Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

Evolving Marines and Aerial ASW for the Undersea Fight

By Jason Lancaster

Introduction

The Marine Corps is an expeditionary crisis response force designed to project power globally from the sea. For the first time in a generation the shape of the Corps is changing and returning to its maritime roots. Closer integration with the Navy means that as in the Second World War, the Marine Corps will be a force provider for the maritime fight, potentially extending to the undersea domain. General Berger stated, “the undersea fight will be so critical in the High North and in the western Pacific that the Marine Corps must be part of it.”1 During World War II, Marine aviation units flew anti-submarine patrols from escort carriers and island bases in the Pacific defending the sea lanes from Japanese submarines.2 Today, the Marine Corps needs to invest in ASW-capable aircraft to support the ASW fight from the sea and ashore.

Today, the Navy has a major capability gap in anti-submarine warfare. In the 1980s, the Navy relied on land-based long-range maritime patrol planes, an ASW screen consisting of surface combatants, carrier-based medium-range ASW aircraft like the S-3B Viking, and short-range helicopters for localization and engagement. The Navy eliminated the S-3B Viking in 2009 with no replacement. This elimination removed medium-range ASW aircraft from the carrier strike group, and in a modern conflict with Russia or China, this gap could have catastrophic results. Both nations are increasing the number and capabilities of their submarines. Many of those submarines can engage surface ships with missiles from beyond 200 nautical miles, beyond the capability of organic carrier strike group ASW assets. The Navy has not taken enough steps to address the vulnerability of its major formations to submarines. The lack of organic ASW capabilities in amphibious ready groups (ARGs) makes them even more vulnerable than a CSG. ASW is a role the Marines have not conducted since World War II, but it is a vital role they must fill in the future.

Anti-Submarine Warfare 

In its most simple form, ASW is placing sensors in positions to find submarines and kill them. The Navy uses surface ships, submarines, and aircraft to place sensors in positions to detect, classify, and engage submarines. The U.S. Navy uses two main frameworks for ASW: Theater ASW (TASW) and Strike Group ASW (SGASW). The role of TASW is to detect, track, classify, and engage submarines throughout an entire theater. In conflict the primary objective is to sink as many submarines as possible. SGASW is concerned with protecting the high value unit (HVU) from submarines. Success for SGASW is never being shot at. With good intelligence and communications with the TASW Commander, speed and maneuver may enable a strike group to avoid slow-moving diesel submarines.

The current concept to defend an ARG from submarines relies completely on non-organic aircraft and surface escorts assigned to the ARG as required. Unfortunately, the Navy’s ability to provide sufficient escorts for aircraft carriers and ARGs is decreasing. Despite NDAA 2017 requirements for a fleet of 350 ships, the number of surface ships in the Navy is decreasing. The 2023 proposed Navy budget included the decommissioning of 22 cruisers, 9 littoral combat ships, and the elimination of the LCS ASW mission package. The P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol planes are excellent ASW platforms, but are limited in quantity, and primarily work for the TASW Commander. Although an important mission, protecting the ARG is only one of many tasks for the TASW Commander. During a period with multiple submarine prosecutions occurring across a theater, the P-8 inventory may not enable 24-hour coverage of the ARG.

The Navy and Marine Corps should combine assets to create an organic air ASW squadron. The Navy can contribute existing MH-60Rs and the Marine Corps should contribute a new medium endurance Marine ASW aircraft. These platforms will fill the gaps in ASW coverage and protect the ARG’s main battery, its Marine Expeditionary Unit.

These assets can also operate from expeditionary advanced bases, which can be well-positioned to interdict submarines in chokepoints. In the Pacific, expeditionary bases positioned along the first island chain can cover the key chokepoints Chinese submarines must navigate to break out into larger oceans and seas. These chokepoints greatly simplify the challenge of locating and interdicting submarines, and Marine aerial ASW assets could be poised to pounce on contacts and maintain layers of sensors.

Marine ASW assets positioned in the High North, especially along the Norwegian coast, could make significant contributions to undersea capability and awareness by virtue of proximity to the Russian Northern Fleet’s main base at Severomorsk. With the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO, Marines can help bolster undersea capability throughout the Baltic Sea.

A medium-range ASW aircraft should be able to conduct ASW patrols 200-300 nautical miles away from the ARG or expeditionary base for at least 4-6 hours, while carrying sufficient sonobuoys and torpedoes to detect, classify, and engage a hostile submarine. In order to save time and money on sensor development, the radar, sonobuoy processing system, EW suite, and sonobuoy launchers from an MH-60R can be utilized aboard a different aircraft. The Marine Corps has several options for developing a new medium endurance ASW aircraft. Two options are the MV-22 and the MQ-9B.

Multiple reconfigurations of the ARG and MEU make the present the perfect time to eliminate the ARG ASW gap by introducing Marine ASW assets. The introduction of the F-35B into the Air Combat Element (ACE) is changing the composition of the ACE. The Marines are experimenting with 8-10 F-35Bs instead of 6 AV-8s, which reduces space available on the LHD for MV-22s. The planned decommissioning of the Dock Landing Ship (LSD) is also shifting the composition of the ARG. The LSD had a large flight deck but no hangar and no permanent flight deck crew, limiting the LSD to flight deck or well deck operations.

PHILIPPINE SEA (Jan. 24, 2022) Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Juliet Collazo signals to an MV-22B Osprey attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 165 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), as it takes off from the flight deck of USS Essex. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Wesley Richardson)

The LPD-17 class has a large flight deck capable of operating two MV-22s simultaneously and a hangar designed to conduct maintenance on an MV-22, or holding two MH-60s. The LPD’s air department enables simultaneous well deck and flight deck operations. The elimination of the LSD and its replacement with an ARG composed of an LHD/LHA and two LPDs drastically increases the aviation capabilities inherent in the ARG. The Navy-Marine Corps team should take advantage of that shift to develop an organic ASW capability.

Option 1: Existing Airframes

Force Design 2030 planned to divest three MV-22 squadrons. The FD2030 2022 update stated that instead the Marines will shift from 14 squadrons composed of 12 aircraft to 16 squadrons of 10 aircraft.3 Instead of eliminating those eight aircraft, the Marine Corps should instead make a 17th squadron of 10 aircraft that is equipped for ASW. This squadron should be collocated at NAS North Island with the Navy’s MH-60R squadrons or at NAS Jacksonville with the P-8 and MH-60R squadrons so that Marine ASW aviators can train with their Navy counterparts.

