They Got Game

By Captain Jim Stavridis, U.S. Navy

But today we see increasing pressure created by smaller numbers of ships, aircraft, and personnel trying to meet increasing overseas commitments for both regularly scheduled deployments and surge operations. We have downsized our battle groups in terms of total numbers of ships, maintaining a minimum number of escorts.

To improve the overall level of capability in our battle groups, we should consider broadening the base of our core team by adding some other "players" to our regular "traveling team" of routine deployers. We could do this by including in our regular deployment rotation some of the coalition partners who may be willing and able to provide assets—warships, aircraft, afloat staff officers, and logistic support—in CVBGs and ARGs. In addition, we should explore additional Coast Guard representation in our battle groups.

There is some historical precedent as well as an emerging need for this. In simplest terms, it is time we looked hard at finding new team members who can join our regular traveling team, because these potential teammates have lots to contribute-to paraphrase basketball vernacular, "they got game." And we certainly can use them on our traveling squad.

In the spring of 1998, the various elements of the Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Battle Group departed for a six-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf from a wide collection of homeports including San Diego, California; Everett, Washington; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; and Lemoore, California. All are traditional locations for core team members of a Navy CVBG. But one member of the team came from a home port that never before had provided a forward-deployed asset fully assigned to a battle group: Esquimalt, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. After finishing the complete workup cycle with the Lincoln Battle Group, the Canadian Halifax-class frigate Ottawa departed for the entire deployment as a full member of the battle group.

The Ottawa's association with the Lincoln Battle Group began a year earlier, with an agreement by the Canadian government to deploy the frigate with the Abraham Lincoln as an integral member of the team, under tactical command of the CVBG commander, subject to national command by negation. Naturally, many details were marked out between the United States and Canada that protected the unique national character of the Ottawa. But from the beginning, the Ottawa was regarded as a full-fledged member of the team. The ship and her crew went through all the exercises, including individual ship-level training at sea, team training both ashore and afloat, the fleet exercise conducted by the battle group commander, and the final joint fleet exercise. Scheduling, fueling, training, conducting many aspects of logistic support, and tactically employing the Ottawa fell to the battle group commander and his staff.

Throughout the cruise, the time and effort spent integrating the Ottawa into the Lincoln Battle Group paid extraordinary dividends. The Ottawa participated with exceptional skill in almost every aspect of battle group operations, and was a true standout in maritime interception operations (MIO) conducted in the Arabian Gulf. She made significant tactical contributions in virtually every aspect of battle group operations, and was among the very best antisubmarine warfare players in the group. The Canadian frigate represented a significant addition in overall battle group capability.

The Ottawa is a very modern warship, equipped with a highly advanced technology that permitted her to fit smoothly into virtually every element of battle group operations. She carries the vertical launch NATO Sea Sparrow System, the Harpoon anti-ship missile, the Vulcan Phalanx Close-In Weapons System (CIWS), and an accurate and high-rate-of-fire 57mm automated gun. She also has a sophisticated and highly automated engineering and damage-control plant (including a "citadel system" for nuclear-chemical-biological protection), an H-3 helicopter, a fully equipped and highly rated boarding team, and excellent communications equipment. Newly commissioned in late 1996, the Ottawa and her crew of 225 men and women were accepted at every level as full members of the Lincoln Battle Group team.

During the fleet exercises preceding the deployment, the Ottawa performed excellently during maritime interception training and every aspect of antisubmarine warfare capability. Her crew was aggressive, well trained, and absolutely expert in antisubmarine warfare. She also supplied a liaison officer to the destroyer squadron staff to whom she reported for most tactical operations, which permitted further day-to-day enhancement of U.S.-Canadian Navy integration throughout the actual deployment.

The practice of full integration of Canadian Navy ships into U.S. battle groups is continuing. The Canadian frigate Regina will deploy as part of the Constellation (CV-64) Battle Group in 1999. The Constellation group also will have the services of a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, the Midgett (WHEC-726). These two ships bring significant additional capability to the battle group across a wide range of operations, particularly in maritime interception operations and shallow-water antisubmarine warfare—both key potential challenges for battle groups operating in the challenging waters of the Arabian Gulf.

The example set by the Ottawa in 1998 demonstrates that the concept is workable. While there are challenges to the idea of mixed-nation CVBGs, ARGs, and forward-deployed forces (such as maritime patrol squadrons or special operations groups), there clearly is enough merit in the idea to pursue further experimentation.

This idea increases the mutual firepower of our core maritime forces, expands our tactical horizons, and augments our ability to build coalitions between states easily and quickly. It is perhaps less easy to understand why allies, coalition partners, and friends should quite so readily sign up for a program of this scope.

