On a mild winter day in January 2018, a pair of F/A-18 fighters launch from the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) in the Persian Gulf. They link up with a tanker to refuel, then continue 500 miles to their target—an Islamic State stronghold in northern Iraq. They do not waste any time identifying the objective and dropping their ordnance, 500-pound guided bombs. The jets make their way back to the carrier and land safely, as they have done so many times before, except this time, something is different. This time, the ship serving as the air defense commander and the one charged with protecting the carrier strike group and the fighters, is not a U.S. warship, but a French destroyer, the FS Chevalier Paul.1 These two ships were able to conduct fully integrated combat missions as the result of years of decisions that prioritized interoperability with allies to tackle the growing challenges in the maritime domain. This is the model the United States should emphasize today.
In the mid-1980s, the U.S. military’s main operational threat and organizing factor was the Soviet Union. It drove decisions on funding, weapon systems, and alliances. Today, the United States does not have the luxury of a single threat focus. Its challenges are diverse, dynamic, and stretch from Moscow to Beijing, from cyber to space, and across extremist ideologies. U.S. adversaries are expanding their navies, improving their capabilities, and investing in high-end weapons that reach farther and farther.
To prepare for and operate in this threat environment, the Navy’s 2016 Force Structure Assessment and three independent studies determined that the Navy needs a fleet of at least 355 ships.2 But here is the problem—if the United States started a naval buildup today, it would not reach this goal until at least fiscal year (FY) 2034, an optimistic target unlikely to be achieved, especially if the nation fails to sustain the levels of funding needed to implement the Navy’s proposed FY 2020 30-year shipbuilding plan.3 The United States will not be able to buy or build its way out of this problem alone. Given the multitude of national security threats, increasing demands, and the resource-limited environment in which the Navy operates, the service would be better served by considering an enhanced approach.
Revisiting an Old Idea
The solution to this dilemma is not a new one. In 1985, then-Lieutenant Commander James Stavridis wrote an article for Proceedings titled, “The Global Maritime Coalition,” in which he called for a collective strengthening of free world navies to address the omnipresent Soviet threat, as well as the increasing maritime challenges worldwide. He noted how such a coalition could provide vital antisubmarine warfare (ASW), surface warfare (SUW), and mine clearance forces in any confrontation with the Soviet Union.
The recommendations called on U.S. military planners to consider these contributions from other navies and proposed that the United States pursue “linkage development” through joint operations, joint building projects, exchange programs, and non-military ocean projects such as fishing and deep seabed mining. Stavridis also advocated sharing appropriate technology and increased operating time between coalition partners.4 The gist of Stavridis’s Global Maritime Coalition concept in 1985 was to begin thinking of the free world navies as a bulwark against a larger threat (the Soviet Union) and to operate collaboratively. Like then, the focus today must be on high-end interoperability. Now is the time to consider the Global Maritime Coalition 2.0 for the 21st century.
Global Maritime Coalition 2.0
The Navy has made use of maritime coalitions since the French helped secure America’s independence from Great Britain. In the three-and-a-half decades since Lieutenant Commander Stavridis wrote his article, the premise of a maritime coalition has taken many forms and has increased in importance. In 2005, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Mike Mullen called for a 1,000-ship Navy to support a “Global Maritime Partnership.”5 In 2015, CNO Admiral Jon Greenert affirmed the need for a “Global Network of Navies” in A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS-21R).6 And, more recently, in 2016 and 2018, in A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 1.0 and 2.0, CNO Admiral John Richardson delineated as one of the four lines of effort to “expand and strengthen our network of partners” by prioritizing “key international partnerships through information sharing, interoperability initiatives, and combined operations” and to “explore new opportunities for combined forward operations.”7
So how would a Global Maritime Coalition 2.0 be any different? In a word—interoperability. The Global Maritime Coalition 2.0 would include three layers of interoperability and support, with its core, or yellow layer, being the network of navies that can be fully integrated and interoperate with the U.S. Navy. Potential partners include France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. These navies must operate on the high-end of the warfare spectrum. They would operate independently or plug and play with U.S. carrier and expeditionary strike groups. They could seamlessly communicate with our ships and systems. And ultimately, they could be active participants in multiple mission sets to defeat adversaries. That definition of interoperability must be the foundation of the future, whether it is deciding what platforms to buy or how to operationalize a strategy.
