Sea Service Chiefs Examine Future of Maritime Strategy
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 14, 2014 The chiefs of the sea services discussed the future of the military at sea and defense strategy in the Asia-Pacific region at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association West Conference yesterday in San Diego.
In a town-hall meeting format, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Navy Adm. Mark Ferguson and Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp discussed their visions and their concerns of defense at sea amid budget constraints.
Ferguson noted the shift in the U.S. security environment since the last maritime strategy was published in 2007.
“There has been a dramatic increase in the proliferation of weapons and technologies capable of denying access, or freedom of action, in the global commons,” he said. “The emergence of space and cyberspace has contested domains.” Increased political instability and conflict, Ferguson said, has created an uptick in demands for naval forces from the combatant commands.
Ferguson emphasized the migration of al-Qaida from a centralized organization to a franchised global network, overlapping in many cases with criminal networks around the globe through “flashpoints and potential flash points” in the Asia-Pacific region.
A new pressure that drives decision making since 2007’s strategy is today’s drop in defense spending, he added. “There’s tremendous pressure driving decision-making [in the] strategic environment,” he said. The United States has had to focus more on air-sea battle and how to fight using cross-domain capabilities, he noted.
The shift from two land wars to the challenges in the combatant commands places a premium on partnerships around the globe, Ferguson said, adding that leaders of the services and the combatant commands must now focus on “a tight circle in a strategy of ends, ways and means.”
With a military rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, the Coast Guard’s Pacific presence must be reassessed because of a tightened defense budget and fewer major ships at hand, Papp said.
“The threats facing our country are more decentralized now,” he said. “They’re self-motivated, harder to identify, and we’re looking at how we lay down our forces to provide a layered security approach as those threats approach our shore.” The Coast Guard published an Arctic strategy last spring and is working on a Western Hemisphere strategy, he added.
Refocusing military strategy from land war to the Pacific, the United States in the next two decades will operate in a world where American forces are not welcome on sovereign soil of other nations, Amos said.
“Those nations will want to train with us, they’ll want us to help their borders and set up their militaries, but they’re not going to want us to build bases. Those days, for the near term, are gone,” the Marine Corps commandant said.
A sea base in a conflicted environment will be stationed at sea, Amos pointed out. Ship¬to-ship and ship-to shore connectors are critical to move Marines from a sea base to shore, haul large amounts of equipment and operate at high speed, he added. Money for connector research and development is necessary, he said, because “this is the time to step up the game” on connectors, he said.
New Naval strategy also critically involves the combatant commands, Ferguson said.
“It’s not just an arms race of weapons; it’s networks fighting networks,” Ferguson said. “Be they terrorist networks, or our own command and control, the things we rely on in cyber or in space are now increasingly under challenge, and we have to say, ‘What happens if we have to back those up or move to a different arena?’ Those implications are important.”
Ferguson agreed with Amos on Pacific nations looking to the United States for partnerships because of threats those countries feel from the South and East China seas. And Amos, addressing the industry sector of the audience, said new technology is a key factor.
“We’re building 10 joint high-speed vessels that are phenomenal. Imagine if we could load vehicles at sea from the sea base onto those vessels and use them to discharge vehicles off the beach somewhere,” Amos said. “We’re going to have a lot of capabilities, so I implore industry to put some money to this and get these joint high-speed vessels to where we can actually bring surface craft onboard at sea and discharge them.”
Adding to that, Amos said, the United States must become creative to engage Asian-Pacific nations. “There are a lot of creative juices flowing between the Department of the Navy and our two services on how [to] best contribute to ‘the new world’, he said.
“The collaborative, cooperative spirit between the Navy and the Marine Corps [is something] I’ve never seen better in my 43 years of being a Marine,” Amos noted. “There’s not an ounce of space between either one of us.”
In revising the maritime strategy, Papp agreed on the importance of working with Navy and Marine Corps forces, and said defense threats in the Arctic do not exist at this time.
“We’re really dealing with something that goes beyond national defense,” Papp said. “We’re working broad, national security [and] environmental, economic and energy security in day-to-day maritime governance. Given that we are the strongest maritime nation in the world, it’s only right that we have the best Navy [and] Marine Corps, … [and] we need the best Coast Guard.”
It is not necessary to build permanent shore infrastructure, which is hugely expensive on the Arctic North Slope, Papp added. “This is where maritime forces come into play,” he said, “because you can bring them in as long as they’re needed, retract them afterward and reutilize them for other purposes.”
He said the floating Coast Guard sector in the Arctic comprises an air station, a command center with worldwide command and control capabilities, and ships that can launch up to three boats with crews and provide initial response for any type of maritime governance.
The three sea-service chiefs also approached with caution the concept of the drawdown in overall U.S. military forces in the coming years.
“We will be driven to participate and engage, [because] we’ve got global responsibilities,” Amos said. “We’re a maritime nation, and we’ve existed in peace as a maritime nation in our 238 years because we’ve got the oceans on both sides of us, and we’ve got [allies] on the north and the south.
“But we have global responsibilities, and we are not going to do less with less,” he continued. We’re going to do the same with less, and that is a dangerous solution that drives you to a hollow force.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkAFPS)