As the U.S. Navy sails deeper into the 21st century, it is charting a new course. The global war on terror and the defeat of Saddam Hussein in April 2003 fundamentally altered the threats we face, changing in important ways the means by which naval forces enhance security around the world. The relationship between operations and strategy in the maritime context must be reevaluated. Time is of the essence, because as one security analyst wrote recently, "There is evidence that the al Qaeda terrorist grouping has taken note of the value and vulnerability of the maritime sector."1
The collapse of Saddam's regime removed the conventional military threat that had strongly influenced U.S. naval presence in the Arabian Gulf over the past decade. In its place, a vicious insurgency has emerged, led by remnants of the Baathist regime and other terrorist elements, including al Qaeda, with the shared goal of U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. This has led to a shift in coalition operations from conventional warfare toward counterinsurgency—a change reflected in coalition naval operations at sea, which have evolved from large-scale offensive operations to an increasing emphasis on deterrence, counterterrorism, and regional growth and stability.
Enemy Goals and Methods
This change in coalition maritime operations is global in character because of the emergence of transnational enemies, including international terrorist and criminal organizations, that threaten the increasingly interdependent family of nations. Swelling volumes of trade in energy, technology, industrial products, and people are the means by which nations prosper. They also are tempting and vulnerable targets for those who wish governments to fall.
Our enemies in the global war on terror do not necessarily share a common vision of the future. Some fight to restore displaced governments. Some have largely economic motives. Others are dedicated to furthering Islamic fundamentalism. Regardless, their first goal is preventing or undermining the political order and economic prosperity that serve as the foundation of effective governing.
To terrorist organizations, anarchy is both a means and an end. It is in their interest that terror spreads until governments collapse, allowing them to establish new order in their own image. The means by which they strive to achieve their goals are myriad: assassination, dismantling of economic infrastructure, indiscriminate killing of civilians, and many more. Dispersed and nodal in nature, such enemies do not need finely coordinated military plans. Indeed, the lack of such plans is a strategic advantage, for it makes a coordinated, preemptive counterterrorism campaign that much harder to conduct.
Maritime Security Operations
Fortunately, 21st-century naval forces are well equipped to help defeat this type of threat, by providing sea-based security while concurrently waging a highly focused and agile offensive campaign, emphasizing the role of actionable intelligence, integrated coalition and joint forces, speed, maneuver, and deception. Much of this activity can be grouped under "maritime security operations," reflecting a wide band of operational activities designed to secure and protect use of the seas.
Fundamental to successful maritime security operations is that U.S. forces generate purposeful presence around the world, to be ready to respond quickly and effectively to emergent threats. Such dispersed naval forces must be armed at all times with the capabilities to accomplish a wide array of military operations. Such capabilities include wide-area sensing; communications and command and control; compliant and noncompliant boardings; precision strike; and self-defense. The majority of such forces need not be heavy. The littoral combat ship, for example, will be perfect for many current and future missions in the Arabian Gulf.
Behind these dispersed forces, we must sustain a core of powerful strike aircraft embarked on carriers and large-deck amphibious ships. Carrier strike groups and expeditionary strike groups often will operate together in theater, although they generally will steam independently to spread capabilities widely. Balancing the presence of carrier strike groups and expeditionary strike groups—as well as forming them into expeditionary strike forces on occasion—will be key to achieving operational effectiveness and efficiency in this new security environment.
The resultant constellation of widely dispersed, netted naval power integrated with joint and coalition forces across a unified battle space will operationalize the U.S. Navy's "Sea Power 21" vision.2 Such forces will be well positioned and equipped to take the fight to the enemy. Attributes of their evolving operational role will include:
- Patience and dwell. Current U.S. military doctrine calls for overwhelming force and rapid maneuver, but the global war on terror will require additional qualities. In many situations, naval forces will wait weeks, months, perhaps even years before striking. Such operations will involve patiently observing the environment to cultivate a rich understanding of sea and air traffic patterns, prepositioning ships to intercept terrorists at sea, and loitering offshore awaiting the proper time to strike key targets.
