In his Guidance for 2011, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead could not have been more clear: “We are developing and refining operational concepts for key capabilities and domains, including the undersea environment, the littorals, and irregular challenges.”1 Given the full range of missions, operations, and program choices the U.S. Navy confronted during the past year, it is only a bit of an exaggeration to characterize the “new normal” for the service as “the irregular is now regular.”
From sea-based missile defense to counterpiracy operations, and from partnership training to widespread support for U.S. land forces in Afghanistan, once non-traditional missions and tasks are increasingly at the core of the Navy’s 21st-century operational culture and portfolio. “In addition to peer competitors with conventional and nuclear forces,” the Naval Operational Concept explains, “the rise of non-state actors and the expansion of irregular challenges have dramatically increased the complexity of the security environment.”2
America’s naval forces were again steaming into harm’s way as this article was being written in mid-March 2011. U.S. Navy ships and submarines struck Libyan air defenses and command-and-control nodes, and U.S. aircraft conducted combat air missions to enforce a U.N. no-fly-zone declaration. Simultaneously, ships of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), surged to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to Japan following the early-March earthquake and tsunami there.
And the Navy continued to meet expanding operational demands with a total force that rivals the 1916 Fleet. Operational tempos remained “red-lined” throughout 2010 and into 2011, averaging about 40 percent of the roughly 285-ship force under way at any given time. As Admiral Roughead told the House Armed Services Committee in early March 2011, requirements from combatant commanders for Navy forces have increased 15 percent since 2000, while the Navy has 10 percent fewer ships to meet these demands.3 More than 14,000 active-duty and reserve Sailors were on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, where naval personnel take on critical, if usually non-traditional, roles and tasks. For example, seven of the U.S. military’s 12 Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan are led by Navy officers, while naval aviation continues to provide more than 30 percent of all close-air-support missions for Coalition combat forces on the ground.
This expanding domain for naval force operations and increasing combatant command demands for more maritime assets were all-but codified in a phalanx of Pentagon and Navy strategies released last year. The Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review 2010, the U.S. Navy’s Vision for Confronting Irregular Challenges, and the Naval Operational Concept 2010 underscored the service’s expanding role in securing the global maritime commons from a virtual Petri dish of irregular challenges: piracy, radical extremism, terrorism, instability, humanitarian assistance/disaster response, crime, and weapons proliferation. Add to that list the implications arising from global climate change and its impact on population migration, pressures on fish food-stock levels, and Arctic ice-cap melting, and one can readily see how irregular challenges, while still expanding, are becoming the new normal for the U.S. Navy.
The growing number of those challenges requires forces that maintain a habitual, persistent presence, are engaged with like-minded Coalition partners, and work to improve the indigenous capacity of local forces to ensure good governance. The Navy was engaged heavily in those areas during the past year.
For example, the Africa Partnership Station initiative has expanded to both African coasts and a new series of Malabar naval exercises with India were launched. In December 2010 alone, the Navy conducted more than 90 separate security-force-assistance missions. That activity serves as a snapshot of how the Navy has focused on proactive and long-term engagement in vital regions of the world, even as resources are increasingly constrained.
Humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) operations in both Haiti and Pakistan demonstrated the agility and inherent flexibility of naval platforms to adapt to new missions—many of which were unforeseen when these ships were built decades earlier.
The devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January 2010 killed more than 100,000 people and utterly destroyed the nation’s already fragile infrastructure and governance framework. A comprehensive U.S. “whole-of-government” response was crafted, and Navy ships, along with Coast Guard cutters and boats, were among the first credible assets to arrive on scene.
The Navy eventually surged more than a dozen ships of all types as part of the “no-notice tasking” of Operation Unified Response, including the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), amphibious ready groups (ARGs) on board the USS Nassau (LHA-4) and the USS Bataan (LHD-5), along with their embarked Marine expeditionary units, and the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20). Eventually, more than 15,000 Sailors and Marines participated in this archetypal “non-kinetic” operation.
