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Sea Control 130 – Stephen Biddle on Future Warfare in the Western Pacific

By Matt Merighi

Join the latest episode of Sea Control for an interview with Professor Steve Biddle of George Washington University. Hosted by Mina Pollmann, the conversation examines the competition between A2/AD technology and the Air-Sea Battle concept in the Western Pacific. The conversation draws on an article Prof. Biddle coauthored with Ivan Oelrich, “Future Warfare in the Western Pacific Chinese Antiaccess/Area Denial, U.S. AirSea Battle, and Command of the Commons in East Asia.” Listen to the audio or read the transcript below.

Download Sea Control 130-Steve Biddle

MP: Dear CIMSEC listeners, my name is Mina Pollmann, and as Director of External Relations for CIMSEC it is my honor today to be interviewing Professor Steve Biddle at George Washington University at the Elliot School of International Affairs. Professor Biddle, thank you for joining us today.

SB: Thanks for having me.

MP: Our first question is about anti-access area-denial (A2/AD) which has become a popular concept when discussing China’s maritime strategy in the Western Pacific. What is the political and strategic motivation for China to pursue A2/AD and what are the greatest technical limitations of A2/AD? How limiting will a fully mature Chinese A2/AD capability be  for U.S. operations in the Western Pacific?

SB: Denial strategies of this kind are very common historically for either weak maritime powers or rising maritime powers that are still at a disadvantage relative to a stronger foe. For example the Soviet Union during the Cold War began with an effort to protect its coast and inland waters from the U.S. Navy and only as it got stronger over time did it make any effort to project power further from its shores than that. So it’s a natural beginning point for any emerging maritime power. What makes A2/AD unique is that the particular technologies that have been emerging for the last two decades or more have the potential to take this philosophy of defending the coast and inland waters from a superior power projection capability and to push it out way beyond what would normally be considered the extent of a coastal defense strategy. If you look at the reach of modern reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RTSA) technologies and the range of the missiles targeted by these technologies, then in fact you could imagine a Chinese A2/AD zone extending all the way out to or beyond the second island chain, a long, long way from the Chinese coast and far enough to threaten all of the U.S. major allies in the Pacific rim. If that capability were fully realized by the Chinese, it would be a major change in the geopolitical situation in the Western Pacific.

You mention the issue of potential vulnerabilities in A2/AD, as I mentioned RTSA is part of the whole concept. If you can’t find it, you can’t destroy it. The heart of this is one of A2/AD’s greatest vulnerabilities. To get the kind of all-weather, day-night, 24/7 surveillance coverage to make the most of what precision-guided missiles could do at these kinds of ranges largely requires radar. And radar is an active emitter, and as an active emitter gives away its location and makes it vulnerable to counter-attack. Many of the technologies that create A2/AD threaten A2/AD. As long-range precision guided weapons proliferate, it’s particularly easy to target transmitting, emitting radars. And if you destroy the radar you then make it much harder for the Chinese to extend the reach of these kinds of technologies to anything like the distances people talk about when they talk about the second island chain.

MP: Is the Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JCAM-GC), previously and more commonly known as AirSea Battle, a meaningful way to deal with the A2/AD challenge? And how cost-effective is this concept compared to A2/AD?

SB: The concept formerly known as AirSea Battle, and the new concept whose name no one uses because it’s so awkward, is a natural response very much in the tradition of the way the U.S. military responds to these kinds of capabilities if you’re worried about Chinese A2/AD getting out to the second island chain: preemptively destroy it. Rather than tolerating this, the basic idea behind the concept is that we are going to reach into the Chinese mainland and destroy before they can be used the radars, the logistical infrastructure, and the mobile missile launchers that are required for A2/AD to actually reach out very far at all beyond the Chinese coast. It involves a lot more than just that idea, the bygone name of AirSea Battle was meant to harken back to the Cold War concept of AirLand Battle which was all about the Army and the Air Force combining their activities in two different domains, the land and the sky, to be more effective against Soviet forces in a potential invasion of Western Europe. The concept of AirSea Battle would similarly combine multiple domains with the Navy and the Air Force cooperating to make it easier to deal with what would be an extremely difficult problem in penetrating hundreds of miles inland to the Chinese mainland to destroy mobile targets that can hide amidst the complex background of the earth’s surface. Not withstanding all the advantages of multi-domain operations in this respect, it is still an immensely difficult project.