Marine Corps experiments with more F-35Bs and fewer MV-22s aboard the LHD suggest that instead of eliminating surplus MV-22s, they could be converted into ASW aircraft. These reconfigured aircraft would utilize the MH-60Rs electronics/ASW suite to save time on fielding and development as well as saving resources on spare parts and training. NAVAIR would need to determine whether the airframe has sufficient electrical power generation to support the additional sensors. The Navy has sent MH-60R detachments on ARG deployments before, and their sensor suite is useful for ASW and surface warfare.

Another ASW MV-22 option is to utilize the multi-static active coherent (MAC) buoys. NAVAIR would have to determine whether the buoy processing system would fit into an MV-22, but MAC buoys are the most capable sonobuoys in the U.S. Navy’s inventory and their utilization by a medium-range ASW aircraft would dramatically increase the lethality of the ARG’s ASW capability. Foreign military sales could make this platform a force multiplier and reduce overall program cost. Spain, Turkey, Australia, and South Korea all operate LHDs and MH-60Rs. An MV-22 equipped with MH-60R sensors would increase allied ASW capabilities without adding additional sensor training and logistics pipelines for their forces. France, Britain, Italy, and Japan also operate aircraft carriers or LHDs and might be interested in a medium-range ASW platform. A successful platform could even be bought by the Navy for integration into the carrier air wing and used to eliminate the CSG’s ASW gap.

Option 2: UAVs

An alternative medium-range ASW aircraft is the MQ-9B Sea Guardian. The Marine Corps is already purchasing 18 MQ-9s from General Atomics, with the desire to acquire more. The Air Force is looking to transfer 100+ MQ-9s to another service. General Atomics has developed an ASW and ISR sensor kit for the MQ-9 Reaper, and states an ASW mission radius of 1,613NM or 25 hours aloft. In 2021, General Atomics signed a $980 million contract with Australia to buy 12 MQ-9Bs which was canceled in 2022.4 They carry sonobuoys and radar for detection and classification of submarines, but currently lack torpedoes to prosecute engagements. The lack of antisubmarine armament is a major drawback for these aircraft, but these aircraft have participated in fleet exercises and are available today.5

April 16, 2021 – The Marine Corps’ first MQ-9A at an undisclosed location in the Central Command area of responsibility. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. John Coppola/Released)

General Atomics has also developed a kit that converts existing MQ-9s into short takeoff and landing (STOL) platforms without diminishing the range. This capability would enable MQ-9Bs to operate extended ASW patrols from the LHD and expeditionary bases. In April 2021, the MQ-9B participated with other unmanned systems during the Unmanned Integrated Battle Problem Exercise.6 This exercise demonstrated the ability of unmanned systems to effectively integrate into the navy’s fleet architecture. The USMC and USN should experiment with the STOL MQ-9B Sea Guardian during exercises like Talisman Saber 23.

Conclusion

In World War II, Marine aircraft operating from islands and escort carriers provided ASW aircraft to the fight. The Marines have not been required to conduct ASW operations since. The Navy will have significant difficulty resourcing all of the escort requirements for carrier strike groups, amphibious ready groups, and TASW missions. Without organic ASW aircraft the ARG is vulnerable to submarines, especially sub-launched long-range missiles.

The Marine Corps has two rapid options for establishing an ASW capability – a modified MV-22 or the MQ-9B Sea Guardian. Although the Corps has not planned to acquire ASW aircraft, the Commandant’s thoughts on the importance of ASW in the High North and the western Pacific combined with the ARG’s vulnerability means that consideration for a platform must be considered. The Commandant is divesting of legacy equipment and end strength to invest in future equipment. With the Navy’s shortage of ASW assets, it makes sense for the Marine Corps to support the maritime fight not just with land-based anti-surface fires and sensing, but also with its own ASW aircraft.

LCDR Jason Lancaster is a Surface Warfare Officer. He has served at sea aboard amphibious ships, destroyers, and a destroyer squadron. Ashore, he has worked on various N5 planning staffs. He is an alumnus of Mary Washington College and holds an MA in History from the University of Tulsa. His views are his own and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Navy or Department of Defense.

References

1. Berger, David (2020, November). Marines Will Help Fight Submarines. Proceedings.

2. Marine Scout Bombing Squadron Three Four Three. (1945). VMSB-343 – War Diary, 4/1-30/45. US Marine Corps.

3. United States Marine Corps. (2022). Force Design 2030 Annual Update May 2022. Washington DC: United States Marine Corps.

4. Clark, C. (2022, April 1). Aussies ‘secretly cancel’ $1.3B AUD drone deal; Nixing French subs may cost $5B . Breaking Defense.

5. General Atomics. (2022, April 5). Versatile multi-domain MQ-9B SeaGuardian has revolutionized anti-submarine warfare . Breaking Defense.

6. Office of Naval Research Strategic Communications. (2021, April 22). Unmanned Capabilities Front and Center During Naval Exercise. US Navy Press Release.

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (March 27, 2019) F-35B Lightning II aircraft, assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, and MV-22 Ospreys, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 268, are secured to the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Barker)

Depth from Above: Reinventing Carrier ASW

By Ben DiDonato

With the return of great power competition, the threat posed by hostile submarines has garnered renewed attention. Russia’s submarine fleet in particular has been regarded as a serious threat for decades and its latest SSNs are reportedly nearly as quiet as their American counterparts. Similarly, while China’s nuclear submarines have yet to reach this level, China’s access to Russian technology, rapid improvements in other areas, and capacity for mass production suggest it is likely to become a serious threat in the relatively near future. Furthermore, while SSNs are obviously the most serious threat due to their range and speed, diesel submarines cannot be overlooked, with many highly lethal designs widely distributed across the globe. In order to compete effectively against near-peer states armed with these submarines, the United States Navy must have the ability to find, track, and sink them.

As in the Cold War, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) is a challenging area of operations, requiring close cooperation between a wide variety of assets to win what would inevitably be a worldwide campaign. This problem was thoroughly studied and, at least in broad strokes, solved by the end of the Cold War, so this strategy provides a useful guide. That review immediately reveals a critical weakness in current American force structure. Submarines and maritime patrol aircraft are still available for independent hunting, surface combatants for close screening, and helicopters for prosecuting targets, but since the retirement of the S-3 Viking, the U.S. Navy has lacked an organic aircraft for initial detection of submarines approaching the aircraft carrier.

