Category Archives: Force Development

How Defense Department Planning Horizons Can Better Avoid Strategic Surprise

By Travis Reese

“One of the greatest contributions of net assessment is that it calls for consciously thinking about the time span of the competition you are in.” –Dr. Paul Braken

“Short term thinking drives out long term strategy, every time.”–Herbert Simon, Nobel Prize-winning economist

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The oft-repeated phrase from renowned author Peter Drucker continues to echo throughout defense circles and think tanks to catalyze change. Defense of the nation is a never-ending task achieved by balancing readiness for today’s threats and tomorrow’s challenges as part of a connected continuum. Yet, when it comes to addressing either current or future challenges, there is excessive lag between identifying needs and delivering relevant solutions. Senior leader dialogue often stipulates that the best assessments of needed capabilities come from operational commanders facing current problems. This is done while unironically pointing out the struggle to deliver capabilities in a relevant timeframe, often due to complex discovery relying on large human and capital investments. This dialogue is usually accompanied by a declaration that somewhere in industry exists a magic fix to the solutions delivery problem.

In response, industry and government research centers point to all the ways that the Department of Defense (DoD) is ineffective at discussing these problems earlier, while potential solutions wither away due to a lack of funds, institutional initiative, consistency of effort, or all three. To the DoD’s credit, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu have spearheaded initiatives for the DoD to improve future vision and analytic synchronization. Despite these initiatives, however, the culture around force design planning still eats strategy for breakfast, hindering if not outright stopping the delivery of timely capabilities. It is time to change the accepted practices of solutions discovery with a better method. A better method requires the DoD to establish multiple planning horizons with interactive comparisons between near-term and far-term designs stretched over 30 years.

The Problem

The DoD’s current planning horizons are ineffective at anticipating future needs and avoiding emergent gaps. This condition upsets the timely delivery of resources and capabilities because it keeps drawing the focus back to the “here and now” instead of the “there and later.” This leads to the constant refrain to “ask the warfighters” as the place where capability developers and program managers seek to find solutions to “here and now” problems as opposed to developing solutions for increasingly more capable “there and later” adversaries. This reactive response has the institution perpetually lagging. It also results in an abrogation of the Office of Secretary of Defense and the Service Chiefs’ responsibility to use their institutional mandates to forecast the “train, man, equip, and deploy” demands of the future. Instead, they often retrograde future force design issues onto current force employment problems.

This abrogation runs the risk of the entire defense enterprise doing what the late Colonel Art Corbett, designer of the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Advance Base Operations and Stand-in Forces concepts, used to characterize as solving today’s problems with yesterday’s logic and being constantly surprised by the future. Relying on “warfighter” discovery followed by pressurizing the research, engineering, and acquisition communities to satisfy those demands should be a rare exception and not the norm. Warfighter discovery should exist for only the most unanticipated and untested concerns when the experience of conflict and day-to-day competition reveals unknown capacity of the adversary.

DoD must avoid strategic surprise by delivering well-considered solutions based on long-term forecasts coupled with risk-managed and informed investment. Implementing a process that preempts this persistent short fusing of acquisition effort and priorities can be done by conducting force development and force design based on three distinct time horizons paced over 30 years for the major security scenarios the DoD expects to face. With a long-term forecast model, the DoD can achieve a proactive strategy long before the majority of future challenges manifest as emergent gaps as is so often the case with today’s compressed institutional planning horizons of 10 years or less.

Static Logic Challenge

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford stated in 2015 that “… adaptation is the things we’re doing right now with the wherewithal that we have, and to me innovation is…when you’re looking really for a fundamentally different way to do things in the future – disruptive, if you will. And so we’ve got to be able to do both of those things.”

General Dunford’s statement indicates that adaptation and innovation are unique ways to address solutions for emergent concerns and future challenges. The ability to identify the full range of innovative or adaptive solutions is often frustrated by the fact that future force planning frequently falls into two habits that create static logic: 1) fixation on the current security challenge which becomes an anchor to perceptions of the future which results in using the current state as the model for all future conditions (sometimes for 10 to 20 years) or 2) establishing a single point in the future and then using that point alone to design a future force with a constant interpretation of the threat regardless of new information or changes. This case frequently occurs due to the institutional inertia that builds up around a model as agencies work to align their programs and efforts to an accepted framework. Each change in the model often generates a halting effect on force development or design as organizations take years or better to adjust to a new conception of the future or threat.

A fix to the static logic problem to maintain innovation and adaptation would be to sustain a constant flow of future projections that mature in detail the closer to the period under question. For example, analysis in the 20-year timeframe may only be able to inform decisions to investigate options in basic or applied research and operating concepts whereas analysis in a 10-year timeframe, informed by years of prior learning, would focus on prototypes and tactical experimentation.

The logic of static time periods also generates a fixed appreciation of the adversary and does not account for their reaction to a U.S. action. The moment the U.S. introduces a capability it should expect an adversary to develop countermeasures. The cost imposing strategy of responding to a well-developed measure with a cheap countermeasure should change the timeframe the U.S. could expect usefulness from initial capabilities for a given timeframe and consider their replacements. For this reason, force developers should construct planning horizons that reflect adversary transitions vice working from a single model for 10 years. However, almost every major acquisition undertaken by the DoD requires 10, 15, or 30 years to develop and, in many instances, is used for 30 to 40 years. In 2016, then-Army Chief of Staff General Mark A. Milley described the purpose of exploring new operational concepts as simply to “get this less wrong than whoever opposes us.” It is the task of future force planning to avoid strategic surprise and orient the institutions into “less wrong” outcomes. This is especially true when force design and the capabilities development process requires 10 years just to move through the initial stages of identification, explanation, buy-in, and approval.

A problem of fixing the DoD on a single assigned year for force design is that potential solutions outside the window of consideration often get set aside in a conceptual limbo. The irony is that somehow these solutions are expected to emerge when the enterprise decides they are ready for the next 10-year horizon. The inability to hold multiple time horizons in consideration becomes a technology and solutions decelerator. Planning in more than one timeframe can overcome the “cold start” gap of discovery, convincing the institution of viability, and accepting it as a suitable option. When discovery and analysis take place on a consistent basis long before a solution is needed, the speed of execution and delivery will meet the judgment of relevance. Potential solutions will require less modification since they will be refined with increasing levels of detail or discarded earlier if determined to be unachievable. That which is not explicitly covered under the near-term approach could be considered and placed into a less committing but equally informing future case. It will give context to any range of research and experimentation rather than merely evaluating an option based on its technical interest or amorphous potential.

Developing 30-year horizons will facilitate continuity of institutional thought, long-term vision, and iterative tests of ideas before requesting or committing scarce resources for what becomes a strategy-defining requirement, that if unrealized, compromises the potential for future success. It is not about hedging bets but maximizing the exploration of options under managed timeframes to identify the greatest range of acceptable solutions, refined through iterative institutional learning and shared understanding.

What does the solution look like? The model for a new process.

The Horizons of Innovation model provides a framework for three interactive but distinct institutional design horizons spanning from 10 to 30 years. The Y-axis, labeled “solutions” spans the spectrum from unsuitable to perfect. The X-axis, labeled “time” spans from the present into the future. Solutions are constrained by the positively sloped “innovation” line and negatively sloped “adaptation.” All solutions constrained in the angle formed between adaptation and innovation are acceptable where the bisecting dashed line represents the best performance. Solutions that exist below the adaptation line are unacceptable while solutions that exist above the innovation line are unattainable. DoD force planners should look at the limiting lines of innovation and adaptation across the three different horizons of 10, 20, and 30 years to develop the framework to address future challenges.

The Horizons of Innovation Model is adapted from the Three Horizons model introduced to business strategists around the turn of this millennia. Critics argue that horizons are too sequential and do not account for rates of change brought on by modern access to information. The combination of process and human factors in DoD force design, however, can still benefit from sequential framing because the Horizons of Innovation account for likely rates of change regardless of the potential spontaneity of innovation. The horizons model distinguishes between short and near-term achievability and distant long-term possibilities. The model shows the difference in thinking that simply makes sequential improvements, usually by only achieving competitive parity, along with paradigm shifting conditions, colloquially known as “game changers,” which create exponential changes in understanding that result in distinct advantages.

Horizons of Innovation model. (Click to expand.)

The Horizons of Innovation model provides a framework for three horizons. The Y-axis, labeled “solutions” spans the spectrum from unsuitable to perfect. The X-axis, labeled “time” spans from the present into the future. Solutions are constrained by the positively sloped “innovation” line and negatively sloped “adaptation.” All solutions constrained in the angle formed between adaptation and innovation are acceptable where the bisecting dashed line represents the best performance. Solutions that exist below the adaptation line are unacceptable while solutions that exist above the innovation line are unattainable. DoD force planners should look at the limiting lines of innovation and adaptation across the three different horizons of 10, 20, and 30 years to develop the framework to address future challenges.

Outside of the boundary formed by innovation and adaptation, two observations are readily apparent: 1) some desired innovation may be unachievable, but that possibility lessens over time and 2) some adaptations are suitable until obsolescence. Future opportunities are revealed as each new change gives a glimpse of the degree of disruption and benefit from that new understanding. The longer a problem is considered, the more likely abstract concepts of the future can be quantified. It is not a perfect understanding of the future but provides a model to identify areas that need investment to benefit from forecasted change.

The further one looks out, the greater the institutional freedom of action between innovation and adaptation. While the lines are linearly divergent, the difference between optimal and suboptimal solutions becomes greater with time. Any adaptation can be assessed to meet future demand and innovations can be identified that generate disruptive change. The model also shows that the closer in time to execution, the less institutional freedom of action there is. The longer future issues are considered, more possibilities could be explored. If a desired innovation is available sooner than expected, it could be seamlessly transitioned into an earlier horizon. This would create a phase shift up the vertical “solutions” axis, increasing advantage over an adversary. Conversely, if an expected innovation cannot be realized in time, the innovations can phase shift down. However, the loss of innovation is managed by shifting the lines of efforts from innovation to adaptation. The longer the institution looks into the future and evolves that understanding, the more risk accepting and opportunity seeking it becomes, vice risk averse and opportunity limiting. Allowing current force commanders to contribute their concerns to future analysis will prevent pinning the DoD just on “hear and now” concerns that in turn alleviates anchoring and availability bias in DoD planning.

While the Horizon’s model is agnostic of personal bias or viewpoints, there is still a human element in force design methodology. Novel solutions that change paradigms and alter the inertial course of massive institutional ships takes time. A contemporary example is found in the efforts of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David Berger, to accelerate the naval service toward modernization by 2030. To casual observers, it seems that General Berger is the initiator of this effort. That is far from the truth. The lineage of the Force Design 2030 efforts trace themselves back to his predecessors throughout recent times. General Dunford began a force redesign in 2015, followed by the 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Neller, and his introduction of Marine Corps Force 2025. Current iterations continuing under General Berger will cover a span of seven years. Despite having the full support of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Berger’s effort to modernize require explanation, convincing, testing, and advocacy. By the conclusion of his tenure as Commandant, the transition to a new force design will have taken nearly 10 years. This transition period beckons several questions: even as FD2030 falls into place, where is the next horizon? Have strategic leaders considered the frame that will emerge after 2030? Where is the guidance to evaluate the potential outcomes of the 2030 force? How will the adversary respond? What countermeasures/innovations must be developed?

Too often near-term executors are segregated from future visionaries as if they have mutually exclusive institutional roles. The model shows they are not distinct but complementary. Immediate pressures force the DoD to emphasize the near-term challenges and solutions that are biased and anchored in the present. These current concerns generate responses that are often risk averse because of the perceived potential for loss. Future speculation promotes a greater propensity to accept risk because the focus shifts from potential loss to potential gain. Collective discussion with involved stakeholders should be held in all three horizons simultaneously. This ensures that choices for institutional readiness can be assessed over the different time horizons which allow for an informed approach. Focusing exclusively in one time frame generates collective ignorance since it disregards the existence of the next range of options and opportunities. It is possible to be both a contemporary and future thinker simultaneously, which is necessary to assesses risk and balance the forces that are “here and now” with the forces that will be “there and later.”

An additional opportunity from this method is that younger generations will be inculcated in strategic thought and be exposed to the strategic environment they will face earlier in their careers. Advancing in one’s career with a sense of ownership over the potential challenges and being involved in the likely solutions will generate career-long strategic thinking. If adopted, the Three Horizons model enables transition of the future environment to successor generations. This could catalyze an educational shift to think critically and creatively both at the individual and institutional level ensuring the proper shaping of the future design of the force with each turnover of leadership. Current leaders can manage force sustainment challenges while sponsoring and investing in the contributions of future generations on an informed basis led by those who will inherit the outcomes.

Leaders that are reticent to engage in timelines beyond 10 years may do so because they fear how future considerations can be viewed as path determinant once they are discussed in public. This happens because there is no running institutional method of discourse to encourage evolution of thought over time. Rather, it remains a leader-managed process subject to the whims of the next decider rather than being a participant-driven enterprise with clear transitions and gates between ideation, iteration, and ultimate leader-required decisions based on legal obligations and restraints. Nothing substitutes for a well-considered problem with persistent investments of time and resources. Nothing improves support of an institutional direction like transparent stakeholder engagement on a persistent basis. The Horizons of Innovation model, with its three frames of replacement, transition, and exponential change, supports both and invites rigorous analysis at each step.


Horizons are not fixed limitations but rather means of effectively organizing referred to as “chunking,” and based on likely periods of technology development or institutional transition. This model can serve as an institutional tool for facilitating change, stabilizing the disruptive effects of innovation, programing the arrival of new capabilities, and replacing obsolete practices and models in a managed timeline. It enables detailed analytic approaches based on the continuous refinement of institutional design for the future with iterative adjustment. The Horizon model can enhance acquisition, programming and budgeting, and capability development processes by organizing stakeholders into common appreciation of long-term force design.

The current capabilities development process requires 10 years to move through the initial stages of identification, explanation, buy-in, and approval to generate needed solutions to likely military challenges 15 to 20 years on the future, let alone solve current problems and readiness challenges. Competitors and adversaries are executing on their long-term strategies and steadily growing their capabilities and capacities having followed a similar process of decades-long planning and organized action.

They have however accelerated towards their goals by harnessing steady and persistent momentum rather than attempting radical lurches based on short-term forecasts and near-term focus. Their ability to capitalize on a long-view approach, while critically analyzing our force (and that of our allies) is enabling them to progress toward strategic and operational overmatch. Adversaries’ planned transitions from current to future through managed modernization have resulted in our present challenges.

It is time to account for the role of those factors in the process for force design as well. Retired Australian Army Major General Mick Ryan, in a recent interview on his book War Transformed, articulated the case for balancing current and future when he described the cultural paradigm that needs to be overcome. He opined that democracies are good at leveraging 24-hour news cycles and 3 to 4-year electoral cycles. Conversely, he stipulated that if leaders want to exploit microseconds of opportunity that may only be possible through building the societal patience to think in decades.