It seems to me that the right way to think about this project, AirSea Battle versus Chinese A2/AD, is that you have to look out beyond the immediate military balance into the fairly distant future because the technologies we are talking about won’t mature to the point where they are a serious threat to the second island chain until you get out into the more distant future.

But when you decide that to evaluate this fairly we have to look out beyond 2017, beyond 2020, the paper I wrote recently looks out to 2040, then you have to assume that both the U.S. and China are going to be engaged in a rather energetic, two-sided, adaptive competition in which they each try to thwart the other’s capabilities and where both of them are plausible economic peers after a decade or two of this competition. If you think of the competition between A2/AD and AirSea Battle as a long-term, mutually adaptive competition between economic peers, then the cost-exchange ratio becomes decisive. If the way the U.S. is going to deal with the A2/AD threat to the second island chain is to spend China into the ground, which we did successfully against the Soviet Union in the Cold-War, we are going to spend ourselves into the ground.

Where the Soviet Union was a declining economic power that you could beat in an all-out economically exhausting arms race, we are not going to be able to do that with China unless the economic projections are way wrong. So what that means in turn is if one side or the other has the cost advantage, it means that they are going to win the race if it’s fought to extremis. When you look at the details of how AirSea Battle operates against A2/AD, there is a systematic cost advantage in creating and maintaining area denial as opposed to battering it down in a preemptive strike as AirSea Battle would do.

MP: In your paper you give several concrete suggestions for the U.S. going forward, such as investing in larger, heavier missiles and an anti-ship missile with a range of at least 600km, deploying long-range mobile surface-to-surface missiles to the region, and making policy decisions to reduce U.S. reliance on space and restrict Chinese access to space. What are the greatest limitations for implementing these recommendations politically and operationally?

SB: Before I discuss the challenges let me explain very briefly why these things are important. They emerged naturally from the problem of RTSA and countering RTSA in a long-term competition. Radar is a central technology in all of this, that means defending radar and limiting the range of the opponent’s radar is critical, and much of what the paper does is talk about a long-term competition between an attempt to push radar coverage further out and an attempt by its opponents to keep it from getting further out. The modernization and acquisition agenda is driven largely by the requirements of the competition. In space, the easiest way to extend radar coverage over an arbitrarily great distance is to put a radar in space. The Soviets did something like this during the Cold War, this isn’t a particularly exotic capability. If in fact the U.S. grants military sanctuary to space what we are doing is enabling China, through space-based radar, to establish RSTA that could threaten any U.S. ally in the Western Pacific. The capability produced by the range of the missiles and the ability of terminal guidance to take advantage of that range, given surveillance that can localize targets, is very impressive.

It seems that unless the U.S. is prepared to blind Chinese space-based radar then A2/AD could undermine the entire U.S. alliance system in the Pacific. Therefore, it’s important the U.S. seriously consider both the technologies and programmatic capabilities to develop anti-satellite weapons to remove this threat, but also to think very hard about the policy issues about whether we want to wage war in space, whether we want to pursue weapons bans in orbit. The conventional wisdom of the U.S. for a long time is that space is a unilateral U.S. advantage and if we could somehow make space a demilitarized zone that this could benefit the U.S. In the emerging world of potentially very-long reach Chinese A2/AD, that older assumption that space is a unilateral U.S.-advantage is subject to serious challenge. If China has military access to space, the military prognosis in the Western Pacific could be radically different.

