All posts by Christopher Barber

Avoid Change For Its Own Sake: Ground Force Unification

The inevitable fiscal crunch that is staring the U.S. military down has the Pharisees of the defense industry, think tanks, and senior military leaders all rabble-rousing about the need for change. Some of that change is strategic. Asia Pacific pivot anyone? Other bits of it reside in the acquisitions department, as we see with the pros and cons of developing “revolutionary” weapons systems to confront “new” threats. The most harrowing changes for military leaders are the all too well known cuts to manpower that will come in some fashion, no matter the logic, or lack thereof, which delineates how those cuts will happen. There is more change in the air than cordite after an end of fiscal year shooting range, but it is important to reflect on some history in order to avoid stepping on the same proverbial rakes that have smacked our national security establishment in the face during previous draw-downs.

Editors Note: It WOULD be nice if the USN would go to these.
Editors Note: It WOULD be nice if the USN would go to these.

Ideas like this one are an especially pervasive form of bad, and seem unable to die even when history proves them inadvisable. We saw the call for unification in President Eisenhower’s attempts to reevaluate our national security establishment in light of the massive technological, strategic, and social changes that occurred after World War Two. It was vital to acknowledge the necessity of change in that period, because much like Eisenhower’s dictum on planning, self-examination is vital even if most of the individual recommendations may turn out to be worthless. Reconsidering defense in light of nuclear weapons, ICBMS, and the bi-polar nature of security dilemmas when facing the Soviet Union was important. Trusting academic tea-leaf readers in their assessments and then proclaiming there would “never be another amphibious landing”, that ground forces would not be used in limited wars, and that tactical airpower was only needed to defend or shoot down strategic airpower looks downright foolhardy when viewed as historical record. What saved us from the march to a monolithic Star Fleet force that all wore the small uniforms and all died like red shirts landing on Klingon? The pluralistic competition of our service structure, which was inefficient and far from perfect, but possessed a flexibility that made it anti-fragile.

Separate services, even separate services that possess redundant capabilities, are a vital part of American national defense. The Army needs the Marine Corps to soak up public attention as a motivation for better performance as badly as the Marine Corps need the Army to keep its constant self worry about irrelevance and drive its performance. Those intangible reasons can be criticized as they are not measurable, but of direct consequence are the different service outlooks which spurn actual innovation.

http://www.koreanwaronline.com/arms/VerticalEnvelopment.html

The Marine Corps decided it would gladly incorporate vulnerable and unwieldy rotary aircraft that Army and Air Force leaders largely ignored during Korea, and in doing so enabled the much better resourced Army to perfect the techniques of vertical envelopment to a higher degree than it ever could in Vietnam. The Navy had to have an Air Force that threatened its budget in order to develop SSBNs, and not pursue the much less effective option of carrier borne strategic bombers. Our most recent wars have shown the truth that a market place of defense ideas is better than a command economy for strategy. While the Marine Corps stubbornly resisted SOCOM membership, the other services gladly perfected the techniques needed to combat global terrorism in the learning laboratories of Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Those were bloody lessons, but proved that some enemies cannot be defeated by large MEUs waiting off shores, although the synergy created between such a force and SOCOM has proven to be vital, and continues to pay national security dividends. Service diversity even ensures we do not forget lessons learned in blood that may seem inefficient during  peacetime arguments on Capitol Hill. Even the best planners can shortchange things that are easily forgotten as peace breaks out. Something as boring as oil platform protection is a skill the world’s preeminent Navy forgot, and had to relearn from the worlds 12th largest navy (the U.S. Coast Guard). There is known historical value and definite future value in keeping a diverse and flexible force, but to do so one must resist the urge to unify in the name of declining dollars. Cost savings are easy to evaluate in peacetime dollars, but take on a morbid tone when seen in defeat and death at the opening stages of a conflict.

