Wanted: An Agile, Low-Cost, Irregular-Warfare Surface Combatant
By Lieutenant John Goff, U.S. Navyh Burke–class guided-missile destroyer, for example, is a valuable asset prepared for an open-ocean fight against a large conventional force, such as the former Soviet Navy. However, in recent years, there has been a shift in emphasis toward the Asia-Pacific region.2 The fight is no longer in the open; it is in littoral, shallow sea, anti-area access denial (A2/AD) environments where the Navy’s main power-projection capability, the aircraft carrier, can be threatened and the means to conduct antisurface warfare through aircraft rendered impotent. Because of this, the Navy must develop a small, agile, and well-armed combatant that uses irregular-warfare tactics to project U.S. interests throughout the world.
Facing the Threat
Currently many of what most consider to be adversarial or rival countries use small, fast, irregular flotillas of boats—China, Iran, and North Korea, to name a few. These nations also employ coastal defense methods such as cruise or ballistic missiles, mines, and fixed or mobile artillery. The United States has developed smaller ships: the littoral combat ship, Pegasus-class hydrofoil, and the Cyclone-class patrol coastal ship. These capable vessels are on the fringes of the U.S. Navy’s mind while adversaries prepare to integrate (or have already) small irregular warfare–type boats and ships.
The 2005 National Defense Strategy provided guidance on improving U.S. defenses against irregular warfare, but not on how to fight with it. Three main aspects frame the future hybrid force: cost/benefit pertains to the money and crewing of the missile boat compared to a destroyer or cruiser; the need for an antiship-cruise missile (ASCM) delivery platform; and the tactics and mindset needed to operate in an A2/AD environment.
With the current state of the U.S. economy challenging military forces to do more with less, the United States should look to a hybrid force including a mix of guided-missile destroyer (DDG) and nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (CVN) assets in open ocean, and non-A2/AD environments with missile boats operating closer to shore and in littoral waters. A cost estimate of a domestically built missile boat (built in the United States for Egypt) was approximately $200 million dollars per ship with a 40-man crew.3 Compare this to the average cost and crew size of the Zumwalt-class DDG that, on the low side, will cost $2 billion per ship and have a crew of at least 140. By these numbers, the Navy could afford ten missile boats and provide four crews for the cost of one Zumwalt-class DDG.4
At present, U.S. surface warships do not carry a realistic ASCM capability, and the Harpoon is an aged system with poor capabilities. While the Arleigh Burke Flight I and Flight II carry the Harpoon ASCM, the newer Arleigh Burke Flight IIA and Flight III do not carry any at all. Although some missiles in the U.S. inventory are capable of dual tactical modes (anti-air/antiship), the warheads they carry are only a threat to smaller ships.
The future ASCM envisioned for the missile boat could carry a small, large-quantity missile such as the Griffin fired from a multi-missile launcher.5 This could allow for 20 to 30 missiles per missile boat, providing a short-range and lethal weapon against smaller combatants. Combating more conventional adversaries requires a more powerful missile. The Long-Range Antiship Missile would provide a more significant punch for the missile boat; however, it would greatly reduce capacity to six or eight missiles.6 Additionally, this missile would need to have a line-of-sight engagement capability; the missile boat crew would need to be able to provide the missile with a line of bearing and an estimated range to launch independently of shipboard radar. It would need to acquire, track, and hit the target using its own sensors and processors, allowing the ability to surprise adversaries through a stealthy, undetected approach with a close-range engagement and counter-detection through radar. This short-range warfare would be especially important in an electromagnetic-spectrum denial environment.
A2/AD consists of sensors, platforms, and weapon systems operating in conjunction to deny an area to adversaries. China and Iran both have robust ASCM capabilities located on or near the coasts. China has developed the DF-21 and is testing a hypersonic long-range ballistic missile. China designed these weapon systems to track, target, and destroy aircraft carriers and presumably other large combatants.7 These systems can do so because of the large radar cross-section of these ships. It is still unknown if the DF-21 missiles would be capable of targeting a DDG- or guided-missile cruiser-sized combatant, but these ships are susceptible to targeting and engagement by ship-launched ASCMs.