If you then say let’s at least take seriously the idea that the U.S. might want to deny military sanctuary in space to the Chinese, what would be involved in that is the Chinese won’t grant us sanctuary either. Anti-satellite weapons have massive cost advantages over satellites. If sanctuary is denied in space either side is going to be able to destroy satellites vastly more cheaply than either side can replace them, but that means the U.S. would have to be prepared to make war without access to space.

There’s no reason in principle why we can’t do this. All of the things that we do with space could be done with airborne alternatives such as communications relays and airborne radars for surveillance. We could, if we chose to do it, develop the capacity for redundancy where we can make war without these capabilities, but we have not expected to do that for a very long time, so it seems to me that one important acquisition priority and planning priority is to recover the ability to wage war in the Pacific without space-based assets.

This is not a popular agenda. The general thrust of U.S. force design and modernization for at least a generation, maybe two, has been to rely more heavily on space-based assets to enable smaller, more widely distributed maritime and terrestrial force structure to survive. It’s time to seriously rethink that but that’s subversive of very longstanding tradition of thinking about force design.

Also as important as acquisition and modernization issues, if you think about the military problem in the Western Pacific, you need to develop capabilities with the range needed to keep Chinese radars from venturing too far beyond China’s shores and extending A2/AD beyond what we argue in our paper is a natural limit in the neighborhood of 400-600km from the coastline. If we deploy things like long-range radiation-homing missiles that can take advantage of the range you would need to force Chinese radars back over the mainland. Similarly, A2/AD in the long-term, two-sided mutually adaptive competition is something both sides will be able to employ and should want to employ. Just as, in our view, the impracticality and the cost disadvantage of preempting Chinese A2/AD should prevent us from doing it, so China would have a cost disadvantage in trying to preempt an American A2/AD capability, and the capacity to close much of the Western Pacific to Chinese maritime traffic is an important military capability the U.S. would want to have. To do that, we need anti-ship missiles of a range for exploiting a 400-600km U.S. A2/AD bubble beyond friendly homeland masses and that will require anti-ship missiles of substantially greater range than today’s Harpoon.

MP: What really struck me was the space part of this, but as you put it this is a debate we should be having more actively and publicly. It’s going to have implications across all of U.S. security policy. To quote from your book Military Power, “In continental warfare, many great powers failed to master complicated modern-system force employment, and variations in such behavior have been more important that technology per se for observed outcomes” (43). Could you elaborate on this central finding of Military Power? How do you weigh the relative importance of technological change versus force employment?

SB: Arguably, the most important trends in land warfare or continental warfare since about 1900 has been the discovery by most great power militaries very early in the 20th century, before the end of the first world war actually, that the complexity of the earth’s surface offers enough cover and concealment to substantially shield land forces from the increasing potential lethality of modern weaponry. However, to operate a mass military of potentially millions of soldiers in a way that can exploit the natural complexity of the earth’s surface for cover and concealment means accepting tremendous complexity in tactics and operational art. Relative to, for example, Napoleonic tactics where armies could be lined up in shoulder-to-shoulder linear formations and simply marched towards an objective, if you’re going to use the complexity of the earth’s surface to provide cover in ways those massed shoulder-to-shoulder formations couldn’t do, then you’re going to have to break down those massed formations into small handfuls of soldiers few enough in number that they can fit into the folds in the earth that create what militaries ironically call dead ground, where dead ground is of course where you can live (I didn’t coin the term).

But that means you’ve got thousands upon thousands of small formations of independently maneuvering soldiers working their way through the terrain trying to find their way forward by the path that provides the most cover and the least exposure, to do that and not get caught by surprise in the open requires thousands of junior officers to have the professional training to use their own eyes, judgment, and ability to size up the terrain and ascertain likely fields of fire of enemy weapons to be able to wind through complicated terrain and find the right way forward.

