Redefining Coastal Warfare

By Captain Marke R. Shelley, U.S. Naval Reserve and Commander Wayne C. Dumas, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve

Consensus also is beginning to develop on which unit types should be part of the coastal warfare team. Not long ago this list consisted only of Navy mobile inshore undersea warfare units, Navy explosive ordnance disposal units, and Coast Guard port security units. Harbor defense command units and inshore boat units have been developed recently to provide missing capabilities. In addition, the draft of NWP 3-10 identifies more than a dozen other units that flesh out the mission.

The remaining issue, however, is about determining how we operate: What is the coastal warfare command structure and how does it function? We do not want to reinvent the wheel each time we go into the field. Historically, the coastal warfare organization has been cobbled together from available resources, accepting gaps and associated risk. We can—and must—do better. But how do we create the operational organization capable of meeting specific needs on short notice?

The answer lays with our basic Navy operational concept, "Forward . . . From the Sea." A key aspect of this concept is providing tailored forces designed to meet specific needs. Each coastal warfare environment will require a mix of capabilities, depending upon conditions at a specific location, time, or phase of an operation. Force packaging cannot be rigid; it must be flexible to adapt to changing requirements. Coastal warfare requires an organizational structure. where specialist units can be plugged into the wiring diagram and immediately go to work with confidence that their efforts support the "big" picture. Likewise, these units must be able to be detached and reassigned at the theater commander's discretion after completing their tasking. This dynamic environment requires an on-scene operational commander to choreograph the interaction and mutual support of several tactical units.

This is why harbor defense command units (HDCUs) were created. Until recently, these new units have worked to define how they contribute to the overall mission area. Growing pains have hindered their evolution, but the role of HDCUs is coming into focus. They function best as overall operational commanders exercising command and control of assigned forces. Exercise Seahawk 97-2, for example, showed the validity of this concept of operations.

Seahawk 97-2 was the third in a series of exercises sponsored, planned, and conducted by Harbor Defense Command Unit 113 and its predecessor, Composite Naval Coastal Warfare Unit 113, located in Seattle, Washington. Previous Seahawk exercises were opportunities to gather the local Puget Sound coastal warfare units together for combined weekend training. Seahawk 97-2 had a broader scope and more aggressive goals and objectives.

Rather than a short exercise intended for a normal reserve drill weekend, Seahawk 97-2 was designed to provide enhanced training through four days of exercise play at a remote site. Gathering at a dedicated location away from the normal distractions of home territory provided an environment to keep participants focused. The exercise was conducted at U.S. Coast Guard Air Station, Port Angeles, Washington, from 18-21 September 1997 and involved more than 400 personnel from 16 U.S. and Canadian units. Exercise costs were kept down through the use of Reserve independent duty for training and annual training resources. Some Coast Guard reserve days were well used during the planning and preparation phase. Hard costs amounted to less than $14,000, primarily for rental equipment in support of the field exercise. The exercise tested several new doctrinal concepts including warfare areas not traditionally included in coastal warfare, and the lessons learned provide a roadmap for the future.

Allow the harbor defense command units to function as operational commander. Although in most cases this will involve only a relatively small area of responsibility, it remains clear that the harbor defense commander should direct tactical units in the accomplishment of required tasks to complete the mission. This is accomplished most effectively as an operational commander.

Establish a harbor defense commander's command cell. By establishing this dedicated group of senior advisors and warfare experts, the commander was better able to exercise command after consultation with this brain-trust. The command cell consisted of the harbor defense command unit's commanding officer, executive officer, intelligence, operations, and planning officers, and various liaison officers from subordinate units. In addition, it received advice from naval command of shipping office and mine countermeasures staff augmentation detachments.

Replace the harbor defense command unit's tactical action officer. Instead of maintaining a tactical action officer as head of the command unit operations center, a battle watch commander (operations department lieutenant commander) directed the operations center in accordance with directions from the commander, with support from the command cell. The battle watch commander functioned as a member of the command cell, participating in deliberations on pertinent issues at hand. This officer provided a consistent, around-the-clock link between the command and the operations center.

Expand and diversify harbor defense/port security force packages. The operational commander should have control of more assets such as mine countermeasures, maritime patrol aircraft, naval control of shipping office, military sealift command, and mobile diving and salvage units. Adding these units provides on-scene control of military activities that could—and will—likely be employed in a harbor defense/coastal warfare environment. Coordinating these activities in one location is efficient and effective.

Test the concept of combining the harbor defense commander and the coastal warfare commander. Although doctrine states that a coastal warfare commander will be assigned during littoral operations, alternatives need to be available when one commander must be dual-hatted as coastal warfare commander and harbor defense commander. In Seahawk 97-2, the HDCU commander functioned as coastal warfare commander using P-3s as his long-range air surveillance asset with two Canadian MCDVs functioning as his surface surveillance and escort assets.

Examine the administrative and support issues that arise. The Seahawk 97-2 base camp was created to examine how to best provide administrative and support services to participating units in the field where multiple units were co-located. The HDCU-113 admin (N1) and logistics (N4) organizations coordinated services under the direction of the "Mayor of the Camp," the executive officer.

Provide training opportunities for subordinate units. All training opportunities for HDCU-113 had been canceled during the course of fiscal year 1997, so Seahawk 97-2 became our primary training opportunity. A two-week training period was designed using local assets aimed at working up for the expanded version of Seahawk to accomplish training requirements for specific training cycles, while also allowing for the free and open testing of new concepts. The training concept revolved around a three-phased deployment constructed to drive the Seahawk scenario. The first week of training occurred at Fort Lewis, Washington, and used active-duty Army and Air Force assets to provide pre-deployment training, including: Air Force load-planning certification training (several unit members qualified as certified load-planners); perimeter defense and associated self defense issues; nuclear, biological, and chemical protection gear familiarization; and small arms qualifications.

For the second phase of the training period, HDCU-113 simulated deployment to an in-theater staging base camp at the Naval Ordnance Center, Indian Island, Washington. Here, many of the previous week's training concepts and skills were put into practice in field conditions.

The third phase of the training period was the movement into the field in a heightened state of readiness and the actual conduct of Exercise Seahawk 97-2. Although HDCU-113 and the other naval coastal warfare elements comprising this force package mobilized in a heavy mode with all of their gear, the scenario assumed a host nation projected operating environment.

To support the exercise, a humanitarian and peacekeeping scenario was developed in the fictitious country of Olympic. U.S. and Canadian units were assigned to a task organization designed to provide support to the civil war torn country.

The concept of operations was developed with the view that the harbor defense commander would serve as the coastal warfare commander and function as the operational commander of several subordinate tactical units.

Clear skies and limited wind allowed around-the-clock boat operations which supported the actual flow of the exercise. Operational solutions to challenges such as the formation of an mine countermeasures operational team by combining the explosive ordnance detachment unit with the mine countermeasures staff element were instituted in the field. Realistic convoy operations were conducted through the use of local Coast Guard Auxiliary craft under direction of an on-scene dedicated Navy control of shipping office staff element. Escorts for high-value assets were provided by U.S. inshore boat unit and a Canadian harbor defense boat unit serving the role of a port security unit. Mine countermeasures lead-through services were supplied by Canadian training vessels, and significant dive operations were conducted by both U.S. and Canadian teams.

From the beginning of the exercise, participants recognized the validity of the basic organizational structure. The chain of command was straightforward and respected by all units. The harbor defense commander conducted command briefings twice daily at 0800 and 1800, when the overall exercise operation status was discussed and issues resolved.

The success of Seahawk 97-2 convinced many that coastal warfare is on the right track, but the hazards of not understanding the strength of the Reserve force can still lie ahead. Harbor defense command units provide operational commanders with supporting staff and operations center. These Coast Guard and Navy Reserve captains have sufficient grade to provide the authority needed in dealing with joint and combined environments. Current considerations on reducing these commands to the commander level are inappropriate. This falls into the historic pattern exhibited by the maritime services of not providing the seniority necessary to function properly in joint environments. Similarly, the grade reduction arguments do not take into account that the harbor defense command units commander will, by definition, command several subordinate units totaling hundreds of personnel.

Having established a reasonable argument on how to operate and command in the coastal warfare environment, it is prudent once again to recognize that a community of units already exists which support this warfare area. This community should be formalized to better prepare all participating members for careers in this specialized warfare area. Coastal warfare groups are being created on each coast which consolidate all appropriate Naval Reserve commissioned units including; harbor defense command, mobile inshore undersea warfare, and inshore boat units. Explosive ordnance and mobile diving and salvage unit detachments plus port security units are provided through other existing commands. Likewise, other contributing warfare areas such as; mine countermeasures, Navy control of shipping office, military sealift command, etc., should create or maintain units or elements capable of immediate assignment to an appropriate commander as needs arise. These units can come from either active or reserve assets.

The opportunity exists to assign an entire warfare community to the reserves. This retains valuable and more costly active duty personnel for the primary maritime strategic tasks of power projection and forward-deployed presence missions. This use of existing reserve assets translates as a true force multiplier.

The first steps have been taken to create the coastal warfare community. This community provides the force package to satisfy force requirements of existing war plans.

War plans by definition drive force planning, but allowances also are required for contingency planning. The environment for units in garrison and in the continental United States are allowed for in major war plans. Although these plans address very specific needs of specific theaters under specific conditions the requirements for contingency operations fall into two general categories of expeditionary and host country environments which require better definition. This is where flexibility is necessary.

NWP 3-10 addresses operational issues involved in coastal warfare, but a more thorough examination of the U.S.-based, garrison, expeditionary, and host-country environments is required, better to provide flexible solutions for contingency operations. Further review of these issues is required in the context of how do we intend to actually operate in the field.

The best approach to redefine coastal warfare so that it provides the capabilities required by current war plans for the flexibility needed to conduct contingency operations may be to open the issue to discussion again. This time, however, input should come from all concerned communities in the spirit of "out of the box" thinking. Rather than examining only models that have worked in the past, the Navy should stretch itself to find new solutions. The fleet should accept that a community of coastal warfare units exists already. The coastal warfare community goes well beyond the handful of units historically considered part of the team. The new debate must examine how we intend to operate in the future, the results of which will drive the coastal warfare community's identity and organizational structure. This is a starting point to provide needed capabilities and meet operational requirements in the 21st century.

Captain Shelley was selected recently for promotion to rear admiral. He graduated from the Naval War College in 1987 and has served in numerous command and overseas assignments. He has served as both executive officer and commanding officer of HDCU-113. He was in command and served as exercise director during Seahawk 97-2.

Commander Dumas is a Desert Storm veteran. He is the prospective commanding officer of Port Security Unit 313 in Seattle, Washington, and has spent the past four years as assistant operations officer and plans officer for HDCU-113. He served as exercise coordinator for Seahawk 97-2.

 

 
 

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