The F-35 in the Way Ahead for USMC-US Navy Integration


By Robbin Laird

During my visit to MAWTS-1 and to NAWDC, one clear instrument of their enhanced integration in the contested battlespace was rather obvious: The F-35 and its evolution as a global enterprise.

With the F-35 coming to the large deck carrier, the strike syllabus has changed. With the F-35 pioneered by the USMC, with its naval aviators leading the way, new capabilities have been brought to the force in terms of integratability, mobile basing, and combat power from the sea on a wider variety afloat asset than simply the large deck carrier.

With MAWTS-1 this year, I have discussed two sets of related questions: What is the way ahead with regard to mobile and expeditionary basing?

And how can the USMC provide greater support for the maritime battle?

Specifically, during my visit to MAWTS-1 in September 2020, we focused on two core questions:

How is the Marine Corps going to contribute most effectively to the Pacific mission in terms of Sea Control and Sea Denial?

And how to best contribute to the defensive and offensive operations affecting the SLOCs?

Prior to my visit, I discussed the mobile basing piece with Major Brian “Flubes” Hansell, MAWTS-1 F-35 Division Head. A key aspect of what we discussed was the capability which the F-35 to both empower their expeditionary bases as well as contributing to the wider integration in the fleet approach being worked.

As Major Hansell put it: “By being an expeditionary, forward-based service, we’re effectively extending the bounds of the kill web for the entire joint and coalition force.”

During the visit, I continued the discussion first with the Col Gillette, CO of MAWTS-1, an experienced F-35 pilot, whom I first met at Eglin AFB who then returned to YUMA and transitioned in the first F-35 operational squadron deployed to Japan.

My colleague Ed Timperlake once characterized the coming of the F-35 global enterprise, or the ability of a wide range of U.S. service and allied air forces to integrated together over the extended combat space as the 21st century “big blue blanket.”

The “big blue blanket” for the US Navy in World War II referred to the very large fleet deployed throughout the Pacific to deal with the tyranny of distance.

Such a fleet does not exist today, nor will it. Airpower is the key to shaping today’s “big blue blanket,” with the F-35 global enterprise as a key enabler.

As Col. Gillette put it: “It is not only a question of interoperability among the F-35 fleet, it is the ability to have common logistical and support in the region with your allies, flying the same aircraft with the same parts. And the big opportunity comes with regard to the information point I made earlier. We are in the early stages of exploiting what the F-35 force can provide in terms of information dominance in the Pacific, but the foundation has been laid.

“And when we highlight the F-35 as the 21st century version of what the World War II Navy called the big blue blanket with the redundancy and the amount of information that could be utilized, it’s pretty astonishing if you think about it.

“The challenge is to work the best ways to sort through the information resident in the F-35 force and then how do you utilize it in an effective and efficient way for the joint force. But the foundation is clearly there.

During my visit, I met with Major Shockley, an F-35 instructor pilot at MAWTS-1, whose most recent F-35 experience has been in the Pacific with the squadron in Japan.

He reinforced Col. Gillette’s point in terms of the ability of USMC F-35s to work with allied, USAF and US Navy F-35s as well to shape a situational awareness and strike force which expanded the reach of the joint or coalition force.

Indeed, Major Shockley highlighted the impact of F35-B thinking on base mobility. The F-35As and F-35Cs have some advantages in terms of fuel, and then range and loitering time with regard to the B, notably with regard to the C. Because the force is so inherently integratable, how best to work the chessboard of conflict with regard to where the various F-35 pieces move on the chessboard.

From this standpoint, he argued for the importance of shaping a “rolodex of basing locations” where F-35s could land and operate in a crisis.

Here he had in mind, not only what the very basing flexible B could provide, but thinking through deployment of “expeditionary landing gear” to allow the As and Cs to operate over a wider range of temporary air bases as well.