The next layer of the coalition, the teal layer, would include joint supporting partnerships and comprise the Navy’s many other relationships with navies and coast guards around the world. Although not able to fully interoperate with U.S. Navy assets in wartime, these partners bring important capabilities and support to the table, whether it is ASW, SUW, mine warfare, counterpiracy operations, counteracting illicit fishing, presence operations, or humanitarian assistance/disaster relief.
The outermost layer of the coalition, the blue layer, would include basing, facilities, intelligence, and logistics support—essential components to U.S. power projection. Together, these three layers would form the Global Maritime Coalition 2.0. Where this coalition differs from past guidance is the singular focus on high-end interoperability at its core. Just as the Chevalier Paul was able to seamlessly integrate with the Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group, so too should other U.S. maritime partners. If the United States is going to think differently about its approach to international stability and security while providing a realistic and fiscally responsible solution, coalition interoperability needs to be a principal focal point.
Making 2.0 a reality
There are three actions the Navy can take to bring the Global Maritime Coalition 2.0 to life:
Commit to long-term strategic planning with selected partner nations. In March 2017, the naval leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France met in London to sign a trilateral naval cooperation agreement. Although thin on specifics, the agreement included a pledge to focus on “developing a coordinated strategic picture, aircraft carrier cooperation, and antisubmarine warfare operations.”8 These three navies rightly recognized they are stronger and more effective when operating together and fully integrated. The U.S. Navy signed a similar agreement in 2016 with the United Kingdom and Japan.9 Agreements such as these pave the way for future interoperability and create synergy between like-minded defense departments. To this end, the Navy should continue to forge deeper relationships with France, the United Kingdom, and Japan, while also pursuing maritime interoperability agreements with several countries, including Canada, Germany, Norway, Spain, India, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, among others.
Increase technological interoperability through foreign military sales. The Navy International Programs Office (NIPO) is the lead entity guiding naval foreign military sales (FMS). According to NIPO, 2018 was a record year for U.S. FMS. “To date, the total Department of the Navy FMS case value implemented in FY19 is $118.5 billion across 3,894 new, modified, or amended FMS cases,” roughly 40 percent of which are in the Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility.10
In 2018, CNO Richardson called for an “increase in NIPO’s contributions to strategic U.S. relationships.”11 To achieve this, every contract for an item, whether an aircraft, ship, Aegis platform, or C4ISR technology, should be signed with interoperability at the forefront, just as the United States should do with its own procurement programs. This is an important step, but technology without training is a self-imposed barrier to success.
Double down on integrated training opportunities with high-end partners. In May 2018, the United States and France kicked off Chesapeake 2018 operations off the coast of Virginia. During this exercise, a French carrier air wing integrated with U.S. Navy Carrier Airwing 8 on board the USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77). Admiral Richardson, who visited the carrier with his French counterpart, Admiral Christophe Prazuck, noted that “the relationships being built during this exercise will matter when it comes time to operate together in combat conditions.”12
This is nothing new for the U.S. and French navies, as they have been deepening their combined training and operations for several years now. Just two years before the exercise, in June 2016, Admiral Richardson presented the commanding officer of France’s lone aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, with a Meritorious Unit Commendation for his ship’s unprecedented success from December 2015 to March 2016 as the only non-U.S. Navy asset to command U.S. Naval Forces Central Command’s Task Force 50 during Operation Inherent Resolve. Admiral Richardson noted at the time that the French carrier strike group:
filled an important gap in the capability there in the Gulf during a time when the U.S. could not provide carrier presence in the region. . . . To achieve that level of interoperability, true integration, to the point where Charles de Gaulle Strike Group could take command of Task Force 50—the first time ever that a non-U.S. element has taken command of a task force—is just so indicative of the partnership we share.13
The U.S.–France level of tactical interoperability is a gold standard for coalition capability. To get there, the Navy will need to maximize more training opportunities, not just in large exercises, but also in the more routine execution of deployment workups such as Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX), as the Spanish Frigate Méndez Núñez did in January 2019 with the Abraham Lincoln Strike Group.14 Another successful example is the Diesel-Electric Submarine Initiative (DESI), which has brought submarines from Chile, Colombia, Peru, and other South American countries together to train with U.S. Navy ASW assets.15 Combined training in operations, tactics, and communication processes, will ensure the coalition can fight together when called on.
