The U.S. naval service provides sea power for the security and prosperity of the nation. Throughout its history, that has been its singular mandate in an ever-changing world.
Today, the challenges of meeting that mandate are growing. The security environment is “more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory,” declares the 2018 National Defense Strategy. The nation faces “increased global disorder, characterized by decline in the long-standing rules-based international order,” where “the central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by what the National Security Strategy classifies as revisionist powers.”
To address this changing geostrategic environment and shift the mind-set of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard—collectively the nation’s naval service—to one of strategic urgency, the three service chiefs recently released a revision to the capstone U.S. sea power doctrine publication—Naval Doctrine Publication (NDP) 1, Naval Warfare. NDP-1 provides a common vision for naval warfare that complements the individual guidance found in Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday’s Fragmentary Order 1-19, the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Planning Guidance, and the Coast Guard’s Strategic Plan. Written for every member of the naval service—those in uniform and those who support them—NDP-1 provides the intellectual and doctrinal foundation to confront the challenges of an evolving world order.
As every warrior knows, unity of effort is key to success. At the heart of that unity lie common warfighting principles, a shared understanding of the purpose of the mission, and trust and confidence in the capabilities and professionalism of the team. The new version of NDP-1 provides the foundation for all three.
New Doctrine for a New Era
NDP-1 was last revised in 2010, and that version was based on the 2007 maritime strategy, A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.1 Since then, U.S. national defense and maritime strategies have evolved to keep pace with the reemergence of long-term strategic competition between nations and the appearance of new threats and capabilities in the maritime domain. As a result, NDP-1 was rewritten in its entirety and now focuses squarely on the demands of the new era, where the maritime domain is no longer an assumed sanctuary and sea control is no longer a presumptive fact. NDP-1 describes the architecture of naval warfare—how warfare areas combine to establish and maintain sea control, thereby enabling all other naval functions. It reviews the tenets of naval command and control (C2) necessary to compete and prevail in the maritime domain, outlines the attributes of naval forces, and stresses the Sea Services’ longtime reliance on mission command to fight and win in naval combat.
In addition, in the section titled “Insights on Naval Warfare,” NDP-1 codifies in doctrine the tactical precepts of the late Wayne Hughes, retired U.S. Navy captain, professor emeritus of the Naval Postgraduate School, author of three editions of Fleet Tactics, and eminent naval tactician. Wayne reviewed not only the passages drawn from his work, but also the entire publication. Always dedicated to advancing the art and science of naval warfare, despite advancing age and failing health, he generously provided not one but two reviews, providing substantive input in both.2 Though his most famous edict is to “attack effectively first,” NDP-1 delves into five such precepts, discussing them in terms of today’s capabilities while providing a framework to consider their application in the future.
In the section titled “Fleet Operations,” mindful that naval warfare in an era of great power competition will require integrated and distributed multifleet operations, NDP-1 also provides insights on naval considerations in global joint campaigns. Historical examples illustrate the critical role of sea power in joint campaigns, whether maritime or continental in character.
In a newly added section on the value of naval diplomacy, NDP-1 describes how the ability to execute and maintain naval functions across the competition continuum can influence world events. The artful application of sea power through naval diplomacy can be used effectively to further strategic objectives.
How We Fight
Though its focus, context, and content have changed, NDP-1 retains its historical organization of three main sections, titled “Who We Are,” “What We Do,” and “How We Fight.”
“Who We Are” discusses the strategic imperative for a strong naval service—how, despite the United States’ huge landmass, geography ensures it will always be a maritime nation, relying on mastery of the sea to protect the homeland and defend its interests. History demonstrates that when a country loses the ability to contest at sea, it loses the sea. In a competitive, interconnected world, U.S. sea power underpins the global economic order built on free and responsible use of the maritime domain. This section also discusses the preference for mission command that enables subordinates to exercise on-scene initiative based on local awareness and lowered decision thresholds. Finally, the ability to flexibly task-organize forces provides a high degree of organizational and operational agility, scalability, and versatility necessary for tactical success.