Moreover, even if they do that, they are going to occasionally get caught in the open. If you are going to advance any significant distance toward a meaningful objective, sooner or later you’re going to get caught in the open. To cross those open patches of ground require suppressive fire. The weapon types best suited for suppressive fires are machine guns and artillery with access to enough ammunition to keep the enemies’ heads down as you sprint from one patch of cover to another. Access to that kind of ammunition requires location in the rear where you can safely amass that quantity of ammunition, that in turns means that not only do we have thousands of small formations lead by junior officers winding their way through complex terrain toward an objective, they are depending on coordinated activity from fire support systems that they can’t see. And they’re firing over their head or across their frontage at targets in front of them that the gunners can’t see. And if they get this just a little bit wrong, the result is catastrophe if the gunners fire a bit short they slaughter their own forces. If the gunners fire a bit long they fail to suppress the enemy and you get slaughtered when you get caught in the open. So the sheer complexity of all these moving parts and all of this communications demand and coordination requirement is a daunting undertaking for mass militaries consisting often of people who just recently were drafted into military services and have not had a 40-year military career to learn how to do this.

The net result of all that is, in principle, that the complexity of your surface can in fact substantially mitigate the nominal technical lethality of improving weapons. But only if the military is capable of carrying out very complicated techniques on the battlefield and some militaries have and others have not. And in fact the book argues that much of the variants in military outcomes in continental warfare since 1900 is attributable to variations in how well or badly any given mass military masters this very complex set of tasks, much more so than whether their weaponry was more lethal than the other side’s weaponry.

But all of that is driven at its base by the complexity of the earth’s surface and how that impacts the military environment. Now let’s transfer this picture to maritime warfare and air warfare and now the background and environment is much simpler. Obviously maritime environments aren’t as simple as the brown wooden tabletop on which the recording device is for this interview sits. There are thermoclines in the oceans, sea states can create background clutter, there are clouds in the skies, so it’s not literally transparent. On the other hand, it’s a lot more transparent than the Fulda gap in West Germany or than the Ardennes forest from the 1940 campaign.

What that means is that whereas maritime warfare can be extremely complex and A2/AD in the way we are talking about it now requires very rapid coordination among a significant range of very different pieces of equipment located in very different places–not a trivial enterprise–but by comparison with the kind of complexity we are talking about on land this is a lower order of difficulty. What that suggests is that probably in the maritime and air domain the relative contribution of technological variations to combat outcomes is likely to be greater relative to skill and mastery of the earth’s complexity by comparison with the picture on land. None of that is to suggest that tech is irrelevant on land or that skill is irrelevant at sea and in the air – certainly that is not true. But given that they both matter in both domains, the interesting question is the relative importance of these two things that both matter and I think there is very good reason to argue that the relative importance of tech is lower on land and the relative importance of tech is higher at sea and in the air above the sea.

MP: This definitely highlights the importance of innovation and tech in the maritime domain. Moving on, what strategic and operational advantages are offered by blockade versus other acts of war and how can a blockade compliment both Chinese and U.S. strategies in a Pacific conflict?

SB: Blockade has played a big role in the debate over the military balance in the Western Pacific, usually people assume that it’s something the U.S. is going to do to China, especially distant blockade at maritime straits that the Chinese would use to import oil. And it seems to my coauthor and I when we were writing the paper that, yes, that’s an important capability but that it’s too narrow a way of thinking about blockade. In particular, A2/AD is a natural blockade weapon. If you assume a two-sided long-term competition in which both sides are doing this sort of thing then the capacity of the Chinese to invade Taiwan, Japan, or other U.S. allies in the region will be very limited because our ability to exclude the logistical shipping the Chinese would need to sustain an amphibious invasion ashore would be very powerful. We think it is very unlikely that China would be able to master what is at best an extremely demanding logistical challenge, an amphibious invasion in this kind of environment.

By contrast, even if you have mutual A2/AD exclusion over an area of water, that sets up a very impressive blockade potential. Perhaps Chinese surface shipping couldn’t get access to Taiwan, but if Taiwanese surface shipping can’t get access to Taiwan, then Taiwan is looking at a potential economic catastrophe. Not only does the country’s economy depend on trade, but keeping the population fed depends on trade. In fact, many of the U.S. major allies in the region are island nations that are dependent for their very survival on seaborne commerce. If A2/AD is used to deny access to commercial shipping bound for these ports, that is potentially a very impressive coercive lever that China could use to contest control of the various territorial stakes that constitute the normal casius belli in conversations about a potential war. So we tend to focus more attention than most on the prospect of not just the U.S. blockading China but on the prospect of China blockading U.S. allies, because that looks to us like a more viable threat than amphibious invasion. It is also more viable in a variety of ways than missile-based strategic bombing.

The same tech that created A2/AD can also destroy power plants, they can destroy bridges and comms systems, and can be used to do what Americans have traditionally used airplanes to do – essentially a form of coercive strategic bombing. Whereas this hits targets that are ashore and often in close proximity to populated areas, and therefore is very likely to involve large scales of collateral damage not just to the civilian economy but also to lives, blockade need not. Blockade takes place at sea against container ships that in the modern world have remarkably small crews – it would in principle be possible for a coercive Chinese campaign aimed at the interdiction of maritime shipping to impose a truly impressive level of economic pain on U.S. allies while killing very few civilians and physically destroying very little civilian property – therefore posing substantially lower escalatory perils in a potential conflict with a nuclear armed superpower like the U.S. We think that a two-sided consideration of blockade in an A2/AD environment is an increasingly necessary part of the strategic debate.

MP: Seems politically less costly as well–the escalatory dynamics and risk of retaliation if you’re pursuing a strategy where your own troops aren’t at the front lines. The U.S. DoD is pursuing a third offset strategy to restore conventional deterrence against peer competitors with an emphasis on battle networks and human-machine teaming. In this vein, what sorts of OPCONs and capabilities do you see offsetting a mature Chinese A2/AD capability and establishing a credible deterrent in the mid- to long-term?

SB: Third offset is the flavor of the moment in the U.S. defense debate, I find it a difficult thing to evaluate in part because it’s so hard to pin down exactly what it is. Now that we have offset language floating around, the first offset was pretty easy to identity – nuclear weapons – you can analyze their effects. The second offset, precision guidance, similarly is a relatively discrete set of things that you can talk about – you can talk bout their effects in an integrated way and build out some analysis. The third offset is a pretty amorphous collection of things we think we’re going to be good at, the connection between, for example, big data and robotics, is kind of hard to pin down, so, given that it has this kind of scattered amorphous quality to it, it’s hard to produce a coherent assessment of it as a thing.

What one can do though is talk about the underlying physics of the problem when you’re looking at this long-term, mutually adaptive, two-sided A2/AD competition. And ask, what would you have to ask of AI or big data or of robotics or miniaturization, all the various bins that make up the third offset in an environment where you can reasonably expect the Chinese will be doing the same thing. At the end of the day, I don’t think any of these things overturn what we see as the central asymmetry at the heart of A2/AD versus its assailants, which is the complexity of the earth’s surface as a military environment as opposed to the water and the air. So in an environment which both sides are going to be getting better at big data, both sides will deploy AI, both sides are going to be looking at robotics with ultimately seekers and searchers in the air penetrating the Chinese mainland looking down into this complex environment to try to find things like air defense, mobile missile launchers, and logistics bases. They are looking at a background that poses a much more complicated targeting problem than they have looking up at you – you’re silhouetted against an open sky, you’re burning fuel at a prodigious rate in order to stay airborne which means you’re producing a tremendous amount of heat and you’re moving very rapidly which simplifies Doppler processing.

