The USN at a Turning Point: Shaping New Global Opportunities


The U.S. Navy can position itself as a key element for the Obama Administration as it seeks new opportunities for global cooperation. The Administration has underscored their desire “to build partnership capacity” and to “enhance enduring relationships” among core allies.

The USN has a unique global presence and works every day with international commercial, law enforcement and military partners and allies. The current chief of naval operations (CNO) and his predecessor have underscored the growing significance of the global maritime partnership; what should be made clear is that, on an even larger stage, the Navy and its global relationships can provide an important element of reshaping the US global alliances for the 21st century. It is not a question of simply adjusting to change; it is the opportunity to embrace it and to accelerate global changes necessary for the recrafting of American power for the 21st century.

As the Obama Administration shapes its polices, the USN leadership can seize a number of opportunities to remind the nation of the importance of the Navy and its global partnerships.

First, as the U.S. scales back its operations in Iraq and moves attention elsewhere, important considerations emerge of re-building the power projection and presence forces. Here the opportunity rests to provide for much better integration between the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy in promoting connectivity, synergy and capability to leverage its forces. Both face significant shortfalls; working more effectively they can enhance the nations ability to project power, provide presence and work with friends and allies.

This can be done in a number of immediate ways. The joint acquisition of the Global Hawk high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle and joint deployments on Guam provide an opportunity to develop more effective joint ISR concepts of operations and data sharing. The joint acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter provides a further opportunity to develop a 21st century concept of air operations which draws on the strengths of the 5th generation aircraft to provide for a new approach to maritime and air integration. The integration of Aegis systems with the F-35 provides another opportunity to link the Air Force and USN into more effective littoral presence and strike missions.

According to General Charles Davis, former Program Executive Officer for the F-35 program, the “5th generation aircraft provides an ideal opportunity for the joint forces to enhance their true jointness. And with the global partnerships associated with the F-35 provides a seamless transition from a joint to a collaborative force.”

The standing up of U.S. Africa Command provides another opportunity for the USN to enhance recognition of its significance to global security missions. The rampant piracy in the waters off Somalia requires naval presence and maritime domain collaboration. Russians, Europeans, NATO, Indians, Malaysians and others have put force into the region to deal with the piracy problem. The USN can provide real leadership for a global coalition seeking to tame the piracy problem. According to a senior OSD official, “I think the USN as well as the USAF are really the core elements for AFRICOM’s future operations.” And as former Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne noted in a major address in Paris in 2008, “The distances in Africa require the use of air power, and air and naval collaboration will be an important anchor for AFRICOM.”

Among the most important international programs for the USN in the 21st century are Aegis and F-35. Efforts to enhance their integration are a natural path to enhance U.S. global coalitions. Many Aegis partners are current or prospective F-35 participants; finding ways to link the two will be an important enhancer for partners. For example, given Norwegian concerns about Northern European energy security, including the Arctic, there is interest in enhanced Link 16 connectivity between Aegis systems and the F-35.

To the extent to which allies work integration of F-35 with Aegis, they create extended “littoral bubbles” into which the USN and USAF can plug their systems to, in turn, extend the capabilities of the allied “littoral bubbles.” As a senior Japanese official noted in a conversation with, “By linking Aegis with our air systems, we can extend our perimeter security. And if we can extend our ISR reach we can better work with the stretched US Pacific fleet.”

USMC Harrier Training off of British Warship
USMC Harrier Training off of British Warship

The Navy’s most visible asset is the aircraft carrier, and the time is ripe to provide new concepts of operations to enhance this most complex – and expensive – of weapons systems to become an anchor for global security. By working closely with other U.S. air elements and promoting an increased capability to work with allies, the carrier should become more a part of a global security solution not necessarily keyed to blue-water operations. The introduction of several significant assets, including the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, UAVs, UCASs and the F-35, provide a unique opportunity to modify and enhance the role of carrier-based aviation.

