Tag Archives: USMC

Enhancing Existing Force Structure by Optimizing Maritime Service Specialization

Alternative Naval Force Structure Topic Week

By Eric Beaty

The factors which color our view of the world have changed significantly since the end of the Cold War. That overarching conflict polarized the world’s politics and drove the United States to build a naval force focused on blue-water combat against a peer competitor, but the demise of the Soviet Union left a much more complex world where the United States must be prepared to simultaneously counter  myriad  threats at multiple levels. There is not a uniform solution to every problem and there is not a uniform fleet for every theater. Luckily, the United States has three maritime services—the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps—with different core competencies covering a broad range of naval missions. Current investments in force structure can be maximized by focusing the maritime services on their preferred missions.

Some missions have historically been assigned according to service and platform, rather than warfare areas, which has led to small, orphaned communities in some services. These communities are too small to have many high-ranking alumni in  overall service leadership. The resulting consequences include them being often misunderstood and undervalued, poor funding , poor career opportunities, few if any champions in service leadership, and so on. Even when they are appreciated and funded, niche communities lack economies of scale. Therefore, the way to ensure missions are properly funded and manned is to task an interested party to advocate for them, and each of the maritime services has missions they are most passionate about.

The naval force of the future would see a Navy endorsement of the territorial patrol missions of the Coast Guard and expanding the role of of the Navy-Marine Corps amphibious team, but there would be no radical course corrections.  Instead, naval missions would be assigned to “centers of excellence” within the services to manage the organization, training, and tactics of the joint forces which would execute such missions.

Navy – Combat on the High Seas

The U.S. Navy would manage the missions of blue-water combat: submarine and antisubmarine warfare, carrier aviation, surface warfare, air defense, and sealift. These missions are already clearly within the Navy aegis, so there would be no major change in their execution. By focusing on these core mission sets, and shedding the remainder which the Navy has been unenthusiastic about, the leadership would be refocused on areas where Navy doctrine, tactics, and procurement have been most refined. As such, the platforms of the blue-water Navy would not deviate much from their present and planned configurations.

Coast Guard – Patrolling Offshore

The U.S. Coast Guard would be the mission manager for coastal and offshore patrol operations, for both law enforcement and maritime safety. Under the umbrella of muscular law enforcement, the Coast Guard would manage not only patrols of the American coast, but also patrols off South America and Africa as well. Most of these vessels would be frigates, both U.S. Navy and allied, rather than white-hull Coast Guard cutters, but all would be dedicated to low-intensity constabulary missions. By keeping the peace along much of the world’s coastline, the Coast Guard-led maritime patrol enterprise would free up high-capability vessels to deter peer competitors.

The worldwide maritime patrol enterprise would be led by the United States, with the nonjudgmental aim of maintaining the world’s seaways under the control of accepted and functional governments, because even reticent governments make easier negotiating partners than ungoverned chaos. The simplest way to lead such an enterprise is to help equip and train it, so the United States Navy and Coast Guard would have extensive foreign military sales, partnership programs, and personnel exchange programs with allied maritime nations.

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MAPUTO:: Mozambique (June 11:: 2012) Marine 1st Lt. Joseph McHugh Jr.:: officer-in-charge of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) 12.2 Security Team Six speaks with U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Lt. Ricardo Moreno:: who is translating fire team training tactics to Mozambique marine Sub Lt. Jorge A. Julius. Service members assigned to High Speed Vessel Swift (HSV 2) are conducting classroom engagements with local military members for Africa Partnership Station. APS is an international security cooperation initiative:: facilitated by Commander U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa aimed at strengthening global maritime partnerships through training and collaborative activities in order to improve maritime safety and security in Africa. (U.S. Navy photo by Ensign Joe Keiley/Released)

To make such a broad endeavor more practical, the Coast Guard’s offshore cutters, the Navy’s patrol frigates, and allied nations’ warships would need to be common. The principal requirements would be low cost, ease of maintenance, and margins for growth. The basic warship would have a simple power plant, enough systems to operate as a minimalist patrol ship, and substantial space and weight left available for additions. Buyers could add additional fuel tanks and provisions storage, a variety of weapons, helicopter or boat facilities, or a host of other standardized modifications. While these frigates would be too small to add all options to every vessel, they would also be inexpensive enough that customers of modest means could still purchase them, and customers like the United States could purchase lots of them.

