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U.S. Military Solidifies Standards for Sea Operations

February 1, 2014
By Rita Boland
E-mail About the Author

For the first time in seven years, practices necessitate a major
 revision to official directions.

  • U.S. sailors on the bridge of the USS Ramage monitor a Spanish frigate as it departs Souda Bay during their scheduled deployment supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility.
     U.S. sailors on the bridge of the USS Ramage monitor a Spanish frigate as it departs Souda Bay during their scheduled deployment supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility.

The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff has updated its maritime joint command and control guidance, reflecting changing practices across the fleet. Although the rewrite is part of regularly scheduled reviews, the timing is apt for world conditions. U.S. attention is moving east to a far more watery environment than the one the country has focused on for the last dozen or more years, and contentions among nations for waterway control continue to mount in areas such as the East China Sea.

When the new version was released in August 2013, it marked seven years since the last significant update, which occurred in August 2006. Joint Publication (JP) 3-32 Command and Control for Joint Maritime Operations’ most recent adjustments include added discussion of the U.S. Navy’s composite warfare doctrine and core maritime capabilities and missions along with added command and control consideration for specific maritime operations such as air and missile defense, information operations, strike warfare, amphibious operations and maritime interception operations. Writers also expanded discussion on the organization of the maritime force, the joint force maritime component commander’s responsibilities and joint maritime support to multinational operations. Additionally, more attention now is devoted to supporting an afloat joint force air component commander and to unmanned aircraft systems. Sections on communications system support were removed. Experts also revised sections on boards, centers and cells, logistics support to joint maritime operations, movement and maneuver, and maritime domain awareness.

Among myriad other shifts were changes to the definitions of various terms common in the maritime arena. Doctrine personnel avoid defining terms with common meanings in their publications, but in certain cases they include updated terms determined necessary in the context of a topic. Lt. Col. Walker Field, USMC, chief, Joint Doctrine Division, the Joint Staff, explains that the definitions in the publication constitute approved U.S. Defense Department terminology for general use by the joint team. The terms are specifically pertinent to joint maritime operations.

According to the document itself, the publication provides doctrine for the command and control of joint maritime operations across the range of military operations. “It also describes the maritime domain; addresses considerations for establishing a joint force maritime component commander and attendant command relationships; provides principles and guidance for the planning, execution and assessment of joint maritime operations; and presents considerations for specific maritime operations.”

Its purpose, meanwhile, is to set forth joint doctrine to govern the activities and performance of the U.S. military and to provide the doctrinal basis for involvement in multinational operations. Among its goals, it is not intended to restrict the authority of the joint force commanders from organizing the force or executing missions in the manners these leaders deem most appropriate.

The guidance applies beyond the open waters, with “maritime domain” encompassing oceans, seas, bays, littoral spaces and estuaries as well as islands, coastal areas and the airspace above all these environments. Document writers assert that, “Obtaining and maintaining accurate [maritime domain awareness] is a key enabler of an active and layered maritime defense in depth.”

Col. Field explains that all the changes in the revised guidance are important because the military “is a learning organization based on knowledge. It is imperative that the joint force captures lessons learned from the past 10 years and records that knowledge in the right publication, in this case JP 3-32. This publication specifically provides doctrine for the command and control of joint maritime operations, but it also underpins education and training.” These efforts include joint and service-specific professional military education, which are critical to future development of officers and enlisted service members, as a foundation of the joint learning continuum.

Col. Field says everyone within the joint force who operates in a maritime environment should utilize this update, which offers military guidance useful when planning and executing joint maritime operations. Warfighters can access it online through the Chairman’s Joint Electronic Library (JEL), download it and search it by specific topics. Because the document spans 106 pages, the search feature allows readers to find the sections particularly relevant to their needs or mission sets. To involve the community, developers use email, social media and the doctrine officials at every command to help push the updated information to those whom it affects.

Personnel involved with the production of the document emphasize its applicability and necessity to all in the joint force who participate in maritime activities. Along with addressing military-specific actions, the information covers topics such as protecting shipping activities and foreign humanitarian assistance. Both are likely to become increasingly important in the coming years because much of the work carried out by U.S. troops in the Asia-Pacific region involves building relationships through participating in disaster relief or other nonkinetic activities.

While the guidance has obvious importance to the Navy, it is equally critical to the joint force at large because it establishes how all those personnel operate in the maritime environment. Col. Field explains that the doctrine reflects extant practice—it is relevant now for real-world operations. Joint doctrine is not a change agent but rather a formalization of activities personnel already employ. “Therefore, it will not change maritime command and control but rather reflects practices already in place,” Col. Field says.

Personnel outside the U.S. military can employ the guidance for various purposes. “JP 3-32 provides industry a glimpse into how U.S. armed forces have been and will continue to operate in a maritime manner,” Col. Field says. “However, I wouldn’t presume to draw conclusions for industry on how they can use JP 3-32 to help the joint team. As for international partners, most joint publications, including JP 3-32, are available in PDF and e-reader formats on JEL.”

As the maritime community moves forward, the document will provide principles and guidance for the planning, execution and assessment of joint operations. “It arms the joint force commander with the ability to employ maritime power and achieve unity of effort across the force,” he adds. 
All joint publications are considered for revision a minimum of every two years as the force works to retain fresh, relevant doctrine. The average age of the 80 publications produced by the Joint Staff is 2.2 years. When deciding what to alter, experts conduct a formal front-end assessment, which Col. Field likens to a master’s degree-level thesis paper that examines lessons learned, Defense Department and joint policy, and observations from exercises and real-world events. Then, they determine if a full revision is appropriate. For JP 3-32, the experts determined such a measure was warranted. Col. Field explains the assessments reveal what areas need updating. For the maritime document, the relevant personnel edited two revision drafts over a one-year period to ensure all sections were closely scrutinized and updated to reflect existing practice.

Having subject matter experts (SMEs) across the force contributing to the guidance and sharing best practices results in meaningful discussion and dialogue over a period of months. The elaborate and participatory process helps ensure the viability of the final product. Beyond the SMEs within the military branches and various combatant commands, other knowledgeable persons are invited to weigh in, expressing more fully how the U.S. military operates in different environments. Organizations such as the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Agency for International Development, for example, provide input.

 

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