The mission also demonstrated the flexibility inherent in the design of the Navy’s ships. The Carl Vinson was under way for her new homeport in San Diego when diverted to Haitian waters. The ship quickly stripped her flight deck of combat aircraft and loaded an additional 19 helicopters, trained specialists, and emergency supplies. The carrier served as a floating city to coordinate early relief operations, evacuate critically injured civilians, and serve as a control node for larger relief efforts.
U.S. Navy and Marine forces also spearheaded humanitarian relief efforts to aid flood-stricken Pakistan in July through October. Following a horrific period of weather, an area the size of the U.S. Eastern Seaboard was inundated, with more than 21 million Pakistanis affected by the floods. U.S. efforts included deploying the USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) ARG a month earlier than planned and boosting the number of heavy-lift helicopters in the region that arrived on board the USS Peleliu (LHA-5) ARG. Led by Expeditionary Strike Group 5, the mission rescued over 21,000 people and provided more than 18 million pounds of food and other supplies.
Countering an Ancient Scourge
The Navy’s commitment of ships, personnel, and attention to piracy in the Gulf of Aden continued to expand as the year progressed—as did the range and sophistication of the pirates’ operations. Through the efforts of Combined Task Forces-150, -151, -152, the European Union force, and other independent naval operators, including the People’s Republic of China and Russia, piracy has been severely degraded in the region, according to Vice Admiral Mark Fox, commander of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, in a meeting with reporters.4 Still, pirates seized a record 1,181 hostages in 2010, most held well into 2011 as negotiations dragged on. The number of hostages being held by pirates more than doubled to 770 in January 2011 compared with 350 in September of last year.
But the pirates changed tactics and seized larger vessels to serve as mother ships to facilitate more long-distance attacks farther at sea. “They’re adaptive, they’re flexible, they’re thinking,” Vice Admiral Fox explained. “We’re facing a thinking opponent here. They know our red lines, they know our modes of operations, and we adapt in turn. But the mother ship, in my view, is potentially a game-changer.” The so-called “Pirate Action Groups” moved to new areas where the U.S. Navy and its maritime partners did not have persistent surveillance or effective maritime domain awareness and information sharing. Concerns are also growing about a merger between piracy groups and other extremist elements in the region, especially al-Shabab in Somalia.
Navy forces achieved some notable counterpiracy successes, however, with Marines from the USS Dubuque (LPD-8) storming the seized MV Magellan Star and capturing the surprised pirate crew. CTF-152, which is a multinational command, also made significant strides and has been led in succession by several officers in command from Gulf Cooperation Council members. According to Vice Admiral Fox, “this is real, no-kidding capability of regional partners developing their own capacity to take care of their own water space, communicate, and to effectively deal with a threat that they all want to be able to manage.”
Piracy’s lethal component was in tragic evidence when four Americans on board the yacht MV Quest were killed on 22 February 2011 by pirates during discussions with on-scene Navy forces. Navy SEALS on board the destroyer USS Bulkeley (DDG-84) were in contact with the pirates when a feud erupted on the Quest and the American hostages were killed before the SEALS could move in and quarantine the boat. In the end, the SEALS killed two pirates, and 15 were captured to stand trial.
With the Navy averaging 40 percent or more of the Fleet under way in recent years, this pace of operations has taken a toll on ships and personnel. During the past year, service leaders moved aggressively to redress long-simmering readiness challenges—felt most significantly across the surface and amphibious fleets.
Several ships had failed their inspection and survey qualifications, and it appeared these negative trends were growing. Cruisers and destroyers equipped with the Aegis radar system were experiencing an increase in spare-parts shortages for critical items. Likewise, readiness and performance issues continued to plague the amphibious-assault ship USS San Antonio (LPD-17) and other LPDs. Concerns mounted that surface forces might not be able to meet near-term combatant-commander requirements or remain in the Fleet to the ends of expected service lives.