The Horizons of Innovation model provides discipline to forecasting decades into the future. Although the future is uncertain, it is not a fact-free activity solely left for conjecture. Future planning can be a very informed process with logical designs and reasonable outcomes. When the Horizon model is used, these designs and outcomes will help define how current means satisfy requirements when adapted to new circumstances. The model also shows where the potential for disruptive innovation may be needed to avoid strategic surprise and overcome anticipated concerns. Famed Disney Imagineer and consultant to the DoD on future innovation, Bran Ferren stated, “We don’t do strategic or long-term thinking anymore. If anything, we may do long-term tactical thinking and call it strategic, but it’s really just a spreadsheet exercise…That’s not a survivable model.” Bran Ferren’s words articulate a pressing problem, and the Horizon model may just be the prescription to fix it.

Travis Reese retired from the Marine Corps as Lieutenant Colonel after nearly 21 years of service. While on active duty he served in a variety of billets inclusive of tours in capabilities development, future scenario design, and institutional strategy. Since his retirement in 2016 he was one of the co-developers of the Joint Force Operating Scenario process. Mr. Reese is now the Director of Wargaming and Net Assessment for Troika Solutions in Reston, VA.

Featured Image: JAPAN (Aug. 18, 2022) – U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II’s assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 participate in an aerial refueling mission during a 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit Certification Exercise over the East China Sea, Aug. 18, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Justin J. Marty)

Vice Admiral Hank Mustin on the Politics of Naval Capability Development

Vice Admiral Hank Mustin served in a variety of positions that focused on developing the capabilities and tactics of the U.S. Navy at the peak of the Cold War. Mustin helped pioneer the development and fielding of many assets that are now recognized today as mainstay capabilities of the modern surface fleet. But in Mustin’s time, the path to fielding these capabilities was unclear and influential opposition threatened to kill critical programs. 

Below are select excerpts from Admiral Mustin’s oral history, conducted by Dave Winkler of the Naval Historical Foundation and republished with permission. In these excerpts, Mustin discusses navigating the opposition surface fleet programs faced from the highest levels of Navy leadership, methods for securing programs with funding and top cover within the OPNAV staff, and how certain projects were created or cancelled.

Be sure to explore more CIMSEC republications of Admiral Mustin’s insights in “Vice Admiral Hank Mustin on Naval Force Development” and Vice Admiral Hank Mustin on New Warfighting Tactics and Taking the Maritime Strategy to Sea.”

WINKLER: The threat at the time…was the Soviet Styx missile?

MUSTIN: That was just becoming a threat. And the feeling in the Navy leadership was, which was dominated by aviators, we’re not going to let anybody get close enough to shoot one of these missiles. The aviators said, if we see anybody out there that’s a threat, we’ll just go bag them at two to three hundred miles. Not to worry. And so we surface types all said, well okay, we’ll concentrate on shooting at air-launched missiles. “Well, we’ll take care of that too, if we ever get enough F-14s.” So we said, well maybe you can’t take care of them all; we’ll continue to pursue this.

Senior aviators at the time fought this rather bitterly. Success rates of these expensive missiles were not high. The performance of the systems was not good. And they viewed this as a drain, unnecessary, on funds that should be devoted to aviation capabilities. This is not a new kind of argument. So things like Aegis, and others, were bitterly opposed by the aviators. My own view is that we’d have never gotten Aegis if Bud Zumwalt had not been the CNO. Because a series of aviator CNOs before and after tried to kill it…

…The aviators—the notion had been since World War II that the main battery of every combatant should be resident on the flight deck of the carrier. So we’d try to put Harpoons on these ships and they’d say, “Hey, no, we’ll just take care of those guys with A-6s.” I developed a line of argument that said that JSOP, the force structure bible, says you need 26 carriers. We’ve only got 12. If we don’t have the number of carriers that we need, how are we going to fill in that firepower gap? This was the argument, it got at the issue without threatening aviation.

March 6, 1987 – An air-to-air overhead view of a fighter Squadron 1 (VF-1) F-14A Tomcat aircraft. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

All of the issues of long-range targeting came up at that time. All of the issues of the inadequacies of the sonars. And as we built the Los Angeles class specifically to be escorts of the carrier task force—we didn’t call them battle groups—we found all the inadequacies in communications with the submarines while they are submerged. So the things that you see now—submarines with NTDS [Naval Tactical Data System], submarines with Tomahawk and Harpoon, submarines integrated into the striking forces of the Navy when required, the acknowledgement that you’ve got to disperse offensive power through platforms other than the carrier—all of those things were seen by Bud [Zumwalt] and Worth Bagley.

The problem was there wasn’t any technology available to implement them. To get the Aegis and to get the Tomahawk and to get these things, you had to spend the money. That money was going to come out of aviation, and everybody knew it. So the aviators just said there’s no reason for the Aegis ships; the F-14s will do the air defense job. Because it was apparent we were going to have fewer F-14s if we had Aegis ships.

So it was a very, very turbulent time, internally as well as externally. I remember a very senior aviator, who I won’t name, said to me one day when I was a captain, and Bud was still the CNO, he said, “You’d better enjoy every day that he’s the CNO, because you’re not going to see another one during your lifetime who’s a black-shoe…”

…Aegis was just on the horizon, strongly opposed by the aviators, who felt that it was a big waste of money to try and fight air battles with the Aegis ship when you could do it all with F-14s, and they wanted Aegis dollars to buy aircraft. The inadequacies of the Charles Adams class against missiles, and in particular against long-range missiles, were becoming apparent. And the absolute inadequacies of the Talos missile became apparent. So it didn’t take long for Jim Doyle, Bob Morris, and I, who were the requirements guys, to figure out that we needed an Aegis fleet, which was programmed, very slowly. But at the same time we needed a new destroyer. So we undertook to develop the requirements for the DDGX, which became the Arleigh Burke.

VADM Mustin during a Second Fleet exercise, 1988. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

So on Jim Doyle’s watch we brought in Aegis, brought in LAMPS, brought in the vertical launchers, brought in the SM-2 missile, brought in the Tomahawk, brought in the digital computer versions of NTDS. We brought in what is now called cooperative engagement—at the time it was called battle group AAW. We brought in the CIWS, the close-in weapons system. We brought in the SLQ-32, the modern anti-missile ECM suite. We brought in towed arrays. We brought in the new generation sonar. We significantly upgraded the capabilities of the design of the amphibs, the LHAs, the AOEs. It was an amazing time.

…Spruances were new. I was very unhappy with the Spruances. The Spruance had been a McNamara invention. It was to be the DX and the DXG. There were to be thirty DXs, which were ASW ships, and thirty DXGs, which were to be AAW ships, and they would operate in tandem all the time. Then the Typhon weapons system, which had been designed for the DXG, became too expensive, and so the DXG was cancelled. Now you had the DX, the Spruance, the single-purpose ASW ship, with no DXG. So the whole rationale fell apart. Here we had all these ships out there, which were the largest destroyers that we had ever built, and they had nothing on them. They had no weapons to speak of. We were furious at this.

On Jim’s watch we took the Spruance hull and turned it into the DXG with the Aegis fleet, it is the Ticonderoga-class cruiser. But it was ten years behind the Spruance in getting to sea. Then I think that it was [CNO] Jimmy Holloway—it was either Holloway or Tom Hayward—who changed the DDG to CG. I was in charge of the force structure as a captain, and I remember one day, with a stroke of the pen, we went from the Soviets having more cruisers than all of NATO combined to NATO outnumbering the Soviet cruiser force by almost two to one. DLGs became cruisers.

…I don’t know if I told you the story of the LAMPS [Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System] and how that worked. The deal when I got there was that, for the LAMPS helicopter, SH-60, Op 03 would pay for the R&D, which was the weapons suite and avionics. Op 05, the air warfare czar, would pay for the procurement of the fleet of the all-up airplane. Op 05 had rigged it for seven years so that the first procurement was always one year outside of the POM, because they wanted to spend their scarce aviation procurement dollars on tailhook aircraft, and not on helicopters to go on destroyers.

Doyle was furious about this, but they had two aviator CNOs. He said, “We’ve got to do something about this.” So I said, “You know what we’ve got to do? We’ve got to get our nose under the tent. What you ought to do in this POM cycle is, you ought to, number one, accelerate the R&D by putting in more money for two years, and then in that third year you give up FFG 7 and you take that money and buy the helicopter. Then, if you do that and you get that first buy in there, then Op 05 is going to be committed in the out-years to keep on. He isn’t going to like that, but how’s he going to argue with it? And how can he argue with it in OSD; how can he argue with it against the Hill?” In the meantime the people in OSD were saying, every banana republic navy in the world has got helicopters on the fantail; how come you guys don’t? We’d always mumble something. So anyway, that’s what we did. That’s how we got the SH-60 to sea. That was one of my programs in this period.

August 1, 1985- An SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter participates in flight operations aboard the battleship USS IOWA (BB 61). (Photo by PH1 Jeff Hilton, via U.S. National Archives)

It became apparent that we had to stop building these FFG 7s in order to get the new destroyer, and the principal contribution of the new destroyer should be its land attack capability—with the Tomahawk missile, but there was no Tomahawk missile. Also we had to have some way to shoot it. The then-current version of the vertical launcher was two feet too short to accommodate the Tomahawk missile. So the first thing we had to do was lengthen the launcher, which was an enormously expensive proposition. It required ship re-design to do.

Second, in order to get the Tomahawk in surface ships, we had to get a Tomahawk and we had to overcome the Mark 26 launching lobby, which was the lobby that was going into the first seven Aegis ships. They didn’t want the vertical launcher to come along because that jeopardized the Mark 26 launcher. So we had Tomahawk, which was opposed bitterly by the aviators, because they said we’ll do all that with A-6s; we had the launcher, which was opposed by the vertical launcher guys, because it meant changing their launcher and therefore delaying their program a year; and we had the Mark 26 guys, who did not want to have their launcher jeopardized just as it was entering the fleet. That wasn’t including all the people who didn’t want to do it on the outside.

April 12, 1983- RIM-66 Standard MR/SM-2 missiles on a Mark 26 launcher prior to being fired from the Aegis guided missile cruiser USS TICONDEROGA (CG 47) during tests near the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility, Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Don Muhm, via U.S. National Archives)

We started off with a year’s study to determine the requirements for the new destroyer…The study showed that we knew how to do AAW and ASW modeling—a bunch of missiles come in, you shoot a bunch of missiles at them, and you’ve got them. We knew how to do ASW engagement. But we had no measures of effectiveness for the Tomahawk.

So I devised a series of analyses where we ran an air strike against Petropovlovsk with carrier air, and then we ran that same air strike with carrier air supported by the Tomahawks where the Tomahawks went in and beat down the air defenses before the A-6s went in. We drew a curve that showed the cost of the air strike in terms of aircraft attrition and the procurement of Tomahawks. The cost without Tomahawk was up, because there were so much aircraft attrition; we had all these Soviet capabilities approved by the Director of Naval Intelligence. The costs came way down as you brought the Tomahawks in, and then after a while it started to go back up again if you bought too many Tomahawks, because they’d already killed all the air defenses, so you didn’t gain any more cost reduction by reduced aircraft attrition.

A Tomahawk missile firing off a battleship, c. late 1980s. (Photo via NAVSEA)

We took that analysis to the CNO, Tom Hayward. He said, “I do not support this destroyer.” When the CNO tells you that it’s got a very chilling effect. In the meantime Op 05 was saying he didn’t support Tomahawk. He supported everything except the strike function, which he thought was unnecessary. And besides, Tomahawk had not been service-approved for procurement, which violated all of the “fly before buy” rules. And the Aegis guys were saying, you’re spending too much money on Tomahawks and not enough on Aegis.

…CNO had said he didn’t support it. It was very carefully handled. Anyway, Congress put enough heat on the OSD so that OSD said, all right, we think you ought to do this. We want you to cancel your Charles Adams improvements, a pretty expensive program, and get on with the finalizing of the design of the DDGX. The big issue was the vertical launcher for the Tomahawk. So we got the Congressional language to say that this ship should be capable of firing Tomahawks. Then we went back to the CNO, who was pretty unhappy about this turn of events. He knew who the culprits were, which I found out to my distress later. He gave the go-ahead, but conditionally. He said that he needed more F-14s and the F-18. And he could not undertake a shipbuilding program that requires a lot more helicopters.” So he told us to get out and figure out why we don’t need a helicopter in the Arleigh Burke. If we could, then he’d support it.

So we went out and I did a bunch of analyses which showed that if you made a lot of assumptions about other ships in company with the task force, you had enough LAMPS so all you really needed on the Arleigh Burke was a landing platform so they could hopscotch, and an in-flight refueling capability. So we designed the ship that way, and that’s why the first flight came out with no helos on them. Everybody has said ever since then: Hey, why didn’t you have a helo on them? The answer was because we couldn’t get it through OpNav. And the reason was, the aviation procurement budget was very tight, and the Navy’s priorities were for tailhook aircraft. Jim Doyle and I were really sensitive to this issue, having just gone through the LAMPS flail. And CNO was very sensitive to that, having seen the aircraft procurement money start to go to the LAMPS.

…OSD was of the view that the Navy was sort of irrelevant to the NATO strategy, for the reasons that we’ve discussed. So while we were looking into making these new capabilities, we were developing arguments for why the Navy was relevant. The Tomahawk was the key that unlocked that, because that gave the surface Navy for the first time the ability to influence events ashore, beyond the range of the 5- inch gun. That meant that in the battle for Europe you could now hold at risk the Kola Peninsula with other carrier air. From the eastern Med you could hold at risk targets in Russia, that you could not do before unless you put the carriers way, way up in the Adriatic. So all of a sudden the Tomahawk unlocked a lot of doors in OSD.

…I went to see Admiral Doyle, and I said, “Walt Locke isn’t going to do it.” He said, “Tell him to come over here; I want to see him.” Walt and I walked in to see Jim Doyle. Jim Doyle said, “Walt, maybe once if you’re lucky, in your naval career, you come across a capability that’s going to be a change in naval warfare on the order of sail to steam.” He said, “In my view, Tomahawk is that change during our lifetimes. What we have to do is stop this complaining and get on with it. We’ve got to have the launcher to support it, we’ve got to have the targeting, and we’ve got to have the seeker and warheads to do the job. Because,” he said, “we now have about half of the number of aircraft carriers that we all say we need to perform the Navy’s function in a NATO war, and we’re not going to get any more. So if the Navy is going to stay relevant it has to have a capability like the Tomahawk, and fortuitously the technology is such that that capability is now at hand. So you are the naval officer who will be able to bring that to bear.”

Walt Locke almost stood up and cheered. He walked out of there and he was a convert. It was one of the most compelling senior officer man-to-man discussions that I’ve ever been in. Walt was turned around like that. We gave him the money, and he marched off.

Henry C. Mustin was born in Bremerton, Washington on 31 August 1933, the son, grandson, and great-grandson of distinguished naval officers. Vice Admiral Mustin, a destroyerman, served at sea in the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets in USS Duncan (DDR 874); as Commanding Officer USS Bunting (MHC 45); as a plankowner in both USS Lawrence (DDG 4) and USS Conyngham (DDG 17); as Commanding Officer USS Henry B. Wilson (DDG 7); as Commander, Destroyer Squadron 12, homeported in Athens, Greece; as Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Group 2; and as Commander, U.S. Second Fleet and NATO Striking Fleet Atlantic. He served ashore in Vietnam with the Delta River Patrol Group; as Flag Lieutenant to the Commander-in-Chief Pacific; as Executive Assistant to the Commander-in-Chief U.S. Naval Forces Europe; as Director, Surface Combat Systems Division in the Office of Chief of Naval Operations; as Deputy Commander Naval Surface Force, Atlantic Fleet; as Naval Inspector General; and as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Plans, Policy, and Operations). He retired January 1, 1989. He passed away on April 11, 2016.

David F. Winkler earned his Ph.D. in 1998. from American University in Washington, DC. He has been a historian with the non-profit Naval Historical Foundation for over two decades. His dissertation Cold War at Sea: High Seas Confrontation between the U.S. and Soviet Union was published by the Naval Institute Press in 2000, was republished under the title Incidents at Sea: American Confrontation and Cooperation with Russia and China, 1945 – 2016 in December 2017. He was selected in early 2019 to be the Class of 1957 Chair of Naval Heritage at the U.S. Naval Academy for the 2019-2020 academic year and the Charles Lindbergh Fellow at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum for the following year. Winkler received his commission as a Navy ensign in 1980 through the NROTC unit at the Pennsylvania State University. In addition to a B.A. in Political Science, he has an M.A. in International Affairs from Washington University. He is a retired Navy Reserve commander. 

Featured Image: September 7, 1985 – Aerial starboard quarter view of Battle Group Alfa underway. The ships are: (clockwise, center front) USS REEVES (CG-24) , USS SAN JOSE (AFS-7), USNS MISPILLION (T-AO-105), USS OLDENDORF (DD-972), USS KANSAS CITY (AOR-3), USNS KILAUEA (T-AE-26), USS ENGLAND (CG-22), USS TOWERS (DDG-9), USS KIRK (FF-1087), USS KNOX (FF-1052), USS COCHRANE (DDG-21), and USS MIDWAY (CV-41) (center). (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

What Are We Afraid Of?

This article originally published on the Marine Corps Gazette in 2002 and is republished with permission.

By Col. Mark Cancian, USMCR

“. . . The enemy is not an inanimate object to be acted upon but an independent and ani­mate force with its own objectives and plans. While we try to impose our will on the enemy, he resists us and seeks to impose his own will on us. Appreciating this dynamic interplay between opposing human wills is essential to understanding the fundamental nature of war.”—Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication (MCDP) 1, Warfighting

Marines pride themselves on their willingness to take risks, to chal­lenge themselves, and to learn from their mistakes. Why, then, is Marine tac­tical training so timid? The typical Marine exercise is a highly scripted event against an opponent who passive­ly reacts to actions, never takes the ini­tiative and, as a result, never challenges Marines. We Marines believe we are master tacticians, ready to take on any adversary. In reality we are like a foot­ball team that scrimmages against easy opponents and, because it always wins, thinks it is ready for the Super Bowl. Are we in fact as good as we think? The only way to find out, short of actual war, is to pit ourselves against a dynamic, thinking, aggressive opponent.

Unfortunately, this rarely happens. The typical exercise begins with plan­ning conferences that lay out objec­tives, timelines, and scenarios. Then the exercising unit develops an opera­tions order based on a clear mission and, generally, accurate intelligence. Finally, the unit executes. In doing this we tell ourselves that we are exercising tactics, techniques, and procedures, but really we are only exercising tech­niques and procedures. Tactics are essentially choreographed; if there are aggressors, they have instructions about when to resist and when to fall back. They are training aids. If the exercise is a command post exercise (CPX), then there is a “game path” or master scenario event list — a sequenced set of events established beforehand to accomplish the training objectives. Too often the CPX becomes “a drill devoid of analysis and spontaneity.”1

Training in techniques and proce­dures does have real value. It reduces internal friction, speeds up the OODA (observation, orientation, decision, action) loop by making routine events happen automatically, and allows staffs to process large quantities of raw data quickly and effectively. Excellence in techniques and procedures is a combat multiplier — fires arrive on time, fleet­ing opportunities can be grasped, and logistical support arrives when and where needed. But tactics are still paramount. Even highly refined techniques and flawlessly executed procedures count for little if the underlying tactics are flawed. As the combatants of World War I learned to their grief, detailed and precisely executed artillery barrages, meticulous timeta­bles of unit advances, and thorough logistical preparations will all fail if the basic scheme of maneuver calls for unprotected infantry to frontally attack prepared defensive positions.

The way to learn tactics is in free play, opposed exercises. Only then can Marines experience externally generat­ed friction, the uncertainty of an unscripted enemy, the value of high tempo and, ultimately, the learning that goes with failure. Classroom instruction has a place in teaching the basics — the principles of war, the nature of combat, the mechanics of planning, and the lessons of history. But classroom instruction can only go so far. Indeed, at some point classroom instruction becomes counterproductive because, when relied on exclusively, it implies a battlefield that is controllable, pre­dictable, and transparent. Furthermore, class­room instruction tends to emphasize form over content — that a properly formatted order is more important than the operations directed.

“. . . [O]nly in opposed, free-play exercis­es can we practice the art of war. Dictated or ‘canned’ scenarios eliminate the element of independent, opposing wills that is the essence of war. “—MCDP1

This idea of opposed, free play exer­cises is not new, having been adopted by all the other Services years ago. For example, in 1968 a Navy study of air combat over Vietnam showed that training weakness was in part to blame for the poor air-to-air exchange ratio. Accustomed to ratios in Korea like 6 to 1 or 8 to 1, the Navy was barely making 2 to 1 against a Third World air force with inferior aircraft, vulnerable bases, and a low level of technology. In response, the Navy established the Naval Fighter Weapons School — “Top Gun” — to train crews in air-to-air com­bat. Kill ratios rose to 12 to 1. The Air Force, seeing similarly disappointing performance in its air-to-air engage­ments, established its own force-on­ force exercises, called “Red Flag.” All of these exercises featured a realistic com­bat environment and an opposing force (OpFor) that, while using “threat” tactics, did its best to win. The Air Force’s research was explicit: in their first engagement American pilots had only a 60 percent chance of survival whereas by 10 missions they had a 90 percent chance. The key then was to realistically simulate the first 10 mis­sions in peacetime.

The Army’s National Training Center (NTC) has become the classic example of opposed exercises.2 Established in 1981, it is the world’s pre­mier ground training facility. Every year nine brigades rotate through “the box” engaging the OpFor in a series of real­istic battles. The OpFor has distinctive vehicles and uniforms and, most impor­tantly, a free hand to win if they can. What makes the experience distinctive, also, is the range instrumentation. The multiple integrated laser engagement system (MILES) uses lasers and sensors to simulate direct fire. There are no more arguments over who shot who. It is all recorded in the computer center for later replay and analysis.

Several aspects of the training expe­rience are noteworthy. First, the Army has resisted efforts to “dumb down” the OpFor. The OpFor, knowing the ground and being thoroughly trained in their simple but effective tactics, usu­ally wins. This embarrasses many “blue force” commanders who were accus­tomed to the usual exercise where the “good guys” always won. As one observ­er put it, these traditional exercises “smacked a lot of cowboys and Indians, with very stupid, indolent Indians.” Like Custer at the Little Bighorn, however, many commanders at the NTC find that they are not as good as they thought — nor is attaining victory as easy as they had been led to believe. But only through failure can units improve. Second, this is a training experience, not a test. Mistakes are accepted and learned from, not punished. This is very difficult for no-error, look-good, peace­time institutions to accept. Third, there is a ruthless after-action review. No sug­arcoated, self-esteem building, com­manding officer protecting, go-easy review here. A typical summary says something like the following:

“Insufficient combat elements desig­nated as main attack to penetrate enemy defenses. Task force [TF] attack was unsuccessful. TF did not accomplish mission. TF lost two­-thirds of combat power.”

