Category Archives: Naval Intelligence Week

Naval Intelligence Week Concludes on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC recently featured a series of pieces submitted in response to our call for articles on naval intelligence.

Authors highlighted the valuable role naval intelligence plays in understanding the environment, conducting naval operations, and shaping force development. Naval intelligence will remain indispensable in understanding how competitors are operating and developing their forces, while also understanding their proclivities for aggression and destabilizing activities.

Yet naval intelligence has also been heavily shaped by years of focus on counterinsurgency and counterterrorism in the Middle East. Change is necessary to adapt to the challenges of great power competition, and to stay ahead of the curve of both ever more capable rivals and constantly evolving technology. Naval intelligence is poised to reap serious gains from artificial intelligence and machine learning, but the question of how to build trust remains. And even if naval intelligence reveals penetrating insight, will naval leadership and those in the other communities of the Navy be prepared to make full use of it?

Below are the authors who featured during CIMSEC’s naval intelligence topic week. We thank them for their excellent contributions.

Brains and Brown Shoes: Building a Better Naval Aviation Intelligence Officer,” by Lieutenant Peter McGee, Lieutenant Gretchen Arndt, and Commander Christopher Nelson

“Intelligence support to naval aviation will not only require a re-assessment of manning, training, and equipping but a re-evaluation of how we provide tactical and operational intelligence support to the fleet. A promising roadmap for reform lies in the EA-18G Growler squadrons of the electronic attack community.”

Intel Owns Red: How Red Teaming Can Prepare the Fleet for the Fight Ahead,” by Lieutenant Commander Christopher Blake and Lieutenant Grace Jones

“The most effective way to reinvigorate NAVINTEL’s focus on owning Red comes via two main methods: deep understanding of the adversary and the application of structured contrarian analysis. We describe these combined phenomena as Red Teaming, a two-pronged analytical methodology that can and should be applied at all levels of war.”

The Coastwatchers: Intelligence Lessons Learned for the Future Single Naval Battle,” by Captain Michael Van Liew

“The historic success of the Coastwatchers provides valuable insight for naval intelligence in the future single naval battle. Proactive intelligence, multi-domain intelligence, and local access and support remain necessary for an effective naval intelligence operation.”

Calling in Thunder: Naval Intelligence Enabling Precision Long-Range Fires,” by Lieutenant Commander Gerie Palanca

“In the long-range fight, rapid, actionable, targetable information is now the center of gravity. For the NIWC to execute an ISR construct that supports this evolving nature of warfare effectively, the community will need to develop a tailored artificial intelligence (AI) capability. Scouting in support of maritime fires is a culture shift for the NIWC, but it is not the only change that needs to happen.”

Trustable AI: A Critical Challenge for Naval Intelligence,” by Stephen L. Dorton and Samantha Harper

“One can readily imagine numerous applications for AI/ML in naval intelligence at tactical, operational, and strategic levels: threat detection and tipping and cueing from signals intelligence (SIGINT) or electronic intelligence (ELINT), target classification with acoustic intelligence (ACINT) or imagery intelligence, using AI/ML to predict enemy movements for anti-submarine warfare, and many others.”

The Unique Intelligence Challenges of Countering Naval Asymmetric Warfare,” by CDR (ret.) Dr. Eyal Pinko

“A better understanding of the nature of asymmetric naval warfare and its associated force development could have better prepared the Israeli Navy for this attack. However, naval asymmetric warfare poses unique complexities that can strain the ability of naval intelligence to comprehend it.”

Connecting Partnerships for the Co-Production of Full-Spectrum Threat Intelligence,” by Hal Kempfer and John P. Sullivan

“In the maritime domain, the new role of naval intelligence will need to construct a program of genuine fusion or fusion centers that are integrated, capable and focused. This is not to simply ‘recreate the wheel’ but take what is already there and vastly improve upon it to integrated effort and management.”

Old Books, New Ideas: Realigning Naval Intelligence for Great Power Competition,” by Matt Wertz

“Naval Intelligence will prove its relevance by maintaining its wartime footing daily through the experiences and insights that its competitors do not have. Naval Intelligence is the decision advantage for GPC, using ‘old school’ tools, honed through combat, the Cold War, and combat again, supplemented by “new school” techniques. All of these tools will be that decisive advantage just in case ‘competition’ becomes ‘combat.'”

If You Build It, They Will Lose: Competing with China Requires New Information Warfare Tools,” by Andrew Thompson

“China’s modernization of its Navy, enhanced with its desired use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), should catalyze change in our own development efforts. Its modernization initiative directly supports its system destruction warfare principlewhich operationalizes a system of systems approach to combat. Confronting this style of warfare requires a new mindset, and the Information Warfare apparatus, of which Naval Intelligence is an integral part, must align itself appropriately to support this change.”

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSE’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (March 1, 2021) Sailors conduct maintenance on the wing of an E-2C Hawkeye, assigned to the “Liberty Bells” of Airborne Command and Control Squadron (VAW) 115, on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) March 1, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Alexander Williams)

If You Build It, They Will Lose: Competing with China Requires New Information Warfare Tools

Naval Intelligence Topic Week

By Andrew P. Thompson

The Modern Fight

Written into the most recent National Security Strategy is the principle that Great Power competition will continue to play a major role in the shaping of our strategic priorities.1 As the Navy continues adapting to operations below the level of armed conflict, how we implement combat capability must adjust. China’s modernization of its Navy, enhanced with its desired use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), should catalyze change in our own development efforts. Its modernization initiative directly supports its system destruction warfare principle, which operationalizes a system of systems approach to combat. Confronting this style of warfare requires a new mindset, and the Information Warfare apparatus, of which Naval Intelligence is an integral part, must align itself appropriately to support this change. While the last century’s wars heavily favored attrition-centric warfare, 21st century Great Power competition requires the use of warfare that is decision-centric. The Information Warfare Community (IWC) support required for such an approach must capitalize on the use of new technologies, developed from industry, to aid commanders. Doing so will allow the IWC to provide decision-makers with the best advantages as fast as possible and the method to accomplish such a feat will determine both the IWC’s and Naval Intelligence’s legacy in this modern fight.

By the end of 2020, China is assessed to have 360 battle force ready ships compared to the U.S. Navy with 297.2 Projecting forward to 2025, China will have 400 battle force ships and 425 by 2030.3 In addition to the sheer size of its projected ship count, China is currently making strides to modernize its programs associated with anti-ship ballistic missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, submarines, aircraft, unmanned aircraft, and command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) tools.4 One supporting element in modernizing these programs is the Chinese utilization of AI. According to the Congressional Research Service, “the Chinese aim to use AI for exploiting large troves of intelligence, generating a common operating picture, and accelerating battlefield decision-making.”5 As opposed to the bureaucratic red tape that exists in much of the U.S. defense acquisitions process, few such barriers exist in China’s between its commercial, academic, military, and government entities. Therefore, the Chinese government can directly shape AI development to meet its desired need in whatever capacity it wants. To support this effort, the Chinese government founded a Military-Civil Fusion Development Commission in 2017 in order to rapidly transfer AI technology, from whatever source, directly to the military.6 In doing so, China is incrementally utilizing AI to enhance its conventional force modernization programs at a more rapid pace than one impeded by self-imposed bureaucracy.

