Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

Maritime Civil Affairs

The following article originally featured on Small Wars Journal and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Paul W. Taylor

“We will look for new ways to enhance relationships and form partnerships with traditional and nontraditional maritime partners who share a stake in international commerce, safety, security, and freedom of the seas.”[i]

In March 2015, the Sea Services (the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard) jointly published an updated version of their Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS-21), which “affirmed our focus on providing presence around the world in order to ensure stability, build on our relationships with allies and partners, prevent wars, and provide our Nation’s leaders with options in times of crisis.”[ii]

This strategy repeatedly emphasizes the role of partnerships in projecting American influence, gaining access, building security, and protecting and promoting trade.[iii]  Such partnerships are in fact necessary to both of the two “foundational principles” upon which the CS-21 is built: that “U.S. forward naval presence is essential to accomplishing the … naval missions derived from national guidance” and that “naval forces are stronger when we operate jointly and together with allies and partners.”[iv] But development of partnerships (even primarily military partnerships) often requires and nearly always benefits from engagement with non-military partner nation organizations. And this is the bailiwick of civil affairs (CA) forces, an area in which the U.S. Navy is particularly weak.

The Problem

While each military service is required to maintain a civil affairs capability,[v] the US Navy recently divested itself of its only civil affairs capability, the Maritime Civil Affairs and Security Training Command (MCAST).[vi] This policy required each of the Services to maintain civil affairs capabilities and directed the Secretary of the Navy to “provide for civil affairs personnel and units in the Navy and Marine Corps military force structure.” While it may be disputable whether the structure of MCAST (a headquarters that would assemble CA teams when requested) fully satisfied the formal requirement for civil affairs units, it did provide a niche capability that was in clearly in demand by the Geographic Combatant Commands, particularly SOUTHCOM, AFRICOM, and PACOM. Its participation in efforts like Community Watch on the Water—a campaign conducted in collaboration with the Kenyan government, local law enforcement, and local citizens to build trust and reduce crime and violent extremism[vii]—proved its value as a member of the civil affairs community despite its small size and short lifespan.

It appears that the Navy’s current position is that while it fully supports the Joint Staff effort to ensure adequate maritime civil affairs capabilities in order to shape the security environment and promote global prosperity, instead of having standing general-purpose civil affairs capability, Navy maritime civil affairs capabilities are available through the existing Request For Forces (RFF) process once a specific maritime need is identified. Assuming that an RFF adequately identifies the desired expertise, the Navy will provide an adaptive force package to meet the maritime civil affairs requirements detailed in the request.

But implicit in this policy is that the Navy will provide maritime-specific civil affairs capabilities rather than generalized civil affairs capabilities, such as those found in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. Thus, in order to support the Navy position on civil affairs, some definition of maritime civil affairs is required. However, to date, no comprehensive definition or description of maritime civil affairs has been promulgated by the Navy, in joint doctrine, or in Department of Defense policy guidance.[viii] Without such a definition, it is impossible to assess whether the Navy is achieving the standards it has set for itself, or to inform the other services and interagency partners what support they may be able to expect.

The following paragraphs approach this issue from several directions, first by simply “marinizing” the joint doctrine definition of civil affairs, next by exploring the mission sets which would most likely require some form of maritime civil affairs, and lastly by looking at some of the maritime skill sets that may be required in civil affairs missions. These aspects, taken together, will form the basis of an improved understanding of this little-understood military specialty.

Defining Maritime Civil Affairs

A basic approach to developing a definition or description of maritime civil affairs is by asking what is “maritime” about it. Civil Affairs in the general sense is defined as:

“Those military operations conducted by civil affairs forces that enhance the relationship between military forces and civil authorities in localities where military forces are present; require interaction and consultation with other interagency organizations, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, indigenous populations and institutions, and the private sector; and involve application of functional specialty skills that normally are the responsibility of civil government to enhance the conduct of civil-military operations.” (JP 1-02)

Simple “marinization” of this definition would be the easiest method of developing a definition of maritime civil affairs. According to this method the definition of maritime civil affairs would be something like:

“Those military operations that enhance the relationship between military forces and civil authorities in localities where maritime forces are present; require interaction and consultation with other maritime interagency, intergovernmental, and non-governmental organizations; indigenous maritime populations and institutions; and the maritime private sector; and which involve application of maritime functional skills to problems that normally are the responsibility of civil government to enhance the conduct of civil-military operations.”

This definition may be passable for doctrinal purposes, but standing on its own it would not answer many of the fundamental questions: which civil authorities are maritime? What populations are considered maritime? What is the maritime private sector? Answering these questions is the much harder part of developing a workable understanding of “maritime civil affairs.”

Maritime Civil Affairs Missions

A fact sheet from the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) described MCA as “an enabling force working directly with the civil authorities and civilian populations within a Combatant Commander’s maritime area of operations to lessen the impact of military operations imposed during peacetime, contingency operations, and periods of declared war.”[ix]

One method of developing a definition or description of maritime civil affairs is to identify types of missions that would require civil affairs that are unique to the maritime domain or by their nature require naval personnel. In this vein, maritime civil affairs missions can be categorized in three ways: missions that require a good grasp of maritime culture; missions that require a good grasp of the maritime environment; and missions that require a good grasp of the U.S. Navy’s unique organizational culture and capabilities.

The first category, grasp of maritime culture, includes qualities such as the ability to engage with maritime professionals and industry; understanding the risks and rewards of maritime life and livelihood; grasping the “dual pattern of life” characteristic of seafaring professions; and being conversant in maritime legal issues such as exclusive economic zone management, sovereign rights and responsibilities in the maritime domain, and freedom of navigation.

The second category highlights the unique characteristics of the maritime environment. Civil affairs practitioners operating in the maritime domain must have a clear understanding of maritime resources, such as natural and man-made harbors, fisheries, seabed resources, aquaculture resources; maritime economy and infrastructure, such as ports, harbors, fishing, undersea resource extraction, aquaculture, channel and lock usage and maintenance, and the riparian economy; and threats and opportunities in the maritime environment, including severe weather, the water-dominated environment, piracy, sea fauna. Performing standard CA activities such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and population and resources control take on additional planning, training and resourcing considerations to address the challenges presented by operating in the maritime domain.

Missions requiring a depth of understanding of the Navy’s unique organizational culture and capabilities include naval operations that may require civil affairs capabilities, whether specialized or general. These requirements are often seen in requests by Naval Special Warfare Command and Construction Battalion (Seabees) requests for CA augmentation or CA training. Civil affairs capabilities would also be greatly beneficial for missions requiring sustained interaction with ports and fishing communities, especially those close to congested sea lanes. Lastly, some landward missions may require an understanding of USN resources and culture. 

While some of these requirements may be sufficiently satisfied by U.S. Army or Marine Corps civil affairs personnel who receive specialized pre-deployment training, the number of requests for maritime specialization will likely far outstrip the availability achieved through this method.

Maritime Civil Affairs Functional Areas

One major shortcoming of MCAST, which likely contributed to its demise, was its failure to distinguish itself from the capabilities provided by other services. Available sources on MCAST’s civil affairs capabilities do little to explain what MCAST provided that an Army civil affairs team would not. However, focusing on functional specializations, in addition to better aligning with the Navy position, will help to elucidate what it different about maritime civil affairs, and what benefits a Maritime Civil Affairs Team (MCAT) might provide to a combatant commander.

Whereas CA generalists work to reduce “civilian interference with military operations, [mobilize] civilian resources to support military operations, and [conduct] humanitarian operations,” CA functional specialists provide specific expertise in civilian subject matter areas, typically to assist in the protection and reconstruction of civilian systems, infrastructure, and ministries, or to support niche requirements for civil-military teaming.[x]

The sixteen joint civil affairs functions provided in Joint Publication 3-57, Civil-Military Operations are food and agriculture, economic development, civilian supply, emergency services, environmental management, cultural relations, civil information, dislocated civilians, public administration, public education, public safety, international and domestic law, public health, public transportation, public works and utilities, and public communications.

None of these areas are explicitly maritime in character, but most if not all can be conducted in the maritime domain. Furthermore, the difference in the operating environment constitutes a different problem set from that faced by land forces. For example, food and agriculture in the maritime domain includes such activities as fisheries and aquaculture, economic development at sea can range from shipping to undersea extractive industry, emergency services such as search and rescue and tsunami warning systems are constant demands, environmental management is required to protect sensitive ecosystems at sea and riparian areas from military operations and poorly regulated economic activity. Additionally maritime-specific forms of international and domestic law, public health and safety, transportation and public works and utilities all exist, all of which makes for a credible implication that a generalist in maritime civil affairs may be needed.