The current stopgap solution is pressing the land-based P-8 Poseidon into this role, but that is far from ideal. Tying P-8s to carriers largely squanders their capabilities, preventing the limited supply of these aircraft from doing their real job of patrolling broad stretches of ocean and protecting other ships. Furthermore, relying on land-based support imposes serious constraints on the carrier strike group, which must operate within range of the P-8 and would almost certainly suffer from periods of vulnerability.

This means the current lack of fixed-wing carrier-based ASW capability should be addressed to provide the required coverage without distracting the P-8 force. While there has been some discussion of reactivating the S-3 Viking to restore this capability, that can only ever be a stopgap measure due to the age of the airframes. A long-term solution is needed to restore fixed-wing ASW capability, and fiscal reality demands this solution be flexible and affordable. Rather than build a new dedicated ASW aircraft, it may be better to instead develop a series of ASW pods and a more flexible aircraft suitable for both ground attack and ASW since either type of store can be carried on the pylons with equal ease.

Podded ASW Systems

A minimum of four specialized systems are required to support fixed-wing ASW: a Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD), a sonobuoy dispenser, a sonobuoy receiver, and an air-droppable lightweight torpedo. The Mk 54 torpedo already meets the offensive needs on other aircraft, so it should not require substantial modification to fill this role. Similarly, a sonobuoy dispenser is such a simple system that it does not require explanation beyond pointing out that it would ideally come in a variety of sizes for different aircraft/pylons and have variants which incorporate a sonobuoy receiver to minimize pylon consumption.

Therefore, the only system which requires major development is the MAD pod. To enable normal aircraft operation, particularly safe takeoff and landing, this pod would almost certainly need to use a towed MAD rather than the more common boom-mounted system. This would allow the sensor to be trailed a sufficient distance behind the aircraft when needed and retracted when not in use.

Of course, this podded approach is also ideally suited to incorporating future systems as they become available. A wide variety of unmanned systems and new weapons are in development or have been proposed, and all of them could easily be integrated as additional pods. Whether new payloads for sonobuoy dispensers, a single large UAV/UUV on a pylon, some new cluster system, or a novel idea not yet conceived, stuffing it in a pod and hanging it from an existing aircraft will always be faster and cheaper than trying to cram it into an existing airframe, assuming that is even possible. Therefore, while this approach provides an easy path for incorporating future technologies, the four proven systems discussed above can be immediately developed into an effective ASW capability and should be the short-term priority.

In order to provide an affordable near-term capability and maximize long-term utility, both the MAD and sonobuoy pods should be compatible with the new MQ-25 Stingray UAV. In conjunction with the current MH-60R, this would provide a limited standoff detection, prosecution, and engagement capability to the carrier which could be further supplemented by F/A-18s carrying torpedoes, MAD pods, and additional sonobuoys to engage submarines if needed. While this combination is certainly suboptimal, especially considering the problems caused by using F/A-18s as tankers, the MQ-25 would truly come into its own as an ASW platform once the new fixed-wing aircraft proposed below enters service and can use it as a loyal wingman to greatly improve coverage or direct MQ-25 wolfpacks to aggressively prosecute contacts.

A Pod-Carrying Aircraft

Unfortunately, this pod-based approach to ASW is fundamentally incompatible with the S-3 airframe. It cannot carry the number and variety of pods or ground attack weapons required on its two underwing hardpoints, especially when we consider future podded systems. Although its weapons bays contain another four hardpoints, their internal placement would likely interfere with the operation of most pods. Remediating this deficiency by adding new pylons in a major refit is likely impractical due to interference from the under-wing engines. The integrated nature of the S-3’s ASW systems also prevents it from using much of its payload capacity for non-ASW missions. It is simply not possible to replace these fixed systems with ground attack or anti-ship weapons when using the aircraft in other roles, leaving it limited to only six weapons hardpoints for these missions.

Shifting to the budgetary side, integrated systems are generally more expensive to maintain and upgrade than podded systems. Furthermore, the Navy presumably lacks the resources to operate both integrated and podded systems, likely costing the carrier air wing the flexibility to task non-ASW aircraft with ASW missions. Budgetary pressures also make this alternate role critical because the S-3 probably would have survived the global war on terror if it doubled as a low-cost ground attack platform. Therefore, long-term use of the S-3 would be costly and inflexible, so a new solution is needed.

The obvious solution is a completely new aircraft. While this is certainly an option and would presumably produce an excellent aircraft with plenty of capacity, numerous pylons, and a low operating cost, there are two major problems with it. The first is that going through the full development and adoption cycle would take a very long time, likely more than could realistically be covered by a stopgap S-3 reactivation. The second is that major projects like this are politically challenging, with a serious risk of cancelation – assuming they get started at all. While it may be possible to overcome these issues, they are serious enough to merit an examination of alternative options.

The most obvious alternative is to adapt an existing carrier aircraft to take on the role. Within the current carrier air wing, there are two possible airframes, the E-2/C-2, and the V-22.

The E-2/C-2 would obviously make an excellent mono-mission platform since it is already configured to carry a large support crew. However, that same large crew would limit its payload and make risking it in other roles like ground attack unappealing. The only other role it could realistically take on is general airborne drone control, but this can already be performed by the E-2 and fighters so there seems to be little value here, especially since these aircraft can also relay drone datalinks to surface ships. While none of this detracts from an E-2/C-2 derivative’s ability to take on the mission, it does mean it fails to realize the additional flexibility promised by this podded approach, so a different platform is preferable.

The V-22, or more accurately the CMV-22B, may be a better candidate. The ability to transition to helicopter mode would be useful for prosecuting targets, and its unsuitability to ground attack is less of an issue since it is already a cargo aircraft, although the flipside of that is that is that there is less leeway to retask between these two missions than between ASW and ground attack. Unfortunately, payload integration may be an issue, both due to questions about retrofitting pylons on the rotating wing assembly and its more limited digital backbone, and overall external stores capacity would likely be limited after the necessary upgrades based on published payload and range figures. Therefore, while it is certainly worth performing a more detailed study to better understand the true costs, capabilities, and limitations of an ASW V-22 variant, it also seems suboptimal for this pod-based approach.

The final alternative is adapting a land-based aircraft for naval service. While there have certainly been serious problems adapting aircraft in the past, there have also been notable successes like the YF-17’s evolution into the F/A-18 family and the SH-60 family’s decent from the Army’s UH-60. Furthermore, the C-130 famously proved able to operate from the USS Forrestal without modification, and based on a recent interview with the pilot, the flying seems to have been fairly straightforward. While the C-130 itself is obviously too big for regular deck handling, this success strongly implies any aircraft designed to operate from short/rough airfields would be an excellent candidate for marinization, especially with a Super Hornet-style redesign.

