President's Commentary: The Sea Services Face Changes Amid Challenges

February 1, 2015
By Lt. Gen. Robert M. Shea, USMC (Ret.)

After more than 13 years of continuous war, the U.S. military is entering a new era with a smaller force that faces new and expanding roles and challenges. As with all the services, the Navy’s and Marine Corps’ challenges are complicated by budget tightening amid an evolving and broadening security environment.

Our traditional national security competitors and threats are still active on the global scene. Additionally, new threats and concerns have emerged. One only has to take a quick visual scan around the world to see the hot spots and areas of emerging tension that beg for presence and engagement that only naval forces can bring.

Additionally, with the emergence of globalization and international dependencies, new roles for naval forces have emerged and old ones broadened amongst a shrinking budget. Issues such as land and maritime sovereignty disputes, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, control of violent extremism, piracy, transnational crime, competition over natural resources, food and the free flow of trade in the sea lanes all demand a level of increased attention. Being able to project maritime strength and influence effectively is critical to establishing regional security and influence and to shape operations as well as work with coalition partners in operations ranging from humanitarian assistance to warfighting over a large area.

Because of the varying engagements and the high operations tempo that have taxed both services over the past decade and a half, the Navy and Marine Corps have not been able to conduct integrated training and operations together as extensively as in the past.

The Marine Corps must continue to reinvigorate its expeditionary roots and all that represents in being the “nation’s force in readiness,” … “the force that is most ready when the nation is least ready.” This is where the Corps has in many ways carved out its rich legacy and the primacy of the role it must sustain for the nation going forward.

The refocus to the Marine Corps’ expeditionary roots will, among other things, challenge its command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities along with the similar and complementary capabilities of the Navy. For the past several years, the Marine Corps, for the most part, has been able to fall in on existing networks and capabilities that have been established for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not likely to be the case going forward. The refocus will require a cultural, educational and training adjustment to learn how to reestablish similar networks and C4ISR capabilities in an expeditionary environment. Another key challenge for both services will be to find the elusive answer to joint and coalition interoperability across a broad range of warfighting capabilities.

For the Navy, one of the challenges going forward is to obtain the resources necessary to meet the global demand being placed on it and to create and maintain momentum in upgrading the C4ISR capabilities of its operational forces. Service and joint C4ISR capabilities are evolving rapidly; however, the secure network infrastructure to support them afloat must modernize at a similar rate. The Navy must be provided the resources to take advantage of these capabilities—capabilities that the services and joint forces have come to expect.

In this new environment, traditional and significantly improved electronic warfare capabilities from a previous era, as well a host of cyberthreats, are very likely to re-emerge. These capabilities will expand to other nations and adversaries that want to disrupt and deny Navy/Marine Corps, joint and coalition C4ISR and other capabilities. The axiom that “the force that has the most to gain from technology also has the most to lose if that technology is denied or disrupted” is as valid today as ever. Simply put, U.S. forces are not likely to be unencumbered in a conflict. They will be dealing with a “thinking” and adaptable adversary who will react to deny U.S. capabilities.  

To that end, U.S. military forces must understand and train to operate in a technologically contested environment, whether it is the threat of cyber attacks against networks and critical infrastructure, cyber deception, jamming of GPS or some other counter to U.S. capabilities. The services must learn to operate in a contested C4ISR environment, and the supporting infrastructure must be resilient. Many of these C4ISR and complementary capabilities were fielded rapidly, some developed from commercial systems adapted for military use, and they typically do not bring protective features such as antijam and security. Any system that uses radio frequency communications is likely to be vulnerable in some manner.

The military’s increased reliance on satellites for all aspects of C4ISR must be coupled with new antijam capabilities. Even relatively unsophisticated adversaries have access to or can purchase technology-countering capabilities. From navigation to intelligence to networking, satellite assets might not be available to naval forces when needed most, and the force must mitigate that challenge and be prepared to operate under stressed or denied conditions.

Historically, the sea services have risen to the challenge and carried out their mission, often in the face of greater adversity. The future must see no different result. With the challenges identified, the proper priorities established, resources provided and appropriate solutions developed, the force will make the necessary course corrections to ensure that it continues to be a guarantor of peace and security around the globe. Our job is to work for that conclusion.

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