All posts in “Maritime Strategy”

A Guest Post: The 2014 Current Strategy Forum – ‘Where’s The Beef?’

We have a problem, it seems, developing a naval Strategy for the new century.  Long after the Cold War had supposedly ended (well, we thought it was over – events in Russia’s ‘Near Beyond’ may argue a different outcome) we were still using a variation of Forward…From the Sea and thinking from the E-ring Navy leadership offices was ‘Strategy?  I have a strategy – it’s Sea Power 21!’ – which was more an organizing construct than a strategy, and revealed a bankruptcy in strategic thinking amongst navy’s leaders.  The current Maritime Strategy was released in 2007 – and rather than re-hash ground previously covered, we would instead point you to the discussion that took place at the time under the Maritime Strategy category.  Additionally, Peter Swartz has published The authoritative work on the Navy’s Strategies which may be downloaded here and perused at the reader’s leisure.  

The problem we have is two-fold — on the one hand, there appears to be a continued diminishing pool of active duty officers who are given to the rigors of strategic thought (viz. LCDR B.J. Armstrong and his recent publication “A Twenty-First Century Mahan”  or a modern iteration of Peter to craft a new strategy.  Instead it is outsourced with predictable (by reports) results – formulaic, uninspired and destined for the dusty corner of the bookshelf.  Not at all like the Maritime Strategy that drove the navy in the 80’s to challenge the Soviets on the high seas and carried the fight to the bear’s lair.  No – today we can’t even openly discuss it for fear of getting a certain Asian power’s drawers in a knot.  Which brings us to the second issue — at the recent Current Strategy forum hosted by the Naval War College, CNO made great stagecraft at rolling up his sleeves and saying he wanted to get down and dirty and talk strategy.  Except he didn’t.  By all accounts the discussion was – desultory (look it up).  The refresh of CS21 wasn’t offered up for discussion – instead held for a small, selective group of senior officers who evidently had more interest in the marketing than the beef.  Which brings us to today’s guest author who is a carrier aviator and student at the Naval War College. He does not believe Navy leadership fosters an environment such that junior and mid-grade officers can write critically, yet respectfully of their seniors and has, well, a beef with how the Current Strategy forum went down.  His post follows – read, contemplate and then start banging the drums of advocacy.  To quote my fellow scribe and blogger at arms CDR Salamander  – ‘The CNO has asked for a “crowd sourced” discussion. I don’t think he is using that phrase right, but I know what he means. Well, I think he is going to get it.’  w/r, SJS

UPDATE (9 July): BJ weighs in from the top ropes re. the “refreshed” Maritime Strategy over at USNI blog.  A must read.


It’s been thirty years since Clara Peller uttered the now well-known phrase “Where’s the beef?” Having just attended the Naval War College’s Current Strategy Forum, I’m left asking the same question. What was touted as an opportunity for the CNO to roll out his updated version of Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power (CS21) came and went with many asking another question: Did I miss something?

Admiral Greenert delivered an engaging and upbeat message addressing the importance of an “all hands on deck” effort to review and reexamine CS21. Suggesting that nobody has been seriously thinking about maritime strategy for the past few years, CNO took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and announced that now is the time to get down to work. Unfortunately, getting down to work will prove difficult, because ADM Greenert chose not to share any of his CS21 updates with the hundreds of mid-grade and senior officers in attendance. Perhaps in keeping with his statement, “if you talk about it openly, you cross the line and unnecessarily antagonize,” he instead chose to assemble a small group of hand-selected officers for a late afternoon roundtable discussion. An attendee described the focus group as a perfunctory “check in the block” where the only topic discussed was the PowerPoint outline of what the strategy brief might look like – not the actual strategy.

Admiral Greenert kicked off the symposium by stating, “Everyone – from junior, mid, and senior officers, to scholars, civilians, and retirees – owns a piece of this [strategy].” The problem is that not “everyone” was provided the requisite material to get to work. Why?Is it so heavily classified that it could not be discussed in an open forum? If that is the case, it would stand in stark contrast from previous strategies. Further, if our governing maritime strategy is too sensitive to discuss openly, is it really focused at the strategic level, or have we again mistaken tactics for strategy? Has the CNO grown self conscious of, or as he stated, overly concerned with unnecessarily antagonizing the Chinese? If that is the case, the CNO might have been wise to cancel the entire Current Strategy Forum, since while much of what was discussed during the two-day symposium was enlightening, the overwhelming theme was one of PRC/US alarmism. Does the CNO not really desire an open, “crowd-sourced” discussion (as he suggested)? If that is true, one must ask why he went to such lengths imploring the audience to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Or, is it the case that there are no appreciable changes to the Navy’s grand maritime strategy, and that this version so closely mirrors each previous edition as to be indistinguishable from them, save for new platforms (read: LC$ and J$F procurement). This seems to be the most likely answer. After all, maritime strategy (and military strategy writ large) hasn’t actually been about strategy in a long time.

This bit of the tail wagging the dog is particularly concerning as we sail towards a horizon clouded with fiscal uncertainty. Previous versions of CS21 told us what we were expected to accomplish and to what effect, but came up short of explaining how, and certainly didn’t have an eye toward sequestration. The 2014 rebranding gave the CNO an opportunity to provide an increasingly skeptical Congress (as well as the country in general) reasonably specific objectives and justifications for the funding he’s requested, without trespassing the line of “unnecessarily antagonizing” the Chinese. In choosing to punt, the CNO leaves the door open for us to wonder whether we need LCS and JSF to execute our strategy, or if we’re writing a strategy to justify LCS and JSF.


Competition in the South China Sea

At its root it is all about resources — protein to supplement meager domestic harvests and oil to drive economies that governments push to unnatural and unsustainable annual growth.   It is about an emergent regional power, poised on the brink of asserting itself as something more, flexing new-found muscle in new domains and deepening suspicion of others in the region. . .   “It” is a body of water, bounded to the west by Indochina,   to the south by Indonesia and the east by the Philippine Islands.   A marginal sea, it is the largest body of water after the world’s five oceans, measuring some 3.5 million square kilometers. Bordered by nearby home for over 270 million people.

Through its passages at Malacca and Taiwan,   pass great streams of commerce — more than half the world’s supertankers and almost half of the world’s tonnage by most counts.   Outward-bound to distant lands with finished products, inbound with the raw wealth drilled, mined, scraped and otherwise pulled from the earth, grist for the shore-bound industries.   From crowded, stinking cities and wave-swept shore, fishermen set to sea to bring its bounty back to a waiting family, village or hungry nation.   They set sail in everything from small boat to vast maritime industrial fleets, so efficient at harvesting but with so little thought of sustainment.   At day’s end, visitor and native alike pause to consider the marvels of a watercolor sky, brushed in deep shades of vermilion and azure from above met by molten gold and dark sapphire from below – merging on the horizon.

Marvelous beauty, marvelous bounty – but alas, one that has seen mighty conflict in its time.   From the early days of vessels powered by muscles and fear, to sail and later, plied by great grey hulking beasts that sought out like kind for battle or hurl anger ashore,   it has seen war in all its stark, naked rage.

The South China Sea.  南海 Nánhǎi.  Biển ĐôngDagat Timog Tsina. Laut China Selatan…  

Click on image to expand

The resources – living and mineral, have been a source of strife among the major regional actors and a look at the multitude of claim/counter-claim lines drawn on a chart, of overlapping claimed sovereignty is to behold a modern Gordian-knot.   The modern-day Alexander in the region, China, has sought to quietly, relentlessly snip away at that knot through bi-lateral negotiations, playing nations off one another and using new-found bluster to attempt to quash any semblance of emergent multi-lateral dialogue.     A 2002 declaration of conduct between ASEAN nations and China wherein all would exercise restraint over claims in the region has begun to unravel.   ASEAN members claim it is meaningless in the face of Chinese naval assertiveness in the region and growing conflicts between fishing fleets and naval forces.   The US, no stranger to these waters from the late-19th century forward, is still a relative newcomer but underscoring its resurgent presence in SE Asia, asserted through SecState Clinton’s surprising (to the Chinese) statement last month at a forum on maritime matters hosted in Hanoi,   that a leading diplomatic priority for the US would be a multilateral approach to resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea while challenging China’s claims to the entirety of the sea.

China’s response wasn’t long in coming.

The Chinese military declared Friday that China had “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea but insisted it would continue to allow others to freely navigate one of the busiest waterways in the world.

The statement by the People’s Liberation Army seemed designed to reiterate China’s claims to the entire 1.3 million-square-mile waterway while calming concerns in Washington and Asian capitals that its policy toward the region had suddenly become significantly more aggressive.

“China has indisputable sovereignty of the South Sea, and China has sufficient historical and legal backing” to support its claims, Senior Col. Geng Yansheng, a Ministry of Defense spokesman, told reporters Friday during a visit to an engineering unit on the outskirts of Beijing.

But he added, “We will, in accordance with the demands of international law, respect the freedom of the passage of ships or aircraft from relevant countries.”

Coming on the heels of competing naval exercises off the Korean peninsula and in the Yellow Sea in July by China (which also began a major round of air exercises today),   the US remarks raised hopes of nations in the region who have expressed increasing concern over China’s growing naval presence.   At home, the Chinese press whipped itself into a veritable froth, taking every opportunity to highlight the naval exercises and declare China’s emergence, something the MoD spokesman quoted above noted later in the same press conference as “not helpful.”

Make no mistake about it — if the US chooses to press ahead in the region militarily and diplomatically there will be substantive challenges and an increased likelihood of a confrontation on the high seas.   China has made no bones about using sharp elbows where it feels its sovereignty is being impinged and with increased capacity and capabilities, will undoubtedly feel it is in a position of greater strength to exercise the same.   On the part of the US, it is the opening act of what a number of writers and strategists are coming to see as at least one major feature of a post-Iraq/Afghanistan world – one that requires a naval presence for persistent presence, able to flow forces on short notice that are able to conduct sustained operations from the seabase.   It is the core of the maritime strategy and naval operations concept.

It is also one that demands a navy with wide-ranging capabilities across the spectrum of war and which will not be found in a dwindling force of undermanned ships, aging aircraft and neglected weapons systems.   It will require small combatants, big-deck amphibs, multi-mission destroyers and cruisers, submarines for hunting and deterrence and carriers that bring a revitalized mission of sea control back into a portfolio too-long dominated by strike warfare.   Grey hulls, white hulls.   Sailor, Marine, Coast Guardsman.   The need is there — the question – can we afford to build and sustain the necessary force structure to put “paid” to the diplomatic checks being written?

Can we afford not to?

The guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) maneuvers with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Luyang-class destroyer Guangzhou (DDGHM 168) off the coast of North Sulawesi, Indonesia.

SECDEF and the Doctrine of Sufficiency

These past few weeks SECDEF Gates has turned to the perennial question of “how much is enough?’ and in the process, has on a couple of occasions called out Navy for its overwhelming capacity in certain areas – subs and aircraft carriers immediately come to mind.  That carriers get highlighted is not surprising – they are after all, a large, highly visible symbol, representative of the collective industrial and military power of the United States.  It is perhaps fittingly coincidental that this discussion falls between the anniversaries of the Battle of the Coral Sea and Midway – signatory engagements that both changed the direction of the war and sealed the role of the aircraft carrier and her embarked airwing as a preeminent weapons system (along with the submarine) in taking back the Asian Pacific areas invaded and occupied by the Japanese empire. 