There are too many aircraft to go through individually, but desired capabilities narrow the field to a smaller slate. The ideal aircraft would be small enough to operate from a carrier, have short/rough field capability, good payload, plenty of pylons, good fuel efficiency, low maintenance requirements, and excellent handling at low speed and altitude. While most aircraft cannot meet this challenging set of desires, there is one candidate suitable for adaptation into a pod-based multirole ASW aircraft. Not only does this aircraft meet all these desires, but it also has an exceptional ground attack record, proven flexibility in other roles like counter-Fast Attack Craft/Fast Inshore Attack Craft (counter-FAC/FIAC) and combat search and rescue support, and, most importantly, very strong political support to carry the program through budget battles. This aircraft is, of course, the A-10.

The SA-10D Seahog

With an A-10 variant identified as the best option for carrying ASW pods, considering both capability and timeline, we now turn our attention to a brief discussion of what that would look like. The most likely approach is a redesign comparable to the Hornet’s “upgrade” to the Super Hornet because that allows any necessary changes to be incorporated relatively easily. That said, the A-10’s unusually simple airframe may allow boneyard aircraft to be modified for service, even if only as prototypes or a wartime contingency, so that possibility will be discussed here as well. Of course, the program office is not obligated to pick just one option. They could develop both a modification package and a new-build design to improve the competition and provide maximum value to the taxpayer.

Since this aircraft will be largely optimized for affordably hauling underwing stores as a byproduct of this pod-based approach to ASW, that payload can be used in a variety of other roles beyond the obvious close air support. This could entail utility duties like backup tanking, combat support roles like standoff missile carrier, and majority Air Force missions like laying Quickstrike sea mines to further support the rest of the air wing, increase the carrier’s flexibility, and improve the lethality of the joint force.

One other intriguing advantage of using the A-10 as a baseline for the ASW pod carrier is that its short/rough field performance suggests it may be possible to fly it from smaller, simpler ships like amphibs, especially if thrust reversers are added. This would give the joint force the ability to rapidly build new ASW hunter-killer groups if needed and could give the Marines an alternate air support option for amphibious operations if desired. Similarly, this would allow commercial ships to be converted into useful escort carriers in wartime, freeing purpose-built carriers for frontline duties. Finally, this would open up the ability to fly from smaller dedicated aircraft carriers and, while it seems unlikely the United States would build any, a number of its allies operate CVLs and may be interested in acquiring these SA-10Ds to provide organic ASW capability and additional strike capacity to their own carriers.

From a programmatic standpoint, using a few minimally modified A-10A’s from the boneyard could serve to reduce risk and accelerate introduction by entering flight testing prior to delivery of the first full prototype, although this is obviously not required. Most usefully, up to three aircraft could be modified to add a second seat for the ASW systems operator and at least simulated electronics to demonstrate operational effectiveness and begin developing tactics and procedures for the fleet ahead of delivery. The other, less important, conversion would validate performance and carrier suitability by adding a new launch bar and a strengthened arresting hook to a single aircraft.

Naturally, the subject of airframe modification entices interest, so we will now move into a brief exploration of the most interesting changes and options, although basics like more modern engines will be omitted. That said, it is critical to bear in mind that this SA-10D concept is fully dependent on the previously discussed podded systems for ASW operations, so those systems are more important than anything discussed here even though this section will likely generate more discussion.

First and most importantly, the aircraft must have a second seat like the old YA-10B prototype. Modern computers should allow a single person to manage all the ASW equipment instead of the multiple operators required on the S-3, as well as direct any supporting drones, but there is no way the pilot would be able to handle that workload on top of flying the aircraft. It should also be noted that this second crewmember can be swapped for another specialist such as a forward air controller when required for the mission at hand, further improving the air wing’s flexibility. Therefore, whether this is a conversion of old airframes or a new build, a single seat is simply unworkable for the mission.

Closely related to this is electronics. To reduce development costs and streamline maintenance, it is strongly recommended that the F-35’s electronics be reused as close to wholesale as possible. The A-10’s simple airframe should make it relatively easy to integrate these systems, especially if it is a new-build variant, and the commonality would bring new capability and simplify future upgrades. Beyond providing a digital backbone to host the ASW systems, this would make the SA-10D a potent networked shooter by hauling large numbers of long-range missiles and seamlessly communicating with F-35Cs further forwards. This could be further exploited by a new-build aircraft which would likely be larger to further increase capacity and could add dedicated AIM-9X sidewinder rails to provide defensive fire against hostile aircraft.

Folding wings would not ordinarily merit separate discussion because it is obvious a new-build aircraft would include them and that the A-10’s straight wings will allow a dramatic width reduction, but the modification of existing airframes is unusual enough to merit special attention. Unlike most aircraft, the A-10 only carries fuel in its inner wing and is designed with very simple, robust structures with extensive left/right interchangeability. This means the A-10 is in the unusual situation of being able to easily accept folding wings in an upgrade, so modified boneyard aircraft are a feasible option even though they were never intended to operate from carriers.

Of course, any time the A-10 comes up, its gun is a major discussion point so it must be addressed here even if it is not relevant to ASW. Unfortunately, while the GAU-8 has given excellent service, it would almost certainly have to be abandoned for marinization in favor of the F-35’s 25mm GAU-22. While the resulting commonality would streamline shipboard logistics, this change is primarily driven by the fact that the GAU-8’s mounting forces the nose wheel off-center on the A-10, which is unacceptable for catapult launch and results in asymmetric turning circles which may complicate deck handling. One potential upside to this change is that it allows an increase in total stowed ammunition and possibly even the installation of a second gun if desired. This could extend the effective range of the weapon by firing enough explosive rounds to effectively saturate the larger dispersion area, potentially allowing the gun(s) to be effective in the counter-FAC/FIAC role from beyond the range of any man-portable air defense systems they may carry.

The A-10’s armor is similarly a regular point of discussion, although in this case there is no clear answer to be had. If old -A models were to be modified for this new role, it would likely prove more practical to simply leave the armor in place even if it is not particularly useful for the aircraft’s new role since it is integrated into the load-bearing structure. Of course, a new build would not face this restriction, so the armor would almost certainly be omitted to save weight. However, modern materials could allow some level of protection to be retained without much of a weight penalty if desired. Ultimately, the details would have to be worked out between the contractors and the program office, so a definitive answer cannot be given here.

