Key Elements for Re-shaping Navy and USMC Strategy Toward the Pacific


2013-01-31 by Robbin Laird

Prior to discussing ways in which the USN and USMC team might innovate in the decade ahead to achieve a successful strategic re-design, we need to start with where we are and current thinking about the way ahead.

Both the extant forces and existing thinking form the baseline from which innovation can be measured.

The Baseline Force Structure

In a report provided last year on the new Pacific strategy, CSIS published a very useful baseline look at the current state of American forces in the region.

PACOM is one of six Geographic Combatant Commands and includes four service components, four subordinate unified commands, three standing joint task forces, and four additional supporting units. With combatant command headquarters in Hawaii and with 325,000 troops (representing roughly one-fifth of total U.S. military end strength) stationed in over 30 major operating bases throughout the region,119 a four star general or flag officer commands PACOM and reports to the President of the United States through the Secretary of Defense.

The people and equipment under this four star official’s disposal include:

The Navy component command, U.S. Pacific Fleet (PACFLT), encompasses both the Third Fleet and Seventh Fleet, which hosts a forward deployed aircraft carrier strike group in Japan, and includes approximately 180 ships, nearly 2,000 aircraft, and 140,000 personnel.

Source: PACOM Regional Map & Information Credit Graphic: CSIS 

The Marine Corps component command, MARFORPAC, operates the largest field command in the USMC, including two MEFs and about 74,000 total personnel.

The Air Force component command, PACAF, maintains roughly 40,000 total airmen at nine bases, who fly more than 300 aircraft of 12 types.125 PACAF is supported by four numbered air forces, which include the 5th Air Force, the 7th Air Force, the 11th Air Force, and the 13th Air Force.

The Army component command, U.S. Army Pacific Command (USARPAC), is comprised of more than 60,000 personnel and five brigade combat teams (BCTs).

The Special Operations component command, U.S. Special Operations Command, Pacific (SOCPAC), can operate as a rapidly deployable Joint Task Force (JTF)  and is comprised of four units which total more than 1,200 personnel…..

Certain military assets, forces, and training by nature and purpose are better captured in a region-wide presentation. While some logistics stores may currently exist in a specific location, they are in large measure theater-wide assets. Other assets have global, regional, and specific purposes, such as ballistic missile defense, space, and cyberspace. Similarly, certain training exercises are meant to be regionally focused, not simply bilateral or joint.

Global force presence is assisted by prepositioning personnel and equipment in crucial areas to resupply ships and aircraft, as well as provide havens for equipment repairs. Prepositioning facilitates the fast deployment of equipment and supplies to personnel in areas of contingency operations.

Positioned stocks, both afloat and ashore, support timely movement of essential military supplies between operating areas with decreased travel time, transport cost, and without reliance on other nation’s transportation networks into theater.

Prepositioning stocks also permits the swift arrival of personnel to theater while supplies are transported separately to a specified link-up point once a port or airfield has been secured by early arriving forces.

The Military Sealift Command, tasked with coordinating afloat prepositioning, operates forward-deployed ships for various DoD branches in its Prepositioning Program: 16 Maritime Prepositioned Force (MPF) Ships for the U.S. Marine Corps, 10 Combat Prepositioned Force Ships for the U.S. Army, and 10 Logistics Prepositioned Force Ships for the Air Force, Navy, and Defense Logistics Agency combined.

All prepositioning ships are strategically located among the world’s oceans to expedite transportation of equipment, ammunition, food, and supplies to support U.S. forces worldwide.

Specifically for the PACOM region, afloat stocks are located in or around Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory, and Guam/Saipan in the Western Pacific Ocean. Afloat ships are comprised of container ships, large medium-speed/roll-on roll-off ships (LMSRs), and smaller cargo ships, capable of displacing between 40,000-55,000 tons of cargo each.

By service:

The Maritime Prepositioned Stock Squadrons-2 and -3 are operational assets of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, forward deployed out of Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory Western Pacific, and Guam/Saipan, respectively.

Within each squadron, ships are equipped with enough supplies to support a Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), roughly 16,000-18,000 individuals, for a period of 30 days.

Once a port or airstrip has been secured by previously flown-in Marines, MPF ships provide easy roll-on/roll-off capabilities for ammunition, sustainment supplies, and equipment, reducing time spent for deployment response.

Army Prepositioning Afloat, APS-3, inclusive of sustainment stocks, unit equipment, and port opening capabilities, are located in Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory and Guam/Saipan in the Western Pacific Ocean. APS-3 is designed to be comprised of one infantry brigade combat team (IBCT) with augmentation in Guam, and one IBCT with augmentation in Diego Garcia.

The Air Force designates prepositioned stocks as War Reserve Materials (WRMs).

Afloat WRMs include two Container ships rotating between Diego Garcia and Guam/Saipan.

Prepositioning ashore consists of land based storage sites near possible threats and conflict areas so that personnel may utilize stocks upon arrival, rather than waiting for air transport from CONUS. The Army has prepositioned units (APS-4) stationed at Camp Carroll, Daegu, Republic of Korea, as well as Yokohama and Camp Sagami, Japan. These stocks include unit sets, which are defined as end items, supplies, and secondary items stored in unit configurations brigade, division and corps/echelon above corps, Operational Project Stocks, and sustainment items. Sustainment stocks include primarily war reserve supplies, major end items, and ammunition.