But focusing on the more specialized functional areas, a 2007 brief from the commander of the Maritime Civil Affairs Group (MCAG), a predecessor to MCAST, stated that in addition to the sixteen joint CA functions, the functional areas of MCA include port operations, marine resources, harbor and channel construction and maintenance, and fisheries.[xi]

Based on the above mission sets and the operational role of CA officers, we can identify some basic knowledge and skill sets required for maritime civil affairs, which may provide the basis for functional specializations:

  • Protection of the maritime environment;
  • Operation and maintenance of ports, harbors and waterways;
  • Governance of maritime environments, industry, and resources; and
  • Maritime law enforcement, security, and safety, including migration control.

Each of these functional areas overlaps to a significant degree, but no more so than many of the joint civil affairs functions listed in JP 3-57. Nor is this overlap necessarily a drawback, given the interconnectedness of governance issues in any reasonably well-defined domain. Indeed, each of these areas is also interconnected with land-based civil affairs areas. For example, watershed and water table management would be a necessary component of both food and agriculture and environmental management joint functional areas, but would immediately impact protection of the maritime environment as both are part of the same hydrologic cycle. Similarly, the operation and maintenance of ports, harbors and waterways would tie directly into the public transportation joint functional area in particular, but also most other functional areas as well.

Recommended Changes to Navy Policy

Maritime civil affairs capabilities can play an important supporting role in in overseas operations of all types, from humanitarian aid and disaster relief to major combat operations. MCAST proved this in its operations ranging across South America, Africa, the Middle East, and South East Asia, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Maritime civil affairs, especially when partnered with its more traditional land-based counterpart, can enhance the effectiveness of military operations through engagement with civil components of the maritime environment and providing civil information management for use in planning in all operational phases.

But the Navy’s current plan for providing these requirements is not workable. That its role spans the breadth of the conflict spectrum, and its required skill sets are difficult to build (or to identify within the resident force), suggests that ad hoc measures to develop “tailored” civil affairs capabilities to a given operational requirement will result in capabilities being provided too little and/or too late.

Additionally, this assumes that combatant commanders know that the ad hoc capability is available to them. However, given the sharp decline in requests for Navy CA capabilities following the disestablishment of MCAST, this is very unlikely. Instead, anecdotal evidence suggests that combatant commanders have shifted their requests for maritime CA capabilities primarily to the US Army.

The CS-21 states that the Navy will “take advantage of adaptive force packages to enable persistent engagements that build the capacity of allies and partners to respond to future crises.”[xii] Civil affairs capabilities are an important tool to add to this toolbox, whether as part of a maritime component theater engagement effort or as a part of a joint contingency operation.

While the Navy position is relatively clear that maritime CA is not envisioned as the province of a generalist, but is a relatively narrow functional specialization, the third mission area listed above implies a generalized maritime CA requirement. This does not necessarily mean that the Navy should produce true “generalists” in civil affairs. Instead the same effect could be  provided in several ways. One is by ensuring that the training provided to maritime functional area specialists includes a portion designed to ensure that they are able to integrate not only into maritime civil-military operations planning teams, but those operating in multi-domain environments as well. This is something that should be done in any event, since few missions requiring civil affairs capabilities will be purely maritime.

A second method would be for the Navy to provide “generalists” in maritime civil affairs, with some training in all functional areas, but focusing on maritime functional areas. In this sense, there would be only one “specialization” in maritime civil affairs writ large, even as individual practitioners would naturally be more skilled in one or two specific functional areas. This option would comport best with the Navy’s general approach to officer professional development practices, which favors generalization and broad professional communities that are then further narrowed as one drills down into the specifics.

In either case, without some standing method of generating maritime civil affairs practitioners, there is little hope that the demand for maritime civil affairs will ever be satisfied. There are multiple ways of achieving such a capability at relatively little cost. For example, SeaBees seeking civil affairs capabilities are regularly admitted to the U.S. Marine Corps Civil-Military Operations School (CMOS). An agreement could likely be reached with relatively little effort to set aside a certain number of seats at CMOS for Navy personnel. This, combined with a course (likely also hosted at CMOS) on the maritime functional areas, would generate maritime civil affairs practitioners at very little cost to the Navy.  A similar partnership may be possible with the U.S. Coast Guard. While the Coast Guard does not practice “civil affairs,” many of its international training activities closely parallel many of the maritime civil areas functional areas discussed above.


Maritime civil affairs capabilities play an important supporting role in in overseas operations. However, without an established method of generating maritime civil affairs practitioners, the demand for maritime civil affairs will never be adequately satisfied. However the result is achieved, the U.S. Navy should seriously consider developing a true maritime civil affairs capability, not only because it is required by Department of Defense policy, but more so because the evident demand for such a capability on the part of the combatant commands and the clear benefits that such a capability provides for the Navy’s own strategic ends to “defend the homeland, deter conflict, respond to crises, defeat aggression, protect the maritime commons, strengthen partnerships, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster response.”[xiii]

Paul W. Taylor is an enlisted Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, now providing support to the US Navy as a defense policy and strategy analyst in maritime irregular warfare at the Pentagon. Paul holds a JD and MA from Seton Hall University, where he focused on security and rule of law issues.

The views presented here are those of the author and not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Department of Defense.


[i] Statement 0f Rear Admiral Kevin Donegan U.S. Navy Deputy Chief Of Naval Operations For Operations, Plans and Strategy (N3/N5) – Acting and Major General Andrew W. O’Donnell, Jr. U.S. Marine Corps Assistant Deputy Commandant, Combat Development and Integration before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection of Forces of The House Armed Services Committee and the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, 18 March 2015.

[ii] Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower: Forward, Engaged, Ready (March 2015) (hereinafter CS-21).

[iii] E.g., “By expanding our network of allies and partners and improving our ability to operate alongside them, naval forces: foster the secure environment essential to an open economic system based on the free flow of goods, protect U.S. natural resources, promote stability, deter conflict, and respond to aggression.” CS-21

[iv] CS-21

[v] “It is [Department of Defense] policy that the DOD must maintain a capability to conduct a broad range of civil affairs operations necessary to support DOD missions and to meet DOD Component responsibilities to the civilian sector across the range of military operations.” (DOD Directive 2000.13, March 11, 2014)

[vi] instruction disestablishing MCAST; Navy Disestablishes MCAST, USN press release, (accessed 9/26/2016).

[vii] MCAT 205 Keeping Partnerships with Kenyans Alive, USN press release, (accessed 9/26/2016).

[viii] Joint Publication 3-57, Civil-Military Operations discussion on the Navy contribution to civil-military operations largely resorts to describing the capabilities of the now-disbanded Maritime Civil Affairs and Security Training Command.

[ix] Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, Public Affairs. Apr 2010. Fact Sheet. Subject: NECC Force Capabilities.

[x] COL Dennis Edwards, US Army War College, 2012,

[xi] Vera Zakem and Emily Mushen, Charting the Course for Civil Affairs in the New Normal , July 2015, (accessed 26 September 2016); see also Rosemary Speers, Ph.D., Shaping the Future of Maritime Civil Affairs: Lessons Learned from the Maritime Civil Affairs Teams: 2006-2014, (accessed 26 September 2016).

[xii] CS-21R

[xiii] CS-21

Featured Image: TRUJILLO, Honduras (Feb. 23, 2017) Lt. Lisa Daily, assigned to Naval Branch Health Clinic Kings Bay, Ga., demonstrates stretches and exercises during a physical therapy session at the Continuing Promise 2017 (CP-17) medical site in Trujillo, Honduras. CP-17 is a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored and U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet-conducted deployment to conduct civil-military operations including humanitarian assistance, training engagements, medical, dental, and veterinary support in an effort to show U.S. support and commitment to Central and South America. (U.S. Navy Combat Camera photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ridge Leoni/Released)

Reforming 21st Century Navy Intelligence To Answer the CNO’s Call

By Millard Bowen and David Andre

In January 2016, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) issued A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, which defined the current operational environment and laid out our Navy’s most pressing challenges within a framework of three interrelated global forces. These global forcesthe classic maritime system, the global information system, and the increased rate of technological creation and adaptationrequire the Navy’s Intelligence Community (IC) to adapt for the 21st Century.

