Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

Waters of Black Gold: The Strait of Hormuz, Pt. 2

By Imran Shamsunahar

The first part of this two-part series on the Strait of Hormuz analyzed the strategic importance of the Strait for global energy shipping and political stability in the Arabian Gulf, and provided an overview of Iran’s overall strategy of using its asymmetric doctrine to disrupt commercial shipping within the vital waterways to both deter enemies and fight a protracted war if necessary. This second part will focus on Iran’s actual maritime capabilities and discusses whether their threats to close down oil shipment in the Strait of Hormuz are credible or not.

Asymmetric Weapons and Tactics

Although Tehran has frequently made clear their intentions to close the Strait of Hormuz in times of war or heightened tensions, do they actually have the military capability to do so? Both the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) and the Revolutionary Guards’ Navy (IRGCN) have invested in a multitude of asymmetrical weaponry which would be used to harass and disrupt shipping coming through the Strait.

One potent tool in the Iranian naval inventory is its extensive range of ASCMs, a capability the Iranians have sought to invest in since the Iran-Iraq War, either through direct purchase or by depending heavily on Chinese designs for indigenous production. During the Tanker War, the Iranians would employ coastal-defense variants of the Chinese HY-1 and HY-2 ASCMs (also known as the CSSC-2 Silkworm and CSSC-3 Seersuckers) in a series of missile sites ringing the Strait of Hormuz, Qeshm Island, and nearby Kishk, thereby forcing any ship entering the Strait to sail through their missile envelope (it is believed Iran’s coastal missile defenses are still arranged in this manner). Fears of escalation meant the missiles were never used within the Strait of Hormuz (although two missiles were fired at Kuwait on October 15 and 16, 1987, each hitting a tanker). Iran’s inventory of shore-based missiles are maintained by both navies.1,2, 25 

Starting in the 1990s, the Iranians imported the C-801 and C802 missiles. The land-based variants had an advantage over the HY-1/HY-2s insofar that they could be mounted on vehicles and guided by mobile radar stations, instead of being pegged to fixed launch sites. This means the missiles can be used in a ‘shoot and scoot’ fashion, making it harder for the enemy to locate and destroy their batteries after having released their payloads. As well, the Iranians armed most of their fast small boats, referred to as Fast Attack Crafts (FACs), with the C-802, including the Thondor-class or Kaman-class boats, as well as all their frigates and corvettes. The Iranians also developed the Qadir missile, based on the C-802A missile. It has a longer range than the C-802 and is less vulnerable to radar countermeasures.3

Iran also possess three short-range missile systems, again influenced by Chinese designs. This includes the Kosar missiles, based on the Chinese C-701, while the Nasr 1 and Nasr 2 correspond to the C-704. All three systems can be deployed on both land vehicles for coastal defense, as well as FACs including the IRGCN’s North Korean based Peykaap-II class craft and Chinese-made Cat-class catamaran missile boats.4

The official Seal of the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (Wikimedia Commons)

The use of small fast boats plays a big part in Iran’s apparent ‘swarming tactics,’ in which they hope to counteract the enemy’s superior surface vessels through overwhelming numbers attacking from different directions. Unlike other navies, which seek to gradually acquire larger vessels as traditional navies would, the IRGCN has consciously sought to acquire smaller and faster boats based on their doctrine of asymmetric warfare. Alongside the FACs, the IRGCN also possess far more numerous Fast Inshore Attack Crafts (FIACs), which are smaller in tonnage and more lightly armed (usually with machine guns and rockets).

Since they are travelling in dispersed rather than large formations, they become harder to detect. Owing to their size, they could operate from any available jetty, with Iran’s numerous oil platforms and islands within the Strait providing forward operating platforms for these small fast boats (as well as forward observation posts to detect enemy shipping).5 Indeed, it is feared the Iran would exploit the broken littoral character of the Strait to wage a sort of maritime guerrilla war, exploiting its numerous small islands to hide small boats in ambush to await larger naval vessels and tankers to sail through. These small boats would utilize a variety of weapons to either damage or sink enemy shipping, including rockets, RPGs, heavy machine guns, torpedoes, and shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles. However, it is believed the main weapon of choice would be guided anti-ship missiles. Coupled with shore-based mobile ASCMs, Iran could turn the Strait into perilous waters for any shipping to traverse.6,7

Mining the Strait

Most analysts agree that the most effective means by which the Iranians could hope to disrupt traffic through the Strait would be through mining. Mines represent a defensive, cost-effective, low-technology weapon in which to hinder and manipulate enemy movement. It should be noted that during the Tanker War in 1988, an Iranian mine costing $1,500 dollars was able to inflict $96 million worth of damage to the frigate USS Samuel Roberts in the Arabian Sea (mines have accounted for over 77 percent of total U.S. ship casualties since the end of the Second World War). They are relatively easy to produce and maintain, useful for a developing country like Iran. Mines would grant the Iranians the ability to channel hostile shipping through specific channels, where they would then be more vulnerable to other attacks such as small fast boats and shore-based anti-ship missiles, as well as delay enemy war plans as they are forced to instead focus attention and resources on mine clearing operations. Even then, the simple threat of the presence of mines would grant the Iranians a great psychological advantage, as shipping companies become more hesitant to risk their shipping being mined as it transits the Strait (potentially causing global energy prices to skyrocket), as well as affecting the morale of personnel aboard U.S. and allied warships.8,9

Iran is one of two dozen countries in the world which manufactures mines domestically, although its more advanced mines come from Russia, China, and North Korea (even its domestically-produced mines are based on Chinese designs). The total inventory of Iranian mines is believed to range from two to five thousand. Iran now boasts a variety of mines in its inventory. These mines can differ based on their positioning in the water, from drifting mines which float on the surface, moored mines which float at a pre-programmable depth beneath the surface, and bottom mines, which are placed on the seabed (particularly useful in the shallow waters of the Strait). They also differ on how they are triggered, from simple contact mines to more sophisticated influence mines, which can be triggered by detecting a change in the acoustic environment, water pressure, or magnetic field. Iran also claims to possess nonmagnetic mines, which are more difficult to detect by enemy mine-sweeping. Analysts differ on how many mines the Iranians would need to successful blockade the Strait, with numbers ranging from just three hundred to having to gamble their entire stockpile.10,11 

Iran could feasibly utilize almost any platform within its naval inventory in a mine laying role. Its most potent platform would be its submarine fleet, with its three Kilo-class submarines, able to lay 24 mines per sortie. Its midget submarines, the Ghadir and Nahang class, could also be utilized in a mine-laying role (the Ghadir is believed to be able to lay between 8-16 mines per sortie). The Iranians could also use non-conventional mine-laying platforms, including its array of small boats, open-decked boats (such as naval amphibious and logistic vessels) and civilian shipping (such as fishing dhows). Since small boats can lay between 2-6 mines per sortie, they would probably be used in a mass mining effort by the Iranians. Their small size would make them difficult to detect and intercept, and in some cases the enemy would be unable to distinguish civilian shipping involved in innocent commercial activity and those involved in mine laying work.12,13