Here he was referring to preparing locations with the gear to enable landing on shorter run “airfields” as well as the kind of modifications the Norwegians have done with their F-35s enabling them to land in winter conditions in the High North as well.

With the F-35B as well, a much wider range of afloat assets are being used to enable the F-35 as a “flying combat system” to operate and enable ISR, C2 and strike capabilities for the joint and coalition force. This is being demonstrated throughout the amphibious fleet, a fleet which can be refocused on sea contrail and sea denial rather than simply transporting force to the littorals.

As Col. Gillette put it: “The traditional approach for the amphibious force is move force to an area of interest. Now we need to look at the entire maritime combat space, and ask how we can contribute to that combat space, and not simply move force from A to B.

“I think the first leap is to think of the amphibious task force, as you call it, to become a key as pieces on the chess board. As with any piece, they have strengths and weaknesses. Some of the weaknesses are clear, such as the need for a common operational picture, a command and control suite to where the assets that provide data feeds to a carrier strike group are also incorporated onto L-Class shipping. We’re working on those things right now, in order to bring the situational awareness of those types of ships up to speed with the rest of the Naval fleet.”

A key consideration when highlighting what the F-35 as a wolfpack can bring to the force is deploying in the force multiples that make sense for the force.

This rests upon how the combat systems are configured on that force. In simple terms, the integrated communications, navigation and identification systems operate through a multiple layer security system, allowing a four ship F-35 force to operate as one.

With the Block IV software coming into the fleet, now an eight ship F-35 force can operate similarly.

This allows for wolfpack operations and with the ability of the reach of the F-35 into other joint or coalition F-35 force packages the data flowing into the F-35 and the C2 going out has a very significant reach and combat impact.

This is not widely known or understood, but provides a significant driver of change to being able to operate and prevail in denied combat environments. Leveraging this capability is critical for combat success for the US and allied forces in the Pacific.

And my visits to NAWDC and MAWTs-1 certainly underscore that these warfighters get that.

With regard to the CNI and wolfpack enablement, see the following:

Crafting Effective C2/ISR in the Contested Battlespace: The Impact of the CNI System


“The ability to share C2 decision making data across the F-35 global enterprise and make that data available other key elements of a task force operating in contested multi-domain operational area of interest is essential to its ability to work at the higher end of the fight.”

Featured photo: U.S. Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) and U.S. Marines with Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1) conduct a hot load on the F-35B Lightning II during Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course (WTI) 2-17 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., March 30, 2017.

The ordnance loading exercise focused on loading the aircraft while the pilot is onboard and the engine is running which provides the Marine Corps with a capability to project Marine air power forward on the battlefield while decreasing aircraft turnaround time and increasing sortie generation. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Artur Shvartsberg/MAWTS-1 Combat Camera)

March 30, 2017


MAWTS-1 Training: WTI 1-20

An end of course video featuring the highlights of Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course 1-20 in Yuma, Arizona, Oct. 28, 2019.

WTI is a seven-week training event hosted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1), which emphasizes operational integration of the six functions of Marine Corps aviation in support of a Marine Air Ground Task Force.

WTI also provides standardized advanced tactical training and certification of unit instructor qualifications to support Marine aviation training and readiness, and assists in developing and employing aviation weapons and tactics.

(U.S. Marine Corps video by Staff Sgt. Marcis Pereda).



Regional Presence Deployment: An Australian Perspective


By Lieutenant Commander Todd Fitzgerald

HMA Ships Stuart and Arunta sailed in company with ships from Japan, South Korea and the United States in the Pacific Ocean this week.

Commanding Officer Arunta Commander Troy Duggan said he welcomed this opportunity to continue close and effective cooperation with key partners in the region.

“RAN remains committed to strengthening longstanding security partnerships across the region,” Commander Duggan said.

“Our relationships are based on mutual respect, trust and a shared vision for a secure, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific.”

Participating US units included Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry, a Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine and fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Ericson.