AI Benefits/Issues

The advantages of AI technology apply no matter which nation develops it, allowing combat systems to react at gigahertz speed. With such a dramatic shift in the time scale of combat, the pace of combat itself accelerates.7 Additionally, military AI use can provide an augmentation option for long-term tasks that exceed human endurance. For example, intelligence gathering across vast areas for long durations becomes more manageable for human analysts when using AI.

In addition to the above advantages, AI directly confronts, and has the potential to make sense of, the tremendous amount of data for analysts to process. While the U.S. military operates over 11,000 drones, with each one recording “more than three NFL seasons worth” of high-definition footage each day, there are simply not enough people to adequately glean all possible actionable intelligence from such media.8 Similarly overwhelming are the 1.7 megabytes of information that the average human generates every second.9 Therefore, AI-powered intelligence systems may offer a way to sift through the resulting data repositories in order to better understand behavior patterns. Further, after a desired set of iterations, AI algorithms may feed further analysis that refines earlier conclusions, and ultimately provide an even better understanding of complex information for decision-making advantage.10 While promising, skepticism is necessary. Dr. Arati Prabhakar, a former DARPA Director, noted, “When we look at what’s happening with AI, we see something that is very powerful, but we also see a technology that is still quite fundamentally limited…the problem is that when it’s wrong, it’s wrong in ways that no human would ever be wrong.”11 Such skeptical risk, however, does not outweigh the possible benefits of AI’s development and use.

While the advantages of AI technology are clear, our adversary’s approach to how this development takes place merits discussion. The Chinese AI development framework can be corrupt and favor sub-par research institutions, resulting in potential overinvestment, producing unneeded and wasteful surpluses.12 Conversely, whatever advantage the U.S. retains in AI technology research due to China’s own domestic malfeasance can quickly diminish by way of industrial espionage. Despite agreeing to the U.S.-China Cyber Agreement, in which both sides agreed that “neither country’s government will conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property,” it was reported to Congress that “from 2011-2018, more than 90 percent of the Justice Department’s cases alleging economic espionage by or to benefit a state involve China, and more than two-thirds of the Department’s theft of trade secrets cases have had a nexus to China.”13 Such actions, while not germane exclusively to AI development, clearly show an aggressive approach to technological progress with little regard for agreed-upon rules. When applied to AI research, such aggressiveness may result in less safe outcomes due to China’s tolerance for risk at the expense of speed. This may eventually result in the U.S. possessing more capable applications in the long-term.14 However, such optimism does not exempt the U.S. from adjusting to the modern concept of warfare for which China is rapidly developing AI in the first place.

System of Systems/System Destruction Warfare

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) no longer sees war as a contest of annihilation between opposing forces. Rather, it sees war as a clash between opposing operational systems.15 Thus, China sees the victor in a war as the side who renders the other side’s systems ineffective, the ultimate goal of system destruction warfare. This model demands a joint force that utilizes numerous types of units from multiple services to continuously conduct operations across the battlefield.16 The past predicated that dominance in one or more physical domains was sufficient for warfighting success. As an example, 20th century thought suggested that air dominance was necessary to achieve land or sea dominance. Systems confrontation, on the other hand, predicates that warfare success requires dominance in all domains: land, sea, air, cyber, electromagnetic, and space.17 However, for such dominance to occur, the first domain necessitating control is the information one, as it is the nucleus that ensures everything else within the overall system correctly functions.18

To account for this dynamic force posturing in all domains, the PLA requires multidimensional and multifunctional operational systems. Such system permutations enable enough flexibility to adjust to newly developed technology.19 Correspondingly, a degree of malleability is built into the architecture of the PLA’s system categories of entities, structures, and elements. Entities include the weapon platform itself. Structures include the matrix style interlink that allows for coordinated functioning. Elements include the system’s command and control, protection, and maneuver capabilities. When intertwined, the resulting web of each system’s entities, structures, and elements provides redundancies that ensure the overall system is greater than the sum of its disparate parts.20 That said, each part is elastic enough that taking one part away from the web will not result in a total loss, while adding a part is equally non-destructive.

With these systems, the PLA seeks to strike four types of targets: 1) targets that interrupt the flow of information within an enemy’s system, such as key data links to a system’s command and control, 2) targets that degrade essential elements of an enemy’s system, such as a system’s firepower capability, 3) targets that interrupt the operational architecture of a system, such as the physical nodes of the essential elements (i.e. the firepower network), and 4) targets that interrupt the tempo of an enemy’s systems architecture, such as a system’s “reconnaissance-control-attack-evaluation” process that is inherent to all operational systems.21 Thus, the PLA seeks to operationalize its destructive warfare model by targeting what it perceives as the most vulnerable parts of its adversary’s infrastructure. By building flexibility into the design of units within its own system of systems (entities, structure, and elements) used to conduct this targeting, China’s system destruction warfare model accounts for loss while simultaneously adapting to new developments. Such an approach makes for a leaner, smarter, and dynamic force.

Decision-Centric Warfare/Our Response

In the current environment, Carrier Strike Groups are the Navy’s common force packages that deliver multi-mission units.22 These groups are vulnerable due to their size and aggregation, providing the perfect units for the PLA to target with its system destruction warfare model. Other services’ main force packages, such as the Army’s Brigade Combat Teams and the Marines’ Expeditionary Units, are also reflective of a vulnerable force borne out of the attrition-centric warfare model.23 While this legacy mindset worked in the 20th century, Great Power competition in the 21st century provides the requisite scenario to impose multiple dilemmas on an enemy to prevent it from achieving objectives. This decision-centric warfare approach, where making decisions faster than the adversary is paramount, is the cornerstone ingredient of the required methodology to confront China’s destructive warfare model.24 Having the Navy’s current force package, the Carrier Strike Group, utilize AI and autonomous systems is the means by which this new approach can be operationalized.

