Navy 2025: Forward Warfighters

By Admiral Jonathan Greenert, U.S. Navy

Operating Forward with Our Partners

A navy is most effective when it is forward, especially at the strategic “maritime crossroads” where shipping lanes, energy flows, information networks, and national security interests intersect. Being forward is critical to deterring aggression without escalation, defusing threats without fanfare, and containing conflict without regional disruption. In addition to obvious choke points such as the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca, U.S. naval forces will support our allies and partners in protecting the freedom of new crossroads that will emerge by 2025 as Arctic ice recedes and the Panama Canal is widened. With their maritime focus, Navy ships and aircraft have a smaller footprint and pose less of a concern to host nations than ground forces—and routinely operate with their host on common concerns such as maritime security. Being forward is an essential element of building partnerships, because, as my predecessor Admiral Gary Roughead would say, “Trust cannot be surged.”

The Navy will need innovative approaches to staying forward around the world to address growing concerns about freedom of the seas while being judicious with our resources. Because we will probably not be able to sustain the financial and diplomatic cost of new main operating bases abroad, the fleet of 2025 will rely more on host-nation ports and other facilities where our ships, aircraft, and crews can refuel, rest, resupply, and repair while deployed. This will help the Navy sustain its global forward posture with what may be a smaller number of ships and aircraft than today.

The Navy–Marine Corps team will take advantage of ports and airstrips in places such as Diego Garcia to sustain deployed ships and aircraft and support prompt crisis response. We will also expand our forward-stationed forces to improve our posture and responsiveness. In Southeast Asia, we will station several of our newest littoral combat ships at Singapore’s naval facility, and as announced in November by President Barack Obama, begin rotational deployments of Marines to Darwin, Australia. In the Middle East, we will send littoral combat ships to replace our Bahrain mineseweepers in the coming decade, while in Europe we will station four destroyers at an existing facility in Rota, Spain. Those places, along with our longstanding homeports in Japan, Guam, and Italy, will allow U.S. naval forces to maximize our forward presence while strengthening our alliances and partnerships.

Between now and 2025, forward-deployed forces will be critical to our geographic combatant commanders, or COCOMs. As the strategic environment evolves from Cold War bipolarity and post–Cold War unipolarity to one with multiple centers of power, COCOMs will continue shifting their planning and operations away from only being ready for stereotypical warfighting. COCOMs will increase the stress placed on shaping the environment to prevent conflict.

Critical to shaping the environment is cooperation with partners and allies across the range of operations. At the high end, we will expand our combined efforts with allies in Japan, South Korea, and Australia to train and exercise in missions such as antisubmarine warfare and integrated air and missile defense. Over the next decade, we will also increase deployments of ships and aircraft for the cooperative missions our other allies and partners need most. Our ships ships in Singapore will conduct cooperative counterpiracy or countertrafficking operations around the South China Sea. Similarly, 2025 may see P-8A Poseidon aircraft or unmanned broad area maritime surveillance aerial vehicles periodically deploy to the Philippines or Thailand to help those nations with maritime domain awareness. Our small combatants, which in 2025 will predominantly be littoral combat ships, will deploy globally to counter terrorism, combat narcotics trafficking, and cooperatively train with partner nations to improve their capacity for those important missions.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted in a recent Foreign Policy article, the Asia-Pacific region will be emphasized in our forward posture. In addition to being home to five U.S. treaty allies, the region boasts six of the world’s ten largest economies—with China projected to be the largest by 2025. We will continue our robust rotational deployments to the western Pacific, complemented with our forward-stationed Navy and Marine forces in Japan, Guam, Singapore, and Australia.

We also will maintain rotational deployments in the Middle East and Indian Ocean. In 2025 those forces—along with our forward-stationed patrol boats, minesweepers, and littoral combat ships—will deter aggression in the region. With our local Persian Gulf partners and international allies such as the United Kingdom and Japan, those forces will also help ensure the Strait of Hormuz remains open; oil will remain the world’s most versatile fuel and chemical feedstock.

Although the Fleet may be smaller, the 2025 Navy will remain engaged in places such as Guantanamo Bay, Naples and Sigonella in Italy, Souda Bay in Greece, and Djibouti in Africa to maximize the presence from our periodic deployments and transits. The destroyers in Spain will not only provide ballistic-missile defense, but will be available for security and training operations with our European and African allies and partners.