Commanding Officer Barry Commander Christopher A. Gahl said every opportunity to train alongside Australia, Japan, and South Korea was mutually beneficial.

“Our ability to seamlessly integrate for advanced warfare training is a testament to each navy’s professionalism and commitment to international maritime norms and regional stability,” Commander Gahl said.

Participating units from the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) included JS Ise and JS Ashigara.

Commander Escort Division Two, of the JMSDF, Captain Kitagawa Keizo, said it was an honour to train together as one team.

“JMSDF is and will remain committed towards the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region with allies and partner navies, and it is the fundamental strategic end state of JMSDF,” Captain Keizo said.

South Korea Ships Chungmugong Lee Sunshin and Seoae Ryu Seong-Ryong also took part.

Commodore Maritime Task Squadron 71 Captain Kim Sung Hwan, of the South Korean Navy, said the passage exercise provided opportunities that could enhance steadfast and flexible coordination.

“It will also serve as an opportunity to strengthen joint-response capabilities for various security situations by building up the friendship and coordination system between participating nations,” he said.

The multinational group exercise was part of the RAN’s regional deployment to South-East Asia and the Pacific.

HMA Ships Stuart and Arunta are continuing a regional deployment through South-East Asia after completing Exercise Rim of the Pacific in Hawaii.

The Regional Presence Deployment demonstrates Australia’s commitment to sustaining strong and positive defence relationships with regional nations as well as the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region.

This article was published by the Australian Department of Defence on September 11, 2020.



MRZR System and the CRW

The 621st Contingency Response Wing employs many pieces of equipment that are critical to the CRW mission.

In this video, our subject matter expert, Senior Airman Mason Anderson, 921st Contingency Response Squadron defender and MRZR master drivecoach, describes how the MRZR is critical to the mobility of all Devil Raiders.


Video by Tech. Sgt. David W. Carbajal

621st Contingency Response Wing Public Affairs

Shaping Combat Architecture for Blue Water Expeditionary Operations


By Robbin Laird

As the USMC focuses on how it can best help the US Navy in the maritime fight, two key questions can be posed:

“How is the Marine Corps going to contribute most effectively to the Pacific mission in terms of Sea Control and Sea Denial?

“And how to best contribute to the defensive and offensive operations affecting the SLOCs?”

The focus on sea control and sea denial can be seen in the current Black Widow ASW exercise where the USS Wasp is participating.

But skill sets associated with sea control, sea denial, SLOC offense and defense do not translate easily from the Middle East land wars.

How then to shape the new skill sets?

And what is the underlying combat architecture which shapes the approach around which skill sets can be identified?

These are not easy questions to answer or even to frame properly.

But if you are the center for excellence for Marine Corps air enabled operations you clearly need to find some sound answers, and to shape an effective way ahead.

Currently, this is what MAWTS-1 is doing.

As the discussions this year with officers at MAWTS-1 have highlighted, there is a major focus on how to do expeditionary and mobile basing in new ways to support the maritime fight.

A key element for an evolving combat architecture clearly is an ability to shape rapidly insertable infrastructure to support Marine air as it provides cover and support to the Marine Corps ground combat element.

This clearly can be seen in the reworking of the approach of the Aviation Ground Support element within MAWTS-1 to training for the execution of the Forward Air Refueling Point mission.

Earlier this year, I discussed how this was changing with Maj Steve Bancroft, Aviation Ground Support (AGS) Department Head, MAWTS-1, MCAS Yuma.

In that discussion, Major Bancroft highlighted the impact of the new tactical air-ground refueling system on the enhanced mobility of a FARP and its ability to deliver fuel more rapidly which, in turn, enabled a more rapid execution of the FARP mission.

We continued the discussion during my visit to MAWTS-1 in early September 2020.

In this discussion it was very clear that the rethinking of how to do FARPs was part of a much broader shift in in combat architecture designed to enable the USMC to contribute more effectively to blue water expeditionary operations.

