Defense Officials Highlight Challenges of Readying Forces for the ‘Global Environment’
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Navy and Marine Corps are working on multiple fronts to achieve greater integration and modernization of their operating forces to meet the growing challenges of rising potential adversaries and an increasingly contested global security environment.
But the naval services’ efforts to meet these threats are burdened by insufficient forces; the requirement for different weapons, equipment and personnel skills geared to the emerging threats; and the persistent uncertainty over funding, an array of military and Defense Department officials have said during a three-day conference that ends Oct. 26.
The Expeditionary Warfare Conference, organized by the National Defense Industry Association, dealt extensively with the challenges to existing amphibious operational organizations and systems, logistical support concepts, and global security strategies and plans generated by the increasing necessity for distributed operations in areas within reach of competitors’ long-range precision weapons and asymmetrical threats.
Frequently cited areas with equipment or personnel shortfalls included mine countermeasures, amphibious shipping and connectors, cyber and informational warfare, and communications.
Vice Adm. Kevin Scott, director of joint force development for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put the scope of the challenges in perspective by declaring that the traditional “regional” orientation of the combatant commands and war planning is no longer valid.
“The world we live in is global. … Today, every challenge set and issue we face is global,” Scott said.
To meet those challenges “we have to man, train and equip the force for that global environment,” he said.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford reached that conclusion after a net assessment and has directed the joint staff to craft a global security strategy, Scott said. And, he noted, the tenants of expeditionary operations being discussed at the conference “meshes completely with this strategy.”
One of the most intensely considered topics during the first days of the conference was the chronically under-appreciated threat of mine warfare. Retired Vice Adm. John Miller, who became acutely aware of the threat posed by the widely available and inexpensive sea mines during several tours in the Persian Gulf including as Fifth Fleet commander, said he currently “is optimistic about the Navy’s mine warfare capabilities, as long as the Navy makes it a priority.”
Miller said the threat by Iran to mine the strategically and economically crucial Strait of Hormuz forced him to take steps that drove the U.S. mine countermeasures (MCM) capabilities from “nonexistent” to “robust” by bringing in much of the Navy’s MCM force, gaining extensive allied reinforcement and adapting new tools, including the former amphibious ship Ponce as a MCM command ship.
A panel of mine warfare commanders and specialists noted that some of the anti-mine force, including the MCM ships and the MH-53E airborne mine sweepers, are aged and will be phased out within a decade. But the panel members cited an array of systems currently in or approaching operational status that they said will provide greater capabilities.
Another hot topic was the need to revamp the Navy-Marine operations and organizations to conduct expeditionary actions in the contested littorals. Possible innovations include forming Littoral Combat Groups, which would be traditional amphibious ready groups bolstered by surface combatants, and designating a Navy flag officer as a composite warfare commander of such a group, with senior Marine officers leading elements of the command and serving on the staff.
Many of the speakers emphasized the shortage of dedicated amphibious warships and noted the growing use of “alternative platforms,” such as logistic support vessels, to augment the gator force.
Col. Craig Streeter, director of Maritime Expeditionary Warfare at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, said one of the vital components of the expeditionary support force, the Maritime Prepositioning ships, were badly aged and in need of “recapitalization.” Given the age of those ships and the need to “operationalize” them so they could survive better in the contested littorals, that probably would mean building new ships, he said.
And, the new form of expeditionary operations requires “distributed expeditionary logistics,” that can provide critical supplies to the distributed Marine forces ashore, when they are needed, avoiding the “iron mountains” of material built up on land, as was done for Desert Storm, speakers said.