Many Benefits for Participants

There are several key reasons why democratic nations such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia—to give three examples of potential partners-might be interested in such a program. Generally, there is a cohesive maritime approach taken globally by democratic states. It is difficult to find major issues upon which many such nations disagree significantly, particularly in the fields of national security policy and maritime operations. Each has an interest in a fostering a stable global structure for ease of trade, maintaining ready forces to respond to crises, ensuring that global oil supplies remain available in the market, developing a proactive maritime policy, and generally promoting peace and democracy. Given the commonality of these goals, it is logical that the defense efforts of such nations might provide sufficient alignment to warrant participation in U.S. battle groups. States other than those mentioned also may be comfortable in undertaking similar efforts-including other European partners, Latin American friends, Japan, and South Korea.

By sending their ships forward for full six-month deployments in company with the forces of other nations—and particularly by participating in the earlier workups and training—the maritime forces of these nations would enhance their own tactical warfighting skills.

There is a "use it or lose it" mentality in discussions of military force levels in the public sector of many countries these days. Rather than see their ships operating only locally or perhaps making occasional forays for a few weeks or months, the navies of our friends would be able to show their public a portrait of their forces hard at work, contributing to global stability and peace through forward deployments.

Many countries—like the United States—recognize the importance of maintaining presence around the world. This "showing the flag" yields benefits in trade, protection of nationals, and general global interaction. While not all countries have the need for resources to deploy around the world constantly as the United States does, most can make a good case for some level of selective engagement. Their presence investment could be leveraged by involvement in U.S. CVBGs, ARGs, or forward-deployed maritime forces.

Another benefit literally is on the deck-plates of their ships. All navies enjoy the excitement and challenge of forward deployment. Sailors join navies to see the world by going to sea. Involvement in a U.S. battle group will afford the naval personnel of allies and friends the opportunity to visit a wider variety of ports, interact with sailors from other nations over an extended period of time, and tackle new operational challenges.

A Few Negatives

A primary negative, as always, is cost. For countries not committed to forward deployment, additional logistic costs are involved in sending ships out for extended periods. In general, these can be ameliorated somewhat by negotiation with the United States for fuel from U.S. logistic ships, maintenance and medical support from the aircraft carrier or large-deck amphibious ships in the group, and other agreements.

Another concern might be the shift within a friendly navy from shorter deployments and exercises to the long workup and deployment cycle associated with U.S.-style forward deployment. This is a matter of leadership and timing. In addition, many of the potential candidate navies already make extended out-of-area deployments, in some cases (Britain for example) longer than the U.S. six-month cruises. For those that do not, this cultural shift could be approached in phases.

The political balance of appearing too closely aligned with U.S. policy in parts of the world where some separation might be desirable is another concern. This could be accomplished by intelligent scheduling, spreading port visits within a region, hosting specific national events in the region (i.e., a Canadian ship deployed with a U.S. battle group conducts a solo port visit to a country and hosts a reception representing the Canadian government), and other diplomatic means.

The issues of retention and family separation, so familiar to the U.S. Navy, would need to be weighed by other states interested in the program. This is a cultural issue that can be resolved by leadership, appropriate programs, and a phased approach. The Canadian Navy, for example, has a program that flies every member of a forward-deployed warship back to Canada during the deployment, or will pay to have a sailor's family flown to a foreign port that the ship is visiting-something perhaps the U.S. Navy should examine.

Overall, the potential positive gains seem to outweigh the negative. Some of the key ideas that could be explored in terms of building broader-based forward-deployment teams include:

  • Adding at least one coalition partner warship to every forward-deployed battle group. Candidate nations might include England, Canada, and Australia, which all have naval capabilities that match well with current U.S. technology, no language barriers, and a common heritage of coalition operations.
  • Adding an amphibious ship from an ally or coalition partner to a deploying ARG, perhaps focusing on a significant add-on capability such as special operations. Many of our friends and allies have some capabilities in the area of amphibious operations that could be added effectively to U.S. forward-deployed ARGs. Another option might be to have a minesweeper forward deployed to join up with a U.S. battle group.
  • Exploring the addition of coalition partner participation in afloat staffs, perhaps by adding a foreign navy liaison officer to cruiser-destroyer group and carrier group staffs. The officer could be chosen based on the upcoming operations of the staff for the year—i.e., a Chilean officer for a staff engaged in significant operations with Latin American navies, or a Kuwaiti officer for a staff forward deploying to the Arabian Gulf. This could be extended to the destroyer squadron or amphibious squadron staffs if deemed valuable.
  • Consider deploying complementary squadrons of aircraft to forward bases. One potential setting is Diego Garcia, where maritime patrol aircraft from coalition partners could work together. It might be possible to set up similar arrangements in the Arabian Gulf in Manama, Bahrain, or Doha, Qatar. Maritime patrol aircraft working together offer excellent mutual support; many of our allies and coalition partners use some variant of the P-3 Orion or the Nimrod, which is quite compatible in most tactical settings.
  • In addition to sending ships for full workups and deployments, our allies and coalition partners might be able to put ships in a "surge pool" available for emergent operations involving nontraditional or noncombatant roles for maritime forces. These opportunities might include humanitarian response, anti-drug-smuggling patrol, rescue of migrant boats at sea, and sanctions enforcement. Current activities in the Arabian Gulf undertaken by U.S. naval forces, led by the Fifth Fleet, could be the basis for such operations.
  • Further explore Coast Guard additions to both Navy CVBGs and Navy/Marine Corps ARGs as part of workups and deployment. There are many instances in which the specific skills of the U.S. Coast Guard would be of significant assistance. In addition to the current law-enforcement detachments and occasional deployment of Coast Guard cutters with battle groups, we may be able to add medium-sized Coast Guard ships for shallow-water operations in the Arabian Gulf. This would parallel Navy patrol combatant (PC) deployments—making particular sense as it appears the Navy PCs will be transferred to the Coast Guard at some point.

