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Flattops Of Mercy

Naval HA/DR Topic Week

By LCDR Josh Heivly

Although fundamentally a secondary mission for the Department of Defense, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR) missions are a recurring feature of modern naval operations and must be considered in the design of the future fleet. Recent arguments made for and against the aircraft carrier have referenced this capability, but have confused the issue. Aircraft carriers are optimized for aviation and strike operations, with little inherent HA/DR capability. The Navy’s amphibious ships offer the most capability and responsiveness for HA/DR missions, equipped as they are with landing craft, helicopters, and Marines, all specifically trained to conduct this type of mission, among many others.  HA/DR operations are an ad hoc affair for CVNs – they offer some utility as a second-echelon responder, once appropriately loaded out.  This does not diminish their value, as their ability to channel US political will is unmatched – they are an iconic symbol of US resolve and commitment, and as such are extremely useful in a political context. 

For the Navy, reactive HA/DR has been a recurring mission for the past 100 years or longer, as it leverages the Navy’s strong suits:  “…mobility, adaptability, , scalability, and interoperability – while bringing into play our naval core functions of sea control, power projection and maritime security.”[1] There are numerous examples throughout the 20th century in which naval forces engaged in HA/DR activities at home and abroad.  Recent high visibility operations include deployments in response to:

  • Hurricane Katrina in 2004;
  • The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami;[2]
  • The Haitian earthquake in 2010;[3]
  • The multifaceted 2011 disaster in Japan; [4]
  • Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013.[5]

In each case, the Navy dispatched ships, aircraft, and personnel to render immediate assistance and deliver aid. It should be noted that Humanitarian Assistance, as it is focused on rendering assistance to populations external to the United States, is primarily a Department of State (DoS) function via USAID[6], while Disaster Response is the purview of various Federal and State agencies charged with executing this function within our borders.  As such, HA/DR is not a primary mission for the Department of Defense (DoD), despite the frequency with which our military engages in these activities. This should be kept in mind in regards to future HA/DR missions – the Navy can only offer support to the cognizant agencies as directed and within the scope of their operations.  In spite of this, the Navy’s mobility and forward deployed global presence virtually guarantees it a role in the initial response when disasters occur.[7]

070928-N-5928K-011 PERSIAN GULF (Sept. 28, 2007) - Nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) and amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) and USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) transit alongside each other in the Persian Gulf. Enterprise and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1 are underway on a scheduled deployment. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class N.C. Kaylor (RELEASED)
PERSIAN GULF (Sept. 28, 2007) – Nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) and amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) and USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) transit alongside each other in the Persian Gulf. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class N.C. Kaylor 

In terms of force management and the planning of the future Fleet, HA/DR has crept into the most recent exchanges of the ongoing “Carrier Debate.” Because of the regularity of US involvement in peacetime mission like HA/DR and Noncombatant Evacuation Operations (NEO), prominent naval analyst and writer Norman Polmar has proposed that the Navy would be better served by building big deck amphibious ships like LHDs, which can be acquired in larger numbers due to their lower price tag:  $3 billion each, as opposed to the projected $12 billion outlay for the first installment of the Ford-class CVN.[8] One response to this proposal acknowledges the value of big deck amphibs but argues that aircraft carriers are still valuable for Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW) due to their ability to embark SEALs and USMC Fleet Anti-terrorist Security Teams (FASTs), as well as the capabilities integral to its air wing, to include airborne early warning (AEW), electronic warfare (EW), and the robust MH-60S helo squadron.[9]

Neither of these arguments are compelling. LHDs are simply not able to support high intensity, high optempo aviation operations,[10] and putting four of them together in the hopes of generating the same amount of combat power ignores the organic strength of the Carrier Air Wing (CVW) and the inherent advantages of a Catapult Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) flight deck system. On the other side of the equation, aircraft carriers are not really intended to project ground combat power ashore, and although they have in the past embarked formations of Marines or SOF in order to act as a “lily pad”, this is hardly within the normal scope of their employment and is not part of their regular mission set. The CVN-CVW team may improvise its way through HA/DR or NEO events, but it isn’t designed, equipped, or trained to handle them.

New Orleans (Sept. 10, 2005) – An aerial view of the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) docked in New Orleans and assisting in Joint Task Force Katrina hurricane relief efforts. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Johnny Bivera.

These platforms bring different capabilities to meet the HA/DR challenge, and should not be misunderstood to be in competition within the same mission “space.”  Aircraft carriers are optimized solely for aviation operations, to include air superiority, strike, AEW, EW, command and control, and all of the related sub-functions necessary to support around-the-clock sortie generation for weeks at a time. In this function they excel. But we should not exaggerate the CVN’s ability to directly provide relief in the aftermath of a disaster.  Despite the 2012 infographic put out by Huntington-Ingalls to highlight the CVN’s HA/DR capabilities,[11] the aircraft carrier’s medical, dental, utility, supply, and service capabilities are all designed to provide support capacity for the ship and the embarked air wing, and are largely expended to that end. An aircraft carrier arriving on station has a very limited excess capacity to apply to the care and sustainment of large numbers of disaster victims. There are no stores carried for possible HA/DR missions, and the carrier-air wing team does not train for this eventuality as part of its workup cycle.