Of the four Lines of Effort identified in the CNO’s Design, the Navy IC can directly affect three: Achieve High Velocity Learning at Every Level, Strengthen our Navy Team for the Future, and Expand and Strengthen Our Network of Partners. The fourth Line of Effort— Strengthen Naval Power at and From Sea — will derive direct advantages through Navy IC advancements in the other LOEs. Within this context, this paper identifies three challenges and proposes solutions to help the Navy IC effectively execute the CNO’s Design.

Challenge 1: Disseminate Ideas and Information Across the Intelligence Community

There is a contradiction inherent in the Navy IC’s professional development between generalization and subject matter expertise. On one hand, the Navy IC is a relatively stove-piped community, with little overlap between the disparate specialties and geographic commands that constitute the larger naval intelligence enterprise. At odds with this is a development paradigm for Intelligence Officers that prizes geographic diversity and job variety. In practice, this means that Intelligence Officers repeatedly find themselves at the bottom of the learning curve. Tour lengths and career progression permit only a modicum of regional or topical expertise before moving on to different problem sets.

The current career path for Naval Intelligence Officers. (US Navy Bureau of Personnel)

This creates an environment where the only Subject Matter Experts (SME) on a given target or region are often civilians at shore-side facilities where their expertise is directed (or constrained) to a select few leaders in the IC and greater DoD enterprise. Coupled with this situation is the current trend where most Intelligence Officer training resides at the unit level, allowing operational tempo and personality types to de-standardize the frequency, quality, and accuracy of the training.

The Navy lacks a consistent, IC-wide ability to ensure sustained familiarity with current intelligence, technology developments, and emerging challenges and threats. Aside from the baseline knowledge established in the Navy Intelligence Officer Basic Course (NIOBC), the majority of junior Intelligence Officers are defined by their assignments and therefore lack a strong grasp of the greater body of information in the IC. It is critical that Intelligence professionals provide warfighters and decision-makers context and probability; this paper contends that our current professional development does not develop this capability. In a future electromagnetic- (EM) degraded warfighting environment, relevant intelligence expertise needs to be available organically, across pay-grades and platforms. There will be no time for an Intelink hunt.

Solution: Use Modern Technology to Disseminate Practical Knowledge IC-Wide

To address these shortfalls, the Navy IC needs to use new technology to share ideas and information efficiently. The intent is not to turn generalists into SMEs, but to bridge knowledge gaps and prepare Intelligence Officers for the full array of jobs available. Using SMEs to develop the baseline knowledge of the community increases information flow and encourages innovation. To pass new information, the IC has traditionally relied on CDs and e-mails with uncertain distribution, messages with no mechanism to confirm readership, and ad-hoc training subject to the variations of trainers and the training environment.

An example of a periodic Navy audio series, the CNO’s podcast, Soundings. Click to listen to the February 15, 2017 episode on the core attribute of toughness.

The IC should augment these traditional methods with the creation of periodic video and/or audio lecture series to instruct the Navy IC on current information. Use the example of a podcast or TED Talks where an Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) or Joint Intelligence Operations Center (JIOC) SME uses audio and visual aids to provide the ground truth on myriad topics to Navy Intelligence personnel worldwide.1 Instead of being constrained by the unbalanced knowledge that intelligence professionals develop individually, leverage SME knowledge to educate the broader community—effectively turning a weakness into strength. Underpinning this effort will be a central repository where the briefs reside, readily accessible to the fleet. These products will allow Intelligence Officers and enlisted Sailors to arrive on-station familiar with ongoing threats, trends, and maritime security challenges wherever they are assigned. This will enable high velocity learning by accelerating the dissemination of expertise and leveraging specialization to enhance the knowledge of the greater intelligence community.

We propose that these products be spearheaded and developed by ONI a minimum of once a month, no more than an hour in length, and hung in a low-bandwidth form on the Secret Internet Protocol Router (SIPR) Network; SIPR has to be the medium of choice to reach the greatest audience, afloat or ashore. Audio versions of the same briefs can be posted to the web for bandwidth constrained platforms and units, and the corresponding visual aids can be included in downloadable zip-files. Additionally, distributing an annual DVD compilation of the briefs to all Navy units would enable periodic training regardless of connectivity or bandwidth.

Challenge 2: Emphasis on Bridging the Operations and Intelligence Divide

There is a wealth of evidence—albeit mainly anecdotal—pointing to a persistent need to strengthen communication and trust between Unrestricted Line (URL) Officers and Intelligence Officers. To support operations effectively, the Navy IC must develop a better understanding of at-sea expeditionary warfare operations, operational terminology and practices, and the challenges that operators face. Similarly, to effectively consume and synthesize intelligence products, warfighters and planners must understand the cyclic relationship between intelligence and operations. Knowing what the Navy IC can provide, how missions and operations feed intelligence assessments, and how to frame questions effectively will ultimately improve productivity and the quality of naval intelligence professionals and operators alike. Ironically, the IC typically understands the capabilities and limitations of foreign forces well, but we can do a better job understanding those of our own fleet.

A strong relationship between intelligence and operational professionals is vital to successful mission execution, such as this photo of planning efforts leading up to Exercise BOLD ALLIGATOR 2011. (US Navy Photo by MC1 Phil Beaufort)

Junior URL Officers typically have limited cross-community learning and familiarization due to their respective warfare qualification processes and job requirements.2 These early years are exactly when junior officers need to begin learning about other communities, so they can foster the trust that is critical in the operations and intelligence relationship. The foundation of these relationships lies in an appreciation for one another’s work and an understanding of the interrelatedness of each community. The IC must accept responsibility for educating naval warfighters on our community while educating ourselves on theirs. Increased alignment will enable operators to understand the right questions to ask, thereby allowing intelligence professionals to provide improved time-sensitive, succinct, and relevant intelligence to our fleet.

Solution: Identify and Employ Cross Community Engagement Opportunities

A primary focus of an Intelligence Officer’s first tour is the completion of their professional qualifications—a process that can take up a majority of their time. Our first proposal is placing emphasis on getting our 1830s qualified as quickly as possible and then using the remaining time in their initial tour to embark a variety of ships and submarines; the benefits are three-fold.

Foremost, it will broaden the young officers’ knowledge of our fleet including the hardware, technology, and terminology associated with conducting at-sea operations. Second, it will allow them to receive valuable training from peers working across the operational spectrum. Lastly, it will foster side-by-side communication and cohesion with URL peers. Part of this initiative might include NIOBC students completing their initial Personnel Qualification Standards (PQS) before graduation, thus speeding their Information Warfare (IW) qualification process upon entering the fleet.

The second proposal is integrating intelligence familiarization into the training pipelines for URL Officers. This familiarization would occur primarily aboard big-deck amphibs and carriers, where officers can receive in-depth tours and briefs on the routine operations and capabilities of strike group intelligence centers. The training will demonstrate the value intelligence teams provide, how to communicate with them, their limitations, and how URL Officers contribute to Indications and Warning (I&W). In the case of Surface Warfare Officers (SWOs), this could become a small portion of the Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC) already being taught.3 An alternative and complimentary approach to address existing apprehension between Operations and Intelligence is to increase the number of lateral transfer URL Officers in the 1830 accession model. A third prospect is expanding the SWO-Intel option at all accession sources so a larger number of future Intelligence Officers will have completed initial URL tours aboard surface warships, thus developing familiarization and relationships with other communities.

These suggestions alone will not break down all barriers and communication challenges between Ops and Intel. However, when coupled with frequent engagement opportunities, familiarization with new intelligence practices, and manning and accession changes, increased trust and cohesion amongst our Fleet’s cadre will flourish.

Challenge 3: Improve Awareness of International Maritime Security Organizations, Shared Lines of Effort, and Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) Developments

The CNO has charged our Navy with expanding and strengthening our network of interagency and international partners. Maritime security organizations across the world possess valuable knowledge, tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), along with lessons learned regarding their experiences with MDA and maritime security threats. It is imperative that we expose our Intelligence Officers to these organizations, their practices, processes, and ideas. Collaboration and novel lines of communication with these agencies will help enable the global information-sharing network required for the coming decades. However, to get there, these partners must believe we understand their concerns, modi operandi, and capabilities, and they must trust their USN counterparts.

LT David Andre works with SEACAT exercise participants to share information for a common regional maritime picture and coordinate responses to maritime threats. (Government of Singapore)

Many partner navies align closely with U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) missions, an area where the U.S. Navy lacks proficiency. We can improve relationships with those navies by working together, understanding their challenges and perceived threats—even if they are atypical for our fleet. An example of this is Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (IUU), which is the scourge of developing maritime nations the world over, but garners little attention from the USN.

