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Rethinking 'Naval'—Heresy or Fiscal Imperative?

By Robert Kozloski

Compared with the Army and the Air Force, the Department of the Navy is in a quite different situation, having two independent services under the authority of a single military department. This will present both challenges and opportunities. The Air Force and the Army will have fewer options to consider when responding to austerity measures and will most likely have to survive budget cuts by reducing end strength or eliminating weapon systems.

While the naval services must maintain certain similar staff functions to allow the service chiefs to meet their Title 10 responsibilities, numerous opportunities exist to capitalize on commonality across the Navy and the Marine Corps. The forthcoming fiscal pressure should compel the secretariat and the services to reevaluate roles, missions, and organizations within the department. Because of this pending reality, senior civilian and military leadership within the Department of the Navy must seriously consider options that heretofore would be considered absolute heresy to preserve as much operational force structure as possible.


A new approach to merging or realigning common, non-core warfighting or support functions and capabilities within the Navy, Marine Corps, and secretariat is something we’ll call neonavalism.

The Navy and Marine Corps have historically been able to use their aforementioned commonality to efficient effect. The Navy currently provides medical, dental, and religious support to operational Marine units. Provider organizations, such as the Naval Air Systems Command, develop the full expanse of aviation doctrine, programs, and support functions for the aviation capabilities of both services. Of course, Navy ships are essential to Marine amphibious operations. The precedent has long been established to allow the concept of neonavalism to develop additional naval capabilities and organizations.

While this concept may disturb service purists, it could be the best option to preserve force structure and warfighting capacity during the forthcoming fiscally constrained era. Moreover, if it is applied to targeted functions or organizations, and done with a spirit of cooperation, the result may be an improvement over the status quo. Eliminating unnecessary duplication across the services and streamlining common processes will eliminate costly overhead and could result in more coherent naval options across the full range of military operations.

In October 2007, the naval services, including the Coast Guard, published A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower that provides the framework for a more integrated approach to performing the nation’s maritime security functions. This strategy (the first to be signed by all three Sea Service chiefs), while lacking in details, laid the foundation for modern naval—instead of service-specific—thinking. Since the release of that strategy, efforts have been under way to take best advantage of commonality among the maritime services. And one mission area where the concept was applied successfully is naval logistics.

In 2010 senior leadership from the Navy and Marine Corps logistics communities developed an official strategy titled Naval Logistics Integration. 4 It identified the need for common governance, integrated procurement, and mutual support. To date, this approach has identified opportunities for cost savings across programs and for better support to the operational forces.

The next step in neonavalism is to further target areas where commonality could build fully integrated capabilities and organizations, where appropriate. The following examples demonstrate how the concept can be applied to the current organizational structure.

Naval Installations

Unlike the other military departments, the Department of the Navy maintains several organizations to manage its installations. Current stakeholders include: Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Environment, Installations, and Energy; Naval Facilities Engineering Command; Commander of Naval Installations; Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Fleet Readiness & Logistics; U.S. Fleet Forces Command; Deputy Commandant for Installations and Logistics; and the newly formed Marine Corps Installations Command, along with a commensurate number of echelon 3 and 4 organizations. In comparison, the Army uses fewer organizations to manage more bases. For example, the Army has four regional commands to manage its global footprint, while the Navy maintains 11 one- or two-star regional commands.

To streamline naval-installation management, the Department of the Navy should create a single naval organization to manage installations, thereby eliminating similar functions across the services. The new organizational model could significantly streamline the service staffs and would allow the department to reduce the number of regional commands. The new naval organization would report directly to an executive leadership committee composed of the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Environment, Installations, and Energy.

Rethinking installation management could also stimulate new, innovative ideas on how the department manages its bases. The facilities-management function within the federal government is routinely performed by the Government Services Administration, even on facilities that house critical national-security infrastructure. In the private sector, management of large corporate or academic facilities is often outsourced to commercial firms. In an era of decreasing end strength, is it effective to use senior military officers to perform “town mayor” functions? Eliminating military billets from base-management activities would free up warfighters to perform more inherently military functions.

Naval Education

Both the Navy and Marine Corps are committed to developing the best naval officers possible by providing access to first-rate educational programs. This process begins with initial officer-accession programs and spans an officer’s entire career. However, because educational institutions and programs are often disjointed, no comprehensive end-to-end strategy exists for officer education across both services. For instance, the U.S. Naval Academy is currently developing a cyber curriculum for undergraduate students. At the same time, the Naval War College is developing graduate-level cyber education, and the Naval Postgraduate School is developing a postgraduate cyber curriculum. No single entity identifies gaps and overlaps in this process to ensure a comprehensive education program over an officer’s entire career. This example should raise the question of how naval ROTC and Marine Corps officers are included in the educational pipeline. If they are not included, each will most likely develop a separate program.

