New challenges compel services to update sea strategy

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert boards a People's Liberation Army Navy Type-39B submarine July 17, 2014, for a tour on Lushun Naval Base in Dalian, China.


By JON HARPER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 13, 2015

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s new sea defense strategy recognizes the challenges of a rising Chinese military even as the Defense Department faces massive budget cuts in the coming fiscal year.

The Navy, Marines and Coast Guard on Friday rolled out the latest version of “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” which describes how they will shape and employ their forces for the future.

Updated for the first time since 2007, the document echoes many of the themes of previous editions, but it also lays out how the sea services intend to deal with recent changes in the geopolitical, fiscal and technological landscape.

Unlike at the height of the Iraq War in 2007 when the Pentagon was flush with money, the U.S. military can’t spend as freely these days, and massive budget cuts are slated to take effect in fiscal 2016.

  • To deal with these tighter budgets “in an era of constrained resources,” the sea services plan to:
  • Increase forward-basing of forces overseas to reduce costly rotations and deployments.
  • Use “non-kinetic” means, such as cyber and electromagnetic capabilities, when possible to attack adversaries to avoid using expensive munitions.
  • “Prioritize affordability” when buying new weapons systems and managing their life cycle.

The document warns that additional budget cuts, known as sequestration, would decrease forward presence, limit warfighting advantages and leave an insufficient reserve force to respond to crises.

The Navy and the Marines want a fleet of more than 300 ships, with 120 of them forward-deployed — mostly in the Pacific — at any given time, by 2020.

“We have a plan to get there [and] a strategy that says this is where we need to be,” Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Kevin Killea said during a briefing about the new strategy document. But “it’s only going to happen … if we get the [political and budget] support that we need to do that. If we don’t, then we’re going to have to review our commitments.”

The updated strategy highlights the threat posed by China’s military modernization, which was not specifically referenced in the 2007 version.

In the past two years, Beijing has been more aggressive on the sea and in the air, fueling territorial disputes with many of its neighbors, including U.S. allies such as Japan and the Philippines.

“This behavior, along with a lack of transparency in its military intentions, contributes to tension and instability, potentially leading to miscalculation or even escalation,” the document states.

In response, the Navy and the Marine Corps plan to send more assets and the most sophisticated military platforms to the Pacific region to “discourage aggression.” Those assets would include the Marines’ most advanced aircraft, the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and the MV-22 Osprey troop transport. The moves would be part of the U.S. military’s “Pacific pivot,” an ongoing rebalancing of forces to the region as the war in Afghanistan winds down.

By 2020, 60 percent of Navy ships and aircraft will be based in that part of the globe, according to service plans.

The strategy also calls for increased cooperation with the Air Force and the Army in developing concepts to counter anti-access weapons, such as long-range missiles and advanced fighter aircraft, which China and other nations have been developing. The authors specifically mention Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities and the Army’s missile defense systems as assets that complement those of the sea services.

“We cannot go it alone,” the new strategy document states.

On the technology front, advances in cyberspace and electronic warfare systems in the U.S. and around the world have led the services to place a new emphasis on offensive and defensive capabilities in this realm.

“New challenges in cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum mean we can no longer presume to hold the information ‘high ground,’ ” the strategy’s authors wrote.

The Navy has established U.S. Cyber Fleet Command and has developed a new “Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare” strategy, which blends operations in space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum: “As an example, we may more effectively defeat anti-ship ballistic and cruise missile threats by making use of superior battlespace awareness to employ cyber and EMW capabilities … that defeats the threat before it has ever been launched.”

Navy Rear Adm. William McQuilkin, who briefed reporters about the new strategy, said the cyberspace and electromagnetic domains are now “on par” with the traditional sea, air and land domains in terms of importance when it comes to warfighting.

The strategy also places new emphasis on ethics. During the past few years, under close congressional scrutiny, the U.S. military has been trying to tackle the problem of sexual assault within the ranks as well as other lapses in judgment. For instance, the still-unfolding “Fat Leonard” scandal, in which senior Navy officers have been implicated in a fraud-and-bribery scheme, has given the service a black eye and has thrown the assignment and promotion systems into turmoil.

The strategy document says the sea services will “hold commands accountable” for establishing safe environments for servicemembers, and develop leaders “who personify their moral obligation to the naval profession by upholding core values and ethos.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford, and Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft, all signed off on the revisions.

Twitter: @JHarperStripes

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