These developments led Admiral John Harvey, Commander, Fleet Forces Command, to charter a Fleet Review Panel led by retired Vice Admiral Phillip Balisle. In painstaking detail, the panel’s 80-page report revealed the true state of surface-force readiness, and the results were grim. The panel concluded that readiness had indeed been falling, but that the collapse had been caused by a multitude of different variables and policies instituted, changed, or amended over the intervening two decades. As Admiral Harvey frankly told Congress in 2010, the ultimate cause was “failure to hold the line on time-tested, combat-proven standards for how we operate, maintain, inspect, and certify our forces.”5
Since then, the Navy has embarked on a comprehensive, broad-based strategy both to correct short-term readiness and put in place a new foundation to help ensure that all surface ships achieve their expected service lives. The future size of the Navy is at stake in these calculations. In the Fiscal Year 2010 and 2011 budgets, significant new investments were earmarked for surface force readiness to help redress near-term challenges––some in jeopardy as the administration and the Congress dueled over FY 11 Continuing Resolutions. CNO Admiral Roughead directed that some 6,500 billets be returned to ships, to boost shipboard readiness, and to ashore maintenance facilities, whose ranks had been trimmed so severely in previous service restructurings.
Congress’ inability to pass a budget for FY 11, however, could erase many of the gains the Navy has achieved over the past year. (As this article went to press, the FY 11 budget remained in impasse, this after a government shutdown had been averted at the 11th hour.) Navy officials already have been forced to delay scheduled maintenance availabilities for a variety of ships in Mayport, Norfolk, and San Diego. As Admiral Roughead told Congress in March, the lack of a budget this year “will jeopardize the efforts we made in recent years to restore Fleet readiness.”6
Most significant for the long-term health of the surface Fleet, the Navy last year created a new organization to carefully document, manage, and sustain the Fleet into the future. Called the Surface Maintenance Engineering Planning Program (SURFMEPP), the new entity “will lead the way for the Navy to transform how we address surface-ship maintenance requirements,” said Vice Admiral Kevin McCoy, Commander, Naval Sea Systems Command.7 Located with the Fleet in Norfolk, SURFMEPP is developing a series of detailed programming and technical and budgeting documentation for the 11 classes of surface ships and craft. SURFMEPP looks to become the surface force’s premier node—based on the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and submarine programs––for maintaining the deep technical knowledge and understanding of overall surface-ship maintenance and modernization.
Fleet Forces Command and U.S. Pacific Fleet also established during the past 14 months a series of task forces to get at the heart of the readiness issues. Through early spring 2011, four specific groups have been established in the areas of Aegis/SPY radar; mine countermeasures ships; LPD-17 class wholeness; and Aegis ballistic-missile defense. Navy leaders have been unanimous in their praise for these efforts, which have served to jumpstart corrective actions and ensure that all organizations affected are focused on resolving issues rather than guarding bureaucratic turf.
These task forces develop expertise in different commands and organizations to work together and focus on specific problems for a short, intense period. The task forces assess the issues and provide a set of practical recommendations over a 6- to 12-month timeframe. They have proved particularly adept at breaking down institutional barriers because their cross-functional nature encourages knowledge sharing and insight into issues—regardless of where the information originates. While established by Fleet commanders, the task forces’ daily operations are led by the Naval Sea Systems Command’s SEA 21 organization.
Energizing the Green Fleet
The Navy continued to press ahead with an ambitious series of energy-efficiency and policy goals and initiatives, and those efforts seemed to be taking firm root over the past year. The service issued its Navy Energy Vision for 21st-Century Operations in October, which brought together the “ends, ways, and means” for the service on how to increase its overall energy security. Signed by Admiral Roughead, the “vision” provides a compelling narrative of the service’s determination to develop new operational and tactical advantages by reducing how the entire organization uses and consumes energy, especially oil. The Navy burns on average 80,000 barrels of oil per day in routine operations. Strategic goals are to reduce this rate by at least 50 percent by 2020.
On 19 August 2010, the Naval Sea Systems Command’s “Team Ships” issued a “Sailing Direction on Energy Security.” SEA 21’s Rear Admiral James McManamon and then-Program Executive Officer Ships Rear Admiral William E. Landay III explicitly stated that they regard energy as having “a direct impact on warfighting effectiveness.”8 They added, “[E]nergy security has become a strategic as well as an operational imperative for the U.S. Navy.” The two went on to write, “Operating in today’s fiscally constrained environment magnifies the impact of the Navy’s dependence on foreign and non-renewable sources of energy.” Implicitly, the Energy Security Sailing Direction magnified and underscored the role of Navy energy efficiencies as a means of reaching national energy security.