You look at all these things and it’s a profound and systematic asymmetry between the survivability of things that can operate on the land in the midst of this complicated environment and things that cannot. Nothing that I see in the third offset will affect that underlying asymmetry in any profound way – it may very well improve both sides ability to find each other, but it’s the difference between the two that determines the outcome of the campaign and the only source of fundamental asymmetry in this long-term, two-sided mutually adaptive competitive is the asymmetry in the military environment that one is operating in. I don’t see the third offset overturning that.

MP: What would be the strategic effect of China launching a first strike on U.S. Pacific allies and forward-deployed forces in the region in a 2040 timeframe and what could such a strike entail?

SB: The long-range precision-guided missile technologies we’re talking about may or may not have any easy time finding mobile targets. But, fixed targets are going to be increasingly vulnerable, and especially things like runways. If the U.S. deploys in peacetime large air forces or naval assets in fixed forward bases, a preemptive strike would be able to destroy whatever we choose to deploy there and it’s going to be very difficult to provide terminal defenses that will protect those kinds of targets given their static nature and the increasing capacity of long range missiles to destroy especially fixed targets.

That does not however mean that China will have the ability to destroy the U.S. military in the Pacific. If for example the U.S. responds to a crisis by dispersing aircraft, some of which will be beyond the range of Chinese A2/AD, or if the U.S. in peacetimes simply deploys the majority of its military beyond the 400-600 km plausible reach of Chinese A2/AD, China will have very limited ability to preemptively destroy any asset that we don’t deliver to them with gift wrapping on by predploying them on fixed bases within reach of Chinese missiles. Mobile targets will become very difficult to find once radar and satellites are destroyed and once airborne radars are restricted to a 400-600 km reach from the Chinese mainland. And that means that dispersed air bases for example, or aircraft carriers for sea basing, operating beyond the reach of Chinese A2/AD, will be able to provide basing assets that China will then have a very difficult time destroying. This is especially true if you posit an environment in the future in which modern airborne radar will be less relevant, a very important technology for A2/AD which was designed in an era in which the processing technology and the human crew needed to do that processing had to be carried in the airframe. In the future, improvements in microelectronic tech and high bandwidth secure comms will allow more and more of that to be offloaded to mobile ground stations, which in turn enables the airplane to be made substantially smaller and therefore able to operate from smaller and less elaborate basing structure. In fact, it’s plausible to imagine airborne radars with range comparable to that of today’s JSTARS will in the future be put on airplanes that can operate off unimproved highways. In an environment in which you can, if necessary, operate from an unimproved highway or operate from small regional airports, and in which runways repair continues to mature in the way that it has in the last two generations, it becomes harder and harder to imagine that a cost effective competition between basing attack and basing repair and basing dispersal can be won by the attacker. Assets forward deployed in peacetime and struck preemptively will be very vulnerable. Their replacements, once long-range surveillance is taken down, will be vastly more survivable.

MP: What strategic and operational benefits and limitations do Chinese naval forces incur by operating under an A2/AD envelope in the Western Pacific?

SB: We tend to believe that naval assets that venture within range of an American A2/AD zone are going to be extremely vulnerable in the same way that an American naval asset would be if they sailed into the teeth of the Chinese A2/AD system. If the competition unfolds in the way that we expect, we’re going to be looking at an environment in which surface maritime operations that reach the enemy’s A2/AD zone are simply going to be too vulnerable. What that means, however, is that naval assets can be viable if either a) they’re operating more than 400-600 km away from enemy-held land areas or b) if they’re operating in close inland waters where they’re within reach of protection by anti-missile systems that are deployed in a mobile basing mode on land that emits the complexity that I talked about earlier.