Because of its size, a modern missile boat (300 to 600 tons) would be capable of operating in the region with relative immunity from the long-range A2/AD threat. Additionally, these boats could operate in the shallow waters around the various adversary countries with limited detectability. These boats could carry four to eight medium-range ASCMs to engage surface threats, carry depth charges or torpedoes for ASW missions, or a mixture of both. Without a shift in tactics and doctrine, weapons alone will not make the missile boat effective. New missile boats would be used in a similar fashion to the way motor torpedo boats (MTBs) operated in World War II as an irregular force.
In World War II, MTBs used the cover of night to engage Japanese warships en masse, hitting hard with their torpedoes and then running to the cover of islands and atolls. The prevailing thought was that motor torpedo boat squadrons based at “strategic points for the defense of important passages, straits and restricted areas” will be just as effective as striking forces to “deliver surprise attacks upon enemy surface units approaching or attempting to pass through areas within the radius of operations, and to deny such areas to the enemy.”8 It would not be difficult to adapt 1942’s way of using torpedo boats to a more current missile-boat tactic, with missiles providing a greater attack range than torpedoes did in World War II.
A key advantage of the missile boat is its size, and in that regard, its minimal radar cross section. The ability of a group of 8 to 10 missile boats to loiter and stalk in the shallow water near the shore will be their most redeeming attribute. After receiving the order to attack, the missile boats would move slowly toward their targets using the sea clutter and the presence of coastal traffic to hide their movements. The need for a line-of-sight engagement will often be necessary. The missile boats would engage from 20,000 to 40,000 yards. With a projectile (such as the Long-Range Antiship Missile) traveling at Mach 1, the time between launch and strike would be less than 3 minutes at 40,000 yards. Even if detected at launch, this would severely limit the self-defense response of any targeted ship.
Another major step would be empowering boat or boat-group commanders to operate independently from a higher command. In the era of communication inundation, naval leadership must continuously deny itself the tendency to drive the ships for the commanding officers, and instead issue parameters and lateral limits as opposed to specific commands. These boats would operate in an emission-controlled environment to improve the likelihood of remaining undetected. Again, this would require trust and dependency on sound decision-making by ship captains and squadron commanders.
The missile boats, operating in groups, would use network-optional warfare to communicate between one another to coordinate attacks. The reduction in the “conventional” communication capability would mean a reduction in communication equipment. This in turn would reduce the size and profile of the missile boat as well as the crew size. Some examples would be as simple as semaphore (flags, hand signals, lights), low-power voice communication, bullhorns, etc. Future ship-to-ship communication possibilities could include advanced techniques such as QR codes and laser communications. Ships would receive all Fleet Commander Guidance via a passive communications path and only burst communications would be transmitted from the missile boat. What must be fully realized is a required paradigm shift away from how ships and shipboard operations are currently conducted in order to ensure successful missile boat employment in the future.
The future of the U.S. Navy (and the military in general) may lie in large measure in its ability to fight—and win—small asymmetrical sea battles in the littorals. These conflicts may be against large state adversaries such as Iran, China, or North Korea. However, other antagonists could include non-state actors with groups such as al Qaeda, pirates, Hamas, or Hezbollah. The U.S. Navy has been accused of preparing to fight the last war by creating and maintaining a large conventional blue-water force, which was initially constructed to defeat the Soviet threat. To have success in the future, the military must enter the hybrid realm.
2. Secretary of Defense, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for the 21st Century Defense,” www.defense.gov/news/Defense_Strategic_Guidance.pdf.
3. AMI International, “Egypt’s Ambassador III Class Fast Attack Craft,” www.amiinter.com/samples/egypt/EG1401.html.
4. Christopher Drew, The New York Times, “General Dynamics to Build New Destroyer,”17 April 2009,
5. Raytheon, “Griffin Missile System,” www.raytheon.com/capabilities/products/griffin.
6. DARPA, “Long Range Anti-Ship Missile,” www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/TTO/Programs/Long_Range_Anti-Ship_Missile_%28LRASM%29.aspx.
