The surface force must be prepared to fight and win at sea. To be ready to “fight tonight,” sailors must be able to focus on the mission, sharpen skills, seek advanced training, and collaborate across the fleet to advance innovation and creative problem solving. But all these things require time, which is in scarce supply. One way to free some up would be to take ships and their crews out of the business of protecting base infrastructure and providing inport security. The Navy spends time and money giving ship’s crews specialized training; the service should allow those sailors to focus on their primary responsibilities and apply other resources to develop a highly trained security force separate from the ship.
In-Port Security Demands
Even with the Navy beginning to restore ship billets formerly cut under “optimal manning” experiments and sequestration, on any given ship, the only way to meet force-protection requirements is to assign sailors to security watches as a collateral duty. This assignment drains an inordinate number of man-hours from sailors who spent several months in A and C Schools to train for specific jobs. The collateral duty not only robs sailors of valuable time to continue honing their in-rate skills and professionalization, but it also is inherently faulty, because it places an amateur force in charge of ship protection.
For a ship in a U.S. port, there are several force-protection requirements on the ship and at its assigned pier. During a typical force-protection condition, a ship is required to man between 20 and 24 security watches at a time. Depending on the specific watch requirements, this could translate to upward of 175 man-hours expended per ship, per day. These watches are typically filled by “topside” sailors ranging from information technicians to logistics specialists. And this does not count the time invested in force-protection training, drills, and course requirements—all outside a sailor’s primary in-rate responsibilities.
The basic training requirements to stand an armed security watch are a three-week-long on-ship course, initial firearms qualification, and perhaps two additional weeks of training for advanced watches. Once this initial training has been completed, sustainment training consists of firing weapons a couple times a year and quarterly drills. Some ships assign sailors to stand watches as part of a duty section, once every four to eight days, while remaining a member of their regular division. Other ships integrate sailors into a more permanent security force that keeps sailors on temporary additional duty for several months to maintain a high proficiency level. Both methods have the same net effect: pulling sailors away from their primary responsibilities.
Ship’s force protection is an undeniably critical requirement, but it should be fulfilled by developing the same exacting skills invested in any other mission-critical duty.
The most immediate and effective solution would be to transfer base infrastructure security requirements—pier security, in particular—to naval security forces with a permanent presence on the base. This would enable ships to recover many of the lost manning hours. Eliminating watches such as pier sentry and vehicle inspection teams would alone recoup roughly 75 of the 175 man-hours lost per day. Further, sourcing security forces from a permanent organization allows for greater accountability and development of expertise. Finally, the sailors assigned to the permanent security force will understand the security infrastructure concerns specific to each base and possess the agility to respond more easily to changing circumstances and situations.
Such changes necessarily will require investment in base security infrastructure, but this is in keeping with the Chief of Naval Operations’ directives to the Navy in the January 2019 FRAGO: “The Navy must account for infrastructure investments to support our force” is the clear directive. Installing effective security infrastructure (such as shifting fencing away from the pier entrance and increasing the number of unmanned ID swipe turnstiles) would allow for consolidation of entry-control points, without increasing security staff personnel requirements. Naval Base Pearl Harbor, has implemented these changes, and the results have been improved security alongside a significant reduction in personnel demands. Other bases should follow suit.
Ships will still be responsible for their own onboard security, which cannot and should not be fully outsourced. Ships could staff their in-house security forces with sailors in the master-at-arms, gunners mate, and other force-protection related rates. Increasing the number of sailors on a ship in these security rates and Navy enlisted classifications would reduce the collateral duty demands on more technical rates.
What’s Old is New Again
But adding more masters-at-arms is not the only—or even the best—route to establishing professional security forces on ships. The Navy should consider reviving the use of Marines.
As recently as the 1990s, Marines were part of security detachments on many ships, usually 2 officers and between 35 and 55 enlisted Marines, depending on ship type. These detachments began to shrink as technology advancements and budget cuts changed priorities. The final Marine Corps shipboard security detachment was disestablished in January 1998, bringing that chapter of Navy and Marine Corps integration to a close.
Small numbers of Marines still serve as part of ships’ crews for combat cargo, and certain Security Force Regiment teams protect nuclear weapons and provide Fleet Antiterrorism Security Teams (FAST) that protect some overseas naval bases. But for the most part, Marines and sailors have grown apart, something that the current CNO and Commandant have looked to rectify through increased integration.
The most obvious advantage of returning Marines to ships would be to make those ships safer. Random sailors assigned to collateral security duty do not hold a candle to Marines as highly qualified weapon and security professionals. Marines receive extensive weapons training starting immediately in basic training, against only three weeks’ security training for sailors. In addition, FAST Marines must be highly proficient in close-quarters combat, countersurveillance, physical security, urban combat, and martial arts. The increased quality of security personnel also decreases the chance of weapon mishaps, such as inadvertent discharges, by sailors who lack proficiency and experience with weapons. Integrating Marines into ship security forces will further increase the number of sailors able to focus on their in-rate training, maximizing the return on the Navy’s investment in each sailor and increasing preparedness for the future fight. A hundred or more man-hours each day—25-plus four-hour watches—could be shifted to a Marine detachment and recouped by the ship, not only providing critical time for sailors to hone their skills but also reducing the pressure created by legacy manning shortages.
And the benefits are not all one-sided. Placing Marines and sailors on the same team advances short-term and long-term force integration. The FRAGO directs the Navy and Marine Corps to “train together until we achieve seamlessly integrated combat power across the naval and Joint Force.” Historians Herb Richardson and R. R. Keene quote Captain William M. Cryan, who commanded a detachment in the cruiser USS Los Angeles (CA-135), writing in the Marine Corps Gazette of the benefits to Marines of shipboard service: “Professionally, sea duty places relatively junior officers and Staff NCOs on their own. . . . Sea duty teaches how to command, if only from forcing you to do it yourself.” Marine officers on detachments learned first-hand about naval matters, which their fellow officers in the Fleet Marine Force were seldom exposed to. Integration of sailors and Marines at the unit level plants a seed of familiarity and understanding that will grow to assist in the long-term strategic goals of a fully integrated force.
Implementation and Conclusion
Such changes would require a major sea-change and culture shift in the Navy and Marine Corps. The transfer of force protection requirements to dedicated professional security forces will necessitate direction from the highest echelon commanders and a top-down review of feasibility. The Navy Manpower Analysis Center (NAVMAC) could facilitate review requirements and the total force management critical to determining this proposal’s viability. The proposed changes will necessitate significant adjustment of manning requirements in the Navy, and potentially the Marine Corps, but the effort will result in ships that are better prepared for the future fight. When we invest fully in today’s warfighters by creating opportunities to harness their ingenuity, provide time for critical thinking, and encourage collaboration across the fleet, we will amplify their confidence and skills. Every day our sailors will be sharpening their blades and will be ready to fight when called.