Built cheaply and in large numbers, flotillas of these semi-modular ships would patrol for pirates off Africa, drug smugglers in the Gulf of Mexico, or vessels in distress off North America. For patrol locations far from suitable ports, the Navy would reawaken the concept of tender vessels; using replenishment ships to establish at-sea bases to extend the on-station time of frigates and cutters. These tenders would provide fuel, provisions, spare parts, and a base for the flotilla’s command element. By performing lower-threat missions economically, these frigates would free up the destroyers, cruisers, and carriers to concentrate in high-threat theaters, thereby maximizing combat power.

Marine Corps – Seizing the Littorals

While the Navy prepares to fight wars on the high seas and the Coast Guard leads patrol efforts in more stable theaters, the Marine Corps would manage naval missions across coastal seas and coastal lands. As the service tasked with crossing from sea to land, the Marine Corps is concerned with anything which could affect or impede an amphibious action, including the obvious amphibious tasks, but should now focus on missions like mine countermeasures and small boat operations. Afloat Marine forces are carried to battle by Navy amphibious assault ships and delivered to the beach by Navy landing craft, so there would remain a substantial Navy influence in certain elements, but the Marines would be the lead advocates for coastal mission capabilities.

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APRA HARBOR, Guam (Sept. 20, 2016) – Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit embark amphibious assault vehicles in the well deck of the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) during Valiant Shield 2016. Valiant Shield 16 is a biennial, U.S.-only, field training exercise (FTX) with a focus on integration of joint training among U.S. forces. Germantown, part of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group with embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, is participating in Valiant Shield in an effort to increase naval integration and joint capabilities in the event of conflict, contingency, or disaster relief. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Raymond D. Diaz III/Released)

Navy destroyers, cruisers, and carrier battle groups would be responsible for clearing a path to the coastal area for the amphibious train, but the amphibious ships and their direct escorts would be responsible for fighting their way to the beach and enabling the landing force to cross it. To defeat small boat threats and provide fire support until the Marine landing force could establish artillery ashore, the amphibious train would be escorted by frigates (based on the common hull introduced above) specialized with the maximum number of naval guns possible. With these frigates, the amphibious force would be able to defeat enemy forces in waters too constricted for the blue-water warships to operate effectively.

Closer to the beach, mines would be the next threat to an amphibious landing. Rather than operate a separate fleet of minesweepers and mine countermeasures support ships, the Marine Corps-centered littoral force would base countermine detachments aboard the same amphibious assault ships carrying the landing force. Assault ships are designed with large well decks, copious storage, and substantial berthing space, making them best-suited to operate divers and unmanned countermine vehicles of all sizes. Furthermore, they have the flight decks to operate the CH-53K King Stallions that would take the airborne minesweeping mission from the Navy’s MH-53E Sea Dragons as these aging helicopters are retired. Saving the Navy the purchase of new mine countermeasures ships would pay off in funding for extra amphibious landing ships and CH-53Ks, a doubly effective reorganization for the amphibious mission.

The Marine Corps would also take overall responsibility for the related riverine mission set. Outside of port security missions (which would fall under Coast Guard leadership), all coastal and riverine boat operations would become part of the permanent Navy-Marine Corps amphibious enterprise. Effective riverine operations include the same elements as amphibious landings—afloat mobility, fire support, and power projection ashore—so consolidation of the riverine and amphibious communities would create a deeper and more diverse base of experience for both missions. Integration with Marine Corps infantry, aviation, and artillery would make the riverine squadrons more effective in combat than they could be alone. Also, increased small-boat landing and raiding capability would increase the Marines’ naval presence and take advantage of their unique maritime capabilities.