7. John Reed, “China’s Carrier Killer Ballistic Missiles are Operational,” Defense Tech, 28 December 2010, http://defensetech.org/2010/12/28/chinas-carrier-killer-ballistic-missiles-are-operational.
8. Headquarters of the Commander in Chief, United States Fleet, “Fleet Motor Torpedo Boats Tactical Orders and Doctrine,” July 1942, www.hnsa.org/doc/pt/doctrine/index.htm.
Wargaming C2 at Sea
By Jon Scott Logel
The command and control (C2) of ships at war has been a challenging but necessary function ever since the first navies went to sea. Whether it was the age of sail; the era of steam, radio, and radar; or the emergence of the cyber and space domains today, maritime commanders have sought to master “the exercise of authority and direction . . . over assigned and attached forces in the accomplishment of the mission.”1 While there has always been a desire to centralize information to have complete awareness and control over one’s forces, the reality of maritime operations is that commanders still must rely on decentralized execution of their orders.
Communicating a commander’s intent clearly has always been implicit to effective sailing directions. To quote the most recent joint publication on maritime operations, maritime C2 requires “subordinate commanders to execute operations independently, but in accordance with a thorough understanding of the commander’s intent, and command by negation or mission command.”2 Generally, commander’s intent can be understood as “the description of a desired end state that a commander wants to see after the given mission is accomplished.”3 Joint Publication 3-32, Command and Control for Joint Maritime Operations also notes that “[essential] to mission command is the thorough understanding of the commander’s intent at every level of command.” Thus, commander’s intent is as significant to successful “mission command” in 2014 as it has ever been.
The key to good mission command is to have good commanders—leaders who are confident and competent in their ability to communicate intent that is purpose-focused, enduring, and relevant for subordinates to fulfill. Experience cultivates this skill, and certainly the United States has a cadre of experienced military leaders informed by the joint operations of the last decade in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, the United States has not been seriously contested in the maritime commons since the end of World War II. Thus, the same level of competence and confidence cannot be assumed for American naval leaders in the maritime domain.
How are today’s naval leaders to gain confidence and competence in their decisions and command at sea, especially when the sea becomes contested? How are they to master the art of centralized control and decentralized execution? Essentially, how will leaders become experienced in C2 during war at sea when there has not been one?
History and Wargaming
Coming to grips with the paradox of C2—the tension of centralized control and decentralized execution—is on the minds of many naval leaders today and consequently has been the impetus for recent research and wargaming efforts at the U.S. Naval War College. Studying the past and doing war games are effective ways to help leaders understand and explore the decisions they must make in today’s maritime environment. In Command at Sea, author Michael Palmer advocates for history, stating that “despite incredible advances in technology future commanders can learn myriad lessons about the nature of their art from the careers of leaders such as [Admiral Horatio Lord] Nelson.” He quotes the 1995 Naval Doctrine Publication 6, Naval Command and Control to argue that Admiral Nelson best illustrates the type of relationship necessary for effective C2, one that creates “understanding . . . based on doctrine, teamwork, and trust.”4 Similar to the study of history, wargaming provides scenarios, context, and situations to stimulate thinking about enduring problems. But unlike the historical cases, a war game creates a unique simulated environment for participants to arrive at their own understanding and insights.5
The war games of the interwar years famously provided valuable insights for the maritime leaders who led the Navy in World War II.6 From 1919 to 1941, the Newport War Games explored tactical engagements that the Rainbow War Plans (specifically War Plan Orange) imagined would occur between the U.S. Navy and Japan’s Imperial Navy.7 Primarily the issue studied was gaining command of the commons, or in today’s terms of reference, gaining and maintaining sea control by overcoming adversarial anti-access and area denial.8 C2 was not a primary concern in the interwar gaming, but those games, some 318 on record, did create a framework of understanding for the Navy’s officer corps. The games attempted to simulate the interactions of the American and Japanese fleets at the tactical level, using screens to mask each move until the umpires determined when each side would be detected and melee could ensue. Players directed the pucks via mimeographed “move sheets,” replicating near-perfect communication among each side.