“What We Do” discusses how the urgent strategic needs of the nation led to the founding of the naval service, and how national need continues to drive capabilities, operations, and strategy. It reviews the five enduring functions the nation needs from its naval service—sea control, power projection, deterrence, maritime security, and sealift—and how those functions, in the pursuit of national objectives, generate sea power for the nation.3 NDP-1 reaffirms sea control as foremost among naval functions, as it enables all others. It describes how tactical activity is linked to strategic objectives through the tactical-operational-strategic levels of warfare construct and asserts that operations at all levels must be aligned properly to apply sea power on behalf of the nation. It concludes that in the maritime domain, tactical excellence drives strategic outcomes. The section closes by bridging the gap from theoretical to practical by providing context in terms of the current national strategic setting.
“How We Fight” is the nuts-and-bolts section, describing how sea power for the nation is founded on the tactical excellence of its naval force. It reviews the seven current naval warfare areas—air warfare, air and missile defense, expeditionary warfare, warfare in the information environment, strike warfare, surface warfare, and undersea warfare—while providing the first doctrinal description of expeditionary warfare.4 It asserts that tactical excellence requires both science and art: science in the form of technical and domain proficiency across all warfare areas, and art in applying that proficiency to advantage through C2 and effective operational processes.
NDP-1 concludes with a review of several warfare enablers, discussing the importance of global maritime partnerships and the application of sea power in operations along the competition continuum.
As the naval service sizes up the conditions under which it may have to fight in an era of great power competition, an expanding family of naval concepts is driving inquiry and innovation. Distributed maritime operations, expeditionary advanced base operations, and littoral operations in contested environments will be complemented by a number of others in development, including concepts addressing the competition continuum and operational logistics. At the same time, NDP-1 also recognizes that the nation will require multifleet operations, globally synchronized actions, and a fleet-centric approach to maintain freedom of action throughout the maritime domain.
NDP-1 provides a common baseline that enables greater integration during competition below the threshold of war.
Doctrine for Sea Power
As the foundational doctrine of the naval service, NDP-1 is expected to have far-reaching effects in nearly every facet of naval operations—from individual accession training through large-scale fleet exercises and real-world operations. To maximize its reach and relevance, it is short and easily readable. From the first vignette, detailing the heroic exploits of Commander Ernest Evans, commanding officer of the USS Johnston (DD-557), and the rest of the fabled “Taffy 3” in the Battle off Samar on 25 October 1944, NDP-1 combines history and clear explanation with logic and intellectual rigor to convey the fundamental principles, ideas, and ideals of the U.S. naval service.
NDP-1 outlines the tremendous responsibility entrusted to those who wear the uniform and those who support the uniformed. Sea power underpins Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan’s notion of command of the seas—that unimpeded use of the maritime domain is necessary for the nation to flourish. It is the naval service’s duty to protect and maintain this strategic condition—for the nation and for the global economic order built on the demonstrated might of U.S. sea power.
1. NDP-1 retains RADM Alfred Thayer Mahan’s original usage of two words to denote “sea power” and establishes that lexicon as the doctrinal standard.
2. CAPT Wayne Hughes passed away on 3 December 2019, having served the Navy for more than 60 years in and out of uniform.
3. Identification of these five “enduring functions” was based on a comprehensive analysis of naval strategy and concept documents over the past 50 years. Each of the 20 documents analyzed generated similar—but shifting—lists variously labeled “mission areas” and “core capabilities.” Detailed analysis separated the transitory from the durable and, with this revision, NDP-1 establishes a doctrinal lexicon informing recent—and future—strategy and concept development efforts.
4. The Navy uses the term information warfare (IW) to describe the integrated employment of
its information-based capabilities (communications, networks, intelligence, oceanography, meteorology, cryptology, electronic warfare, cyberspace operations, and space) to degrade, deny, deceive, or destroy an enemy’s information environment or to enhance the effectiveness of friendly operations. The Marine Corps recognizes seven functions of operations in the information environment (OIE): ensure C2 and critical systems; provide battlespace awareness; attack and exploit adversary networks; inform domestic and international audiences; influence foreign target audiences; deceive adversary target audiences; and control information capabilities, resources, and activities. The Coast Guard uses the term information operations (IO).