Closing the Strait: A Realist Assessment

But exactly how much of a threat would Iran’s swarming tactics and anti-ship missiles pose? It should be noted that in 2002, a joint wargame exercise conducted by the U.S. military called Millennium Challenge 2002 depicted an invasion of a fictional Middle Eastern country. Said fictional country fought using tactics and strategies closely resembling that of Iran, utilizing shore-based missiles and swarm tactics with fast boats. By the end of the game, the U.S. had lost 16 ships and the lives of thousands of servicemen.14 However, other commentators remain skeptical. J. Peter Pham, writing for The Journal of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, noted that the sheer size of modern tankers makes it difficult for small boats to make contact with the ship, with ‘the flow of surface water along the hull of such a large, moving ship creates strong currents toward the ships stern.’ As well, the piece noted that since crude oil does not ignite easily, the tanker would most probably absorb any explosion if contact was made, meaning modern tankers can take a lot of punishment before sinking. An estimated ‘eight to ten’ missiles would be needed to actually sink a tanker, which would exhaust Iran’s finite stockpiles (save perhaps in specific cases where the missile would penetrate the hull and subsequently explode, causing secondary explosions).15 The U.S. Fifth Fleet could also respond with the traditional strategy when it comes to protecting one’s merchant shipping from harm, that of providing convoy duties. This is a strategy the U.S. adopted during the Tanker War. The U.S. Navy would escort 252 ships between July 1987 and December 1988, with only one commercial ship damaged by an enemy mine.16 An article in Strategic Comments noted:

“The value of a convoy system would not just be in the missile defence offered by the layered missile-defence systems on board the U.S. Navy’s Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers currently deployed with the Fifth Fleet. Standard SM-2 and Evolved Sea Sparrow air-defence missiles along with the Phalanx gun-based close-in-weapon system would provide the main tools to counter the air and missile threats.”17

Besides the extensive defenses offered by U.S. warships, air dominance over the Strait would offer another added protection against nimble small boats threatening merchant shipping. American helicopters and fighters proved particularly useful in destroying IRGCN vessels during the Tanker War, and the apparent weakness of the Iranian air assets and air defenses today would arguably allow U.S. and Gulf air assets to achieve a similar goal. It should be noted that in February of this year, the U.S. Air Force’s venerable A-10 Warthogs took part in mock attacks on small boats as part of routine exercises, possibly demonstrating how air attacks against Iran’s fast small boats would play out in a real conflict.18

Firing Noor Missile from a truck launcher in Velayat-90 Naval Exercise. (Wikimedia Commons)

Mining also has its limitations. Like anti-ship missiles, some doubt that mines would be powerful enough to outright sink a ship the size of a modern tanker. As well, the U.S. Fifth Fleet has stationed in Bahrain four Avenger-class mine countermeasure vessels, and could theoretically call upon the help of the British, French, Saudi and Emirati navies, all of whom possess anti-mine vessels.19 It should be noted however, that minesweeping and clearance work is still a time-consuming endeavor. Gulf military analyst Sabahat Khan noted that clearing mines can take ‘two hundred times as long’ as it took to lay them. Creating safe passageways could take weeks, while clearing the Strait entirely would cost months. As well, more sophisticated mines would require more time consuming strategies such as unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and human divers.20

Mines are not a discriminating weapon, and could potentially damage Iranian vessels as well as the vessels of neutral states. This could cause political complications with friendly nations such as China, with whom the Iranians depend heavily on for both arms sales and investment in the Iranian energy sector. The biggest loser from any attempt to completely close off shipping through the Strait would be Iran itself. An article from 2010 noted that Iran exported 2.4 million barrels of petroleum a day through the Strait of Hormuz (providing two-thirds of its total budget), and is also heavily dependent on the Strait for its gasoline imports, being the largest gasoline consumer in the region. As such, most scholars argue that the Iranians would only seek to close the Strait if they felt the survival of the regime itself was at stake, either in an outright war, in retaliation for a particularly crippling sanction imposed, or a foreign attempt to neutralize critical national capabilities (e.g. its nuclear facilities).21, 22

Ultimately, a successful closing of the Straits through mining is dependent on the Iranian mine laying effort not being detected and intercepted by its enemies early on, thereby hindering further mine laying efforts by the enemy’s overwhelming force. The first few hours would thus be critical, with the Iranians seeking to lay as many mines as possible. For the U.S. and its Gulf allies, preventing a mining of the Strait would thus depend heavily on effective intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, to ensure adequate maritime domain awareness to intercept Iranian intentions early on.23,24


Ultimately, it remains unlikely that Iran could actually close down the Strait to maritime shipping, with esteemed scholar Anthony Cordesman noting that Iran couldn’t close the Strait for ‘more than a few days to two weeks.’ Instead of a naval blockade, the most the Iranians could hope for would be a strategy of guerre de course on individual shipping, causing only minor inconveniences for global energy markets. Scholars suggests that Iran’s often highly embellished rhetoric about closing down the Strait to shipping has more to do with burnishing nationalist credentials to a domestic audience, as well as introducing volatility to the energy market to help raise energy prices and pump the regime’s coffers.25

However, this shouldn’t mean that those concerned with the protection of freedom of navigation in the Strait can rest easily. Constant vigilance should be kept, and vital capabilities such as ISR, anti-submarine warfare, minesweeping, and air dominance should be both maintained and improved upon. As Clausewitz reminds us, war is composed of passion and chance. What could start as sporadic attacks against individual tankers could rapidly escalate beyond everyone’s imaginations. U.S. and allied forces in the region should ensure adequate strategic and operation responses to Iran’s threats which are both militarily effective and carefully calibrated to the situation.

Imran Shamsunahar is a recent graduate of the University of Hull, where he earned a Master’s in Strategy and International Security. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Toronto. He developed an interest in maritime security and naval warfare during his graduate studies, and wrote his dissertation on the South China Sea dispute and contemporary maritime strategy. He is currently based in his home city of Kuala Lumpur where he is interning for Horizon Intelligence, a Brussels-based security risk monitoring company catering to travelers. In the meantime, he enjoys writing articles on naval matters as a hobby. He is hoping to continue his studies in the near future, hopefully once again in maritime security.


1. ‘Strait of Hormuz: Iran’s Disruptive Military Options’, Strategic Comments, 18, no. 1 (2012), p. 2

2. David B. Crist, David B. Crist, ‘Gulf of Conflict: A History of U.S. – Iranian Conflict at Sea’, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, June 2009. Available online:, p. 10

3. ‘Strait of Hormuz: Iran’s Disruptive Military Options’, p. 2

4. Ibid

5. David B. Crist, ‘Gulf of Conflict’, p. 22 – 23

6. Dave Majumbar, ‘Could Iran Sink a U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier?’, The National Interest, December 30th, 2015,

7. Robert Czulda, ‘The Defensive Dimensions of Iran’s Military Doctrine: How Would They Fight?’ Middle East Policy, 23 , no. 1 (2016): p. 92-109. Available online:

8. David B. Crist, ‘Gulf of Conflict’, p. 24 – 25

9. Sabahat Khan, Sabahat Khan, ‘Iranian Mining of the Strait of Hormuz – Plausibility and Key Considerations’, Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, January 2010. Available online:, p. 2

10. J. Peter Pham, ‘Iran’s Threat to the Strait of Hormuz’, p. 68

11. Ibid, p. 3

12. Joseph Travithick, ‘A-10 Warthogs Practice Blasting Swarms of Small Boats’, The Drive, March 2nd 2017,

14. Brett Davis, “Learning Curve: Iranian Asymmetrical Warfare and Millennium Challenge 2002”, CIMSEC, August 14th, 2014,

15. P. Peter Pham, ‘Iran’s Threat to the Strait of Hormuz: A Realist Assessment’ The Journal of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy’, 32, no. 2 (2010): p. 66 – 69

16. ‘Strait of Hormuz: Iran’s Disruptive Options’, p. 3

17. Sabahat Khan, ‘Iranian Mining of the Strait of Hormuz’, p. 3

18. Ibid

13. David B. Christ, ‘Gulf of Conflict’, p. 23

19. ‘Strait of Hormuz: Iran’s Disruptive Options’, Strategic Comments, 18, no. 1 (2012).

20. Sabahat Khan, ‘Iranian Mining of the Strait of Hormuz’, p. 7

21. Ibid

22. J. Peter Pham, ‘Iran’s Threat to the Strait of Hormuz’, p. 69 – 71

23. Sabahat Khan, ‘Iranian Mining of the Strait of Hormuz’, p. 9

24. J. Peter Pham, ‘Iran’s Threat to the Strait of Hormuz’, p. 70

25. Ibid, p. 71 – 72

Featured Image: The Persian Gulf (Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC)

Call for Articles: What Should the U.S. Navy’s Next Future Surface Combatant Be?

By Dmitry Filipoff

Articles Due: July 5, 2017
Week Dates: July 10-July 14, 2017

Article Length: 1000-3000 words 
Submit to:

The U.S. Navy is in the conceptual phases of determining what the next Future Surface Combatant (FSC) family of warships could be. The FSC will include “a large, small and unmanned surface combatant that will go through the acquisition process with each other and an ‘integrated combat system’ to tie them together.” These ship classes will provide an opportunity to field systems that reflect a vision of future war at sea and decide what the surface force will contribute to the fight.

The challenges are myriad and complex. Emerging technology has opened up numerous avenues of latent capability, from unmanned systems to directed energy, from integrated power to adaptive electronic warfare. New technology could result in evolving tactics and concepts of operation that change the way ships fight individually and within the joint force. Additionally, ships expected to serve for decades must have attributes that facilitate the iterative fielding of greater lethality over the course of their service life. All of these factors lend competing pressures toward defining requirements. 

These ships are critical to the surface Navy’s future, especially because of the challenges and setbacks faced by the two major surface combatant programs of the current generation. The Littoral Combat Ships and Zumwalt-class destroyers are now poised to shape the conversation of what tomorrow’s warships will and will not be and how to go about procuring them. Authors are encouraged to not only envision future roles and capabilities for the FSC family of warships, but to also contemplate the major lessons learned from recent ship design challenges and how to better field the next generation of surface combatants. 

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: Deck house lifted onto USS Michael Monsoor , trhe 2nd Zumwalt class destroyer, on November 14, 2014. (General Dynamics Bath Iron Works)

Interwar-Period Gaming Today for Conflicts Tomorrow: Press ‘Start’ to Play, Pt. 3

By Major Jeff Wong, USMC

Interwar-Period Gaming  Insights and Recommendations for the Future

The militaries of Germany, Japan, and the United States utilized gaming between the First and Second World Wars to help them overcome challenges relating to doctrine, organization, training and education, and capabilities development. The Versailles Treaty prohibitions prompted Germany to use means other than live-force exercises to study and mature its combined arms concept, test naval and air doctrine, and drive planning for the invasions of Poland, France, and the Low Countries in the European theater. Japan effectively used wargames to inform doctrine and war planning, but biases affected game outcomes and subsequent planning of future campaigns, particularly the Battle of Midway. Japan gamed both strategic and tactical elements of its ambitious Pacific campaign, studying in detail essential tasks as part of its Pearl Harbor and Midway operations plans. Game insights prompted planners to change parts of its Pearl Harbor attack, but failed to sway leaders to examine more closely a critical element of the Midway campaign. The United States, particularly the Navy, combined wargaming with analyses and live-force exercises to study upcoming likely threats and advance naval concepts and capabilities such as carrier aviation. In the United States, Naval War College games of different variations of Plan Orange exposed officers to the theater, operational, and tactical challenges of a conflict against Japan. Many games played over the years between the world wars created a baseline of understanding about how naval officers would fight when war broke out. Now, nearly a century later, today’s U.S. military should apply best practices from those interwar years to spur innovation and overcome the kinds of strategic, operational, and institutional challenges that plagued these adversaries before the Second World War.

This is the final part of a three-part series examining interwar-period gaming. The first part defined wargaming, discussed its potential utility and pitfalls, and differentiated it from other military analytic tools. Part two discussed how the militaries of Germany, Japan, and the United States employed wargames to train and educate their officers, plan and execute major campaigns, and inform the development of new concepts and capabilities for the Second World War. This final part offers recommendations, taken from effective practices of this period, to leverage wargames as a tool today to provide a strategic edge for the U.S. joint force tomorrow.

Wargaming for Today

First, the U.S. military must expand and deepen the use of wargaming at PME institutions as a training and educational tool. Similar to the interwar period, wargames should be used to train officers to make decisions from a commander’s perspective, gain insights into likely adversaries, and learn about the war plans to counter or defeat them. Wargaming design should be part of the regular curriculum to reinvigorate this technique within the uniformed military, since PME institutions are intended to broaden officers’ professional horizons and allow them to explore new ideas. 

