Sea Control 163 – Japanese-US Maritime Intersections in the 1860s with Dr. Nyri Bakkalian

By Jared Samuelson

In this week’s episode, Dr. Nyri Bakkalian (@riversidewings) joins Jared to discuss some of the subjects of her most popular #FridayNightHistory threads. Robert Bruce Van Valkenburgh, the ex-CSS Stonewall and William Barker Cushing all make appearances as Dr. Bakkalian dives deep into the Japanese Civil War on the latest episode of Sea Control!

Sea Control 163 – Japanese-US Maritime Intersections in the 1860s with Dr. Nyri Bakkalian

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Where is the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command?

The following article originally appeared in the Marine Corps Gazette and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Capt. Walker D. Mills, USMC

In recent years, the Marine Corps has become obsessed with naval integration, and that’s a good thing. Former Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller called for greater efforts at naval integration, calling it “Green in support of Blue.”1 In his Commandant’s Planning Guidance, Gen. David Berger echoed that call and labeled naval integration “an imperative.”2 The new Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Michael Gilday, in his confirmation hearing, said that “there is no daylight between us,” referring to himself and Commandant Berger in response to a question about the Marines’ push for closer integration with the Navy. So, with all the calls for integration, where is the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC)? After all, the Marine Corps itself is a naval expeditionary force according to the Commandant.

You might be asking, “What is the NECC?,” precisely because it is missing from most Marine Corps commentary and thinking. If you were to Google it, you would find it below Northern Essex Community College in the search results. Despite the relative lack of renown, the NECC is and will be essential for emerging and future Marine Corps concepts like Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO). NECC, established in 2006, is the type command on which the Navy puts the responsibilities to man, train, and equip most of its functions that are not performed on ships, submarines, or airplanes. It is operationally controlled in combined task forces that consolidate the Navy expeditionary combat force (NECF) under a singular command in each theater.

These forces include the Seabees: naval construction units that are similar to but distinct from the Marine Corps’ engineer community and have more capability. The Seabees are the go-to naval unit for building and maintaining runway and port infrastructure, hardening bases, and constructing expeditionary facilities.

The Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group is also part of the NECC. Responsible for “providing expeditionary logistics capabilities for the Navy, primarily within the maritime domain of the littorals,” it is a key part of any maritime fight that needs fuel, ordnance, or cargo sustainment.3 It is also responsible for expeditionary communications.

The NECC also contains the Coastal Riverine Force, which is responsible for port and harbor security—defending high-value assets like amphibs and aircraft carriers during strait transits and maritime security. In addition, the NECC has cognizance over explosive ordnance disposal units, which play a critical role in both mine countermeasures and dive and salvage operations. They are optimized for inshore and offshore littoral operations—operations in the very zone that the Marine Corps has identified as an essential part of its future. The NECC is rounded out by the Navy Expeditionary Intelligence Command and training and support elements. All told, it includes some 20,000 personnel, many of whom are currently deployed supporting operations around the globe.

Despite its capability, the NECC has largely been missing from commentary and discussion in and about the Marine Corps. The NECC has not been the focus of a feature article in Proceedings for years and perhaps ever in the Marine Corps Gazette. Most Marines do not know what it is or, more importantly, how it could support them. It has also been missing from published concepts and comments by senior leaders. It was defined in the appendix of “Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment” but never used, and in the 32 pages of the 2016 Marine Corps Operating Concept, it was mentioned once as part of a simple bullet without explanation: “Leverage the NECC.” Gen. Neller’s guidance was a short fragmentary order, but it also did not mention the NECC. Gen. Berger’s planning guidance, while never specifically using the terms NECC or NECF, openly asks the question of:

“whether it is prudent to absorb [some of the NECF] functions, forces, and capabilities to create a single naval expeditionary force whereby the Commandant could better ensure their readiness and resourcing.”

This question about potential contributions of the NECC to EABO should be front and center; the ignorance of what the NECC can do is a loss for the Marine Corps.

In the 2017 Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment concept, the Marine Corps identifies a list of “proposed capabilities.” Many of these capabilities are resident within the NECC, even though the command itself is not mentioned in the document, such as the abilities to:

  • “Establish expeditionary advance bases.”
  • “Conduct littoral mine detection, avoidance, and clearance.”
  • “Sustain distributed naval forces with precision munitions and sufficient fuel in high-intensity combat.”
  • “Rapidly establish mobile, clandestine expeditionary logistics bases to provide sustainment to afloat and expeditionary operating forces.”
  • “Conduct casualty and medical treatment and evacuation.