Keeping Our Warfighting Edge

Being forward to deter, assure, and influence only works if the forces we deploy are credible and relevant to the tasks they have to do. Between now and 2025, the Navy will have to sustain its current dominance of the undersea domain, improve its ability to project power despite growing threats to access, operationalize cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum, and increase the reach and persistence of today’s Fleet.

By 2025, precision-guided weapons will be the norm among our adversaries and competitors—from terrorist groups and criminals to our maritime peers. Combined with widely available radar, as well as electronic and optical sensors, such weapons give adversaries an unprecedented ability to attack ships, aircraft, and ground forces and to deny access to certain areas of sea or land.

With that emerging capability, regional powers in 2025 could use ballistic and cruise missiles, submarines, and guided rockets and artillery to prevent military forces or legitimate users from entering an area (“anti-access,” or A2) or operating effectively within an area (“area-denial,” or AD). Those capabilities can be characterized as defensive, reducing opposition to them, and they can be deployed from the country’s mainland territory, making attacks against them highly escalatory. Their intended purpose, however, is clear—intimidation of neighboring countries, including U.S. allies and partners. Aggressors can threaten to hold key maritime crossroads at risk, render territorial claims moot, and assert that intervention by the United States or others in these disputes can be delayed or prevented. The stated or unstated implication is that their neighbors should capitulate to the aggressor’s demands.

To help defend our allies and protect our interests, U.S. forces in 2025 will need to be able to operate and project power despite adversary A2/AD capabilities. Over the next decade naval and air forces will implement the new AirSea Battle Concept and put in place the tactics, procedures, and systems of this innovative approach to the A2/AD challenge. Most important, sailors, airmen and Marines will be prepared to adapt, take the initiative, and operate effectively in a range of A2/AD environments.

Payloads over Platforms

Over the next decade, maintaining the Navy’s war-fighting edge and addressing fiscal constraints will require significant changes in how we develop the force. We will need to shift from a focus on platforms to instead focus on what the platform carries. We have experience in this model. Aircraft carriers, amphibious ships and the littoral combat ships are inherently reconfigurable, with sensor and weapon systems that can evolve over time for the expected mission. As we apply that same modular approach to each of our capabilities, the weapons, sensors, unmanned systems, and electronic-warfare systems that a platform deploys will increasingly become more important than the platform itself.

That paradigm shift will be prompted by three main factors. First, the large number, range of frequencies, and growing sophistication of sensors will increase the risk to ships and aircraft—even “stealthy” ones—when operating close to an adversary’s territory. Continuing to pursue ever-smaller signatures for manned platforms, however, will soon become unaffordable. Second, the unpredictable and rapid improvement of adversary A2/AD capabilities will require faster evolution of our own systems to maintain an advantage or asymmetrically gain the upper hand. This speed of evolution is more affordable and technically possible in weapons, sensors, and unmanned systems than in manned platforms.

The third factor favoring a focus on payloads is the changing nature of war. Precision-guided munitions have reduced the number and size of weapons needed to achieve the same effect. At the same time, concerns for collateral damage have significantly lowered the number of targets that can be safely attacked in a given engagement. The net effect is fewer weapons are needed in today’s conflicts.

Together, those trends make guided, precision stand-off weapons such as Tomahawk land-attack missiles, joint air-surface stand-off missiles, and their successors more viable and cost-effective alternatives to increasingly stealthy aircraft that close the target and drop bombs or shoot direct-attack missiles. To take full advantage of the paradigm shift from platform to payload, the Fleet of 2025 will incorporate faster, longer-range, and more sophisticated weapons from ships, aircraft, and submarines. In turn, today’s platforms will evolve to be more capable of carrying a larger range of weapons and other payloads.

Those other payloads will include a growing number of unmanned systems. Budget limitations over the next 10 to 15 years may constrain the number of ships and aircraft the Navy can buy.

Expanded (Unmanned) Reach

The future Fleet will deploy a larger and improved force of rotary wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) including today’s Fire Scout and soon, the armed Fire-X. Those vehicles were invaluable in recent operations in Libya and in counterterrorism operations around the Central Command area of responsibility. Deploying from the deck of a littoral combat ship, a detachment of Fire Scouts can provide continuous surveillance more than 100 miles away. Those systems will expand the reach of the ship’s sensors with optical and infrared capabilities, as well as support special operations forces in the littorals. Even more significant, the Fleet of 2025 will include UAVs deploying from aircraft carrier decks. What started a decade ago as the unmanned combat air system will be operating by 2025 as an integral element of some carrier air wings, providing surveillance and some strike capability at vastly increased ranges compared with today’s strike fighters. Once that aircraft is fielded, it will likely take on additional missions such as logistics, electronic warfare, or tanking.