The Joint Naval Force in Action

This joint naval force of the future would perform in a very similar fashion to the present-day and historical naval forces, insofar as the various forces have capabilities available. Where the future naval force would excel is in peacetime administration and presence: more efficient management of missions would reduce redundancy and increase the number of forces available when and where they were needed for combat and deterrence. Transitory advantages like technology or brilliant leadership would come and go, but the future naval force would be organized to make the most efficient use of these advantages on the seas to achieve America’s long-term goals.

LT Eric Beaty is an E-2C/D Hawkeye Naval Flight Officer, presently working ashore in D.C. The views express herein are solely those of the author and are presented in a personal capacity on his own initiative. They do not reflect the official positions of the Department of Defense.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (July 18, 2016) – Cpl. Ryan Dills communicates with other assault amphibious vehicles while traveling from amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) to Royal Australian Navy Canberra class amphibious ship HMAS Canberra (L02).  (U.S. Marine Corps photo by SSgt. Christopher Giannetti/Released)

South China Sea: FONOPS Not Enough, Time for Boots on the Ground, Active Neutrality

By Alex Calvo

After a long wait, the US Navy resumed FON (Freedom of Navigation) operations in the South China Sea (last carried out in 2012) on 27 October, with USS Lassen sailing within 12 nautical miles of Subi and Mischief Reefs, and conducting actions incompatible with innocent passage, in order to make it clear Washington does not recognize any territorial waters arising from the artificial islands built by Beijing through reclamation on low-tide elevations. On the other hand, in line with long-standing American policy, the US also emphasized that it was not taking sides concerning the underlying territorial disputes, and that freedom of navigation operations were aimed at any excessive maritime claims, underlining this by also sailing through waters around features claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines. Commentary has focused on the need for further FON cruises, and on China’s response, including the possibility of Beijing declaring an ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone).

Freedom of Navigation is indeed one of the pillars of both the post-war open economic system drawn up during the Second World War, and of the traditional American reliance on the ability to move troops by sea (in line with the British Empire, and its tandem Royal Navy – Indian Army). Therefore, contesting Chinese maritime claims is indeed an important policy goal, and furthermore one that should be shared by other maritime democracies. However, we must ask ourselves whether this is all. Furthermore, the time may have come to consider whether agnosticism on territorial claims is a sustainable policy, and whether the US can afford to see allies like the Philippines lose further territory to the PRC.

Even if FON operations become a regular feature and China’s extensive reclamation work turns out to pose no obstacle to peace-time navigation by merchantmen and warships, we would be fooling ourselves if we thought that there is no price to pay for failing to confront Beijing. First of all, an extensive network of man-made islands could make it much more difficult to operate in the region in the event of hostilities. Second, by condoning the violent taking of contested territories, the principles enshrined in the UN charter and in UNSC Resolution 502 would risk becoming irrelevant.

Concerning the latter, being neutral concerning territorial disputes can be interpreted in two ways. Up to now in the South China Sea it has meant Washington not supporting any competing claims. However, this is no longer enough. The Philippines’ marines have been making a heroic stand at BRP Sierra Madre, guarding Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin Shoal / Ren’Ai Jiao) while surrounded by hostile ships bent on preventing their resupply. However, given the much larger forces available to China, this strategy may not be sustainable. Furthermore, despite an existing mutual defense treaty and growing capacity building assistance (also provided by Japan), Washington has de facto been signaling Beijing that the occupation of the Second Thomas Shoal would not be considered an attack on Filipino territory. This increases the risk of a miscalculation, should China come to believe that the US will stand on the sidelines in such an scenario. Mutual defense treaties are not of much use if restricted in their geographical scope.

