Old Joint Team Needs a New Approach

By Major Christopher M. Bourne, U.S. Marine Corps

Current naval doctrine has been criticized as being out of step with joint ideas. While the doctrines for sea control, power projection, and amphibious operations should evolve with the strategic environment, much of the criticism amounts to a bashing of old doctrines simply because they are old. However, their central ideas remain valid, and we should identify and retain essential elements.

Composite warfare commander (CWC) doctrine organizes the capabilities of the naval force functionally, enabling the naval commander to mass naval fires and achieve synergy from the force's capabilities. Its essence—the concentration of naval fires—is useful in operations in the littorals, and vital in operations at sea.

Amphibious doctrine is characterized by the command relationship between the commander of the amphibious task force (CATF) and the commander of the landing force (CLF), and by the operational authority vested in CATF during the landing phase. Amphibious doctrine makes the commanders equal during the planning stage of the operation so that a common superior can adjudicate differences in operational requirements, but makes one subordinate to the other for the execution of the operation to ensure unity of command and to provide the commander the necessary authority. Here again, while certain aspects need updating, its fundamentals—cooperative planning and unified execution—remain valid.

The doctrines are divergent, and for good reason. The missions of sea control, power projection, and protection of sea lines of communication require unfettered maneuver at sea. Conversely, amphibious operations curtail that freedom of action; once committed to a landing, the naval force becomes tethered to a small area, limiting its ability to maneuver to defeat or evade an enemy fleet or shore-based anti-ship capabilities. Thus, the commander faces a dilemma: actions to gain advantage at sea expose the landing force to risk, while actions to support and protect the forces ashore expose the fleet to risk.

Retracing Our Steps: Operation Forager

A new organization tor naval expeditionary warfare should enable the commander to reconcile the competing requirements of the elements of the NETF. History reveals an organizational concept that provides a guide for the future. World War II provides many points of reference for naval expeditionary warfare, including Operation Forager, the seizure of the Japanese bases in the Marianas, conducted from 17 February to 2 August 1944. Operation Forager encompassed deep operations to gain air and naval superiority, three amphibious operations (Saipan, Guam, and Tinian), and a major naval battle (Philippine Sea).

Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, Commander Fifth Fleet, was to seize the Marianas to cut the Japanese line of communication to the Carolines and the Bismarck Archipelago; threaten the line to the Philippines and Southeast Asia; and provide bases for the advance through the central Pacific. Admiral Spruance's naval expeditionary task force consisted of a fast carrier task force, commanded by Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher; an expeditionary force, commanded by Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner; a landing force of two amphibious corps, commanded by Lieutenant General H. M. Smith; and a land-based aviation force, commanded by Vice Admiral John H. Hoover.

Defending the islands were nearly 60,000 Japanese soldiers and naval infantry and approximately 200 aircraft. The Japanese fleet, commanded by Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, and consisting of a carrier strike force and the First Mobile Fleet, was in the nearby Palau Islands, with several hundred more land-based aircraft in the Palaus and Carolines. Any attempt at the Marianas could not begin until the Fifth Fleet had gained air and naval superiority in the area delimited by the Bonins, the Palaus, and the Marshall Islands.

Admiral Mitscher's carrier battle force opened the campaign early in 1944. The task force struck first at Truk, then the Palaus, then Truk again, destroying roughly two-thirds of the Japanese land-based aircraft stationed around the island chain and driving the Japanese fleet west of the Philippines. Admiral Mitscher next focused on the Marianas airfields. On 15 June, Admiral Turner's expeditionary force landed a corps on Saipan. That evening, the Japanese fleet exited the San Bernardino Strait, headed into the Philippine Sea. It would be within range of Saipan by 18 June.

Unable to defeat decisively the Japanese fleet when he could maneuver freely prior to the landing, Spruance now faced a dilemma: If he met Ozawa in the Philippine Sea, he exposed Turner to the risk that the Japanese might evade the carrier battle force and attack the transports and fire-support ships off Saipan. On the other hand, if he defended the expeditionary force, he would expose Mitscher to the risk that Ozawa would defeat the carrier battle force, because Mitscher's ability to maneuver would be extremely limited.

Spruance reconciled his subordinates' conflicting operational requirements by opting for limited maneuver at sea, while ordering Turner to clear his task force east of Saipan and warning Smith to prepare for a period of reduced support. By apprising Turner and Smith of the situation on 16 June, Spruance gave them time to adjust their operations. Turner expedited the offload of supplies and ammunition, while Smith released the expeditionary force reserve ahead of schedule, to ensure its availability ashore once the transports departed.

Spruance was unaware that Ozawa's fuel situation severely limited his options. On 19 June the Japanese attacked head on, and the resulting battle cost the Japanese 411 aircraft and two carriers. However, Spruance's decision to restrict maneuver at sea enabled the majority of the Japanese fleet to escape. Operation Forager ended when Tinian was declared secure on 2 August. Forager exposed the operational flank of Japan's forces in the Philippines, provided an air base from which heavy bombers could range Japan, and set the stage for the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

What can the sea services learn from Operation Forager? First, command structures must elevate the task force commander above the concerns of individual elements of the force. No difficult operational decision comes without cost, and only a commander and staff removed from the tactical details of operations can weigh the conflicting requirements objectively and arrive at a balanced course of action that accomplishes the overall mission. The command element that can function effectively at the tactical and operational levels concurrently does not exist. Second, the unique relationship between the commander amphibious task force and the commander landing force is key to the success of amphibious operations and the smooth functioning of naval expeditionary forces. In addition, the CATF must have the authority to control operations within his zone of action.

Organizing for War

The NETF proposed by the Naval Doctrine Command included a carrier battle group, amphibious ready group, and Marine expeditionary unit (special operations capable). While adhering to the broad functionality of CWC doctrine, it suffered from several serious flaws.

First, it put responsibility for the entire force on the commander and staff of one element, limiting the operational flexibility of the organization by asking too much of one commander and staff. Second, while not evident immediately because carrier battle groups are organized in the same manner, the proposal presented a span-of-control problem for the NETF commander (CNETF). Such an organization cannot hope to expand to become a joint task force—or even the naval component of a JTF—without being streamlined. Of course, reorganizing a command in the midst of a contingency can lead only to a hopeless muddle. The organization should be expandable from the beginning.

In addition, the proposal retained functions that support the task force on the same command level as the primary combat functions. The primary functions of the NETF are command, sea warfare, air warfare, amphibious warfare, and land warfare. The commanders of those elements belong on the same level of the command structure. Other elements of the force—while important—do not perform primary functions, and should be at a subordinate level.

A streamlined Naval Expeditionary Task Force organization that retains the strengths of CWC and the CATF/CLF relationship would look like Figure 1. Here the functions of command and control warfare, special operations coordinator, and combat logistics coordinator become subordinate to the command element. The airspace control authority and coordinators of area air defense, regional air defense, and theater ballistic missile defense become subordinate to the air warfare element commander, and that element then resembles a joint force air component. The mine warfare commander becomes subordinate to the amphibious warfare element, though depending on the situation, parts or all of the mine warfare element could be attached to the sea warfare element. The submarine operating authority becomes subordinate to the sea warfare element.

The Usual Suspects

Opposition to the NETF concept followed a few predictable tracks. First, who should command the NETF? In operations in which land forces will achieve the principal objectives and the purpose of the landing is to establish a force ashore before a land campaign, the amphibious operation becomes a seaward extension of that campaign. Thus it makes sense that the commander conducting the land campaign be in overall command of the operation. World War II operations such as Husky (Sicily) and Overlord (Normandy) provide examples, as does the Inchon landing during the Korean War. More recently, United Shield (Somalia) and Uphold Democracy (Haiti) also fit the pattern. Conversely, in operations in which naval forces will accomplish the principal objectives, the amphibious assault serves as the landward extension of a naval campaign, and a Navy officer should be in overall command. The amphibious operations of the central Pacific campaign and the British campaign in the Falklands fit that description.

A second issue concerns the command arrangements for the landing. Many question the validity of cooperative planning and temporarily unified execution, particularly in operations employing ship-to-objective maneuver rather than ship-to-shore movement. This issue differs greatly from the one discussed above. The question of who should command the NETF as a whole relates to overall command—at the JTF level. The issue of the CATF/CLF relationship relates to command of mutually supporting elements within the NETF or JTF (i.e., one level down the chain of command). Those who dislike the CATF/CLF solution offer a supported/supporting relationship as the preferred alternative. While in theory such an arrangement means that the supported element receives the full weight of the supporting elements as the main effort, such an arrangement really amounts to cooperation at the level where unity of command is most critical. A supported/supporting arrangement for amphibious operations only offers unity of command at the NETF or JTF level. The CATF/CLF relationship unifies the two elements of the force during the period when both are in contact with opposing forces.

So, who should command the resulting littoral combat force once the maritime and land elements have been unified? Again, the nature of the campaign should determine who becomes subordinate to whom during the execution phase. Missions in which operational decision will occur on land, or short-duration and limited-objective operations against opponents incapable of threatening the naval force, call for an inversion of the relationship—CATF subordinate to CLF during the execution phase—not the elimination of the concept altogether.

Finally, the detractors of amphibious objective areas (AOA) in joint operations deride the idea of the officer commanding the littoral force controlling all operations—particularly air operations—within the AOA. But those familiar with land combat know that ground commanders control the effects of air operations within their zones of action short of the fire-support coordination line (FSCL). Why should a corresponding arrangement for a commander conducting an operation from the sea necessarily cause difficulty? The AOA has come to imply complications, but it can represent nothing more than a zone of action across the littoral for the commander conducting an amphibious operation. Developed prior to the advent of joint doctrine, the AOA needs updating to align its aviation command-and-control aspects with those that currently apply to land commanders. Thus redefined, the AOA can become a tool that creates opportunities for operational maneuver rather than command-and-control complications.

Extending the Argument to Forward-Deployed Forces

For forward-deployed naval forces to operate in the littorals while meshing with joint forces and maintaining the strengths of CWC and amphibious doctrine, they should be organized like joint forces—by functional elements. The NETF structure would do better than allow the carrier battle group, amphibious ready group, and Marine expeditionary unit to "join quickly and be employed as an integrated naval task force . . . a joint task force nucleus, . . . [or] act as the enabling force"; it would fuse them into an operational unit—a Naval Expeditionary Unit.

In command is the flag officer formerly known as the carrier battle group commander, who steps outside of the carrier battle group permanently (or, depending on the situation, a Marine general officer) to command the entire force. The command element includes aviation planners; surface and subsurface warfare planners; amphibious warfare planners; logistics planners; and coordinators for composite warfare, command and control warfare, and special operations. Subordinate to CNETF are the four functional elements of sea, air, land, and amphibious warfare. The responsibilities of the sea warfare element commander include surface and subsurface combat and, depending on the situation, mine warfare. The air warfare element commander's responsibilities include offensive and defensive air support, airspace control, and area air defense. The responsibilities of the land warfare element commander are self-explanatory, except for Marine air-ground task force aviation assets. Finally, the responsibilities of the amphibious warfare element commander include amphibious transport and support of the landing force, and when the situation warrants, mine warfare. During amphibious operations, the amphibious warfare element commander and the land warfare element commander have the same relationship as CATF and CLF.

While respecting the integrity of each subordinate element, the commander of the naval expeditionary task force apportions NETF assets to subordinate elements as their missions require. CNETF could attach all mine-warfare assets to one element or spread them among multiple elements. Similarly, while respecting Marine air-ground task force and carrier air group integrity, the air warfare element commander apportions aviation assets to support the force as a whole. An arrangement similar to that established during the Persian Gulf War, in which excess MEU(SOC) sorties pass to the aviation warfare element commander's control would maintain Marine air-ground task force integrity while providing Marine aviation sorties to support the entire force. The point is this: NETF assets support the joint force as a whole.

Each element could expand if the forward-deployed NETF should need to become a joint task force or the maritime component of a larger joint task force. In the former case, then—within limits—the land warfare element commander would become the joint force land component commander (JFLCC); the aviation warfare element commander would become the joint force air component commander (JFACC); and the amphibious warfare element commander would become the joint force maritime component commander (JFMCC). If the situation called for the NETF to become the maritime component of a larger joint task force, the commander of the NETF would become JFMCC and provide the task force an integrated air-land-sea team. Such a naval expeditionary task force would expand combined arms warfare by a full dimension, bringing a truly combined arms capability to the littorals. It would be capable of a wide range of missions, from enabling operations to operations within the joint task force commander's battlespace, to independent operations in support of the task force but outside the main area of operations.

Of course, such a reorganization of naval forces faces serious challenges before it can be implemented. First, the NETF must overcome the space limitations and outdated infrastructure of existing shipboard command-and-control spaces. The NETF command element would require a command-and-control architecture beyond what presently exists in forward-deployed forces, and any new command structure for naval expeditionary forces would be hampered by the present infrastructure—in the short term. These interwar years between the Gulf War and the next war the United States fights present the Navy and Marine Corps an opportunity to experiment, reconfigure, and restructure—one the naval services have not had since the 1920s and 1930s. The C 2 infrastructure issue is a hurdle, but not a particularly high one.

The personnel overhead cost associated with the establishment of an NETF command element presents a second hurdle. Any increase in forward-deployed forces necessitates a reduction in the manning of other organizations. However, a permanently organized and collectively trained NETF represents a quantum leap in naval force capability in the littorals, and that benefit outweighs the personnel cost.

A related issue is the apparent redundancy of the NETF command element. Some believe that the numbered fleet commander and staff fulfill that role. But the versatility and depth of the numbered fleets—with their air, land, and sea elements—argue precisely for a parallel organization for forward-deployed forces. In addition, command of forces during contingency operations is a local phenomenon. Relying on the fleet commander, who might be thousands of miles away from the NETF during an operation, would slow operational tempo.

Finally, the sea services must address the issue of employment of the NETF. Under current operational methods, the carrier battle group, amphibious ready group, and Marine expeditionary unit routinely operate independently. The Naval Doctrine Command's proposal for the NETF assumed that independent operations would continue to be the norm, and provided a temporary structure for situations in which the two join. The new focus on operations in the littorals calls for a change in perspective. A new organizational concept for forward-deployed naval forces should proceed from the premise that the NETF is a joint organization routinely trained and employed as an integrated force, but capable of split operations.

The Navy and Marine Corps should use this unique opportunity to examine their equipment, doctrine, and structure thoroughly. Much of that work has already begun, and the operating forces have begun to realize its benefits. Progress on command relationships, however, has stalled, with each service drawing battle lines around parochial positions. The sea services must solve the command relationships dilemma to realize fully the operational potential envisioned in Forward . . . From the Sea . Elaborately defending the status quo will reduce the potential advantages that will emerge with new technology. A functionally organized NETF, founded on tested concepts, would represent a quantum leap in capability in the littorals. The Navy and Marine Corps today have a splendid opportunity to forge a new doctrine and a new operational organization.

Major Bourne is a graduate of the Marine Corps University’s School of Advanced Warfighting, and currently is assigned as a future-operations planner at Marine Forces, Pacific.



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