Enhanced Flexibility, Increased lethality
The potential contributions of the Global Maritime Coalition 2.0 to international stability and security can be enhanced if the United States commits to making high-end interoperability a top priority. Making these choices now can maximize the coalition’s capacity and capabilities, while ensuring prudent stewardship of U.S. and allied tax dollars.
The United States’ network of allies and partners is a strategic center of gravity, and the nation should do everything it can to ensure as many of these navies as possible are capable of integrating with U.S. forces. Done right, the Global Maritime Coalition 2.0 will increase lethality, enhance flexibility, and improve operational effectiveness for the rest of the century.
1. USS Theodore Roosevelt Public Affairs, “Theodore Roosevelt Supports OIR and OFS in U.S. 5th Fleet,” www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=104829.
2. Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, “Report to Congress on the Annual Long-Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels for Fiscal Year 2019” (February 2018), www.secnav.navy.mil/fmc/fmb/Documents/19pres/LONGRANGE_SHIP_PLAN.pdf.
3. Congressional Research Service, “Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress,” 24 July 2019, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/RL32665.pdf.
4. LCDR James Stavridis, USN, “The Global Maritime Coalition,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 111, no. 4 (April 1985): 58–64.
5. CDR Bryan G. McGrath, USN, “1,000 Ship Navy and Maritime Strategy,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 133, no. 1 (January 2007), www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2007/january/1000-ship-navy-and-maritime-strategy.
6. ADM Jonathan Greenert, USN, “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower” (March 2015), www.navy.mil/local/maritime/150227-CS21R-Final.pdf.
7. ADM John Richardson, USN, A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, Version 2.0 (December 2018).
8. Sam LaGrone, “U.K., France, and U.S. Agree to Increase Submarine Warfare, Aircraft Carrier Cooperation,” USNI News, 27 March 2017, news.usni.org/2017/03/27/u-k-france-u-s-agree-increase-submarine-warfare-carrier-ops-cooperation.
9. Steven Stashwick, “U.S., U.K., and Japan navies Sign First Ever Trilateral Cooperation Agreement,” The Diplomat, 1 November 2016, thediplomat.com/2016/11/us-uk-and-japan-navies-sign-first-ever-trilateral-cooperation-agreement/.
10. Navy International Programs Office, “Security Cooperation,” www.secnav.navy.mil/nipo/organization/security-cooperation.
11. Richardson, Design 2.0.
12. MC3 Zachary Wickline, USN, “U.S., French Navy Complete Historic ‘Chesapeake 2018’ Combined Exercise,” USS George H. W. Bush Public Affairs, 18 May 2018, www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=105645.
13. Megan Eckstein, “CNO Awards French Carrier Charles de Gaulle Meritorious Unit Award for ISIS Campaign,” USNI News, 23 June 2016, news.usni.org/2016/06/23/cno-awards-charles-de-gaulle.
14. USS Abraham Lincoln Public Affairs, “Carrier Strike Group 12 Welcomes Spanish Frigate to Norfolk,” 15 January 2019, www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=108310.
15. MC2 Bryan Tomforde, USN, “Peru and US Navy Celebrate a Successful DESI Deployment,” U.S. Southern Command, 29 October 2018, www.southcom.mil/MEDIA/NEWS-ARTICLES/Article/1675014/peru-and-us-navy-celebrate-a-successful-desi-deployment/.