- Speed and precision. We also will need the ability to "sprint" when necessary to take out fleeting targets. This is best illustrated by strikes to kill terrorists, stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, or destroy terrorist infrastructure and targeting mechanisms. The continuous networking of engagement-quality information will be critical to generating such speed, not only to guide weapons but also to allow real-time collaborative planning that generates the right amount of force at the optimal time and place.
- Timely intelligence and rapid analysis. The most important requirement of the global war on terror is actionable intelligence. Our ability to find, fix, and kill terrorists from the sea is dependent on quality intelligence. To achieve it, we must integrate databases, streamline analysis, and develop information-routing aids that push vital information to the user when needed. This is what ForceNet is all about. It is a huge challenge, but one that goes to the heart of success in the war on terror.
- Managing uncertainty. Successful warriors always have been skilled at operating effectively despite uncertainty. That ability will be especially important in the global war on terror, in which we will have difficulty discerning adversary forces, methods, and intentions. We must use every tool at our disposal to minimize uncertainty, including human reporting and advanced technical intelligence collection techniques. We also must understand that the desire for "perfect" information is the enemy of "good enough" when fighting an adversary who will be visible to only one sensor or another for short periods of time. We must expect that some boardings and strikes will be unsuccessful in the narrow sense of the word. That is acceptable, even good, because such actions will keep the enemy on the defensive.
- Creating uncertainty. We must create uncertainty in the minds of our opponents. The stunning successes of U.S. forces in the liberations of Afghanistan and Iraq illustrate why. The greater the uncertainty in the minds of our opponents, the more difficult it is for them to generate a coherent defense, much less an effective offense. The U.S. Navy's new fleet response plan helps achieve that goal by generating less predictable operating patterns, complicating enemy planning efforts.
- Preempting the enemy. The U.S. National Security Strategy prescribes the selective use of preemption.3 Toward that end, maritime forces provide the President with valuable options, ranging from long-range precision strike to the landing of ground forces. Best of all, maritime preemption options provide the speed so vital to success in the global war on terror, without dependence on foreign basing or permission.
- Enhancing economic security and stability. Because a primary goal of our enemies is economic dislocation leading to political collapse, maritime forces must provide security to offshore economic infrastructure and trade. Defeat of seaborne terrorists and drug traffickers is central to that effort. Embracing this mission will lead to important changes in how naval forces train and operate. In many ways, the capabilities and operating patterns we must adopt in the global war on terror will reflect the sea control lessons of the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II. In the long-term struggle to enhance maritime security, small numbers of widely dispersed forces will dominate the battle space in their immediate vicinity, protecting vital assets and destroying those who would attack them.
Winning the global war on terror will require innovative concepts and a willingness to embrace new roles for naval forces. Such initiatives should include:
- Distributing netted striking power widely. The best defense remains a good offense, and in the war against terrorists, that requires on-station forces capable of delivering swift and precise attacks. The Navy's recent shift toward streamlined carrier strike groups and highly capable expeditionary strike groups is on target in this regard. This organizational change will reach maturity with the advent of the CVN-21, multimission DD(X) destroyers, the littoral combat ship (LCS), the Virginia (SSN-774)-class and converted Ohio (SSBN-726)-class strike submarines, LPD-17 amphibious assault ships, F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, and MV-22 vertical lift aircraft. The new fleet taking shape today is designed specifically to operate widely and efficiently while prepositioning unprecedented firepower from the sea.
- Protecting critical maritime infrastructure. Increasingly, global economic growth and prosperity rely on secure sea spaces. In the Arabian Gulf, for example, the security of offshore oil platforms is critical to the economic health of coastal states. Protecting key economic assets from attack will be a growing role for military forces in every theater.
- Protecting sea-lanes. Defending shipping—large and small—extends the "Sea Shield" over thousands of individuals whose economic well-being is critical to winning the global war against terror. Protection of critical straits in concert with coalition partners is central to this effort, as well, as piracy is on the increase in many parts of the world. Reported attacks on ships were nearly 40% higher in the first half of 2003 than in the previous year, approaching 6 attacks per 1,000 ships.4
- Providing humanitarian assistance. Over the past decade, naval forces have stopped and searched tens of thousands of vessels, particularly in Southwest Asia and the Arabian Gulf. When conducting such security patrols in the future, we should increasingly emphasize humanitarian assistance, with the goal of enhancing understanding and collecting intelligence. Part of this effort could involve surging Navy hospital ships to various regions to provide medical care to disadvantaged people.