An alternative policy would be to embed USMC personnel in their Filipino counterparts, while explicitly announcing that despite still not taking sides on the ultimate issue of sovereignty, the US considered the Second Thomas Shoal (and other disputed territories currently under actual control by Manila) to fall within the purview of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty. American policy would then be to actively seek to prevent changes on the ground, including expelling Filipino military personnel from the Second Thomas Shoal, while still pressing for a mediated (or arbitrated) solution, in line with US support for the international arbitration bid currently under consideration by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Preserving the status quo requires extensive work on the BRP Sierra Madre, or its replacement by another ship or structure. In other words, America would be moving from passive neutrality to active neutrality. From merely declaring that differences must be settled peacefully in accordance to international law, to helping freeze the status quo so that revisionist powers are not tempted to gain in the field of battle what they should only be claiming in the diplomatic table or the courtroom.

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A precedent for this are Japan’s Senkaku Islands, also claimed by China and Taiwan. After some doubts and conflicting reports on whether the US-Japan Security Treaty extended to them, Washington explicitly announced that they did, while remaining non-committal about ultimate sovereignty. Japan, having greater maritime and naval capabilities than the Philippines, employs a different strategy to protects the islands, shielded by the country’s coastguard without any permanent ground deployment. Should Tokyo decide, or be forced, to permanently deploy some ground troops, it would also be positive to see USMC personnel embedded in them. We could also mention the occupation of Iceland during the Second World War, before Pearl Harbor.

Being neutral in a territorial dispute does not just mean supporting its peaceful resolution in accordance with international law. That is only the case when all sides involved renounce the use of force. When one refuses to take this step, and regularly resorts to it, notwithstanding the fact it is mostly of the non-lethal kind, the only alternative to appeasement is active neutrality, meaning a deployment designed to provide a tripwire, lessening the risks of miscalculation and signaling that aggression will not be condoned. Only this can provide the necessary incentives for a future peaceful resolution of the conflict, where Washington would indeed be neutral concerning its outcome, yet having avoided neutrality regarding how it came about.

Alex Calvo is a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan) focusing on security and defence policy, international law, and military history in the Indian-Pacific Ocean. Region. A member of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) and Taiwan’s South China Sea Think-Tank, he is currently writing a book about Asia’s role and contribution to the Allied victory in the Great War. He tweets @Alex__Calvo and his work can be found here.

Game of Marines

The Left...
                                     The Left…

Pop culture cannot seem to escape the allure of dragons and white walkers, as HBO’s Game of Thrones (GoT), based on the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by R.R. Martin, has enthralled millions. On the face of it the fictional setting of Westeros bear little resemblance to that in which the Marines traditionally operate (commercials not included). However, examining that world, and in particular the fate of two of its warring factions, provides interesting insights for current Marine Corps issues. Both groups, despite their seemingly polar opposite nature, are at critical junctures and face decisions as to how they will conduct operations in the future – offering alternative frameworks that I believe improve upon the “middleweight” force that the Corps seeks to become.

House Greyjoy (motto: “We do not sow”) could reasonably be classified as Westerosi Marines. They are a small, intensely martial, and overwhelmingly amphibious force that has little trouble succeeding tactically, but do not always employ their forces with deep strategic foresight. They are relatively poor when compared to other noble houses, and, without large lands to farm or grow on, rely on their raiding abilities and superior military skills. The correlation with many current and historical USMC trends is readily apparent. Importantly, the “Ironborn,” as they are known, make several strategic errors when they decide to stretch their force and capabilities over a large band of conflict by taking large fixed defense castles while simultaneously raiding along the coastline.

A different group from the series is the “Brotherhood without Banners,” an insurgent group made of deserters, POWs, and other flotsam from the horrible conflict driving the story’s main narrative. These men and women unite under a radical new philosophy that rejects many of the “truths” the lands’ lords hold. They are quite successful at insurgency using methods that refuse to acknowledge the rules governing other forces’ military action, and are keen trainers of indigenous forces. Their doctrine comes only from what they have learned by blood and conflicts with the conception of warfare held by elder kings and knights. They have skills of proven utility, but it is unclear as the series now stands how the brotherhood will parlay those skills into victory in a changing conflict.