In addition to the benefits of AI discussed earlier, autonomous systems afford forces the ability to conduct more distributed operations by way of disaggregating capabilities of more traditional multi-mission platforms into a larger number of less flexible and less expensive systems.25 Use of these autonomous systems, on an as-available basis, is the hallmark standard of the decision-centric model. Thus, command and control of autonomous forces is based on communications availability, rather than a hardened command and control network. Decision-centric warfare assumes, and accounts for, contested and/or denied communications, as a commander will only possess control of forces that he/she actually can communicate with.26

From a decision-centric warfare model perspective, the current force’s Mission Command actually undermines its ability to make the necessary quickest decisions. It does so because the current command and control of forces is dependent on working communications, or extensively troubleshooting them, all of the time. To enable commanders to address this shortfall, the adoption of a new command and control structure that combines human command and AI-enabled machine control is necessary. Such a structure would combine a human’s flexibility and creativity with a machine’s speed and scale.27 Over time, as discussed earlier, human commanders could adjust machine recommendations, thereby forcing the machine to learn, increasing the commander’s confidence in subsequent recommendations when communications are limited.28 The net result of this feedback loop is a decision-making apparatus superior to an adversary’s. When applied to enemy systems attempting to target/destroy friendly force systems, the resulting quick decision-making effectively outmaneuvers the opposing side.

A key enabler of this quick decision-making rests with the advent of the Information Warfare Commander position on Carrier Strike Group staffs, which has gradually elevated the status of the Information Warfare Community (IWC) across the service. Along with this position, personnel within the Strike Group IWC Enterprise are key enablers who must recognize that their ability to leverage decision-making and combat capability lies with their ability to enable AI and autonomous systems of the future, combine this enabling with their own understanding of enemy intentions, and ultimately make recommendations to improve the commander’s decision cycle.

To achieve this, IWC personnel must be cognizant of new technologies on the rise within industry, where the most promising disruptive innovation trends reside that can meet these challenges. As the National Security Strategy states, “We must harness innovative technologies that are being developed outside of the traditional defense industrial base.”29 To this end, and to “harness innovative technologies,” an AI-industry sponsor must be assigned to each Carrier Strike Group Information Warfare Commander and his/her subordinate staff. This sponsorship program would enable IWC personnel the ability to incorporate the most modern AI technology into at-risk portions of their portfolios and define exacting requirements for new tools that are flexible enough for future progressive technological investment. While such innovation developments may surpass the tenure of the personnel assigned to the Strike Group staffs, the output of each team will aid future teams’ performance and eventually the Navy’s fighting ability. As such, after several iterations of afloat Strike Group staffs working with their respective industry sponsor, the result would be the promotion of tool production that aids the service in possessing the technological and decision-making edge…and ultimately play a direct role in future potential conflicts.

Getting to this point will require a new mindset for IWC personnel. Most do not possess acquisitions experience and most have not worked in positions that require technological innovation. To aid in not overburdening an IWC staff, the TYCOM should assign an Acquisitions Community sponsor to each Information Warfare Commander. This new combined team, comprised of the Strike Group IWC personnel, the AI-industry sponsor, and the TYCOM-approved Acquisitions Community sponsor, would seek to prototype tools/designs that attack key problem areas encountered by end users (i.e. the IWC personnel), as stated earlier. By swiftly deploying new operational concepts into potentially useable tools and products, the new decision-making infrastructure would support a warfare model fit to confront China’s today.

When compared to every other warfare area within the Navy, the IWC requires the most modern technological advances in the least amount of time. While other communities have proven processes and protocols in place to implement new technologies into their existing platforms, the IWC is simply too new and in too much need to benefit from these practices. This demands that the IWC business model be different, as Information Warfare Commanders need tools right now to effectively compete and win. Further, they must be the right tools where end users have a direct say in what they get.

Great Power Competition will dominate our military’s focus for the foreseeable future and the Information Warfare Community, including Naval Intelligence, must adjust accordingly. Understanding that China intends to enhance its military modernization efforts with AI, that it thinks differently about warfare in the 21st century, and that we need to modify our own warfare model to effectively respond, the Information Warfare Community’s newfound status should elevate new technologies into our Navy’s decision-making and combat DNA. The nation, and our Navy, cannot afford a misstep in this realm. The next major conflict will possess high stakes in the information domain where the Navy’s IWC will be at the forefront.

LCDR Andrew Thompson is currently serving at the USINDOPACOM JIOC. As a Surface Warfare Officer, he served aboard USS BOONE (FFG 28) as the Communications Officer, at Destroyer Squadron FIFTY as the Operations Officer, and at Naval Special Warfare Group ONE as the Middle East Desk Officer. As an Intelligence Officer, he has completed tours at the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Navy Cyber Warfare Development Group, and Carrier Strike Group TWELVE (as the Deputy N2). He holds a B.S. in Naval Architecture (USNA ’05), an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering (NPS), and an M.A. in National Security Studies (Naval War College). He holds subspecialties in African Studies and Space Systems, and has deployed to the SOUTHCOM, EUCOM, AFRICOM, and CENTCOM AORs. The views expressed in this article are his own, and do not reflect those of the Department of Defense or the Intelligence Community. 


1 Trump, Donald J., National Security Strategy of the United States of America, December, 2017, 27.

2 “China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress.”

3 Ibid., 2.

4 Ibid., 3.

5 “Artificial Intelligence and National Security,” Congressional Research Service, November 21, 2019, 21.

6 Ibid., 21.

7 Ibid., 27.

8 Ibid., 28.

9 Ibid., 28.

10 Ibid., 28-29.

11 Ibid., 29.

12 Ibid., 23.

13 Ibid., 23.

14 Ibid., 23.

15 Engstrom, Jeffrey, How the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Seeks to Wage Modern Warfare, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2018, 10-11.

16 Ibid., 12.

17 Ibid., 13.

18 Ibid., 12.

19 Ibid., 13.

20 Ibid., 14.

21 Ibid., 16-18.

22 Clark, Bryan, Dan Patt, and Harrison Schramm. Mosaic Warfare: Exploiting Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems to Implement Decision-Centric Operations. Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2020, ii.

23 Ibid., iii.

24 Ibid., iii.

25 Ibid., v.

26 Ibid., v.

27 Ibid., vi.

28 Ibid., vi.

29 Trump, Donald J., National Security Strategy of the United States of America, December, 2017, 29.


“Artificial Intelligence and National Security.” Congressional Research Service. November 21, 2019.

“China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Service. May 21, 2020.

Clark, Bryan, Dan Patt, and Harrison Schramm. Mosaic Warfare: Exploiting Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems to Implement Decision-Centric Operations. Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2020.

Engstrom, Jeffrey. How the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Seeks to Wage Modern Warfare. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

Trump, Donald J. National Security Strategy of the United States of America. December, 2017.

Featured Image: Sailors wearing gas masks operate a combat direction system console aboard the guided-missile frigate Handan (Hull 579) during a 4-day maritime training exercise conducted by a destroyer flotilla of the navy under the PLA Northern Theater Command in waters of the Yellow Sea from March 27 to 30, 2018. ( by Zhang Hailong)

Old Books, New Ideas: Realigning Naval Intelligence for Great Power Competition

Naval Intelligence Week

By Matt Wertz

The statesman of the twentieth century, Winston S. Churchill, cautioned about both the prelude to war and actual war, saying: “However sure you are that you could easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance.” Therefore, intelligence as a whole should be looking for the other man’s chances, and to stay one move ahead of his. For Naval Intelligence, the maritime portion of the Great Power Competition (GPC) is nothing new; it is the 21st century version of former Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Paul Nitze’s, Cold War sea power tome, this time concerning both the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation.1 Naval Intelligence will prove its relevance by maintaining its wartime footing daily through the experiences and insights that its competitors do not have. Naval Intelligence is the decision advantage for GPC, using “old school” tools, honed through combat, the Cold War, and combat again, supplemented by “new school” techniques. All of these tools will be that decisive advantage just in case “competition” becomes “combat.”

What Intelligence is, and is Not

Intelligence is to provide a game plan, a scouting report concerning the competition. Others say that intelligence exists to narrow the range of uncertainty, and to predict patterns, and not events.2 Unfortunately, these opinions are written from a swivel chair in an airconditioned office in Washington, DC, and not underway from the Flag Bridge. Tactically speaking, “the single most important role of intelligence is to provide warning.”3 In the past, the failure to provide warning, the intelligence community’s “one job, one task, one mission” resulted in catastrophes at Pearl Harbor and on 9/11.4

The strategic signal regarding indications and warning is clear: the United States has returned to a state-versus-state paradigm against China and Russia for the foreseeable future, other missions, such as humanitarian assistance and counterterrorism, notwithstanding.5 The analysis that “as [China’s and Russia’s] denial and deception abilities increase, intelligence collection and the realm of the possible will be even more important, requiring greater preparedness and increased readiness, since warning time will be a thing of the past” is truer now than when first published in 1980.6 Naval intelligence must answer the question: when will China and Russia achieve their own GPC goals and objectives?

Intelligence and operations work best symbiotically, and lacking this symbiosis, the best possible intelligence will not be produced.7 This has proven true from ancient times to the modern day: “Those engaged in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan will attest that genuine ops-intel integration is a two-way street where warriors and intelligence specialists feed one another to produce genuine synergy and sharpened effects.”8 Additionally, the events surrounding the fall of the Shah of Iran taught: “History provides ample illustration to suggest the futility of warning if decision makers are unwilling to accept warning or are unprepared to deal with the terms on which the warning comes.”9 So, if Naval Intelligence’s job is “tomorrow,” i.e., warning in advance of conflict or catastrophe, then how can it accomplish this?

The current realignment to a navy-on-navy focus means that Naval Intelligence must reemphasize traditional intelligence disciplines (the “old school”), and learn new, tech- and data-savvy ones (the “new school”).

Old School

One “old school” theme has echoed across two centuries of naval intelligence: language training. Others, discussed for decades, include: geographic specialization expertise; operational intelligence (OpIntel); and targeting (i.e., war at sea targeting and strike). 

With perfect hindsight, the pre-World War II U.S. Navy should have developed in parallel the Rainbow War Plans and the skills from pertinent specialties, including the intelligence, communications, and medical communities, capable of working language, culture, and regional fluency in theaters where the United States expected to operate. However, the realities of the budget, especially concerning the interwar, post-Great Depression hardware needs may have outweighed the development of linguistic capabilities. Impressment of musicians for a perceived skill is no way to run an intelligence division, or to plan for combat operations. The Navy is now looking itself in the mirror a hundred years after the inception of these interwar operational plans with only a handful of Cantonese, Mandarin, (North) Korean, and Russian-fluent personnel, and even fewer fluent in allies’ languages. 

In 1879, then-Commander Alfred T. Mahan asserted that all officers should have language training,10 and in 1907 Admiral George Dewey said the same thing, commenting on the Russo-Japanese War.11 Other authors made similar observations in 1947,12 2006,13 and 2017, and stressed language and cultural capability for one simple reason: those who receive this education and training will be future chiefs and commanders, and they will have the knowledge and credibility required to be of maximum value to operations in those regions. In 1943, through the use of cultural/language training and expertise, Admiral Nimitz ordered the operation to kill Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. Edwin Layton, the man who drafted Nimitz’s order, was the former Naval Attaché to Tokyo before the war, a personal friend of Admiral Yamamoto, and Admiral Nimitz’s Intelligence Officer.14

Open-ocean search and tracking – called Operational Intelligence or OpIntel by the U.S. Navy – has been the staple of intelligence and operations since men first took to the sea. A navy must be able to find its enemy, track its enemy, and if ordered to, engage its enemy using its primary weapons system, whether with its bow on a trireme, or an over-the-horizon guided weapon.15 Otherwise, that navy is useless to its country. OpIntel is the backbone of naval intelligence, requiring deep foundational knowledge of and investment in the adversary’s military doctrine, organizational culture, language, history, and technological trajectories, among others. But to accumulate this expertise, geographic specialists and OpIntel personnel require mutual training and support, before they can produce intelligence for fleet training, capability development, operational plans, etc.

Since at least 1901, authors have discussed collection and reconnaissance in Proceedings. For instance, one author thought that it was “the barest common sense” that intelligence not only be acquired in peacetime, but maintained “in the most persistent, painstaking and methodical way, so that it shall be but a matter of a minute to lay the Government hand upon any portion needed.”16 Today, this includes everything from order-of-battle to technical intelligence,17 and other collections.18

In Ellicott’s 1901 article, he stressed the need for reconnaissance. Forty years later, both reconnaissance and intelligence played their respective roles at Midway; had either failed, the U.S. Navy might have been defeated.19 In 1971, the U.S. Navy discussed the same theme concerning satellite ocean surveillance,20 and then again with the emergence of unmanned amphibious reconnaissance. Satellites cannot detect everything, and more often than not, the best intelligence collector is a human standing watch at sea. However, the intelligence community needs to be responsive to every intelligence report offered by a unit: no commanding officer should ever say, “Well, we sent the message and never heard from them. I don’t know if they even got it.”21 

The 20th century saw a reliance on the concept of coalition warfare, from World War I through the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, continuing into the Global War on Terror in the 21st century. Therefore, intelligence sharing is a rule. Although the current “Five Eyes Intelligence Oversight and Review Council is an outgrowth of a World War II initiative, other counties and partners are engaged.22 Allied partners have been known to have effective intelligence capabilities.