We can enhance our international relationships and improve information sharing by familiarizing ourselves with maritime threats like this, enabling more effective management of lines of communication. Understanding our international partners’ concerns will make us a more effective partner, paving the way for cooperation and trust across a range of issues.

Solution: Engage with Local and Foreign Maritime Security Organizations

Identify organizations that practice the key principles of MDA and information sharing, like major CONUS and OCONUS port operations control centers, USCG and Department of Homeland Security Interagency Operations Centers, and multi-national coordination centers like those in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Lisbon, Cameroon, and Northwood.4 Send groups of mid-career Intelligence Officers on periodic familiarization trips to these destinations for engagement and collaborative discussions on current trends, threats, and lessons learned from combating maritime security threats.

The USN target audience will be Lieutenant Commanders (O-4s); the goal would be to—at least once a year—send a small group of personnel from various commands to spend 2-4 weeks touring these sites. Their mission would be to receive briefs on their hosts’ missions and capabilities, and provide reciprocal briefs on information sharing and maintaining MDA. This would potentially look like a scaled-down version of the initial familiarization training that a Foreign Area Officer (FAO) receives.

The overall goal of this initiative is to broaden our connection to the greater MDA and maritime information sharing communities, establish and maintain relationships and working lines of communication. Participation in these visits can be tailored to inform the Navy IC through end-of-mission briefs to leadership at ONI, Combatant Command (COCOM) JIOCs, and numbered fleets. Longer-term opportunities exist in the form of International Liaison Officer posts at foreign maritime security centers. These liaison billets foster greater understanding of international and regional maritime security trends and the capabilities and limitations of global partners. Similar to the SECNAVs Tours with Industry program that affords military members an opportunity to work with large civilian corporations for a year; this international exchange program will expose officers to new ideas and organizations, fostering relationships, information sharing, and improving MDA.


The Navy Intelligence Community has played a vital role in our Fleet’s success from Midway through the Global War on Terrorism. To continue this effort, the Navy IC must demonstrate initiative and creativity to address the challenges identified by the CNO. Usable and timely intelligence must be communicated across the fleet to decision-makers and warfighters in all phases of operation. To effect these activities, new technologies will be used, new domestic and international relationships will be required, and an increased level of coordination and trust must be fostered amongst Intelligence and Operations professionals.

Cross-community trust and engagement will enable improvements in all parts of the intelligence cycle, better preparing our Fleet for the warfighting environments of the 21st century. Navy IC-led international partnerships and information sharing will provide new levels of access to intelligence, facilities, and new technology in this era of increased globalization. These changes will not happen immediately, they will require adaptation, ingenuity and a cultural shift. This is an opportunity and challenge we are ready to accept.

LT Millard Bowen is a former Surface Warfare Officer and was most recently the N2 for COMDESRON SEVEN in Singapore. He is currently serving as the Operations Officer for NCIS’s Multiple Threat Alert Center (MTAC). He can be reached at

LT David M. Andre is a former Intelligence Specialist, and has served as an Intelligence Officer and Liaison Officer assigned to AFRICOM. He is currently serving as N2 for COMDESRON SEVEN in Singapore. He can be reached at

The views expressed above are the authors’ alone and do not reflect the official views and are not endorsed by the United States Navy, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or any other body of the United States Government.


1. An additional benefit to this approach is the Navy’s younger generation of Officers and Enlisted will likely be more receptive to multi-media training tools like these.

2. This is more common in the Surface Warfare and Submarine communities. Aviation Squadrons and Naval Special Warfare units have assigned Intelligence teams, so there is more familiarity earlier in their careers with varying degrees of success.

3. There may be opportunities for similar Intelligence familiarization training in the initial training pipelines for Naval Special Warfare, Aviators and Submariners, but future collaboration with those communities will be required to identify when and how best to integrate these topics.

4. Singapore hosts the Information Fusion Centre (IFC), Kuala Lumpur hosts the International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC), Lisbon hosts the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotic (MAOC-N), Cameroon hosts the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Inter-regional Coordinating Center (ICC), Northwood, England hosts the NATO Maritime Command HQ, the NATO Shipping Centre (NSC) and the Maritime Security Center – Horn of Africa (MSCHOA).

Featured Image: Two U.S. Navy Sailors and Peruvian sailor confirm position of simulated enemy destroyer in combat information center aboard guided-missile frigate USS Rentz during wargames as part of annual UNITAS multinational maritime exercise, off coast of Colombia, September 14, 2013 (U.S. Navy/Corey Barker)

Featured Image: Two U.S. Navy Sailors and Peruvian sailor confirm position of simulated enemy destroyer in combat information center aboard guided-missile frigate USS Rentz during wargames as part of annual UNITAS multinational maritime exercise, off coast of Colombia, September 14, 2013 (U.S. Navy/Corey Barker)

For Want of a Broadside: Why the Marines Need More Naval Fire Support

By Vince DePinto


According to the 2016 Marine Corps Operating Concept (MOC), the greatest risk to the Marine Corps is that it becomes unbalanced in its development as a force that is at once naval, expeditionary, agile, and lethal.1 Four decades of institutional neglect of naval surface fire support (NSFS) has led to precisely that: the Corps is over-reliant on aviation and cruise missiles to provide fires in a non-permissive maritime domain. Without investment in NSFS solutions that balance capability and capacity, the Marine Corps will be constrained in its ability to maneuver at sea, leaving Marines ill-equipped to fight and win in the future operating environments the MOC predicts.

The MOC makes it clear, though, that identified problems should be accompanied with feasible solutions: Marines innovate and adapt to win. By developing innovative tactics and munitions for the existing high mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS) and by adapting the San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks (LPD) to support a naval gun, the Marine Corps can fulfill the MOC’s call for an agile, lethal, and expeditionary force with an ability to secure the sea control essential for the prosecution of naval campaigns.

The Problem: The Neglect of Naval Surface Fire Support

The MOC opens by stating that the Marine Corps is “not organized, trained, and equipped to meet the demands of a future operating environment characterized by complex terrain, technology proliferation…and an increasingly non-permissive maritime domain.”2 While some critics dismiss NSFS as an anachronism in the modern context, it is the increasing complexity of advanced anti-access area-denial (A2/AD) weapon systems and the subsequent proliferation of such affordable capabilities that necessitates its revival. Detractors argue that naval aviation and the Navy’s Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) complement are sufficient to service targets in support of an amphibious force. In a permissive maritime environment, this argument is likely valid. However, rival powers have identified America’s critical capabilities and are preparing to remove them accordingly; a reality the MOC identifies as a future constant.3 Nowhere is this more evident than in the Western Pacific. Over the past two decades, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has invested considerable resources into acquiring the capabilities necessary to deter, counter, and defeat adversarial power projection into regional conflicts.4 The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fields a comprehensive battle network of sensors, platforms, and weapons that form a robust, multi-domain reconnaissance-strike complex capable of effectively engaging naval vessels over 800 miles from China’s shores.5

As these threats force the surface groups’ operational areas further from the adversary, the tyranny of distance restricts Marine aviation’s ability to influence the environment. Increased range forces the platforms to dedicate more weight to fuel over munitions and limits time on target. Extended distance also prohibits the use of some platforms outright. For example, rotary-wing attack aircraft are restricted to operating within 120 nautical miles of a fuel source, and fixed wing aircraft do not fare much better. While the F-35 is a revolutionary airframe with inherent stealth characteristics, the high value air assets (HVAA) on which it depends are not so resilient. In “Short Legs Can’t Win Arms Races,” Greg Knepper and Peter Singer identify airborne refueling tankers as the weakest link in America’s kill chain.6 They argue that the removal of a single tanker could lead to a flight package aborting its mission, or the destruction of the entire complement, if (when) fuel expires.7 The design of the PLA’s fifth generation stealth aircraft, the J-20, increasingly resembles that of a long-range interceptor. Analysts assess such a design is optimized to engage America’s critical HVAA with long-range air-to-air missiles, a tactic consistent with Chinese operational and strategic thought.8

A common counter-argument is that long-range cruise missiles, such as TLAMs, will be used to neutralize threats in order to enable follow-on aviation operations. Libya is cited as a textbook example for “rolling back” an integrated air defense system, with submarines removing the threats necessary to support follow-on aviation operations. Unfortunately, the Navy may lack the capacity to support this approach in the years to come, losing the tremendous 154 TLAM payload of each of the four modified Ohio-class submarines (SSGNs) when the boats are retired by 2028.9 The Virginia-class payload modules are intended to replace the SSGN’s strike capability, but with 40 TLAMs they are arguably insufficient against the demands posed by conflict with a near-peer power.10 In a hypothetical contest with the PRC, such shortfalls are compounded by the escalating threat posed by China’s increasingly stealthy and lethal undersea fleet: a force that is expected to deploy over 70 vessels by 2030.11 While the exceptionally quiet Virginia submarines provide America with a qualitative undersea advantage, the Navy expects to have roughly 41 in service by 2029.12 This reinforces the likelihood that the undersea force will be restricted in its ability to support Marines ashore, likely prioritizing anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare missions above strike.13