Finally, NTC revitalized the Army’s lessons learned process because peo­ple actually wanted to know what happened before. Lessons learned were not just an intellectual exercise but something that affected unit and personal performance.

NTC is not perfect. It simulates indirect and aviation fires poorly, and it cannot replicate the sounds and fear of actual combat. It is also very expensive in both time and dollars. Still, it was a major step forward for Army training. The proof, many Army officers believe, was in DESERT STORM where U.S. units were not just technologically superior to the Iraqis but were tactically superior as well.

NTC was such a success that the Army replicated the training experi­ence for light forces (Joint Readiness Training Center), European forces (Combat Maneuver Training Center), and high-level staffs (Battle Command Training Program (BCTP)). This last is particularly interesting because it offers the opportunity for an opposed exer­cise without the disruption and cost of involving entire units. Further, it focus­es tactical training on the key players­ — commanders and staffs — without using their units as training aids. BCTP’s cap­stone event is a computer-driven CPX. In this exercise the blue force pits its plan against an independent, intelligent OpFor. Though not having as much lat­itude as the NTC OpFor — for both tech­nical and training reasons — the BCTP OpFor still regularly defeats the blue force. An after-action review at the end, using data collected by the computer and by exercise controllers, gives candid feedback to the exercising unit.

The Marine Corps is not a complete stranger to opposed exercises. During the 1980s at Quantico, for example, there was a surge of interest connected with 29th Commandant Gen Al Gray’s emphasis on maneuver warfare. Quantico experimented with a variety of exercise forms, from completely scripted to completely free play. They discovered that opposed and free play exercises are not an either/or proposi­tion but a continuum where the struc­ture depends on the purpose of the exercise. However, the key to deciding whether an exercise was truly free play was whether the Marine side was ever defeated. Many exercises claimed they were free play, but the Marines always won. The Marine Corps also used the Army’s instrumented ranges to conduct a major force-on-force experiment (Advanced Antiarmor Vehicle Eval­uation (ARMVAL)), but from a training perspective the results were not encour­aging. As the head evaluator noted:

“The Marine force was soundly defeated in battle after battle until the Marines were able to get their act together and develop the techniques necessary to win…It was a sobering experience.”3

What’s the Real Value of Opposed Exercises?

Yes, everyone agrees in a general sense that opposed exercises provide excellent training, but what exactly is so important that it cannot be obtained in a regular exercise?

  • Experiencing friction. Clausewitz said that friction is what separates real war from war on paper. To be sure, unop­posed exercises also have friction, sometimes a lot. As everyone who has maneuvered down the Delta Corridor at Twentynine Palms knows, the tar­gets may not move or shoot back, but they are sometimes very difficult to hit given the internal friction and sometimes plain cussedness of our fire support system. Nevertheless, fac­ing a dynamic, thinking, hostile opponent creates a whole new level of fric­tion. Instead of passively waiting to be “serviced,” targets move around, hide, and even shoot back.
  • Seeing what works tactically. The problem with tactics in an unop­posed exercise is that everything succeeds. At the bar afterward Marines may argue about what tactics might have succeeded and what might have failed, but it is all theoretical. In the end one person’s tactics are as good as another’s. No one really knows. With opposed exercises there is an answer. In 1982 there was a dramatic illustration of this at the Amphibious Warfare School when the final exer­cise was structured as a free play exer­cise against an unconstrained OpFor. The “Marine” side was crushed, not just once but three times, the result of unimaginative tactics.
  • Testing theory and doctrine. The Marine Corps has used opposed exer­cises very effectively in its WARRIOR series of battle experiments. HUNTER WARRIOR showed that “swarm” or “infestation” tactics, while having promise in some situations, were not yet a substitute for more traditional approaches, contrary to the hopes of its advocates. In URBAN WARRIOR the Corps discovered that its existing urban tactics, based on civilian police models, produced unacceptable casu­alties and needed radical revision. Both experiments took institutional courage because the favored out­comes were not achieved.
  • Developing fingerspitzengefuehl. Literally “fingertip feel,” finger­spitzengefuehl means developing an intuitive feel for battle. Although German terms are now out of favor, this term does capture what is missing in Marine tactical training — the competence that comes from deep experience.

“Training scenarios must pit Marines and their commanders against skilled and determined adversaries who fight to win. We must continually test ourselves in dif­ficult situations . . . Marines will make tactical mistakes from time to time. If we treat these mistakes as learning opportu­nities, the lessons will not be forgotten. “—Commandant of the Marine Corps Campaign Plan, 1999

So What Do We Do?

In his campaign plan, the Commandant laid out clear direction to conduct opposed, free play training, but unfortunately, that guidance has never been implemented. Further, Marines have always had great interest in such exercises and periodically units do, in fact, conduct them. What is need­ed, therefore, is a way to institutionalize this training so that it happens routinely. The problem, of course, is cost, both in dollars and in training time.

Ideally, the Marine Corps would have some equivalent of the Army’s NTC, perhaps as part of a Marine expeditionary unit (special opera­tions capable) workup or a rotation to the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Training Command Twentynine Palms. A battalion-sized force-on-force exercise would chal­lenge not just commanders and staffs but platoon leaders, squad leaders, and individual Marines as well. With its purchase of MILES 2000 the Marine Corps owns the basic equip­ment. To be sure, this would consti­tute a substantial commitment of resources. Perhaps as an experiment the Marine Corps might conduct one such exercise to test the concept, ascertain its value, and understand the commitment of resources.

CPXs offer a way to train comman­ders and staffs without committing whole units and might, therefore, be an easier way to begin. Furthermore, the Corps has the mechanisms already in place to implement free play, opposed CPXs. One mechanism is the MAGTF Tactical Warfare Simulation (MTWS). MTWS is a computer assisted wargam­ing system that replaced the older Tactical Warfare Simulation Evaluation. Physically, MTWS consists of a suite of terminals for different players all connected to a central processor. The computer simulates the operations, from ground combat to fire support and nuclear/biological/chemical warfare. It has been fielded to each Marine expe­ditionary force (MEF), to Quantico, and to Twentynine Palms. Currently MTWS is used mostly to prepare for major exercises and to hone techniques and procedures. However, it does have pro­visions for an OpFor and could easily provide an opposed, free play evolution for commanders and key staff.

For higher-level staffs there is the MAGTF Staff Training Program (MSTP). MSTP is the Corps’ institu­tional expert on the Marine Corps Planning Process, providing instruc­tion and supporting exercises on all aspects of the planning process. Its most visible activities are two annual MEF training programs that culmi­nate in a major CPX involving the hundreds of Marines needed to establish a MEF-level command network. Structuring the exercise is an elabo­rately prepared scenario and a sophis­ticated computer simulation. Because the MEF exercises involve so many people and organizations, maximiz­ing training value is key. Although the simulation gives insights into tactical success or failure, exercises need to unfold in planned ways so that all the training objectives are covered. Unfortunately, this minimizes spon­taneity and free play. However, MSTP has all the elements to provide an additional, separate training opportu­nity for key staff, either as part of the MEF training or separately. Such an exercise could focus on tactics. Instead of taking entire command posts to the field, a small number of commanders and key staff could par­ticipate in a free play exercise using MSTP’s OpFor and computer simula­tion. Another possibility would be to provide this kind of training for Marine expeditionary brigade (MEB) staffs. The Corps has recently reestab­lished MEBs but has not yet found a good way to exercise these staffs. A free play, opposed CPX might be a good mechanism for both training in tactics and organizing MEB staffs.