It also guaranteed that the carrier would have a huge “bullseye” on it post-war as the budgeters’ drew their long knives.  Yet it was the aircraft carrier that less than half a decade later, provided the needed close air support to UN forces in the face of the North Korean onslaught, when the airfields in Korea were overrun and the “safe” fields in Japan and Okinawa were too far away to provide the kind of overhead persistence carrier aircraft could provide until land-based fields could be secured and more aircraft brought in.

 I bring this up as a preamble to highlighting an “interesting” comparison made of the numbers we maintain vs. “other countries” – like these lines from the 3 May speech before the Navy League Sea-Air exposition:

In assessing risks and requirements even in light of an expanding array of global missions and responsibilities everything from shows of presence to humanitarian relief some context is useful:

  • The U.S. operates 11 large carriers, all nuclear powered.  In terms of size and striking power, no other country has even one comparable ship.
  • The U.S. Navy has 10 large-deck amphibious ships that can operate as sea bases for helicopters and vertical-takeoff jets.  No other navy has more than three, and all of those navies belong to our allies or friends.  Our Navy can carry twice as many aircraft at sea as all the rest of the world combined.
  • The U.S. has 57 nuclear-powered attack and cruise missile submarines again, more than the rest of the world combined.
  • Seventy-nine Aegis-equipped combatants carry roughly 8,000 vertical-launch missile cells.  In terms of total missile firepower, the U.S. arguably outmatches the next 20 largest navies.
  • All told, the displacement of the U.S. battle fleet a proxy for overall fleet capabilities exceeds, by one recent estimate, at least the next 13 navies combined, of which 11 are our allies or partners.
  • And, at 202,000 strong, the Marine Corps is the largest military force of its kind in the world and exceeds the size of most world armies.

All interesting and makes for nice bits for the 30-second news report of preservation of column inches – but it lacks context.  For example – at a recent press conference for MDA’s FY2011 budget, the Agency’s Executive Director indicated a total buy of 430 SM-3 across the FYDP extending into FY16.  That’s a pinch over 5% of the 8,000 VLS launchers SECDEF referred to, and yet if you tally up open source numbers of SRBM/MRBMs, you can find in some theaters commanders are facing a ballistic missile threat on the order of 500-1000 missiles.  In one theater.  Additionally, not all Aegis ships are configured for BMD, which further limits flexibility in deploying forces and increases the demand signal for the ships that are configured.

Subs – I’ve yet to hear anyone looking at the growing threat posed by regional powers deploying AIP subs armed with the latest generation of supersonic cruise missiles (SS-N-27/Klub) that we have too many SSNs.  And carriers?  Again, show me a COCOM who hasn’t placed a significant demand signal on carrier generated sorties over the past 7 years that thinks we have too many carriers.

The rub here, and again to put this in context, is that a simple 1:1 map of capabilities with other nations isn’t realistic in that it ignores a fundamental geographical principle – as an island nation (globally speaking) we have greater distances to surmount, lack access to interior lines of communication and have to bring our logistics with us.  Nothing new here – the principles are the same today as they were in 1933 when Navy finally realized the effect of the Washington Navy Treaty had on the fleet and our warplanes – that instead of a dash and smash against the Japanese to defend the Philippines, we were going to have to take a 3-5 year slug it out approach to work our way back across the Pacific.

While it is true that post-Cold War our Navy has decreased in size while others have followed suite – still others are reversing that trend.  Not to repeat here as it has been and will be discussed at length at other times and venues, but it is no secret that China, for example, is growing its navy and Russia has recently announced its intent to plus up its navy in terms of numbers and blue-water capacity (though there are doubts based on several factors, industrial capacity and capability being but one, that it will be able to do so).  Still, it would be erroneous for us to “build down” to their numbers since, as either regional powers and/or occupants of the greater Eurasian continent, the imperatives that drive their strategies, their force structure and their operational construct are different than ours.

So what would be a construct for force sizing?  Navies in particular are hard to quantify in one neat measure.  In the past we’ve used number of hulls, gross tonnage, etc. mostly in isolation and usually to our detriment.  In another forum I participate in, there has been discussion of other measures, like dwell time.  It seems to me that measure may be the better measure.  If, for example, we cite all the bi- and multi-lateral engagements and agreements advocated by the 2007 Cooperative Strategy for Seapower in the 21st Century, we might well find ourselves in a situation where our deployed-to-in-port ratio stands at 1:1, which we historically know is unsupportable.  Perhaps that measure (dwell time) could be further refined, taken another page from SECDEF’s speech, and apply a tonnage modifier, being as how it has been said that a warship’s displacement is the best measure of its capability[1].  In that case, the requirement would follow from the COCOM requirements and warplan constructs (or use the force planning constructs in the QDR).  One possible hint may be in the (still) forthcoming NOC, which may be released, though in classified form, in the coming week. 

The simple fact of the matter, however, is that SECDEF has set his sites on making a resource constrained budget and has in the process, identified initial areas to be explored – and that there apparently will not be any sacred cows left untouched (e.g., personnel costs, FO/GO billets). Unlike ships (or aircraft) billets can be re-added downrange in a quicker manner than say reconstituting a class of ships or mission capability and hence, as a service, Navy needs to ensure it is entering the forthcoming discussions knife fight well prepped with a force sizing construct that yields a force economical not only in dollar cost to build and support, but in mission capabilities. 

