Category Archives: Tactical Concepts

What are the evolving ideals of tactics in maritime and naval affairs.

Winning The Spectrum: Securing Command and Control for Marine Stand-In Forces

By Brian Kerg

Signatures, Success, and Failure: Two Vignettes

January, 20XX: With the likely election of an aggressively pro-independence candidate as the new president of Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China initiates a plan to reunify this ‘rebel’ province with its homeland. Chinese anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) assets are activated across the theater. Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) fleets steam to key chokepoints, deterring foreign intervention, while conducting live-fire missile exercises around the Taiwan Strait to intimidate Taiwan and potential interlopers. With the Chinese Weapons Engagement Zone (WEZ) ensconcing the area of operations, Beijing is confident that no foreign force can interfere with their plans without drastic escalation that no country will accept.

But across the area of operations, small U.S. Marine and Navy detachments operating out of Expeditionary Advanced Bases (EAB) within the first and second island chains rapidly deploy several long-range precision fires systems. Launching swarms of unmanned aerial, surface, and underwater reconnaissance systems, they acquire the locations of the most critical ships of the Chinese fleet, communicating this data to American maritime and joint operations centers.

With targets acquired, Washington informs Beijing that the PLAN fleet will be sunk unless the threat of military action against Taiwan is withdrawn. In the diplomatic dust-up that ensues, America and its partners close the trap with Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO), sending disaggregated fleets into the area of operations, further pressuring China with the threat of massed effects from maritime forces.

China sees the off-ramp and takes it. Ships return to port, Taiwan breathes a sigh of relief, and normal maritime commerce resumes. Deterrence by denial avoids a shooting war between great powers.1

The preceding vignette illustrates how Expeditionary Advanced Based Operations (EABO) and DMO, aided by emerging fires and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) technologies, can prevent America’s adversaries from applying fait accompli strategies. But consider, instead, another way the story might have played out:

Unbeknownst to U.S. planners, China detected the American EABs long ago. The naval forces communicated using predictable techniques, on easily detectable spectrum, while exercising poor transmissions discipline and signature management. The PLAN had a reliable laydown of American EABs in their theater long before Beijing executed its reunification plan.

As China closed the noose around Taiwan, PLAN forces simultaneously isolated the EABs in the electromagnetic spectrum, cutting off their primary communications pathways. Targeting information was spoofed, rendering the long-range precision fires systems at the EABs useless. Isolated and blind, the EABs were caught unawares as Chinese amphibious forces landed in Taiwan, forcing the sorely outgunned U.S. forces to surrender.

With the U.S. unable to check Chinese aggression without escalation that would lead to large-scale combat, the rest of the international community looked the other way as China forced Taiwan back under its control.

EABO and DMO are the Navy’s and Marine Corps’ bid for success in disrupting the fait accompli strategies of great power competitors, providing the deterrence by denial called for in the 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) and 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS). In order to succeed in the A2/AD environment cultivated by America’s adversaries, EABO and DMO will necessarily be facilitated by emerging fires, ISR, and communications technologies. But the critical vulnerability to EABO, DMO, and consequently to deterrence by denial, is signature management.

The risk assumed in EABO and DMO puts signature management at a premium. Detection or denial of Command and Control (C2) systems will hamstring the promise of both operational concepts. Emerging C2 techniques and technologies provide viable solutions to signature management, validating EABO and DMO, and ensuring the sea services will maintain a critical edge in competition and in war.

DMO, EABO, and Deterrence by Denial

The 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) and 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) describe strategic competition with revisionist powers, namely China and Russia, as the central challenge facing the United States now and in the future.2 In pursuing advantages, such competitors flout the rules-based international order to further their own interests at the expense of those of the United States and its allies. To prevent the United States and others from rolling back their gains, competitors secure their advantages through pursuit and application of fait accompli strategies that quickly seize objectives and create A2/AD zones, preventing opponents from having the time or political will to strike back, as prolonged escalation may be deemed too costly.3 An example of a successful fait accompli was the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. Even though the annexation was internationally condemned, wresting control of Crimea back from Russia would almost certainly require large-scale combat operations that would be considered unacceptable.

Historically, the U.S. deterred adversaries through a strategy of punishment. However, the growing military and economic strength of potential adversaries, combined with fait accompli strategies, makes deterrence through punishment nonviable. Instead, deterrence by denial is emphasized by both the NSS and NDS as the preferred means of countering adversary fait accompli strategies. It is the responsibility of the joint force to develop viable deterrence by denial options. While all of the services are working on this problem, the Navy and Marine Corps are supporting deterrence through their respective sea denial and sea control concepts, specifically EABO and DMO. These concepts look to overcome the challenges of the current and future security environment by transforming the application of traditional military principles through disruptive technologies and concepts of operation.

The Navy and Marine Corps are refining the mutually supporting concepts of DMO and EABO to provide joint force commanders with feasible options for deterrence by denial. DMO is premised on the disaggregation of naval forces at sea, distributing their offensive capability geographically.4 Forces are distributed, increasing their survivability, while offensive effects are capable of massing through synchronization and aggregation of sensors and shooters across a theater. This distribution accounts for the ever-increasing threat range of adversary WEZ, reducing the risk to U.S. warships.

DMO is complemented by EABO, in which Marine Corps forces enable sea control and sea denial by establishing and operating from EABs at sea and ashore, using a variety of platforms deployed in littoral regions. Once established in their EABs, naval forces deploy and operate sensor, shooter, C2 systems, and other capabilities required to persist forward as stand-in forces.5

Operating inside the WEZ, EABO enables the stand-in naval forces that provide sea control and denial,  and changes adversary decision-making to favor U.S. interests, deters aggression, and prevents conflict. During full-spectrum combat operations, EABO-enabled stand-in naval forces allow joint and naval commanders to exploit opportunities to leverage stand-off forces and win battles at sea and ashore.6

The EABO concept is highly promising and could resolve the wicked problem presented by adversary A2/AD capabilities combined with fait accompli strategies. But EABO is characterized by an extremely high level of risk for EAB-hosted inside forces. The most immediate problem is enabling C2 while reducing detection to ensure EAB survivability, and reducing jamming to ensure lethality and utility at the decisive moment.

Once deployed within an adversary’s WEZ, inside forces are at constant risk of detection; they must put a premium on concealment. The increasingly contested electromagnetic spectrum, and accelerating capabilities to detect and intercept signals of any kind, mean inside forces will be challenged to communicate with a higher headquarters. This is an imperative because it is required for the command to fire on targets that will incur operational and strategic effects.

As stand-in forces aim to be deployed to key maritime terrain allowing them to employ fires against adversary ashore and afloat targets, they will often be within detectable range of shore-based and afloat direction finding (DF) systems. Communications using higher-power settings needed to successfully connect to higher headquarters will be highly susceptible to detection. Space-based ISR will also be regularly conducting surveillance on this key maritime terrain. Any misstep in the use of current C2 systems will reveal the locations of EABs, allowing adversaries to take steps that will mitigate their utility to any plan for deterrence.

Signature Solutions

Emerging tactics and technologies can be employed to overcome these signature challenges, mitigating the greatest risks to the inside forces that will be conducting EABO.

For the purposes of communicating while avoiding detection and allowing inside forces to reduce signature and remain concealed in the electromagnetic spectrum, the High Frequency (HF) band is the premier option. In the EAB environment, communications systems using frequency bands higher than HF remain easily detectable; in concert with their low footprint, rapid set-up, and network flexibility, HF radios are the most viable candidate for successful signature management.7 But even HF in normal operating modes is likely to be detected if the location and direction of propagation are being scanned by current DF systems at the time of transmission.8

HF Low Probability of Intercept (LPI) is a tactic that rapidly varies the power output and frequency of HF channels used to transmit, greatly reducing the likelihood of detection.9 With appropriately trained personnel, certain maritime communications systems are currently capable of employing HF LPI.

The challenge is that no training standard currently exists by which to prepare naval communicators to use this technique. Whether HF-LPI is employed or not, and how well it might be executed, is completely at the discretion of individual ship and unit commanders. Though the principles behind HF-LPI are decades old, disruption must first occur in existing standard operating procedures and communications practices across the fleet to ensure HF-LPI is a technique in which personnel are reliably proficient. Such an initiative would be remarkably simple and affordable to implement today, providing an asymmetric advantage over enemy DF capabilities, if the will to employ HF-LPI is exercised.

Institutionalize over Time by Automating Spectrum Modulation

While training in HF-LPI techniques provides a short-term solution, automating this and similar means by which to conceal presence in the electromagnetic spectrum is the long-term answer by which to revolutionize signature management. Emerging spectrum modulation techniques, embedded in systems being researched and developed, will provide this capability.

While Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) is a tried-and-true method to rapidly move across frequencies, new variations provide greater protection. Adaptive Frequency Hopping (AFH) currently avoids crowded frequencies to support Bluetooth, but can be similarly used to avoid frequencies that adversaries are scanning or monitoring. Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS) randomizes bit transmission, and is currently in use supporting Wi-Fi networks. While most applications seek dispreads to increase the signal-to-noise ratio, anti-intercept methods would be complemented by reversing this process, hiding the signal in the noise. Fielding systems that automate these spectrum modulation techniques will minimize signal detection, interception, and exploitation.10

Guarantee Signal Integrity – Systems-Based Interceptor and Jammer Rejection

Eventually, inside forces will have to increase their signature when they employ their fires systems for the purposes of achieving deterrence, and when this time comes, signal integrity will trump the need for signature concealment. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is currently developing communications technologies with the potential to achieve this end. The Hyper-wideband Enabled Radio-Frequency Messaging (HERMES) system works with extremely wide radio frequency bands, while deploying several interceptor and jammer rejection techniques, such as processing gain, integrated filters, and active cancellation.11 The broad spectral spreading further challenges detection systems and increases interference resistance.12 Similarly, the Protected Forward Communications (PFC) program allows military forces to persist and operate in a contested electromagnetic environment using a structured system engineering method.13 The PFC program would protect not only external communications from an EAB to higher headquarters – for example, the order to fire from an EAB at an enemy ship – but also internal communications and signals, such as the signal for a system to fire from an operator within the EAB, and signals from a sensor that would guide ordnance onto target.