I highlight these two fictional accounts to bring to light what I consider to be the main challenges facing the Marine Corps. Will the Corps steam fully ahead into its self-proclaimed “middleweight” future and retain the hard-won lessons of 10 years of insurgency combat? Will it regain its slightly rusty amphibious roots to meet the strategic needs of our Nation? Or, will it just be a group of raiders who have little ability to affect change across the shoreline? These are all questions the Marine Corps is currently grappling with, and I offer a few observations within the GoT analogy.

Both the Brotherhood and Ironborn suffer – not when they leverage their core competencies, but when they venture outside of them. The Ironborn repeatedly face disaster when they decide to commit to larger, set-piece battles with land powers where they incur strategic losses. The Brotherhood would be better served by raising indigenous forces that can help give those who have suffered the most from war a chance at self-security rather than relying on the major houses to try and supplement their fighting abilities, as they try to do as they move south. The Brotherhood is also at risk of a lack of a coherent strategic vision, fighting only against what exists rather than spelling out a vision of their own.

Back in the real world, the Marine Corps is progressing back to its Ironborn origins by returning to its amphibious roots. This return is irrefutably necessary as the worry of many Marines is that recent events have turned the Corps into a second land army. But many of its junior leaders are equally worried the lessons they paid for in blood will be forgotten as they were after previous wars. Vital capabilities to train indigenous forces, conduct preemptive counter-insurgency (COIN), and use a light footprint to get to the “strategic left side of boom” will increasingly be at risk as more Marine Corps “meat and potato” deployments take the place of COIN operations. Our advisor capability (read: Brotherhood without Banners) is unlikely to go away completely, but it is not likely to receive the same emphasis it has had over the past few years.

Likewise, the stretching nature of a “middleweight” force seems to necessitate straddling a larger spectrum of conflict than focusing on one or two Marine Expeditionary Brigades (MEB) denied entry operations. Middleweight fighters are multi-use. But they are also slow when going up against lightweights and unable to throw knockouts against heavyweights. By shooting for the gap between “small” SOF and “big” Army are we searching to find a rationalization instead of focusing on what we have done successfully? I see this problem as similar to the Ironborn deciding to commit to taking the stronghold of Winterfell and other lands, while still conducting coastal raids, and thereby doing neither well.

...and Right Sides of "Boom."
                      …and Right Sides of “Boom.”

I propose that the Corps refocus on amphibious operations, but primarily towards kinetic denied entry operations at the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) level or higher. With this capability available, our secondary effort should be towards robust engagement vis-a-vis security cooperation, advisor capability, and retention of the lessons from COIN. A “middleweight” force is inherently focused on numbers and end strength – but this is only one consideration of organizing for future conflicts. An alternative framework would be to focus the Corps’ composition on time-based crisis response, with advisor formations to prevent conflicts and larger elements strictly focusing on highly kinetic operations at the beginning of those conflicts that do erupt. This framework would allow Marines to better focus training, equipment tables, and procurement. Operational units would be designed for long-duration advisor missions or kick the door into highly kinetic situations before letting larger Army units take over. Many might say that is or should be USMC doctrine, but a look back at the past ten years of war contradicts such a statement.

I highlight again the faults of the Ironborn in focusing on the tactical considerations of what they could capture and how, and not paying attention to the political aspects of the conflict around them. One tactical commander, Theon Greyjoy, thought that by taking Winterfell as quickly as possible his force would secure a great victory, when in fact they only rushed themselves into a strategic dead-end. A di-polar force that is focused on when to respond in a crisis allows us to focus on our historic strengths while not losing our recent capabilities. The Marine Corps must strive to think of innovative approaches to these challenges so we do not become the tactically successful, but strategically insignificant Brotherhood, nor, the operationally brilliant but strategically harebrained Ironborn as we navigate our real-world military problems in light of a coming fiscal winter.

Capt Christopher Barber is an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps who has deployed twice to Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The views expressed above are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Department of Defense, or the Center for International Maritime Security.