Interesting times ahead indeed for all…

[1] Till, Geoffrey. 1975. Biggest or Best: The Navy and its Great Ships. The RUSI Journal. 120(3):54-58. < >. (accessed 11 May 2010).

CNO’s Remarks at NWC Current Strategy Forum

maritime traffic

The following remarks were presented by CNO at the Current Strategy Forum, hosted by the Naval War College, on 16 June 2009.  We are presenting them here, unedited or commented upon,  except for certain boldened passages that we feel require emphasis.  The comments section is open for your thoughts…  – SJS

It is really a terrific opportunity to come together with you and have a debate, a discourse, a discussion on something that is very, very important and that is the strategy that we, as a Navy and nation, have to pursue. I think in a way we call this the Current Strategy Forum, but often times when we come here to talk about these things, we don’t really focus on our current strategy that much, but we focus on the current challenges and then what the future strategy should be; so in a way, I think that it may be ‘the future strategy forum’ in years ahead. Don’t jump too quickly on that. We have to think about it.

But I would also say that it’s great to have so many young leaders in the audience here and then those that are connected in at the War College, because I believe that it will be the young leaders who are here and watching and thinking who will write the strategies of our future for our Navy and nation.

When I talk about strategy what I’m really talking about, and I’m going to just distill it down into simple Sailor terms: it’s how we use what we have or will have to achieve our national security objectives. That to me is what we should be thinking about. And I would also say that given the lectures and the panels that we’ve had so far this morning, that as we think abut the future strategy, and the current strategy and where we have to go to achieve our national security objectives, that we have to do so in the context of today’s fiscal environment and the near-term fiscal environment that we know will affect us and will factor into our strategic thinking. I believe that the public has to be part of the dialogue and discussion that we’re going to have. I think they should think about the risks and the opportunities for the world’s oceans, in particularly for our Navy and that the public should have the opportunity to influence that dialogue. And I also believe it’s important for current and future strategists to think about, to write down, and debate the thoughts that are going on here because it’s in the aftermath of sessions such as this that we get some great thought going.

And I would say that for me being here and spending as much time as I do is extraordinarily helpful. I put a great value, and I’m speaking now to the young officers who are in this audience- I put a great value on setting aside time to think. Because I will tell you as you move up through the ranks, time will become your most precious commodity and you have to set aside time; you have to think about things, because that’s what those you lead expect of you to have done. And this is a terrific opportunity for me to do just that. And for me, as we engage in the Quadrennial Defense Review- hearing the thoughts, hearing the questions, hearing the comments are very helpful to me. And I’d say it’s a nice way to break away from budget discussions which have become my life in recent years.

But point in fact, when you talk about strategy, when you talk about Quadrennial Defense Reviews, you cannot not talk about budgets because that’s how we implement our means and our policies for our future. I would say that the Quadrennial Defense Review that we are involved in today is, like last year’s budget, is a model process. It has had the personal attention of the Secretary of Defense.  Both the budget and the Quadrennial Defense Review, that I will refer to in the term of QDR, and what has been different, is that Secretary Gates as a standing Secretary of Defense, led us through that transition. The first time in a long time, if ever, that we did not upon a change of administration between parties also change the Secretary of Defense. His leadership and experience, his vast experience in government, and his willingness to hear all voices I believe resulted in a good effort in the 2010 budget and I’m very confident that the QDR will produce the types of results that are important for our Navy and for our nation.

What I would like to do now is just lay out my perspectives on the importance of the seas, the challenges that we face, the strategies that we have in place, and what we need to properly carry out that strategy. But most importantly as I said at the onset, I really look forward to your questions.

Why is the maritime domain or why are the seas important? For me, I sum it up in about three words: it’s about commerce, it’s about communication and it’s about resources. We’ve talked today, or some of the speakers have talked about the amount of commerce that moves on the seas and the waterways of the world. Ninety percent of global trade- it has increased about 60 percent faster than the world GDP over the last couple years- has altered that rate a little bit.

We talked about the communications that flow: about 95 percent of communications that move around the world; about $3.2 trillion in trade. We talk about cyberspace, that’s not where it moves- not on the lightning bolts that go from the earth to the satellites and back down again, those communications and that electronic trade that takes place moves across the floor of the ocean and I think that’s an important thing for us to keep in mind.

Sixty-five percent of the world’s oil; 35 percent of the world’s gas reserves are in the littorals- that band that’s right along the edge of the ocean. And I think as we look to the future we can’t forget that it’s in that same region where energy sources such as wind and tidal, and even energy produced from things like algae, will become more important to our future. And most importantly, the maritime domain affords us the opportunity and the ability to operate and to influence without infringing on anyone’s national sovereignty.

As I look at the world that we live in today and the world that our children will live in, clearly it is more interconnected than ever before. Time and pace of operations, essential elements of strategy, are going to be effected by how tightly connected we are, so time and pace will continue to compress and that will change the way that we’ll have to go about doing our business. But the interconnectedness I think we’ll find to be somewhat fragile and it will be easily disrupted in what I call our “disrupted world.” The world that I see in the future will be one of disorder that will take place from time to time. Disorder can be caused by things such as abrupt changes in the economic fortunes and as we’ve seen, disorder can be caused by teenage pirates- our old foes from the past who come around again and with which we are now engaged. Beyond that, I would say that we face military threats from across the spectrum and that no conflict anymore will easily be identified as low-end or high= end. Hybrid is going to be the word du jour and all of us need to be thinking about that.

