Chapter 5—
The Naval Services: Network-Centric Warfare

William D. O’Neil

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are organizationally and legally distinct armed services under the Department of the Navy, a single military department of the Department of Defense (DOD). Often referred to as the naval services, the two have grown up and worked closely together over the entire history of the Republic. Any satisfactory account of transformation must consider both their separate identities and their interconnections.1

The U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) is a ground force structured to move ashore from the sea, against strong opposition if necessary. At sea, Marine strike fighter squadrons serve in aircraft carrier air wings. Marine air-ground task forces (MAGTFs) deploy aboard Navy amphibious ready groups. The two services work closely in getting Marine forces to the scene of entry and safely ashore, and the Navy provides a substantial portion of the heavy firepower to support marines operating ashore in the littorals, as well as certain support functions.

We begin with an overview of missions and some of the technology enablers that seem most applicable in the naval context. Next comes an outline of potential visions for naval forces transformation. The bulk of the chapter examines a variety of issues that are broadly relevant to transformation. In keeping with the theme of the present volume, technological issues receive emphasis. Finally, brief sections tie the arguments together and summarize.2

Naval Missions

Over the past three millennia and more, navies arose out of the desire of nations to prosecute overseas expeditions and to prevent enemy raids on their own coasts. Gaining control of the sea—by defeating the enemy navy or by confining it to harbor out of fear of defeat—served for both protection and expedition. For states and circumstances that did not need or contemplate expeditions, sea control or denial became the preeminent naval mission, at least in principle. For the American naval services, however, sea control has never been a primary issue in practice, at least not since the War of 1812. Their original role was, instead, primarily the promotion and protection of overseas commerce and influence. In the 20th century, the U.S. rise to world power created demands for the naval services to facilitate major overseas expeditions and to conduct lesser ones on their own. In the 1950s, the Navy added a nuclear strategic strike mission and, in the 1980s, a significant conventional strategic strike mission.

Navy control of the seas is now all but unchallenged, as it has been except on local scales since 1945. The naval services maintain overseas presence in support of American interests more vigorously and visibly than ever. Both the Navy and Marines devote major efforts to assuring that their forces can “kick in the door” to insert U.S. power wherever it may be needed in littoral regions and that they can mount heavy conventional strikes. The Navy ballistic missile submarine force is a cornerstone of American strategic deterrence.

The end of the Cold War prompted a searching reassessment of mission needs by the naval services. The collapse of the bipolar superpower balance increased demands for overseas expeditions on a moderate scale and for lesser interventions to promote and protect commercial and political interests. This required capability for small expeditions, conventional strategic strikes, and visible presence. Although the importance of the strategic strike mission and the resources allocated to it were declining, changing technologies prompted increased attention to advances in this area. The 1990s brought further adjustments in detail. For example, the Navy has moved to position itself for the homeland defense mission, to improve protection of the U.S. metropolitan territory from threats of attack with weapons of mass destruction by rogue states or nonstate groups—a development in evidence even prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In general, however, there have been no major revisions of the vision of naval missions in recent years.

Technology Enablers

The development of aircraft in the 20thýcentury entirely transformed naval warfare; virtually every ship today serves to a significant extent as a platform for aircraft, manned or unmanned (including missiles), while Marine Corps doctrine completely integrates ground and air forces. Technological progress in aviation was most rapid from about 1930 to 1960. Since then it has slowed noticeably, despite continued strong demand. The constraint has been, and continues to be, that the realization of ideas for technological advancement requires major investment, while promise of returns is often uncertain. Thus, advances will continue to be incremental. However, defense remains a large factor in the aviation market, and focused development investment by DOD might have a significant effect in particular areas, such as those discussed below.

Of no less importance, particularly at sea, has been the advent of electronic systems for sensing and communication. While the pace of information technology (IT) development has slackened due to economic factors, on the whole it appears that the economic and technological makings are in place for further substantial progress.

Although progress in aeronautical and electronic technologies continues to provide the principal potential technology enablers for the naval services, other prospects for transforming the U.S. naval services are also frequently mentioned, including biotechnology, nanotechnology, fuel cells, and artificial intelligence (AI). Biotechnology is widely expected to be the next major field of technological advance, notwithstanding the controversies and difficulties surrounding it. So far, however, it appears that the markets for biotechnology will principally be in nondefense areas. The basic technologies may eventually prove valuable to defense in ways difficult to foresee, but the specific commercial technologies for the most part will not be.

Nanotechnology involves making materials and devices whose structures are closely controlled at intermolecular scales, much smaller than those accessible to conventional manufacturing technologies. These are the scales at which many of nature’s most important effects are obtained, and nanotechnology could well have many significant impacts. Current microelectronic fabrication techniques are an example, but their applicability is limited; self-organizing and self-assembling nanometer-scale systems seem to hold more promise. Present scientific knowledge does not yet appear adequate to support sustained commercial development.

The fuel cell has been heralded as the great power technology of the future ever since its invention in 1839. It picks apart the ionic and electronic flows in oxidation-reduction reactions and captures the electrons to do useful work on their way to completing the reaction. Much progress has been made, but major obstacles remain to doing this efficiently and reliably, especially the fuel cell’s need for costly platinum catalysts and its needs for novel fuels. Nevertheless, fuel cells seem likely to find major military application as sources of portable power in cases where suitable fuels can be tolerated and reduced fuel consumption is worth a premium. They will be particularly attractive as substitutes for batteries in long-life applications.

Artificial intelligence must be included on the grounds of popular expectation, not demonstrated potential. Expectations of AI machines whose “intelligence” matches or exceeds that of humans have largely been formed by radically oversimplified models of human neurological functioning. Nevertheless, computerized systems will be capable of increasingly complex repertoires of programmed behaviors.

Aviation remains a particularly promising field for new dual-use technologies: those with military as well as civilian commercial applications. Historical dual-use examples include radial spark-ignition engines used in both military and commercial aircraft (1920s-1930s) and diesel engines for submarines and locomotives (1930s). Examples with potential for the future include advanced performance gas turbine cores, new structural materials and systems, and subsonic/transonic airflow control for improved ratios of lift to drag or controllability, all of which present significant but costly opportunities. The payoff for these would be in improved range-payload performance, which would benefit both long-range civil aircraft and long-range military attack and transport aircraft. More speculative is the possibility of hypersonic aircraft capable of hurtling halfway around the world in 4 or 5 hours; they might carry civil passengers, weapon loads, or military troops and cargo.

The civil economy will not lead in some transformational technologies. After all, nuclear weapons, radar, sonar, gas turbines, radar stealth, and missile guidance systems were all first developed by the military, and all have had significant transformational impacts. Security concerns tend to obscure the prospects for unique technologies of these sorts.

The Navy has sometimes had significant impact on U.S. manufacturing by working with contractors to innovate improvements in technology and modes of organization, as well as facilitating the acquisition of more and better capital equipment to improve productivity. In cases such as aircraft and electronics, progress requires joint efforts on the part of all or most of the four services, while in other areas, such as shipbuilding, the naval services have a natural lead. These efforts are a major focus for the naval systems commands. However, the close, hands-on relations with suppliers that most readily foster efforts to improve manufacturing are subject to economic and political demands for arms-length competition in defense procurement.

Service Visions of Future Missions and Capabilities

The visions of the naval services of their missions and capabilities emphasize vigorous change and growth within a context of continuity. Following the major shift toward expeditionary roles early in the 1990s, missions came to be seen predominantly in evolutionary terms. As rapidly as economic and technological resources allow, both services are moving to improve and extend their capabilities for overseas expeditionary warfare in support of American policy and interests. The Navy also focuses on capabilities for strike warfare to the same ends. Both the Navy and Marines emphasize maintaining and exercising overseas presence as an instrument of American international influence and to facilitate rapid response to fast-developing crises. Efforts include:

  • exploiting the inherent mission flexibility of aircraft carriers by equipping them with more advanced aircraft and weapons and improving training
  • increasing the ability of marines to move rapidly and decisively
    to their objectives by introducing new troop aircraft and landing vehicles
  • strengthening surface ship capabilities to deliver fire ashore, both for independent strike missions and to support ground forces, by providing more and more diverse fire systems
  • replacing Marine Corps AV-8 Harrier light attack aircraft with modern, multimission short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) fighter-attack aircraft to provide expanded capabilities for air-to-air combat as well as ground attack
  • supplementing and partly replacing slow-responding dedicated mine-countermeasure assets with organic capabilities that travel with and are integrated into rotationally deploying naval strike/amphibious forces
  • freeing USMC ground forces from cumbersome and vulnerable logistics “tail” to permit more rapid and effective maneuver, by emphasizing precision over mass and improving logistics and transport technologies
  • deploying advanced antimissile systems aboard surface ships to protect both the fleet and expeditionary units and the theater assets necessary for force insertion
  • developing defensive technologies against future missile and undersea threats
  • equipping and training Marine forces to serve a variety of short-of-war needs, such as protection and evacuation of American personnel threatened by foreign unrest or terrorism—especially in techniques and with systems that can reduce the likelihood of casualties among civilians.

Transforming Assets, Structures, and Operations

The most central strategic factor in U.S. defense for the naval services is that the potential theaters for military action all lie overseas. Since ships remain the only practical means of transporting heavy military equipment and supplies to these places, the naval services have a special responsibility not only for transport but also for assuring that forces can be put into action from the sea. The rest of this section therefore examines potential transformation of naval assets, followed by shorter discussions of transformation of structures and operations.

Transforming Assets

Navies are particularly dependent on capital equipment: ships, weapons, aircraft, and the shore infrastructure to support them. Viewed strictly as a ground force, the Marine Corps is relatively “light” and correspondingly less rich in ground-combat capital equipment. But getting marines to the scenes of amphibious or expeditionary operations and into the fight involves a great deal of specialized equipment. Moreover, the Corps has its own integral specialized air and logistics components. All USMC aircraft and most of the systems for landing are on Navy books and accommodated aboard Navy shipping. Thus, from an investment standpoint, the naval services are generally best viewed as a single entity, sharing use of a great pool of common capital.

Under current policies and budget realities, the capital turnover or replenishment cycle is a matter of several decades. Because the naval services, like other services, need to turn over some investments much more rapidly—for instance, their IT equipment—other matériel must last longer than the nominal average lifetime (say 35 years for the sake of argument, although in reality it might be somewhat less or more). From a top-level management perspective, there are two major challenges: long life and slow change. The Department of the Navy knows how to make its critical equipment last a long time, but it is difficult to be sure how to make it productive and effective for 35 years and more. This is especially true because major commitments often must be made 10 to 15 years or so before new equipment enters the force in large quantity, sometimes stretching the need for foresight out to half a century or more. Moreover, with less than 3 percent of the naval service capital turning over each year, it takes a long time to make a major change in the service capital structure. Thus, the naval services need to exercise a lot of foresight in deciding on the right thing to buy and to prepare to buy, in this year and this Program Objective Memorandum (POM) cycle. Put another way, in deciding what to buy now, Navy leaders need to look far beyond the POM period. If they buy a lot of equipment that will not still be productive in 35 years, they could leave future leaders with a force that has serious deficiencies. However, a few missteps will not be fatal because things change slowly.

Several categories of missions and associated assets are of particular importance to naval transformation: access denial; information technology; unmanned vehicles; standoff; short takeoff and landing and vertical takeoff and landing aircraft; proposals for so-called super-platforms; and stealth.

Littoral Warfare and Denial of Access

Naval forces have been intervening in land wars time out of mind. By the 17th century, nations had begun to invest heavily in coastal defenses to prevent this. Fortifications, seacoast artillery, and physical barriers were built. Ever since then, the impossibility of breaching seacoast defenses has repeatedly been asserted and repeatedly been proven wrong. Defenses certainly have posed dangers to seaborne forces and compelled them to modify their technology and operations but have not made it impossible to attack from the sea.

With the United States in possession of overwhelming seaborne power, those disposed to hostility and intending mischief naturally have a keen interest in potential means to deflect it. The term often used for this is antiaccess because naval officers (among others) often talk about their forces as providing access to littoral regions.

The anti-ship antiaccess threats that currently receive the most attention are long-range missiles, mines, submarines, and aircraft armed with standoff weapons. Small craft and physical obstacles also need to be considered. None of these are new threats: long-range missiles have been around for more than half a century, anti-ship aircraft for eight decades, the others for a century or more. But new technologies breathe new life into them, even as they strengthen “access” forces.

In objective terms, it is by no means clear that antiaccess is gaining on access; indeed, it is not even clear that it is a serious race. Despite the arguments of those who would have the United States “transform” itself out of even seeking to use its naval power to permit access to overseas theaters, this is not the intention of the naval services.

Three points form the basis of most ideas of antiaccess: finding ships, hitting and killing ships, and anti-ship weapons such as mines and submarines.

  • Finding ships. It is argued that modern technology makes it easy to see ships wherever they may be; soon this will be possible with commercial space sensors.
  • Hitting and killing ships. It is argued that modern technology makes it possible, once ships are found, to hit them swiftly and surely with long-range ballistic or cruise missiles.
  • Modern anti-ship weapons. It is argued that ships are highly vulnerable to modern weapon warheads.

Apart from references to specific systems, such as space sensors and missiles, all of these things have been said in essentially the same terms since the 1920s. They are truer now than they were then, but not by much. The technological advances that enable antiaccess capabilities also help naval forces to counter them. In addition, the United States devotes much greater resources to naval forces than any of our adversaries have available to mount antiaccess threats.

First, consider the issue of finding ships. Most people recognize that submarines are difficult to detect and are likely to remain so. Aircraft carriers seem to lie at the opposite extreme: huge and exposed. Serious engineering studies have explored concepts for “stealthy” carriers, but close analysis has made such measures seem neither necessary nor fruitful. It is difficult to hide an airbase altogether, even a mobile floating one. However, carriers gain quite a bit of invisibility from the immensity of the sea and clutter of other things on its surface. The Persian Gulf, for example, is the smallest body of water in which major surface naval forces operate. Yet a computerized picture of its surface, at a scale just sufficient to allow someone peering closely to distinguish a carrier reasonably well from the thousands of other large objects on the surface, would take about 3,000 large 19-inch computer monitor screens. If smaller ships are to be distinguished, the number must go up further. Moreover, the sensor systems to generate this picture quickly and to refresh it frequently are not available. It would cost immense amounts to build them, and they would be vulnerable to a variety of countermeasures that obscure real ships and generate false targets.

Second, consider the issue of hitting and killing ships. Despite the difficulties, ships will sometimes be found. But any attack on ships over long distances, even by fast weapons such as ballistic missiles, is complicated a great deal by mobility. At a modest distance of 500 kilometers (270 nautical miles) from the weapon launch site, a naval force may move more than 5 kilometers in the interval between ballistic missile launch and reentry. Any non-nuclear missile attacking a ship must have an elaborate system to find the ship and home in on it. This increases the complexity and cost of anti-ship missiles a great deal and exposes them to countermeasures that confuse their elaborate guidance systems.

Moreover, the attacking missiles must get through the fleet’s own missile shield, consisting of two or more layers of sophisticated and effective anti-missile systems. The Aegis missile system is able to attack incoming missiles at long ranges and is being upgraded to deal with both endoatmospheric and exoatmospheric ballistic threats. Various versions of the Sea Sparrow missile system offer effective defense at intermediate ranges, and the Rolling Airframe Missile is highly effective at short ranges. Missiles are complemented by an array of countermeasures designed to reduce the probability that an attacking missile’s guidance will work properly.

Finally, warships are designed to withstand hits. Today’s aircraft carriers are probably the most damage-resistant ships overall that have ever sailed. It is reasonable to liken them to hardened aircraft shelters ashore. They are not proof against all attacks, but it would take an accurate hit by an especially powerful and specialized weapon to have a good chance of putting a carrier out of action. Smaller ships cannot be made as resistant but are nonetheless remarkably tough.

While submarines have received less attention recently, historically they have posed threats to heavy ships just as serious as those posed by aircraft and missiles. Apart from Britain and France, only Russia and China operate nuclear submarines. The nuclear submarine force of the former Soviet Union was recognized as a serious threat to American carriers approaching Soviet maritime frontiers and to a lesser extent in places where the Soviets maintained forward patrols. The threat that they posed was exacerbated by their weapons: 65-centimeter (25.6 inch) torpedoes and large anti-ship missiles, many with nuclear warheads. Today, the two dozen nuclear anti-ship submarines remaining from this fleet are operated by the Russian Federation Navy and seem unlikely to come into play against the U.S. Navy. Meanwhile, Russia’s economic and political troubles have adversely affected fleet readiness.

China’s naval forces have a handful of nuclear subs of rather dated design, lacking weapons that pose special threats to carriers. China and other states might build newer and more advanced nuclear submarines, but it is doubtful that any of these nations would be better able to bear the economic burdens of such costly armaments than the Soviet Union proved to be.

Only the quietest of submarines can escape being hunted down quickly by forces guided by modern U.S. detection systems. Not only must the submarine be designed and constructed to exacting standards, but it also must frequently be checked by sensitive equipment and adjusted to eliminate emerging noise sources as they develop.

Assuming that our naval forces are pitted against a first-rate modern non-nuclear submarine with a competent crew, the first defense is still the vastness of the sea. Modern surface warships, while not as quiet as submarines, have been quieted to an extent that limits the range at which submarines can detect them. Moreover, because the non-nuclear submarine has limited underwater speed and endurance, it may be unable to reach a fast-moving warship even though it does detect it.

Present-day non-nuclear submarines rely on diesel engines for surface and snorkel operation and on lead-acid storage batteries while submerged. There is much interest in what are termed air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems, which are alternative ways to power the submarine while submerged. But AIP schemes now in prospect would all be low-speed systems, good for long submerged patrol but giving little advantage in attacks on warships.

Should a submarine succeed in finding a surface naval force and closing to engage, it must reckon with the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) forces. Recognizing that some submarines will be undetectable by passive listening, the Navy has developed a variety of systems that employ advanced technology to detect and locate submarines without depending on their noise. Generally, the actions that submarines must take to attack surface ships will tend to expose them more to detection.

Except for Russia, no submarine force today has weapons that would be particularly effective at attacking large, survivable ships like aircraft carriers. Even if a submarine overcomes all the odds against it to reach a firing position against a carrier, there is a substantial chance that the carrier will suffer only limited damage because of the limits of the submarine’s weapons. Other ships are generally more vulnerable.

Mines deserve particular discussion. No innovation has had a more dramatic impact on naval “access” concepts than mines. By far the greatest users of mines have been Britain and the United States, whose mining campaigns in the two world wars accounted for thousands of enemy ships. These two great sea powers (and air powers) had the means to deliver mines in massive numbers—about half a million of them in the two conflicts. It was offensive mining (that is, planting mines in enemy waters) that did most of the execution.

This illustrates the trouble with using mines as antiaccess weapons; in most cases, those who seek to deny access do not have the means to lay enough mines to make a major difference. This is not to say that our naval forces would not find mines difficult to deal with, but it is a difficulty fundamentally different from the one the United States inflicted on the Japanese late in World War II.

It is possible, of course, to get more effect from small numbers by using more sophisticated mines that can go after their targets instead of merely waiting for them. But these are more costly, more vulnerable to countermeasures, and more difficult to employ effectively.

In addition, mine countermeasures (MCM) is an area in which the Navy has been most inventive and vigorous in transformation. It has sought an “organic” MCM capability to deploy as part of its battlegroups rather than solely as a separate auxiliary service. Major efforts include unmanned semisubmerged MCM vehicles that can be deployed aboard surface combatant ships, including destroyers and smaller warships, and compact airborne systems that can be deployed with normal shipboard helicopters. These will not be sufficient to substitute entirely for dedicated separate mine countermeasures forces but should improve the fleet’s ability to operate with acceptable risk in the face of mine threats. Naturally, the success of these efforts will depend not only on the degree of technical success in equipment development but also on the development of effective doctrine for employment and on training fleet forces.

In sum, then, although many nations may have adopted antiaccess strategies, having the means to put such a strategy into effective operation is another matter. Notwithstanding advances in technology and commercial space capabilities, naval forces at sea will remain invisible most of the time, particularly when they are most concerned to stay undetected and employ detection countermeasures. Without the ability to keep continuous track of our naval forces, those who would deny access will find their options severely limited. They will have to shoot as the opportunity presents itself, rather than waiting to mass their forces in favorable circumstances, and their weapons are unlikely to be numerous enough or good enough to overwhelm strong naval defenses. By the time our forces are close enough to permit more frequent detection, those who would deny access will find themselves under heavy attack. American surface naval forces are by no means invulnerable, but the odds favor them quite strongly.

This is not to say that all is well. Unless they are well hardened, fixed facilities needed as part of U.S. access to a theater, such as ports and airfields, could be at risk from much simpler and cheaper missiles than those needed to hit moving ships. Ships lying at anchor or constrained to move slowly for long periods could find themselves in similar straits. Amphibious forces assaulting defended beaches could be exposed to a wide variety of particularly difficult threats. All of this makes it more difficult to be sure of moving from the sea to the land—the final key step.

