The Navy and Marine Corps could benefit from a naval version of the National Training Center for their carrier battle groups, amphibious ready groups, and Marine expeditionary units. In today's environment, such a facility is crucial for two reasons:
- With manpower cuts and flat defense budgets, maintaining the readiness of the nation's remaining naval forces is more important than ever. Training in the most realistic environment possible is the best way to ensure that these forces will be ready for any operation the future might bring—from fighting and winning the nation's wars to responding to humanitarian crises.
- The U.S. military is undergoing a transformation that began with the end of the Cold War and will extend several decades into the future. It is being shaped by many factors, including the so-called revolution in military affairs, a broader range of missions, and the challenges of information warfare. These trends will change the ways of warfare, including combat operations from the sea. Thus, in addition to providing a place to train realistically, a naval NTC would provide a place to experiment with new capabilities and new operational concepts, to help the Navy and Marine Corps adapt to the coming changes.
Joint Task Force Exercises versus the NTC
Today, the principal venues where carrier battle groups, amphibious ready groups, and Marine expeditionary units come together as combined-arms teams are the joint task force exercises (JTFEXs) conducted by Commander, Third Fleet, and Commander, Second Fleet. Compared to Army training at the NTC, these exercises generally have a lower degree of realism and stress.
Some pieces of the naval NTC concept already exist in places such as the Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, California, and the Naval Strike Air Warfare Center (NSAWC) at Fallon, Nevada-whose creation acknowledged the need for a transformation in the naval aviation community following the 4 December 1983 strike on Lebanon. Where these pieces do exist, Navy and Marine Corps units get some of the best training in the world.
But there are limits to what these facilities can provide. For example, training at NSAWC is limited to carrier air wings and strike operations. The facility at Twentynine Palms is limited to Marine Corps combat battalions engaged in ground operations, independent of the amphibious ready groups in which they will embark. What the Navy and Marine Corps lack is a place where the entire range of naval forces can train as combined-arms teams with the same degree of realism that these other facilities provide to smaller-scale units.
The coming decade will bring to the fleet and Fleet Marine Forces new precision weapons, sensors, and communications links, and both the Navy and Marine Corps are busy with experiments designed to test these new systems and the operational concepts, doctrine, and tactics that will enable them to exploit the new capabilities fully.3 Thus, the Marine Corps has its Hunter Warrior experiments at Twentynine Palms and the Navy has its Fleet Battle Lab experiments. But there is no one place where they can try out combinations of capabilities or where the results of the Hunter Warrior and Fleet Battle Lab experiments can be integrated.
Naval commanders need a facility that provides realistic training for forces preparing to deploy overseas and, at appropriate times, enables them to experiment in realistic ways with new systems, concepts, and tactics. The goal is to create such a facility and make realism the mantra.
The naval NTC should be geared toward combined arms training, just as the Army's National Training Center is. It should let commanders of carrier battle groups, amphibious ready groups, and Marine expeditionary units bring to bear all of the capabilities within their formations—air-wing aircraft, sea-launched surface-to-air missiles and Tomahawk land-attack missiles, amphibious assault craft, naval guns, the battle group's array of antisubmarine defenses, land-based maritime patrol aircraft, SEALs deployed from submarines, and battalion landing teams. These forces must be adept at working as a combined-arms team and practiced in the art of decentralized operations. Each part of the team must be confident of what the other players will be doing in each phase of battle—whether they are preparing for deployment or trying to optimize the newest capabilities. A stressful, realistic environment is the best way to forge this kind of cohesive force.
A naval NTC would provide the venue for the Navy and Marine Corps to work out doctrinal differences that are bound to arise with such diverse doctrines and concepts as composite warfare commander, operational maneuver from the sea, and Sea Dragon. Properly designed, it also could help the Navy better understand the Marine Corps' approach to urban warfare and the role the Navy will play, especially in the air, in support of the Marines. In the process, the Navy and Marine Corps might finally give the phrase "Navy-Marine Corps integration" some real meaning.
To begin, the Navy and Marine Corps should put together a team and task it with developing a detailed plan within 30 to 60 days. Among the immediate challenges that the team will have to confront are:
- Identifying an appropriately sized training range with maneuver areas at sea and ashore
- Deciding whether one facility or two will be required (and if one, on which coast)
- Determining where this facility falls within the Navy and/or Marine Corps organization
- Rotating command between the Navy and Marine Corps and finding the one-star or two-star officer who will command the facility
- Establishing an opposition force and a trained cadre of observer-controllers (think naval reserves, SEALs, and Cyclone [PC-1]-class patrol craft)
- Developing something equivalent to multiple integrated laser engagement system (MILES) gear for a full array of naval assets
- Acquiring suitable instrumentation along with the rapid data collection and replay hardware that are essential to showing what happened and why in each training exercise
- Identifying the key tradeoffs involved in creating such a complex facility, particularly as they affect cost
There also is work to be done in defining the training objectives for rotations to a naval NTC and deciding where in the training cycle a rotation should come.
These are the practical aspects of the plan. There also are some intangibles that will be critical to success. These include making a tour with the naval opposition force a coveted assignment; cultivating an acceptance of the introspection and self-criticism that are essential to the success of such a facility; leaving the window open to making this a joint training facility; and finding the patience to see this project through to completion.
Cost inevitably will be an issue, but the value accrued from pressing down this path will far exceed the costs.
What might we call this naval version of the NTC? It could be called the Naval Expeditionary Force Training Center. Or it could go by another name: the Vortex—challenging those who enter to navigate the currents without getting dragged under.
Captain Petrea and Mr. Keefe currently work in the Command Action Group at U.S. Pacific Command. Captain Petrea is a naval aviator with more than 25 years operational experience. Mr. Keefe is a research analyst and field representative from the Center for Naval Analyses.