Clearly such an arrangement has inefficiencies, and wasting taxpayer dollars in the worst economy in years should be viewed as criminal no matter if the DOD is committing the waste or not. Grenada, Desert One, and Vietnam all demonstrated the tragic human cost of pursuing service parochialism over higher interests. Such costs have been mitigated in part by the Goldwater-Nichols act of 1986. Goldwater-Nichols is far from perfect and could use an upgrade to incorporate recent lessons from the Long War. Jointness in our operations, communications, and interoperability is a good thing. Understanding perspective, knowing how the whole of the military functions instead of just one’s own slice, and speaking the language of service peers are also good things. Making claims that bureaucratic restructuring to “align” and “combine” are fools errands, they repeat the mistakes that were almost made in trying to tear down an organic system. Our current force has grown through invaluable combat experience, to replace it with a theoretical framework that has never worked is a bad idea of immense magnitude.

There have been examples of “unified” militaries, look at Saddam’s Republican Guard, it clearly combined the best equipment, personnel, and training available to fulfill “civilian” leadership’s strategic wishes. Such a system is horribly fragile, and succumbs to the groupthink that all bureaucracies do. In this age of belt tightening, we should correctly become more efficient, but there are better ways than throwing out everything and starting from scratch. Reexamining our bloated personnel policies, taking a hard look at our compensation and retirement systems that resemble ticking fiscal bombs, and revamping our professional military education are all better places to start than tired and historically bankrupt calls for the “merger of …[U.S.]…ground forces”. The diversity of thought which comes from each service is one of the strongest weapons our joint force possesses, it would be wise to avoid dulling such fine tool so we can save dollars only to spend lives unnecessarily in a future conflict.

Captain Christopher Barber is a mobilized reservist in the National Capital Region. His views are his own and do not reflect those of the US Government, DOD, or USMC. He does view star fleet uniforms as a horrible replacement for USMC Dress Alphas, because it would ruin the dating chances of Marines just before their Birthday Ball

Anecdotal Economics from the Long War

Our nation is closing its chapter on the Long Wars as 2014 approaches. While there will be no single demarcation of when we become a “nation at peace”, we will settle into the same minimal focus and consciousness (if we are not there already) regarding Afghanistan as we did in Iraq when a no-fly zone was enforced for more than a decade following the Gulf War. I do not yet wish to comment on the national reflection that needs to take place, but in terms of military science I believe our introspection is flawed. Many studies and after action reviews have been undertaken examining generic trends or qualitative assessments, but very few have examined the input/output efficiencies that were or were not achieved by units, systems, and methods. It’s reasonable that such studies cannot be expected to be coldly objective in their analysis while active combat operations are ongoing. Never the less, there will be no “Victory over the Long War Day” which clearly marks the end of war and the start of peace, so a more robust critical analysis can not wait till there is no more emotion associated with our recent wars. Below are the least efficient input/output trends that I observed from my brief service in our Long War. These are my own, and derived only by my own anecdotal experience.

At what cost this noble mission?
                                                A noble mission – but at what cost?

 

1.Counter-Improvised Explosive Devices (IED): By this I mean the big government counter-IED response, of which the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) is the prime example. This is an emotional topic for many, including myself, as friends of mine were killed by such devices – devices that are not new technologies that emerged in Iraq and Afghanistan, as many have portrayed them. The big government/higher headquarters response to Counter-IED might represent one of the worst returns on investment in annals of American war. When organizations such as JIEDDO consume vast swathes of money, the outlay is assumed to have achieved the effect of decreasing casualty incidents from such devices. However, such spending has actually had negligible results decreasing the harm caused to our forces. The past few years have seen millions more  spent on high-tech counters to IEDs while the devices themselves are becoming cheaper and wounding or killing more of our forces. Anecdotally, for all the amazing technology I witnessed and/or used while in Afghanistan, solutions that were top-down or directed from high-level headquarters generally had much less impact on preventing casualties than those that were bottom-up. Fantastic technology had the same results as very basic know-how applied by 19-year-olds facing death, and contained decreased opportunity costs from draining huge coffers of money to address simple tactical problems. The data sets surrounding the issue are very difficult to comprehensively discern, as we are measuring the safety of our troops, and the spillover effects of some of the work taken by organizations like JIEDDO is likely large. But in aggregate it is hard to argue that we have not spun ourselves in circles looking for a technological answer to an eternal human problem of warfare.