Secrecy, Counterintelligence, and Security

Although “know yourself and know your enemy” is normally an operationally-associated dictum, American counterintelligence support to warfighting dates back to the Revolutionary War.23 The United States needs to keep its secrets secret. Many times, the United States has been its own worst enemy with respect to operational security, from social media surveillance, to classified material in peer-review publications,24 to open sources, to theft and positive collection from a hostile nation,25 and even espionage.26

Two years ago, counterintelligence (CI) was an award-winning topic in Proceedings as the author showed how important effective CI programs (“knowing yourself”) are, directly impacting operations. The Navy has had its spies, and strong CI operations can upset the game plans of those who try to steal the Navy’s information, a target set not limited to the Chinese or the Russians. The importance for GPC is that the Navy needs to protect its information, to root out the “moles” in the Department, and to prosecute them, or to use them for its own purposes.

The final word concerning security and counterintelligence rests in a comment made immediately following 9/11: “The final intelligence failure is the most telling, and that is our government’s failure to keep our intelligence capabilities secret. This is partially the fault of the intelligence community in its eagerness to brag about capabilities in search of appropriations, but more usually, the ‘leak’ comes from Congress or a senior leader in the administration. A collection capability revealed too often has become a capability destroyed. If we fail to protect our sources and methods, in time our system will be emasculated and intelligence failures will become a certainty.”27

The current COVID pandemic underscores the requirements for planning and executing operations in a contaminated environment (whether biological, chemical, or radiological). These considerations have been constant since World War I,28 persisting through the Cold War,29 the Balkan conflict,30 Afghanistan, and Iraq.31 Medical intelligence in support of force protection and maritime interdiction may play a greater role in GPC than originally envisioned. In fact, medical professionals may have more contact with foreign nationals than intelligence or operations personnel, and will require language and cultural training. Medical intelligence is as valuable as every other functional area of intelligence, especially in support of any operations ashore as those personnel “feet dry” may have contact with not only a myriad of possibly infectious diseases, but may be providing combat medical support simultaneously.

New School

In recent years, the asymmetric threat,32 cyber warfare, fourth generation warfare, artificial intelligence, and data science/analytics have come to fore as mission and mission support areas. In planning for cyber warfare, certain schools of thought have arisen, including the need for a cyber defense in depth as in traditional naval warfare, force protection, and offensive force application. Nowhere is this more prevalent than social media. “Connections on social media (including LinkedIn and Facebook) may not be who we think they are. The enemy wants to be your online friend and shipmate—and it is putting us all at risk.”

Other areas of importance to the “new school” of intelligence are AI and the rise of data, which affect the military and business sectors alike in areas such as the application of machine learning, the “shelf life” of data before it becomes stale or superseded, and data security, to name a few.33 Data should be taken out of its silo, and placed in more of a horizontal network. However useful as it may be in business, AI and application of data should never overreach beyond its intent, and should never undermine established principles of command: the commander-in-the-loop has the final say. In GPC, these are the tools of a new era of threat collection, reporting, and most importantly, analysis and prediction. 

No Bucks, no Buck Rogers

What is important, what is not, and what is worth paying for in peacetime that will take resources away from another capability that is an “operational requirement?” How much risk is acceptable when deciding not to have a given intelligence capability?

As intelligence is part of the Command Process, “This is no time ‘to begrudge the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver’ for information.”34 However, the Congress has other programs to fund, and in days of austere funding, every budgetary line item will be under scrutiny, including investments in intelligence.

There is a great difference between the meanings of the cost of intelligence, the price of intelligence, and the value of intelligence, but intelligence can provide a clear estimate of how the United States and its allies can cost-effectively compete and therefore drive down the price of defense (shipbuilding, weapons systems procurement, etc.), and the cost of war. 

The Bottom Lines

First, some of the issues raised in this article have been discussed since the Rutherford B. Hayes Administration, and the U.S. Navy has an opportunity to use these timeless lessons to grow and to use its intelligence capability during the early stages of GPC, rather than trying to catch up to current operations with minimal staffing, funding, equipment, and training. These monies start with “knowing your enemy” and progress into language proficiency and geographical area specialists, OpIntel, counterintelligence, medical intelligence (diseases are an enemy, too), and allied intelligence sharing.

Second, emphasis on both the active use of intelligence as well as the active defense of intelligence from the enemy are critical for maintaining information as a precious commodity. The enemy will steal it as fast as it can be produced. The easiest place to defeat an enemy is from the enemy’s computer hard drive, or from the enemy’s blackboard, not from a naval engagement.

Third, GPC is not a single-designator task, it is a service-wide issue. Although Naval Intelligence will play its role to ensure that the competition is favorable to the U.S. Navy, other designators will have to play their part as well. Naval Intelligence has had decades of combat experience, from Operation Desert Storm to Afghanistan, and will be a force multiplier by doing its time-tested job day in and day out to a receptive operational audience. But the other designator will need to do their respective parts as well. 

Finally, addressing these issues today means that the U.S. Navy and Naval Intelligence will maintain maritime superiority through GPC without firing a salvo in anger, and thus prove Mister Churchill correct: the other fellow will realize that he does not have a chance.

Matt Wertz is a retired Naval Intelligence officer with overseas assignments in Korea and Japan, was awarded the Bronze Star in Afghanistan for running Emergency Management Operations in 2004-2005. He made four more deployments to Afghanistan doing Counter-IED support. He has a MBA, and has accumulated language education on his own in: Latin, German, Korean, Hebrew, and Greek. Although born and bred a Pennsylvanian, he is living in Waynesboro, GA, with his wife and is a direct descendant of a veteran of the Battle of Waynesboro who was assigned to the Pennsylvania 9th Cavalry.


[1] For the overarching blueprint for winning the Cold War at sea, see: Paul Nitze, et al., Securing the Seas: The Soviet Naval Challenge and Western Alliance Options: An Atlantic Council Policy Study (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1979). Although thorough by 1979 standards, it does not reflect certain post-Cold War missions that Mr. Nitze, et al. could not have foreseen.

[2] Brent Scowcroft, “Intelligence is Not a Crystal Ball,” The Washington Post, 12 January 2000, 18.

[3] T. A. Brooks, “Did Intelligence Fail Us? By October 2001 U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 127, no. 10 (October 2001): 54-55.

[4] Joseph J. Thomas, Leadership Embodied: The Secrets to Success of the Most Effective Navy and Marine Corps Leaders (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013). 76.

[5] Roberta Wohlstetter, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1962); and Ephraim Kam, Surprise Attack: The Victim’s Perspective (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988).

[6] Joseph C. Arnold, “On the Importance of Secret Intelligence,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 106, no. 8 (August 1980): 47-53, 53.

[7] J. V. Heimark, “Know Thine Enemy,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 85, no. 8 (August 1959): 65-71, 68.

[8] Mike Studeman, “Seven Myths of Intelligence,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 135, vol. 2 (February 2009): 64-69, 68-69.

