from its allies by oceans requires sea control to send reinforcements abroad and maintain physical links, making the Navy especially critical to American security guarantees. The U.S. Navy could easily serve as the tip of the spear for the rest of the American military in many contingencies, since “Control of the seas near land assures the prompt access and freedom of maneuver of joint forces from the sea base.”17 The U.S. Navy must be able to secure forward spaces and sea lanes well enough to allow the joint force to surge across the ocean from the homeland. If the Navy cedes sea control to a superpower rival many U.S. allies could be left to fend for themselves.

Maritime commerce could be interdicted by a hostile Navy, causing untold economic damage and offering a powerful point of leverage. Coastlines and territories could be threatened by amphibious invasion. Population centers and critical infrastructure could be attacked deep inland through long-range fires safely delivered by ships at a distance. If the U.S. Navy cannot best a great power rival at sea control then many allies would be put at the mercy of the same sort of blue water naval power the Navy itself has wielded for decades.

The value of American naval supremacy goes far beyond what it could offer in war because of the nature of the global maritime system. Command of the seas is not just a wartime state of dominance for a particular Navy or coalition. It can also be understood as a particular state of peace. Today, command of the seas does not belong to any one nation or group, but rather it belongs to all as a global commons. 

The set of rules that govern the world’s oceans was not solely decided by the world’s strongest powers, nor does it vary from region to region based on local preferences. In this sense, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is a historic human achievement. It lays down rights and rules for most of the surface of the world with regard to safe passage, economic development, and many other legal matters for conduct within the global maritime domain. 167 countries have ratified UNCLOS, including China.

The U.S. hasn’t ratified UNCLOS, but still adheres to many of its provisions as customary international law.18 The commitment to a common and principled legal framework to guide conduct on the world’s oceans is perhaps one of the more high-profile examples of American commitment to a rules-based international order. The United States has repeatedly demonstrated its seriousness about protecting the principle of freedom of navigation, with the U.S. Navy being a main instrument for doing so.

A Freedom of Navigation Operation conducted by U.S. warships is not simply a message to highlight the violation of rules or norms. It is the American Navy retracing a red line the United States has a long history of enforcing through the use of force. From Barbary pirates to the impressment of Sailors, to Gaddafi’s “Line of Death” or the Tanker Wars in the Persian Gulf, freedom of navigation has figured prominently in U.S. military intervention for over two centuries.19

On the other hand, China’s commitment to undermining the rules of the global maritime system is one of its most brazen examples of contempt for international order. Trillions of dollars of trade flow through the South China Sea since it is the main body of water that most seaborne commerce from Africa, Europe, and the Middle East transits on the way to Asia. China’s claim to the whole of the South China Sea is a clear example of a nation viewing its personal sense of entitlement as more important than respecting an agreed-upon framework of conduct that was forged by global cooperation. It remained steadfast in its selfish defiance even after its claims were decisively ruled against by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea at The Hague.

China’s worsening authoritarian character and the rapid ascent of its powerful Navy casts doubt on its maritime ambitions. If China wins command of the seas through war or other means it could earn a powerful medium for peacetime coercion by molding the maritime commons to its advantage. What would be the character and norms of such an authoritarian maritime system? Given the interconnected nature of the world’s oceans, command of the seas in a specific region could be enough to exert targeted pressure on a global scale. But how could an authoritarian state impose and enforce such a vision? Defeating the U.S. Navy would certainly go a long way. 


Part 7 will focus on Strategy and Force Development.


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

References

1. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “U.S. deploying heavily armored battle tanks for first time in Afghan war,” Washington Post, November 19, 2010.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/18/AR2010111806856.html?noredirect=on

Robert S. Cameron, Armor In Battle, U.S. Army Center of Military History, August 2016https://history.army.mil/news/2016/images/gal_armorInBattle/Armor%20in%20Battle_opt.pdf#page=480

2. Major Daniel C. Gibson, USA, “Counter-Insurgency’s Effects on the U.S. Army Field Artillery,” USMC Command and Staff College Marine Corps University, 2010. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a602988.pdf

Boyd L. Dastrup, “Artillery Strong: Modernizing the Field Artillery for the 21st Century,” Combat Studies Institute Press, 2018. https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Portals/7/combat-studies-institute/csi-books/Artillery-Strong-Final.pdf 

Excerpt: “Redesigning the school’s curriculum went beyond modernizing the 2005–2006 Field Artillery Captain’s Career Course under Colonel McDonald. With the 2003 rise of the insurgency in Iraq, field artillery Soldiers devoted the bulk of their time to nonstandard missions, such as patrolling, providing base defense, and convoy operations. Because only a few field artillery units provided fire support, field artillery core competencies atrophied. As outlined in the 20 July 2006 Army Campaign Plan Update, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, General Richard A. Cody, understood the effect of nonstandard missions. He directed the US Army Training and Doctrine Command to assess the competency of field artillery lieutenants to determine if nonstandard missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom had degraded their basic branch skills and if they required additional or refresher training.”