From Belleau Wood to Tarawa to Hue City, the Marine Corps has a long history of overcoming faulty tac­tics through blood and courage.4 But we should not climb to victory on the backs of our Marines. Commanders owe their troops the highest level of tactical competence. Opposed, free play exercises offer a way to better train commanders in their foremost task — tactical decision-making. As MajGen J. Michael Myatt noted in his article, “Comments on Maneuver” (MCC, Oct98), “If we, the senior lead­ership, understand that we must out­think our opponents, then there will be a lot less fighting and dying by those youngsters entrusted to us.” Yet, opposed exercises are a training experience that the Corps has not much used and where the Corps is noticeably behind the other Services. The reason for this failing is unclear. Are our egos so fragile that losing in an opposed, free play exercise would fatally wound our self-esteem?

Colonel Mark Cancian is the Director, Land Forces Division, Office of the Secretary of Defense.


1. Ennis, Michael, Maj, “A Realistic Command Post Exercise,” Marine Corps Gazette, June 1983, pp. 53-57.

2. See, for example, Marine Corps Gazette, June and October 1999.

3. Thompson, Robert H., Col, “Lessons Learned From ARMVAL,” Marine Corps Gazette, July 1983, pp. 36-44. Anyone who believes that Marines are tactically well trained should read this article. Although 20 years old, the article’s insights are still very powerful.

4. Moore, Scott, LtCol, “How Expensive Heroism Seems When It Comes With the Price of Dead Marines,” Marine Corps Times, 23 July

Featured Image: CAMP FUJI, SHIZUOKA, Japan (March 14, 2022) – U.S. Marines with Battalion Landing Team 1/5, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, engage targets during an unknown distance course at Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji, Japan, March. 14, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Manuel Alvarado)

In the Same Boat: Integrating Naval Intelligence 

By Will McGee

In March 2020, the Commandant of the Marine Corps released Force Design 2030, the strategy outlining structural changes to the Marine Corps operating forces. It is intended to re-orient the Marine Corps towards its traditional role as a naval amphibious force working in tandem with the Navy to project power ashore, after two decades of expeditionary non-maritime campaigns. The major changes outlined in Force Design primarily deal with investment/divestment decisions for the Aviation and Ground Combat Elements, driven by the modern warfighting concepts articulated in the joint Navy and Marine Corps’ Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment, and the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations.1 Force Design 2030 does not contain specific guidance for the Marine Corps Intelligence Community as it deals mostly with altering the structure of the major components of the operating forces to act as “a landward complement to Navy capabilities” through the provision of “mobile, low-signature sensors.” 

At the crux of these concepts is the development of a network of sensors to provide battlespace awareness to the fleet, and so it implies that naval integration: the ability for the Navy and Marine Corps information warfare communities to work together seamlessly, is a prerequisite for the operating concept’s success. This integration cannot be ‘surged’ once the war begins. Instead, systemic change is required of both services to ingrain habits of cooperation in peacetime garrison operations so that they can be relied upon to seamlessly work together when deployed. How can the Marine Corps intelligence community better integrate with the Navy to create a joint naval intelligence enterprise?

Operating Concepts Review

As noted in the joint 2017 Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE), since at least 2006, successive Chiefs of Naval Operations and Commandants of the Marine Corps have called for closer cooperation and integration between the two services.2 LOCE outlines supporting concepts to facilitate this integration: Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) integration into the Composite Warfare Construct (CWC), possibly as the Expeditionary Warfare Commander or Strike Warfare Commander; creation of joint blue-green fleet/JFMCC staffs; the development of Littoral Combat Groups task-organized with additional capabilities based on an assessment of projected employment; and additional areas of exploration for future experimentation, specifically, Expeditionary Advanced Bases. Inclusion of the Marine Corps in the CWC would allow for the MAGTF to be used as another element of the maritime force, tasked by the warfare commanders like any other Navy asset. 

The Marine Corps corollary to Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment, Expeditionary Advanced Basing Operations, envisions bases that provide “land-based options for increasing the number of sensors and shooters beyond the upper limit imposed by the quantity of seagoing platforms available.” Put more generally, the idea is that groups of Marines would be emplaced on shore to support fleet operations by providing a base from which to collect information, conduct follow-on actions like refueling and rearming, or (once counter-ship systems have been acquired) control areas of key maritime terrain.3 

By distributing forces across geographically disparate locations, these concepts hope to increase the capability for the naval services to survive and project power in less-than-friendly environments. Both concepts call for close integration between the Navy and Marine Corps and both use “sensor” emplacement as one of the reasons for the new operating concept. LOCE calls for “[the creation of] a modular, scalable, and integrated naval network of sea-based and land-based sensors, shooters, and sustainers that provides the capabilities, capacities, and persistent yet mobile forward presence necessary to effectively respond to crises, address larger contingencies, and deter aggression in contested littorals.”[Emphasis added.] EABO, likewise, uses land-based sensors as an argument for the emplacement of expeditionary bases, specifically to “position naval ISR assets”[emphasis added] and “provide expeditionary surface scouting/screening platforms.”

The structural changes outlined in Force Design 2030 were driven by these operating concepts, with the stated purpose to “equip our Marines with mobile, low-signature sensors and weapons that can provide a landward complement to Navy capabilities for surface warfare, antisubmarine warfare, air and missile defense, and airborne early warning.” The Commandant of the Marine Corps specifically calls for future planning and experimentation to “focus on capabilities required to satisfy approved naval concepts of DMO, EABO, and LOCE.”4

These concepts envision the use of platforms (DMO), bases (EABO), and a combination of the two (LOCE) to emplace sensors creating a network of information-collecting devices that develop battlespace awareness and inform the estimate of the naval commander. Members of the Information Warfare community, particularly intelligence officers, might be more familiar with this idea if its authors referred to it as “collection operations” instead of “sensor emplacement” but the gist is the same. While there are kinetic operational reasons for expeditionary bases and distributed platforms, the increased ability to collect intelligence is one of the most significant arguments articulated for these joint and service concepts. Each document calls for a Navy/Marine Corps amphibious team, optimized for the future operating environments, that can create a network of collection assets to inform decision-makers of the situation. The creation of a seamless network of inter-service intelligence assets will require community-wide integration between the two services. Members of the Navy and Marine Corps must develop habits of action in peacetime garrison operations to enable frictionless employment forward. What is the state of current integration and how can the services be brought closer together?

State of Current Integration: Same Department, Different Services

A brief description of the author’s career will provide a useful example of the current state of integration between the naval intelligence enterprises. 

I attended the Ground Intelligence Officer Course at the (then-named) Navy and Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center in the fall of 2015. Even though the Marine Corps instructors were a part of a Marine Detachment in a Navy command and despite the inherently naval nature of the Marine Corps, the curriculum focused on intelligence support to the Marine Corps Planning Process in the context of primarily ground campaigns, and there was little communication with the Navy instructors or students during the course. Although all Navy and Marine Corps training occurred in the same building, the only interactions I had with Navy personnel occurred because my younger brother happened to be in the Navy’s intelligence officer’s course. 

Four years later I attended the MAGTF Intelligence Officer Course at the (tellingly) now-retitled Information Warfare Training Center. During this course—the last formal training required of a Marine Corps Intelligence Officer—the only formal interaction with Navy Intelligence personnel was a three-hour lecture by an Amphibious Ready Group Intelligence Officer. It was a great briefing, but nowhere near enough to prepare students to seamlessly operate with the Navy. At no point in the course did we discuss naval operating concepts, Navy intelligence collection assets, or any of the other topics that would prepare the student to quickly and seamlessly integrate with the fleet intelligence enterprise. 