That suggests in turn though that if the way China is going to think about a future war with the U.S. is by building a seagoing blue water navy, it’s going to sally forth and extend the reach of Chinese A2/AD beyond 400-600 km which cannot threaten U.S. allies like Japan and South Korea. Instead, they may use naval assets to extend that bubble further out, but they’re going to have a great deal of difficulty enabling those surface naval platforms to survive because they’re going to have to move within reach of U.S.-friendly A2/AD capabilities deployed on allies like South Korea, the Philippines, or Taiwan.

MP: How do you envision deception operations factoring into the strategy for both those forces seeking to deny access and secure it?

In a sense, the whole analysis I just presented is premised on an argument about deception. It’s premised on the argument that the complexity of the earth’s surfaces makes things harder to find. Cleverer forms of deception, causing the corpses of convicts to wash ashore with phony orders in their pockets and so on, to take an analogy from an earlier era, have incredibly difficulty in an environment in which RSTA technologies are as good as they’re going to be. Certainly there are all sorts of forms of electronic deception that are part and parcel to these technologies, but at the end of the day, we tend to think that the power of searchers, if the environment is conducive, is going to make it harder and harder to hide unless the environment is conducive. The two-sided searcher/hider competition where the hider is embedded in the complexity of the earth’s surface is a situation in which the hider can use deception. When using deception to win if you’re a stealth bomber trying to penetrate into a heavily defended airspace silhouetted against a blank sky burning huge amounts of fuel moving at very high speed into the teeth of very powerful, mobile land based radars isn’t a deception strategy we think has much potential.

MP: Thank you so much, this was a really fantastic conversation Professor Biddle and I am excited to share this with our listeners.

SB: My pleasure.

Dr. Stephen Biddle is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University, and Adjunct Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Before joining the GW faculty in fall 2012 he was the Roger Hertog Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and previously held the Elihu Root chair in military studies at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute (SSI). Dr. Biddle served on General Stanley McChrystal’s Initial Strategic Assessment Team in Kabul in 2009, on General David Petraeus’ Joint Strategic Assessment Team in Baghdad in 2007, and as a Senior Advisor to General Petraeus’ Central Command Assessment Team in Washington in 2008-9. He has served as a member of the Defense Department’s Defense Policy Board, and has presented testimony before congressional committees on issues relating to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; force planning; conventional net assessment; and European arms control. His book Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle (Princeton University Press, 2004) won four prizes, including the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Award Silver Medal for 2005, and the 2005 Huntington Prize from the Harvard University Olin Institute for Strategic Studies. His other publications include articles in Foreign Affairs, International Security, Survival, The Journal of Politics, Security Studies, The Journal of Strategic Studies, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, International Studies Quarterly, The New Republic, The American Interest, The National Interest, Orbis, The Washington Quarterly, Contemporary Security Policy, Defense Analysis, Joint Force Quarterly, and Military Operations Research; shorter pieces on military topics in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, and other news outlets; various chapters in edited volumes; and 31 SSI, IDA, and NATO reports. He co-directs the Columbia University Summer Workshop on the Analysis of Military Operations and Strategy (SWAMOS), and has held teaching and research positions at Columbia, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), and Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSIA). His research has won Barchi, Rist, and Impact Prizes from the Military Operations Research Society. He was awarded the U.S. Army Superior Civilian Service Medal in 2003 and again in 2006, and was presented with the US Army Commander’s Award for Public Service in Baghdad in 2007. He holds AB (1981), MPP (1985), and Ph.D. (Public Policy, 1992) degrees, all from Harvard University.

Mina Pollmann is CIMSEC’s Director of External Relations.

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer for Sea Control and the Host of Sea Control: North America. He works as Assistant Director of Maritime Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Contact him at seacontrol@cimsec.org.

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.

Conclusion

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 quintus77@hotmail.com.

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 dma.usn@gmail.com.

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.

Endnotes

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)

Join Us at CIMSEC Forum for Authors and Readers (CFAR) 2017

On 01 May CIMSEC will host the third annual CIMSEC Forum for Authors and Readers (CFAR), an event for our readers and the public to engage our contributors on their work and topics of interest. Thanks to the generous support of CNA and the U.S. Naval Institute we are pleased to offer a professional workshop on a range of maritime security issues.