Big deck amphibs, on the other hand, are equipped and trained for these types of missions.  While embarking roughly the same number of helicopters as a CVN, an LHD operates landing craft from its well deck (which are critically useful for HA/DR)[12], runs a large and highly capable medical complex, and embarks almost 1700 Marines.[13] It carries supplies tailored to support NEO events (which are easily used for HA/DR as well) and trains for this mission as part of its workup cycle.   LHDs have a shallower draft than CVNs, allowing them to move closer inshore; this demonstrated its value when USS IWO JIMA drove up the river and moored pierside in New Orleans to assist with relief efforts there after Hurricane Katrina.[14] However, the big deck amphibs are not set up to conduct sustained aviation operations; they are also slower than carriers, limiting their ability to quickly arrive on-station and provide support.

Amphib 6
GULF OF MEXICO (Feb. 4, 2009) The amphibious assault ship Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Makin Island (LHD 8) conducts builder’s trials in the Gulf of Mexico. (Photos courtesy of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Gulf Coast/Released).

CVNs and LHDs fulfill very different mission requirements. Both ship types are designed first and foremost to project power, the former through its embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) and the latter through its embarked Marine Corps Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF).  Neither can perform the other’s primary function very well. The aircraft carrier is “…not well-suited to act as a base of operations for nontraditional capabilities for extended periods of time,”[15] having no ability to project troops ashore unless specially configured and loaded out for this purpose, while equating an LHD to a “fraction” of an aircraft carrier is an extremely inefficient proposal, as large parts of the big deck amphib are devoted to the Ground Combat Element of the MAGTF. Arguing for additional or fewer platforms of either type on the basis of their ability to perform each other’s missions is in actuality a false choice that would liken dollar values or numbers of embarked aircraft to equivalent capabilities. This just isn’t the case, and measuring these platforms against the design of the other is not a useful exercise for force planning purposes.

In actuality, operations like HA/DR lie squarely in the realm of the amphibious force, not because aircraft carriers have nothing to add, but because their capability set has less to offer in this environment. Deployed carriers offer limited utility for the HA/DR mission due to the large numbers of fixed-wing aircraft onboard;[16] helicopters are the aviation workhorse of OOTW missions, flying around the clock, but comprise only a fraction of the current wing configuration. A post-deployment, “surge-ready” aircraft carrier offers the best opportunity for this class of ship to contribute to HA/DR contingencies. If pier-side at homeport at the outset of a crisis, it can quickly load up with humanitarian supplies, embark specialists, take on squadrons of helicopters, and then make a high speed run to the operating area. Once on-station the carrier can deliver its cargo and provide useful aviation capabilities to augment and expand a response package initially filled out by an ARG.

ATLANTIC OCEAN (July 11, 2009) The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) performs high-speed turns during the rudder check phase and sea trials certification. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Justin Stumberg/Released).

Practicalities aside, the CVN’s ability to deliver a strong political statement is unmatched. Beyond launching and recovering combat aircraft, they are a distinct symbol of American military capability, national will, and resolve – and it is in this role that they may offer the most to the HA/DR mission.  The flat-top is an iconic image, recognized world-wide as an expression of American military might, delivering an unmistakable message in the form of 100,000 tons of American steel.[17] Aircraft carriers stand on their own merits doing exactly what they are designed to do – project power. In the case of HA/DR, the aircraft carrier is a vehicle for soft power, supporting the mission while highlighting U.S. leadership in the delivery of relief to those most in need, wherever and whenever disaster strikes.

LCDR Josh Heivly is an active duty Navy Supply Corps Officer. The views voiced here are his alone and in no way represent the views of the US Navy or the Department of Defense.

[1] Smith, RADM Michael.  “Humanitarian Assistance, Disaster Response Missions Strengthen Navy”.  12 Jun 2013.  Accessed 27 Mar 2015:  http://navylive.dodlive.mil/2013/06/12/humanitarian-assistance-disaster-response-missions-strengthen-navy/

[2] Webster, Graham.  “The Military Foundations of U.S. Disaster Assistance in Japan”.  7 Apr 2011.  Accessed 26 Mar 2016 at:  http://www.nbr.org/research/activity.aspx?id=127

[3] Lubold, Gordon.  “US send aircraft carrier to help with Haiti earthquake damage”.  13 Jan 2010.  Accessed 11 Mar 2016:  http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2010/0113/Us-sends-aircraft-carrier-to-help-with-Haiti-earthquake-damage

[4] Smith.