When I arrived in the fleet at 2d Marine Division, there were three deployment opportunities: the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), the Unit Deployment Program (UDP), and the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-AFRICOM (SPMAGTF-CR-AF). Only one of these, the MEU, involved interaction with Navy personnel or Navy Intelligence. I deployed on the SPMAGTF-CR-AF, a rotation with tasked mission sets of crisis response and theater security cooperation. This deployment did not require substantive interaction with the Navy or Navy Intelligence personnel. The expectation was that Intelligence Officers in 2d Marine Division deploy once during a three-year tour. This means that roughly only one in three Marine Corps intelligence officers had any experience working in an operational setting with the Navy. 

This experience gap was the norm during garrison training also. I participated in four major exercises at the Marine Expeditionary Force, Division, and Regimental levels: MEF Exercise 2016, Bold Alligator 2016 and 2017, and 2d Marine Division’s Large Scale Exercise 2017. Two of these exercises did not include the Navy whatsoever. While Bold Alligator was intended to be an amphibious exercise, during neither iteration did I ever interact with the Navy’s intelligence personnel. At the completion of my tour, I rotated to the supporting establishment. 

So, to summarize: none of my Marine Corps training or education has substantively addressed naval intelligence subjects and I have no specific operational experience in maritime operations. I will return to the operating forces next summer and if I am not sent to a billet slated to deploy on the MEU, it is likely that I will be a field grade officer who has spent (exponentially) more time underway as a Midshipman than as a Marine, and worked far more extensively with the Royal Marines than the United States Navy. 

My experience is anecdotal, and as such limited to the time and place in which it occurred: II Marine Expeditionary Force from 2015-2018. I am sure I have peers with significantly more naval operating experience than I. The fact, however, that this experience is derived from specific operational employment is indicative of the broader problem: neither of the standard training or career pipelines is deliberately structured to provide joint experience with the other naval service, and as a result, this experience is the exception rather than the norm. Greater integration is required. 

Integrating the Naval Intelligence Enterprise

If the stated intent is that the future Marine Corps and Navy operating forces operate seamlessly with one another, the intelligence warfighting function is no different from the rest of the force. Systemic changes are required to further integrate the naval intelligence enterprises. Following are suggestions for ways to more closely align the Navy and Marine Corps efforts. 

Service Intelligence Centers

The Commandant’s Planning Guidance describes the separation of the Navy and Marine Corps into two services with distinctly different priorities by stating that “The 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, however, removed the preponderance of the [Fleet Marine Force] from fleet operational control and disrupted the long-standing Navy-Marine Corps relationship by creating separate Navy and Marine Corps components within joint forces. Furthermore, Navy and Marine Corps officers developed a tendency to view their operational responsibilities as separate and distinct, rather than intertwined.”5

Nowhere is this more evident than at the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA). MCIA was created in 1987 and intended to bridge the gap between the (newly separated from fleet control) Fleet Marine Force and the national Intelligence Community.6 Located in Quantico, Virginia, it currently operates three lines of effort: production of intelligence estimates as required by the supporting establishment, support to the operating forces and intelligence community, and facilitating/coordinating efforts of the Marine Corps Intelligence Enterprise.7 None of these responsibilities seem to be dissimilar from those of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI); except that the institutional separation between the two likely limits coordination. Structure drives function. Establish MCIA as a tenant command under ONI and integrate the service level intelligence centers. Space is available—is the old ONI building being used? 

Doing so would benefit both organizations. ONI would gain subject matter expertise on intelligence support to ground operations and amphibious operations. MCIA’s production responsibilities involve inherently naval concepts and would likely be better served by close coordination with the nation’s premier maritime intelligence authority. Moving MCIA onto the ONI campus and into its structure would allow for routine interaction by reducing the 90-mile round trip required for in-person collaboration. It would also ease interaction with other members of the intelligence community and the other services’ intelligence centers, most of which are located inside the Washington, DC, beltway. 

Since the operating services call for an integrated network of sensors, and the Marine Corps plans to double the number of unmanned aerial vehicles it operates, the cell responsible for processing, exploitation, and dissemination (PED) of intelligence gathered by these vehicles should operate in this proposed structure.8 In the LOCE and EABO constructs, information collected by sensors informs decision-makers of both services and so locating the PED for new Marine Corps ISR at a joint command would represent each service’s equities equally. 

Marine Corps and Navy intelligence officers assigned to the proposed MCIA/ONI combination would operate in an integrated naval intelligence structure and return to the operating forces with an understanding of the other service’s threat concerns and enterprise structure, creating a subset of officers with joint naval expertise as a part of their shore tours. Integrating the service level intelligence centers would shift the bifurcated efforts to a mutual comprehensive focus on the maritime domain beginning with the littorals and stretching to the bluewater ocean. Navy and Marine Corps interests are intertwined; why not their intelligence centers?

Personnel Exchange in Equivalent Billets

Since Marine Aviators attend Navy schools, use Navy-funded aircraft, and are held to Navy maintenance and readiness standards, why not standardize the training and employment of Marine Corps Air Intelligence Officers and Navy Aviation Intelligence Officers assigned to squadrons? Once standardized, these personnel could be exchanged for tours with the other service. Marines could deploy as part of a carrier strike group and learn the Navy Intelligence structure; Navy intelligence officers could integrate into the Marine Air Ground Task Force. Precedents exist, as every Marine unit already deploys with Navy medical and religious personnel. 

This would only work in Aviation Combat Element billets as these are the most similar between the two services. Marine Corps ground intelligence officers, for example, qualify as infantry officers as part of their training pipeline and so have very different expertise than that expected of Navy intelligence officers. However , since the Marine Corps uses Navy standards and funding for its aviation, formally integrating intelligence support systems should not be difficult, thereby creating a permanent reserve of junior officers who have operational experience in the other naval service.

Analysis Exchange

Formalizing a structure for analytic exchange would integrate the two services by allowing analysts to access products across the integrated enterprises. The Marine Corps already uses the Marine Corps Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Enterprise Knowledge Gateway (MKG). The MKG is an internet portal that resides on secure networks on which analysts upload their products. It allows, for example, an intelligence analyst at III MEF in Okinawa to read the work of analysts at 6th Marine Regiment in Camp Lejeune. Either the Marine Corps could add Navy operational units to the MKG or together the two services could develop a joint architecture for sharing tactical intelligence, enabling seamless integration in garrison and while deployed. Threats are service agnostic. Systems architecture should be as well. 

According to the services’ operating concepts, the Navy and Marine Corps intend to operate together seamlessly in a future naval campaign. Since one of the main arguments for these concepts is the creation of a network of sensors to inform decision-makers, the services’ intelligence and information warfare communities are vital to this effort—these communities can lead through deliberate structural change to involve the other service in its enterprise. The Navy and Marine Corps may be two separate services but when the next war kicks off they will be in the same boat. 

Will McGee is a student at Yale Law School and currently serving as a Captain in the Marine Corps Reserves.  A 2013 graduate of the US Naval Academy, Will earned a Masters of Philosophy in Modern European History at Cambridge University, UK, as a Nolan Scholar, and served eight years as an active-duty Ground Intelligence Officer. 


1 United States Marine Corps, Force Design 2030.

2 United States Navy and United States Marine Corps, Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment., page 6.

3 United States Marine Corps, Expeditionary Advanced Basing Operations,

4 Force Design, 12.

5 United States Marine Corps, Commandant’s Planning Guidance,, page 2.

6 John Brown, Christina Clark, Jorge Miranda, Neri Terry, “Marine Corps Intelligence Activity Military and Civilian Interaction” (unpublished manuscript, June 2011),

7 “Marine Corps Intelligence Activity”

8 Force Design, 7.

Featured Image: U.S. Army Soldiers with 1st Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces Command, conduct an extraction during an Expeditionary Advance Base Operation exercise at the Northern Training Area, Okinawa, Japan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)