- Employing sea bases. Minimizing the permanent presence of ground forces outside the United States has long-term advantages, particularly in the Gulf region. Consequently, the importance of mobile, sovereign, and secure sea bases will grow in the years ahead. Such sea bases will allow us to preposition strike and shield forces, as well as serve as staging points for logistics that draw on high-speed transportation vehicles to provide timely support around the world.
- Sustaining readiness. The nature of unconventional enemies and the Navy's new fleet response plan demand sustained readiness to surge and strike quickly. To meet that challenge, carrier and expeditionary strike groups should implement Strike Group Readiness Teams—trained senior officer groups within the lifelines of the strike groups—to fully leverage training investment opportunities whenever and wherever they arise.
- Expanding international military education and training. Military leaders play important roles in shaping national policies. Sharing democratic values with foreign naval officers early in their careers, and maintaining contact with them as they gain seniority, is a wise investment that will cultivate allies in our long-term effort to integrate all states into the international community.
- Establishing naval liaison elements. Enhancing security in littoral areas is a coalition effort best achieved with local authorities in an integrated and sustained manner. Successful littoral defense requires an intimate knowledge of operating areas, cultures, and languages. The presence of naval liaison officers at key ports will serve that end, increasing situational awareness, intelligence, and trust.
- Leveraging public diplomacy. Maritime operations must remain embedded in theater security cooperation plans. Central to such efforts should be civil-military engagement programs that include information outreach campaign plans for each theater.
- Maximizing boarding capabilities. Successful counterterrorism efforts rely on speed of execution and continual readiness to seize the initiative. To strengthen those capabilities, we should integrate training efforts with our coalition partners to ensure boarding teams are highly interoperable and optimally prepared for any contingency. Exciting synergies also exist with the Marine Corps and Special Operations/SEAL communities to provide enhanced firepower when the situation requires.
- Establishing sea-based disaster relief planning cells. Natural disasters occur with regularity in littoral areas, and naval forces often provide help. The spread of weapons of mass destruction adds to the need for sea-based forces capable of coordinating relief for damaged and possibly contaminated areas. The command-and-control capabilities being discussed for the Maritime Prepositioned Ship (Future) will be ideal for such use.
- Investing in unmanned surveillance assets. Terrorism relies on stealth. Consequently, defense against terrorism requires continual vigilance. Yet, sustaining effective and comprehensive surveillance is tremendously expensive and asset intensive. The time is ripe to invest in unmanned surveillance platforms that operate on, over, and below the surface of the sea, to augment intelligence collection currently accomplished by manned naval platforms such as submarines and maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft. The recent forward testing of the Spartan Scout, an unmanned surface vehicle with infrared and electro-optical capability, is a step in the right direction.
- Strengthening joint and coalition interoperability. The timely sharing of information between joint and coalition forces is fundamental to coordinating effective operations. Pursuant to that goal, ongoing initiatives to expand and standardize U.S. information-sharing tools such as Knowledge Web and the coalition-shared CENTRIX system will pay big dividends in combat effectiveness.
In the past year, U.S. naval forces have transitioned from conventional combat operations to a complex global politico-military role in support of deterrence, counterterrorism, economic growth, and political stability. Fortunately, this new role is well suited to the strengths and flexibility of naval power and provides rich opportunities for our 21st-century Navy. In the years ahead, working together with joint forces and coalition partners, our naval shield and sea-based striking power will strengthen security for the family of nations.
1. Tim Spicer, chairman of Aegis Defense Services, a British security consulting firm, as quoted in "The Race to Prevent High-Seas Terror," Bruce Stanley, Miami Herald, Associated Press, 5 January 2004. back to article
2. Adm. Vern Clark, USN, "Sea Power 21, Projecting Decisive Joint Capabilities," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, October 2002, pp. 32 45. back to article
3. National Security Strategy of the United States of America, 2002. back to article
4. Stanley, "The Race to Prevent High-Seas Terror." back to article