[5] Macfie, Nick.  “Dramatic U.S. humanitarian effort in Philippines aids Asia’pivot’”.  18 Nov 2013.  Accessed 11 Mar 2016 at:  http://www.reuters.com/article/us-philippines-typhoon-pivot-idUSBRE9AH12L20131118

[6] Cecchine, Gary, et al.  The U.S. Military Response to the 2010 Haiti Earthquake:  Considerations for Army Leaders.  Santa Monica:  Rand.  2013.  10-11.

[7] “Humanitarian Work and Disaster Relief.”  Accessed 12 Mar 2016 at:  http://www.navy.com/about/mission/humanitarian.html#who

[8] Freedberg, Sydney.  “Polmar’s Navy:  Trade LCS & Carriers for Frigates and Amphibs”.  18 Dec 2015.  Accessed 14 Mar 2016 at:  http://breakingdefense.com/2015/12/polmars-navy-trade-lcs-carriers-for-frigates-amphibs/

[9] Beng, Ben Ho Wan.  “The Case for Carriers:  Rebutting Norman Polmar”.  28 Dec 2015.  Accessed at:  http://breakingdefense.com/2015/12/the-case-for-carriers-rebutting-norman-polmar/

[10] Gordon, John, et al.  Leveraging America’s Aircraft Carrier Capabilities:  Exploring New Combat and Noncombat Roles and Missions for the US Carrier Fleet.  Santa Monica:  Rand.  2006.  19.

[11] Hickey, Walter.  “INFOGRAPHIC:  Aircraft Carriers Do A Whole Lot More Than you Ever Thought.”  15 Jun 2012.  Accessed 11 Mar 2016 at:  http://www.businessinsider.com/infographic-air-craft-carriers-do-a-whole-lot-more-than-shoot-2012-6

[12] Apte, Aruna.  “An Analysis of United States Navy Disaster Relief Operations.”  Apr 2012.  10.  Accessed 27 Mar 2016 at:  https://www.pomsmeetings.org/confProceedings/025/FullPapers/FullPaper.htm

[13] Parker, Elton C.  “Aircraft Carriers and What Comes Next.”  10 Dec 2013.  Accessed 10 Mar 2016 at:  http://warontherocks.com/2013/12/aircraft-carriers-90000-tons-of-soft-and-hard-power-projection-but-what-comes-next/

[14] Jean, Grace V.  “Naval Forces See Greater Demand for Large Amphibious Ships.”  Oct 2008.  Accessed 13 Mar 2016 at:  http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2008/October/Pages/Naval%20Forces%20See%20Greater%20Demand%20for%20Large%20Amphibious%20Ships.aspx

[15] Gordon.  xix.

[16] Apte.  23.

[17] Parker.

Featured Image: The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) are underway in close formation during the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2012 exercise.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Raul Moreno Jr./Released)

The Challenges of Coming Together in a Crisis

Naval HA/DR Topic Week

By David Broyles, Ph.D.

Last year, we at CNA were working on a project that involved the integration of different organizations. As part of that effort, we wanted to understand the types of challenges that arise when dissimilar organizations work together, so we examined the literature in a variety of topical areas. One of those topical areas included humanitarian assistance and disaster response. We examined HA/DR events, because they typically involve a variety of groups coming together—often on short notice—to achieve a notionally common objective, that of helping people affected by a disaster. The groups involved in these events usually include some mix of government entities (host nation and non-host nation), military and law-enforcement units (host nation and non-host nation), non-government organizations (NGOs; host nation and non-host nation), and the affected populations (host nation and non-host nation).

We researched a variety of crisis response events, looking at articles and after action reports for:

  • Typhoons Ketsana and Parma (Philippines, 2009)
  • Typhoon Haiyan (Philippines, 2013)
  • Haiti earthquake (Haiti, 2010)
  • Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami (Japan, 2011)
  • Cyclone Nargis (Myanmar, 2008)
  • Monsoon Floods (Pakistan, 2010)
  • Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (United States, 2005)
  • Non-combatant evacuation operations in Mogadishu (Somalia, 1991)

Our research of these events revealed that similar challenges arose when different organizations tried to work together in the wake of a crisis, even when the circumstances and locations of the disaster response events varied greatly. Additionally, these events (in retrospect) all had a large maritime component to the response, but the challenges and themes were not unique to maritime HA/DR. 

The need for a willing partner. During disaster response efforts in the Philippines, Myanmar, and Pakistan, the governments displayed varying amounts of willingness to allow international organizations to assist in the response. The hesitance and ambiguity of these governments resulted in delays or outright rejection of support from organizations that were eager to provide it.

The importance of people, relationships, and experience. The literature we examined frequently mentioned that pre-existing relationships increased the speed of the response during time-critical phases. Familiarity with the region or with organizational procedures (particularly within the international community) appeared to enable faster or smoother efforts.

The importance of clear roles and responsibilities, and division of labor. In a number of the events we examined, organizations were not familiar with what other organizations could do as part of the response. In some cases, the uncertainty of the situation also made it unclear what organizations should do.