3. Naval History and Heritage Command, “Where Are the Shooters? A History of the Tomahawk in Combat,” 2017. https://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/swmag/Pages/Where-are-the-Shooters.aspx 

4. Government Accountability Office, “Military Readiness: Navy Needs to Reassess its Metrics and Assumptions for Ship Crewing Requirements and Training,” June 2010. https://www.gao.gov/assets/310/305282.pdf

5. Lieutenant Commander Alan Worthy, “U.S. Navy Individual Augmentee Program: Is it the Correct Approach to GWOT Service?” Marine Corps Command and Staff College Marine Corps University, 2008. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a490401.pdf 

6. Department of the Navy, …From the Sea: Preparing the Naval Service for the 21st Century, September 1992. https://www.navy.mil/navydata/policy/fromsea/fromsea.txt 

7. Michael Chase et. al, China’s Incomplete Military Transformation: Assessing the Weaknesses of the People’s Liberation Army, RAND, 2015. https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR800/RR893/RAND_RR893.pdf 

8. For disaggregation norms see: 

Naval Operations Concept 2010https://fas.org/irp/doddir/navy/noc2010.pdf 

Carrier Strike Group 11 Fact Sheet. https://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/ccsg11/Documents/FactSheet.pdf 

9. For National Training Center reference:

Colonel John D. Rosenberger, “Reaching Our Army’s Full Combat Potential in the 21st Century: Insights from the National Training Center’s Opposing Force,” Institute of Land Warfare, February 1999, https://www.ausa.org/sites/default/files/LPE-99-2-Reaching-our-Armys-Full-Combat-Potential-in-the-21st-Century-Insights-from-the-National-Training-Centers-Opposing-Force.pdf.

Major John F. Antal, “OPFOR: Prerequisite to Victory,” Institute of Land Warfare, May 1993. https://www.ausa.org/sites/default/files/LPE-93-4-OPFOR-Prerequisite-for-Victory.pdf

For Red Flag Reference:

414th Combat Squadron Training “Red Flag,” July 2012. https://www.nellis.af.mil/About/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/284176/414th-combat-training-squadron-red-flag/

10. Capt. Dale Rielage, USN (ret.), “The Chinese Navy’s Missing Years,” Naval History Magazine, December 2018. https://www.usni.org/magazines/navalhistory/2018-12/chinese-navys-missing-years 

11. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. 

12. Hew Strachan, “The Strategic Consequences of the World War,” The American Interest, June 2, 2014. https://www.the-american-interest.com/2014/06/02/the-strategic-consequences-of-the-world-war/

13. IMO Profile, International Maritime Organization, United Nations Business Action Hub. https://business.un.org/en/entities/13 

14. NASA “Living Ocean.” https://science.nasa.gov/earth-science/oceanography/living-ocean

15. Brandon Knapp, “How Exposed Deep-Sea Cables Could Leave the Economy Vulnerable to a Russian Attack,” C4ISRnet, February 1, 2018. https://www.c4isrnet.com/it-networks/2018/02/01/how-exposed-deep-sea-cables-could-leave-the-economy-vulnerable-to-a-russian-attack/ 

16. Jim Hornfischer, The Fleet at Flood Tide, Bantam, 2016. 

17. Department of the Navy, Naval Transformation Roadmap, Power and Access…From the Sea, 2002. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/b295445.pdf

18. Steven Groves, “Accession to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea Is Unnecessary to Secure U.S. Navigational Rights and Freedoms,” Heritage Foundation, August 24, 2011. https://www.heritage.org/defense/report/accession-the-un-convention-the-law-the-sea-unnecessary-secure-us-navigational

19. James Kraska, “The Struggle for Law
in the South China Sea,” Statement of Professor James Kraska Before the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, September 21, 2016. https://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS28/20160921/105309/HHRG-114-AS28-Wstate-KraskaSJDJ-20160921.pdf 

SUEZ CANAL, Egypt(Sept. 23, 2008) The amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD 17) transits through the Suez Canal. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky (Released)