The focus is not just on establishing FARPs, but to do them more rapidly, and to move them around the chess board of a blue water expeditionary space more rapidly.

FARPs become not simply mobile assets, but chess pieces on a dynamic air-sea-ground expeditionary battlespace in the maritime environment.

Given this shift, Major Bancroft made the case that the AGS capability should become the seventh key function of USMC Aviation.

He argued that the Marine Corps capability to provide for expeditionary basing was a core competence which the Marines brought to the joint force and that its value was going up as the other services recognized the importance of basing flexibility,

But even though a key contribution, AGS was still too much of a pick-up effort. AGS consists of seventy-eight MOSs or military operational specialties which means that when these Marines come to MAWTS-1 for a WTI, that they come together to work how to deliver the FARP capability.

As Major Bancroft highlighted: “The Marine Wing Support Squadron is the broadest unit in the Marine Corps. When the students come to WTI, they will know a portion of aviation ground support, so the vast majority are coming and learning brand new skill sets, which they did not know that the Marine Corps has. They come to learn new functions and new skill sets.”

His point was rather clear: if the Marines are going to emphasize mobile and expeditionary basing, and to do so in new ways, it would be important to change this approach.

“I think aviation ground support, specifically FARP-ing, is one of the most unique functions the Marine Corps can provide to the broader military.”

He underscored how he thought this skill set was becoming more important as well.

“With regard to expeditionary basing, we need to have speed, accuracy and professionalism to deliver the kind of basing in support for the Naval task force afloat or ashore.”

With the USMC developing the combat architecture for expeditionary base operations, distributed maritime operations, littoral operations in a contested environment and distributed takeoff-vertical landing operations, reworking how to execute FARP operations is a key aspect.

FARPs in the evolving combat architecture need to be rapidly-deployable, highly mobile, maintain a small footprint and emit at a low-signature.

While being able to operate independently they need to be capable of responding to dynamic tasking within a naval campaign.

In my language, they need to be configured and operate within an integrated distributed force which means that the C2 side of all of this is a major challenge to ensure it can operate in a low signature environment but reach back to capabilities which the FARP can support, and be enabled by.

This means that one is shaping a spectrum of FARP capability as well, ranging from light to medium to heavy in terms of capability to support and be supported.

At the low end or light end of the scale one would create an air point, which is an expeditionary base expected to operate for up to 72 hours at that air point.

If the decision is made to keep that FARP there longer, an augmentation force would be provided and that would then become an air site.

Underlying the entire capability to provide for a FARP clearly is airlift, which means that the Ospreys, the Venoms, the CH-53s and the KC130Js provide a key thread through delivering FARPs to enable expeditionary basing.

This is why the question of airlift becomes a key one for the new combat architecture as well.

And as well, reimagining how to use the amphibious fleet as Lilly pads in blue water operations is a key part of this effort as well.

In effect, an ability to project FARPs throughout the blue water and littoral combat space supporting the integrated distributed force is a key way ahead.

Featured Photo: A CH-53E helicopter with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, supplies fuel to Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, 1st MAW, setting up a Forward Arming and Refueling Point in preparation for Field Carrier Landing Practices on Ie Shima island, Jan. 7, 2020. The ability to set up a FARP in austere locations significantly improves the operational flexibility, survivability, and lethality of 1st MAW. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ryan Persinger)




Surface Warfare Officers and Training for the High-End Fight


By Robbin Laird

I have argued that the shift from the land wars to the new strategic environment is best described as the shift to full spectrum crisis management.

The return to great power competition and to an ability to dominate the high-end fight is the usual description of the shift, but for me, the focus is upon full spectrum crisis management in a contested environment.

The U.S. services and our allies are focused on reshaping the land war engagement force to becoming an effective integrated distributed force which can operate as interactive kill webs to shape the kind of combat effect essential to support the political objectives necessary in a wide range of combat settings.