Uncoordinated organizations naturally diverge, and parallel efforts emerge over time. Several of the cases we examined highlighted that, as response efforts wear on, there is a tendency for organizational priorities and activities to diverge and for parallel or contradictory efforts to arise—unless those organizations have established means of communicating and coordinating. Examples of ways organizations did this included: co-location, exchange of liaison officers, exchange of means of communication (e.g., radios), and establishment of coordination “clusters” or regular meetings of topical stakeholders.

An imbalance of capacity can cause one organization to overwhelm or sidestep another. During disaster response efforts in the Philippines and in Haiti, the sudden influx of assistance overwhelmed the governments of those countries. This imbalance resulted in either a slowed response (going at the rate of the slowest organization) or a bypassed response (going around the slowest organization, even when that organization is the prominent authority).

Crisis response efforts tend to be ad hoc by their very nature. A lack of standards, SOPs, and communications complicates crisis response efforts, but is likely to be the case more often than not. Our examination of the literature on these cases illustrates that different organizations tend to have different ways of thinking about and approaching problems. For example, we observed several examples where standards for assessments of response effectiveness varied across organizations, resulting in either duplication of effort or disagreement over solutions. Meanwhile, the challenges of physically communicating and sharing information among different organizations occurred in nearly every case we examined. Further, we observed in the literature a standard template of proposed solutions to these types of problems, which implies that either no one is reading or acting on the “lessons” identified in the literature, or that crisis events are so unpredictable and varied in their nature as to render response efforts—at least in the earliest stages—fundamentally ad hoc.

Dana Chivers, European Command advisor for the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) Military Liaison Team (MLT) speaks to servicemembers during the Joint Humanitarian Operations Course at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.  The course is presented quarterly by OFDA and is designed to educate servicemembers on the role of U.S. government and the military when dealing with disaster relief events. The course combined presentations about the structure of U.S. and foreign relief agencies their practices and procedures and also included practical exercises to put servicemembers in the shoes of OFDA personnel. Photo Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Kevin P. Bell.

From the perspective of an organization involved in an HA/DR effort, one of these challenges – the need for a willing partner – is beyond the control of that organization. But organizations have more control over the remaining challenges, some of which occur during the response efforts (the importance of communicating and coordinating; not overwhelming or sidestepping another organization; understanding roles and responsibilities), and some of which should be worked out long before the response efforts begin (relationships and experience; standards and SOPs). In particular, organizations can work together to address that latter group of challenges when no crisis is occurring, because it will be too late when the crisis occurs.

David Broyles, Ph.D. is a senior research scientist at CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization located in Arlington, VA. The views expressed here are his own.

Enabling More Effective Naval Integration into Humanitarian Responses

Naval HA/DR Topic Week

By David Polatty

Last week, the U.S. Naval War College hosted our annual EMC Chair Symposium, with this year’s offering bringing in experts from around the world to discuss maritime strategy. Vice Admiral Charles Michel, Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, kicked off the event by engaging in an energizing discussion on the missions and functions of the U.S. Sea Services, with a special focus on current and future U.S. Coast Guard capabilities and activities. Understandably, he spent much of his time examining the traditional security, presence, and safety aspects of maritime operations. He also provided insight into the unique ways that the Coast Guard complements forward deployed U.S. Naval forces. As a key component of this forward deployment and naval presence dialogue, he reminded participants that humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) remains a core mission for militaries. 

Participants spent the better part of the two-day event discussing challenges and opportunities facing the U.S. Sea Services. We had spirited dialogue on a broad range of warfighting issues viewed through the lens of maritime strategy. Prior to the last panel of the symposium, a HA/DR “urban humanitarian response” discussion, I was struck by the manner in which many attendees translated an overarching fear of Chinese and Russian aggression to pivot away from the non-warfighting roles that militaries fill. As my colleague and symposium chair, Dr. Derek Reveron has both written and said time and again, “navies do much more than fight wars.”[i]

We are at a critical point in history from a humanitarian perspective, with over 60 million people displaced across the globe – more than at any time since World War II. The United Nations (UN) and the humanitarian community are currently responding to four “L3 Emergencies” in Iraq, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.  This designation reflects the global humanitarian system’s classification for a response to the most serious, large-scale humanitarian crises.[ii] A quick scan of the news reveals many other areas of the world where vulnerable populations face monumental challenges.  While climate change impact predictions diverge greatly depending on the source, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that between 250 million and one billion people across the globe will become displaced from their region or country in the next 50 years.[iii] As significant, heartbreaking, and perilous as the current migration crisis in the Mediterranean Sea is, it pales in comparison to what the world may face in the near future if even the low end of climate change projections prove to be true.