One final exotic option for a new-build aircraft is to integrate a laser weapon to shoot down incoming missiles, or at least provide room for one to be added in the future. The technical risks and costs of this are obvious, but with laser weapons entering service and rapidly maturing, it should at least be considered.

Conclusion

As has been shown, the critical vulnerability left by the retirement of the S-3 can be rapidly and affordably filled to ensure the carrier’s survivability against submarines, and by extension its relevance in great power competition or war. A series of podded sensors would allow the MQ-25 and current aircraft to provide some ASW capacity, while a new SA-10D Seahog can be rapidly developed to fully fill the ASW gap using those podded systems and improve the flexibility of the carrier air wing.

Ben DiDonato is a volunteer member of the NRP-funded LMACC team lead by Dr. Shelley Gallup. He originally created what would become the armament for LMACC’s baseline Shrike variant in collaboration with the Naval Postgraduate School in a prior role as a contract engineer for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. He has provided systems and mechanical engineering support to organizations across the defense industry from the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) to Spirit Aerosystems, working on projects for all branches of the armed forces.

Featured Image: An air-to-air front view of three S-3A Viking aircraft from Air Anti-submarine Squadron 31 (VS-31) as they pass over the USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN-69) (Photo by PH3 Houser, via U.S. National Archives)

EABO Degraded Logistics in the WEZ: Self Propelled Semi-Submersible Solutions

By LtCol Brent Stricker

The Marine Corps is faced with an intensified challenge of contested logistics as it employs its novel concept of Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO). EABO calls for Marines to act as Stand-in Forces using low profile, highly mobile Expeditionary Advance Bases (EAB) that will likely be within an enemy’s Weapons Engagement Zone (WEZ). Supplying these bases will be difficult since their location is expected to frequently shift, and reliance on the conventional global logistics chain may not be responsive in a contested environment. A possible solution is the use of unmanned or autonomous Self Propelled Semi-Submersibles (SPSS) to provide logistics support. It is important to consider how SPSS will be classified under domestic and international law, and what rights and obligations will be imposed on them during peacetime and armed conflict.

SPSS Capabilities

Smuggling provided the impetus for SPSS. During Prohibition, bootleggers used SPSS to transport alcohol along the Mississippi river. Colombian narco traffickers embraced this technology to facilitate cocaine smuggling. Employing naval architects, they built a variety of models. The SPSS or Low Profile Vehicle (LPV) proved especially useful since it has only a small profile above the water making it difficult to detect visually or with radar. More recent versions of narco subs have proven to feature significant range and seaworthiness as exemplified by a recent transatlantic voyage from Brazil to Spain. Similar vessels have appeared in the Russian-Ukraine conflict.

These cheap vessels and their unmanned variants may provide an effective solution for mitigating degraded logistics for EABO within the WEZ. They are difficult to locate, and if found, easily replaced from a fleet built by commercial shipyards. They can be built to a desired size and in large numbers, controlled remotely or autonomously, and unloaded after beaching before being sent back to a logistics hub to be reloaded. They could be carried into forward areas by amphibious assault ships and landing platform docks and be deployed from well decks.

Combining efforts with the U.S. Coast Guard as a Red Cell could yield lessons learned as they continuously hunt for similar semi-submersible vessels. This collaboration could lead to improved vessel designs to avoid detection and solve the problem of degraded logistics in the WEZ. These vessels could provide a resilient and risk-worthy method of distributed resupply that would help stand-in forces endure in the fight.

Legal Implications

If the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Marine Corps chooses to adopt an SSPS, it is important to determine how the vessel will be classified. U.S. forces would assert sovereign immunity over the vessel consistent with NAVADMIN 165/21 preventing it from being subject to “arrest, search, and inspection by foreign authorities.” The U.S. Navy recognizes several types of sovereign immune vessels: warships bearing the United States Ship (USS) designation, auxiliary vessels known as United States Naval Ship (USNS), United States Coast Guard cutters (USCGCs), DoD time-chartered U.S.-flagged vessels used exclusive for non-commercial service, and small craft (e.g., air-cushioned landing craft (LCAC)). In the case of voyage-chartered vessels, the United States “ordinarily claims only limited immunity from arrest or taxation.”

A U.S. Navy SPSS that are used solely for logistics support can be classified as either an auxiliary vessel or small craft. The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations (Commander’s Handbook) defines an auxiliary vessel as “vessels, other than warships, that are owned or under the exclusive control of the armed forces” used “only on government noncommercial service.” The exclusive state ownership or control for noncommercial use bestows sovereign immunity consistent with UNCLOS Article 32 and High Seas Convention Article 9. Small Craft, such as motor whale boats, air-cushioned landing craft, and all other small boats, craft, and vehicles deployed from larger Navy vessels or from land, are also sovereign immune U.S. property.

In 2022, the U.S. Navy deployed four unmanned surface vessels to RIMPAC 2022. Task Force 59 has also used unmanned vessels for experimentation with distributed maritime operations in the Fifth Fleet area of operations. Both NAVADMIN 165/21 and the Commander’s Handbook recognize the sovereignty of unmanned vessels that are commanded and crewed by remote means.

As nations compete in the gray zone below actual armed conflict, SPSS will have to operate consistent with the international law of sea. If designated a ship, vessel, or craft, SPSS will have to comply with the Collision Regulations (COLREGS) designed to ensure safe navigation during peacetime. The word “vessel” includes “every description of water craft, including nondisplacement craft, [Wing in Ground] WIG craft and seaplanes, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.” These regulations, also known as the 1972 COLREGS have been adopted as U.S. Law (See 28 U.S.T 3459, 33 U.S.C. § 1601–1608, and 33 CFR part 81). Article 1139, U.S. Navy Regulations, 1990 requires the Collision Regulations be observed by U.S. Navy ships. The U.S. Coast Guard implements the Collision Regulations as part of its Navigation Rules for International and Inland waters (COMDTM16672.2D). SPSS will not be exempted from these requirements on vessels.

The Collision Regulations are intended to maximize safe navigation. They require a constant lookout (Rule 5), operation at safe speeds (Rule 6), and the use of a series of lights and signals clearly marking vessels (Rules 20-37). The lights and signals rules clearly pose a challenge to the stealth operation of an SPSS during armed conflict. The lighting requirements for an SPSS pose a problem in how the vehicle is defined. Rule 22 of the Collision Regulations sets the lighting requirements on a vessel by its size. Vessels 50 meters or more in length must use a masthead light visible for six miles and sidelights, stern light, towing light, and an all-around light visible up to three miles away. Smaller vessels have similar lighting requirements with visibility limited to as little as one mile. Rule 22(d) allows an exception for “inconspicuous, partially submerged vessel or object being towed” requiring only one white all-around light visible at three miles. Regardless of how an SPSS is classified, a light visible up to three miles will defeat the stealth approach to logistics.