On the operational side, Navy commands tested a new algae-based biofuel in a specialized riverine craft, RCBX, in October off Hampton, Virginia. Dubbed the “mean green riverine machine” by Rear Admiral Phillip Cullom, director of Task Force Energy, the craft’s performance using the alternative fuel blend was indistinguishable from operations using standard diesel fuel.
This is significant since it demonstrates that more and more naval ships can use alternative fuels and suffer no reduction in operational efficiency or effectiveness. More testing is required, however, to fully ensure that alternative fuels can be used interchangeably with standard fuels on board all types of naval ships. Later in November, the Navy conducted a different test of its algae-based fuels in an MH-60 helicopter at Patuxent River, Maryland. That same fuel blend, developed from the camelina seed, was used in successful tests with an F/A-18 “Green Hornet” aircraft.
The Navy expects to advance the fuel-testing program across other aircraft types this year, with a goal of introducing a 50/50 blend into operations beginning in 2012. Price of the alternative fuels is still an issue, however, with the Navy paying on average about $424 a gallon for the alternative mixture. Service officials understand the current costs, but expect prices to fall markedly once industry matures to match future Navy needs. By demonstrating a long-term demand—hence the set requirement for a 50/50 blend—Navy officials are signaling this as a viable market for industry investment. By engineering the fuel and not having to tinker with engine changes, this approach should also reduce long-term costs, service officials said. “We are just getting started,” according to Admiral Roughead.9
The Navy is embarked on an ambitious schedule to test a host of new energy-saving technologies in the Fleet. The service will deploy a Green Strike Group in 2012 that will test a number of new systems before an entire “green” battle group deploys in 2016. Some specific technologies being assessed during the past year for inclusion in the initial 2012 deployment include:
• Hybrid Electric Drive
• Alternate Fuels
• Solid State Lighting
• Foul Release Coatings
• Online Gas Turbine (GT) Water Wash
• GT Generator Efficiency Improvements
• Combustion Trim Loop
• Smart Voyage Planning Decision Aid
• Stern Flaps
• Variable-Speed Motor Drives
Another ‘Notch’ for Aegis BMD
Successes kept coming and coming. On 29 October 2010, JS Kirishima, Japan’s fourth destroyer equipped with the Aegis ballistic-missile-defense (BMD) system, successfully intercepted and destroyed a medium-range ballistic missile target above the atmosphere. Two U.S. Navy Aegis BMD ships, the USS Lake Erie (CG-70) and Russell (DDG-59), also participated in the test. The Russell tracked the target and performed a simulated engagement. The Lake Erie, equipped with the second-generation Aegis BMD Weapon System 4.0.1, tracked the missile target and post-intercept debris.
In the Japanese Stellar Taka Flight Test Mission (FTM)-4, the Aegis BMD-equipped Kirishima detected and tracked the target, developed the fire-control solution, and launched and guided a Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block IA missile to intercept approximately 100 miles above the Pacific. It was a clear demonstration of the Navy’s “Aegis Global Enterprise” that extends the Global Maritime Partnership into the strategic domain.
In March 2011, the Navy deployed the USS Monterey (CG-61), the first tangible development stemming from President Barack Obama’s 2009 decision to make a major shift in ballistic-missile-defense policy and defer the planned fixed-site ground-based system in Europe in favor of “Aegis Ashore” as well as afloat.
As this review was in progress, the Missile Defense Agency was preparing for a spring 2011 test that would push the Aegis BMD envelope: the first “launch-on-remote” test against a “separating target,” i.e., a warhead separating from its booster missile that will use remote sensor data provided by forward/land-based AN/TPY-2 radar. FTM-15 features a “straight-stick” ABMD 3.6.1 system installed on board the guided-missile destroyer USS O’Kane (DDG-77) and pits for the first time an in-service SM-3 Block 1A missile against a modified intermediate-range Trident I/C-4 ballistic-missile target, called the “LV-2.” Although this is the first ABMD/SM-3 attempt to intercept this type of target, the LV-2 has flown in previous BMD live-fire tests and has never been hit. If FTM-15 is a success, that will expand the Aegis envelope far beyond what was originally planned––not bad for a system that has accounted for only about 10 percent of the total missile-defense budget since the program began.