For the surface warfare community, this is a significant shift from functioning as flexible mobile bases able to deliver lethal precision effects ashore in relatively low-threat sea environments to operating in highly contested, multi-domain, and distributed environments  in order to achieve new National Defense Strategy objectives.

Both the excellence of the surface warfare community to operate in delivering decisive precision effects ashore and its ability to contribute to crisis management was demonstrated in recent years in Syria.

Ed Timperlake highlighted this dramatic event in an article published March 5, 2019.

“The surface Navy can also undertake independent offensive operations, as the Russians in combat support for the President of Syria recently found out, after the Syrian President used chemical weapons on his opponents:

“When President Trump gave the go order to attack Shayrat Air Base Syria, where a chemical attack had been launched, two US Navy surface warships stood ready to implement the order.

“In one shining moment with Tomahawks fired from USS Porter and USS Ross, the world knew a new Commander-in Chief was at the helm.

“It was reported that 59 of the 60 Tomahawks hit the intended target. Our way of war was to actually warn the Russians to minimize any chance of Russian’s being hit or killed — how nice for them.

“The USS Porter and USS Ross successful attack showcased the command structure of the 21st Century Navy. No finer complement can be given to the 21st Century navy and the dynamic and extremely successful contribution’s being made by the admission of women to the US Naval Academy than seeing the Commanding Officer of USS Porter have her crew earn an historic famous Flag Hoist “Bravo Zulu” for Job Well Done.  Cmdr. Andria Slough graduated from the academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in ocean engineering. She serves as the commanding officer of the USS Porter, a Navy destroyer in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

“Performance counts from day one regardless of how one earns a commission. The Skipper of the USS Ross, Commander Russell Caldwell, hails from Johannesburg, South Africa. Commander Russell Caldwell graduated the University of Kansas with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and was commissioned on January 10, 1998.”

A key enabler for such combat success is the shaping of the new warfare training capabilities set in motion in 2014 by the CNO, Adm. Johnathan Greenert. 

Recently, I visited the epicenter of the way ahead for advanced training for surface warfare, Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC), located in San Diego, California.

According to a recent press release by the Navy:

“Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) paused to celebrate the command’s fifth birthday, June 9, and reflected on the many milestones and achievements completed since standing up the command in 2015.

“SMWDC was established with a small staff that came from Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, into its current form, with a headquarters and four divisions, located in California and Virginia, focused on anti-submarine warfare/surface warfare (ASW/SUW), mine warfare (MIW), integrated air and missile defense (IAMD), and amphibious warfare (AMW).

“SMWDC has produced nearly 400 Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTI)to date and we are continuing to recruit exceptionally talented junior officers into one of four existing warfare programs,” said Rear Adm. Scott Robertson, commander of SMWDC. “The continued increase in our surface force lethality is directly tied to consistent recruitment and subsequent mentoring of sharp officers into the WTI program.”

“SMWDC accomplishes its four lines of effort – advanced tactical training; doctrine and tactical guidance development; operational support; and capability assessments, experimentation, and future requirements – by leveraging Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTIs) and support staff to increase the lethality and tactical proficiency of the surface force across all domains.

“Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) is the surface forces’ premiere warfighting exercise. In the lead up to SWATT, warships complete SMWDC-led advanced tactical training such as Advanced Mine Countermeasure (MCM) Evaluator Course, Air Missile Defender Course, Force Air Defense Commander Course, and Sea Combat Commander Course in preparation for certification and deployment.

“Through hard work, innovation, and thoughtful approach, SMWDC has grown and continues to mature into the organization that will continue to drive Fleet lethality, readiness and confidence,” said Robertson.