It is for reasons such as these that the naval services have been moving to free themselves from dependence on ports for offloading and on airfields for air power and to introduce sea-based capabilities for area and even theater-wide defense against tactical ballistic and cruise missiles.

If antiaccess forces had economic and technical resources on the scale of those that the United States devotes to naval forces, access could be seriously at risk. In the days when the Soviet Union was spending itself into insolvency to keep up with the United States, the ability of our naval services to conduct offensive surface operations in Soviet waters was open to grave doubt. But our capabilities have advanced greatly since then, and none of our potential adversaries of today even approach the Soviets in technical or economic resources for antiaccess. To a large extent, those who worry greatly today about naval force vulnerability are falling into the trap of Cold War thinking.

Information Technology and Naval Transformation

Information has always been a dominant factor in naval warfare because finding the enemy has always been the first problem of action at sea. New technologies for communications, sensing, and information processing have always been taken up eagerly by naval forces, and they have always been especially interested in technologies to deny information to enemies. It is surprisingly difficult to point to a truly fundamental advance in physics or technical principles that has affected IT over the past several decades; instead, IT seems to have had most of its effect in doing better and faster what has long been done. Nevertheless, recent rapid increases in microelectronics densities have spurred the search for truly new and revolutionary uses. In the Navy, this has been summed up in the phrase network-centric warfare (or operations). This term implies a geographic and organizational decentralization and dispersion of functions and the use of communications and sensor systems to achieve distant action with minimal need to mass physical forces. While the Marine Corps is less prone to employ the network-centric label, it too is vigorously exploring concepts of this sort.

How much the two naval services actually spend on things that might be classed as IT is unclear in their accounting systems, but the amount undoubtedly is substantial. There seems reason to believe that, much like U.S. industry, the services have realized gains in productivity as a result. In specific instances, they can point to quite striking improvements, but few would claim that they have experienced broad transformational changes as yet.

Predictions of omnipotence for naval information technology rest principally on expectations that better, more timely information about both enemy and friendly forces will enable far more rapid, decisive action. However, the gains may be less dramatic than sometimes portrayed and may depend on investments in other areas beside information technology.

Major advantages in information are not new to war. In World War II, for instance, allied superiority in signals intelligence frequently provided allied forces with dazzling information advantages over German and Japanese opponents. The communications technology and other aspects of IT that American forces used to coordinate activities were crude and slow by today’s standards, but they were generally faster and better than those of enemies. Close examination of the history, however, shows clearly that this superiority in information rarely was decisive in itself. Superiority also required forces of decisive mass that could be moved swiftly in response to the information and that could exert dominating combat power at the point of contact. For another example, the Royal Air Force (RAF) successfully defended England against attack by Hitler’s Luftwaffe in 1940, after France had fallen to the Nazi blitzkrieg. It was the first operational use of radar, and the RAF probably could not have prevailed without it. Even with radar accurately reporting virtually every German raid, however, the RAF would have been helpless if it had not already invested in a fighter force commensurate with what the Luftwaffe threw against it.

Warring Automatons

The IT revolution brought about unmanned and smart automatic weapons and systems. As with IT, this trend can seem more recent and dramatic than in fact it is. Sophisticated, entirely autonomous weapons have been widely used in naval warfare for more than half a century, and autonomous systems for reconnaissance and information collection at sea have almost as long a history. Security restrictions associated with their advanced technologies have often tended to keep these systems out of the public eye.

Rapid progress in many fields of electronic technology has allowed autonomous systems to carry far more sophisticated computers as well as much better sensors and communications links. But the gap between computer and human capabilities remains so immense that no one has offered any scientifically defensible idea of how, when, or even whether it may eventually be bridged. There are scientific reasons for caution about prospects for replacing fighter pilots or riflemen with machines. Advantages from “dis-manning” platforms might outweigh many drawbacks, but it is tricky to draw valid generalizations.

Human capabilities probably will be easiest to replace in areas that do not depend greatly on visual perception or visual reasoning, hence the caution concerning replacement of humans in matters such as close-in air-to-air and infantry combat. Prospects for automation are brighter in many warfare tasks at sea for which visual faculties are of limited importance. It is no accident that highly automated weapons and systems first appeared and came to be significant in sea operations, starting with mines and torpedoes in the 19th century and going on to homing weapons and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) in the 20th century.

Many warfare automata have been undone through failures of systems that have little to do, at first sight, with the “human-like” functions of the system.3 Much of this is the result of poorly conceived engineering economies, resulting in employment of low-reliability systems for critical functions such as propulsion or control. Also, with no humans aboard, engineers must foresee and prepare for all possible situations with a thoroughness that is not essential when there is a crew to take up the slack. The relatively low cost of unmanned systems has to be balanced against the costs of frequent replacement of crashed or lost systems. Moreover, the need to do so much from the base has often meant that small, light unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have trailed massive logistic and support systems. Such problems may yield to better engineering, but thoroughly engineering such systems will be quite expensive.

Progress is being made in the technical and economic problems of unmanned systems, if not so rapidly as often imagined or claimed. The incentives to do so are greatest in applications for which conventional manned systems are least satisfactory. Principal potential advantages include:

  • freedom from risk of loss or capture of pilots or crewmembers
  • endurance that is not limited by human capacities
  • lack of human life-support demands, especially important for operations in harsh environments
  • minimum size not constrained by human dimensions and mass.

Sensor carrying is a major function for unmanned vehicles and can be especially well served by these attributes. For the most part, this has so far largely involved adaptation of existing classes of sensors for UUVs, UAVs, and other unmanned systems. In principle, however, unmanned vehicles could lend themselves to novel strategies of sensor design. This may offer avenues for significant extensions in surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities if the sensor system and vehicles can be designed into an integrated total system architecture.

Almost unnoticed in the debate about unmanned systems has been the progressive decrease in the “manning” requirements of many kinds of naval systems. The number of crewmembers required to fly and fight one aircraft, for example, has generally shrunk to one, or sometimes two where circumstances demand redundancy; other crew members are carried strictly to operate special mission systems. The proposed new DD(X) class of land-attack destroyers is planned for a crew of only 95 on a ship whose size and functions are comparable to a World War II cruiser with a crew of 900 and whose effectiveness is vastly greater.

Strike Systems and Platforms

Closely related, both technically and conceptually, to war by automata is war by strike (that is, destroying or neutralizing some particular set of things). Modern concepts of strike warfare trace their origins to the 1890s and the beginnings of powered flight. The United States was a latecomer to the notion, taking it up only in the 1920s, but it has since become distinctively American.

Roughly speaking, there are two great branches of strike-war thought, which are often represented (somewhat misleadingly) by the shorthand terms strategic strike (or pure strike) and tactical strike. The theory of strategic strike is that war can be altogether reduced to actions of strike and that scarcely any other kinds of military operations are necessary or desirable. In tactical strike, the theory is that war can be made more effective and less costly by combining strike and other operations.