Hide in Plain Sight – Nuke the Spectrum

It is not hard to hear a single voice, even in a large room. However, it is very difficult to hear that voice in a crowd. We need to build the haystack in which to hide the needle. At present, EABs and ships operating in the first and second island chains present isolated voices that are susceptible to detection and targeting at even a single breach of signature management discipline. Artificially raising the signature baseline will provide a robust electromagnetic canopy under which inside forces can conceal themselves. Rather than operating under an overarching philosophy of carefully maintained silence and signature control, saturating the spectrum with numerous false emissions can overwhelm an adversary’s ability to make sense of the environment and provide openings for one’s own forces to emit and communicate.

Currently, swarming technologies are being developed and fielded to provide combat power via small, cheap, attritable unmanned systems. The Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) are presently testing a ‘ghost fleet’ of small, interconnected attack boats.14 Similarly, DARPA is also experimenting with its Gremlins program, providing low cost swarms of interconnected, unmanned aerial systems launched from a larger aircraft.15 While these systems aim to provide sensor and shooter functions, the concepts can be easily modified to serve a signature deception function. Outfitting swarms of unmanned vehicles instead with transmissions systems that communicate on the same frequencies, power levels, and data rates as those C2 systems employed by inside naval forces, they would provide a swarming mask of signature in any operating environment.

Senior Airman Cody Jenkins, right, and Tech. Sgt. Ryan Asaria, left, 96th Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons loaders, prepare to transport a Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD) to a B-52H Stratofortress at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., May 14, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

A functional example is the Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (MALD), jointly developed by DARPA and Raytheon. The MALD is a low-cost, expendable air-launched system that simulates flight profiles and signatures of aircraft.16 Combining this system with similar decoys deployed across the maritime domain will further confound adversaries.17 By providing a litany of other targets to detect and target, naval planners will have ‘nuked the spectrum,’ creating an exasperating targeting dilemma for adversaries who will have to dedicate an untenable amount of resources to separate the signal from the noise. Naval inside forces, whether operating on EABs or aboard ships supporting DMO, will have the concealment they need to mass effects inside the WEZ and provide sea denial and sea control.  

Managing Signature for Deterrence and Denial

The sea services aim to provide deterrence by denial through the related concepts of DMO and EABO. Stand-in forces operating from EABs inside an adversary’s WEZ can overcome enemy A2/AD, prevent competitors from employing fait accompli strategies, and secure U.S. interests across the globe.

However, the high risk assumed by inside forces makes signature management a paramount requirement for success. Conventional means and methods of communications and combat systems operation mean inside forces run a high risk for detection and jamming. By applying emerging tactics, such as HF LPI, along with emerging technologies, including HERMES, PFC, modulation techniques, and spectrum deception, stand-in forces can manage their signature and maintain signal integrity. In acquiring, fielding, and employing these tactics and technologies, EABO and DMO will be viable concepts by which deterrence by denial can be realized. Signature management secured in these ways will ensure the sea services maintain our nation’s advantage to prevent, and if necessary, win the next war.

Brian Kerg is a Marine Corps officer and writer currently serving as the Fleet Amphibious Communications Officer, U.S. Fleet Forces Command. He is a Non-Resident Fellow at Marine Corps University’s Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creativity. His professional writing has appeared in War on the RocksProceedingsThe Marine Corps Gazette, and The Strategy Bridge. His fiction has appeared in The Deadly Writer’s PatrolLine of Advance, and The Report. Follow or contact him @BrianKerg


1. Brian Kerg, et al., “How Marine Security Cooperation Can Translate Into Sea Control,” War on the Rocks (accessed 27 Jan 2020: Modified vignette used with author’s permission.

2. National Security Strategy of the United States of America, (accessed 28 Jan 2020:

3.  Mike Gallagher, “State of (Deterrence by) Denial,” The Washington Quarterly 42 no. 2, (Accessed 27 Jan 2020:

4.  Kevin Eyer and Steve McJessy, “Operationalizing Distributed Maritime Operations,” Center for International Maritime Security (accessed 28 Jan 2020:

5. Headquarters, Marine Corps, “Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations,” U. S. Marine Corps Concepts and Programs, (accessed 28 Jan 2020: 

6. Jim Lacey, “The ‘Dumbest Concept Ever’ Might Just Win Wars,” War on the Rocks, (accessed 28 Jan 2020:

7. National Telecommunications and Information Administration, “Department of Defense Strategic Spectrum Plan,” NTIA, (accessed 01 Feb 2020:

8. National Urban Security Technology Laboratory, Radio Frequency Detection, Spectrum Analysis, and Direction Finding Equipment, (New York: Department of Homeland Defense, 2019), 12.

9. G. Bark, “Power control in an LPI adaptive frequency-hopping system for HF communications,” HF Radio Systems and Techniques, Seventh International Conference, Conference Publication No. 441., August 1997.

10. Syed Shah, “Assured Communications,” Milcom 2015 Presentation, (October 2015).

11. Tom Rondeau, “Hyper-wideband Enabled RF Messaging,” DARPA, (accessed 28 Jan 2020:

12. DARPA Outreach Office, “The Incredible Loudness of Whispering,” DARPA, (accessed 28 Jan 2020:

13. Paul Zablocky, “Protected Forward Communications,” DARPA (accessed 28 Jan 2020:

14. Kris Osborn, “The US Navy is Building a Swarm ‘Ghost Fleet’”, The National Interest (accessed 23 February 2020:

15. Scott Wierzbanowski, “Gremlins,” DARPA (accessed 23 February 2020:

16. Raytheon, “MALD Decoy,” Raytheon Missiles & Defense (accessed 03 August 2020:

17. Walker Mills, “A tool for Deception: The Urgent Need for EM Decoys,” War Room (accessed 03 August 2020:

Featured Image: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Dylan Griffen (Left), a field radio operator, and Lance Corporal Brent Millard (Right), an anti-tank missileman assigned to 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, I Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, conduct pre-flight maintenance at San Clemente Island, California, May 1, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Manuel A. Serrano)

Escorting in the Persian Gulf: Firefighting, Policing, or Bodyguarding?