Tomahawk cruise missile launched from USS Florida (SSGN-728)

If one continues to use the ‘Roll Back’ concept, then surface combatants will be forced to mitigate the TLAM shortfall. This highlights a second critical vulnerability of the force: surface combatants cannot reload their VLS at sea. Broadly speaking, Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers (CG) are equipped with a VLS that can support 122 missiles and Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers (DDG) are capable of storing 96.14 The VLS missile silos are outfitted in accordance with the threat environment. Operations in a non-permissive maritime environment will necessitate a readiness to counter a variety of threats and support a wide range of missions in addition to surface strike, such as ballistic missile defense, anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and anti-air warfare. Much like the submarine force, it is not unreasonable to think that during a crisis with a near-peer power, strike will be the lowest priority. Therefore, the number of available TLAMs will be significantly below the maximum capacities outlined above. Indeed, the protection of the Navy’s capital ships remains a priority in current doctrine, further eroding the potential of a strike-centric cruiser or destroyer in a contested battlespace.15

Moreover, new operational concepts may exacerbate the NSFS shortfall. The Navy’s answer to the proliferation of A2/AD weapon systems is known as distributed lethality (DL). The core thrust of DL is that the Navy seeks to strain an adversary’s ability to assess and act by “spreading the playing field.”16 As Admirals Rowden, Gumataotao, and Fanta state, “Distributed lethality is the condition gained by increasing the offensive power of individual components of the surface force and then employing them in dispersed offensive formations.”17 There is potential that disaggregation of surface groups will increase the geographic distance between the vessels expected to provide NSFS and the operating areas of Marines ashore.

Even then, TLAMs are not necessarily the best or most economical solution to support maneuver units. The Department of the Navy states that a TLAM’s speed is roughly 550 mph.18 If a maneuver unit was conducting operations 30 nautical miles over the horizon, this would result in over three and a half minute time of flight, hardly ideal for troops in contact. TLAMs could be vulnerable to GPS spoofing or jamming, and could be engaged by adversaries’ point defense systems. The excessive cost would restrict the requesting unit’s ability to bracket a target or call for re-attacks in such events. If one uses $607,000 as a TLAM’s unit cost, the Navy expended over $121,400,000 of cruise missiles during the operation in Libya.19 This is hardly sustainable, which leaves the Mk-45 5-inch gun as the only current alternative NSFS capability.

The Mk-45, found on most cruisers and destroyers has a range of roughly 13 nautical miles though the Navy plans to field an extended-range projectile that could reach 30 nautical miles. If the Marine Corps views the promised munition with skepticism, it would be justified. The recent cancellation of the Long-Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) manifests the sad state of NSFS affairs. The Iowa-class battleships were retired with the assurance that the Navy would acquire a vessel that would meet or exceed the battleships’ NSFS capability. The Navy intended to purchase 29 ships of what was then referred to as the DDX program, which eventually metastasized into the Zumwalt-class destroyer.20 After suffering consistent cost overruns and ultimately being truncated in favor of procuring more DDG-51s, the Zumwalt-class will yield three ships instead of the promised 29.21 The decreased ship count has led to the cancellation of the LRLAP round, the intended munition for the Zumwalt-class’s Advanced Gun System (AGS). Strangely, the AGS and the LRLAP were two of the only technologies that were not subject to development delays or cost over-runs that plagued the DDX program.22 The LRLAP was cancelled as the unit costs would not depreciate to a tolerable threshold in light of the decreased quantity of deployed guns.23

If the NSFS deficit of the fleet is not rectified, the Marine Corps will be limited in its ability to maneuver in a contested maritime environment. To paraphrase the legendary Chesty Puller, “You can’t hurt ’em if you can’t hit ’em.”

Leveraging Legacy Systems: Maritime HIMARS

NSFS publications all too often end with gold plated solutions: the revival of the Iowa-class battleships, for example, or the fielding of a NSFS specific ship class, such as the Arsenal Ship.24 Yet, the MOC charges Marines to develop solutions that are technically feasible and institutionally affordable.25 While the thought of an un-mothballed USS New Jersey delivering a full nine-gun broadside is certainly patriotic, the operational requirements demand NSFS solutions that possess more range than what the venerated 16 inch guns can deliver.26 In “Bring Your Own Fires,” John Spang argues that the high mobility artillery rocket system/multiple launch rocket system (HIMARS/MLRS) is an ideal solution to the NSFS dilemma.27 The technology and the support procedures already exist. The trucks are purchased, the Marines trained, and the munitions proven in combat. The Marines should seize the current enthusiasm for military expansion by adding HIMARS battalions to the existing two.

The HIMARS launcher carries two families of guided missiles: the guided multiple-launch rocket system (GMLRS) and the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). The GMLRS can strike targets at 48 nautical miles, while the ATACMs missile has the capability of launching a 500lb high explosive warhead 162 nautical miles.28 While the HIMARS is a road-mobile system, it has been fired at sea. In 1995, the Army successfully fired tactical ballistic missiles off the fantail of the USS Mount Vernon (LSD-39).29 This highlights not only technical feasibility, but a dramatic increase in warfighting potential. An embarked HIMARS converts any ship capable of handling the weight and the missile back blast into a NSFS platform. This dovetails almost perfectly into Admiral Fanta’s distributed lethality motto, “If it floats, it fights.”30 HIMARS systems and their rocket pods could be latched down to any vessel with a flight deck, weaponizing civilian, merchant marine vessels, or even auxiliaries such as the Expeditionary Transfer Dock or the Expeditionary Sea Base. When required to echelon ashore, the CH-53K could externally lift the launchers to support the ground scheme of maneuver, providing an additional return on investment in the form of operational tempo and initiative. It is even possible that HIMARS could be adapted for use as a NSFS module on a Littoral Combat Ship, provided the heat of the missile launch does not compromise the integrity of the aluminum hull.

The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System fires the Army’s new guided Multiple Launch Rocket System during testing at White Sands Missile Range. (U.S. Army)

The shipboard use of HIMARS aligns with PACOM commander Admiral Harris’ call for cross-domain fires.31 At the 2016 Land Power in the Pacific Symposium, Admiral Harris called on the Army to be “back in the business of killing ships,” employing modified artillery shells and HIMARS missiles to sink enemy men of war. The Department of Defense is moving forward with this concept by developing an ATACMs variant capable of engaging moving targets on both land and sea. This mission should be seized by the Marines, both due to the statutory responsibility of seizing and defending advanced naval bases, and because it fulfills the MOC’s aims of a Corps equipped to support sea control.32

The integration of the existing HIMARS system would inevitably result in tactical and operational trade-offs: the vehicles would likely be placed on flight decks, limiting aviation operations. Nevertheless, a modular, easily-distributed strike capability would force the adversary to contend with yet another ‘stick.’ HIMARS equipped with long range, surface-to-surface, and anti-ship missiles could sever an enemy’s interior lines of communication, reinforce and support surface combatants, and maintain localized pockets of sea control.33 Comparably low-cost, low signature, and highly mobile anti-ship missiles systems could leverage the complicated littoral geography of the Western Pacific, creating a ‘Murderer’s Row’ with allied and like-minded nations between enemy harbors and assessed operating areas.34,35 This would in turn exhaust the People Liberation Army’s command and control architecture, forcing the PLA to not only search a huge number of locations, but have the assets in place to target them, significantly diluting the effectiveness of the much lauded PLA missile and air forces.36

Giving the Gators Teeth

In light of the distributed lethality operational concept, the Navy is looking toward up-gunning the ‘gators.’37 Original designs of the San Antonio-class LPD called for two 8-cell Mk-41 VLS in the bow of the ship, but the cells were cut during development.38 Marine Commandant General Neller has expressed public enthusiasm for reversing this decision, stating that the addition of the VLS to the LPD would “change the game.”39 The addition of missiles would provide long-range fires to Amphibious Ready Groups or Marine Expeditionary Units, and support disaggregated, independent operations by the LPD. While the addition of 16 TLAMs would increase the LPDs’ lethal capability, it does not appreciably improve NSFS capacity, especially if the LPD is operating independently. The lack of a reload capability restricts tactical flexibility for fire support: the threshold to expend a TLAM would likely limit small, distributed units from exploiting gaps and seams as they develop. It also limits operational flexibility as the small magazine would prevent longer operations and limit time on station.