We know that weapons systems are proliferating and they’re quite advanced. They range from ballistic missiles to submarines and little can be assumed to be low- end anymore. And if you consider what a political group did, Hezbollah, in attacking an Israeli warship and almost sinking it, that is how hard I think it would be to categorize capability and threats and natures of threats. And we also find that we’re using very high-end electronic attack capabilities to defeat terrorists as they plant radio controlled improvised explosive devices; so again, high- end and low- end come together to mix. And remote and nonexistent battlefields are gaining in prominence. Littoral areas I believe will become more important. Cyber, an area that we are about ready to plunge into in a new way, the undersea environment will be significant, and demographic pressures will continue to create situations, crisis and opportunities that we must be able to account for in the future. Urban populations in 2050 will be the same as the world population in 2004 and seven of the 10 largest cities are going to be near the coasts. Less developed regions will account for 98 percent of the expected world increase of people through 2050. There will be resource competition as demographic pressures come into bear.

And we often think as we think about resource competition– hydrocarbons, but it will be water. And it will be what I call protein stocks- fish. Where will countries go to get that? And it will also be a competition for arable land. There will be competition for energy resources that must figure into our thinking, not just in our strategic view outside of the Navy, but how do we as a Navy, develop alternative forms of energy and fuels for that which we do. Climate change is upon us and those changes will affect everything from weather pattern shifts to changes in ice caps which will affect everything from water densities and salinity to transit routes.

Our strategy today to account for these risks had its beginnings about two years ago. We refer to it, and I hope all of you have access to it, as the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power. It has garnered, I would say, favorable international acceptance, and that acceptance is reevaluated daily as the right strategy for our maritime forces. What are the elements of that? We believe that preventing wars is just as important as winning a war and prevention is done clearly through our ability to demonstrate strength, to influence, assure and deter, but it’s also done through engagement, meaningful engagement and humanitarian action. It is also based on global maritime partnerships working together for common interests especially in the area of maritime security. And in those global maritime partnerships is engagement with a purpose. Whenever I am in a discussion about engagement, I say, ‘an engagement for what?’ There has to be a purpose for what we are doing, for the effort that is going into it on the part of all parties, but also for the resources that we devote to it. There are some who would say that engagement is only done with things that are small, cheap and benign, where we can engage on an individual, personal basis; but I would submit that engagement is also there to assure and deter and that sometimes credible combat power is good engagement.

And I get down to, what is the right mix? There are some who would say a small patrol boat showing a small coastal navy how to conduct a fisheries patrol is the best form of engagement. But consider what we’ve done with our Africa Partnership Station where we’ve took a little bit of a larger ship, an amphibious ship, where we could still go off and work with that coastal nation but then we could ballast that ship down and we could pull their boats in and teach them how to repair and to maintain. Where we could have an international staff on board, young officers who will rise to the top of their navy, who are developing friendships and relationships that will last the next 15 or 20 years? And a capability large enough to where we can hold conferences and meetings, and mix with the various interagency groups in the countries where we operate. That to me covers a broad spectrum of engagement.

Other examples of global maritime partnerships are what we’re doing with counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. A few years ago if you would’ve listed the number of countries that would be cooperating in the way that we are, I think some would be skeptical, but the level of cooperation has been extraordinary over the last year. Africa Partnership Station, which I already mentioned, is developing regional maritime capabilities and capacity without creating a permanent presence ashore. It’s all done off shore without any infringement on anyone’s sovereignty. And the ability through our global maritime partnerships to communicate. In the aftermath of the tragic Air France crash- that day I was on the phone with my French counterpart, my Brazilian counterpart- and as we speak there is an international effort to try to find the boxes that will perhaps tell us what the cause of that crash was. And a few weeks ago in the aftermath of an incident in the East China Sea with one of our surveillance ships, within 24- about 48 hours, I was on the phone with my Chinese counterpart and we talked for about an hour. And then shortly after that I was in China with him for my fourth visit there and my third substantive meeting with my counterpart, Vice Adm. Wu Sheng Li.

Our strategy still calls for what we call six core capabilities and what are they? To be forward, to be a global Navy– to be out in the areas where we can respond and where we can provide options for the commander in chief. Forty five percent of our ships are out and about, around the world, interacting and providing that opportunity for engagement. But engagement can also include the 14,000 Sailors that are on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s more Sailors on the ground in the Middle East than I have at sea in the Middle East. Today we have about 10,000 Sailors on ships; about 14,000 Sailors on the ground performing a range of missions.

Deterrence is another core capability that we see. Deterrence not only in the form of our ballistic missile submarines that are a significant part of our nuclear triad, but deterrence can also be the 97,000 tons of a U.S. aircraft carrier. And by the way, four of those aircraft carriers, four of our 11 aircraft carriers, are underway today. Three deployed in the Pacific and one in the Middle East and by the way, there are others in the pipeline to go and relieve them when the time comes.

Sea control- I think that one of the biggest challenges that we will have in the future is being able to exercise sea control wherever and whenever we will be ordered to do so against some of these proliferating threats, whether it’s advanced anti-ship cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, or the growth in submarines where the predictions are to see the global inventory of submarines increase by 280 in the next two decades.  And if anyone looks at our shipbuilding plan, we’re not that much of a contributor to that growth.

Power projection– it’s not just the images of Tomahawks going in to Iraq in the opening days of the war there but it’s also power projections such as what we’re doing in Afghanistan- where our aircraft carrier that is off the coast is providing 46 percent of the fixed wing aviation over Afghanistan. But it’s also the ability to project power and influence with our Marines from the decks of our amphibious ships.