At the interwar-period Kriegsakademie, some students had never experienced the brutal combat of World War I and never faced decision-making under fire. Wargaming woven throughout the curriculum gave these future leaders an opportunity to practice “commandership” from the commander’s perspective. Thus, students playing in wargames estimated situations based on given scenarios, outlined courses of action after assessing situations, executed plans, and then absorbed honest critiques of their decisions. In the 1920s and 1930s at the Naval War College, students also received a primer in commandership against the backdrop of a Pacific naval campaign. The students who played the games, as well as the faculty members who designed and umpired these events, shaped and fed a shared mental model about the strategic, operational, and tactical challenges of fighting the Japanese in the coming war. Officers returning to Newport as faculty members brought with them recent operational experiences, including fleet experiments that shaped carrier aviation and informed the requirements of new capabilities.  

Beyond the Naval War College and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, current U.S. PME students are not taught how to plan and develop wargames as part of their regular course work. At U.S. Marine Corps University, for instance, wargaming is taught during a six-week elective at Command and Staff College (if enough students express interest in the elective), but the course fails to relate how games are relevant to real-world war planning and critical U.S. defense processes such as capabilities development.

At the next-level PME institution, students of the Marine Corps War College (lieutenant colonels and commanders) participate in a wargame as part of the curriculum’s Joint Professional Military Education II (JPME II) requirement, but they are never taught how to plan, execute, and analyze a game themselves. Within the Air Force, the Air Force Materiel Command offers three-day introductory courses with curricula tailored to the needs of a client command or organization, but these courses fall short of the integral nature that wargaming fulfilled for the German Army, Japanese Navy, and U.S. Navy during the interwar years.

The Board of Strategy plots moves during a Naval War College wargaming session in the cabin of the USS Wyoming (BB-32). Such rigorous preparatory training during the interwar years. (U.S. Naval Institute Archive photo)

To yield substantive benefits, wargaming must be integrated into service PME starting with captain-level career courses. The first exposure should be at the rank of captain in order to give young leaders intensive, virtual decision-making experience before they assume company command. Company command is the appropriate time to introduce gaming to an officer’s development because his unit gets four times larger (a Marine rifle company has 182 personnel by table of organization, compared to 43 personnel in a Marine rifle platoon) and he must have the mental acuity and confidence to operate without constant supervision from superiors. Gaming gives leaders this experience.  

As an officer’s career progresses, the wargaming curriculum should teach students how to develop, plan, and execute wargames on a larger scale. At top-level schools, an officer should be expert at applying game insights into the vast U.S. military bureaucracy, feeding future-leaning commands and organizations within the supporting establishment that play a key role in developing future strategies, concepts, capabilities, and resource allocations. With its emphasis on decision-making and reflection on the implications of those decisions, wargaming provides a tool to foster imagination and intellectual growth inside and outside a formal schoolhouse setting. Teaching wargaming design to uniformed military members empowers them to create the intellectual venues themselves when they return to the fleet, flight line, or field – much like the officers of the German Army, Japanese Navy, and American Navy did during the interwar period.

Second, the U.S. military should more closely bind service-level wargaming, analysis, and live-force exercises to provide the intellectual and practical test beds to explore and develop new concepts, capabilities, and technologies to overcome unforeseen warfighting challenges. The games and exercises should be conducted as distinct events that are separated by weeks or months, unlike the infamous Millennium Challenge 2002 event, which attempted to synchronize a wargame, experiments, and exercises involving live forces around the world. 

Wargames, analysis, and exercises are complementary elements of a cycle of research that offered fresh approaches and shaped new capabilities during the interwar period. Wargaming provides an environment for players to make decisions and understand their implications without expending blood or treasure. Insights derived from games are generally qualitative in nature. Analysis uses mathematical tools – primarily computer-generated models in today’s military – in an attempt to duplicate the physical processes of combat. Insights derived from analysis are usually quantitative in Both wargames and analysis, however, are only abstractions of reality. Together, they can inform exercises that give real forces the opportunity to implement in the physical domain the new approaches and ideas suggested by wargames and analysis. (See Table 1, Comparison of Campaign Analyses and Wargames.)

Table 1. Attributes of campaign analyses and wargames.

U.S. Navy Commander Phillip Pournelle writes that each of the tools “suffer from their own biases, simplifications, and cognitive and epistemological shortcomings. When integrated judiciously, however, the cycle of research gives leaders at all levels critical facts, synthetic experiences, and opportunities to rehearse a range of events in their minds and in the Fleet or the field.” (See Table 2, Comparison of Exercises and Wargames.)

Table 2. Attributes of exercises and wargames.

The cycle of research has increased momentum at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory’s (MCWL) Ellis Group, which hosts weekly wargames to examine emergent Marine warfighting challenges. The games serve as an incubator for concepts and capabilities under development. During a game in 2015, dozens of uniformed officers and civilian experts gathered around a large sandtable separated by a barrier. A young Marine infantry captain explained how he planned to land his company.  On the other side of the barrier, red cell members – retired field-grade officers and staff noncommissioned officers – determined how they would oppose the landing. On the group’s periphery, analysts recorded observations made by the participants. Scribes filled whiteboards with insights from the game, which they matched against the command’s prioritized list of warfighting challenges. U.S. Marine Corps Brigadier General Dale Alford, MCWL’s commanding general, adopted the weekly games after observing the Naval War College’s Halsey Groups use operations analysis and wargaming to examine naval warfighting challenges. “It was mostly about getting the right people involved and in the same room,” he said.

Third, wargaming leaders must ensure an accurate and intellectually honest representation of the enemy. Most games played by the Germans, Japanese, and Americans during the interwar period featured two sides: friendlies and adversaries playing against one another. Some of today’s large service-level games are one-sided, with friendly “blue” actions being played against pre-scripted enemy reactions or a control group attention divided between representing “red” and running the overall event. However, if war is “an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will,” as Carl von Clausewitz suggested in On War, these games must adequately portray the adversary’s will.  One-sided wargames lose the essence of the opposing will when the enemy’s actions are not represented by another human being seeking to win. Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, who previously served as director of Command and Staff College, required all Command and Staff College games to be two-sided affairs. “You need two free-thinking wills … within the bounds of the problem,” said Van Riper, who has consulted on many joint and service games since his retirement from active duty in 1997 and served as the red cell commander during the Millennium Challenge event.

This honest portrayal goes beyond using an expert versed on enemy (e.g., “red cell”) capabilities, limitations, and doctrine. During the Wehrmacht wargames before the invasion of France and the Low Countries, the red cell correctly suggested that French-led Allied Forces would be slow to respond to a German main effort thrust through the Ardennes – prompting planners to shift resources to the army group approaching from the forest. The red cell did not portray an idealized version of the French doctrinal response, which would likely have prompted German planners to shift resources to a different army group and resulted in a different course of action. From the Japanese wargames before the Battle of Midway, historians and professional gamers often cite the sinking – and revival – of two Japanese carriers as an admonition against biases, poor assumptions, and predetermined outcomes.

