Forward. Engaged. Ready. These are the signature words of America’s newly updated maritime strategy, which publicly debuted in March and appeared in our pages last month. That document’s predecessor, A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS-21), held the U.S. Sea Services in good stead for eight years. But a lot has changed in that time, from the events of the Arab Spring to the rise of ISIL to a resurgent Russia.
In this world full of “burgeoning complex challenges, ‘Version 2.0’ of CS-21 has arrived just in time,” note coauthors Vice Admiral James G. Foggo and Commander Philip R. Rosi II in this issue. As Commander 6th Fleet, Admiral Foggo is optimally situated to see how “Forward, Engaged, Ready” are words to live by in the face of current naval realities. He and Commander Rosi present an informative tour of the 6th Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Europe/U.S. Naval Forces Africa, where forward-deployed units provide the presence, and partnerships provide the all-important framework, and where the new strategic guidelines are being carried out every day. Interaction at multiple levels with key partners in Africa and Europe, including complex exercises in the Baltic and Black seas, ensures that U.S. and allied naval forces will be ready before any crisis occurs.
Russia’s aggressive acts toward Caucasus nations suggest that Europe’s security situation will be tenuous for years to come. Colonel William J. Nemeth presents an ambitious plan for the U.S. Marine Corps to provide support to beleaguered NATO allies and partners in the region. “The United States will need forces that can deploy quickly and arrive at their destinations prepared to conduct sustained operations while transitioning subordinate units from crisis-response operations and security-force assistance,” he says, and believes the Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) would be best suited for this task. Regionally focused MEBs would deter Russia while also serving as “an impetus for the Marine Corps to return to its core competencies.”
In the event a maritime crisis does arise, whether with Russia in European waters, Iran in the Persian Gulf, or China in the Pacific, U.S. naval forces will be the first to go in harm’s way. All three potential adversaries present anti-access challenges. To defeat these, the Navy must be able to quickly and persistently barrage a target with multiple ordnance. Retired Navy Captain Sam Tangredi argues that this would best be accomplished with a vessel such as an arsenal ship—a concept first conceived in the 1980s. Essentially a self-propelled barge with minimal personnel and hosting a multitude of vertical-launch systems, it would be “an adjunct to the Fleet, not a core component,” more cost-effective, and thus a valuable gap filler. With a primary mission of breaking anti-access walls, funds could be spent on its ordnance rather than hull or propulsion plant. “In an anti-access environment, the arsenal ship is the most logical near-term means of maintaining the credibility of U.S. naval and joint military influence,” Tangredi reasons.
If that ordnance does start to fly, Fleet communications may be among the first capabilities affected. What then? At the 1798 Battle of the Nile, the great Horatio Nelson “prevailed despite almost no communications with his captains once the battle commenced.” In the World War II Pacific theater, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz issued broadly worded orders because there was “an underlying assumption that commanders could be trusted to execute them.” Today, everything that occurs on the tactical level is instantly being observed and (worst-case scenario) micromanaged all the way up the operational chain to the top strategic level, in real time. Such is the sophistication of today’s battlespace communications—but therein also lies the problem, notes Navy Captain Patrick Molenda of Headquarters, Pacific Fleet. We have become so used to the constant data feed, there’s a real risk if we’re ever faced with a comms-denied environment. The solution, maintains the author, is to bring back the time-honored competencies of mission command; when the chips are down and so are the computers, capable and autonomous clutch decision-making needs to happen without the usual safety net.
The Naval Review issue requires a lot of extra effort to deliver its additional content, and I want to extend a special thanks to those contributors who give their time and energy to provide us with the annual roundups of the Sea Services: Scott Truver; Robert Holzer; Joe DiRenzo; David Boyd; Commander Jan Jacobs, U.S. Navy Reserve (Retired); Lieutenant Colonel John Berry Jr., U.S. Marine Corps (Retired); Shashi Kumar; and Lieutenant Jim Dolbow, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve. They work steadily throughout the year accumulating the information found in these pages—all on their own time. I’m sure I speak for all our readers when I say it’s highly valued and much appreciated.
Paul Merzlak, Editor-in-Chief