As General Davis has argued, “What becomes important is to understand how our new systems are working much more effectively with regard to interoperability and leveraging one another. We need for focus on the emergence of battle management networks encompassing carriers, F/A-18s, Hawkeyes, UAVs, F-35s and Marines on the beach.” With these systems able to work interoperability with other air and strike elements, broader recognition of the value of the continued carrier efforts might be generated.

The U.S. Marine Corps, by its expeditionary nature, is a key focal point for the integration of air, ground and maritime forces into the joint force structure. The air components enable strike and C4ISR capabilities to facilitate rapid advance against adversaries on the battlefield or to operate in a distributed manner to change the very character of the battlefield or of military operations. Air also is an enabler for operations from the seabase, which figures prominently in USMC and USN thinking for the years ahead (and is discussed elsewhere on this website).

Lieutenant General George Trautman, Deputy Commandant for Aviation of the Marine Corps has underscored the central role of the new air platforms in further enabling the USMC to play a synergy function. “As we transition from current operations, our new platforms simply extend our capabilities to play an integrated role. Our new systems – Osprey and F-35 – will play a forcing function, which allows adapting our Marine Air-Ground Task Force con-ops. And these con-ops are, we believe, central to 21st century military operations.”

The new air platforms fit into the overall air-to-ground approach taken by the USMC. The MV-22 Osprey will provide unique capabilities and allow the “ground” forces to engage in envelopment operations that Napoleon could only have dreamed about. As a further demonstration of the expanding capabilities brought by the Osprey, the Marines have flowen their Ospreys off British warships (photos posted elsewhere on this website). The F-35B in the hands of the Marine Corps will be a “first generation flying combat system” which will enable air-ground communication and ISR exchanges unprecedented in military history. The pilot will be a full member of the ground team; the ground commanders will have ears and eyes able to operate in a wide swath of three-dimensional space.

Shaping a bipartisan consensus in the United States to allow the Navy and its sister maritime partnership agencies to work on a global basis will be increasingly important as the United States faces challenges in the global production system. Just-in-time and just-enough manufacturing systems and the provision of commodities for the functioning of the U.S. economy depend in large part in the unfettered and efficient movement of goods at sea. Crafting greater understanding of the need for defense and security capabilities working with allies and partners to provide for that free movement of goods and commodities is essential. In this regard, the tri-service maritime strategy recognizes that globalization increases the need to prevent strategic disruption from environmental disasters, piracy, terrorism or competitors seeking advantages from the inherent vulnerabilities of the global “conveyer belt” of maritime trade.

The world may be “flat” because of globalization, but we may want not to be “flattened” by globalization. Virtually all globalization models ignore the defense and security element. Without security for air, ground and maritime transit, there is no globalization. And, without secure cyberspace, there is no effective transfer of information and data in the World Wide Web. There simply is no guarantee of freedom of commerce, information, currency and security of persons, data and goods and services. The new approach to a global maritime partnership is, in part, an effort to provide for such a security guarantee.

There is a clear need to enhance the Navy’s role as well in maritime security. This combines well with an expanded enduring littoral mission for the USN. As the USN adds Littoral Combat Ships and enhances its ability to work with commercial partners and global navies, the service can expand as well its ability to operate on an ongoing basis in the world’s littorals. Being able to contribute to anti-piracy efforts, protection of commercial shipping against terrorist threats, expanding the capability to manage and to participate in global ISR networks designed to share data for crisis management, all of these activities, in turn, allows the USN to expand the legitimacy of and its actual role in littoral operations. By so doing, development of the LCS in operating with the world’s coast guards also will become a central task.

In short, with the advent of the Obama Administration, there are opportunities to re-focus, innovate and move forward in enhancing joint and coalition capabilities. It is imperative to leverage the advent of new technologies and systems, which allow the US and its allies to craft a more effective global security enterprise.


***Posted September 7th, 2009