Rear Adm. Jeffrey S. Jones, director of Coalition Naval Advisory and Training Team, speaks with a resident of Oshima, to discuss the progress of disaster relief operations. Marines and sailors assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit are on Oshima Island to help clear a harbor and assist with cleaning debris from roads and a local school in support of Operation Tomodachi.Petty Officer 3rd Class Eva Mari.
Rear Adm. Jeffrey S. Jones, director of Coalition Naval Advisory and Training Team, speaks with a resident of Oshima, to discuss the progress of disaster relief operations. Marines and sailors assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit are on Oshima Island to help clear a harbor and assist with cleaning debris from roads and a local school in support of Operation Tomodachi.Petty Officer 3rd Class Eva Mari.

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps team spends much of its operational life training and exercising for war. We buy and maintain warships, combat aircraft, attack submarines, and amphibious capabilities that enable us to fight and win decisively. Many of these capabilities also provide critical life-saving support during natural disasters and complex emergencies. Because of the forward deployed nature of our naval forces, versatile multi-mission platforms, and ability to operate from the sea with minimal sustained footprint ashore, we are optimally positioned to conduct HA/DR operations. One area that the sea services need to spend additional time focusing on is the understanding of how military HA/DR missions can better integrate into civilian humanitarian responses. We must increase our education, training, and simulation opportunities in HA/DR to become more proficient when asked to respond.

The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review ranked HA/DR #12 of 12 military missions, with respect to how the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff plan to distribute forces to U.S. Combatant Commanders.[iv] Despite being the lowest priority, history has proven that our military will respond to save lives and alleviate human suffering when called upon to do so. A 2003 study by the Center for Naval Analyses found that from 1970 to 2000, U.S. military forces were diverted from normal operations 366 times for HA/DR operations, while only 22 times for combat.[v] While these numbers do not reflect the duration of each operation, they still provide a telling story about the frequency in which our military has responded to natural disasters and humanitarian crises.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. (Dr.) Ryan Maves, Lt. Sarah Bush and Lt. j.g. Braden Spangler perform medical procedures on a simulated Ebola patient during a week-long rapid response training course. Maves, Bush and Spangler are part of a military medical response team that can rapidly respond and assist civilian medical personnel in the event of an Ebola outbreak in the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)
U.S. Navy Cmdr. (Dr.) Ryan Maves, Lt. Sarah Bush and Lt. j.g. Braden Spangler perform medical procedures on a simulated Ebola patient during a week-long rapid response training course. Maves, Bush and Spangler are part of a military medical response team that can rapidly respond and assist civilian medical personnel in the event of an Ebola outbreak in the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)

To highlight what many argue is a systemic lack of understanding within the U.S. military on the current state of the international humanitarian system and how it functions, below is a “pop quiz” for CIMSEC readers. These are ten of the most important questions (and yes, there are many more…) that military personnel must understand in order to quickly and successfully integrate military capabilities into civilian humanitarian responses. (Note: answers are at bottom of the article for inquiring minds who want to know.)

  • What are the four fundamental humanitarian principles and why are they so important? 
  • What is a humanitarian actor? 
  • What is the lead federal agency in the U.S. government for disaster response overseas and what relationship do they have with the U.S. military? 
  • What international organization brings together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent response to emergencies? Within this organization, who is responsible for facilitating civilian-military coordination, and what are the range of potential strategies for effective coordination? 
  • What is the “Cluster System”? 
  • What are the “Sphere Standards”? 
  • What are the “Oslo Guidelines”? 
  • What is a “MITAM”? 
  • What key information systems do humanitarian actors utilize to communicate? 
  • What are the key military capabilities that are routinely needed to augment the humanitarian community’s response to large-scale disasters?

After you write your answers down, please scroll to the bottom to see how you fared. There is no grading scale, because I suspect most of you, like the majority of the students who come through Newport, will quickly agree that we all have a lot to learn to be able to work effectively in the humanitarian space. It is in this intricate environment where civilian organizations operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, to help vulnerable populations around the world – through both sustained developmental efforts as well as disaster relief activities.

If you struggled with this academic exercise, or have taken part in the chaos that is a HA/DR operation and appreciate how different this mission set is from traditional naval operations, then you may agree in principle at least, with the following recommendations for improving our abilities in this area. 

The U.S. Sea Services should make small changes within their education and training efforts to ensure that our personnel have a baseline understanding of foundational issues in civilian-military humanitarian response. While the UN, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and U.S. Pacific Command’s Center for Excellence in Disaster Management all provide excellent training in this area, collectively they reach a relatively small audience. Generally speaking, our war colleges have minimal elements within their curricula that allow students to comprehend the most crucial civilian-military humanitarian issues.  Very few HA/DR exercises and simulations are run on a regular basis, with one exception being the earthquake scenario within U.S. Pacific Command’s ‘Rim of the Pacific’ (RIMPAC) biannual exercise. RIMPAC brings together international militaries, humanitarian actors, and academics in a dynamic environment to simulate a complex response and learn from one another. Combining smaller “mini-exercises” for HA/DR within larger warfighting exercises, when appropriate, makes sense from both a fiscal and preparedness perspective.

Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, gives a toy to a child while touring a shelter facility in Ishinomaki city, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, March 23. Willard and John V. Roos, U.S. ambassador to Japan, assisted in the delivery of relief supplies to displaced citizens. Since March 12, Marines and sailors have delivered food, fuel, water and supplies to disaster-stricken areas near Sendai as part of Operation Tomodachi. (Photo by: Lance Cpl. Steve Acuff)
Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, gives a toy to a child while touring a shelter facility in Ishinomaki city, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, March 23, 2011. (Photo by: Lance Cpl. Steve Acuff)

The Naval War College recognizes the importance of HA/DR education, and thanks to a formal partnership with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, is collaborating closely with the UN’s Civil-Military Coordination Section, as well as several other universities, including Stanford, Yale, and Oxford. Our Civilian-Military Humanitarian Response Program aims to advance civilian-military engagement and coordination during complex emergencies and natural disasters, and improve the U.S. Navy’s effectiveness in conducting HA/DR operations. These collaborations have already informed curriculum, especially in our specialized planning courses that target operational (navy component and numbered fleet) and tactical (expeditionary strike group) staffs who will likely plan and execute HA/DR operations. We are working to develop new courses and simulations that will bring military and humanitarian personnel together in the classroom and during exercises. These partnership activities will help the humanitarian community create innovative frameworks for improving disaster coordination.

The U.S. Sea Services must, and will, spend the majority of their operational lives thinking about warfighting and maritime security. Current education and training systems ensure we retain our competitive advantage over future threats. However, minor investments in HA/DR education and training will help improve the predictability, effectiveness, efficiency, and coherence in deploying and employing military assets in support of humanitarian responses. This will allow us to build greater trust and confidence between humanitarian actors and military personnel, and ultimately improve our ability to respond during future natural disasters and complex emergencies.

Pop Quiz Answer Key

  • What are the four fundamental humanitarian principles and why are they so important?
    • Humanity, Neutrality, Impartiality, and Operational Independence.
    • “These principles provide the foundations for humanitarian action. They are central to establishing and maintaining access to affected people, whether in a natural disaster or a complex emergency, such as armed conflict. Promoting and ensuring compliance with the principles are essential elements of effective humanitarian coordination.”[vi] Militaries must have an appreciation for the principles so they can better understand the humanitarian system they are integrating into and minimize potential disruptions and negative effects in the humanitarian space.
  • What is a humanitarian actor?
    • Humanitarian actors are civilians, whether national or international, UN or non-UN, governmental or non-governmental, which have a commitment to humanitarian principles and are engaged in humanitarian activities. Military actors are NOT considered humanitarian actors.  “Even if they fulfill or support humanitarian tasks, the military is a tool of the foreign policy of a Government, and as such is not perceived as neutral or impartial. The separation of humanitarian and political or military objectives is not given or at least unclear – and military units are certainly not primarily perceived as humanitarians by the civilian population.”[vii]
  • What international organization brings together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent response to emergencies? Within this organization, who is responsible for facilitating civilian-military coordination, and what are the range of potential strategies for effective coordination?
    • United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). UN OCHA’s Civil-Military Coordination (CM-Coord) Section has been designated the focal point in the UN system for humanitarian civil-military coordination. It supports relevant field and headquarters-level activities through the development of institutional strategies to enhance the capacity and preparedness of national and international partners.  CM-Coord is “The essential dialogue and interaction between civilian and military actors in humanitarian emergencies that is necessary to protect and promote humanitarian principles, avoid competition, minimize inconsistency, and when appropriate, pursue common goals. Basic strategies range from coexistence to cooperation. Coordination is a shared responsibility facilitated by liaison and common training.”[viii]
  • What is the “Cluster System”?
    • This is UN OCHA’s system for managing a response. “Clusters are groups of humanitarian organizations (UN and non-UN) working in the main sectors of humanitarian action, e.g. shelter and health. They are created when clear humanitarian needs exist within a sector, when there are numerous actors within sectors and when national authorities need coordination support. Clusters provide a clear point of contact and are accountable for adequate and appropriate humanitarian assistance. Clusters create partnerships between international humanitarian actors, national and local authorities, and civil society.”[ix]
  • What are the “Sphere Standards”?
    • “The Sphere Handbook puts the right of disaster-affected populations to life with dignity, and to protection and assistance at the centre of humanitarian action. It promotes the active participation of affected populations as well as of local and national authorities, and is used to negotiate humanitarian space and resources with authorities in disaster-preparedness work. The minimum standards cover four primary life-saving areas of humanitarian aid: water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion; food security and nutrition; shelter, settlement and non-food items; and health action.”[x]
  • What are the “Oslo Guidelines”?
    • These are UN OCHA guidelines for improving the effectiveness of foreign military and civil defense assets in international disaster relief operations.[xi] While not binding, they often frame how international militaries will interact with humanitarian organizations during actual responses.
  • What is a “MITAM”?
    • USAID OFDA often employs a “Mission Tasking Matrix” to request specific support requirements from the U.S. military. This is currently in the form of an excel spreadsheet and prioritizes requests for military support.[xii]
  • What are the key military capabilities that are routinely needed to augment the humanitarian community’s response to large-scale disasters?
    • Airlift (both rotary wing and fixed wing)
    • Air traffic control
    • Communications
    • Engineering and construction
    • Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance
    • Logistics and supply
    • Medical
    • Operational planning expertise
    • Relief supplies including water production and utilities
    • Sealift (depending on the geography of the affected nation)
    • Search and rescue
    • Security (with caveats)