At issue was how the two fleets would endure the fight from each engagement.9 How the fleets organized for the fight at sea was not specifically addressed in the interwar games. Players assumed Mahanian concentration of the fleet as the way to defeat the enemy at sea. Officers left Newport with a common understanding of how the U.S. Navy was to operate. From Newport, Navy leaders embedded an approach to solving the Japanese problem and infused Mahan’s theory into their “ethos” of war at sea.10 Arguably, this created a generation of naval officers who could act on commander’s intent, best exemplified perhaps by Admiral Chester Nimitz and Admiral William Halsey in the Pacific.11
Contemporary Wargaming C2
Fast forward to 2014, and the challenges of command at sea have yielded new interest from Navy leadership. Recent wargaming efforts have provided a laboratory for the Navy, the other services, and U.S. partners to explore and understand C2, specifically in a communications-degraded/denied environment (CD2E). To increase the Navy’s understanding of operating in these conditions, the War Gaming Department has conducted the Global War Game series, the U.S.-U.K. Concept of Operations War Game Series, and incorporated the emerging tenets of the Navy’s information dominance warfare into its games.
The Air-Sea Battle concept, designed to “reduce risk and maintain U.S. freedom of action” in a world of increasing challenges to operational access in multiple domains, was developed and released in 2011.12 As a new concept, it has driven many gaming efforts. In 2012, using the framework of cross-domain operations, the Global game asked players to consider how to gain and maintain operational access in the domains of space, air, surface, subsurface, and cyber in order to achieve effects with a Joint Task Force. Global 2012 identified that the “current service or functional Command and Control structures may be ineffective [in supporting] joint cross-domain operations in high-intensity A2/AD environments.”13 As a result, the 2013 Global War Game concentrated on Air-Sea Battle C2 in a communications-degraded/denied environment.14
Also in 2013, the U.K.-U.S. Concept of Operations War Game asked American and British players to work through C2 of a coalition force in an A2/AD environment. Again, the players had to think through their moves in terms of using cross-domain operations. Built into the games were predetermined assumptions about order of battle and communications capabilities so that they players could focus on decision-making instead of evaluating any specific program or capability. Thus, recent gaming has provided players with insights into the range of decisions that they could expect to make in an A2/AD environment while executing Air-Sea Battle operations.
Unlike the interwar years, where the games explored American maritime capabilities against specific Japanese capabilities, the games of the 21st century are focused on how best to organize the force for joint operations and conduct cross-domain operations. As in the 1930s, present-day technologies and capabilities seek to improve how our forces assure C2, assure battlespace awareness, and integrate fires. Today’s Navy war games are not tests or validation exercises for those new technologies and capabilities. However, they are effective at creating understanding for the “complexities associated with Air-Sea Battle.”15
More importantly, because today’s players are primarily military officers at the mid-grade to field-grade level, Newport’s C2-focused war games have become a creative venue for maritime leaders to share command insights and mutual understanding of how they will make decisions in war. Insights captured during post-game analysis continue to reinforce lessons and themes necessary for commanding and controlling cross-domain operations.
Leadership is Paramount
Then as now, Newport’s war games serve an important role in developing Navy leaders. Regardless of the game, players learn how to be more effective war fighters by making decisions in the game environment. The interwar games created a group of naval officers who could receive Nimitz’s orders (his intent) and then carry out those orders under their own “initiative,” with little to no further guidance.16 Recent C2-oriented games have reinforced the significance of sound commander’s intent. Players repeatedly have noted that regardless of the C2 structure and process, quality commander’s intent and guidance are necessary to operate successfully in a communications-degraded/denied fight. As future games look to inform the development of concept of operations for Air-Sea Battle and Cross Domain Operations, the War Game Department will continue to serve a vital role in molding the naval leaders for the fight to come. Player decisions made in McCarty-Little Hall today will remain a central source of experience necessary to win any future war where the commons are contested.