Securing the Gulf Topic Week

By Salvatore R. Mercogliano, Ph.D.


The recent attacks on merchant shipping in the Persian Gulf, Straits of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman by forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has conjured up images from the Tanker War of the 1980s. The bombing of four ships at anchor off Fujairah, the mining of two tankers as they departed the area, and the recent seizure of a British tanker has raised the question of how to best protect commercial ships plying their trade. This is an age-old problem that has been with nations and navies since the days of oars and sail. Without a rehash of every concept used since the dawn of time, there are three major methods that come to mind that can be readily adopted.

Historical Background

Before delving into these concepts, it is best to look at the most recent history, and that is from the aforementioned Tanker Wars of the 1980s. Starting in 1981, Iraq and Iran were engaged in a border conflict that quickly spilled over into the Persian Gulf. Iraqi aircraft targeted Iranian tankers with air-launched sea skimming missiles to economically weaken their enemy. Since Iraq exported its oil via overland pipeline, Iran eventually countered by striking the allies of Iraq, particularly the tankers using ports in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. By 1987, the level of combat had reached such a crescendo that the state of Kuwait sought outside assistance to guard their fleet. After making overtures to both the Soviet Union and the United States, it was the latter who agreed to commence convoy operations, but only if the ships were registered under the American flag. From that point on, the U.S. Navy orchestrated convoys into and out of the Persian Gulf but included only American vessels.

From the beginning, challenges emerged in the convoy system. The first outbound convoy from Kuwait encountered an Iranian-laid minefield. Bridgeton, one of the eleven reflagged tankers, struck a mine. Without any minesweeping equipment on board the escorts, and with fear what a mine could do to the warships, they fell in behind Bridgeton as she plowed her way through the Persian Gulf as the world’s largest ad-hoc minesweeper. Eventually, a system of escorts and mine clearance assets allowed the U.S. to safely move ships through the challenged waters. Fast forward thirty years, the question posed is how can the nations of the world, who depend on commerce from the Persian Gulf, secure the area from potential Iranian threats and attacks? 

A helicopter from the USS Chandler helps rescue 40 crew from a Cypriot registered oil tanker, Pivot, after it was attacked and set ablaze by an Iranian warship. It was coming from Saudi Arabia with crude oil. Circa 12 Dec. 1987 (Norbert Schiller photo)

One of the overriding issues that must be addressed is the international nature of global shipping. According to the United Nation’s Review of Maritime Transport 2018, half of the world’s merchant fleet vessels are registered in the Marshall Islands, Liberia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malta. It is very unlikely that parent navies will be providing the necessary escorts for ships registered in these countries, except China covering those of Hong Kong. The use of open registries, or flags of convenience, developed after the Second World War and has proliferated. Even the captured Stena Impero, while flying the flag of the United Kingdom, does not employ any British nationals onboard. The initial question becomes is it the responsibility of the navies of the world, such as the United States, to assume the role of escort? The U.S. did not do so in the Tanker War until ships flying the American flag were attacked. If they do assume the mantle of protector, it does raise the question of what is the advantage of registering a ship under one’s own national flag?

Assuming the national command authority authorizes an escort of vessels in the area, the next question is method. There are many historical examples, from the Napoleonic Wars, the First World War, the Second World War, and the many scenarios conjured up from wargames against NATO and the Soviet Union in a possible third Battle of the Atlantic. These many iterations boil down to three basic types.

Operational Methods for Convoy Escort

First, there is the Bodyguard method of escorting. Whenever the President of the United States, or some other high value individual travels in the public domain, we are used to seeing a phalanx of armed guards, with high-tech weapons, armored vehicles and escorts swarming around their primary target. They are using many techniques, but one of the most immediate is the use of fear. Any assault on the target will be met with overwhelming force and hence they utilize a deterrent strategy. However, even with such a heavily armed escort, this does not mean that an attack is impossible, as we know from history. A truly determined enemy will rarely be swayed from their intended goal, no matter the obstacle.

At first, this method seems to be the option with the best outcome as it provides the most protection and can quickly respond to any potential threat. However, the issue with the Secret Service option is the cost and logistics involved. It requires a tremendous amount of resources and planning to orchestrate any movement. Currently, ships freely move through the area as soon as they are loaded. A Secret Service style convoy operation will mean ships will have to be gathered, wait, and delay their intended offload – thereby disrupting the movement of their cargoes and impacting the economics of their trade. It will also require a large commitment by navies to provide the needed escorts for any such operation.