Fourth, future wargaming efforts should use different types of games for different purposes and desired outcomes. A greater variety of games can attack a problem from different perspectives. A larger number of games provides more opportunities to create fresh solutions. For a new, evolving subject, a wargame with more seminar discussion, less action-counteraction play, and fewer rules might be more appropriate in order to generate player insights and spur creativity. On a topic for which much is already known, a wargame with less seminar discussion, more action-counteraction play, and more rules based on hard data might be more suitable to refine players’ understanding of capabilities.

Back to the Future

The German Army, Japanese Navy, and U.S. Navy used wargaming to shed light on strategic, operational, and tactical uncertainty during the interwar period. In the German Army, wargaming formed the bedrock for the education of officers and provided opportunities for commanders and staffs to rehearse complicated operations such as the offensive against France and the Low Countries in 1940. For the Japanese Navy, planners utilized wargames to examine different ways to employ the Combined Fleet in the opening salvo of the Pacific campaign. The Germans successfully used red cells during their wargames to accurately and honestly portray French forces’ actions during the 1940 campaign, while the Japanese demonstrated the dangers of predetermined notions during wargames before the Battle of Midway. The U.S. Navy found wargaming to be an effective tool for educating officers as well, inculcating the practice among generations of officers who attended the Naval War College and fostering a shared mental model through hundreds of wargames that focused on a potential future war with Japan. Likewise, American naval officers also wargamed carrier aviation, discovering optimal ways to employ forces that massed firepower and extended the reach of the Pacific Fleet. These insights fed the cycle of research that allowed American naval officers to study, experiment, and develop new concepts and capabilities leading up to the Second World War.  

Interwar-period wargaming provided users with a chance to shed light on an opaque future. Although the threats are different, senior U.S. defense leaders face similar ambiguity now. The reassertion of Russia in world affairs, a militarily stronger China, and a multitude of powerful non-state actors have dramatically changed the strategic landscape. Fast-developing capabilities, nascent technologies, unmanned weapons platforms, 3D printing, and human-machine interfacing are among the potential factors of the next great conflict. With no cost in blood and minimal in treasure, wargames can empower U.S. military leaders to exert intellectual leadership and innovate to be better prepared for the future.

Major Jeff Wong, USMCR, is a Plans Officer at Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Plans, Policies and Operations Department.  This series is adapted from his USMC Command and Staff College thesis, which finished second place in the 2016 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategic Research Paper Competition.  The views expressed in this series are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.  

1.  Commander Phillip Pournelle, USN (analyst at the Office of Net Assessment, Office of the Secretary of Defense), interview by Jeff Wong, September 24, 2015.

2.  As discussed previously, wargaming is different from COA Wargaming, which is a phase of the joint and services’ planning processes, e.g., the Military Decision-Making Process and Marine Corps Planning Process.

3. Colonel Matthew Caffrey, USAF (Retired) (wargame instructor at the Air Force Materiel Command), interview by Jeff Wong, October 15, 2015.

4. Gary Anderson and Dave Dilegge, “Six Rules for Wargaming: The Lessons of Millennium Challenge ’02,” War on the Rocks, November 11, 2015 (accessed April 1, 2016):

5. Philip Pournelle, “Preparing for War, Keeping the Peace,” Proceedings 140, no. 9 (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval Institute, September 2014), accessed October 15, 2015:

6. Peter Perla, The Art of Wargaming, 287.

7. Brigadier General Dale Alford, USMC (commanding general of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory), interview by Jeff Wong, November 23, 2015.

8. Carl von Clausewitz, On War ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 75.

9. Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, USMC (Retired) (faculty member at Marine Corps University), interview by Jeff Wong, February 2, 2016.

10. Pournelle, interview by Jeff Wong, September 24, 2015.

Featured Image: NEWPORT, R.I. (May 5, 2017) U.S. Naval War College (NWC) Naval Staff College students participate in a capstone wargame. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jess Lewis/released)

Minding the Interoperability Gap

By Tim McGeehan and Douglas Wahl

A significant science and technology gap currently exists between the military forces of the United States and those of most of the rest of the world. This gap is by design and has long served as a centerpiece of U.S. defense strategy. While it has allowed the U.S. to maintain military primacy for decades, the technical capabilities of many allies and partners now lag far behind, raising concerns about the gap’s impacts on interoperability. This gap can drive critical tactical and operational decisions on where, when, and how forces are employed in a multinational environment, often with political ramifications. While the science and technology gap must be maintained over adversaries for strategic reasons, just as much effort should go into mitigating it to ensure maximization of allied capability in today’s coalition environment.

Creating the Gap

It is interesting to note that America’s allies helped it get to the top and establish the science and technology gap in the first place. Microwave radar, gyroscopic gun sights, and penicillin were key innovations critical to World War II military success and all of the initial work was performed by European scientists.1 One technology transfer episode stands out in particular when in 1940, a group of British scientists came to Washington, D.C., on what would become known as the “Tizard mission.” In a series of meetings during September and October 1940, the British shared examples and schematics of advanced technology, including rockets, explosives, superchargers, the cavity magnetron (the key to airborne radar), self-sealing gas tanks, advanced sonar, and three pages concerning a project known under its code name TUBE ALLOYS, which was the seed for the Manhattan Project.2 The British provided this giant leap forward in technology because they required America’s technical expertise to further refine these inventions, but more importantly, required the American industrial base to put them into practical use and production. This mutually beneficial exchange helped to later turn the tide of the war in the Allies’ favor.

The U.S. also leveraged German advances in science and technology. OPERATION PAPERCLIP was an effort to collect and extract German scientists before the Soviet Union could capture them in the closing days of World War II. These Germans were experts in aerodynamics, rocketry, and chemistry, and had invented or contributed to several of Hitler‟s “Wonder Weapons,” including the V-2 rocket (ballistic missile), V-1 flying bomb (cruise missile), and jet fighter.3 Many of these scientists had been classified as war criminals, but instead of facing prosecution were protected and put to work by the U.S. government in many programs, including what would become the intercontinental ballistic missile program and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The father of the U.S. space program himself, Werner von Braun, was one of these scientists.4

Dr. Wernher von Braun stands in front of a Saturn IB launch vehicle at Kennedy Space Flight Center. Dr. von Braun led a team of German rocket scientists, called the Rocket Team, to the United States, first to Fort Bliss/White Sands, later being transferred to the Army Ballistic Missile Agency at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. They were further transferred to the newly established NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama in 1960, and Dr. von Braun became the first Center Director. Under von Braun’s direction, MSFC developed the Mercury-Redstone, which put the first American in space; and later the Saturn rockets, Saturn I, Saturn IB, and Saturn V. The Saturn V launch vehicle put the first human on the surface of the Moon, and a modified Saturn V vehicle placed Skylab, the first United States’ experimental space station, into Earth orbit. Dr. von Braun was MSFC Director from July 1960 to February 1970. (Photo: NASA)

The U.S. military continues to leverage technological contributions from allies and partners, with agreements like the recently established Science and Technology Project Arrangement between the U.S. and the U.K. for energetic materials research and the Statement of Intent between the U.S. and Sweden to conduct cooperative research and development of undersea warfare and air defense technologies.5 Programs like these are the legacy of the Tizard Mission and OPERATION PAPERCLIP that helped propel the U.S. military to forefront of military science and technology, a position that it has sought to maintain ever since.