It will also be yet another “notch in the gun” of Aegis weapon-system accomplishments going back to 1983, when Aegis first put to sea in the cruiser USS Ticonderoga (CG-47). Aegis BMD’s 84 percent success rate—21 successful intercepts out of 25 attempts since January 2002—includes several tests of multiple “shooters” against multiple targets of increasing complexity and difficulty. In comparison, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system went 0-for-6 during the 1990s before two successes, then had a five-year hiatus. After a redesign, the system has had an 8-for-8 record. And the last two tests of the Ground-based Mid-course Defense (GMD) system, in January and December 2010, were failures. The GMD system has had 8 successful intercepts in 15 attempts, leading some commentators to suggest that the Navy’s Aegis BMD system should be first among near-equals in the nation’s BMD system.
By early 2011, 21 Navy cruisers and destroyers had been modified to conduct BMD missions. The Navy intends to have Aegis BMD in all 22 cruisers and 65 destroyers.
The Dark Side
Commander, Fleet Forces Command Admiral Harvey wrote in a statement released on 3 March 2011: “Poor judgment and behavior that undermines . . . credibility threatens good order and discipline and, over time, jeopardizes the crew’s faith in its leadership.” He added: “That means we cannot simply ignore actions such as the production of these videos that clearly call into question a Navy leader’s judgment, character, and fitness to command.”
This was in response to some 25 videos containing “inappropriate scenes” that were produced and shown during “XO Movie Nights” on board the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) from 2005–07. The videos prominently depicted the carrier’s executive officer, as well as other officers and senior enlisted Sailors, acting crudely or in sexually suggestive ways. The Navy’s investigation concluded that the production and broadcast of the videos represented a significant departure from expected standards of personal behavior and professional leadership in the Navy.
“Navy leaders are not popular entertainers, but professionals vested with extraordinary military authority who must be held to a higher standard and maintain their credibility in the eyes of their subordinates under the most difficult, even possibly life-threatening, circumstances,” Admiral Harvey’s statement continued. In that regard, he recommended that the Secretary of the Navy issue secretarial letters of censure to four officers:
• Captain Owen Honors, executive officer of the Enterprise from July 2005 to September 2007
• Captain John Dixon, executive officer of the Enterprise from September 2007 to June 2009
• Rear Admiral Lawrence Rice, commanding officer of the Enterprise from January 2005 to May 2007
• Rear Admiral Ron Horton, commanding officer of the Enterprise from May 2007 to May 2010
On 1 March, just two days before Admiral Harvey’s statement was released, the Navy announced that it was relieving the commanding officer and the command master chief of the Norfolk-based USS Stout (DDG-55), one of the Navy destroyers deployed to the Mediterranean and ready to respond to developments in Libya. Commander Nathan Borchers and Master Chief Susan Bruce-Ross were relieved because of what the Navy termed a “loss of confidence” in their ability to lead. Another officer, five chiefs, and one petty officer were also removed, sharing charges of misconduct, fraternization, alcohol abuse, orders violations, and disregard for naval standards of conduct and behavior.
Both announcements were hard on the heels of two articles in the January 2011 U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings—written by retired Navy Captain Kevin Eyer in “How Are the Mighty Fallen” and Norman Polmar in “A Crisis in Leadership”—that analyzed data that showed 17 commanding officers had been relieved during 2010, the highest number since 2003, when 26 were fired. During the previous decade, commanding officers of ships, squadrons, and shore facilities had been relieved on average about one per month.
Polmar noted the causes included “inappropriate conduct,” solicitation of prostitution, fraternization, loss of confidence in the ability to command, sexual harassment, and collisions. Eyer suggested that the Navy was simply selecting the wrong people for command at sea. “[W]e are now more frequently getting COs who have, on average, far less time at sea,” he explained. “More time in Washington, much less time with ships and Sailors. Which begs the question of why those clearly unsuited to command are thrust into it.”