[9] United States. Congress. House. Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Subcommittee on Evaluation. Iran: Evaluation of U.S. Intelligence Performance Prior to November 1978: Staff Report. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1979. Page 7.

[10] A. T. Mahan, “Naval Education,” U.S. Naval Institute The Record, 5, no. 4 (October 1879): 345-376, 352.

[11] Kemp Tolley, “A Century of Foreign Languages in the Navy,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 91, no. 2 (February 1965): 43-51, 45.

[12] R. A. Kotrla, “Naval Intelligence Specialists Trained on Post-Graduate Level,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 73, no. 9 (September 1947): 1061-1063.

[13] Zachary M. Peterson, “UAVs Praised: Intel Officers Emphasize Research, Key Jobs, Cultural Understanding.” Inside the Navy 19, no. 2 (2006): 2.

[14] Edwin T. Layton, et al., And I Was There:” Pearl Harbor and Midway–Breaking the Secrets (New York: W. Morrow, 1985), 474-47 

[15] Dan Shanower, “Naval Intelligence Must Focus on Time Critical Targeting,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 126, no. 10 (October 2000): 102-103.

[16] John M. Ellicott, “Naval Reconnaissance in Time of Peace,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 27, no. 3 (September 1901): 561-579, 561.

[17] William L. Sachse, “Our Naval Attaché System: Its Origins and Development to 1917,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 72, no. 5 (May 1946): 661-673, 661.

[18] Chester C. Wood, “The Flow Of Strategic Intelligence,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 59, no. 3 (September 1933): 1296-1304.

[19] Heimark, 69. Emphasis added.

[20] Frank B. Murphy, “Ocean Surveillance: New Weapon of Naval Warfare,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 97, no.2 (February 1971): 41.

[21] Carl Giese, Commentary on, “Stop, Look, and Listen,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 93, no. 12 (December 1967): 103-104.

 [22] See: James Igoe Walsh, The International Politics of Intelligence Sharing (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010); Muza Tuzuner, Intelligence Cooperation Practices in the 21st Century: Towards a Culture of Sharing. (Amsterdam: IOS Press, 2010); and, Kevin Jack Riley, and RAND Corporation, State and Local Intelligence in the War on Terrorism (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp, 2005).

[23] Sam Roberts, Spy History 101: America’s Intelligence Quotient, New York Times, 08 September 2002, Section 4, 4. George Washington declared ”the necessity of procuring good intelligence is apparent and need not be further urged.” He also warned ”for upon secrecy, success depends in most enterprises of the kind, and for want of it, they are generally defeated, however well planned and promising a favorable issue.”

[24] Tracy Barrett Kittredge, “A Military Danger. The Revelation of Secret Strategic Plans,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 81, no. 7 (July 1955): 731-743. Also, Paul H. Backus, “Security and The Double Standard,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 87, no. 12 (December 1961): 36-43.

[25] Takeo Yoshikawa, “Top Secret Assignment Completed,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 86, no. 12 (December 1960): 27-39.

[26] Esmond D. Smith, Jr., “Keeping Our Secrets,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 120, no. 5 (May 1994): 80-84.

[27] T. A. Brooks, 54-55.

[28] C. C. Baughman, “The Use of Chemicals in War,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 53, no. 5 (May 1927): 547-550.

[29] Timothy J. Keen, “Artificial Intelligence and the 1,200-ship Navy,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 114, no. 10 (October 1988): 96-100.

[30] Vash Klein, “Chemical, Biological, or Radiological?” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 126, no. 6 (June 2000): 74-75.

[31] Thomas C. Hone, “Combining Strategy and Intelligence,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 119, no. 6 (June 1993): 59-60.

[32] Rory Berke, “Training for the Wrong Fight,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 134, no. 1 (January 2008): 56-60.

[33] Andrei Haigu and Julian Wright, “When Data Creates Competitive Advantage…And When It Doesn’t,” Harvard Business Review (January-February 2020): 2-9.

[34] Rufus L. Taylor, “Command and The Intelligence Process,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 86, no. 8 (August 1960): 27-39.

Featured Image: A bookshelf (via Wikimedia commons)

Connecting Partnerships for the Co-Production of Full-Spectrum Threat Intelligence

Naval Intelligence Topic Week

By Hal Kempfer and John P. Sullivan

The maritime domain has always played a key role in projecting strategic influence. This includes traditional state-to-state competition as well as addressing non-state threats ranging from piracy, transnational organized crime (including smuggling, drug, arms, and human trafficking), and terrorism. Some of these threats have long histories as piracy has challenged states and empires—notably the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean—since the classic age, while the U.S. Navy and Marines, exemplified by First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon, forged their early professional legacy containing Barbary pirates and privateers operating in North Africa. Pirates have long challenged Asia’s seas with focal points in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean/Straits of Malacca.

Add to these traditional threats the global challenges of port security including both physical and cyber attacks, the potential for littoral terrorist operations—such as the maritime insertion of terrorists for the November 2008 Mumbai Attacks—and the potential for unmanned operations including aerial, surface, and underwater drones. These technological challenges will influence both state and non-state actors leading to new potentials for maritime conflict—ranging from ”Ghost Fleet” type World Wars to “Crime Wars.” This situation assessment briefly outlines key considerations for building a naval intelligence capability for these diverse future threats.

Threat Environment

The maritime domain is both vast and complex. The commercial sector dominates the seas, and non-state shipping dwarfs state shipping, particularly those belonging to navies. As we are entering a new period of near-peer competition, this time with China, and dealing with the Chinese military doctrine of Total Warfare, understanding the fully dynamics of potential maritime threats – whether from flagged naval vessels and aircraft, or more surreptitious players – needs to incorporated into our future of naval intelligence.

North Korea uses commercial ships, often from third nations hidden by shell company ownership, to evade international sanctions on selling its coal, along with shipping deadly arms to other nations (e.g., Iran) posing threats against US interests and the international community. In many cases these ships travel “dark,” either turning off their AIS (Automated Identification System) or putting out a deceptive ID to confuse tracking vessel movements. Identifying a vessel carrying illicit contraband becomes a complex exercise is figuring out tracks, comparing actual transit timelines to what is given, analyzing commercial satellite imagery, assessing ownership and flag of vessels, etc. Trade disputes and sanctions complicate the operating picture as Iranian, Venezuelan, and Chinese vessels are subject to scrutiny. Iranian state piracy and Islamic revolution Guards Corps (IGRC) irregular naval warfare yield a range of threats, including tanker seizures. In some cases vessels smuggling contraband oil makes dangerous and environmentally hazardous ship-to-ship transfers at sea, putting both the crews and surrounding sea life in great peril. This is the modern maritime threat environment.