David Polatty is a civilian professor at the U.S. Naval War College, where he teaches strategic and operational planning and leads the College of Operational & Strategic Leadership’s new “Civilian-Military Humanitarian Response Program.”  He is also a Captain in the Navy Reserve and currently commands NR U.S. European Command J3.  The views and opinions in this article are his own and do not represent the views or position of the U.S. Naval War College, U.S. Navy, or Department of Defense.

[i] http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=93802

[ii] http://www.unocha.org/where-we-work/emergencies

[iii] http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2014/10/14/cambio-climatico-mas-desplazados-que-un-conflicto-armado

[iv] http://archive.defense.gov/pubs/2014_Quadrennial_Defense_Review.pdf

[v] http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~gorenbur/all%20responses.pdf

[vi] https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/OOM-humanitarianprinciples_eng_June12.pdf

[vii] https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/UN%20OCHA%20Guide%20for%20the%20Military%20v%201.0.pdf

[viii] https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/v.2.%20website%20overview%20tab%20link%201%20United%20Nations%20Humanitarian%20Civil-Military%20coordination%20(UN-CMCoord).pdf

[ix] http://www.unocha.org/what-we-do/coordination-tools/cluster-coordination

[x] http://www.sphereproject.org/handbook/

[xi] https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/Oslo%20Guidelines%20ENGLISH%20(November%202007).pdf

[xii] https://www.usnwc.edu/mocwarfighter/Link.aspx?=/Images/Articles/Issue1/MITAM_Example_(MOC_Warfighter).xls

A Proactive Approach to Deploying Naval Assets in Support of HA/DR Missions

Naval HA/DR Topic Week

By Marjorie Greene

In our current information age, there appear to be many trends that are reshaping the naval approach to operations in support of HA/DR.  Among them are the following:

  • The  extremely broad availability of advanced information and communications technologies that place unprecedented powers of information creation, processing, and distribution in the hands of almost anyone who wants them – friend and foe alike;
  • The increasing complexity of missions as naval forces increasingly form partnerships with various civilian agencies and nongovernmental organizations;
  • The rising importance of decentralized operations;
  • The data deluge – the unprecedented volume of raw and processed information with which humans must contend.

All of these trends are reinforced by the rapid rise of social media.  Many naval analysts are conducting research that will give insight into how social networks can be exploited, especially during HA/DR operations.

Deeper Civil-Naval Integration Will Be Needed for HA/DR

To help frame and inform studies about the true value of “soft power” missions in the future, CSIS conducted a study in March, 2013 of “U.S. Navy Humanitarian Assistance in an Era of Austerity.” Chaired by Admiral Gary Roughead (USN Ret.), formerly Chief of Naval Operations, the study discusses the emergence of proactive humanitarian assistance and the need for deeper civil-military integration. This will be a challenge unless the military has the cultural knowledge to know whom to communicate with during these missions.

There are still major barriers to using social media for naval operations when warfighters respond to crises. For example, how can we use social networks for theater operations in such a way that the data can be combined with traditional command and control tools (usually classified) for naval operations? How can we overcome the considerable challenge posed by information overload? How can we reconcile the traditional decision-making of hierarchically oriented commanders with that of the civilian sector which is currently cooperative and collaborative?

Until recently, most basic research has focused on developing technical solutions to filter signals from noise in online social media. But this is starting to change.  There is less emphasis on techniques such as keywords to filter or classify social network data into meaningful elements and more emphasis on introducing new methodologies to come to a conclusion about the importance, utility, and meaning of the data.  

I have also been looking for alternative methodologies to evaluate the impact of incorporating information from social media streams in HA/DR operations. Analyses have shown that naval officers often lack the regional cultural knowledge to know whom to communicate with in HR/DR missions and must build working relationships with new groups of stakeholders and responders for each mission. Naval officers are required to develop the cultural connections to conduct the mission and the operational data shows that this process often takes too long. It may be that social media can facilitate these bonds and relationships.

Social media is changing the way information is diffused and decisions are made, especially for HA/DR missions when there is increased emphasis on commands to share critical information with government and nongovernmental organizations. As the community of interest grows during a crisis, it will be important to ensure that information is shared with appropriate organizations for different aspects of the mission such as evacuation procedures, hospital sites, location of seaports and airports, and other relevant topics. Social media can increase interoperability with non-military organizations and create a faster decision cycle. For example, studies have shown that even using traditional messaging, in the first 14 days of the U.S. Southern Command’s Haiti HA/DR mission, the community of interest grew to more than 1,900 users!