Outside of the nuclear arena, naval thought has always tended to be skeptical of pure strategic strike theories, but the Navy has nevertheless built a considerable array of strike capabilities that can to some extent serve strategic as well as tactical aims. Fires from naval guns represented an early form of strike that, much modified and extended, still persists. The introduction of aircraft into the fleet brought a major change in naval strike capabilities, and carrier-based aircraft continue to provide the bulk of multipurpose naval strike capability.

The past 15 years have seen the introduction of ship-launched non-nuclear strike missiles, notably the Tomahawk cruise missile. The Tomahawk has transformed strike capabilities in ways that policymakers have frequently found attractive. Its ability to hit chosen geographic coordinate points up to 1,000 nautical miles inland with good accuracy and high reliability and assurance—and no exposure of crews to death or capture—has brought widespread use despite a cost-per-delivered-warhead that is usually higher than for comparable air-delivered precision weapons. This has led to interest in ways to mass larger numbers of Tomahawks (and possible follow-on missiles) in the theater. One proposal called for an arsenal ship, which is essentially a cargo vessel equipped not only to carry missiles to the scene but also to “offload” them by firing them. However, eschewing the combination of highly concentrated military value and high vulnerability, the Navy elected instead to combine expanded strike missile capacities with warship survivability and a broader range of mission capabilities in its new DD(X) class destroyers. These are designed to provide what amounts to heavy artillery support for Marine Corps and Army troops ashore, up to scores of miles inland. Consideration is being given to supplementing Tomahawk cruise missiles with ship-launched precision short-range ballistic missiles for hitting time-sensitive tactical targets.

The Tomahawk is also carried by submarines, and its ability to reach firing points undetected has proven attractive in some circumstances. This has led to interest in submarines with much larger strike-missile capacities, generally referred to as nuclear-powered cruise missile attack submarines (SSGNs). Present plans are to convert four of the existing Trident ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) to SSGNs. For a given number of missiles, it will be somewhat more expensive to carry them in submarines than in surface warships, but SSGNs offer very valuable advantages of stealth and surprise.

Carrier-based aircraft remain at the core of naval strike capabilities, in terms of the volume and diversity of the ordnance that they can deliver economically. New generations of aerial strike weapons are for the most part being built to common DOD-wide specifications that will permit their use by naval aircraft. Also, the naval services are procuring at least small quantities of most new weapons, as well as the on-board systems necessary to target and deliver them. Navy strike fighter squadrons are now being equipped with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which offers some significantly improved strike capabilities over its predecessors. The naval services also participate in and support the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. Even though threats to manned strike aircraft generally are relatively manageable today and for the foreseeable future, the additional increment of stealth offered by the JSF will be welcomed for the added flexibility it brings, and it will substantially improve the flexibility of Marine air capabilities.

Aircraft and Smaller Carriers

A mile or more of runway is needed for conventional landing and takeoff—a nuisance ashore and a virtual impossibility at sea. With a few specialized exceptions, the Navy gave up on seaplanes and amphibious aircraft in the 1960s and has since met its air needs through two expedients: launching and recovering more or less conventional aircraft using specialized catapulting and arresting equipment aboard aircraft carriers, and employing special kinds of aircraft with vertical flight capabilities so that they can land and take off in restricted spaces. These latter are termed VSTOL (vertical and short takeoff and landing) or STOVL (short takeoff and vertical landing) aircraft. From the 1940s to the 1960s, helicopters were the only vertical-landing aircraft to see practical success, but they have since been joined by AV-8 Harrier jet-lift light attack aircraft. The tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey is nearing readiness for full production, and the JSF is about to begin development.

The Marines Corps is particularly committed to STOVL aircraft. It is the only U.S. user of the Harrier, the only U.S. service that has definitely committed to the STOVL JSF, and the principal prospective user of the Osprey. While awaiting the Osprey, it operates a large fleet of helicopters. The Harriers and most of its helicopters are quite old, contributing to Marine Corps impatience to see their successors into service. More significantly, both new aircraft are substantially more capable than those they are slated to supplant. The Osprey will materially improve the distance over which Marine ground units can be lifted and the speed with which they get there. Analysis suggests that this will allow Marine forces to engage and defeat opponents in a broader range of circumstances than heretofore possible, at lower cost in casualties. Naturally, it is difficult to be precise about how often these circumstances will arise, and the Osprey probably will not usually make a large difference in how strong an enemy force the Marine units can defeat, but Corps commanders eagerly look forward to gaining the greater flexibility and assurance that it will bring.

The JSF offers an even more striking improvement over Marine AV-8s (Harriers). It will be the first STOVL aircraft with a serious air-to-air combat capability, and it will be able to deliver a much wider and heavier range of precision weapons than the Harrier. Some Marine squadrons today operate F/A-18C/D Hornet strike fighters that offer a measure of these capabilities, but the Hornets are conventional carrier-based aircraft that are less flexible in shore basing and cannot operate from the amphibious ships that carry Marine units.

Both the Osprey and JSF programs have been proposed as possible candidates for a generation of new systems to be “skipped.”4 The consequences for Marine Corps capabilities would depend on what might be acquired in their places. It is difficult to see how either the existing helicopter fleet or the Harriers could be kept in service long enough to meet an entirely new generation of systems that would be unavailable for, perhaps, another two decades. If the existing helicopter fleet were replaced with more modern helicopters, there would be losses in force capabilities and flexibility, as indicated above, at perhaps some marginal savings in procurement costs. In the absence of the JSF, it would seem that Harriers could only be replaced with F/A-18s, again with a significant decline in flexibility. Any other course would involve substantial change in Marine concepts and doctrine and would seem inevitably to involve serious sacrifice in capabilities.

At present, an aircraft carrier must employ both catapults to accelerate aircraft to flying speed and arresting gear to bring landing aircraft to a safe stop on limited deck spaces. In the earliest days of carrier aviation, by contrast, such expedients were unnecessary. Just as at an airfield, the slower, smaller aircraft of the day could launch and recover on a carrier’s deck, aided only by the wind of its passage. It has always been clear that a return to this situation would bring some benefits, and the Navy has accordingly been a strong and consistent supporter of research into STOVL technology.

The STOVL issue should not be conflated with that of smaller carriers. It is possible to build carriers that are less than half the displacement (mass) of present models without sacrificing the capability to launch and recover conventional aircraft, essentially by putting a smaller hull under a deck that is nearly as large. The problem with doing so is that a small carrier carries fewer aircraft and less fuel, ordnance, and parts to support them. Indeed, such capacities shrink somewhat faster than overall size, while costs diminish much less rapidly.5 Analyses of operational experience indicate that smaller air wings would be unable to meet many needs. For the most part, the advances offered by aircraft and weapons technologies pay off in greater capability for the air wing, not in reductions in the numbers of aircraft needed to fulfill its functions.

If the number of aircraft in the air wing is held fixed and if STOVL aircraft are the same size as conventional carrier aircraft of similar capabilities, then an all-STOVL carrier might be modestly smaller and cheaper because catapults and arresting gear would not be needed. The savings would be at most a few percent. Some operational advantages might be significant and might permit some small reduction in air wing size without sacrificing capability. But this would depend on the actual characteristics of the STOVL aircraft. Studies indicate that it would probably be possible to build a quite attractive STOVL aircraft for strike fighter functions by retaining catapult launch capabilities, but the other missions for carrier-based aircraft—especially those relating to surveillance—do not lend themselves so well to STOVL with current or immediately foreseeable technology. Of course, there could well be advantages to operating STOVL aircraft from carriers that were equipped also for catapult launch and arrested recovery of other types of aircraft.

