"Like Thunder and Lightning"

By Rear Admiral Daniel J. Murphy, U.S. Navy

Equally enduring is the fact that most time-critical and limited-response military operations will require the Navy and Marine Corps. With its inherent flexibility, the Navy-Marine Corps team is uniquely situated to deal with the global range of smaller-scale challenges we can expect to encounter in the 21st century. Only sea-based forces can gain initial maritime, air, and information superiority; provide reconnaissance, surveillance, and targeting; attack through the battlespace; and deliver and sustain forces ashore. Whether U.S. response in time of crisis is unilateral, allied, or coalition, maritime forces will be essential.

Fewer resources earmarked for national defense also will likely continue to be the norm. The need for—and numbers of—forward-deployed units will continue to be debated, but diverging trends between land- and sea-based forces already are becoming clear. In-1988, for example, 50% of U.S. combat force structure was stationed permanently overseas. By 1996, that number had dropped to 30%. By contrast, the level of Navy battle force ships forward deployed has remained relatively constant, even as actual naval force structure has decreased. In 1992, as the Navy drew back from Desert Storm commitments, 126 of 526 battle force ships (24%) were deployed at any one time. In 1993, with battle force reduced to 466 ships, 95 (21%) were forward deployed. By 1996, total force had declined to 356 ships, but overseas deployments actually increased to 103 ships (29%).

As is the case today, there will be no substitute for the flexibility, graduated application of power, sustainability, and combat striking ability of a carrier battle group in the next century. But as shrinking U.S. presence in geographically fixed locales worldwide places increasing demands on our 12 carriers, the surface combatant force must be capable of operating independently, of doing more to complement the carriers. Soon after the turn of the century, cruisers and destroyers fitted with greatly expanded combat-system and command-and-control capabilities will distribute offensive naval firepower more widely, to support the land campaign directly and to provide theater air dominance.

Through the establishment of maritime dominance and control of broad ocean areas, and by leveraging core competencies in power projection and joint force air defense, we are reshaping our future. By 2002, the surface Navy will conduct precision land attack across a range of crises and expand our air-defense umbrella hundreds of miles inland.

Maritime dominance—our ability to control and fight through the maritime battlespace—is a prerequisite for land-attack and theater air operations forward, independent of host-country clearances, foreign political sensitivities, and potentially vulnerable shore facilities. It is essential to the Navy's ability effectively to influence events on land and is the foundation on which is based our engagement on the joint battlefield—including precision strike, naval surface fire support, joint force air defense, and theater ballistic missile defense.

To attain maritime dominance, we will require full-dimensional protection; our surface combatants must retain core competencies in air, surface, and undersea warfare. We cannot ignore the lessons of the three-month campaign off Okinawa in 1945, where our inability to achieve battlespace dominance resulted in 10,000 naval casualties and 30 ships lost to kamikaze attacks. To this end, our core investments in the Aegis combat system, armed helicopters, improved undersea warfare and electronic warfare systems, and a new family of anti-air missiles will serve us well into the new century.

The establishment of maritime dominance will enable the surface Navy to perform precision land attack and theater air dominance with a total combat capability not seen since the ascendancy of naval aviation. An essential consideration in developing these new capabilities, however, is the need to operate within today's rigid funding constraints. Leveraging current capabilities, especially in vertical-launching system (VLS) platforms, we will add new weapons to ships' magazines, much as we have added new aircraft to carriers' decks. The result will be an affordable, responsive, and increasingly lethal surface Navy in operation before the next new class of ship slips down the way.

The continuum of 21st-century surface land attack can be broken into three subsets:

  • Surface fire support for land forces ranging 75 miles from the beach
  • Interdiction support to break up armor formations, troop concentrations, and the like at ranges out to 200 miles from the beach
  • Strike, the targeting of key headquarters, command-and-control nodes, armor back-staging areas, and critical air and ballistic missile defense, to ranges of 1,000 or more miles

Promising new systems such as extended-range guided munitions (ERGMs) and twin 155-mm guns encased in a vertical-launch gun system (VGAS) will provide precise, volume fires, while a naval variant of the Army's Tactical Missile System, capable of being launched by both surface combatants and submarines, will provide quick response to calls for fire at ranges up to 200 miles against both soft and hard, deeply buried targets. To leverage prior Navy investments, early block variants of today's surface-to-air Standard missile will be reworked to produce rapid response coastal defense suppression at a bargain price.

In another reapplication of investments already made, ongoing improvements to Tomahawk mission planning will allow today's premier surface Navy strike weapon to react to emerging and relocatable targets through shooter targeting of the Block III missile and in-flight retargeting of the Block IV. By reexamining technical solutions of the past and developing new systems and capabilities, we will provide our operational commanders, in both Navy and joint contexts, autonomous capability to support the land campaign and attack time-sensitive targets throughout the battlespace, extending more than 1,000 miles from the lifelines.

In achieving theater air dominance, the surface Navy also will leverage the fleet of Aegis cruisers and destroyers, superb investments in maritime capability already made by the American taxpayer. In theater air defense, as in land attack, new weapon capabilities, particularly development of the Standard Missile II Block IV to provide air dominance over land, will be placed on board ships and in VLS launchers already in service. And as is the case with land attack, we are renewing our capability throughout the lives of our ships.

Because of the confined air space of the littoral and the close proximity of Air Force and Army capabilities, numerous doctrinal challenges will arise as the surface Navy engages low-flying cruise missiles and hypersonic theater ballistic missiles. The joint engagement zone of the 21st century—containing stealth aircraft, 200-mile surface-to-air missiles, Tomahawk strike missiles, land-attack missiles, and surface-fires weapons—will be crowded, demanding full service integration from the earliest stages of a crisis. A common tactical picture, flexible command structure, centralized planning, and decentralized execution will be mandatory. To complement our enhanced combat systems capabilities, the surface Navy will have to take a leading role in the development of joint theater air defense doctrine and procedures for establishing the joint architecture to manage the air picture.

A central challenge in the future theater air defense environment will be theater ballistic missile defense. During Desert Storm and more recently in the Taiwan Strait, the use of theater ballistic missiles had a significant impact. The reality that more than 15 nations currently possess ballistic-missile-delivery capability lends an increasing sense of urgency to the requirement.

An overall U.S. military response to the theater ballistic missile threat is required, but the nature of sea-based capability makes the surface Navy's role unique. Of all the joint approaches to the problem, only Navy area and theater-wide theater ballistic missile defense programs are inherently free of host-nation constraints. Again leveraging significant investments in the existing and planned Aegis fleet, the Standard Missile II Block IVA and Standard Missile III (Light Exo-Atmospheric Projectile), both capable of being launched from today's VLS launchers, will be essential in providing the geographic commander-in-chief and joint force commander with a credible, forward-deployed, active defense capability.

Accelerating technological advances will change the way maritime operations are conducted at sea and in the littoral. To realize the full potential of the surface Navy's 21st-century capabilities, we will have to be able to readily establish—and then comfortably operate within—the constructs of a fully integrated, mature, joint C4ISR architecture.

Achievement of full spectrum dominance can be realized only within a joint force command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) architecture. When first on the scene, surface combatants will be called on to establish the initial C4ISR architecture; other joint forces will "plug in" as they flow into theater. The connectivity of all systems and sensors, the synergistic lethality of the total force—land, sea, air, and space-based—must be understood by the surface warrior of the next century, who will have an essential role to play in its creation.

The C4ISR architecture we require will be capable of fully integrating surveillance, detection, and weapon-delivery systems for mission planning and execution. It will encompass traditional naval components and new, multiservice platforms and systems, such as the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and the Army's Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System. To recognize our full potential, we will establish direct sensor-to-shooter connectivity within this joint architecture, eliminating the absolute need to flow communications through the carrier or amphibious ship "middleman."

Sensor and weapons networking, increasingly important as we operate in the littorals, will be fully integrated into the warfare commander's decision-making process. Cooperative Engagement Capability already has begun to revolutionize how we fight. From antisubmarine operations to theater missile defense to precision land attack strikes, the battle group's and joint task force's sensor platforms and weapons will become fused in a system of systems, providing a real-time total force picture to all war fighters. This system of systems will provide greater early warning, to permit our maritime forces to cope with the significantly reduced reaction time occasioned by operating in the smaller littoral battlespace against high-speed, low-observable technology.

Being able to "plug and play" in a strong joint C4ISR architecture will allow us to realize the full combat potential of our surface force. Ultimately, ground and air forces will have the ability directly to "call for fire" the weapons resident in an array of heavily armed cruisers and destroyers. Surface distributed firepower, as an employment concept, directly supports Joint Vision 2010 and operational maneuver from the sea, both of which rely heavily on the availability of precise, responsive remote fires.

Clearly, the improvements now under way will alter the role played by our surface combatant force in the next century. Converting promise into reality will be challenging but doable within anticipated resources. The percentage of overall Navy funding needed is comparatively modest, and we intend to finance our path to the future within existing surface warfare resources. There will be difficult trades, because there is no "extra" money, but our investment strategy will be based on three approaches:

  • We will shape a balanced and affordable surface combatant force within funding constraints.
  • We will backfit evolutionary changes such as theater ballistic missile defense and land-attack capabilities into our existing cruiser/destroyer force, providing significantly increased combat effectiveness at marginal costs.
  • We will forward fit revolutionary combat system developments such as the vertical-launch gun system and extended-range guided munitions, open architectures, and signature reduction—as well as new advances in power distribution and automation—into tomorrow's new platforms.

As an afloat laboratory for 21st-century design ships, a maritime fire support demonstrator, built by the Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in partnership with industry, will test technologies for the arsenal ship and the land-attack destroyer (DD-21), the first of the Surface Combatant-21 (SC-21) variants. At sea by early next century, the maritime fire support demonstrator will reduce technical risks significantly for both platforms and will support the Fleet Battle Lab emphasis on maritime fire support. By maximizing contractor access to advanced technologies being developed by the Navy—including the advanced integrated electronic warfare system, integrated power system, advanced human computer interfaces, multifunction radar (X band), volume search radar (L band), and VGAS—the demonstrator will benefit from industrial expertise in advanced, cost-effective, and efficient ship engineering and construction.

The maritime fire support demonstrator also will test the technical feasibility of the arsenal ship concept and will address some of the unknowns that must be resolved before the Navy makes the final decision to transition from concept to production. Conceptually, the arsenal ship would be a low-cost, minimally manned, joint fires platform that would complement our existing force of carriers, surface combatants, and submarines. It would provide assured conventional deterrence and, employing precision weapons and smart targeting, massed precision fires from the sea.

The arsenal ship in theater or in close proximity to regions of potential conflict would release conventional combatants from long-term, pre-hostilities, launch basket demands that would place serious personnel and operating tempo strains on our sailors. It also would permit the joint force commander to dedicate a greater percentage of essential, early airlift and sealift to supporting the flow of combat capability into the theater.

With a wider focus than the arsenal ship, the SC-21 family of ships will be capable of power projection, total battlespace dominance, and local and theater-wide missile defense. Designed from a system-of-systems approach that fully integrates propulsion plant, power system, and ship's control and processing and display systems, the first variant (DD-21) has a goal of a 95-person crew and a lifecycle cost less than one-third that of an Arleigh Burke (DDG-51)-class destroyer.

DD-21 will be a scaleable architecture, multi-mission surface combatant that will have land attack as its primary mission. As envisioned, it will mount a five-inch/62-mm ERGM gun, a 1,500-round twin 155-mm VGAS gun, and two 64-cell vertical launching systems capable of launching any missile in the 21st-century surface Navy inventory.

To establish and maintain maritime dominance, DD-21 also will include a fully integrated undersea warfare suite for antisubmarine warfare and mine and torpedo detection. Included in this suite will be hull-mounted and variable depth sonars, a bi-static towed array, and a helicopter deck/hangar for the SH-60R and tactical unmanned aerial vehicles.

DD-21 will be the first in a series of ships—from a land-attack destroyer produced in 2004-2010, to a full capability cruiser produced in 2017 and beyond—based on common, advanced-design hull, mechanical, and engineering systems. DD-21 is planned as the replacement for Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7)-class frigates and Spruance (DD-963)-class destroyers in the force structure mix of 2008 and beyond. The full-capability cruiser is intended to replace the earliest flights of Aegis cruisers in the second decade of the 21st century.

Both DD-21 and the arsenal ship will meet our requirements in an affordable and resource-efficient manner and will complement and support our existing force of carriers and land-attack surface combatants and submarines. These aspects are important parts of our acquisition strategy and concept of employment for both platforms. The multiyear buy of the Arleigh Burke -class destroyers, stabilizing in language and intent our total force goal of about 80 Aegis combatants, is a fiscally sound program that will keep us at the lower end of the total force numbers we believe are needed to meet our requirements. DD-21 and the arsenal ship, with their low lifecycle costs and reduced manning, operating within the theater air dominance established and maintained by our base force of Aegis cruisers and destroyers, will keep the total force viable, in terms of numbers and capabilities, well into the second decade of the next century.

Of course, we will never be able to buy all the maritime capability we would like. Several surface combatant force structure assessments indicate a need for a fleet that is simply unaffordable. We have had to make, and will continue to make, hard choices with respect to the naval force structure, in terms of what to buy, what to cancel, and what to postpone.

We tend to look at our own era as a unique and particularly tumultuous period in naval history. Yet, a reading of Thucydides, Alfred Thayer Mahan, and Thomas Buell would show that there have been similar times of unprecedented and revolutionary change before. History provides a chart for us, identifying the shoals and sandbars, tracking currents and tides, and marking out safe passage routes. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to lay out a different track—and to apply our knowledge and experience to a new approach.

As we near the dawn of a new millennium, such a time is upon us. There is much to do. The only real barriers we face are those of our own making—being unable or unwilling to explore new ideas and new approaches to naval power. Rather than continuing with the comfortable certainties of the 20th century, we need to break with the past, and with a clear vision and sense of purpose, focus on the new sea-based capabilities our nation will require for the 21st century.

Admiral Murphy is Director, Surface Warfare.



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