Full Spectrum Threats

Modern maritime threats range from irregular naval warfare, piracy, maritime terrorism, port security, and narcotics smuggling to gray-zone peer competition. Both state and non-state actors, including insurgents, criminal armed groups (CAGs), and proxies, engage in this spectrum of conflict.

Any vessel afloat is a virtual puzzle palace of threat components. There is the flag the vessel operates under, the ownership of the vessel (which is sometimes a myriad of international shell companies), the ship’s officers and crew, the cargo aboard the ship, the ports of departure, etc. All of these are pieces that when connected form a comprehensive threat assessment. In the future, the veracity and internal controls of the carrier will become more important, meaning a new level of public-private interaction across the maritime domain. It also means discerning intent becomes more and more important, as it will drive other technical means of intelligence collection, and that means that naval intelligence must increasingly rely on human intelligence sources, and the complexity of issues that entails.

Further, the threat doesn’t simply float along the surface of the oceans and seas. It flies above it and increasingly travels below. Criminal cartels are increasingly using “narco-submarines” – usually semi-submersibles, but occasionally submersibles – to ship illegal drugs. It is only matter of time when this smuggling relatively successful methodology is expanded to cover other contraband such as weapons and even human beings. Ports are also an area that is very much part of the threat spectrum. As with civil aviation and airports, certain seaports incur an inherently higher risk of threat activity to lax security and/or oversight. As seen with the recent explosion at the Port of Beirut, dangerous materials stored at the port can have the potential of devastating the port and surrounding urban area in ways equaling the force of the worst conventional military strike and bordering on the effects of a small nuclear warhead. Ports are also focal points for transnational organized crime and racketeering. Transnational organized crime groups focus on extracting resource, including illegal fishing. At times, these threats converge as seen in China’s armed fishing militia—the People’s armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) and maritime enforcement services.

Hot Spots

Although these threats span the globe, they are especially concentrated in specific areas/regions: Caribbean, East & West Africa (including the Niger Delta), and the Indo-Pacific, especially South China Sea. Whereas recent years saw the explosion of piracy stemming from the virtually unpoliced Somali coasts, piracy has also become a growing problem in the Gulf of Guinea near West Africa and Red Sea near Yemen. Virtually every criminal organization is online, and hence integrated into the global economy, financial system and vast information treasure trove that is the modern internet. Further, the relatively low wages of public officials in various parts of the world can make information sharing between nations a risky proposition, particularly as it impacts the maritime domain. International collaboration in chasing down vessels at sea can be compromised in a myriad of ways, and it is not just Hot Spots per se that must be thoroughly vetted and examined but also the surrounding nations where criminal cartels may have penetrated the respective law enforcement, intelligence and maritime security services.

Further, for smuggling, hot spots are growing to include likely areas of transshipment of materials afloat, from ship to ship. Certain areas of the seas are notoriously under-surveilled, and those become likely areas of illicit cargo exchanges. These illicit exchanges threaten the very fabric of international sanctions against nations that refuse to abide by international treaties and norms, such as the development of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear arms. By enabling circumvention of sanctions, allowing these nations to continue their wrongful conduct with minimal adverse consequences, it implicitly increases the likelihood that various players may have rely on more direct action at some point in the future, that could include war. Stopping this illegal transfer at sea strengthens the respective sanctions’ regimes and enables influencing the international community to drive policies and activities of these rogue nations away from what could ultimately result in military action.

Flexible & Scalable Responses

Naval intelligence must be able to address full spectrum threats from the land domain, through ports, littoral zone (including the exclusive economic zone – EEZ), through the high seas. Flexibility is required from the blue water through brown water (high seas, littoral, riverine). Scalable sensing for scalable response is required, with an emphasis on the “Urban Littoral” and “Urban Amphibious Operations.”

While the increasing tension with China, particularly in the South China Sea, means that the United States and its allies must increase their ability to engage against threat maritime combatants, there is also the increasing diversity of threats from non-state actors and sub rosa state operations. Having a flexible response that can interdict, mitigate or prevent illicit activities in the maritime domain becomes increasingly important, even as the spectrum of conflict moves from low intensity to high intensity. If a smuggling attempt can be thwarted in a foreign port of departure prior to the ship leaving the dock, that scenario is preferable to a riskier interdiction at sea. That requires a melding of law enforcement and national security related intelligence, and then having vetted network for information sharing leading to enforcement action.

Many years ago, U.S. Customs (now Customs and Border Protection, or CBP) began stationing inspectors overseas at foreign ports of departure specifically to reduce the risk of illicit materials being loaded aboard ships bound for the United States. Obviously, this required a very high degree of collaboration and information sharing with host nation authorities and developed international “muscle movements” ideal for addressing a host of threat activities involving maritime trade and movements. It was a flexible and highly practical response, that has kept goods flowing at a faster, more efficient rate than reliance on what to then had been traditional practices.

Organizations like the Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) South in Key West, Florida, are prime examples of a blended intelligence-operations team that is both flexible and adaptable, and able to fuse time-sensitive intelligence with operational assets to effect very precise interdiction efforts throughout Caribbean and Pacific maritime areas. JIATF-South blends intelligence from a myriad of sources and methods, then expertly sanitizes that intelligence for optimal utilization with compromising the aforementioned. The enormous success of JIATF-South in drug interdiction speaks for itself, particularly against the low profile and difficult to detect semi-submersibles.

Partners Matter

Modern naval intelligence should emphasize integrating allies and partners through the Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, and Law Enforcement Agencies, to include police and customs officials. Maritime Fusion Centers can uniquely address the “need” for tactical, operational, and strategic intelligence support. For example, with a large host of international liaison officers on staff, the ability of the JIATF-South to quickly mobilize sea, air and land surveillance and enforcement assets using both traditional naval intelligence capabilities along with law enforcement and non-military intelligence information is a benchmark of civil-military, joint service and coalition success in addressing the full-spectrum of threats in a very busy maritime domain.

Part of the discussion about partners in maritime and naval intelligence are increasingly the reliance on specialized components of law enforcement that would seem removed from naval intelligence, particularly those entities dealing with financial and commercial intelligence. Being able to quickly identify and code suspect ownership schemes of ships and cargoes, not to mention connections to the officers and crew of a vessel, are increasingly relevant to timely decisions to interdict and inspect, and ultimately to detain or impound. To date, many ships have been able to sail the seas despite having nebulous registries, ownerships and crewing. However, as maritime intelligence collaboration improves, so should the capability and capacity for more targeted enforcement actions against suspect vessels. A Customs hold on a vessel in port for month or more can have an enormous impact to the bottom line of a commercial shipping company and is an enormous deterrent to allowing smuggling or other illicit activity involving a vessel. Such targeted enforcement entails a highly integrated “partnership” of law enforcement, commercial and intelligence organizations to be effective.