A Navy without a Top

For 60 years, aircraft carriers and their air wings have been the Navy’s dominant force component and greatest expense, making them a natural focus of attention in any debate about transformation. Aircraft carriers and carrier-based aircraft have often been pronounced “obsolete” since the first carriers went to sea just after World War I. It is an issue that must continually be reassessed.

Many of the concerns about carriers do not bear much scrutiny. The ships are not notably vulnerable to either current or reasonably projected weapons. The Navy does not buy other major forces primarily to “protect” carriers; rather, naval forces inherently operate as a combined, integrated whole, and carriers both protect and are protected by the other forces they operate with. The argument has been made for more than 80 years that developments in long-range land-based aircraft make carrier basing an expensive anachronism. However, there remain many important situations in which other forms of air power cannot effectively substitute for carriers. It is notable that rushing carriers to the scene continues to be a chief response of American Presidents to crises.

Nonetheless, it is possible that a decision will be taken to abandon aircraft carrier forces. The consequences of such a decision depend on the details of how the phaseout occurs and what is done to strengthen forces in other respects. It will matter most in situations where only a floating airbase can provide a platform for U.S. tactical air power. How important this may be depends in part on one’s perspective on American strategic needs. If U.S. intervention overseas is seen as occurring solely in the context of coalition or alliance efforts to help friendly and cooperative nations defend against external aggression, then it is reasonable to insist that those to whose aid we rush will provide basing for our forces, as well as protection for the bases. In these circumstances, carriers are supplementary rather than primary, and the need for them might logically diminish. On the other hand, we could envision a United States that wished to be able to pursue its own national and alliance interests freely in regions where local support was constrained by political and cultural factors. In this way, basing might be limited or unavailable. One region that has fit this description at least at some times in the recent past is the Persian Gulf, source of nearly 30 percent of world oil production and seat of more than 40 percent of world oil reserves. Another example is afforded by the operations against Afghanistan following the September 11 terrorist attacks, in which carrier decks were initially the only available bases and continued to provide a major asset even once bases in the region had been secured.

In such circumstances, carriers must provide most of the tactical air power for defensive counter air, offensive counter air, suppression of enemy air defenses, and close air support. Additionally, they will normally provide a substantial fraction of strike capability, even with full commitment of long-range land-based air forces and sea-launched missiles. In particular, they will provide a major part of the capacity for rapid and repeated strikes against time-sensitive targets to meet tactical needs. In places such as the Persian Gulf, carrier aircraft remain the most economical means to meet these needs if local land bases are unavailable or restricted. Thus, the absence of carrier forces would leave a hole that could not be filled on an equal-cost basis by other means. Without defensive counter air, committing any other forces except highly survivable long-range strike assets normally would be too risky. Unless the latter can be expected to accomplish all major U.S. objectives, lack of carriers could force the United States to forego military options in theaters where it lacks secure tactical basing.

As a logical principle, other forces whose utility would be sharply curtailed by lack of carrier aviation should be put on the chopping block before or along with carriers. As this includes much of the Nation’s surface and amphibious naval forces, it explains Navy insistence that carrier forces are essential.

Littoral combatants

The Navy faces a serious dilemma in designing small warships: nature favors big ones. An aircraft carrier ten times the displacement of a destroyer needs only about three times the power for equal speed, carries more than ten times the warload, has far better seakeeping, and costs only about five times as much. And the destroyer enjoys similar advantages over a ship that is one-tenth its own size. Recent innovations in hullforms, materials, and propulsion systems have opened new options for small warships for littoral warfare. Some come from the fast ferry industry and others from foreign navies which emphasize small ships.

To meet its current operational concepts, the Navy needs deployable, self-sufficient, survivable, multicapability ships. In the past, ships much smaller than 3,500 tons displacement have proven unsatisfactory and were retired early. Today, size reductions of as much as one-third can be achieved by building in aluminum or new plastic composit materials (although little if any cost savings are in prospect in the near term). Size and cost reductions may be gained through diesel-electric propulsion or perhaps by applying the emergent technology of the fuel cells to propulsion needs. Further savings may be possible if the Navy finds it can accept lesser capabilities than have been needed to date.

Hullform options for small warships now include twin-hull ships (catamarans) and ships with very narrow central hulls flanked by two or four stabilizing hulls on outriggers (trimarans or pentamarans). Their hull shapes may be tailored to improve seakeeping and speed performance and these hullforms can offer greater space for warloads, superior aviation facilities, and better stability for carrying topweight. These advantages come at some cost in other respects, however, making careful tradeoffs necessary.

Stealth at Sea

In practice, stealth means mostly low radar signature. Radar signature is not closely associated with physical dimensions in the way that visual detectability is. The B-2 bomber, for example, has a radar signature far smaller than that of much more compact aircraft. In principle, the radar signatures of large ships could also be reduced, and this has been verified by tests of a relatively large demonstrator. Submarines, however, represent the ultimate in radar stealth simply because they operate below the surface of the sea, making them virtually undetectable by radar. On the whole, therefore, it has appeared better to rely on submarines for needs requiring great stealth rather than to develop highly stealthy surface ships. However, in many cases the radar signatures of surface ships have been cut substantially to more easily confuse missile seekers by means of countermeasures.

Transforming Structures

In principle, the naval services are not independent operational entities. The forces that they build are, for operational purposes, under joint command and control. In practice, however, many significant units of “joint” force are composed entirely of naval services elements, and the naval services generally have considerable latitude to optimize the composition and organization of these units. Thus, their structural concepts have operational as well as administrative implications.

The naval services pioneered flexible mixed-force task-oriented organization for operational purposes in the 1930s and 1940s. These concepts have continued to evolve but generally have served well. The services have found effective solutions to the logistical issues involved in flexible mixed forces. This allows them, for instance, to deploy mixed air wings and even small mixed air components (as in a MAGTF) with little penalty in logistical efficiency. Essentially, naval services plans for structural transformation envision continuing to exploit the flexibility inherent in their task organization concepts to meet evolving needs.

Transforming Operations

The opportunities for transforming existing naval operations are significant. Unspectacular and incremental transformation involves little dramatic new technology and instead builds on training and tactics, as well as improved modes of support.

Training and Tactics

While technology can enhance precision and effectiveness, the performance of different units, crews, and individuals using the same technology varies greatly. Gains from excellence in tactics and training may be greater than those that can be achieved by introducing a new generation of technology—and may be much more cheaply and quickly obtained.

The secret to transforming training and tactics lies in exact information about operational results as a function of all possible variations. The intuition or feel of operators is a starting point but is usually not nearly adequate as a basis for optimizing the performance of complex systems and forces employing advanced technology. Systematic controlled experimentation, precise and highly specific information about the results of operations in exercises and combat, and detailed analytical modeling and simulation all are key.

For more than half a century, the Navy has been a pioneer in such approaches and has gained greatly in effectiveness as a result. In part, this reflects the conditions of war at sea, which lent themselves to analysis and improvement of tactics and training because of the relatively small numbers of units involved and the fairly consistent environment in which they operated. With improved measurement and analysis technologies, it is now more feasible to extend this work to more complex cases, as the Marine Corps is doing. There is a great scope for wider application and vast benefit to be gained.

Support Operations

A great deal of the activity of the naval services is support: operations not intrinsically warlike and not inherently military. Even leaving aside the support operations that must be performed in places especially exposed to hostile fire, a huge amount remains. The diversity and dispersion of support operations make them difficult to manage well. Those at the top of the naval services cannot possibly fully understand all of their many operations and must focus on those that are most directly central to naval missions. It is difficult for them to know how efficient each support operation is or how much more efficient it could be.

An effective way to improve the efficiency of these activities is to throw them open to competition. Studies of competitive procurement of support have shown an average 30 percent reduction in costs for constant quality and quantity of output.6 These gains are achieved even when government teams win the competitions. It is free and open competition, not privatization as such, that brings the benefits. If allowed to compete on an equal basis, “outside” and “inside” organizations have each tended to win roughly half of competitions.

The key to effective use of competition lies in full and exact information about the operations involved. The services must know and be able to measure or assess exactly what output they need from the support activity, and they must communicate this fully and precisely to the competitors. This requires an intensive and disciplined analysis effort, but the rewards are worthwhile.

Key Choices

The logic of naval services transformation efforts seems difficult to dispute in the context of national strategic needs and priorities. Nevertheless, the naval services, like the others, face a serious affordability problem. Such large parts of their budgets are needed to support current operations that not enough is left over to replace aging equipment and modernize capabilities. In essence, the Nation is borrowing from the future to pay for its current naval capabilities. The hole that this leaves is not so apparent for the naval services as it would be for organizations that replaced their capital at a more rapid rate, but it is no less deep and will be no easier to fill.

This survey of naval transformation has failed to uncover any significant opportunities for economizing through application of new technology. Nor are there obvious opportunities for greatly extending the already long lives of major naval capital equipment. As this suggests, the balance between present and future must be restored largely through some reduction of current operating expenses relative to investment. In principle, this could happen by raising investment while holding operating funding steady, or raising it more slowly than investment. But given the Nation’s present financial and strategic circumstances, it seems in practice that the total for defense will not rise sufficiently to obviate the necessity to cut operating expenses to permit more investment. Since operating expenses are primarily driven by military manpower, this suggests a need for cuts in the numbers of personnel.

It may be possible to offset the effects of personnel cuts to some extent by equipping those who remain with superior and more extensive technology; this is the defense analogy to capital deepening in the civil economy. In the Navy, for instance, longstanding efforts to design or refit ships for operation by smaller crews have met with considerable success, and ships today are in many cases more lightly manned than predecessors of similar size and lesser capabilities. Still, the opportunities for naval capital deepening do not appear nearly sufficient to balance the books. This is particularly so for the Marine Corps, whose leaders see little potential for cutting manpower without serious effects on capabilities.


The naval services are in the process of transforming themselves from forces whose primary capacities facilitated control of the seas into forces increasingly able to use control of the sea as a basis for facilitating intervention ashore. This sweeping change, involving nearly the full range of modern military capabilities, has not lent itself to particular, narrowly defined technological solutions. A great deal of the transformational effort has focused on doctrinal development and change; analysis of actual operational results has demonstrated consistently over many decades that changes in training, tactics, and procedures can often have more effect than changes in technology. Such doctrinal changes tend to be less dramatic and often misunderstood.

The Marine Corps has been particularly active in developing a solid empirical basis for doctrinal changes through a carefully structured program of conceptualization, experimentation, and analysis of results. Much of this has been devoted to extending the spectrum of Marine Corps capabilities so that national decisionmakers will have a broader range of options at various levels of force in many different circumstances. While continuing to expand capabilities to fight and win against numerically superior conventional forces, the Marines have also been developing capabilities for meeting a variety of unconventional demands. Technological elements of this include improved mobility on the ground and in the air, agile logistics, information-gathering systems effective in a variety of environments, and systems that will permit control of hostile noncombatants with minimal casualties.

The Navy has devoted much of its attention to expanding its range of strike options for organic tactical support of naval operations both ashore and at sea, as well as options for employment of the naval strike forces by joint and national commanders. This has meant not only the introduction of new weapons and new strike platforms but also the development of systems and doctrine for their employment. The result has been a quiet but large ongoing change in the volume of strike weapons and in the precision, assurance, and flexibility with which they can be delivered. The Navy’s other major focus has been on assuring that naval forces can operate effectively in littoral regions in the face of current and potential threats. Because the Navy exercises such overwhelming superiority over all other navies, this has primarily taken the form of efforts to remedy particular deficiencies or shortfalls in defense against mines and certain specific weapons.

The quest for transformation in the naval services—as elsewhere in defense and indeed throughout government—has primarily been directed toward seeking means to do more and do it better. The officers and officials of the naval services have been imbued with the spirit of excellence, and most of them pursue it with remarkable energy and imagination.

But the need today is not really for the naval services to do more and better, or not simply to do this. Rather, they need to find ways to better balance present and future within a budget level that is essentially constant. That is, the need is not for transformation to do more and better but transformation to do well with less. From the perspective of officers and officials, the bureaucratic incentives to pursue this are mixed at best. Unless and until these incentives are transformed, the measures to accomplish transformation are unlikely to benefit broadly from the enthusiasm and knowledge of those most closely involved with the naval services.

Appendix: The U.S. Marine Corps: Transforming Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare

By Bing West

For over a decade, the Marines have articulated a warfighting doctrine that emphasizes high-tempo operations and rapid maneuver intended to shatter enemy cohesion. This has encouraged a generation of marines to look for operational opportunities, be willing to exploit openings quickly, and articulate orders in terms of the mission to be accomplished. This doctrine has influenced decisions about equipment and force structure.

For decades, marines have deployed in amphibious-based warfighting units that are self-sustaining and reasonably robust. They have served in sustained land campaigns, as in Vietnam, but what they provide to the Secretary of Defense, day in and day out, year after year, are sea-based warfighting packages that can be moved, landed, employed, and extracted without relying upon any external resources.

Afghanistan might at first have seemed an exception: a landlocked country that would show the limits of sea-based expeditionary power. In fact, a Marine expeditionary unit (MEU) moved inland hundreds of miles across desert and mountains. The action in Afghanistan also illustrated the operational scenario underlying the Marines’ dogged determination to get the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor helicopter and other new equipment, such as the joint strike fighter and the autonomous amphibious assault vehicle.7

Information Technology

Afghanistan also demonstrated advances in U.S. ability to monitor the battlefield and send continuous information, including live imagery, to air, space, and ground weapon systems. This enormous and costly increase in bandwidth among airborne and satellite platforms has not, however, been extended to Marine (or Army) infantry at the company level. The digital IT networks do not include them. This is partially a result of Marine Corps priorities; the bulk of IT spending has gone to staffs above the battalion level and to garrison functions. Also, over the next year, the Navy Marine Corps Intranet will extend to every Marine Corps desktop computer. The goal is to increase productivity. Marines, however, do not fight wars at their desks.