The second operational method is the Policing method. In any community, town, or city in the United States, the police forces are in their cruisers, on their bikes, or in the air, monitoring and patrolling. The intent of these patrols is to deter crime, but also observe areas and provide quick response should an incident occur. Advocates for this style contend that this forward presence of armed officers, with the ability to call upon reinforcements from other patrolling officers, can handle most situations. Should there be a larger incident, police departments can call upon Special Response Teams (SRTs) to handle any escalation.

With the number of ships transiting the Persian Gulf, a patrol operation in the vein of a police department appears to be a likely candidate for employment. Iranian use of light mobile forces and not employing their larger units – such as frigates, submarines, or aircraft – means that naval forces, such as destroyers, frigates, and corvettes could handle the patrolling of areas in question, with a larger presence in more contested waters. The SRT back-up would be from air assets based ashore or afloat.

The third concept is the Fire Suppression method. Unlike their police brethren, firefighters do not patrol the streets in their fire trucks looking for flames. Instead, they are in stations, strategically located to respond should a contingency emerge. If the situation is beyond the resources of any one station, mutual aid can be called for assistance while other assets are moved to cover the areas vacated by responding units. The biggest change in fire departments is the proliferation of fire prevention education and fire suppression equipment. Most homes and business have smoke detectors and portable extinguishers or sprinkler systems to extinguish any fire before it can envelop a structure.

This method of patrolling could be adopted for use in convoy operations. Like the police method, naval vessels would assume strategic stations to patrol the waters in question. Due to the large number of ships traversing the area, an operation command headquarters, similar to a 911 dispatch center, can receive information from ships sailing the area to discover any potential targets or threats. As ships sail through the most dangerous and contested waters, they can embark armed teams – such as Marines, Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Teams (FAST), or Armed Guard detachments – to provide close in security until assistance can be provided from naval forces responding from their stations. A few armed personnel on Stena Impero may have prevented the fast-rope of Iranian forces onto the ship.


Variants of these three concepts have all been used in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman area. United States convoy operations late in the 1980s during the Tanker War, and referred to as Operation Ernest Will, were similar to the Secret Service style. During the First Persian Gulf War, coalition navies established a series of checkpoints for ships to check-in at and meet with patrolling warships. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 92nd Infantry Brigade of the Puerto Rico National Guard, was activated and broken up into 13-person teams to embark on American merchant ships transporting materiel to the Middle East.

These recent operations, along with the three methods discussed, are the most likely options available to handle an escort mission in the Middle East. The factors that will determine the course of operation will be the level and frequency of attacks initiated by the Iranians, the amount of resources allocated by the nations undertaking the escort mission, and the willingness of commercial companies to participate in any of these methods. What may eventually develop is the use of all these methods at some point in the future or a hybrid approach to perform this important undertaking.

Salvatore R. Mercogliano is an Associate Professor of History at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina and teaches courses in World Maritime History and Maritime Security. He is also an adjunct professor with the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and offers a graduate level course in Maritime Industry Policy. A former merchant mariner, he sailed and worked ashore for the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command. His book, Fourth Arm of Defense: Sealift and Maritime Logistics in the Vietnam War, is available through the Naval History and Heritage Command. His essay, “Suppose They Gave a War and the Merchant Marine Did Not Come?” won 2nd Prize in the Professional Historian category of the 2019 Chief of Naval Operations Naval History Essay Contest.  Another of his essays “To Be A Modern Maritime Power,” was published in the August 2019 issue of U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings

Featured Image:  Iranian Students’ News Agency, via Reuters)

Options in the Stars: Automated Celestial Navigation Options for the Surface Navy

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By LTJG Kyle Cregge, USN

In response to the four recent mishaps, the U.S. Navy Surface Force is going through a cultural shift in training, safety, and mission execution. The new direction is healthy, necessary, and welcomed in the wake of the tragedies. Admiral Davidson’s “Comprehensive Review of Recent Surface Force Incidents” examines a myriad of different aspects of readiness in the Surface Force and the recommendations are far-reaching. There will likely be more training and scrutiny added to officer pipelines and ship certifications, some of which will come from the newly-created Naval Surface Group Western Pacific.

Included in the review were the subjects of Human Systems Integration (HSI) and Human Factors Engineering (HFE), in which the Review Team Members describe how “Navy ships are equipped with a navigation ‘system-of-systems,’” and that “The large number of different bridge system configurations, with increasingly complex and ship-specific guidance on how to make them work together, increases the burden on ships in achieving technical and operational proficiency.” I had the same experience – one where an Officer of the Deck (OOD) was challenged to monitor up to five different consoles with assistance from six different watchstanders while maintaining safety of navigation and executing the plan of the day. Thankfully, the recommendations in the Comprehensive Review address these difficulties, and five specifically address the immediate, unique needs of OODs:

  • 3.2 Accelerate plans to replace aging military surface search RADARs and electronic navigation systems.
  • 3.3 Improve stand-alone commercial RADAR and situational awareness piloting equipment through rapid fleet acquisition for safe navigation.
  • 3.4 Perform a baseline review of all inspection, certification, assessment and assist visit requirements to ensure and reinforce unit readiness, unit self-sufficiency, and a culture of improvement.
  • 3.8 As an immediate aid to navigation, update AIS laptops or equip ships with hand-held electronic tools such as portable pilot units with independent ECDIS and AIS.
  • 3.13 Develop standards for including human performance factors in reliability predictions for equipment modernization that increases automation.