A Naval Educational Committee should be formed by merging existing committees into a single entity and provide management and oversight of all educational institutions and programs within the department. This committee should be tasked with integrating the best practices of civilian educational intuitions and emulating civilian programs, particularly in naval concentration areas.

Service war colleges should also be merged. The Naval War College, with additional Marine Corps representation, can provide professional military education (PME) for both services. As all officers in the Navy and Marine Corps are inherently naval, they should be educated through a common system. A single graduate military-education institution could provide the overhead functions, curriculum development, and research support for both services. Also, the Naval War College has a vigorous distance-education capability that could better support PME. Minimally staffed war-college satellite campuses could be used in naval concentration areas for resident PME, reducing the cost of frequent permanent change-of-station moves.

Naval Special Operations/Warfare

In rapid response to the 9/11 attacks, the Marine Corps reactivated the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) (Anti-Terrorism [AT]) to better organize Marine Corps AT capabilities to fight the war on terrorism. Because little synergy was realized in the disparate missions of each of the subordinate organizations, 4th MEB (AT) was disestablished in 2006. The Marine Corps must reevaluate the need to maintain units that support non-traditional Marine missions.

As part of this effort, the Marine Corps should attempt to relinquish the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield-explosive (CBRNE) consequence-management mission and attempt to transfer it to the Army or National Guard. If combatant-command requirements prevent this from occurring, the Navy could assume this mission, as it inherently possesses the same skills found at the Marine Corps Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF), with the exception of infantrymen. Infantrymen at the CBIRF are primarily used as physically fit casualty-extraction personnel, and through careful screening the Navy could replicate those skill requirements. The CBIRF lifesaving mission is better aligned with the Navy’s “Global Force for Good” approach than it is with the Corps. The Marines should use the extensive CBRNE expertise resident at CBIRF and support the counter weapons of mass destruction mission. This would be a valuable asset to the nation and more aligned to U.S. Special Operations and U.S. Strategic Command missions.

Studies on the effects of climate change forecast an increase in the frequency and severity of destructive weather events and long-term environmental changes—polar ice melt and rising sea levels, for example—in the decades ahead. Other naturally occurring disasters, such as pandemics, pose a significant concern for the joint force and combatant commanders.

According to a U.S. Joint Forces Command assessment in 2010, “Global sea levels have been on the rise for the past 100 years. Some one-fifth of the world’s population as well as one-sixth of the land area of the world’s largest urban areas are located in coastal zones less than ten meters above sea level. Furthermore, populations in these coastal areas are growing faster than national averages.” 5 The convergence of those factors indicates that naval forces will play a greater role in the global consequence-management mission in the future. However, this has historically been an ad hoc mission for the Navy.

It could use the CBIRF as a hub to build a naval consequence-management capability throughout the Fleet to better support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and defense support to civil-authority missions. Marine expeditionary units could continue to provide security, logistical support, and muscle to back those missions.

In a recently released report by the Amphibious Capabilities Working Group, the Marine Corps saidd that Marines and Special Operations Forces (SOF) are, “naturally, mutually and highly complementary.” 6 The report also identified several commonalties between the Marine Corps and SOF. However, many of the areas of commonality identified in the report—information operations, electronic warfare, the ability to conduct boarding operations and amphibious raids—also exist in the Navy.

The naval services cannot afford unnecessary duplication of capabilities in any single mission area. The Naval Special Warfare Command should serve as the Naval Executive Agent (NEA) for all naval special-warfare/special-operations capabilities, including those of the U.S. Coast Guard. This agent could develop naval operational concepts, indentify and coordinate operational requirements, identify capability gaps, recommend organizational realignment, and develop integrated career roadmaps for the entire naval special-operations community. The NEA concept could be applied to emerging mission areas common to the naval services. Having an NEA for intelligence, cyber operations, information operations, force protection, and/or irregular warfare, for example, could streamline organizational structures and ensure cohesion across service programs.

Naval Task Organization

Many in the Navy question the need to maintain the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) after current combat operations conclude. The NECC has performed admirably, both as individual augments and through unit-level deployments. Maintaining this 40,000-strong force is costly, and that may come at the expense of more traditional naval missions. However, the NECC capabilities cannot be eliminated completely. As the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Report noted, the future operating environment suggests that increasing capacity for maritime operations in coastal and riverine environments will be appropriate. 7 That resulted in the Navy actually increasing riverine forces by developing a fourth riverine squadron.