Submarines will deploy and operate in conjunction with a family of unmanned vehicles and sensors by 2025 to sustain the undersea dominance that is a clear U.S. asymmetric advantage. Large-displacement unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) will deploy from ships, shore, or Virginia -class submarine payload tubes to conduct surveillance missions. With their range and endurance, large UUVs could travel deep into an adversary’s A2/AD envelope to deploy strike missiles, electronic warfare decoys, or mines. Smaller UUVs will be used by submarines to extend the reach of their organic sensors, and will operate in conjunction with unattended sensors that can be deployed from surface combatants, submarines, and P-8A patrol aircraft. The resulting undersea network will create a more complete and persistent “common operational picture” of the underwater environment when and where we need it. This will be essential to finding and engaging adversary submarines, potentially the most dangerous A2/AD capability.

The undersea picture is extremely important in terms of countering enemy mining. The most basic of A2/AD weapons, mines can render an area of ocean unusable for commercial shipping for weeks or months while we laboriously locate and neutralize them. Even the threat of mines is enough to severely restrict ship movements, significantly affecting trade and global economic stability if it happens in key choke points such as the Malacca or Hormuz straits. The mine countermeasure capabilities we are developing for littoral combat ships and MH-60 aircraft rely heavily on unmanned sensors to rapidly build the underwater picture, and unmanned neutralization systems to disable mines. By 2025 those systems will be fully fielded, and their portable nature could allow them to be another swappable payload on a range of combatants.

Mastering the Electromagnetic Domain

Electronic warfare (EW) and cyber operations are increasingly essential to defeating the sensors and command and control (C2) that underpin an opponent’s A2/AD capabilities. If the adversary is blinded or unable to communicate, he cannot aim long-range ballistic and cruise missiles or cue submarines and aircraft. Today, Navy forces focus on deconflicting operations in the electromagnetic spectrum or cyber domains. By 2025, the Fleet will fully operationalize those domains, more seamlessly managing sensors, attacks, defense, and communications, and treating EW and cyber environments as “maneuver spaces” on par with surface, undersea, or air.

For example, an electronic jammer or decoy can defeat individual enemy radar, and thus an enemy C2 system using the radar’s data. A cyber operation might be able to achieve a similar effect, allowing U.S. forces to avoid detection. This is akin to using smoke and “rubber-duck” decoys in World War II to obscure and confuse the operational picture for Japanese forces, allowing U.S. ships to maneuver to an advantageous position. The future Fleet will employ EW and cyber with that same sense of operational integration.

Remaining Ready

History is replete with examples of how our Navy innovated operationally and technologically to win. The advent of sea-based aircraft, radar, and submarines were step-increases in our capability that took time, experimentation, and initiative to fully exploit. Over the next 10 to 15 years, the Navy will continue to create new ways to remain forward at the maritime crossroads, sustain our undersea dominance, exploit the reach and persistence of unmanned vehicles, and operationalize the electromagnetic and cyber environments. To operate this Fleet, we will develop a motivated, relevant, and diverse 21st-century workforce through career-long tactical and strategic training.

What will not change, however, are the core attributes of Navy sailors and civilians and the Fleet in which they serve. Next year we will commemorate the War of 1812, when our Navy faced its first sustained trial by fire. After Britain attempted a blockade to suppress American shipping, the United States declared war. Within a day (quick in that era), the first blows were struck by Navy ships. Our Fleet was not large, amounting to a half-dozen frigates and a larger number of gunboats and other craft. It did, however, rapidly get ready and take the fight to the enemy as our sailors aggressively employed creativity, innovation, and individual initiative.

The Navy of 2025 will reflect those same values. It will be ready, with the sailors, training, ordnance, sensors, and communications it needs to fight and win the conflicts that may arise. It will be forward where it can work to prevent those conflicts through operations with our partners, the capability to respond, and the ability to assure access for the joint force. And the Fleet will focus on warfighting to deter aggression and if necessary engage and defeat those who would attack our people, territory, allies, or partners.

Admiral Greenert is Chief of Naval Operations.
 

Admiral Greenert is Chief of Naval Operations.

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