And maritime security- I’ve already mentioned counter-piracy, they’re an example but so are operations that deal with stopping the theft of oil, that deal in countering some of the other transnational criminal activity of smuggling people, weapons and drugs and also the work that we do with friends and partners in the proliferation security initiative.

And new to the strategy is proactive humanitarian assistance and disaster responsenot just reactive as we saw in the tsunami of 2004, which was the largest humanitarian relief operation ever conducted, but it’s also in the proactive work that continues to go on with our hospital ships and other ships. In fact since the first proactive hospital ship deployment in 2006, 409,000 patients have been treated from Navy ships operating with other services, other countries and nongovernmental organizations. That has an impact.

Intimately connected with any strategy that we develop is planning how to employ our limited resources in that strategy. And what weighs most heavily in my conversations, in my thinking and my work is planning not just for capability, but really coming to grips with capacity. One ship can only be in one place at one time. We are the smallest Navy that we have been since 1916, but our responsibilities are global and our interests will continue to require a global presence.

Another important planning factor of course does remain capability, especially the capability to account for the trends that we see. Surely, credible combat power is required but we must provide the right types of capabilities to the commander in chief. We continue to see growing demands from our combatant commanders for more ballistic missile defense, more submarines and clearly more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. And what we have seen is that the high-end capabilities have a better chance of going low and the low-end capabilities have a better chance of going high.

Multipurpose ships come into play when you have capacity issues. They can win the battle but they can also perform many other functions. For example, consider the Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyer. It was the platform from which the rescue of Captain Phillips of the Maersk Alabama took place. It was also a source of Tomahawk strikes into CENTCOM. It was also the ship that was selected to carry the first humanitarian supplies into Georgia after the conflict there because it could go in unattended. It’s also the ship that’s performing ballistic missile defense and long-range search and track in the Western Pacific. And it also is a ship that is currently operating on the East Coast of Africa in an Africa Partnership Station role. It does not mean that everything has to all be at the high end, but balance is the key.

I think as we go forward with our strategy, the one thing that we can never forget is that all the ships and airplanes and submarines that we have depend upon the young men and women who elect to put this uniform on and go forward and serve in our Navy. For the first time we have taken the all-volunteer force through a protracted conflict and I will also tell you that it is the best force; this is the best Navy today in which I have ever served. But operating and compensating that force takes on some very different considerations from in the past. We can no longer simply compel service, we have to be able to attract and we must be able to retain the fine men and women that serve and there’s a cost associated with that. Consider for example between 1990 and 1995, an E-5 in the United States Navy, a second class petty officer in the United States Navy, between ’90 and ’95, saw their pay increase $85. Fast forward to 2000-2005, that same second class petty officer in that same period of time saw their pay increase $11,000. The force we have today is a well compensated force. It is extraordinarily professional, but it is a force that we have to take into account manpower as we look into the future.

Our Sailors operationalize the maritime strategy and they must have the warfighting know-how to implement that strategy. They must have technical sophistication that they’re predecessors did not have. They must have language abilities to interact more globally. They must have some regional expertise or at least some understanding of the areas of the world where they were operating and they have to have cultural knowledge to do all the strategy envisions in this complex, in this connected and in this disordered world in which we will live.

So that’s my opening volley as to why I believe the ocean’s are important, what trends that may be out there and the maritime strategy that we have put in place to account for those trends and some of the planning factors that must be part of our future thinking.

And with that I look forward to your lively questions on any topic. The floor is open. Thank you.


Missile Defense – It’s Not Just for ICBMs

It began in 2001.  Crude, homemade and unguided.  Indiscriminate as to objective or target – not meant to do anything but inspire terror.  It has a name – صاروخ القسام‎ ṢārÅ«kh al-Qassām;


Comprised of a  simple steel rocket filled with explosives, powered by a homebrew mixture of sugar and potassium nitrate (fertilizer) with warheads made of TNT and urea nitrate. Four hits in 2001, 35 in 2002 and by 2007, it was measured in the thousands.  As low tech as the rockets are, they are giving the IDF fits in attempting to thwart them.  Efforts to build a shield based on a variety of kinetic options, under the rubric of “Iron Dome” have met with desultory success.  This is due in no small part to the fore shortened battlespace.  A Qassam launched from the Gaza travels roughly  9 seconds before landing at or near its current max range of 12km (20km for the later models):


To effect an intercept in the terminal stage requires the right weapon positioned for effective coverage with an exceptionally quick detect to launch cycle.  Absent the wonders (and suspension of physical laws) of Hollywood f/x, for a conventional missile or gun-based system, the odds for a miss are high  and in this scenario, so is the penalty for misses.  Consider:

The upshot is that the prime minister, who just two months ago declared that “we will not fortify ourselves to death,” was compelled to approve recommendations to fortify 8,000 homes in Sderot and the communities of the “Gaza envelope,” to the tune of NIS 300 million. Such protection is necessary because these homes lie within 4.5 kilometers of the Gaza Strip.

But a mere day later, it turned out that the plan was too ambitious and that budget shortfalls meant that only 3,600 homes in Sderot and the Gaza envelope can be fortified within the next two years. The solemn declarations to fortify the homes, revoked only hours later, are just the latest chapter in a gloomy saga replete with deception, lies, concealment of the truth from policymakers, groundless promises to Sderot residents, the unexplained rejection of the arguments for examining additional defense systems other than Iron Dome, and bizarre decisions made in the Defense Ministry. (

So two of the three pillars of missile defense are already accounted for, under current conditions – active and passive defenses.  Each is found wanting so leaving the IDF with the third leg, offensive measures which, it would seem, came under consideration some several months before the current operation – ostensibly while taking onboard the “lessons learned” from the 2006 campaign in Lebanon.  Still, with all that behind them, parallels – justified or not, are being drawn in the Western media and the Arab street over “disproportionate response” and so while Israel may benefit in the short-run from decapitating strikes against Hamas leadership, in the longer run it isn’t too hard to foresee a resurgence of the antebellum status quo, absent a breakthrough in defensive weaponry.

