OPNAV’s General: Expeditionary Forces are Navy’s ‘Inside Fighters’
By PETER ATKINSON, Interim Editor In Chief
ARLINGTON, Va. — The director of expeditionary warfare (N95) in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) Nov. 30 highlighted the “peculiarities” of his portfolio and noted the “particular challenge” that brings in articulating its value to the naval services in terms of resources.
During a wide-ranging discussion at a Navy League’s Special Topic Breakfast at the Westin Crystal City, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. David W. Coffman noted that as the competition for budget dollars becomes more intense, “We have got to articulate … the value of these deeper parts of the Navy-Marine soft team and how they contribute to the overall presentation to be a war winner for our nation.
“The amphibious and expeditionary warfare forces provide capability across the range of military operations,” he said. We are needed in all phases and all areas, or the naval services will not win. You’ve got to have us, and you’ve got to have us resourced appropriately to contribute across all those things.”
Describing himself as a “rookie at the business of the Navy-Marine team” after 30 years of leading Marines in the field, Coffman noted that “I’m learning how to be a resource sponsor. Our task is to figure out how to resource as best we can, encourage senior leadership toward building the world’s greatest naval services … to be ready to move out when the bell sounds.”
In outlining the menu of N95’s responsibilities, which includes, among other things, Naval Special Warfare; mine warfare/mine countermeasures; amphibious operations; and connectors, boats and alternative or purpose-built vessels, Coffman said N95 represents 7 percent of the topline Navy budget, but covers 13 percent of the active-duty Sailors, 23 percent of Reserve Sailors and 15 percent of the overall vessel count.
“We counted it up this week and we sponsor over 800 combatant craft, from Mark VI patrol boats to rigid-hull inflatable boats, right down the line. We decided that if we claim any moniker we’re are going to try to be ‘the father of the 1,000-boat Navy.’ And that’s probably about what we need, or at least that,” he said.
In describing the work of N95, Coffman likened it to that of the rock band AC/DC, and in particular its song “Dirty Deed Done Dirt Cheap.”
“For those of you who don’t know, AC/DC’s music is not complex, it’s very straight forward, it’s just a couple chords, nothing fancy,” he said. “They all sound fairly similar, but it is loud and proud and your face, and that’s pretty much how we operate in the 95 shop.
“We are trying to claim the title of America’s inside fighters — ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.’ We operate every day forward to do the deterrence or move to crisis response and bring some bench strength to be able to take it all the way there for larger ops. Navy, plus Marines, plus soft is the leading edge of the joint force across the range of military operations.”
Despite its straight-forward philosophy, Coffman noted that the office must address some particularly complex issues and threats with the work it does in what he described as putting together “next-generation expeditionary warfare.
“We think we have a pretty clear aim point for expeditionary warfare, for what we sponsor and what we try to put together in my division,” he said. “What we’re after is warfighting from the sea from tonight to 2070 and beyond in a complex anti-access, area-denial environment versus hybrid threats of peer competitors … as part of a joint force that has to operate across domains — air, sea, undersea, land, space and cyber — globally across combatant commander boundaries geographic and functional, across phases with different disparate command and control relationships and authorities … and into chaotic irregular warfare environments characterized by asymmetric threats, conventional and irregular operations, kinetic and nonkinetic dimensions, etc.
“In order to succeed to hit that aim point, we are working reinvigorate naval maneuver warfare, linking sea control and power projection in order to win current and future fights in that challenging scenario.”
Some of the elements are already in place, Coffman noted. Amphibious and expeditionary operations are inherently joint, inherently agile and scalable, modular by rule, he said. They also are integrated and networked and have the advantage of being manned by what he described as “skilled, fantastic, best-in-the-world operators. When it comes down to execution, that’s where we’re going to win.”
Coffman made a special point of singling out manpower and training as a key element of N95’s tasking.
“Taking care of Marines and their families, ensuring that we’ve got the right guy in the right place with the right gear prepared to do his job, it’s easy to say, hard to do,” he said. “All I’ve done my whole life is put Marines and Sailors in harm’s way and you regret the rest of your life if we didn’t train them right, if we failed to organize, train and equip sufficiently that company we sent out that well deck or off that roof.
“We know we need more,” he added. “What we have is not as ready as we want it to be and to fight and win in challenging conflict — this is not minor league games — you have got to increase training and proficiency so you can stick the landing every time.”