The evening will provide a chance to engage your favorite CIMSEC contributors on their work over the preceding year, hear their thoughts on how their pieces have held up, and explore predictions for the coming year. For the first time CNA will also participate in the proceedings (more on that coming soon).

Videos from last year’s event here

Event Details:
Date: May 1st.
5:00pm-6:00pm: Pre-Event Reception (Details upon RSVPing)
6:00pm-6:15pm: Welcome
6:15pm-8:00pm: Author Discussions and Q+As
Location: CNA, 3003 Washington Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22201

Who will these speakers at CFAR 2016 be? All CIMSEC readers are welcome to submit nominations for articles with the only criteria that the article nominated must have appeared on the site on or after 26 February, 2016. After nominations close, CIMSEC members will vote and the top vote-getters will receive invites to speak at CFAR.

Click here for information about applying for free CIMSEC membership

CFAR 2017 Timeline
– Nominations: 24 March-03 April (Check back here Friday for more details on nominating)
– Voting: 08-14 April
– Winners Announced: 17 April
– CFAR 2017: 01 May

To RSVP to the event, fill out the form at this link

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

By Vince DePinto

Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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 vindepinto@gmail.com.

References

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?. https://warontherocks.com/2017/02/has-china-been-practicing-preemptive-missile-strikes-against-u-s-bases/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=New+Campaign&utm_term=%2ASituation+Report (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. https://warontherocks.com/2015/05/short-legs-cant-win-arms-races-range-issues-new-threats-aerial-refueling/ (accessed November 29, 2016).

7. Ibid

8. Lockie, Alex. The Real Purpose behind China’s Mysterious J-20 Combat Jet. January 24, 2017. http://www.businessinsider.com/the-real-purpose-behind-chinas-mysterious-j-20-combat-jet-2017-1 (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)http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/undersea-crisis-china-will-have-nearly-twice-many-subs-the-15335

12. Ibid

13. Heginbotham, Eric. The US- China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power 1996-2017. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR300/RR392/RAND_RR392.pdf (Accessed January 27, 2017)

14. Department of the Navy. USN Fact File. http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4200&tid=900&ct=4 (January 14, 2016) and http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4200&tid=800&ct=4 (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. http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=2200&tid=1300&ct=2  (August 14, 2014)

19. Reed, John. 2,000 Tomahawks Fired in Anger. August 4, 2011. http://defensetech.org/2011/08/04/2000-tomahawks-fired-in-anger/ 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 . https://news.usni.org/2016/11/07/navy-planning-not-buying-lrlap-rounds (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. http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2002/January/Pages/Marines_Clamor6864.aspx (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. http://www.scout.com/military/warrior/story/1687351-emerging-dod-strategy-cross-domain-fires (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. http://warontherocks.com/2015/04/distributed-maritime-operations-an-emerging-paradigm/ (accessed November 10, 2016).

34. Ibid

35. Holmes, James. Defend the First Island Chain. http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2014-04/defend-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. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/technical_reports/TR1300/TR1321/RAND_TR1321.pdf

37. LaGrone, Sam. Navy, Marine Corps Considering Adding Vertical Launch System to San Antonio Amphibs. October 13, 2016. https://news.usni.org/2016/10/13/vertical-launch-system-san-antonio-amphibs (accessed November 14, 2016).

38. Ibid.

39. Harper, Jon Marine Corps Eyeing Additional Amphibious Ships. January 12, 2017 http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=2394 (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. http://www.spsnavalforces.com/story.asp?mid=33&id=3 (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. http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=2200&tid=950&ct=2 (January 25, 2017)

47. Holmes, James Is the U.S. Navy a Sitting Duck? http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/10/25/is-the-u-s-navy-a-sitting-duck-yemen-houthis-china/ (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)