“SMWDC is one of five Navy warfighting development centers (WDCs) – Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC), Naval Undersea Warfighting Development Center, Naval Expeditionary Warfare Development Center, and Naval Information Warfighting Development Center – stood up when the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Johnathan Greenert, approved the transition of Warfare Centers of Excellence to WDCs in 2014 to enhance Fleet warfighting capabilities and readiness across the theater, operational and tactical levels. Each of the WDCs are modeled after NAWDC’s ‘Top Gun,’ taking the top talented warfighters and developing them into experts – warriors, thinkers, teachers.”

My visit to SMWDC was hosted by Rear Adm. Scott Robertson, commander of SMWDC.

The key focus of the visit was to discuss with the team how they were preparing officers and the ship combat teams they lead, for the high-end fight in the challenging maritime threat arena.

The first contributor is the recent addition of high-fidelity shore based training simulator and exercise engagement working areas – called Combined Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Trainers, or CIAT, managed and run by the Center for Surface Ship Combat Systems.

The Navy has built two has two CIATs, one at San Diego and one at Norfolk.

What I saw going on in San Diego was an entire Aegis Cruiser combat crew training together in a scenario-based operation able to tap into other elements of the task force to deliver the desired combat effect.

It also greatly enhanced the ship combat team’s warfare readiness and ability think dynamically before heading to sea to continue exercises or deploy for real-world requirements.

The second element in preparing for the high-end fight is to increase the challenge and scope of at-sea training conducted by SMWDC. 

Rear Adm. Robertson described the upcoming shift of Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) to SWATT 2.0.

The training destination is moving from a ‘crawl, walk, run’ methodology into more complex and evolved scenarios in a ‘walk, run, sprint’ methodology.

“SWATT 2.0 will include night life-fire events, Live Virtual Constructive integration into at-sea events, and increased complexity of all warfare training events,” said Robertson.

“We will also include offensive action and maneuver aspects during Live Fire with a Purpose, a re-introduction of other Warfighting Development Center support to SWATT.

“It will also include a culminating Capstone event – a multi-domain, multi-warfare free-play event designed to challenge Warfare Commanders, unit COs, and watch standers alike in stressful conditions, with the inclusion of assessed battle damage and opportunities for integration of shipboard training teams and toughness training.

“The capstone event will be a game-changer for the Advanced Phase of Training and build readiness for both distributed and reconstituted task force level employment.”

A key element of kill web training is for the surface warfare officer to understand what he or she can contribute to the fleet or the integrated distributed force and what that force can deliver to that particular surface ship or task force in which that surface ship is participating.

Clearly, this is a work in progress, but it is about moving in the direction of enhanced full spectrum crisis management capability for the fleet, for the joint and coalition force and for the nation.

Appendix: Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training Creates Combat-Ready Warships, Battle-Minded Crews

Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center Public Affairs | April 21, 2020

SAN DIEGO — Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) led U.S. Navy warships through Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercise, March 30 through April 17, in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

Units included in the training were the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8), amphibious transport docks ships USS Somerset (LPD 25) and USS San Diego (LPD 22), and the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1).

“This advanced tactical exercise was the most demanding we’ve had to date for the Surface Force as we navigated being able to safely execute this critical training amidst the challenges presented by COVID-19,” said Rear Adm. Scott Robertson, Commander, Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center. “The ultimate intent was to increase the lethality and combat power of naval surface forces by preparing our units to do what warships are designed to do-fight and win at sea- and that’s exactly what was accomplished here.”

SMWDC facilitated the advanced level training to increase the tactical proficiency, lethality, and interoperability of amphibious and littoral combat ships within U.S. Third Fleet.

“It was exciting to witness the strength of our ships and Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTI) during the SWATT exercise. The team was united, maximized force readiness, and minimized exposure to the harmful conditions the world is experiencing. They were ready and leaned forward into SWATT, which is an exercise dedicated to improved warfighting skills, increased lethality, and overall tactical proficiency across multiple warfare disciplines” said Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Downing, SMWDC lead SWATT planner. “During this unprecedented time the ships, with embarked WTIs and supporting teams, employed their combat and weapon systems across several live-fire and complex training events during the at-sea period. The result was as expected, a sharpened and more lethal ARG and LCS force.”