According to the Navy and Marine Corps’ new concept, EABO will involve employing “forward arming and refueling points (FARPs) and other expedient expeditionary operating sites for aircraft such as the F-35, critical munitions reloading teams for ships and submarines, or … expeditionary basing for surface screening/scouting platforms” in “austere, temporary locations.”4 In brief, that is a lot of what the NECC does. Seabees can build and repair the runways and facilities at FARPs and build expeditionary basing. Naval Expeditionary Logistics Groups transport (and are developing the internal capability to reload) munitions on planes, ships, mobile land-based launchers, and submarines. But to leverage the capabilities of the NECC, Marines first need to understand it and account for it in new plans and concepts.

There has been some progress. Marine engineers and Seabees have been working together to repair and refurbish the “Airport in the Sky” on Catalina Island as part of the DOD’s Innovative Readiness Training Program—a task not unlike what they might be expected to perform on other islands in the Pacific in wartime.5 More recently, exercise PACIFIC BLITZ, which was held across Southern California, included multiple units from the NECC and I MEF, though not necessarily integrated.6 The East Coast planning efforts for the upcoming Large-Scale Exercise 2020 features an “expeditionary syndicate” led by Expeditionary Strike Group 2, II MEF, and NECC co-leads.

During my own time in the Corps, I have spent significantly more time training with partner militaries than I have with the sailors or soldiers in our own military. I cannot remember a training event where I ever worked with sailors from the NECC. This results in myopia across the force at a time when naval integration is becoming increasingly central to our core responsibilities and future vision. Our lack of engagement with the NECC might be the worst example of this myopia, but it extends to the other services as well. Until I attended the Defense Language Institute on an Army installation, I had never met an officer in the Army or Air Force in a professional setting. Sometimes I wonder if there are Marines who think we can defend the Pacific by ourselves, ignoring that the Army alone has more than 80,000 soldiers based in the Pacific and continues to expand their roles.7 I am not arguing that Marine Corps leadership is unaware of the NECC or our sister services, but it is important that the whole force, from top to bottom, has a strong understanding of the NECC’s role and capabilities. The NECC is perhaps the organization that the Marines will work closest with when executing EABO; the NECC will help enable EABO. It is also not the only organization Marines should expect to fight beside. The Army possesses over 100 seagoing vessels that will likely be used for intratheater transport in the littorals and be key to any future Pacific campaign because the Marine Corps and the Navy do not have the same capability. New Army multi-domain task forces will also be present in theater, and the Air Force will likely deploy small units built around its “Rapid Raptor” concept. Marines need to understand these capabilities and train with them in a joint way.

In his paper, “On Littoral Warfare,” Naval War College professor Milan Vego writes that “littoral warfare requires the closest cooperation among the services, or ‘jointness.’”8 That cooperation is rooted in understanding and fostered by joint training. If Marines do not understand or discuss the NECC, it is because they have not been adequately exposed to it. The NECC, by name and definition, is, like the Marine Corps, a naval expeditionary force. The command has the capability to support EABO in everything from running decoy FARPs to maintaining and building fuel sites and repairing port facilities. In order to validate and implement future and emerging concepts, the Corps needs to seek out more opportunities to expose itself to and train with specific partner forces and units. The Marine Corps must increasingly seek joint training opportunities with the units in other services it is most likely to work with and must work to highlight that training and increase Marines’ exposure to the NECC.

Walker D. Mills is a Marine infantry officer currently serving as an exchange officer in Cartagena, Colombia. He has previously authored commentary for CIMSEC, the Marine Corps Gazette, Proceedings, West Point’s Modern War Institute and Defense News.

Notes

1. U.S. Congress, Statement of General Robert B. Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps, before the House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Defense, Concerning the Posture of the United States Marine Corps on April 30, 2019, (Washington, DC: April 2019).

2. Headquarters Marine Corps, Commandant’s Planning Guidance: 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps, (Washington, DC: July 2019).

3. Naval Expeditionary Logistics Support Group, (U.S. Navy Expeditionary Combat Command), available at https://www.public.navy.mil.

4. Headquarters Marine Corps, “EABO,” available at https://www.candp.marines.mil.

5. Luis Sahagun, “Marines Invade Catalina Island to Fix Crumbling Airstrip at Airport in the Sky,” LA Times, (Los Angeles, CA: January 2019).