If there is an armed conflict, there is an argument that the peacetime Collision Regulations no longer apply. The principal of lex specialis states that specialized law will supersede general law. If one views the COLREGS as a law of general application governing safe navigation during peacetime, it no longer applies once armed conflict begins as between the belligerents. It is supplanted by the Law of Naval Warfare. Neutral vessels are still entitled to the protections of the Collision Regulations as well as other obligations belligerents have toward neutral vessels.

Neutral vessels and aircraft can be excluded from an area of operations based on a belligerent’s right to control the immediate area around naval operations. Immediate area refers to “that area within which hostilities are taking place or belligerent forces are operating.” The Commander’s Handbook notes how this ability to control access or exclude neutral vessels and aircraft from operational areas ensures safety for both neutrals and belligerents. It allows the belligerent to operate without interference from a neutral vessel or aircraft. This right allows total exclusion of neutral vessels or aircraft so long as “another route of similar convenience remains open.” It should be noted that neutral vessels would also likely avoid any belligerent area due to soaring insurance rates as seen most recently in the Black Sea due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Conclusion

The U.S. Marine Corps and Navy could benefit from experimenting with the use of SPSS for resupply in contested environments. Employing sufficient numbers of these low-observable vessels will help enable distributed logistics to expeditionary advanced bases. It can also help the U.S. supply allies and partners under blockade, such as Taiwan in a crisis, without having to risk considerably more expensive undersea assets. While certain legal implications and platform design questions remain, the potential of the capability is tangible.

LtCol Brent Stricker, U.S. Marine Corps, serves as the Director for Expeditionary Operations and as a military professor of international law at the Stockton Center for International Law, U.S. Naval War College. The views presented are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy, the Naval War College, or the Department of Defense.

Featured Image: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton (WMSL 753) on scene with a Low-Profile Vessel (LPV) in the Pacific Ocean, Nov. 15, 2021. The Hamilton is homeported in Charleston, South Carolina. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

A New DESRON Staff – Beyond the Composite Warfare Commander Concept

By Bill Shafley

A destroyer squadron (DESRON) staff’s employment as a Sea Combat Commander in the Composite Warfare Commander (CWC) construct is unnecessarily narrow and prevents a more lethal and agile strike group. Tomorrow’s fight requires multiple manned, trained, and certified command elements. These elements should be capable of maneuvering and employing combat power. This combat power is required to support area-denial operations, assure the defense of a high-value unit, or conduct domain-coordinated advance force operations to sanitize an operating area in advance of the main body. This ability to diffuse command and control, disperse combat power, and contribute to sea control operations is imperative to fully realize the Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) concept.

The Fight

The carrier battle groups (CVBGs) of the Cold War evolved into the carrier strike groups (CSG) of today. The components of the CWC organization did as well. The CWC organization evolved into managed defense of a high-value unit to preserve the capability of the carrier air wing (CVW). A destroyer squadron staff embarked on a Spruance-class destroyer managed multiple surface action groups (SAGs) and search and attack units (SAUs). They managed a kill chain designed to prevent submarines and surface ships equipped with anti-ship cruise missiles from ever entering their weapons release lines. As the anti-submarine warfare commander, they also managed the up-close defense of the carrier through assigning screening units and maneuvering the force as necessary to defend the ship and the air wing.

As the CVBG evolved into the CSG of today, the offensive and defensive missions were merged into one. The DESRON Staff was employed as the sea combat commander. The staff left the ships and embarked on the carrier. As maritime forces operated in support of land campaigns with precision fires far afield in mostly benign waters, defense of the CVN as a sortie generation machine became a primary mission. The carrier defense problem could be managed with one or two multi-mission cruisers or destroyers because the mission was generally limited to confined strait transits, managing a layered defense against fast attack craft, and establishing airspace control. The remainder of cruiser and destroyer offensive capability was chopped about between in-theater task force commanders to meet additional missions of interest, namely maritime interdiction and critical maritime infrastructure defense, and support to security cooperation plans. Near the conclusion of deployment, the strike group elements rejoined and went home together. This evolution has been fit for purpose over the last 25 years, but no longer.

The fight of tomorrow looks more like the fight planned for during the Cold War, with one major difference. China’s blue water fleet is quickly becoming more capable than the Soviet fleet ever was. Consequently, the wartime employment of tomorrow’s CSG must focus more on offensive employment in sea control operations while also facing greater threats. These operations are uniquely maritime as they are focused on the destruction of an enemy fleet and its components that may impact the United States Navy’s ability to operate with superiority. Commanders in this environment manage scarce resources (see fig 1) to establish and maintain a kill chain while assuring adequate defense. A CSG must fight into an environment, survive, exploit sea control, and be prepared to move and establish it again; perhaps multiple times. Each CSG, with the CVN, its air wing, the fires resident in the VLS tubes of the DDGs, needs to be preserved as a fighting unit in order to generate the combat power necessary to achieve sea control while assuring its survivability through subsequent engagements.

The defense of the carrier must now be balanced with the work necessary to survive as a complete task-organized force. The greater the demand for sea control in time and space, and the greater the enemy force contesting sea control, the more offensive firepower will be required to neutralize the enemy and establish sea control. At the same time, this enemy force may also out-range many of the CSG’s weapons, might shoot first, and will shoot back. This threat environment increases the requirement for defensive firepower. This is a conundrum for the traditional approach. As the DMO concept suggests, disaggregation of the CSG is driven now by lethality and survivability.

Fig. 1: Establishing and maintaining sea control is a balance between resources and time. Planning for and employing forces in this environment requires new thinking. See the author’s piece at: https://cimsec.org/new-forms-of-naval-operational-planning-for-earning-command-of-the-seas/

 As the above graphic notes, this tactical problem is far more complex than one of classic CVBG defense. Establishing sea control requires an optimized balance between offense and defense. This dilemma poses interesting questions. How much of the combat power of a CSG is left behind in defense? How much of it is committed to strike hard and win the war at sea? How is the offense commanded and controlled? Is there adequate command element (CE) depth to manage the CWC defense in one area and hunt/kill in another? What is the nature of the CE for these missions? Where should the CE be embarked for greatest effectiveness? How robust is it? What is the duration of the mission? The DMO concept requires command elements that, through the use of mission command can control all facets of sea control operations (to include logistics), in communications denied environments and at scale.