The warships conducted several training exercises, including anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, air defense and amphibious warfare. Complex live-fire events included missile exercises, torpedo exercises and gunnery exercises.

The Navy evaluates all exercises and operations on a case-by-case basis during the coronavirus pandemic. Prior to ordering crews to sequester on board and continuing with a planned evolution, commanders of all our units, and at all levels, carefully balanced the need to maintain unit readiness and the health of the force with the impact to families and the Sailors.

SMWDC and each ship followed all CDC and Navy guidelines regarding COVID-19 during the evolution. The training provided essential and vital tactical training and proficiency to the operational fleet, in order to ensure that units remain lethal and ready.

Featured Photo:

The amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) fires a rolling airframe missile as part of a training exercise. Makin Island is conducting routine operations in the eastern Pacific. (Photo by (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Harry Andrew D. Gordon))




The Abraham Accords: What They Mean and Shaping a Way Ahead

By Robbin Laird

Recently, I discussed the Abraham accords and their impact with Professor Amatzia Baram.

We last met in person at a conference in Bahrain which discussed a number of Middle East issues, and now with Bahrain as one of the signatories to the agreements, we had a chance to get caught up and discussion the importance of this key agreement.

Professor Baram entered Bahrain for the conference on his Israeli passport, a sign of the impending breakthrough.

We started by simply focusing on the question of how important was the agreement.

According to Baram: “I would say that even though we have never fought a war against the either the United Arab Emirates or against Bahrein of course, this is as important as our agreement with Jordan.

“From a strategic point of view, the convergence among the signatories is a common concern: Iran.

“Earlier, we have had agreements with Turkey which provided us with significant information on a variety of threats to Israel, including Iran. From Turkey we could watch Iraq, Syria and Iran.

“Under Erdogan this is over.

But in the new strategic situation, working with UAE, in particular, provides a significant opportunity for collaboration on sharing information about Iran and its activities.

“The agreement also expands partnerships in the region, as the dynamics in the region change.

“The United States is supportive but with the global demands on America, a shift is underway, and both the Gulf Arab states and Israel are looking to expand their partnerships to deal with the threat from Iran.

“Accompanying the agreement is a commitment of the United States to sell F-35s to the UAE. This is a significant one but also affects the U.S. commitment to Israel to maintain a qualitative edge over the Arab nations in the region.

“How will this play out?

“The Iranian attack via drones on Saudi Arabia was a wakeup call to the Gulf Arab states about the need to do more for their own security.  This agreement allows the signatories to work together to provide for much such capability as well for regional defense against Iran.

The strategic side is accompanied by an economic side as well, whereby expanded economic relations are clearly feasible.

But in some cases the two will dovetail.

Baram highlighted such a case, namely in terms of maritime trade routes.

Recently, the UAE-based maritime company Dubai Ports World signed a deal with Israel Shipyards, Ltd. Reportedly, the two companies will submit a joint bid to purchase the Port of Haifa from the Israeli government.

This is how Baram described the impact of such a deal.

“They now are discussing shipping from Dubai, from the Gulf, through the Red sea to Eilat, instead of going through Suez Canal which is quite expensive.

“They will go to Eilat where there will be a train line that goes all the way to Ashdod or to Haifa, or to both.

“And this way the Gulf will have another route to the Mediterranean, not through the Suez Canal. It doesn’t mean that they will not use Suez Canal, they will still use it, but it depends on how large the ship is.

“And so we have another option.

“There is another discussion now between the Emirates and Israel about another line that would go from the Emirates through Saudi Arabia and Jordan to Ashdod and Haifa. This would provide a clear alternative to needing to use the Straits of Hormuz on the way to the Indian ocean.

” Such a strategic rout will reduce the impact of the Iranian threats to close the straits.”

 Question: Where is the Palestine piece in all of this?