Core Challenges

The obvious challenge is geography.  The Pacific is large and US forces are dispersed.

The small number of bases – ports and airfields – provides a challenge to ensuring the security for continuity of operations.

Seabasing is an obvious contribution of the maritime forces in terms of providing additional operational capabilities for Combatant commanders, which face limited operational facilities at great distance from the United States.

The key reality is the need to have persistent presence in a diversified region with limited numbers of platforms and limited connectivity among the US forces and even less so with coalition forces.

The Air-Sea battle aspiration is clearly articulating the need to re-shaping approaches and capabilities to have a much more integrated force structure as well.  And central to such integration will be clearly secure C2 and Information Warfare capabilities.

The demand side is extremely high in the Pacific region for US maritime forces.   

One measure of this has been the demand by global combatant commanders for Amphibious forces overall.

Demand outstrips supply for amphibs. Credit: CBO 


Another way to look at demand is the impact of response to disasters such as the Japanese tsunami with which the US has been involved.

Since 2000, over 40% of the world’s natural disasters have occurred in the PACTOM AOR.  People living with the PACOM AOR are 25 times more likely to experience a natural disaster than those in the US or Europe.

And response to disasters is part of the persistent presence mission set for sure, and a key foundation for building the kinds of partnerships and alliances fundamental in the region.

Another way to look at the geographical impact on the USN and USMC team is to look at what Marines do on a typical day in the region.

For example, during December 2012, Marines conducted disaster relief in the Philippines. Other Marines were conducting a command post exercise in Thailand with the Royal Thai Marines, Marines were in Korea supported real world missile defense ops, Marines from Iawkuni were on Tinian and Guam establishing a new expeditionary airfield, other Marines were training with Singapore soldiers during Exercise Valiant Mark in Southern California and Marines were training in Japan.

As the North Koreans ramp up their capabilities to strike against US interests in the Pacific or the Chinese bring afloat and air capabilities further out into the Pacific, the threat level or the impact of engagements is going up as well.  It will not be enough simply to be present; it will be crucial to be survivability and effective.

Key Elements for the USN-USMC Team Strategic Focus

Whether by concept or operational realities, the goal is to shape forces for a “single naval” battle. 

Clearly, the USN-USMC might well not use the term, because in today’s media world, one would spend endless time debating what the concept means.  The point is less the concept than to shape a single naval battle mindset, which will see tighter integration of the key elements of naval power projection.

  1. Tighter integration will drive a variety of needs such as C2 and IW enhancements, integrated logistics capabilities, seabasing innovations and aggregation approaches and operational capabilities.
  2. Efforts need to be accelerated to leverage the entire gamut of ships being deployed and developed, ranging from LCS, to JHSV, to amphibs to carriers.  Over time, Marines will operate over a wider variety of ships than in the classic amphibious or carrier worlds.
  3. Re-crafting of sea-basing operations to encompass a wider range of ships, both American and allied.
  4. The USN-USMC team will be a key element in shaping American capabilities for increased presence in areas that matter.  The team is shaping an approach to Enhanced Regional presence as a core strategic trajectory.
  5. China will an increasingly important player in the Pacific and beyond, yet the maritime focus needs to be upon engagement, not upon the defeat of Chinese forces supported from the mainland.
  6. Such a focus would have a downside in terms of skew investment towards support of aggregated, large force structure operations.  The need is quite different, namely distributed forces which can operate independently in larger numbers of places but are capable of being conjoined when necessary.
  7. A forward presence emphasis is important with the Navy-USMC deployed as first responders, for various tasks such as NEO, large scale HA/DR, raids or strike operations.  Clearly, the security role of the USN-USMC team will grow and with it the need to partner with the USCG in the Pacific region.
  8. The forward presence and engagement role is significant in and of itself but will provide the foundation for a forward deployed maritime foundation for the joint force.  This role will buy time for the introduction of follow-on joint forces where necessary, decision space for the national command authority and the capability to escalate and deescalate in a crisis management role.
  9. Expansion of range of contingencies for operations will drive capability shifts and force re-design efforts.

A key focus for the next decade will be re-shaping the laydown of USMC forces in the Pacific.

Among the efforts on the agenda are the following:

  • The USMC is augmenting its presence on Guam with an expected force of 4,700 Marines with 2/3 of that force rotational in character.
  • The USMC is shifting major training from Okinawa to other areas in the Pacific. As part of the Enhanced Regional Presence strategy, training is being done in other locations and often with the forces of other Pacific nations.
  • The USMC is in the process of downsizing its presence on Okinawa.  Facilities and areas on Okinawa are being consolidated with the goal of returning significant land areas south of Kadena Air Base.
  • A MAGTF rotational force is being worked with the Aussies to operate out of Darwin.  The goal is to have a fully capable MAGTF able to rotate through Darwin by 2017.  The Darwin location will allow the USMC to train with the Aussies for portions of the year, where they can work together on high-end, combined arms, live-fire-and-maneuver training.
  • There are changes afoot in Hawaii as well to facilitate more effective training for the USMC forces operating in the Pacific.

The strategy will be based on expanded allied and partnership capabilities which in turn will require exercises, training, and cross-sharing of data and operational tools.

In short, the challenge will be to shape capabilities which can operate more effectively as an integrated force while distributed over the Pacific.

This will be the core challenge facing the C2, IW, ISR system of connectivity and new sensor shooter relationships in shaping a way ahead.