2. Department of Defense, Joint Publication 3-32: Command and Control for Joint Maritime Operations (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 7 August 2013), I-2.
3. Milan Vego, “Operational Commander’s Intent,” Joint Forces Quarterly, issue 57, 2nd Quarter (Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 2010), 138.
4. Michael A. Palmer, Command at Sea: Naval Command and Control since the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 17–18.
5. Shawn Burns, ed., War Gamers’ Handbook: A Guide for Professional War Gamers (Newport, RI: Defense Automated Printing Service, 2013), 4–5.
6. George W. Baer, One Hundred Years of Sea Power: The U.S. Navy, 1890–1990 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993), 126–128. Also see Michael Vlahos, The Blue Sword: The Naval War College and the American Mission, 1919–1941 (Newport, RI: The Naval War College Press, 1980).
7. Vlahos, 113–122.
8. Milan N. Vego, Joint Operational Warfare: Theory and Practice (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College, 2007), II-48-II-59. Department of Defense, Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) Version 1.0, 17 January 2012, 5.
9. Vlahos, 133–141.
10. Ibid., 160–161.
11. Palmer, 261.
12. Department of Defense, Air-Sea Battle Office, “Air-Sea Battle: Service Collaboration to Address Anti-Access &Area Denial Challenges,” pamphlet, May 2013, 2.
13. USNWC War Gaming Department and OPNAV 3/5, “Global 2012: Operationalizing Air-Sea Battle,” post-game pamphlet (Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 2013).
14. USNWC War Gaming Department, “Global 2013: Command and Control in an A2/AD Environment,” post-game pamphlet (Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 2013), 1.
15. USNWC War Gaming Department and OPNAV 3/5, “Global 2012: Operationalizing Air-Sea Battle,” post-game pamphlet (Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 2013).
16. Palmer, 262.
The Engineering Behind Counterinsurgency
Although air strikes in Iraq have dominating headlines recently, the war there has been over for a few years and the one in Afghanistan is ending. During the main thrust of these conflicts, support-echelon units composed of engineers found themselves serving side by side with combat troops. The Navy’s engineering duty officers (EDOs) formed one of these groups.
From 2005 to 2012, 338 active and reserve EDOs served on individual augementee (IA) assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa. They played a major role in defeating the insurgent enemy by rebuilding infrastructure and providing essential services to citizens, and they delivered the means to counter the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) wounding and killing thousands of troops.
In noncombat settings, EDOs typically work at naval shipyards, regional maintenance centers, and as shipbuilding supervisors. They fill key technical and leadership positions in the Program Executive Offices at Naval Sea Systems (NAVSEA) and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Commands. EDOs also contribute to the strategic systems program, ballistic-missile defense, and diving and salvage operations. Whether active duty or reserve, they bring impressive technical, programmatic, business, financial, and leadership competencies—the skills that made them so valuable to the combatant commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan—to the fight.
EDOs and the Reconstruction Mission
The war on terror relied on a unique doctrine due to factors such as an insurgent enemy and the weapons and tactics they used. Troops on the ground discovered that it was equally important to provide running water, electricity, and security to the local population. Combat leaders’ roles expanded beyond the command and control of their forces to the coaching, mentoring, and teaching of government and industry officials. These new challenges could not be met with combat troops alone.
In the early stages of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) realized that providing essential services and repairing infrastructure on such a large scale would pose many challenges that could quickly consume and exceed their capacity—in both theaters of operation, construction-site security could not be fully guaranteed. Navy and Air Force civil engineering officers arrived to augment USACE, but more were needed. In the summer of 2005, some Navy civil engineers were on their second or third IA tour.
Vice Admiral Paul E. Sullivan, an EDO and the commander of NAVSEA at the time, began to work with the senior Civil Engineering Corps (CEC) officer, Vice Admiral Mike Loose, to determine how to further assist USACE. They catalogued the requirements and the types of skills that would be needed to fulfill them. Both admirals concluded that Navy CEC officers and EDOs had the requisite abilities.
Vice Admiral Sullivan considered how the EDO community could help and realized that many billets could be covered without significantly impacting other Navy missions. The community took 20 billets from the CEC IA requirement. The EDO community’s IA strategy matched the volunteers’ level of experience with the vacant IA billet, minimized the effect on the losing command, and considered the personal welfare of the engineers.
By late 2005, 6 of these 20 EDOs were on their way to Iraq. In an interview, Vice Admiral Sullivan told me:
A big part of the effort is the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure. The Army Corps of Engineers has a large part of this workload and this task is crucial to long-term success in this war. We can help because our skills play well in what they are doing. If it works out, we will likely ask to cover several more billets. I acknowledge that we have our own jobs to do. But in my mind, winning the war is more important than 100 percent coverage at home.
By the end of 2012, over 75 percent of all the EDOs that served on IA were in billets associated with reconstruction. Their ranks ranged from lieutenant to captain, and they had tour lengths of 6, 9, or 12 months. Most EDOs served with USACE, specifically with the Gulf Region Division in Iraq and their district commands, and the Combined Security Transition Command–Afghanistan. Within several provincial reconstruction teams, the remaining officers served with Multi-National Force–Iraq, Multi-National Corps–Iraq, Multi-National Security Transition Corps–Iraq, United States Forces–Iraq, and the International Security Assist Force. Twelve EDOs qualified as Army Civil Affair team leaders.
EDOs played crucial roles in the generation and distribution of electricity, providing clean water, building sewage-treatment plants, overhauling oil-export facilities, repairing refineries, building hospitals, health clinics, jails, courthouses, police stations, army barracks, telecommunication facilities, rebuilding roads and bridges, and completing land-reclamation and irrigation projects.
The Navy’s electronic warfare (EW) expertise is multifaceted, and ranges from operators to systems engineers, and research-and-development professionals to logicians. In February 2006, then-Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Mullen stated that there was an immediate need to counter IEDs. He declared that the Navy had the expertise in EW to defeat radio-controlled IEDs (RCIEDs). The Joint Counter-RCEID/EW Composite Squadron 1 (JCCS-1) was formed and included 15 EDO billets.
Countering RCIEDs required an understanding of how the radio-controlled portion of the IED worked. The EDOs on the assignment had the technical educations and skills to identify and exploit weaknesses, translate technical requirements into programmatic requirements, perform systems acquisition, conduct tests and evaluations both stateside and in theater, and field and sustain the systems. The counter-IED mission made up about 25 percent of all EDO IA billets. Those 80-plus combat-systems EDOs prevented countless numbers of soldiers and Marines from either being wounded or killed in action.
The Legacy and the Future
The EDO community continued its commitment to IAs by supporting seven billets in Afghanistan. EDOs with fleet-maintenance experience filled two additional positions at Iraq’s Port of Umm Qasr. These EDOs were tasked to assist the Iraqi Navy during the introduction of 12 coastal patrol crafts and two offshore support vessels. Today, there are four reserve EDOs in Afghanistan. When their tour ends, the EDO commitment will be complete.
When I asked about his time as the senior EDO, Vice Admiral Kevin McCoy said:
One of the things I am most proud of about the EDO contribution to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that, as a community, we managed a very demanding challenge with over a 90 percent volunteer rate. . . . Our EDOs fully recognized their obligation in support of the wars and the value that we brought to the fight. . . . This story needs to be told to future generations of EDOs as a vivid reminder that we are naval officers first and engineers second. The call to support future conflicts may come again, and I have no doubt that we will be there.
Before his retirement in June 2013, Vice Admiral McCoy commissioned a plaque to commemorate the community’s contribution. Its inscription reads:
This plaque is dedicated to the brave men and women of the Engineering Duty Community, active and reserve who answered the call to serve for their Navy and their Nation in the Global War on Terror, 2005 to 2012 and for all those who will go down range in the future.
Today, it hangs outside a classroom at the EDO School in Port Hueneme, California, to inspire future generations.