Details to Iron Out

Some of the challenges inherent in such concepts must be considered. Operational security issues—classification, communications, cryptology—must be resolved. This can be very difficult to work through, and the Lincoln Battle Group found some challenges associated with every level of operations, intelligence, special intelligence, and tactics. But all of these can be sorted out on a case-by-case basis without compromising national proprietary information or technology. There are many instances of shared intelligence and communications cryptology today, and a gradual but controlled expansion of such sharing ultimately might prove tactically and operationally useful.

Whenever a full deployment is contemplated, fairly detailed memoranda of agreement should be executed between the contributing nations and the United States that outline specifically the responsibilities of the participating units or officers. This could be a venue to clear up any final security or communication concerns, and also would allay any fears on the part of a potential contributory nation that its ships would be used to execute U.S.-specific national tasking. Within the Lincoln Battle Group, this was monitored carefully to ensure that the Ottawa had normal latitude in the execution of her mission. In the end, this generally is business as usual from a tactical command perspective.

Logistic issues need to be outlined before matching allies with U.S. battle groups. Many details must be worked out, including fuel costs and delivery, medical support, parts delivery, casualty reporting, and so on. In most instances, these can be resolved within the structure of the battle group after broad guidance is obtained from the memorandum of agreement.

Cultural issues should be addressed, including such seemingly mundane questions as differences in policy regarding leave, liberty, appearance ashore, and protocol. Again, these are issues that can be worked out within the individual CVBG or ARG after the basic agreement is obtained between the nations involved.

Perhaps most important, there are some differences in rules of engagement, warfighting, and tactical approach among all navies. We deal with these today, of course, in many exercises all around the world. The key to sorting through these issues' within a battle group is by practice, training, and an ongoing conversation between the ships and the battle group commander.

The addition of allied and coalition ships cannot be a substitute for U.S. forces. At any moment, a national decision could strip the battle group of support from a ship that might have worked throughout the entire year and sailed on deployment as part of the team. The good news is that in most situations, U.S. policy is to coordinate with allies and friends and try to execute tasking as part of a multinational group. In an instance where that is not possible, the U.S. forces simply would press forward with the mission and the coalition player would stand aside. Alternatively, there may be situations where the allied or coalition ship must break away to perform national tasking in which the U.S. ships will not be involved. These probably would be few and far between, and it seems that independent operations are relatively rare when surveying the range of probable missions today. But the key is that we—the United States—must not depend on the addition of coalition forces to our battle groups or in building our force structure.

Vince Lombardi, the great football coach, once said, "Individual commitment to a group effort-that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." As the United States moves forward into the 21st century, attempting to shape, respond, and prepare for global events, we should look at our sea services as a significant venue for team building between allies, coalition partners, and friends in our maritime efforts.

There are dozens of counties around the world that either maintain outright defense commitments via alliances (NATO, Rio Pact, Japan, South Korea) or have been part of coalition efforts in various theaters (Gulf Cooperative Council states). Everyone wants to build a team that wins. We must work hard to integrate not only our own joint forces here in the United States, but should explore the addition of other allied, coalition, and friendly maritime forces to our team. There is no doubt that "they got game"—and we should head out to the court together whenever we can.


Captain Stavridis , a 1976 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, was Commander of Destroyer Squadron 21 when he wrote this article. At sea, he commanded the USS Barry (DOG-52), was Executive Officer in the USS Antietam (CG-54), and was Operations Officer in the USS Valley Forge (CG-50)—among other assignments. He is a political-military subspecialist with a doctorate in International Relations from Tufts University, and currently is Executive Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy.


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