Instead of installing a VLS into the LPD, the services should investigate the possibility of installing a naval gun. Quantity has a quality all of its own: guns provide a capacity that a 16 cell VLS does not. From an economic perspective, the use of a naval gun allows the Navy to invert the acquisition model from one centered on high-cost, low capacity missile purchases to a low cost, high-capacity gun system that will would enjoy better economy of scale.40 While the initial costs in ship modification may be more expensive when compared to the VLS, the price dynamics of a gun system are more favorable than TLAMs over the long term, especially given the tactical dividend of the gun’s ability to be reloaded indefinitely at sea.

Lance Cpl. Chance Seckenger with 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, rides in a Combat Rubber Raiding Craft during launch and recovery drills from the well deck of the USS Green Bay, at sea, July 9, 2015. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brian Bekkala/Released)

A potential course of action could be the Advanced Gun System Lite (AGS-L), a modified AGS that was designed to fit into the same space as the Mk-45 5-inch gun found on most surface combatants.41 The AGS-L is capable of firing the LRLAP to its 71 nautical mile range, at six rounds per minute, housing up to 240 LRLAP rounds in the magazine. 42,43 More importantly, the modification of the LPDs to support deck guns would allow the ships to capitalize on the future Hyper Velocity Projectiles (HVP) that are currently in development for strike and air defense.44 Capable of being fired from a traditional gun, HVPs launched from the AGS are capable of intercepting cruise missiles at ranges over 10 nautical miles, but are exponentially more affordable than the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles currently stocked in the VLS for defense.45,46 When Houthi rebels attacked the USS Mason with Chinese-produced C-802 anti-ship cruise missiles in October, James Holmes estimated that it cost the Navy upwards of $8 million dollars to defend the vessel against enemy projectiles valued at $500,000 piece; a cost ratio of over 8-1.47 The installation of a naval gun not only allows the LPD an increased capacity to support troops ashore, but also position the fleet to take advantage of fiscally sustainable medium-range air and missile defense capabilities in development.48

Counter-arguments to the retrofitting of the AGS-L into standing surface combatants exist. Studies would have to identify the effect of the gun on other naval systems, specifically the heat, vibration, and gases. Of most relevance is the ship’s superstructure: will the bridge’s fragility prohibit a gun entirely? While BAE promotional materials highlight the similarities of the physical dimensions between the Mk-45 and the AGS-L, careful attention would need to be paid to the extent at which the ship would have to be modified to support shell hoists, cooling, and magazine spaces. The back end logistics and life cycle maintenance would be an additional cost to consider.

While these challenges are indeed daunting, the ability for an LPD to provide NSFS to the Marines already embarked would relieve other surface combatants and their magazines to prosecute other warfighting functions. An LPD is already better suited to provide NSFS because her engines and fuel supply allow for longer on-station times compared to cruisers or destroyers. On a personal level, the LPD crew providing fires to her previously embarked Marines could yield a familiar and habitual relationship between supporting and supported units, leading to increased combat effectiveness (and plenty of opportunities to practice processes while underway).49 Combined with her reduced radar cross-section, aviation space, and command and control capability, the LPD would be in a unique position to operate independently, supporting distributed operations across the maritime domain.


If the MOC desires a force capable of securing sea control in order to support power projection in future operating environments, it must invest in NSFS solutions today. Imagine multiple, independently operating LPDs providing NSFS to distributed Advanced Expeditionary Bases armed to the teeth with ship-killing, low signature HIMARs detachments. The absence of capable NSFS threatens to yield a future Corps that is not only unbalanced, but possibly irrelevant. The most dangerous weapon in the world is a Marine and their rifle, a modern, usable, and cost-effective NSFS capability ensures they can get into the fight.

Captain Vincent J. DePinto, USMC is an Intelligence Officer who served two tours in the Pacific. He holds a graduate degree from the National Intelligence University and is a student in the Naval War College’s Fleet Seminar Program. He can be reached at


1. Department of the Navy. The Marine Corps Operating Concept: How an Expeditionary Force Operates in the 21st Century. Washington, DC. Headquarters, United States Marine Corps, 2016.

2. Ibid

3. Shugart, Thomas. Has Chine Been Practicing Preemptive Missile Strikes Against U.S. Bases?. (Accessed February 7, 2017)

4. Secretary of Defense. Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2016. Arlington, Virginia : Department of Defense , 2016.

5. Sloman, Jesse, and Bryan Clark. Advancing Beyond the Beach: Amphibious Operations in an Era of Precision Weapons. Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2016.

6. Knepper, Greg and Singer, Peter. Short Legs Can’t Win Arms Races: Range Issues And New Threats To Aerial Refueling Put U.S. Strategy At Risk. May 20, 2016. (accessed November 29, 2016).

7. Ibid

8. Lockie, Alex. The Real Purpose behind China’s Mysterious J-20 Combat Jet. January 24, 2017. (Accessed January 27, 2017)

9. Ron’ Rourke, Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, October 25, 2016.

10. Ibid

11. Majumdar, Dave. Undersea Crisis: China Will Have Nearly Twice as Many Subs as the U.S. February 26, 2016. (Accessed January 27, 2017)

12. Ibid

13. Heginbotham, Eric. The US- China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power 1996-2017. (Accessed January 27, 2017)

14. Department of the Navy. USN Fact File. (January 14, 2016) and (January 9, 2017)

15. Rowden, Thomas, Peter Gumataotao, and Peter Fanta. “Distributed Lethality.” Proceedings Magazine, January 2015.

16. Ibid

17. Ibid.

18. Department of the Navy. USN Fact File. Department of the Navy. USN Fact File.  (August 14, 2014)

19. Reed, John. 2,000 Tomahawks Fired in Anger. August 4, 2011. Defense Tech. aspx (accessed November 10, 2016).

20. Joseph E. Santos and Andrew Stigler. “Littoral Combat Ship – A TKO for the Streetfighter,” A Case Study in Naval Force Planning, (Newport, R.I.: Naval War College, updated 2015).

21. Ibid

22. LaGrone, Sam. Navy Planning on Not Buying More LRLAP Rounds for Zumwalt Class. November 07, 2016 . (accessed November 14, 2016).

23. Ibid

24. Duplessis, Brian. “Fixing Fires Afloat.” Marine Corps Gazette, 2015: 33-38.

25. Department of the Navy. The Marine Corps Operating Concept: How an Expeditionary Force Operates in the 21st Century. Washington, DC. Headquarters, United States Marine Corps, 2016.

26. Spang, John. “Bring Your Own Fires.” Marine Corps Gazette, February 2011: 70-71.

27. Ibid

28. Ibid

29. Erwin, Sandra. Marines Clamor for Long Range Artillery at Sea. January 2002. (accessed November 10, 2016).

30. Rowden, Thomas, Peter Gumataotao, and Peter Fanta. “Distributed Lethality.” Proceedings Magazine, January 2015.

31. Osborn, Kris. Emerging DOD ‘Cross Domain Fires’ Strategy: Army Will Attack Enemy Ships. November 25, 2016. (accessed November 29, 2016).

32. Department of the Navy. The Marine Corps Operating Concept: How an Expeditionary Force Operates in the 21st Century. Washington, DC. Headquarters, United States Marine Corps, 2016.

33. Jensen, Benjamin Back to the Future: Distributed Maritime Operations. April 9, 2015. (accessed November 10, 2016).

34. Ibid

35. Holmes, James. Defend the First Island Chain. Proceedings Magazine, April 2014.

36. Terrence Kelly, Anthony Atler, Todd Nichols, and Lloyd Thrall. Employing Land-Based Anti-Ship Missiles in the Western Pacific. 2013.

37. LaGrone, Sam. Navy, Marine Corps Considering Adding Vertical Launch System to San Antonio Amphibs. October 13, 2016. (accessed November 14, 2016).

38. Ibid.

39. Harper, Jon Marine Corps Eyeing Additional Amphibious Ships. January 12, 2017 (accessed January 27, 2017).

40. Cooper, Maxwell. “The Railgun Advantage.” Proceedings, 2011.

41. Weyer, Brent, and Al Panek. “The 155mm Advanced Gun System-Lite (AGS-L) for DDG-51 Flight III: A Summary of the BAE Systems IRAD Effort.” BAE Systems Land & Armaments. BAE Systems, May 15, 2012.

42. Ibid

43. Kulshrestha, Dr S. Guns Remain in Navy’s Future Plans. 2014. (accessed November 14, 2016).

44. Mark Gunzinger, and Bryan Clark. Winning The Salvo Competition: Rebalancing America’s Air And Missile Defenses. Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2016.

46. Ibid

46. Department of the Navy. USN Fact File. Department of the Navy. USN Fact File. (January 25, 2017)

47. Holmes, James Is the U.S. Navy a Sitting Duck? (January 25, 2017)

48. Mark Gunzinger, and Bryan Clark. Winning The Salvo Competition: Rebalancing America’s Air And Missile Defenses. Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2016.

49. Duplessis, Brian. “Fixing Fires Afloat.” Marine Corps Gazette, 2015: 33-38.

Featured Image: A Marine with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, runs forward while an Amphibious Assault Vehicle drives onto the sand behind him at Pyramid Rock Beach as part of the final assault during the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Sarah Dietz/Released)

Distributed Lethality: The Future of the Helicopter Sea Combat Community

By Lieutenant Commander Michael S. Silver, USN 

With contributions from Lieutenant Commander Loren M. Jacobi, USN, Lieutenant Commander James J. Moore, USN, and Lieutenant Robert J. Dalton, USN


The future of the Helicopter Sea Combat Community (HSC) community is at risk. HSC, which is made up of both carrier air wing (CVW) and expeditionary (EXP)squadrons that employ MH60S helicopters, struggles with its purpose to the fleet. Platform capabilities fail to keep pace with technological advancements and HSC warfighting relevancy is diminishing. A focused vision, careful risk mitigation, rebalanced mission priorities, and thoughtful platform acquisitions are needed in order to strengthen the fleet and secure the future of the HSC community.

What Does an HSC Vision for 2026 Look Like? 

What is needed is will—the fortitude to recognize that we have to change the way we currently operate. –VADM Thomas Rowden, “Distributed Lethality.”1

The HSC community of 2026 has a renewed focus on maritime employment and a customer-focused concept of operations based on the needs of warfare commanders. This means pivoting to become the maritime mission experts, integrating into a Carrier Strike Group (CSG), Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), or Independent Deployer via the Distributed Lethality (DL) model:  

“Distributed lethality is the condition gained by increasing the offensive power of individual components of the surface force (cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships [LCSs], amphibious ships, and logistics ships) and then employing them in dispersed offensive formations.”2

A pivot to distributed lethality requires alignment with warfighting requirements, focused funding along a revised community Roadmap/Flight Plan, and leveraging of existing naval aviation programs of record. The Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) is a Naval Aviation Enterprise requirement that reviews and improves resources throughout the lifespan of platforms. The forthcoming MH-60S MLU presents a watershed opportunity for the HSC community. It offers the clearest path to match capabilities with warfighting requirements outlined in the CNO’s Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority while meeting the demands of an environment increasingly shaped by the need for network-enabled technology in constrained budgets.3 Assuming the current Service Life Extension Plan (SLEP) will deliver the first MH-60S in 2028, the MLU opportunities for warfighting upgrades, guided by HSC Roadmaps and aligned with a maritime pivot to DL, will enable the HSC community to provide warfare commanders with the capabilities they require to meet future maritime security challenges.

President Trump is calling for more ships in the Fleet and the Navy’s revised force structure assessment will likely drive an increase in demand for MH-60S missions. Now is the time for the HSC community to make the most of the MLU in order to recast itself in the mold of DL. Doing so will create a future comprised of more powerful, networked platforms combined with innovative tactics that enhance naval warfare capability and support developing requirements generated from national strategy.

Limiting Risk

HSC has assumed an injurious level of risk training to a broad range of specialized warfare competencies. The battle to maintain currency and proficiency in specialized overland missions has increased risk, resulted in mishaps, and has made warfare commanders reluctant to rely on the HSC community for overland personnel recovery (PR), special operations forces (SOF) missions, and direct action (DA) missions. Historical HSC community data reveals that over 50 percent of HSC mishaps occurred during controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), with the majority occurring during training in a degraded visual environment (DVE) or executing unprepared landings (UPLs), resulting in four Class A mishaps, three Class B mishaps, 22 Class C mishaps, and one Class D mishap.4

Compounding this data, the HSC community has relied on Seahawk Weapons and Tactics Instructors (SWTIs) as subject matter experts to teach the most challenging missions, but SWTIs have struggled to maintain minimum flight hour requirements themselves.5 The CNO’s direction to “guide our behaviors and investments, both this year and in the years to come” demands that the community’s plan for the future adheres to responsible risk/benefit analysis. To do so, the HSC community should consider tailoring Defense Readiness Reporting System-Navy (DRRS-N) requirements to focus on maritime missions that contribute to a DL model.6

 Rebalancing Mission Priorities

 Fleet Carrier Air Wing HSC Squadrons maintain 10 primary mission areas and four secondary mission areas encompassing 210 required operational capabilities.7 A visual depiction of HSC missions can be seen in the figure below.

Given constrained resources, the number of specialized mission areas (seen at the top of the figure) is inversely proportional to the ability to perform those missions well. When considering where to allocate future resources, the HSC community must prioritize the maritime domain. The current MH-60S, which makes up 275 of the 555 aircraft in the Navy’s MH-60R/S inventory, lacks adequate sensors, sensor integration, and long-range weapons systems that warfare commanders require. As a result, decision makers mainly rely on the MH-60R to perform anti-surface warfare (ASUW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) missions focused on maritime dominance. The HSC community must obtain the systems that warfare commanders desire and focus training on the missions that utilize them. 

According to the Master Aviation Plan (MAP), there will be an increase in HSC employment as more LCS enter the fleet. This will be a major driver for requirements and is consistent with the DL concept. Since USN units are expected to be lethal against a broad range of threats, the HSC community must use existing opportunities to ensure that MH-60S integrated sensors are absolute requirements in order to provide situational awareness for warfare commanders, augment networked targeting platforms, and become a relevant sea control platform.

“The more capable platforms the adversary has to account for, the more thinly distributed his surveillance assets will be and the more diluted will his attack densities become. The more distributed our combat power becomes, the more targets we hold at risk and the higher the costs of defense to the adversary.”8

Rebalanced HSC mission sets should prioritize SAR/LOG/HADR, AMCM, UAS & SSC, and ASUW, while carefully tailoring overland PR/SOF DRRS-N requirements. 

SAR/LOG/HADR. Warfare commanders have historically demanded force-enabling mission sets from the rotary wing community and they will continue to be necessary core competencies operating aboard any surface platform. In addition to supporting daily operations, the HSC community has made significant strategic contributions executing SAR/LOG/HADR mission sets in times of crisis (e.g. tsunami relief operations, non-combatant evacuation operations, etc.). With the Trump administration demanding an increase in fleet size and publicly supporting a 350 ship Navy, it is logical to assume that there will be additional demand for force-enabling missions that require rotary support. The MH-60S is the platform of choice to meet increased demand for these mission sets and the HSC community should position itself accordingly.

AMCM. According to the Naval Aviation Vision 2016-2025, “effective mine warfare is a key tenet of the Navy’s anti-access/area-denial (A2AD) strategy, and AMCM plays an important role in executing that strategy,” yet the HSC community has fundamentally marginalized and underdeveloped this important capability.9 Already a Navy program of record, focusing on AMCM will address a significant challenge to U.S. maritime superiority. The MH-53E brings significant capability to heavy-lift contingency logistics requirements, while being a proven AMCM platform. With several MH-60S AMCM systems failing to meet requirements, a heavy lift replacement like the MH-53K would provide a baseline for LOG and AMCM missions. The MH-60S and unmanned HSC platforms like Fire Scout need to augment AMCM capabilities as soon as possible in order to counter this powerful asymmetric threat and contribute to the success of DL.   

UAS & SSC. HSC is the first Naval Aviation community to significantly develop and integrate unmanned systems, which purports to be a force multiplier in DL operations. Becoming UAS experts positions the HSC community to become leaders in the SSC mission, providing greater range, sensor capability, and distributed lethality than manned rotary-wing assets, while simultaneously reducing human risk, cost, and impact to routine events such as CVN cyclic operations. Currently, UAS is a secondary requirement on FRS and Expeditionary squadrons. Flight crews and maintainers are required to maintain separate currency and qualification on diverse platforms. Unmanned systems are integral to the future of warfare and the HSC community should explore resourcing commands and crews that are devoted to unmanned platforms.