The Marine Corps also faces the challenge of how best to scale back growth brought on by the operational requirements of the past decade. The force level after the surge buildup was 202,000. In 2011, the Marine Corps Force Structure Review Group determined the Marines would need an end strength of approximately 186,000 to meet future challenges and remain America’s force in readiness. 8 However, many in the national-security community recommend that the Marine Corps could return to pre-9/11 numbers and still maintain its operational posture. The Center for a New American Security, for example, recommends a reduction to 175,000 while others, such as the Cato Institute, recommend a reduction as low as 145,000. The effect of sequestration could be devastating to the Marine Corps, as Republican staff members of the House Armed Services Committee also warned that sequestration could reduce the Marine Corps end strength to 145,000. 9 Each of these recommendations is based on the fiscal problems facing the nation today. If such trends go unchanged, the Corps will likely continue to face reductions.

To survive the current fiscal pressure, the Marine Corps must not replicate capabilities found in other services. As a recent report from the Center for a New American Security noted, “the Marine Corps devotes a relatively small portion of its resources to the amphibious mission that makes it unique, and a large portion of its resources to sustaining air and land warfare capabilities that are similar to the capabilities of the other services.” The Marine Corps should embrace the concept of neonavalism and use the Navy’s capabilities wherever practical for both services.

In 1990, the commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, Rear Admiral G. R. Worthington, conducted a detailed study on how the Navy and Marine Corps could best organize for riverine warfare. The Worthington Study recommended the creation of a Mobile Riverine Force that integrated a Marine Air-Ground Task Force and a Navy River Assault Group. This concept was not acted on because of the low priority given to riverine warfare during budget-reduction efforts in the 1990s. But the concept remains valid and could be applied to a broad range of missions across the brown-, green-, and black-water operational areas.

Assuming force reductions will go beyond the 186,000 estimate, the Marines will be faced with a dilemma of how to maintain as much operational capacity as possible. Currently, similar (not exact) capabilities reside within each MEF and the NECC. For example, each has explosive-ordnance-disposal units, maritime logistics, civil affairs, intelligence, mobile construction/demolition, and maritime security. If the Marine Corps is forced to take further reductions in end strength, it should do so in areas where the Navy has a similar capability. The Navy should deconstruct the current NECC organization and assign a portion of subordinate commands to each MEF and thus create a Naval Expeditionary Force.

The Org Chart

This organizational construct would not only take full advantage of common naval capabilities; it fully supports the Marine Corps’ new warfighting principle of a single naval battle approach. 10 To support the concept of neonavalism, Congress should confer additional authority on the Secretary of the Navy. Instead of authorizing active component end-strength levels for both the Navy and Marine Corps, the Secretary of the Navy should have the authority to adjust force levels between the services within a single naval force cap. This would provide the Department of the Navy with the ability to develop truly agile and adaptive concepts and capabilities.

Each of these previous recommendations recognizes the commonality between the naval services to create new approaches to organizing or performing specific support or non-core warfighting missions. The competition to find the best naval solutions will undoubtedly yield unexpected opportunities to make improvements to the status quo. As former Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig recently noted, diversity and competition will help prepare for the uncertainty in the 21st-century security environment. 11 Merging targeted naval organizations and missions will force leaders from each service to continually compete and collaborate on innovative solutions to common problems and missions.

The first neonaval capability the services will demonstrate as a result of this proposal is to mount a vigorous naval defense. The response will inevitably include calling in the traditional supporting fires from Title 10, healthy friction, loss of service identity, tradition, unity of command, institutional paranoia, the perceived failure of the Navy–Marine Corps Intranet, and even invoke the legacy of Guadalcanal. However, the services should momentarily go into check fire and assess the gravity of the alternative—loss of core naval warfighting capabilities, fewer ships, fewer planes, and fewer Marines. Given those options, perhaps neonavalism is not that bad a concept after all.

1. Leon Panetta, Speech to the Association of the U.S. Army, 12 October 2011. .

2. Ashton Carter, Speech at the American Enterprise Institute, 30 May 2012.

3. Robert Work, “The Coming Naval Century”, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings , May 2012, 24-30.

4. Naval Logistics Integration Strategic Plan,

5. U.S. Joint Forces Command, The Joint Operating Environment 2010 , 33.

6. U.S. Marine Corps, Naval Amphibious Capability in the 21st Century: Strategic Opportunity and a Vision For Change , Report of the Amphibious Capability Working Group, April 2012, S-1.

7. Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report 2010, 24.

8. U.S. Marine Corps, Reshaping America’s Force in Readiness , Report of the 2010 Marine Corps Force Structure Review Group, March, 2011, 2.

9. House Armed Services Committee Republican Staff letter to Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), dated 22 September 2011,

10. A single naval battle approach as defined in U.S. Marine Corps, Naval Amphibious Capability in the 21st Century: Strategic Opportunity and a Vision For Change , Report of the Amphibious Capability Working Group.

11. Richard Danzig, “Driving in the Dark: Ten Propositions about Prediction and National Security,” Center for a New American Security, October 2011, 28.

Mr. Kozloski is a program analyst in the Department of the Navy Secretariat. He served on active duty in both the Navy and Marine Corps for a total of 22 years.


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