In these times of fiscal uncertainty and global instability, our armed forces, and in particular the Sea Services, often find themselves searching for new solutions to old problems. It’s a familiar dilemma: Do you pursue novel ways of approaching ongoing challenges or stick with what worked before? Bold and brash original thinking vs. tried-and-true methods; youthful experimentation vs. time-tested wisdom—these dueling viewpoints are found in many of our features this month.
The aircraft carrier has been the centerpiece of the U.S. Navy for decades and has amassed nearly a century of venerable service to the Fleet and our nation. But when defense budgets meet the chopping block, big-ticket items such as carriers inevitably come up for discussion. Director of Air Warfare Rear Admiral Michael Manazir leads off this issue by reminding us that carriers’ costs are more than outweighed by their many benefits—longer service life, greater firepower than any other combat system, and, of course, dominant forward presence. At the dawn of the unmanned era, the carrier is once again at the vanguard. As Admiral Manazir deftly summarizes, “The aircraft carrier provides us with an unequaled hard, soft, and smart power advantage in a single, responsive, flexible, and mobile package, unfettered by geopolitical constraints.”
Meanwhile, unmanned appears to be the wave of the future, and increasingly the wave of the present. Lieutenant Matthew Hipple, a past Proceedings General Prize winner and prolific writer, presents here an altogether different proposal on how to use unmanned aerial vehicles. While drones have received more attention for their potential pilotless offensive capabilities, Lieutenant Hipple thinks they could also serve in a defensive and disruptive role. He proposes that they be deployed as countermeasures against missile attacks, a move that could “tip naval warfare back to the defense advantage.” In turn, drones would then “take on the autonomous offensive capabilities of manned platforms” to defeat that advantage.
For all the advances made by unmanned systems, they do have their shortcomings. One is the lack of common standards and protocols for wireless communication underwater, which limits how effectively unmanned underwater and aerial systems can convey information. Retired Navy Captain Edward Lundquist spoke with representatives from the National University of Singapore’s Tropical Marine Science Institute, the NATO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation, the Unmanned Aircraft Project Office, DOD, and Dreamhammer to discuss the strides that have been made in achieving interoperability among those systems. “Creating or updating standards is hard work, involving meetings of international stakeholders and experts, and dividing the work into committees and subcommittees,” he emphasizes. “But out of the process will arise the best solution as agreed upon by a majority.”
Although we are watching unmanned systems develop at a rapid pace, another old and reliable pillar of U.S. defense, the Aegis weapon system, has also never stopped evolving during its more than 40-year history. Two men close to the Aegis story, retired Rear Admiral Alan B. Hicks and retired Captain Albert J. Grecco, provide an inside look at “the Shield of the Fleet,” from its 1960s origins to the disaster-averting success of 2008’s Operation Burnt Frost to the fields of Europe today, where Aegis is assuming yet another new, key role. “The Aegis weapon system has continued to reinvent itself as the nation’s priorities and military strategy have evolved,” the authors say.
New threats in the form of increased anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities possessed by potential adversaries such as Iran and China have allowed skeptics of amphibious operations to once again cast doubt on their efficacy and, by extension, the Marine Corps’ role in them. But this is old hat for the Corps. They have faced many threats to their existence. And from the Pacific campaigns in World War II to the landing at Inchon, Korea, to the inland operations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the service proved the naysayers wrong, each time adapting to the new combat environment. Now they must do so again. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jason Cooper and Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Mike Jernigan believe that to counter the asymmetric capabilities of the A2/AD environment, we must rethink the range of amphibious operations and move beyond the idea that they are exclusively a Navy–Marine Corps fight.
Perhaps our allies from Down Under can help with this process. In recent years, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has identified improving the joint amphibious capabilities of the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Navy as a priority. Marine Corps Major Chris Niedziocha believes that studying the ADF’s analysis of what to acquire will help the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps reexamine their own priorities as the war in Afghanistan winds down. “There is no guarantee our current amphibious force structure will endure,” he cautions. “Analyzing the Australian capability—while developing and once it’s mature—will give us valuable insights on how to do more with less, a skill we once mastered.”