Offsets: Sustaining the Gap

The atomic bombs that ended World War II in Japan were a clear demonstration of the value and power of scientific superiority. With this lesson in mind, the U.S. engaged in massive national efforts to maintain its scientific edge. In particular, after being shocked by the Soviet launch of Sputnik, the U.S. government passed the National Defense Education Act in 1958.6 At its signing, President Eisenhower said it would “do much to strengthen our American system of education, so that it can meet the broad and increasing demands imposed upon it by considerations of basic national security.”7 Adjusting for inflation to 2017 dollars, the act provided $850 million for student loans for science majors, $2.5 billion for science equipment, and $8.5 billion worth of fellowships for graduate students in science.8 The rationale was that only federal investment in the sciences would allow the nation to achieve the technological superiority over its primary competitor, the Soviet Union.9

This was particularly important because the U.S. could not compete numerically against the conventional forces of the Soviet Union. The Eisenhower administration knew it had to rely on its science and technology advantage, specifically nuclear deterrence, to avoid the costly option of deterring the Soviet Union via a massive increase in conventional capabilities. This was the first “offset strategy” and maintaining the technological lead was absolutely imperative for it to work.
By the 1970s the Soviet Union had closed the gap in nuclear weapons. In 1973, the forerunner of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched the Long-Range Research and Development Planning Program to seek out a second offset strategy.10 It pursued “conventional weapons with near-zero miss” which resulted in networks, stealth, and high tech precision munitions. Again, the science and technology gap drove the offset. This focus served the U.S. well through the next 30 years, but adversaries are now acquiring increasingly complex technology in pursuit of anti-access and area-denial strategies; the gap is rapidly closing again.

In response, the Department of Defense is currently developing a third offset strategy and innovation is the vehicle to get there.11 The Defense Innovation Initiative, overseen by the Advanced Capabilities Deterrence Panel, is chartered to maintain U.S. military supremacy against any challenger. In November 2014, Secretary Hagel explained “our technology effort will establish a new Long-Range Research and Development Planning Program that will help identify, develop, and field breakthroughs in the most cutting-edge technologies and systems – especially from the fields of robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, big data, and advanced manufacturing, including three-dimensional printing.”12 He went on to say “we will not send our troops into a fair fight. A world where our military lacks a decisive edge would be less stable, less secure for both the United States and our allies, and the consequences could ultimately be catastrophic.”13 Note that he said “our military” (U.S.) not “our militaries” (including allies) need the decisive edge.

Impacts of the Gap

Examples throughout history have shown the value of allies and partners, both in peace and in war. Allies and partners bring authority, access, signal international resolve, and enhance the legitimacy of any endeavor. However, the opportunity to reap these benefits is increasingly put in jeopardy as advances in U.S. systems hamper interoperability.

For instance, while the U.S. Navy must maintain its technological lead amongst naval competitors, it cannot afford to operate alone. The Global Network of Navies concept illustrates how valuable allies and partners can be moving forward.14 While not every navy can afford the latest high tech systems, they often bring niche capabilities, experience, and expertise such as icebreaking, counter piracy, littoral operations, etc. One particular example is the Standing North Atlantic Treaty Organization‟s (NATO) Mine Countermeasures Group TWO (SNMCMG2). SNMCMG2 comprises mine hunters, minesweepers, support ships, and explosive ordnance disposal personnel from Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the U.S. No one nation can field this level of capability (or capacity) alone. However, this interoperability is more common at the lower-intensity end of the naval warfare spectrum. Fielding systems with the speed and complexity required to win the high intensity engagements of modern war at sea (and any domain for that matter) is costly and creates major challenges to interoperability.

PHILIPPINE SEA (April 26, 2017) – USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), foreground, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Ashigara (DDG 178), left, and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Samidare (DD 106), back, transit the Philippine Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano)

Interoperability between forces takes many forms. Compatible tactics, techniques, and procedures are required for forces to work together and achieving proficiency is largely a function of training. However, there are technology and equipment components of interoperability that are much harder to address. The U.S. military boasts a sustained long-term and large-scale investment program in science and technology, unmatched by any nation. The result is that the U.S. has fielded extremely capable but highly complex and expensive systems that are often far more sophisticated than those of its allies. Many of these systems are not capable of easily interfacing with allied systems (if they can interface at all), placing limitations on the missions that can be shared. Using an Air Force example, the fifth-generation American F-22 Raptor cannot send encrypted messages to fourth-generation fighters such as the British Typhoon or French Rafale. To remain stealthy, it was designed to communicate via encrypted messages with other F-22s and U.S. systems, but has to use traditional voice communications with these allies that nullify its stealth advantage by having to talk ‘in the clear.’15 Procuring the latest and greatest hardware from America‟s defense industry may cause the U.S. military to price itself out of fighting in and with coalitions.

The gap between U.S. and European capabilities had become so glaring that at a 2006 NATO conference a Canadian delegate remarked “NATO’s transatlantic capability gap has been at the heart of a debate over the viability and relevance of the Alliance in the new security environment.”16 To question the Alliance is shortsighted, but the concerns are valid.

Communication and interoperability of data enable the construction, maintenance, and sharing of a common operational picture (COP). This is critical for the commander’s situational awareness and allows them to mass forces and effects as required. However, some high-end systems can only communicate with similar systems or have proprietary data formats unreadable by others. In these cases, sharing the COP with incompatible units can be difficult, time consuming, and prone to errors. A lack of shared awareness adds to the fog and friction of operations, induces vulnerabilities, and in worse cases, leads to fratricide.

Incompatible units operating in close proximity can even be a detriment to mutual safety and efficiency of operations. For example, electromagnetic (EM) spectrum management is far more demanding in multinational operations than in joint operations.17 For the Navy, while operating in a tight Carrier Strike Group (CSG) formation (e.g. during a strait transit), unless explicitly deconflicted, an allied ships radar or communication system might cause EM interference on a U.S. system (or vice versa) with impacts ranging from blinding a radar to deafening a communications system. Likewise, in today’s cyber world not all defenses are created equal, and one nation’s military with lesser capabilities may inadvertently open the door to an adversary intrusion that threatens others, weakening trust.

