But naval expeditionary warfare is still a team sport, as retired Marine Reserve Lieutenant Colonel John T. Quinn II, Deputy Director of Marine Corps Headquarters’ Strategic Initiatives Group, dutifully reminds us. “The Navy and Marine Corps are now confronted with critical decisions regarding amphibious capabilities and capacities,” he writes. America’s blue-green team must work together toward creative solutions in a global arena “where hybrid conflict is the new normal.” He advocates a “system of systems” approach featuring several new task units with discrete responsibilities that could be brought together quickly in response to an unfolding crisis.
The success of tomorrow’s expeditionary campaigns will rely heavily on the Sea Services’ ability to maneuver and operate in the world’s littorals, which are often contested spaces. According to the Ellis Group, a Marine Corps organization responsible for creating guidance for the development of expeditionary force, ensuring that the United States’ maritime advantage continues will require an integrated approach that blends sea control and power-projection, as well as a thorough analysis of what the future environment requires for optimal performance.
There’s been much hand-wringing among defense experts the past few years over anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) threats that could prevent our naval forces from operating freely when and where they are needed. Maybe too much. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Lloyd Freeman, Deputy Executive Assistant N95 (Expeditionary Warfare), contends that the Sea Services are so preoccupied with A2/AD, which “makes our potential adversaries out to be ten-foot giants when they really may just be three-foot munchkins,” that they forget the U.S. military wields incredible power of its own. Instead of fretting over a presumed enemy’s disruption capabilities, we should be taking stock of the our “unprecedented dominance” with an approach Lieutenant Colonel Freeman calls “assured assistance, anytime, anywhere.” Concentrating too much on what one cannot do instead of what one can “is dangerous and can have detrimental effects on military hardware procurement and operational strategy,” he warns.
Any naval expeditionary campaign would require the Navy to first establish sea control. But quite a few things are wrong with the Navy’s understanding of sea control and sea denial, notably that the service often considers them to be one and the same, according to Naval War College Professor Milan Vego. In reality, they are two distinct objectives accomplished through different means. Dr. Vego sees this problem stemming from the lack of well-developed theory, and the fact that “for the most part the service’s current doctrine and posture statements do more to obfuscate than clarify the purpose, attributes, and primary methods for obtaining, maintaining, and exercising sea control.” A nuanced study of these concepts is not a mere exercise in semantics, though. Such a misunderstanding could have deleterious effects on the development of operational doctrine.