What lessons might we draw from this scenario?  That missile defense is necessary at levels lower than we commonly think of (metropolitan vice intercontinentalal) to afford national decision-makers options other than a bunker mentality or having to resort to use of massive conventional forces – definitely.  That development of said capability at the local, as at the intercontinental range, is hard and if anything, probably more pressing because of the disruption, damage and loss of life it can incur. 

There is also a Navy quotient in here as one ponders the access denial possibilities that the deployment and employment of literally hundreds of these crude weapons entails in the opening or continued operations of  an SPOD or APOD, that is defendable from the maritime environment.  Suppose you are the CO of an LCS given charge to provided air- and missile defense to a contingent of Marines and Seabees ashore to open or keep open an APOD for further staging of forces when the first waves of Qassam’s (or their successors) are inbound.  How will you counter them?  Are the right mission modules being designed and built for this contingency?  Food for thought…


New Naval Operations Concept – Still Waiting…

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

  1. New Naval Operations Concept – Still Waiting…
  2. Where’s My Ship? Live Ship Locater via the Web

Maritime BMD Comes to the East Coast

USS Ramage

Since the program began, Aegis BMD has been concentrated on the West Coast and with the FDNF.  Now, however, two more ships – this time on the East Coast, have undergone the modifications and one, the USS RAMAGE (DDG 61) has begun a deployment with the SM-3 Blk1a missile onboard (full article here): 

“She is loaded,” said Rear Adm. Alan Hicks, program director for Aegis ballistic missile defense, in a teleconference with reporters. “She can search and track for cueing; she can do engagements of exoatmospheric threats; and she can defend herself against air threats. That is our definition of fully mission-capable.”. . . On top of the enhanced software to track and target airborne ballistic missiles, the big arrow is the Standard Missile-3, which can make an intercept in space, at 100 miles above sea level.

Besides USS Stout, the other East Coast BMD destroyer, there are 16 other BMD capable Aegis cruisers and destroyers – Lake Erie, Port Royale and Shiloh on the cruiser side, and the Burke-class destroyers Benfold, Russell, Paul Hamilton, O’Kane, J.S. MacCain, Hopper, Higgins, Stethem, Curtis Wilbur, Decatur, Milius, Fitzgerald and John Paul Jones; all home-ported on the West Coast or with the FDNF in Japan.  As we’ve argued before – more are needed, especially in light of the growing proliferation, horizontal and vertical, of ballistic missiles.  Added ships will increase coverage, flexibility and presence in the employment of sea-based BMD from the maritime commons :


“I believe, near-term, that we need an additional four to six Atlantic Fleet ships in order to give the necessary flexibility to the fleet commander to keep the presence forward,” Hicks said.

Earlier in the summer, coincidentally at a time when war tensions between Iran and Israel were flaring, two Pacific-based BMD destroyers, the Benfold and the Russell, conducted a communications system test – not missile intercepts – in the Middle East.  The exercise was described as a test of the rapid exchange of information between the two fleets, via satellite, as well as information from ground-based sensors.  Benfold, in the Persian Gulf, and Russell, in the Mediterranean, worked “with one another in detecting, tracking, sharing information and engaging a simulated ballistic missile by sharing data via a number of paths,” according to information from 6th Fleet in Italy. 

“We expect when Ramage arrives in theater, between commander, 6th Fleet, and commander, 5th Fleet, to continue that level of exercises across areas of responsibility to further refine operational procedures,” Hicks said.

Now, about that fully integrated and combined air and missile defense concept

Navy Awards Northrop Grumman Unmanned Aircraft System Contract

"Enhance Awareness. To be effective, there must be a significantly increased commitment to advance maritime domain awareness (MDA) and expand intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability and capacity."     – A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower

Navy Awards Northrop Grumman Unmanned Aircraft System Contract

The Department of the Navy announced today that the Northrop Grumman Corp. has been awarded the system development and Demonstration (SDD) contract for the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Unmanned Aircraft System (BAMS UAS).

The BAMS UAS contract award is the culmination of a year-long source selection process since the Navy received industry proposals in May 2007. The $1.16 billion cost-plus-award-fee contract is to develop a persistent maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data collection and dissemination capability that fulfills the maritime war fighter’s requirement for continuous battle-space awareness. The BAMS UAS will be developed using Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4N platform.

"This announcement represents the Navy’s largest investment in unmanned aircraft systems to date. The extraordinary efforts leading to this announcement have helped the BAMS UAS program begin to develop a persistent ISR capability never before available to the fleet," said Capt. Bob Dishman, program manager for the BAMS UAS program. "This is a significant milestone for the BAMS UAS program, concluding a deliberate and meticulous source selection process that adhered to stringent Federal Acquisition Regulation and Naval Air System Command source selection processes and documentation requirements."

The BAMS UAS is an integral part of the maritime patrol and reconnaissance Force. As an adjunct to the P-8A Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft, the BAMS UAS will provide persistent maritime and littoral intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to joint forces and fleet commanders worldwide. This capability will enhance battle-space awareness, improve force projection capabilities and protect and defend the fleet and the nation.