IEDs are, and will remain, a weapon that leverages a stronger force’s weaknesses against it. Planning to counter them in way that seems more in line with nuclear deterrence or research into ballistic missile defense seems to be a misplaced strategy. Historically there have been many examples of emerging technologies or tactics used by foes to exploit a gap in our own equipment or tactics, but we have traditionally let forces and commanders find the best way to meet those advances. Outsourcing much of the solution to large, bureaucratic organizations is not an “Occam’s Razor” solution. Money spent creating force fields more akin to Flash Gordon than Sgt Rock would have been better utilized providing realistic training for units, enabling commanders to address problems in their areas of operations according to their judgment, or, sadly the most radical suggestion for the DOD, saved for the rainy fiscal day that is upon us.

2. Growth in Networks: Inefficiency has also formed due to the gap between the vast growths in network capability of the U.S. military compared with its human processing ability. IT and communications technology allowed the U.S. military to enter into the Long War with an unparalleled ability to sense, collect, and distribute data. The largest problem is that our human processing ability – the capability to process such data into tangible and useful results – has not caught up. I was amazed as to what an infantry battalion in Afghanistan had at its disposal in terms of networks and databases, but disheartened when I tried to pull meaning out of those same networks and databases. Simply put, there has been a glut in the supply of information provided by networks and our cognitive demand has not caught up.

Commanders are shown amazing examples and case studies of networks helping find a bad guys, save a patrol, or magically reveal what an insurgent will do. In all these examples it seems as if Apple designed our systems, and upon a few clicks of the mouse the answer will appear. Generally such outcomes occurred when there was a merging of the right person/people, events, knowledge, and required training. Such a confluence was a rare occurrence, and to raise expectations that they were common is irresponsible and shows expectation bias by allowing the cherry picking of results to justify larger, more complex systems. The most critical ingredients to cook up the perfect network-enabled operation – training and judgment – are the most difficult to inculcate in the 18-22-year-olds using the systems. It is true we need graduate-level thinking in our warriors to conduct counter-insurgency (COIN), but saying we need it and providing the time necessary to obtain it are two very different things.

"Let me just make sure I've tagged everyone in this photo...."
“Let me just make sure I’ve tagged everyone in this photo….”

We can continue to build more intricate networks which add raw capability but little meaning to our command and control capabilities. I would argue the best network is not the most complex, but rather the simplest one that works the most consistently – a model our enemies seem adept at constructing. Increasing the training, judgment, and processing capacity of our forces will yield better results than expanding our digital tendrils past the point of diminishing returns of our collective nervous system. Revising our acquisitions process would help, often it seemed that new systems were shot out at the rate of how long it took a defense contractor to impress a flag officer instead an actual need occurring on the battlefield. A vetting system that involves more widespread testing at the lower ranks, and contracts which are easier to get out of if the product does not live up to expectations, could prevent debacles from seemingly simple requests that get turned into unstoppable hydras.

3. The Deification of COIN: I will preface this comment by saying that I am not a COIN naysayer who thinks that the U.S. military should only be prepared for larger force-on-force engagements a la Leyte Gulf or Kursk. I believe that the kit bag of any global power should be contain the forces necessary to interdict conflict at the low- and medium-ends of the spectrum, or before it begins. History proves that most of America’s wars have been low-intensity conflicts.

That being said there has been a fetishization with COIN, and it more proportionally affects junior leaders like myself. COIN takes much skill, has a limited bandwidth of applicability, and will always be best when its strategy comes from those closest to its application. But such characteristics are not likely to apply if high-intensity conflicts occur.

Our current rebalance to the Pacific is based on the likelihood for fast, large-scale, and highly violent conflict. Such a conflict will weigh heavily on junior leaders, but not in the way they are used to. They will have to rely on senior leadership to coordinate and enable their actions, because without strong, decisive higher headquarters guidance a danger of the second coming of Task Force Smith exists. While deployed in the hinterlands of Helmand, many lieutenants had to craft their own guidance and operate with the slimmest of intent. The vast majority did so well; they also came away from the experience rightly confident in their abilities and skeptical of the perspective higher headquarters had. In a vast ocean and littoral battlefield, those same independent operators will have to accept the fact they will not see the whole picture. Our forces have done extremely well fighting over long tours interspersed with moments of violence, but have had more limited exposure to highly kinetic battles that take place over months and require management of rates of fire, triage, and difficult decisions about weaponeering. Most of the choices were easy in a COIN fight, as the majority of the time the decision was always not how to use the most force but how to use the least. While the strong experiences that have been formed over the past ten years of small unit actions are priceless, it must not be treated as sacrosanct in all circumstances. Future junior leaders may not be in command of the lone patrol base for miles, or if they are, they might only be effective if they are aware of the fight going on at higher levels. We have rarely been able to choose our wars, and even when we do the enemy casts votes that are rarely predicted. Raising an officer corps to worship at the altar of COIN is no healthier than those who refused to accept COIN’s viability in the early stages of Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are enormous amounts of knowledge to be extracted from the previous decade of war, and efforts to refine that knowledge into a powerful, efficient fuel that can power our military to train for future conflicts needs to occur as a logical study of our efficiencies. We have had many qualitative accounts of battles and campaigns that have aptly described what was or was not done. There have not been as many quantitative studies of what provided the most for the least cost. Such an examination will be boring, and necessarily ignorant of the emotional side of our conflicts, but is required as it will be best way to extract meaning that will be useful in future wars.

About the Author: Chris Barber is a Captain in the United States Marine Corps. The views presented here are his own and not official policy of the USMC, DOD, or United States Government. They also are insanely clever for a gentlemen educated in public school that might not be able to spell COIN if not for spell check.

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.

The Vanishing Amphibious Fleet: Why Our Next Inchon May Begin off the Deck of a Container Ship

Christopher Barber is a Marine Corps Reserve Captain mobilized in the national capital region. While on active duty, he served in Helmand, Afghanistan as an Intelligence Officer and Scout Sniper Platoon Commander. He is a 2008 graduate of the United States Merchant Marine Academy and a USCG licensed deck officer.

A PIVOT, BUT WITH WHAT?

American strategic thought has been dominated by the recently self-proclaimed “pivot” to the Pacific and Asia. A student of history, or simple geography, can easily demonstrate that conflict in the Pacific has always, and will always, be a primarily naval endeavor. The same research will reveal that even with a naval focus, any future conflicts are likely to involve putting troops ashore in some fashion. However, seaborne basing, forcible entry, and general contingency planning for amphibious operations are at risk in our military’s current force structure.

Sheer numbers show that the capability to move and fight amphibiously is at a relative historical low point. The US Navy does not indicate in its ship building priorities that this unsettling fact is likely to change. Unorthodox options such as using Maritime Preposition Force ships, auxiliary ships (MSC), or contracted merchant ships are not desirable for operational planners at this time due to the legal and political problems of sending these ships into harm’s way. In light of our strategic desires and growing delta from our amphibious capabilities, the Navy/Marine Corps teams should reexamine these means to supplement capability until reason can guide (along with fiscal ability) necessary, capable amphibious forces.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE GATOR NAVY?

The US Navy possesses its lowest number in history of amphibious vessels. There is currently questionable accounting concerning the ability to put an entire MEB (Marine Expeditionary Brigade) to sea. Latest estimates place the required ships to conduct forcible entry options with a MEB, deemed necessary for major combat operations, at 33.  Realistically, that number leaves no real reserve and more worrying is the open secret that we will not maintain this force level past 2015. MEUs and ARGs are staying out longer, and being split in order to fulfill operational needs. The 15th MEU, which captured Somali pirates in September 2010, was split conducting counter piracy while simultaneously supporting Afghanistan combat operations and theater reserve.

While such split operations are within the kit bag of the MEU, such practices dilute the nature of the ready force that is forward and concentrated. Current naval planning does not indicate these trends will reverse. In the near term, FY13 budgeted shipbuilding plans for the procurement of 10 combatant vessels, none of which are designed as amphibious troop carrying vessels.

Longer-term outlooks are no more promising, with the 30-year shipbuilding plan designating amphibious ships to remain the smallest portion of the surface ship layout. These trends indicate that while we point to a pivot in the Pacific, a lack of focus on the real possibility of amphibious operations exists in the Navy.  Amphibious operations would only make up a portion of the large pie of commitments facing the Pacific Fleet. Within the large spectrum of possible kinetic or non-kinetic operations in the Pacific, it can be predicted that any amphibious operation would be a decisive moment strategically and the planning should be weighted accordingly.

IN THE LACK OF CLEAR ORDERS AND GUIDANCE, ACT ACCORDINGLY

Viewed through the lens of history (Normandy, Inchon, or Guadalcanal) it is difficult to find any amphibious operations that did not mark a dramatic turning point in a campaign or war.  If it is then self-evident that such an event would be so strategically critical, why does the current plan to build and maintain such a force seem akin to a family choosing to forgo insurance while deciding to move to earthquake prone area? The prime stakeholder in any amphibious operation, the Marine Corps, cannot dictate the procurement of other services, but it should consider alternative courses of action to ensure its capabilities remain viable.

It is important to remember that any alternatives to procuring and maintaining a robust combatant amphibious fleet should be only temporary. To rely on merchant shipping or other means that are not 100% dedicated to amphibious operations under fire would be a fool’s errand, but more dangerous would be to gap a crucial element of national power when the world is becoming more dangerous.

Numerous historical precedents counter the argument that only dedicated ships of war can be used under fire. Most apparent was the massive emergency nationalization of merchant shipping during World War II. Thousands of tons of civilian shipping, manned by civilian mariners, were mobilized and made a crucial contribution to winning the war. Losses were great, with 1,614 ships sunk from 1940 to 1947 (post conflict losses due to remnants of war) and 9,521 merchant seaman giving their lives in service to the country. Merchant seaman had a 1 in 26 chance of being killed in action, greater than that of any the four services. Clearly, our national history shows that civilian mariners are capable of risking all in service to their country.

The SS Atlantic Conveyor became an unorthodox aircraft carrier during the Falklands War
The SS Atlantic Conveyor became an unorthodox aircraft carrier during the Falklands War

Another useful example is that of Great Britain during the Falklands war of 1982. In an economic situation eerily similar to today, the British government had to make many choices of need rather than want during the 1970s. Economic malaise led to drastic defense cuts, and all strategic guidance pointed toward the threat of the Soviet Union and continental Europe.  History demonstrated that war rarely happens where governments want or plan for it to occur. Only a year after London mothballed several of its carriers and amphibious ships, Argentina invaded the Falklands and presented operational and strategic challenges of the highest order to the British Government.  In an amazing example of military mobalization, Great Britain took two civilian container/roll on-roll off (RO/RO) ships and converted them to ad hoc helicopters and VTOL carriers. They carried Harrier GR.1’s and Sea King Helicopters, and gave British commanders operational agility in the form of air cover and lift capacity. Tragically one of the ships was sunk along with several Royal Navy combatants.

The lesson to take away is that, while as much as we may want to envision a conflict of our choosing, it is more likely that we will end up faced with decisions we did not anticipate. If we have to create capability on the fly and mobilize merchant shipping after we are on the right sight of boom, our forces will face greater risks.

CAPABILITIES DO NOT APPEAR BY “JUST ADDING WATER”

Now is the time to begin planning for the worst. Using civilian shipping in amphibious operations is feasible and more cost-effective than waiting on billion dollar ships that have procurement cycles measured in decades. Training on the lower end of the conflict spectrum in operations such as humanitarian and disaster relief will increase civilian/ military amphibious force ability. Earlier integration into MEU and ARG structures to work out inevitable issues of interoperability will make the inclusion of merchant ships into higher spectrum operations a more risk tolerant option.

Most critically, planning for and using merchant shipping options now will keep our amphibious blade sharp, and capabilities will be less affected than if we remain on our current course of a letting them wither, and eventually die, on the vine. Few operations rival an amphibious movement in terms of complexity, and hoping for the best when marines and sailors conduct one under fire in the future is not only negligent, it is immoral. Utilizing the merchant shipping now and planning for its use until our amphibious force is stabilized is a viable strategy that deserves greater attention.