Today’s CSG commander lacks command and control options to address these questions. A differently manned, trained, and employed DESRON staff could provide this flexibility. This staff is at its core a command element. It could be ashore working for the numbered fleet commander as a combined task force (CTF) commander one week, embarked on a command platform the next week, and on the carrier the week after that. It might even be dispersed to all of those at once and with multiple units under tactical control (TACON). This flexibility gives higher echelon commanders multiple employment options as they consider how to delegate their command and control to meet mission needs. However, the DESRON of today is not manned, trained, or certified to be employed in this manner.

Manning Concept

The proposed command element would require watch standers and planners, including enough subject matter experts to plug into multiple battle rhythm events. The command element would have cells for current operations (COPS), future operations and plans (FOPS), information warfare (IW), and readiness. It would be manned to provide a six-section watchbill, a distinct and separate planning team, an IW cell and readiness monitoring team that would coordinate with fleet logistics and maintenance support for assigned ships. The six-section watchbill requirement would afford the staff enough personnel to split and establish command and control in two different locations for missions as assigned. This staff size is roughly equivalent to current DESRON manpower levels (40-45 personnel). Its makeup in terms of subject matter expertise is more tailored to the Sea Control mission set.

This new DESRON staff would be manned as follows:

Fig. 2: Staff Manning Construct reflects subject matter expertise for planning and watchstanding functions

Training Concept

This command element should be educated and trained to apply joint warfighting functions with multi-domain maritime resources to establish, execute, and maintain a kill chain in an assigned geographic area. This is a robust capability that can be brought to bear in defense of high value units, in intelligence preparation of the battlefield, in surveillance and counter surveillance, or in direct action against enemy surface and subsurface units.

This organization is led by a major command selected captain (O6) surface warfare officer. This officer should have significant tactical experience in command as a commander (O5), have received a Warfare Tactics Instructor certification, and/or graduated from an advanced in-residence planner course (Maritime Advanced Warfighting School, School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, School of Advanced Warfighting, School of Advanced Military Studies). Experience on squadron, strike group, or fleet staffs would also be beneficial. The chief staff officer would be an O5, post-command officer of similar qualification. Service as the chief staff officer should be viewed as a career enhancing opportunity in the 5 years between O5 command and O6 major command. The leadership of this team would be rounded out by a billeted and selected command master chief.

Officers assigned to the staff should be proven shipboard operators in the all the major warfare areas. They should be qualified as ASW Evaluators and Shipboard Tactical Action Officers. Four post-department surface warfare officers would be assigned to the staff. They would serve as lead officers for current operation (COPs), future operations and plans (FOPs), training, and readiness, and serve staggered 24 month tours. Officers would follow an assignment track within these billets to afford experience in all four jobs, culminating as COPs or FOPs. These leaders should be post-department head officers eligible and competitive for command at sea.

There would be four post-division officer tour officers assigned to this staff structure. These would be qualified as surface warfare officers and served as an Anti-Submarine Warfare Officers/Evaluators, Tomahawk Engagement Control Officers, and/or hold Warfare Coordinator Qualification. These officers would be selected for department head and due course, that is, competitive for further advancement. All of these officers would attend the Staff Watch Officer, Joint Maritime Tactics Course, Maritime Staff Officer’s Course, and specialty schools as necessary. Officer who trained with foreign navies at their principal warfare officer courses and planning courses would also be sought after to bring Coalition Integration to bear.

There would be 3 senior chiefs and 8 chief petty officers permanently assigned to this staff. The senior chief petty officers (SCPOs) would be from the ratings of Sonar Technicians, Operations Specialists, and Information Systems Technicians each would have successfully completed shipboard leading chief petty officer (LCPO) tours. They should respectively hold advanced Navy Enlisted Classifications in the ASW field, achieved senior-level air controller qualifications, and hold Communication Watch Officer and associated computer network management credentials. Assigned LCPOs in rates depicted would provide technical and watchstanding expertise in their rate. All SCPO and CPOs would complete the STWO/JMTC course work and additional rate specific training. The remaining enlisted sailors would be first or second class petty officers (E6/E5), and trained as watchstanders to support the 6 section watchbill and planning cell.

This staff would include support from additional warfare communities. The IW cell would be comprised of a lieutenant commander (O4) maritime space officer and a lieutenant (O3) intelligence officer. The IW community would provide a lieutenant commander (O4) Information Professional officer to manage communications requirements for this rapidly-deployable team. The team would be rounded out with the addition of two aviators: an MH-60R pilot and a P-8A naval flight officer. Their experience would be crucial in planning and for watchstander assistance during training and operations.

Certification Process

The proposed DESRON staff would be assigned to the Carrier Strike Group commander for administrative purposes. The DESRON staff would follow the Carrier Strike Group’s optimized fleet response plan (OFRP) progression (i.e., maintenance phase, basic phase, advanced phase, integrated phase, deployment, and sustainment phase). The staff would be deployable from deployment through the end of sustainment phase, and its qualifications would lapse as the CSG entered the maintenance phase.

Over the course of the OFRP maintenance phase, the staff would go through a personnel turnover period, to include key leadership. The primary purpose of this phase would be to establish the staff’s training plan. The WTIs would tailor the staff training plan based upon lessons learned from previous employment and potential future assignments. This training plan would incorporate the latest in tactical developments and experimentation. Furthermore, participation in table top exercises, Naval Warfare Development Command wargames, and Fleet 360 programs would be included. This training plan would be approved by the Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) and enacted by the appropriate tactical training group (Atlantic or Pacific), the Naval War College, and various warfare development commands.

The staff’s basic phase would mirror a ship’s in length and complexity by field. Staff WTIs, along with the appropriate tactical training group, would craft scenarios that build in complexity and the amount of integration with the individual cells. The staff would benefit from staff rides to all of the warfare development centers, and significant time at the tactical training group to learn cutting edge tactics, techniques, and procedures and capabilities and limitations. Through the use of live, virtual, and constructive training tools, the staff would train to the Plan, Brief, Execute, De-brief (PBED) standard in stand-alone work before gradually integrating the staff. The DESRON commander would focus on crafting intent, planning guidance, and risk assessment. The IW Cell would conduct Intelligence Preparation of the Operating Environment, the planners learn the effective use of base plans, branches, and sequels, and the watch standers would execute these in scenario work. The basic phase would culminate with the entire staff certifying over a week long exercise where the team operates in a higher headquarters battle-rhythm driven environment and is certified to a basic standard by Tactical Training Group Atlantic or Pacific (TTGL/P).