There are also logistical concerns associated when operating with less capable forces. Highly sophisticated systems often cannot share replacement parts or components and may have unique fuel or power requirements. Additionally, a weapon system may rely on ordnance not found anywhere else in the multinational force. The aggregate effect of these issues necessitates that the U.S. maintains a unique logistical system for the sustainment of its units in the field, the burden of which usually cannot be shared by our allies. There are exceptions, like the recent Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreements process whereby a U.S. Navy and Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force destroyer exchanged maintenance parts.18 However, the fact that this transfer (in March 2017) was the first one ever completed illustrates how rare it is.

Another possible impact of operating with less technologically advanced allies or partners is that they may have slower decision cycles, be less lethal, or be less survivable, thus presenting softer targets to capable adversaries. The U.S. may need to provide enhanced force protection or over-watch assets to assist them, lest they be targeted by the adversary at a disproportionate rate. Such a situation could threaten the integrity of the coalition both politically and operationally. If the U.S. assigned additional resources to mitigate this situation, it would do so at the expense of finite resources available to accomplish the mission elsewhere.19 This situation could lead to U.S. attempting to micromanage coalition partners, which would further stress the coalition.20

U.S. joint doctrine states that the composition of multinational task forces “may include elements from a single nation or multiple nations depending on the situation and the interoperability factors of the nations involved.”21 In Desert Storm the coalition utilized a parallel command structure with some forces falling under a U.S. chain of command while the Arab contingent fought under a Saudi chain of command. While this arrangement was primarily adopted for political considerations to avoid the optic of a U.S. dominated effort, it was also due in part to military interoperability concerns.22

Coalition command relationships for Operation Desert Storm. (Public Domain)

This all begs an important question: if the science and technology gap leads to so many interoperability challenges, why isn’t there more effort to close it? The reality is that there is little incentive to close it.

Lack of Incentive to Close the Gap

A discussion of the incentives to close the science and technology gap between the U.S. and its allies and partners inevitably leads to the bigger question of how to best share the global defense burden. Even though the U.S. has exquisite capabilities doesn’t mean that it can afford to do all of the high-end warfighting alone. However, many other nations do not have the funding, technology, or industrial base to assume more of the burden. More importantly, many of them do not have the political will to do so. Secretary of Defense Carter and more recently Secretary of Defense Mattis both called Europe out for “not doing enough” to ensure their own security in that they have become reliant on the U.S. military to bear a large part of the collective burden.23 In 2002, NATO nations agreed to pay two percent of their gross domestic product on defense, but many nations have not made good on their commitment.24 What incentive do they have to make the substantial investment to develop their own science, technology, and industry to close the technology gap when the U.S. can be counted on to do it for them?

That said, in some ways, the U.S. may not have as much incentive to assist its allies in closing the gap as one would think. Despite the previously mentioned tactical challenges, the uncomfortable truth is that at the strategic level the U.S. has contributed to and in some ways benefited from this arrangement. As long as other countries lag behind U.S. military in science and technology, they will continue to rely on U.S. for the associated forces and hardware. This provides the U.S. influence and leadership capital. For example, the European Phased Adaptive Approach provides European ballistic missile defense (BMD). However, the U.S. has not provided Europe their BMD technology, but has instead secured permission to station four BMD-capable Aegis destroyers in Rota, Spain. The U.S. has also established an Aegis Ashore capability at the U.S. Naval Support Facility in the countryside of Devesulu, Romania.25 The U.S. readily accepts this role as senior partner for smaller countries and in doing so secures basing rights and strategic footholds, builds coalitions, and offsets attempts at hegemony by regional powers like Russia.

Often when the U.S. sells advanced, sophisticated equipment to other nations the agreement comes with U.S. training, support, and logistics which are other avenues for influence. This carries the threat of suspending the deal or making sustainment contingent on some other national behavior. This dynamic recently played out in 2014 when France refused to deliver two new Mistral-class amphibious assault ships to Russia based on its activity in the Ukraine.26 Likewise, the U.S suspended military sales and the delivery of 20 F-16 C/D fighters to Egypt in 2013 due to political unrest27 and the overthrow of their democratically elected president,28 and then again the U.S. suspended military assistance to Thailand following their 2014 military coup.29

The fluidity of today’s strategic environment also dictates that today’s ally could be tomorrow’s adversary. Iran still has F-14 Tomcats, F-4 Phantoms, and P-3 Orions in its inventory from the time when a previous regime enjoyed close relations with the U.S. Sharing sophisticated technology with an ally could be disastrous if they become overrun, captured, or surrender their equipment to an enemy. Luckily the Iraqi army had no game-changing technology to abandon to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but the recent episode is a cautionary tale.

Another reason the U.S. won’t assist its allies in closing the gap is that it wants to prevent proliferation of strategic technologies. Through strategic nuclear deterrence the U.S. extends a guarantee to allies thereby discouraging them from pursuing their own nuclear capabilities and with fewer such weapons in play reducing the likelihood of their use. A notable exception is the joint strategic program with the United Kingdom which is currently developing the Common Missile Compartment for new ballistic missile submarine classes.30

Handover/takeover ceremony for NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania. Fly-by of a mixed formation of Polish MiG-29, British Typhoon, Portuguese F-16 and Canadian CF-188. (Photo: NATO)

Finally, it is interesting to note that allies could likely narrow the gap by more frequently combining their efforts and resources to avoid duplication. While they do cooperate (on the F-35 for example), coordinating the defense enterprises of multiple nations is a monumental task and there remains significant fragmentation. For example, the European members of NATO use 27 different types of howitzer and 20 different fighter aircraft. They collectively spend more than four times as much on defense as Russia but much of it is duplicative.31 While nations are expected to first and foremost provide for their own defense and maintain a stand-alone range of capabilities tailored to their specific national requirements and circumstances, consolidating efforts could lead to economies of scale and drive down costs to develop and field more advanced technologies.

Mitigating the Gap

As there is lack of concerted effort to close the gap there must be a focused campaign to mitigate it. Formal alliances and regular exercises provide a venue to work out interoperability concerns before the crisis comes. There are also opportunities for cooperation in development of technological standards and shared doctrine. Even though coalitions are by their nature more temporary ad-hoc arrangements, some mitigation can be achieved through the use of liaison officers and loaned equipment.

There is also a human and cognitive element to interoperability. Programs like International Military Education and Training (IMET) allow foreign militaries to send their officers to a variety of courses, to include American service academies and war colleges. Beyond the content of the education, they build relationships and learn the mindset and approach of their U.S. military counterparts (and vice versa). Building on this to increase allied participation in wargaming and experimentation could further enhance commonality in how to address future challenges and boost interoperability.

Even if the science and technology gap prevents some multinational forces from full integration with their U.S. counterparts (e.g. into a Navy CSG), the gap can be mitigated by shifting consideration from just the operational factor of force to the interrelated factors of space – where to employ them and time – when to employ them.