One solution to the recommendations would be the addition of Automated Celestial Navigation (CELNAV) systems which could provide additional navigation support to Bridge watchstanders. Specifically, the systems could continuously fix the ship’s position in both day and night with as good, if not better, accuracy provided by sights and calculations using a computer, without the risk of human error or GPS spoofing. An automated celestial navigation system could either feed directly into the ship’s Inertial Navigation System (INS) or feed into a display in the pilothouse (with which a Navigator could verify the accuracy of active GPS inputs within a specified tolerance), both of which would provide redundancy to existing navigation systems. Automatic CELNAV systems are already used in the military, could be applied to surface ships rapidly, and could serve as a redundant, automated, and immediate aid to navigation against the potential threat of GPS signal disruption.

The Review Team’s recommendation to accelerate replacement of aging radars is a primary focus to support OODs, but given the capabilities of peer competitors against our GPS, rapid investment in shipboard CELNAV systems would be a worthwhile secondary objective. There is significant evidence of Russia testing a GPS spoofing capability in the Black Sea in June of this year, when more than twenty merchant ships’ Automated Identification Systems (AIS) were receiving locations placing them 25 nautical miles inland of Russia, near Gelendyhik Airport, rather than in the north-eastern portion of the Black Sea. Further, China maintains plans to actively combat the use of the Global Hawk UAV, to include, “electronic jamming of onboard spy equipment and aircraft-to-satellite signals used to remotely pilot the drones, [and] electronic disruption of GPS signals used for navigation.” At the outbreak of broader conflict one can imagine a far greater and more extensive denial effort for surface forces.  

Due to potential threats, there are built-in securities for military GPS receivers to combat disruption threats.  These include the Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing Module (SAASM) and expected upgrades for GPS Block III, to include more secure signal coding, with a scheduled inaugural launch in Spring 2018. Automated CELNAV can actively compliment both security mechanisms by providing redundancy against a technical failure or a cyber-attack and before the remaining GPS Block III satellites are brought online.

From a training perspective, the U.S. Navy reinstituted celestial navigation instruction for midshipmen in 2016 and quartermasters and junior officers in 2011 throughout their pipelines. The officers and quartermasters are trained to use the computer-based program STELLA (System To Estimate Latitude and Longitude Astronomically), developed by George Kaplan of the U.S. Naval Observatory in the 1990s. While the use of the program has sped the process of sightings to fixes from nearly an hour down to minutes, there is still a delay and the potential for human error. Automated CELNAV systems can provide both an extra layer of shipboard security against the potential threat of GPS disruption and assist in fixing the ship’s position continuously and as accurately as human navigators. Both arguments support increased readiness in the surface force and make ships more self-sufficient in the event of potential GPS disruption.

In 1999 George Kaplan argued that independent alternatives to GPS were necessary and required and that the hardware to implement these alternatives was readily available. Potential Automated CELNAV systems that could be configured for surface ships are already used in both the Navy and the Air Force. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs),  SR-71 Blackbird,  RC-135, and the B-2 Bomber each use systems like the NAS-26, an astro-inertial system initially developed in the 1950s by Northrop for the Snark long-range cruise missile. Similar systems have previously been proposed for the Surface Forces. Cosmo Gator, an automated celestial navigation system, was submitted by LT William Hughes, then-Navigator of USS Benfold (DDG 65). This system would update the ship’s Inertial Navigation System (INS) with the calculated celestial position to provide essential navigation data for the rest of the combat system. OPNAV N4 funded LT Hughes’ proposal in March 2016 following the Innovation Jam event onboard USS Essex (LHD 2). Rapidly acquiring any of these various Automated CELNAV options supports the same piloting and situational awareness recommendations as an integrated bridge RADAR suite. The Navy can continue to cultivate a culture of improvement and further equip ships through the acquisition of more immediate aids to navigation like CELNAV systems.


As a result of the Comprehensive Review and associated ship investigations, the Surface Force is looking at innovative solutions to ensure that tragedies aren’t repeated. While the Navy strives to build a culture of improvement and to implement the CNO’s “High-Velocity Learning” concept continually, we must seek answers not only to the problems we face today but the threats we face tomorrow. The threats from peer competitors are defined and growing, but the options to provide greater shipboard redundancy are already created. In the same context that the Surface Force will endeavor to improve human systems integration for our bridge teams, we also should pursue Automated Celestial Navigation systems to make sure those same teams are never in doubt as to where they are in the first place. 

Lieutenant (junior grade) Kyle Cregge is a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer. He served on a destroyer and is a prospective Cruiser Division Officer. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or Department of Defense.

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (Sept. 3, 2016) Midshipman 2nd Class Benjamin Sam, a student at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, fixes the ship’s position using a sextant aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG 65). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Deven Leigh Ellis/Released)

A2/AD and the Long Lance Torpedo

In this two-part series on contested access in the Solomon Islands campaign, Part One will explore one of the IJN’s most successful weapons of World War II, which made area denial a reality for the IJN, the Type 93 ‘Long Lance’ torpedo. Part Two will compare the similarities of the Long Lance development to that of the DF-21D and discuss how the U.S. ultimately dealt with the Long Lance. 

By Bob Poling

As I mentioned in my introductory post, the intent of this column is to explore the historical use of strategies, tactics, and technologies which fall under the broad definition of anti-access and area denial (A2/AD). One of the most common practices of a nation using A2/AD is the adoption of asymmetric tactics and associated weapons systems to mitigate an adversary’s advantages in numbers and technology.

However, it this column’s assertion that the U.S. Navy may lack an appreciation for these asymmetric threats.  This is not due to a wanton disregard for A2/AD strategies and tactics, nor an unhealthy reliance on its weapons systems and technology. Instead, this lack of appreciation can be attributed to two factors. First, the U.S. Navy has not been truly challenged at sea since the end of the World War II. As such the Navy has produced several generations of naval officers that have no high-end combat experience. The second factor is a byproduct of the first. Since there has been no combat at sea for over 70 years, the Navy lacks case studies for training its current batch of officers. Therefore, this column will tap into the Navy’s combat history and offer historical examples that are arguably useful for contemporary and future challenges. For instance, the Solomon Islands Campaign is littered with examples of what today can easily be categorized as A2/AD strategies and tactics.

Contesting Access in the Solomon Islands

During the Solomon Islands Campaign, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) employed a strategy based on anti-access, in which they aimed to keep out the U.S. and allied powers from the inner reaches of the Japanese Empire. To that end, Japan developed several platforms, weapons systems, and tactics which would facilitate this strategy. Moreover, in the years leading up to the start of WWII, the IJN faced a predicament like the one that drove the Chinese to develop the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, that is, the challenge of how to deny freedom of access and maneuver to and ultimately defeat the U.S. Navy.

Type 93
Type 93 torpedo, recovered from Point Cruz, Guadalcanal, on display outside U.S. Navy headquarters in Washington, D.C., during World War II.

One of the most sophisticated and deadly weapons of WWII was the Type 93 torpedo. This torpedo was the ship killer of that era. The asymmetric tactics developed for its use in combat were revolutionary. Much like the DF-21D, the Long Lance was in development for 20 years. Experimental work began in 1916, and by 1935, IJN weapons designers had produced a working 24-inch torpedo. “Long Lance was the most powerful weapon of its kind in the world as it was 29ft, 6.3 in long, weighed 5982 lbs, carried a warhead of 1080 lbs, and had a range of 21,900 yards at 48-50 knots, 35,000 yards at 40-42 knots or 43,700 yards at 36-38 knots.”1 Granted, launches beyond 20 miles were unlikely, but the Type 93 gave the IJN a standoff weapon that could be launched outside of visual detection range, especially at night.  Additionally, the Long Lance out-ranged the guns of all USN ships except battleships, making this a particularly effective long range anti-access weapon. Finally, the U.S. Navy had no effective countermeasures or defenses against this torpedo.

To optimize the capability and destructive power of the Long Lance, the IJN incorporated it into their night-fighting tactics. “The origin of the Japanese Navy’s tactic of stressing the night engagement was old; in both the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars this tactic was used.”2 It should have come as no surprise that the IJN continued to develop night-fighting tactics given their success in these two conflicts. However, the USN surface forces had an air of invincibility and arrogance about them and held the IJN in contempt. 

This contempt was based on beliefs that the USN was technologically superior and more experienced, especially when compared to the IJN, which was only 70 years old.3 While USN battle tactics were still dominated by the pursuit of daytime gunnery engagements, and some U.S. Navy ships had radar, the IJN developed tactics to counter this practice mainly by the use of torpedoes coupled with guns fired in nighttime engagements. “Standard Japanese night-fighting doctrine was to launch torpedoes first, use gunfire only when necessary and searchlights as little as possible.” As the Long Lance was wakeless, it was nearly impossible to detect at night. The IJN counted on the USN to be taken unawares by this tactic and thus to be unlikely to maneuver. To facilitate this tactic and remain undetected, the Japanese’ primary method of detecting surface ships was the use of superb night optics. In fact, the IJN was constantly refining night optics during the interwar period and was regularly producing world-class optics in the 1930s. “Particularly noteworthy were binoculars of powerful magnification and light-gathering capacity, featuring lenses as large as 21 centimeters.”To use these binoculars, the IJN selected men to be trained as Masters in Lookout, and these petty officers trained day and night to hone their skills.6 No other navy of the era had lookouts as highly trained as these. When combined with the night optics, these men were in fact a part of the Long Lance weapons system. 

The U.S. Navy’s first encounter with the Long Lance was in the early morning of August 8, 1942 in Savo Sound off Guadalcanal. On the previous morning, the U.S. Navy had landed Marines on Guadalcanal and Tulagi as part of Operation Watchtower. Upon hearing the news of the invasion, Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa, Commander 8th Fleet, pulled together a force of seven cruisers and one destroyer and sailed for Guadalcanal that afternoon.