“Fortunately,” Admiral Harvey explained, “our Navy is a learning organization, and the significant lessons learned (and relearned) from this investigation are already being studied, discussed, and incorporated into appropriate leadership training curricula.”
. . . To the Shores of Tripoli
Beginning in late March 2011, U.S. Navy forces were engaged in the Mediterranean Sea supporting a U.N. no-fly zone over Libya. On the other side of the globe, Navy and Marine Corps units assisted the government of Japan in its Herculean task to provide assistance and help recovery following the devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the killer tsunami, and the unfolding nuclear-reactor disaster there. Those two missions highlight again the inherent flexibility and adaptability of U.S. naval forces to respond nimbly to unanticipated world events.
Notwithstanding the desire to “internationalize” Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya, U.S. naval platforms comprised the bulk of the force in the Mediterranean, including three nuclear-powered submarines, several Aegis-equipped destroyers, the USS Kearsarge amphibious ready group, and the command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20). U.S. ships and submarines launched more than 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles, complementing strikes by Royal Navy and French aircraft that shattered Libya’s Cold War–era air-defense system and also destroyed stockpiles of Libyan weapons that might have had an access-denial impact.
Tomahawks launched from the destroyers USS Barry (DDG-52) and Stout (DDG-55) along with the submarines USS Florida (SSGN-728), Providence (SSN-719), and Scranton (SSN-756), with the submarines accounting for more than half of all Tomahawks that hit their targets. The initial phase of the operation was commanded by Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of U.S. Naval Forces, Europe, embarked on the Mount Whitney. Specialized Navy EF-18G “Growler” electronic-warfare aircraft suppressed Libyan radar, and Harrier AV-8B jump-jets from the Kearsarge destroyed Libyan armored columns caught in the open desert.
U.S. Navy efforts to assist the government of Japan were centered on the Ronald Reagan battle group, which provided near-constant air and resupply missions since the disasters occurred. By early April, more than two dozen Navy ships and about 17,000 Sailors and Marines were providing humanitarian assistance and disaster response. Heavy-lift MH-53 helicopters were moving pallets of water and food ashore to stricken population centers. Other helicopters provided medical evacuation missions for the sick and injured, while still other U.S. ships were providing transport and supply for Japanese Self Defense Forces attempting to reach the devastated northeastern Japanese provinces.
With the “irregular” now “regular” in terms of the types of operations most likely to be undertaken by Navy forces, the simultaneous missions in the Mediterranean and Japan capture the ends of the Navy’s operational reach. Perhaps operations and developments during the past year also will help wipe away some of the “sea blindness” Admiral Roughead has long lamented as a hindrance to a more firm understanding of the role of naval forces in today’s complex world. It also underscores once again the time-tested value of having naval forces forward-deployed and engaged across many regions of the planet. As the CNO said, “We don’t surge, and we don’t ride to the sound of the guns. We’re there, and when the guns go off, we’re ready to conduct combat operations, or, as you see in Japan, ready to conduct some pretty extensive humanitarian operations.”10
2. Naval Operations Concept 2010, p. 14.
3. CNO ADM Gary Roughead Posture Statement to House Armed Services Committee, 1 March 2011.
4. Transcript of VADM Mark Fox, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, with Defense Writers Group, 27 January 2011.
5. Statement of ADM John Harvey, Commander, Fleet Forces Command, to House Armed Services Committee, 28 July 2010, p. 3.
6. CNO Posture Statement to HASC.
7. “Navy Established New Surface Ship Maintenance Activity,” NAVSEA Public Affairs, 11 November 2010.
8. RADM James McManamon and RADM William E. Landay III, “Team Ships Sailing Direction #3 – Energy Security,” 19 August 2010.
9. CNO ADM Gary Roughead remarks to Navy Energy Forum, 12 October 2010.
10. Jim Garamone, “Roughead: Ships Were Ready for Odyssey Dawn,” American Forces Press Service, 23 March 2011.
Mr. Holzer is principal analyst in Gryphon’s National Security Programs group.