Flightdeck Friday: V/STOL Dreams

 It is clear that the XFV-12A program will not enhance the image of naval aviation. Note that in this case the outcome was not only predictable, but was in fact predicted. As is so often the case, all of the principals in the decision have moved on in both OSD and the Navy. The task of justification will fall on others and will be difficult. It is to be hoped that the same mistakes will not be made again, although the entire V/STOL program certainly has the potential.

– George Spangenberg, 1977 memo to RADM Ekas, USN (NAVAIR)


The 1970’s — disco balls, cardigan sweaters in the White House, double digit inflation and unemployment.  The nation was in the grip of stagflation and post-Vietnam malaise; defense spending and investment was down substantially and traditional big ticket items, like nuclear aircraft carriers, were increasingly difficult to fund.  It was, in a word, an age of diminished expectations.

Continue Reading…

The Maritime Strategy, Deterrence & Escalation Dominance

“We believe that preventing wars is as important as winning wars…(w)e will pursue an approach to deterrence that includes a credible and scalable ability to retaliate against aggressors conventionally, unconventionally, and with nuclear forces”
– A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, October 2007

“…(O)ne of the things that we were stressing is an area that I personally have seen little academic work, and that is the notion of escalation control. I think that speaks to your example of how do you deter confrontation between two nuclear capable countries…” 
– VADM Morgan (DCNO, Information, Planning & Strategy), DoD Blogger’s Roundtable, 27 March 2008.

At the height of the Cold War an entire intellectual industry had grown around nuclear deterrence – of strategies, game theory, nuclear calculus and yes, escalation dominance to name but a few of the more esoteric concepts that were the lingua franca of the age.  However, as ADM Morgan correctly points out, post-Cold War this academic industry has mostly fallen away, in part based on reduced tensions between the two primary nuclear powers, but more due to a shift in focus away from the primacy of nuclear weapons and towards the Global War on Terror which required a different toolset.   However, as the complexities of the 21st-century geopolitical order have emerged conventional weapons and capabilities are fielded that have first- and second-order effects that approach lower yield nuclear weapons, there is cause to re-examine the extant toolset. Perhaps it is best to start with an explanation of what constitutes escalation dominance.

In a deterrence scenario there are essentially two parties – a “disturber” and a “stabilizer.” It is assumed that the stabilizer’s interests lie in maintaining the status quo and the disturber’s in disrupting it to accrue some benefit. Therefore, the initiative lies with the disturber as does the level and type of conflict to be employed. To maintain primacy then, a stabilizer must be prepared to maintain a capability to defeat the disturber at every possible level of conflict, or else to maintain escalation dominance with both the means and the will to escalate the conflict.

To employ escalation dominance requires the possession of forces in such manner that higher orders of conflict are of greater advantage to that actor.  For example, two nation-state actors are engaged in a low-order campaign where state A is enforcing sanctions against B via established "no-fly" zones over B.  B moves surface to air missiles into the no-fly zones to challenge A and A responds with a significant air campaign that destroys the launchers and missiles, their control network and reveted supplies, leaving B in a worse condition than before.  Nation-state C, a neighbor of B and also under no-fly zone sanctions had been considering similar actions and upon witnessing the three-day campaign, opts to not take that avenue of action.   Nation-state B unwittingly played to state A’s strong suit which is integrated air campaigns.

 Conversely, without those forces, threats of escalation are not only meaningless, but could potentially threaten widening the conflict. This is, of course, a simple explanation of a fairly nuanced series of subjects – and it does not end there. For if merely returning the disturbed order to status quo ante was the objective of the stabilizer, then the costs would fall disproportionately on the stabilizer vis a vis the disrupter. The latter, in some scenarios, could turn to waging a prolonged guerilla campaign to achieve its objectives – complete with accompanying propaganda campaign. In order to provide an adequate deterrent threat then, the disturber must be faced with the very real possibility of significant loss – of territory, power, wealth and so forth. In order to accomplish this, the stabilizer must be ready and able to threaten to go beyond the status quo whenever the equilibrium is upset by a disturber.

This threat is what restores initiative to the stabilizer and in turn, promotes and incentivizes stability on the part of both parties. It is also the area that is the most problematic in conventional, unconventional and nuclear deterrence credibility in the current age.   A “surge” of conventional forces, for example, in an urban environment in the hands of a manipulative disturber can readily appear to be a massive, indiscriminate attack on an unarmed civilian populace and at best, yield a Pyrrhic victory for the stabilizer. Shift to nuclear matters and one need look no further than Gulf War I and ambiguous signals from US leadership regarding employment of nuclear weapons in response to chemical weapons attacks on US troop concentrations for public pronouncements to lack credibility. On the other hand, the very clear, consistent nuclear guarantee enumerated from one American Administration to the next for NATO was an enduring glue that both held the alliance together and continued to challenge the Soviet/Warsaw Pact to the bitter end.

Placed in the context of the Maritime Strategy, it would appear then that the intent would be that maritime forces would, of course, be the stabilizers seeking to maintain a stable, safe environment to permit the free flow of goods and services across the world’s maritime commons. These forces would be linked through peacetime theater security cooperative engagements, bilateral agreements, regional alliances and the like – a host of those expanded cooperative relationships that have been played up in the new MS. The expectation is that such a regime serves to dissuade the majority of low(er) level disturbers from engaging in disruptive behavior.

The challenge, however, comes as one moves up the scale, particularly to the regional actors that seek to dominate their regions. These are the larger geopolitical entities that have seen significant post-Cold War growth in any one of several sectors but are correspondingly resource poor in one or more areas. They are countries like India and China who have tremendous growth potential, but also have natural and man-made imposed boundaries that will impose chaffing on that growth and in turn, inject complexities into the stability equation for the Maritime Strategy. That will be the next item for discussion.

Others today: