As we’ve previously noted, the new Naval Operating Concept, derived from the Maritime Strategy released over a year ago, was slated to be released sometime this month (October).  Now it seems that release is delayed – no surprise given the coordination still being carried on within the Navy, much less that required between the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Still, in an article in Defense News posted today, Chris Cavas highlights elements from a draft in circulation.

The organization of the NOC is in-line with the six core competencies as laid out in the Maritime Strategy and so each of the chapters, after the requisite overview and terms of reference/definitions chapters, is tied to one of those core competencies.  Addressing one of the enduring criticisms of the Maritime Strategy is linkage to required force structure.  A few highlights from the article follow:

Forward Presence:

– Deployed carrier and expeditionary strike groups will “periodically” be formed into expeditionary strike forces.

– A “persistent naval presence” will be re-established in the Mediterranean region.

– Global Fleet Stations will be established in southwest and southeast Asia, Central America, the Caribbean Basin and in Africa.

– Naval forces will be positioned for increased roles in combating terrorism.

Sea Control:

– Challenges include the potential emergence of a blue-water peer competitor (no specific country is named); the danger of mines; the potential anti-access capability of non-state actors such as Hezbollah; and technological threats that target command, control, computer, intelligence and satellite systems.

– The Draft NOC declares that “few threats exist in the current security environment that can effectively challenge the transit of our naval forces through blue water,” but “next generation threats will attempt to deny our ability to carry out blue water transit.” Future weapon and sensor technology must outpace and overmatch potential blue water peer competitors.

– Assured Access challenges include Iranian use of small boats to threaten U.S. warships. The document considered the Iranian use of such craft in the Strait of Hormuz earlier this year as an example of an attempts to test U.S. Navy tactics, technology and rules of engagement.
Force Structure

The Force Structure Data Sheet appears to link numbers of certain ship types with requirements as stated in the draft NOC, but contains a number of areas where information is incomplete. Among its highlights:

– Aircraft carriers. “The unconstrained requirement for aircraft carriers is 11,” the document reads, but also asks for a description of the risk of less than 11 flattops and an assessment of the potential for that happening. (Note: this is likely the ongoing saga of Navy trying to get Congress to buy off on 10 carriers with Enterprise retiring before Ford is operational- SJS)

– The ideal Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) to transport a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is four ships: a big-deck assault ship (LHA or LHD), a dock landing ship (LSD) and two amphibious transport dock ships (LPD) – one with enhanced command and control capabilities. This is an expansion of the 3-ship formation that has been used over the past decade. The four-ship ARG would “support split operations by a two-section ARG/MEU” and “provide the ability to more widely disperse the platforms that carry the Marines and the ability to embark more capability on the smaller, dispersed entities.” To meet this need, the amphibious ship requirement would need to be raised from the current 32 ships to 36. The use of amphibious ships to support special operations forces and mine countermeasures forces also pushes the requirement to 36 ships, the document said.

– The value of using amphibious ships to support the five Global Fleet Stations locations further pushes the number of “gators;” assuming that at any time two ships would be deployed on GFS missions and ten percent of the force would be in maintenance, a fleet of 42 amphibs is needed.

– The document raises the number of attack submarines in service from 48 to 50.

– The draft NOC asks what systems and capabilities might be added to the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), including Marine capabilities.

– The document also asks for numbers to filled in for cruisers, destroyers, frigates, Coast Guard cutters, patrol boats and icebreakers.

Clearly there are risks in trying to draw assumptions and conduct analysis on a draft document that is still very much in the FO/GO chop process.  When the final version is released we will offer the same venue and opportunity for discussion and amplification as we did for the Maritime Strategy to the author(s). With that caveat, we still encourage discussion on the above and the rest of the article while waiting the release of the final version.  There is much to ponder – some expected, other – not so.  Besides the Service specific nature of the document there is the question of how it fits into other processes (e.g., JCIDS – Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System, Joint Concept Development and Experimentation, etc) with implications there are for command structures like Maritime Headquarters Afloat, Joint Forces Air Component Commander/Air Operation Center linkages, and the like.

There is controversy (and likely some of the rationale behind the release delay) in force structure and weapons programs – the call for “(d)evelopment of a sea-based conventional missile capable of prompt global strike is an example of an enhancement with applicability against the range of current and potential adversaries;” for example sounds very much like sanction for development of a conventional-SLBM, calls for a land-based conventional ICBM have received cold receptions in parts of OSD,State, and other venues, notably the arms control community.  Additionally we are very much interested in seeing how  martime BMD is addressed as it is now identified as a key competancy.  Will the joint/combined aspect of maritime BMD be addressed?  How about the need for wider understanding of the mission and threat beyond the handful of modified Aegis cruisers and destroyers?

In closing, we look forward to the release of the final document, the ensuing discussions and hoghlighting of the capabiltiies naval forces have to offer in an international envirnment that grows inceasingly complex with a future that is noteworthy in its uncertainty.  More to follow…

Article Series - Naval Operational Concept

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