MAYPORT, Fla. (Aug. 3, 2011) Two MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned air vehicles are aboard the guided-missile frigate USS Halyburton (FFG 40) for an offload at Naval Station (NS) Mayport. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gary Granger Jr./Released)

ASUW. Whether operating as part of a CSG, ARG, or Independent Deployers; offensive and defensive anti-surface capabilities offer warfare commanders a wide range of options while simultaneously adding complexity to the calculus of potential maritime adversaries. An HSC DL model can protect a high value unit (HVU), hold enemies at risk at range with a wide variety of unguided or precision guided munitions, and employ the MH-60S in conjunction with the MH-60R when required, all in the interest of defending Sea Lines of Communication and ensuring maritime security and superiority.

PR/SOF. Despite an increased focus on overwater missions, overland mission capability must still exist organically within the Navy Rotary Wing community. Overland capability must be maintained in a resource-constrained environment while implementing ways to mitigate risk. This could be accomplished by carefully tailoring training requirements for specific AORs beyond the current HSC Seahawk Weapons and Tactics Program 3502.6. Commands that are not projected to operate overland while deployed should be expected and even encouraged to report “yellow” or “red” in DRRS-N, reducing the risk associated with specialized overland mission sets and freeing up resources for other mission areas. This will permit the HSC community to “demonstrate predictable excellence in the execution of our maritime missions” and increase tactical relevance by seeking missions that are desired by warfare commanders.

BAHRAIN (April 25, 2012) Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Shane Tuck, assigned to the underwater photo team of Expeditionary Combat Camera, climbs a ladder into an SH60 Sea Hawk helicopter during cast and recovery training with Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jayme Pastoric/Released)

While accepting some risk in the overland power-projection/PR missions, the HSC community needs to link squadrons to relevant NSW and other SOF units to be the customer of choice when doing SOF missions in the maritime domain. Missions should be trained to and executed on a sound risk/reward level to give SOF the reach needed to execute their effects from traditional and non-traditional surface platforms. A ship takedown executed from a Military Sealift Command (MSC) ship or LCS may be an emerging counter terrorism requirement in the globalized threat domain.

Technology/Acquisitions Recommendations

DoN budget challenges (Columbia-class SSBN, shipbuilding, TACAIR Inventory Management, etc.) will continue to pressure naval rotary wing funding. The MH-60 Service Life Assessment Plan (SLAP), beginning in FY17 and transitioning into SLEP in the early 2020s, provides a unique opportunity to incorporate key mission upgrades and capabilities in conjunction with MH-60 MLU. While MLU is still unfunded and currently outside the Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP), the HSC community should work with OPNAV N98 and the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) to support upgraded MH-60S capabilities that enhance Fleet DL.

Obtain RADAR capability. The HSC community is the aviation asset for LCS, but it has virtually no networked sensor capability. In a distributed threat environment, the MH-60S needs to be able to contribute additional sensor information to decision makers and shooters. The logical solution is a phased planar array RADAR, which gives HSC the ability to positive hostile identify (PHID) at range and use RADAR designation for the Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM). An LCS based SAG needs air-based sensor coverage, all-weather PHID capability, and the ability to hold the enemy at risk, at range. JAGM Block III (another Navy program of record), will virtually double the range of the HELLFIRE missile. Due to limitations of the current MH-60S MTS sensor at long ranges in humid overwater environments, the HSC community will face significant limitations in utilizing JAGM at ranges beyond legacy HELLFIRE capabilities. The MH-60R, with RADAR-based designation capability will be able to utilize the full range envelope of JAGM. Until this gap is bridged, only the 280 MH-60R helicopters out of the Navy’s 555 MH-60R/S inventory will be able to leverage the full capability of this weapon. Obtaining RADAR imaging and designation will enable the MH-60S to integrate into the overwater joint fires world of DL.  

Approve the MH-60S “Torpedo Truck” concept for the Pacific Fleet. The “Torpedo Truck” concept multiplies warfighting effectiveness for any battle group by permitting HSC platforms to carry torpedoes that can be employed in conjunction with an MH-60R. Time on station is primarily determined by fuel load and aircraft weight limitations necessitate a choice of either additional fuel or expendables such as torpedoes. Outfitting an MH-60S “shooter” platform with torpedoes permits an MH-60R platform to take off with more fuel (instead of torpedoes) and remain on-station as the “designator” for longer periods of time. The MH-60S “Torpedo Truck” significantly increases ASW warfighting capability (particularly on LCS) and enhances DL. Additionally, to bring ASW capability to a broad range of Independent Deployers, the “Torpedo Truck” directly supports DL requirements. No matter what the ASW threat, a threat submarine needs to be close in to launch a torpedo against a ship. The DL concept applied to ASW in a non-traditional LCS SAG is only possible with the ability to employ organic weapons that can hold the enemy at risk, at range. The “Torpedo Truck” concept has already been endorsed by Carrier Air Wing FIVE (CVW 5) and requires further review from higher Pacific Fleet echelons. Commander DESRON 15, Commander NAWDC, Commander CTF 70, and Commander SEVENTH Fleet should consider generating an urgent operational needs statement based on current and projected submarine threats, and work with OPNAV for immediate approval.11

Obtain Ku-band HAWKLINK capability. The HSC community needs to connect HAWKLINK to warfighting requirements as they are currently written. HAWKLINK permits full motion multi-spectral targeting sensor (MTS) video feeds that are demanded by warfare commanders who desire real-time evaluation of potential ASUW threats. Additionally, the “Torpedo Truck” concept could drive the ASW requirement for HAWKLINK (in SEVENTH Fleet in particular). It is not possible to have pervasive, wide-area sensor coverage over the entire Pacific. It is possible, however, to use distributed sensors to localize threats in the form of ship-based towed arrays, submarine-based networking, and P-8 buoy brickwork. Having HSC detachment-based, LCS-organic capability to launch weapons allows networked sensor systems to continue search and localization without coming off-station to launch a weapon for both ASUW and ASW missions. 

Procure MH-53K Heavy-Lift and AMCM capabilities. CSG logistics requirements are immense when operating continuous flight operations, particularly during a contingency that prevents or delays pulling into port. Sea basing for this environment without heavy lift support remains untested with smaller platforms like the MH-60S. With the growing asymmetric mine threat and unproven/failed MCM technology for smaller platforms, a heavy-lift replacement for the Helicopter Sea Combat HM squadrons would provide a sound baseline for both MCM and LOG warfighter capability while the MH-60S and Fire Scout augment via a more distributed model.


Now is the time to chart the future of the HSC community. Dogged adherence to the current HSC model may have negative implications for HSC aircrews and will likely result in the same warfighting triviality that has frustrated the community for years. However, if the HSC community is confident enough in its vision to adjust course and take advantage of existing opportunities with a renewed focus on maritime missions and well-planned, achievable warfighting enhancements that strengthen Fleet DL, it can and will be dedicated to safely executing mission sets that warfare commanders demand on a regular basis.

Michael Silver is a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy and an MH-60S pilot with more than 2,600 flight hours. He most recently served as the Operations Officer for Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Twelve as part of Carrier Air Wing Five, based in Atsugi, Japan. The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.


1. VADM Thomas Rowden, RADM Peter Gumataotao, and RADM Peter Fanta, U.S. Navy, “Distributed Lethality,” Proceedings Magazine, Jan 2015 Vol. 141/1/1,343, pp. 4

2. “Distributed Lethality,” pp. 1                            

3. ADM John M. Richardson, U.S. Navy, A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 1.0, 2016

4. FY11-FY16 HSC Community Mishap Data

5. HSC Weapon School SWTIs struggled to maintain a tactical hard deck of 10 flight hours per pilot per month during FY16

6. CNO ADM John M. Richardson, A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 1.0, 2016, pp. 4

7. OPNAV Instruction C3501.384, 17 May 2011

8. “Distributed Lethality,” pp. 1

9. VADM Mike Shoemaker, U.S. Navy, LtGen Jon Davis, U.S. Marine Corps, VADM Paul Grosklags, U.S. Navy, RADM Michael Manazir, U.S. Navy, RADM Nancy Norton, U.S. Navy, Naval Aviation Vision 2016-2025, pp. 44

10. CAPT B. G. Reynolds and CAPT M. S. Leavitt, U.S. Navy, 2016 HSC Strategy, 11 Jul 2016

11. CDR Jeffrey Holzer, U.S. Navy, MH-60S Torpedo Truck Point Paper, 18 Sep 2014

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (April 30, 2013) An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21approaches the flight deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) during night flight operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gary Granger Jr./Released