US Navy social media badge

Operational conditions vary considerably among incidents and coordination between different groups is often set up in an ad hoc manner. What is needed is a methodology that will help to find appropriate people with whom to share information for particular aspects of the mission during a wide range of events. A potential methodology might be to pro-actively establish relationships before a crisis occurs and a model for doing this is presented below. The model mimics the famous experiment of social psychologist Stanley Milgram, who provided the first empirical evidence of “six degrees of separation” when constructing paths from friend to friend as in a social network. 

The Stanley Milgram Experiments

In his famous series of experiments in the 1960’s, Stanley Milgram hypothesized that short paths can be found to quickly reach a target destination when an individual mails a letter to someone he or she knows on a first-name basis with the instructions to forward it on in this way toward the target as quickly as possible. The letter eventually moved from friend to friend, with the successful letters making the target in a median of six steps. This kind of experiment – constructing paths through social networks to distant target individuals – has been repeated by a number of other groups in subsequent decades.

The Model

In an approach similar to the Milgram experiments, I propose to use a unique message addressing rule which constructs social networks as events occur. It is an approach to intelligent agent-based computations that builds on behavioral models of animal colonies. These animal models show how colonies can detect and respond to unanticipated environmental changes without a centralized communications and control system. For example, the ant routing algorithm tells us that when an ant forages for food, it lays pheromones on a trail from source to destination.  When it arrives at its destination, it returns to the source following the same path it came from. If other ants have travelled the same path, the pheromone level is higher. Similarly, if other ants have not travelled along the path, the pheromone level is lower.  If every ant tries to choose the trail that has higher pheromone concentration, eventually the pheromones accumulate when multiple ants use the same path and evaporate when no ant passes.

Just as an ant leaves a chemical trace of its movement along a path, this simulated agent attaches traces of previous contacts by means of “digital pheromones” to each message that it sends. This is done by ensuring that all communicators along a path are kept aware of all previous communicators in the path. Suppose, for example, “A”, “B”, and “C” represent three naval warfighters using a social network. “A” starts a path on a particular topic by sending a message to “B”.  “B”, in turn, decides to send a message to “C” on the same topic.  Thus far, this is similar to the Milgram experiment, in which a “path” was created as a letter was forwarded from friend to friend until it reached a designated “target” in the network. However, in this case the target “emerges” from the interaction of A, B, and C. Another major difference is that a simple message addressing rule is used that asks each communicator to “copy” all previous communicators on a topic when it chooses to send a message on that topic.

The diagram below illustrates an analysis of an actual event in which A, B, C, D, and E (who are commands represented on the Y-axis) communicated using traditional messaging during a humanitarian assistance operation. The diagram shows that 7 messages were sent between the commands for this event. (An arrow from A to B means “A sent a message to B”.)  So, for example, message 1 is from command A to his subordinate Command B at 0021 and starts the message path asking for supplies to be sent to the area.  (Command A also sent this message to B’s subordinates “for information”.) In message 2, Command B addressed his own subordinate Command D, as well as Command E, a non-government organization, who ultimately sent the supplies. 

FireShot Capture 76 - (no subject) - dfi_ - https___mail.google.com_mail_u_0_#inbox_153c0e9961e8f7ed

In the event illustrated above, the third message from C to B asks the status of supplies. Because C was addressed in the first message, he knew of the request for supplies.  However, Command C was not copied in the 2nd message from B and did not know about this message. This is why I suggest that a message-addressing rule will be very important in the future use of social media.  It will achieve two major objectives:

  • It will guarantee that all warfighters along the path are automatically kept informed of previous communicators in the path on the topic. This provides the important feedback that socio-technologists have shown to be very important in the control of large-scale coordination during evolving operations;
  • It avoids keywords by defining a topic through communication that represents a path in a social network. This provides a way to deal with changing topics and an uncertain organizational structure in an evolving crisis.


I have developed an approach to coordinate activities during HA/DR missions as naval warfighters continue to see greater use of nonhierarchical communications for complex interactions. Collaboration with external partners is expected to grow when conducting HA/DR missions. If a social network of trusted coordinators were established before a crisis occurred, military and civilian commanders would already have working relationships with each other and could plan HA/DR missions in advance. Deeper integration could be achieved using social media to exchange information and the right group of trusted collaborators would be pro-actively defined.  Such an approach would assist in sustaining planned assistance in an era of global austerity.  

Marjorie Greene is a research analyst at CNA.  She has more than 25 years of management experience in both government and commercial organizations and has recently specialized in finding S&T solutions for the U.S. Marine Corps.  She is active in both the Military Operations Research Society and IEEE, where she serves on the Medical Technology Policy Committee and the Bioterrorism Working Group.

Featured Image Source: Open DNS Security Labs Visualization of Canada’s Internet Infrastructure