Some of the key “Naval Intelligence” partners in this more comprehensive domain are:

  • The traditional “Tri-Service” maritime agencies (Navy, Coast Guard Marines)
  • Other Military Services (Army, Air Force, Space Force), including the National Guard
  • Other uniformed services, including National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and United States Public Health Service (USPHS)
  • National intelligence community agencies (especially geospatial and overhead imagery)
  • Federal law enforcement, especially Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • State and local law enforcement and public safety (including fish and game/fishery agencies)
  • Port authorities and port police
  • Commercial Maritime Industry (e.g., the Merchant Marine)
  • Private boating associations
  • Port stakeholders (i.e., warehouses, unions, customs brokerages, ground transportation firms, etc.)
  • Oceanic Energy industry (i.e., wind turbine operators, gas and oil platform operators, etc.)
  • Commercial freight and passenger shipping industry
  • Foreign allies (European Union, Five Eyes, NATO, Quad, etc.)
  • FINCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) and Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) around the world
  • United Nations agencies (International Maritime Organization, etc.)

Technology Matters

Sensors, Robotics, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are all part of the mix. Accurate assessment of the full spectra of threats must incorporate actors, modes/methods of warfare in grey area, Non-International Armed Conflict (NIAC), International Armed Conflict (IAC), situations, also humanitarian response, and support to law enforcement operations. It must anticipate and incorporate understanding of various legal regimes and intersecting threats.

Increasingly drones of all sorts will be relied upon for all aspects of gathering intelligence and inspecting suspect vessels. Unmanned Aerial Systems or UAS, along with seagoing surface (unmanned surface vessels – USV) and subsurface drones (unmanned underwater vehicles – UUV), allow for smaller vessels to launch intelligence collection capabilities that previously would require relatively large naval vessels. Additionally, micro-drones that fly, crawl and walk are able to “interrogate” the interiors of vessels and even the interiors of cargo containers remotely, providing a unique picture of what a vessel is actually carrying or doing compared to what they have declared.

Bringing It All Together

Fusion is much more than just information-sharing: It requires “Co-Production of Intelligence” (all source, full spectrum) for intelligence-operations fusion at all phase of operations (pre-, trans-, post incident). Distributed and connected capabilities for the collection, collation, analysis/synthesis, and targeted dissemination that incorporate cybersecurity and counterintelligence capacity are needed at all phases of the intelligence cycle.

The example of the DHS sponsored fusion centers in the U.S. serves as an example of how not to do this, but the example of JIATF-South is one worth referencing. One of the great failures, first semantic and eventually functional, was the phrase “information sharing” and “information sharing environment.” It implied that agencies sharing information was an adequate substitute for genuine intelligence analysis and program management. The result in the U.S. was best seen by the perceived or actual failure of various information-sharing entities to achieve meaningful operation-intelligence fusion to anticipate and adequately respond to the 6 January 2021 U.S. Capitol assault—or insurrection. The challenge facing maritime intelligence centers is that they too can become waylaid from focusing on the more significant threats to instead focusing on politically hot issues that then lead to critical gaps in coverage and assessment.

In the maritime domain, the new role of naval intelligence will need to construct a program of genuine fusion or fusion centers that are integrated, capable and focused. This is not to simply ‘recreate the wheel’ but take what is already there and vastly improve upon it to integrated effort and management. In the United States, an obvious interface would be to put it all under the U.S. Coast Guard, which is already the closest thing the United States has to gendarmerie. The Coast Guard, with its law enforcement capability and Title 50 status, is able to integrate local, state, federal and military intelligence into comprehensive intelligence products and common operational pictures and do so in a distinctly civil-military domain. In the last two decades, it has stood up an impressive human capital capacity in highly trained intelligence professionals and is uniquely suited for integrating its information into the naval intelligence realm.

Civil-military intelligence assets must be coordinated to provide maximum coverage of the maritime domain, and co-production of intelligence products must be encouraged and regularly exercised. The U.S. Coast Guard maintains intelligence sections in its respective sector operations centers; however they often appear disconnected with other facets of law enforcement that could provide critical information needed to connect the dots on smuggling operations involving seagoing vessels and transoceanic trade.

In other nations, and in multi-lateral applications, a rotating task force head, rotating among the traditional “Tri-Service” maritime agencies or their counterparts may be a viable solution. In all cases, the intelligence fusion effort must be multi-service and embrace multi-lateral connectivity. This must include the police and law enforcement services, the intelligence services—for example consider partnerships among the Tri-Service agencies (especially coast guards) and intelligence services. An example of a maritime security fusion enterprise worth examining is the Indio-Pacific Maritime Law Enforcement Centre.


Building an effective naval intelligence capacity demands strategic, operational, and tactical coordination among a complex network of services and operators. First, there in the traditional “Tri-Service” maritime forces, next there is the need to integrate police and law enforcement (LEAs), customs, border forces, and merchant marine and port security agencies. All of these must integrate with the maritime and port operators, ship owners, labor unions, and the range of maritime security actors.

Future naval intelligence must be multi-service, multi-threat, and multi-lateral. All stakeholders, military, law enforcement, public health (think pandemics and cruise ships), public safety and fire service (think consequence management for an LNG tanker explosion) must be involved. Naval intelligence must integrate all other military and intelligence services and their capabilities—including human intelligence for understanding threat actors and open source intelligence (OSINT). It needs to address a full-spectrum of threats in a range of threat environment. It also needs to include partners ranging from small states to major allies, including NATO and the Quad nations (Australia, India, Japan, and the United States). Finally, future naval intelligence must embrace and anticipate novel and emerging threats from a range of actors ranging from territorial gangs to peer competitors—all able to access emerging technology such as AI and drones, and all able to leverage the complexities of the seas.

Hal Kempfer is a retired Marine Corps Intelligence Officer (LtCol) with a background working with various maritime security agencies and services, along with extensive involvement with various military, civil and civil-military “fusion center” programs. With professional military education up to the War College level, he also has a Masters (e.g. MIM/MBA) from the Thunderbird School of Global Management, and bachelors from Willamette University with majors in Economics and Political Science.

John P. Sullivan is an honorably retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. He is currently an Instructor in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI), University of Southern California. Sullivan received a lifetime achievement award from the National Fusion Center Association in November 2018. He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a B.A. in Government from the College of William & Mary, a M.A. in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia. He is a Senior Fellow at Small Wars Journal-El Centro.

Featured Image: The guided-missile frigate Hengyang (Hull 568) and the guided-missile destroyer Wuhan (Hull 169) attached to a destroyer flotilla with the navy under the PLA Southern Theater Command steam alongside with each other during a maritime maneuver operation in waters of the South China Sea on June 18, 2020. ( by Li Wei)