It is not clear what the vision is for extending new IT to Marine rifle squads. Uncharacteristically, the Marines have spent much more time and money upgrading garrison information technology. As the Marines continue to transform their force, IT priorities deserve a careful look.

Close Air Support

A second area of the Marine doctrine that is ripe for further transformation is the application of close air support. While fire traditionally supports maneuver, the Afghanistan experience opened a new dimension. Air strikes shattered enemy cohesion. Airpower was not a supporting fire; it was the decisive weapon. Maneuver followed airpower.

Certainly the favorable circumstances of that particular battlefield will not always be the case. Nonetheless, U.S. air power above 10,000 feet is now nearly invulnerable and, when linked to GPS coordinates or laser guidance, is highly accurate. Air directed by ground forces has emerged as a devastating offensive weapon.

The Marine Corps pioneered close air support; it is the only service with fire support teams that integrate aviators, artillery, and mortar observers. In Afghanistan, however, the air support was called in by Army sergeants in special forces teams, not by marines.

In an MEU that can place over 600 marines on the ground, current doctrine allows only two or three forward air controllers to call in air strikes. Only an aviator officer who has gone to the proper schools is permitted to call in air support. This skill level may be appropriate for the linear battlefield, where many units are close to one another on a crowded battlefield and where artillery, helicopter gunships, and fixed-wing air must be precisely coordinated in close proximity to ground units. But to train only for that battlefield restricts the maneuver doctrine that the Marines advocate. With lasers and GPS, on a dispersed battlefield, it does not take an aviator to direct air. It is likely the Marines will learn from the experience of the Special Operations Command in Afghanistan and modify their doctrine. However, obtaining the proper equipment to direct air is a separate and harder matter. Marine battalions simply do not have the communications, GPS, and laser sets needed to employ air more flexibly. The infantry does not benefit from the advocacy of the military-industrial lobbyists because it does not have a single big-ticket item around which lobbyists can coalesce to generate political support.8

For the Marines to add another arrow to the quiver of expeditionary warfare, they need to adapt their doctrine, and they also need to obtain modern equipment to take full advantage of airpower. There is no doubt that Marine doctrine will change, but securing resources will be the tougher fight because the Pentagon instinct is to associate information technologies, “transformation,” and monies with large, inanimate systems. Marine rifle squads—the same size as the teams that performed so well in Afghanistan—must also be brought into the digital age.

DD(X) Update

On April 29, 2002, the U.S. Navy awarded the design contract for a new family of ships, the DD(X) destroyer, to a team headed by Northrop Grumman Corporation and the Raytheon Corporation. This family of ships is designed to incorporate the most advanced information technologies and fire control systems so that it can network with other combat systems and with surveillance and reconnaissance systems. Moreover, the Navy plan represents as much a transformation in acquisition strategy as it does in advanced ship technology. Based upon the same Operational Requirements Document as the cancelled DD 21 solicitation, the DD(X) introduces a spiral development for this family of ships based on a common hull design with new technology introduced over time instead of as a single step procurement. In this fashion, the next-generation cruiser, the CG(X), will be scalable from a common hull and propulsion plant architecture. In addition, the DD(X) will incorporate more land-based and at-sea testing than was planned for the DD 21. Also, the procurement award down-selects only to the design agent with procurement to be recompeted in fiscal year 2005. This contrasts with the DD 21 procurement strategy of initial selection of a full-service contractor.

The DD 21 program had already introduced significant change to the Navy acquisition process. In the past, the Navy specified the hull, mechanical, and electrical systems of a ship and then contracted out the engineering design. For the DD 21 and the DD(X), the Navy specified the operational requirements and the cost and manning goals. The preliminary design of the ship and the technologies to meet these operational requirements were left to two competing industrial teams, both of which developed unique innovative designs. This resulted in a very close competition.

The primary missions of the DD(X), precision strike and volume fires for assured access and support of the Marine Corps forces ashore, require survivability in the littorals. The topside of the DD(X) will look very different from the current generation of destroyers because of the significant signature reduction built into the design. In addition to the strike and naval ship fire support, the DD(X) will have advanced air and missile defense capability, giving it a multimission capability. The Northrop design, with two helicopter pads and a ramp to launch 30-foot boats, can also support special operations missions.

Significant new technologies as well as physical changes are incorporated into the DD(X). Most prominent is an integrated power system with electric drive propulsion. This will allow the rerouting of power in the event of damage and thereby will remove the single-point vulnerability of critical ship systems. In addition, much of the damage control network will be automated, leading to enhanced survivability and reduced crew size.

The ship will incorporate an advanced gun system for surface fires with a goal of firing guided 155-millimeter rounds 60 to 100 miles. The air defense system will be built around a multifunction radar and a volume search radar for detection and fire control against stealthy targets imbedded in background clutter from either the sea or land. An advanced vertical launch system will support the next generation of missiles.

Reduced crew size is a key feature of the DD(X) design. This element represents a deliberate effort by the Navy to include the cost of the personnel who will operate the ship explicitly in the design selection. Both designs reduce the crew size to one-third that of the current destroyer. This feature, coupled with the utilization of a common hull form for a family of its next generation of surface combatants, is part of the Navy strategy to ensure that it can afford a shipbuilding and operations program to maintain adequate fleet strength into the future.

—Elihu Zimet


 1. The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard are sometimes treated collectively as the sea services. The Coast Guard falls under the Department of Transportation rather than DOD and will not be addressed in this chapter. [BACK]

 2. Issues specific to the Marine Corps are outlined in the appendix to this chapter. [BACK]

 3. Bruce Rolfsen in “Predator Problems,” Air Force Times, April 30, 2001, 8, says that five Predator UAVs were lost in 8 months, none due to enemy action. This is not an isolated occurrence. [BACK]

4. Both the Osprey and the JSF, as well as the USMC new Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle, represent the results of previous generation-skipping; the Marine Corps deliberately passed over less ambitious and more conventional technologies that would have been available much earlier to go for the capabilities that it believed suited its needs. [BACK]

5. David A. Perin, “Are Big Decks Still the Answer?” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, June 2001, 30-33. This article gives a summary relating to issues of carrier size. [BACK]

6. R.D. Trunkey, R.P. Trost, C.M. Snyder, Analysis of DOD’s Commercial Activities Program (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analyses, December 1996), 2. See also William Brent Boning, et al., Evidence on Savings from DOD A-76 Competitions, Center for Naval Analyses Research Memorandum 98-125 (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analyses, November 1998). [BACK]

7. Marine ability to penetrate deeply from a sea base and to fly into hotspots rather than taking beaches will be greatly strengthened by the availability of the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor helicopter (to get them to the fight) and the vertical take-off version of the joint strike fighter (to provide adequate air support from a distance). [BACK]

8. For example, it was the special forces teams directing the air—not unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—that were the key to the swift dissolution of the Taliban, but the first “plus-up” was $250 million for UAVs: money for hardware, not humans. [BACK]

Table of Contents  |  Chapter Six