6. Gidget Fuentes, “Pacific Blitz Tests How Navy, Marines Could Fight the Next Island Campaign,” USNI News, (Annapolis, MD: March 2019).

7. Jen Judson, “Pacific Pathways in 2020 Lead to Oceania,” Defense News, (Washington, DC: October 2019).

8. Milan Vego, “On Littoral Warfare,” Naval War College Review, (Newport, RI: Spring 2015).

Featured Image: 180419-N-NT795-642 SAN DIEGO (April 19, 2018) Electronic Technician 3rd Class Juan Britomora, assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) manned the .50-caliber machine gun aboard MKVI patrol boat during unit level training conducted by Coastal Riverine Group (CRG) 1 Training and Evaluation Unit. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Boatswain’s Mate Nelson Doromal Jr/Released)

Sea Control 162 – Redesigning the Marine Corps with Jon Frerichs and Mark Nostro

By Jared Samuelson

A two-parter! Maj. Jon Frerichs (@hoplitemarine) was one of my first interview subjects after he wrote an article for Marine Corps Gazette entitled “Reinvigorating the Fleet Marine Force.” During the interview, he mentioned he had a second piece in-progress with War On The Rocks. We managed to corral one of his co-authors for that article, Maj. Mark Nostro, to discuss “To Be Most Ready When the Nation Is Least Ready, the Marines Need a New Headquarters.” Tune in to hear Jon name-check multiple doctrinal publications from memory while proposing some radical changes to the structure of the Marine Corps structure. If you’d like to skip forward to the second interview, it kicks off at 20:05. Enjoy!

Download Sea Control 162 – Redesigning the Marine Corps with Jon Frerichs and Mark Nostro

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4. To Be Most Ready When the Nation is Least Ready, the Marines Need a New Headquarters

Jared Samuelson is the Senior Producer of the Sea Control podcast. Contact him at Seacontrol@cimsec.org.

The Number of Mines is Less Than Infinity

By Dr. Michael M. Rosenthal, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City Division

“I would be very surprised if professionals engaged full time in [Mine countermeasures] MCM who speak routinely with other professionals in the same field had no genuine prior knowledge.”–Fred Huffer, Professor of Statistics, Florida State University

Mine countermeasures are actions intended to reduce the risk that mines pose to transiting vessels. Risk is defined as the probability that a transiting vessel will incur mission abort damage from a mine detonation if it travels along a predetermined route through the potentially mined area. The purpose of an MCM operation is to lower the risk so it is safer to transit. The estimation of risk is critically important to determine if the level of risk to a transiting vessel is acceptable and if the applied effort is effectively lowering the risk.

Some of the traditional MCM tactics are founded on Bayesian risk metrics that utilize a non-informative prior distribution for the number of mines. Some statisticians prefer to use non-informative priors because they feel it is more objective. The non-informative prior reduces the amount of required inputs from the tactician so there is less error introduced from the human operator, but it also defeats the entire purpose of using a Bayesian paradigm because the prior distribution does not utilize any information. It assumes that any number of mines is equally likely. In most cases, it is far more likely that there are just a few mines and it is very unlikely there are millions of mines.

Bayesian methods are ideal for the development of MCM risk metrics because they facilitate learning as information is acquired. This is good for MCM because new information and new decisions are frequently acquired throughout the operation. New events often occur which provide critical information and appropriate responses are promptly needed. These events vary greatly in detail. Bayesian analysis centers on utilizing Baye’s theorem to formally combine prior information with newly gathered information. This provides more freedom to create information synergy. 

Bayesian calculations utilize a prior distribution to incorporate information about parameters of interest before conducting a trial. In the context of MCM, the total number of mines is an unknown parameter of interest and a search or sweep of the mines is a trial. The choice in prior distribution is less critical when data is plentiful as long as the prior is not too restrictive. When there is an abundance of data, a reasonable prior will have a weaker impact on the final analysis because the posterior distribution will be primarily influenced by the data. However, data is usually limited in MCM operations, so the prior distribution will have a stronger impact on the analysis. In this case, it is critical to scrutinize the choice of prior in order for the risk metric to be meaningful.

Some of the traditional risk models actually use an improper prior for the total number of mines. An improper prior is sometimes used as an uninformative prior with the interpretation that any value is equally likely. However, many statisticians caution against using them since they are known to complicate interpretation and this usually does not provide an appropriate Bayesian update. The improper prior is formed by taking a limit of uniform distributions as the maximum number of possible mines goes to infinity. This does not converge to a probability distribution, so there is no meaningful interpretation of the prior belief for the number of mines.

Having an appropriate Bayesian update is important to MCM because if the result of a single pass of an MCM clearance does not reduce the posterior risk to an acceptable level, then the MCM staff will need to re-plan and execute a second clearance operation in the same area to further reduce the risk. This process will iterate until the risk is lowered to the threshold level.

As Fred Huffer stated, “It would be very surprising if professionals engaged full time in [Mine countermeasures] MCM who speak routinely with other professionals in the same field had no genuine prior knowledge.” If the user cannot reliably provide any information, then a large value for the expected number of mines and a corresponding large variance can be chosen because there is less certainty in that estimate. The user should be able to reliably provide some basic information that can be utilized in the prior belief by answering two simple questions:

  • How many mines could be in the region (few or many)?
    • (Few) i. e. the enemy has a small inventory or just a few can fit in the region
    • (Many) i. e. the enemy has a large inventory or they could lay thousands in the region
  • How certain are you in the amount above (low or high)?
    • (Low) a subjective guess based on limited intelligence information
      • i. e. if I were a minelayer, what would I do?
    • (High) a more objective belief based on concrete observations.
      • e. g. vessel with room for 10 mines was sighted laying mines.

The negative binomial distribution is one possible prior distribution that can be used for the mine risk Bayesian framework. Analytical expressions for the required clearance and the risk from remaining mines are easily derived. Not only is the mathematics cleaner and easier to interpret, but it also provides a sensible approach to incorporate prior intelligence information (information known before applying effort) into the analysis.

How does using the negative binomial distribution compare with the popular (uninformative) improper prior? There is no significant difference between calculations derived using the improper prior and using a negative binomial distribution with mean of 10^15 and a variance of 10^30+10^15 as the prior distribution. This default distribution implies that on average we expect there to be one quadrillion mines in the region with an unthinkably enormous variance (one nonillion + one quadrillion) to adequately accommodate our complete uncertainty in the possible number of mines prior to applying effort. To put these numbers into perspective, the surface of the ocean has an area of roughly 360 million square kilometers. That is 3.6×10^14 square meters. If you could place one quadrillion mines over a 360 million square kilometer area, the mines could be spaced on a rectangular grid roughly 0.6 meters meters apart. This setting of the prior goes as far as to say that we think it is reasonably possible that there could more than two quadrillion mines in the region.

If there is genuine concern that the end user cannot do better than this assumption, then after applying mine countermeasures a simple hypothesis test can be done to validate the user selected prior mean and variance against the default. In this way, if the end user significantly mis-specified the prior, then a flag can be automatically raised to warn the commander that the user is unable to translate the prior intelligence information into a reasonable prior belief for this operation. In this case, the command will have significant evidence to reject the assumption that a more reasonable prior belief can be derived by the end user, and return to the default condition. It is important to note that such a flag raise would not imply an outrageous deficiency in judgement by the end user. However, a flag-raise should initiate a discussion of caution toward objectively and consistently arriving at a reasonable prior distribution. Following this protocol should effectively insulate the MCM mission from this type of human error.

We generally prefer to make decisions based on an analysis that utilizes more information over a similar analysis which utilizes less information. An analysis that relies on a non-informative prior can most often be improved with an informative prior. With a non-informative prior, no prior information is being specified, so it is easy to come up with a distribution that utilizes some additional information. An informative prior often improves the interpretation and practicality of the analysis because more realistic assumptions can be made.

The updated theory in this work gently bridges more traditional doctrine into a broader realm of possibilities so that some basic information that has not been utilized can now be incorporated to improve the decision quality for the Navy.

Dr. Michael Rosenthal received his doctorate degree in Mathematical Statistics from the Florida State University in 2014. He received his bachelor’s degree in Mathematics with a minor in Statistics from the University of Florida in 2009. For five years, Dr. Rosenthal has worked at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City Division, developing basic research topics with academic colleges and assessing warfighter needs for updating and transitioning actionable tactics in the field of mine warfare.

Featured Image: BALTIC SEA (June 18, 2019) HDMS MSF-1 assigned to Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One (SNMCMG1) conducts side scan sonar exercises while transiting the Baltic Sea during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2019. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of NATO by CPO Brian Djurslev/Released)

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.