The technical capability of a platform is often the largest determinant in where (in geographic space) it is employed. For example, an ally with a BMD capability may be assigned an operating area that will put them in the best position to make an intercept. A ship with traditional surface capabilities might be best to act as an escort or cover a transit corridor to deter piracy, just as a capable antisubmarine platform could be assigned along a submarine threat axis. As such, multinational force laydown is largely a function of technical capability. Political concerns and national rules of engagement also play a large role in this calculus.

JEJU JOINT CIVIL-MILITARY COMPLEX, Republic of Korea (Mar. 25, 2017) – Cmdr. Douglas Pegher, left, commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63), shakes hands with Rear Adm. Kim, Jeongsu, commander of Maritime Task Flotilla 7, following a meeting between the two regarding the historic arrival of the ship. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan Harper/Released)

Another consideration is when to employ less technologically advanced forces. Platforms with more rudimentary capabilities can make large contributions, particularly during Phase 0 shaping operations or security cooperation, where much of the effort relies on presence and partnership development. Likewise, they can play significant roles in the later phases of stabilization and enabling of civil authority. However, depending on the threat, less capable forces may be positioned elsewhere during the high intensity phase of an operation. This could be politically problematic, contributing to perceptions of “ally X has no skin in the fight” or “the U.S. doesn’t trust us or consider us to really be a member of the team.” Every effort should be made to give credit where it is due and highlight the importance of the diverse contributions made by multinational forces in supporting the overall effort.

Interoperability in a particular task is often constrained by the least technologically proficient participant.32 However, some data can be reformatted to comply with other standards and forwarded to feed less capable systems, such as when forwarding between tactical data links (Link 16 and Link 22 to Link 11).33 Likewise, some attributes can be stripped from data to make information releasable to partners by using systems like Radiant Mercury.34 Technology like this will be increasingly critical going forward.


America’s technological lead is perishable and due to the global connectivity afforded by the internet, advances are proliferating at an incredible rate. Unmanned aerial vehicles like quadcopters were science fiction a few years ago, but can now be purchased commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) at Walmart and flown with a smart phone. Satellite-based imagery, encryption software, secure communication gear, and navigation systems are widely available to anyone, including adversaries. The science and technology gap remains a strategic imperative that the U.S. must focus efforts to maintain. However, in the face of increasingly capable and assertive adversaries, the U.S. must use every available avenue to mitigate the gap to ensure interoperability with allies and partners.

Tim McGeehan is a member of the Navy’s Information Warfare Community.  He has previously served in S&T positions and as an exchange officer to the UK Royal Navy.  

Douglas T. Wahl is the METOC Pillar Lead and a Systems Engineer at Science Applications International Corporation.

The ideas presented here are those of the authors alone and do not reflect the views of the Department of the Navy or Department of Defense.


1. National Air and Space Museum, The Tizard Mission – 75 Years of Anglo-American Technical Alliance, November 17, 2015,

2. Ernest Volkman, Science Goes to War, p. 158

3. National Air and Space Museum, “Buzz Bomb”: 70th Anniversary of the V-1 Campaign, June 13, 2014,; Annie Jacobsen, Remembering ‘Operation Paperclip,’ when national security trumped ethical concern, PBS Newshour, March 31, 2014,

4. Marshall Space Flight Center History Office, Bio: Dr. Wernher von Braun, 2015,

5. Nikki Ficken, US, UK arrangement allows joint research, AMRDEC Public Affairs, February 23, 2017,; Megan Eckstein, U.S., Sweden Sign Agreement To Collaborate On Anti-Sub, Anti-Air R&D, Exercises, USNI News, June 8, 2016,



8. Ernest Volkman, Science Goes to War, p. 208;

9. Ernest Volkman, Science Goes to War, p. 208

10. Bob Work, The Third U.S. Offset Strategy and its Implications for Partners and Allies, January 28, 2015,

11. Hagel, Chuck, “Defense Innovation Days: Keynote Speech” September 3, 2014,

12. Hagel, Chuck, “Defense Innovation Days: Keynote Speech” September 3, 2014,

13. Hagel, Chuck, “Defense Innovation Days: Keynote Speech” September 3, 2014,

14. Jonathan Greenert and James Foggo, Forging a Global Network of Navies, USNI Proceedings, May 2014,

15. Dan Lamothe, What happens when the most advanced fighter jets in the U.S., France, and Britain prepare for war, The Washington Post, December 17, 2015,

16. Pierre Nolin, Interoperability: The Need for Transatlantic Harmonization, NATO Parliamentary Assembly Annual Meeting, 2006,

17. Joint Publication 3-16: Multinational Operations, July 16, 2013,

18. Megan Eckstein, U.S., Japanese Destroyers Conduct First-Of-Kind Parts Swaps During Interoperability Exercise, USNI News, March 17, 2017,

19. Michele Zanini and Jennifer Taw, The Army and Multinational Force Compatibility, Rand Report 2000,, p. 22

20. Michele Zanini and Jennifer Taw, The Army and Multinational Force Compatibility, Rand Report 2000,, p. 22

21. Joint Publication 3-16: Multinational Operations, July 16, 2013, , p. xv

22. Michele Zanini and Jennifer Taw, The Army and Multinational Force Compatibility, Rand Report 2000,, p. 52

23. Robert Burns, Pentagon Chief Carter: Europe ‘Not Doing Enough’ On Defense, Associated Press, April 22, 2015,

24. Stephen Fidler, NATO Leaders Vow to Lift Military Spending, The Wall Street Journal, September 4, 2014,

25. Luke Meineke, Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System Team Arrives at NSF Deveselu, June 6, 2015,

26. BBC News, Russia Mistral: France halts delivery indefinitely, November 25, 2014,

27. Mark Landler and Thom Shanker, U.S., in Sign of Displeasure, Halts F-16 Delivery to Egypt, July 24, 2013,

28. Ernesto Londono, U.S. halts delivery of F-16s to Egypt, Washington Post, July 24, 2013,

29. Rachel Stohl, Shannon Dick, and Axelle Klincke, US Military Assistance To Thailand, May 28, 2014,

30. Tomkins, Richard, US Navy authorizes building of Common Missile Compartment Tubes, UPI, October 31, 2014,

31. The Gryfs of Europe: Europe is starting to get serious about defence, The Economist, 23 February 2017,

32. Joint Publication 3-16: Multinational Operations, July 16, 2013, , p. III-21

33. Northrup Grumman, Understanding Voice and Data Link Networking, December 2014,

34. Barry Rosenberg, Addressing security challenges of a common operating environment, Defense Systems, June 11, 2013,

Featured Image: POHANG, Republic of Korea (April 7, 2017) – Staff Sgt. Robin McClain a cyber-technician assigned to the 621st Contingency Response Wing stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., shares knowledge with two Republic of Korea Airmen during exercise Turbo Distribution 17-3 at Pohang Air Base, Republic of Korea, April 7, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Gustavo Gonzalez/Released)