A naval officer's reaction when reading U.S. Joint Forces Command's (JFCOM) "Capstone Concept for Joint Operations" (CCJO) could be analyzed according to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief. The reader is initially overwhelmed with feelings of denial and rage by a joint document that can so clearly articulate the most fundamental aspects of joint force warfare with nary a reference to gallant naval battles. The next phase, bargaining, is championed by Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) staff members who instinctively send urgent change requests to JFCOM containing "maritime strategy stuff." As sadness ultimately gives way to acceptance, a sense of equilibrium is achieved based on the assumption that the half-life of documents like the CCJO is generally no more than two years.
But what if the concept's depiction of joint warfare is correct? Is it possible that while we've been dutifully celebrating the anniversary of the Battle of Midway, an era of warfare has dawned that places the Navy in a supporting role and requires a slightly different perspective on naval power?
Time to Look in the Mirror?
The CCJO is intended to remain above the service fray and be "the most fundamental of all military concepts." It is derived from a vision of a future joint operating environment (JOE) "characterized by uncertainty, complexity, rapid change, and persistent conflict." While the only thing on this list of predictions of which we may be absolutely certain is uncertainty itself, it's also a relatively safe bet that potential adversaries have been studying our strengths and weaknesses over the last decade or so and will adjust their future strategies and tactics accordingly. Our future operating environment, therefore, will not originate from an abstract point or follow an arbitrary trajectory. So far, so good.
Naval officers may begin to feel more apprehensive during the CCJO's discussion of the four broad categories of joint force military activities:
- Combat treats regular and irregular adversaries with equal measure and highlights "the capabilities required to defeat forces that blend in with the civilian population."
- Security refers to activities that "seek to protect and control civil populations and territory-friendly, hostile, or neutral."
- Engagement efforts must be coordinated via "the country team and the U.S. Ambassador to whom it answers," and
- Relief and reconstruction activities "seek to restore essential civil services in the wake of combat, a breakdown of civil order, or a natural disaster."
This language is not entirely unfamiliar to us-far from it. The U.S. Navy's ability to use its forward-deployed posture to assure allies, respond to disasters, and strike enemies has been critical to the success of the joint force for decades. It's just that the Navy's most fundamental core capability-sea control-is expressed in a particular service dialect that tends to lose something in the joint translation.
Could the CCJO's lack of emphasis on naval warfare be a symptom of a larger identity crisis for the Navy? Inspired by the dawning of a new administration and its congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review, experts from beyond the Beltway have been drafting their own versions of the Navy's 30-year shipbuilding plan. Some say the Navy has too many ships and others say too few. Some say we are building the wrong kinds of ships or have the wrong organizing construct. Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, used the term "wasting asset" to describe the declining value of conventional U.S. Navy capabilities in contested areas because of advances in our potential adversaries' anti-access, area-denial capabilities. Author Barrett Tillman even took the discussion to another level by referring to our lack of sea battles since 1945 as "the post-naval era." Now there truly is blood in the scuppers!
Don't Give Up the Ship
Perhaps the answer lies somewhere between our own running lights. The 2008 National Defense Strategy notes that although U.S. predominance in conventional warfare is not unchallenged, it is sustainable for the medium term, given current trends. According to the JOE and CCJO, the joint force is much more likely to be challenged asymmetrically-not ship versus ship-and engaged in a variety of operations that would require the Navy to serve in a supporting role. Rather than debate the virtues of competing force structure arguments, it may be more enlightening to view the Navy through the lens of joint doctrine and examine some supporting naval capabilities that will be in critical demand during "the era of persistent conflict."
Sea Basing. Unpredictable security crises require a joint force that is responsive, agile, versatile, and not tethered to the politics of overseas bases. While sea-basing duty in the Indian Ocean may never make the top of the average naval officer's duty-preference card, persistent offshore bases will be required to support continuing joint force requirements in missions ranging from surveillance, logistics, and humanitarian assistance to counterterrorism and strike. Sea-basing doctrine and expertise will need to be developed to provide a playbook of options that can support the full range of joint missions over periods lasting from days to years.
Amphibious Operations. Many of our prospective hybrid, asymmetric adversaries have completed their Operation Iraqi Freedom case studies and learned that their probability of success is inversely proportional to how much time the U.S. military has to mass force for a conventional campaign. The value of a true Navy-Marine Corps expeditionary team that can project power with little or no notice is, therefore, self-evident. According to the Marine Corps Combat Development Command's recent concept publication, Amphibious Operations in the 21st Century, in the past 20 years U.S. amphibious forces have responded to crises at least 104 times. The fact that many of these operations were not combat-oriented illustrates how a well-developed amphibious capability can be applied to shape the uncertain security environment alluded to in the JOE and win the fight described in the CCJO.
Ballistic-Missile Defense (BMD). The proliferation of missile technology and of regimes and violent extremists willing to use it places an obvious premium on missile defense. As the Israelis rediscovered during their 2006 war with Hezbollah, even poorly targeted missiles are potent weapons. Neutralizing this potential asymmetric advantage will continue to be a priority for civilian leaders and joint force commanders. Since maritime ballistic missile defense provides a flexible deterrent posture that is not possible with land-based systems, the percentage of U.S. Navy surface ships on "BMD duty" will undoubtedly increase in coming years.
Sealift. Although the term "increasingly globalized world" may make English majors wince, it underscores that our national security interests tend to be found in far-flung places. With more than 90 percent of U.S. military equipment traveling by sea, sealift continues to be an indispensable commodity. Additionally, having mobile, sea-based logistics capacity reduces joint force vulnerabilities if overseas shore-based hubs are constrained by political considerations or placed at risk.
Information Dominance. Irregular enemies who blend in with civilian populations and turn cyberspace into a battleground create unique problems for a traditionally configured joint force. The U.S. Navy's ability to conduct persistent surveillance and reconnaissance operations almost anywhere in the world, without leaving a footprint, will be needed to meet this challenge. Additionally, the Navy's strengths in mission areas like electronic warfare will continue to be applied across the spectrum of joint operations.
Fire Support. The CCJO highlights the importance of combining Service capabilities "such that each enhances the effectiveness and compensates for the vulnerability of others." Our ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate the reach and lethality of the U.S. Navy to reinforce joint force objectives. Fire support from offshore bases is an essential element of joint campaigns.
No Redesign Necessary
There is nothing on this list that requires the Navy to be redesigned. If anything, the CCJO validates the approach of building multimission ships that can remain deployed around the world and respond to tasking on little or no notice. It is our notion of what constitutes the most important aspects of naval power that may require recalibration. For example, applying this CCJO perspective on a selection board precept could substantially increase the promotion rate of amphibious and SSGN drivers relative to their counterparts. This same emphasis placed on readiness priorities would make a future grounding of the P-8 Poseidon force by a maintenance "red-stripe" almost unimaginable. Similarly, can we picture a world where the Navy and Marine Corps are so completely integrated that liaison officers become obsolete and we never have arguments over command and control?
Instead of pinning our hopes on the next revision of the CCJO to validate what we want the Navy to do, it's time to focus on what the Navy needs to do in the increasingly joint and uncertain world. While many of these supporting missions may not make it to the "big screen," with actors like Henry Fonda and Charlton Heston playing the leading roles, one thing is certain-the joint force can't win without the Navy performing them.