Arrayed against Mikawa were six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and eight destroyers, which were divided into three groups. Of the eight U.S. destroyers, two were assigned radar picket duties patrolling both the western and eastern approaches to Savo Sound, but Mikawa’s striking force remained undetected. According to IJN accounts both radar pickets were detected visually at 10,000 meters by the IJN cruiser Chokai. However, neither Blue nor Ralph Talbot made radar contact even though Mikawa’s ships were only a little over five miles away.7 Once clear of the picket, Mikawa gave the order to attack.  The IJN achieved complete surprise, and its use of an A2 weapon coupled with asymmetric tactics had devastating results on the USN and RAN. As RADM Crutchley wrote,

“The result of the night actions fought during the night 8th-9th August proved costly. Four of our heavy cruisers – Vincennes, Quincy, Astoria and Canberra had been lost. Another heavy cruiser Chicago had been damaged and required dockyard repair. Two destroyers had been damaged, Ralph Talbot fairly heavily and Patterson not seriously.8

During the engagement, IJN cruisers Chokai, Aoba, Kako, Kinugasa and Furrutaka fired 45 Type 93 torpedoes.9 Of the four USN cruisers participating in the battle, Quincy and Vincennes were sunk due to damage caused by Long Lance torpedo hits and Chicago had her bow blown off by a Long Lance, which immediately took her out of the fight.10 The other two cruisers lost in the battle, Astoria and Canberra, both were sunk due to damage inflicted by naval gunfire from the IJN cruisers.11

The Japanese heavy cruiser Chokai, which led the IJN attack at Savo Island. The recessed torpedo tubes are clearly visible under the whaleboat and second stack.

Two things stand out here as noteworthy anti-access tactics. First, part of an area defense strategy will likely include forward-based forces that can rapidly respond to an incursion and immediately conduct active defensive operations. In this case, it was Mikawa’s eight ships which caught the U.S. Navy completely unawares even though this operation was being conducted inside the IJN’s defensive sphere. The second A2 tactic was the night attack using a long-range, undetectable weapon. Much of today’s angst regarding A2 systems assumes the very same thing. Once the defenders realized they were under attack, it was entirely too late to respond and because of the nature of the Long Lance, it remained undetectable. The element of surprise was made all the more decisive by the effective use of a powerful anti-access weapon. 


A2 tactics are nothing new, and today’s Navy is aware of what those tactics may entail and which potential adversaries embrace these tactics today. Back in the Solomons, the USN’s troubles with the Long Lance would continue well into 1943. Ultimately, the Navy learned to adapt its tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to mitigate the threat posed by the Long Lance. However, what is important in this example is that no active counter measure was developed. Instead there was a realization that the threat was not going away, and a significant amount of risk was going to be present while conducting operations in the waters of the Solomon Islands. Acceptance of significant risk is an important part of defeating an adversary that aligns its strategy and tactics with A2/AD. Part Two will explore this aspect as well and how the Navy ultimate dealt with the Long Lance threat.

Bob Poling is a retired Surface Warfare Officer who spent 24 years on active duty including tours in cruisers, destroyers and as commanding officer of Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron TWO and Mission Commander of Southern Partnership Station 2013. From May 2011 to May 2015, Bob served on the faculty of the Air War College teaching in the Departments of Strategy and Warfighting. He was the Naval History and Heritage Command 2014-2015 Samuel Eliot Morison scholar and is pursuing his Ph.D. with the Department of Defence Studies, King’s College London where he is researching Air-Sea Battle concepts used to combat A2/AD challenges encountered during the Solomon Islands Campaign.


1. John Bullen, “The Japanese Long Lance Torpedo and Its Place in Naval History,” Imperial War Museum Review 3 (1988): 69–79.

2. ‘Development of the Japanese Navy’s Operational Concept against America’, Jisaburo Ozawa in Dillon and Goldstein, The Pacific War Papers, (Washington D.C., Potomac Books Inc., 2005), 74.

3. David C. Evans and Mark R. Peattie, Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1887-1941, Reprint edition (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2012), 7.

4. Bullen, 69–79.

5. Evans and Peattie, 275.

6. Bruce Loxton and Chris Coulthard-Clark, The Shame of Savo: Anatomy of a Naval Disaster, 1st edition (Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press, 1994), 43.

7. Captain Toshikazu Ohmae, IJN Ret., “The Battle of Savo Island,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 83, no. 12 (December 1957): 1263–78.

8. RADM Victor Crutchley, “Solomons ‘Watchtower’ OPS. Guadalcanal – Tulagi. Admiral Crutchley Report T.G. 66.6 Screening Force,” August 13, 1942, National Archives of Australia: B6121, 105A.

9. Eric LaCroix, Linton Wells, and Linton Wells II, Japanese Cruisers of the Pacific War, 1St Edition,(Annapolis, Md: US Naval Institute Press, 1997), 306.

10. Bureau of Ships, “USS QUINCY (CA39), USS ASTORIS (CA34), USS VINCENNES (CA44) LOSS IN ACTION BATTLE OF SAVO ISLAND 9 AUGUST 1942,” War Damage Report (Navy Department, June 21, 1943), The Navy Department Library,, 21; Office of Naval Intelligence, “Solomon Islands Campaign II The Battle of Savo Island 9 August 1942 The Battle of the Eastern Solomons 23-25 August 1942,” Combat Narratives (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Navy, October 1, 1943), The Navy Department Library,, 10.

11. Bureau of Ships, “USS QUINCY (CA39), USS ASTORIA (CA34), USS VINCENNES (CA44) LOSS IN ACTION BATTLE OF SAVO ISLAND 9 AUGUST 1942”; RADM Victor Crutchley, “Report of Proceedings Operation – ‘Watchtower,’” August 18, 1942, National Archives of Australia: B6121, 105A.

Featured Image: IJN DD  Isokaze at Saeki Bay, October 20, 1941. Colorized by Lootoko Jr.