The advanced phase would begin with the DESRON staff executing Surface Warfare Advanced Tactics and Training (SWATT) at-sea with SMWDC mentors with live ships, submarines, and aircraft. This exercise mimics the training conducted during the basic phase. In this program, the staff embarks a platform and integrates with the assigned ships and operates at-sea introducing frictions not seen in the live, virtual, or constructive environment. Watch sections and planning teams would be assessed again in-situ and performance assessed to assure continued development. The SMWDC senior mentor would then recommend advanced certification to the certifying authority. If practical, the staff should embark aboard the CVN with the CSG for Group Sail (GRUSL) for additional training opportunity prior to the pre-deployment Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX, or C2X).

The COMPTUEX would remain the final hurdle in integrated training leading to deployment certification. Over the course of the 6 weeks at-sea, the staff would have to demonstrate its capability in integrating into the CSG battle rhythm and demonstrate watch stander acumen in increasingly complex live exercise (LIVEX) evolutions.

During the COMPTUEX, the DESRON Staff would have to demonstrate its capability to act as a CTF commander afloat, both on the CVN and embarked in a smaller unit with assigned units. It must demonstrate the capability to conduct “split-staff” operations at a remote site ashore. In each of these instances, the staff must demonstrate its capability to establish C2 of assigned units for mission effect, control operations effectively, and integrate into a higher headquarters battle-rhythm.

Satisfactorily assessed in these areas, the staff would be certified to deploy. During deployment, it would be employed flexibly and with optionality based upon the tactical situation and the desired effects from commanders at-echelon. As the CSG heads over the horizon, the DESRON staff could participate in fleet battle problems (FBP) and coalition-led exercises to test and validate a whole range of new tactics, techniques, procedures, doctrine, and interoperability. As FBPs continue to develop and live, virtual and constructive training tools come on line, the chance to “fail fast” in this space only increases.

Employment Concept

The proposed tactical DESRON could be employed across a wide range of operations supporting Carrier Strike Groups, Amphibious Ready Groups, and fleet commanders. Mission and associated tasks drive span of control in terms of assigned ships, aircraft, and additional resources. As a task organized, employed, and expeditionary staff, its main value prospect would be its flexibility.

Manned, trained, and certified during the intermediate and advance training phases, the command element’s normal mode of operation would be embarked aboard a command ship. Employed to protect a command ship, it would be capable of exercising warfare commander duties in a strike group/CWC environment with up to five assigned ships. While its primary missions would remain anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare, it could augment or establish additional warfare area support (Integrated Air and Missile Defense or Information Warfare) in any surface combatant. Employed as a scouting force further afield in the assigned operating areas, a portion of the staff may embark detached assets to afford command control and transition scouting missions into local maritime superiority missions. Employed as a task force commander, it may disperse further and move ashore with a local fleet commander to oversee operations over a broader area. Though this employment method would be more taxing on the staff, it might be required for short durations of high operational tempo. With basic manning and training levels achieved, the command element could be employed to C2 joint exercises or lead TSC missions ashore with partner nations as part of its further development.

The sustainment phase would be the most important of all for this staff because it would be key to force-wide improvement. Over the course of a deployment, the DESRON staff would have participated in various operations and exercises. Based on these experiences, the staff training officer would lead a robust program of lessons learned. The assigned WTIs would also compile and prepare various tactical notes and after action reports to share amongst other DESRON staffs and units alike. As the staff transitioned into its maintenance phase, it would go “on the road” to debrief its lessons learned, new tactical and doctrinal proposals with the goal of driving organizational learning for future operations. The habitual relationships with War College and its various research groups, the warfare development commands, and SMWDC WTI community makes for an amazing opportunity to share experiences, connect subject matter experts and further development efforts across the fleet.

Conclusion

This concept is aspirational and developed without respect to resources. There are numerous additional details necessary to bring a capability like this to fruition, but none of these details require new thinking to manage. Commitment, purposeful planning, and some smart staff work would be adequate to address each on in turn. A capability like this could be developed within the 5-year Future Year Defense Program/Program Objective Memorandum cycle. The staff’s full capability will be realized over time as new business rules for assignment are enacted. The certification criteria would be amended and in some cases completely developed. But much of this infrastructure, the school houses, the courseware, and training systems already exists.

This model makes no mention of permanently assigned surface ships to the DESRON. This work presupposes that ships assigned to the squadron arrive manned, trained, equipped and certified at the basic level. Ships change operational control to the DESRON for employment via formal tasking order. Readiness oversight functions of this staff are limited across the board. This staff retains a strong working relationship with the various type commands and local maintenance centers to assure in-situ readiness issues can be resolved.

The deployment and sustainment phases of the OFRP are vital to successful maintenance and basic phases for the next set of employment. The DESRON staff responsibility in this work is to assure that the events prescribed by the Surface Force Readiness Manual are scheduled, are thoroughly completed by assigned units, and that long-term readiness risks are endorsed. Once sustainment phase is complete, the assigned ships are returned via “chop” in the same official manner. Readiness oversight success in this environment means that ships have true and complete self-assessments with ample transparency of emergent and voyage work necessary to maintain assigned readiness conditions.

The proposal for a tactical DESRON represents an opportunity to leap ahead of the competition and bring the elements of speed, synchronization, and surprise to the employment of naval forces. The CSG and ARG as units of employment have been disaggregated for most of the last 20 years in an effort to get the most out of assigned theater maritime resources. Forces have been chopped up and moved about amongst standing fleet task forces, leaving the strike group staff in most instances over-billeted in terms of staff capability. This has left DESRON staffs as the under-employed adjuncts of CSG staffs and merely augmenting the battle-rhythm. This proposal to invest in the DESRON staff and reorient it towards looming challenges would correct these trends and yield a more lethal force for employment within the Distributed Maritime Operations concept.

Captain Bill Shafley is a career Surface Warfare Officer who has written extensively on strike group operations, mission command, and sea control in this forum and others. He has served on both coasts and overseas in Asia and Europe. He is a graduate of the Naval War College’s Advanced Strategy Program and a designated Naval Strategist. These views are presented in a personal capacity.

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (June 18, 2022) Sailors aboard Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Spruance (DDG 111) handle lines during a replenishment-at-sea with Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). Abraham Lincoln Strike Group is on a scheduled deployment in U.S. 7th Fleet to enhance interoperability through alliances and partnerships while serving as a ready-response force in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Taylor Crenshaw)