Professor Baram: “It is there but not as the precondition for the signatories to work together.

“In the UAE agreement, they urge the Palestinians and Israelis to reach an agreement, which would be reasonable, practical. I think the word is ‘reasonable’ because of Palestinians so far have turned down every reasonable, and I mean really reasonable, agreement the Israelis offered them, mainly because of one reason.

“They could not give up the demand for a ‘right of return.’

“And the right of return for five to six million children, grand-children and great grand-children of 1948 refugees is without precedence in the modern world.

“No Turks will ever return to Greece, and no Greeks will ever return to Turkey.

“Likewise, no Indians will return to Pakistan and no Pakistanis will ever return to India.

“The 1948 Palestinian Arab refugees and their descendants have since been living in Arab countries and must be absorbed there.

“Absorbing them in Israel is impossible given its size, so from an Israeli point of view such a demand is outside the boundary of reasonable.

“In addition to Egypt and Jordan, two more Arab states signed peace agreements now with Israel. This may convince the Palestinian Arab public that they no longer have a veto over Arab-Israeli relations, and that their success depends more than before on their pragmatism.”

Question: It would be difficult to believe that Bahrain would sign a normalization agreement without the Saudi government being willing to see this happen and provide de facto approval.

 What is your sense of the Saudi factor?

Professor Baram: “Bahrain has a problem which the Emirates do not have.

“The ruling elite is essentially Sunni, but the Shi’a represent the majority of the citizenship. Until Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power in Tehran this sectarian difference represented no political problem.

“However, the Islamic Republic of Iran targeted Bahrain in its fervent commitment to spread its Islamic revolution. This launched sectarian tensions in the Emirate.

“Anticipating a Tehran-inspired hostile Shi’i reaction is explaining why their signing of the agreement is more technical, and the language is different.

“Bahrain depends to a large extent on Saudi strategic support. Saudi readiness to participate in this agreement eventually will be a key factor going forward.

“But Bahrain would not have signed this agreement without tacit Saudi support.”

Question: How does the new peace agreement change the defense approach in the region?

How might new exercises and joint capabilities become part of a powerful deterrence equation for the Gulf Arabs and Israel?

 Professor Baram: “A key threat to Israel are missile strikes from Iran or from Iranian surrogates in Iraq. A common threat for the Gulf Arab states and Israel is the threat of Iran going nuclear.

“The Obama agreement with Iran from this point of view is viewed as a disaster for both Israel and the Gulf Arab states.

“What this new agreement presages is more regional cooperation which can address Iranian threats.

“You have raised a key point – how will our militaries train together to shape capabilities which can deter Iranian actions?

“Clearly one aspect here is significant collaboration among our air forces, which could lay a solid foundation for going forward.

“However, any joint Emirates-Israeli air-force exercises will require some Saudi cooperation, and we are not yet there.”

I concluded with this takeaway from the conversation:

We need to build deterrence in depth that can operate across the spectrum of operations to deal in practical ways with Iranian actions. The agreements between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain provides an opening to shaping new ways to do this. When combined with evolving approaches of the United States military to build out their air-maritime forces in innovative ways, the United States can provide an over the top capability to further augment what the regional working relationships have delivered in terms of real deterrent capability.

This is a very important opening to next phase of history in the Middle east. The question is, are we up to actually managing this in a sensible way?

Professor Baram was born in Kibbutz Kfar Menachem in southern Israel and raised and educated there. He served as an officer and commanded tank units in the Armoured Corps during his regular military service from 1956 to 1960 and while in the reserves.

He was ‘on loan’ to the Iraqi desk at Military Intelligence as an analyst when the Iraq-Iran War began in 1980.

After release from regular military service, he worked on the kibbutz farm, before graduating in biology and teaching sciences at the kibbutz high school. He decided on a career change following the Six Day War in 1967 and started his education as an historian of the modern Middle East and Islam in 1971

Featured Photo:  L-R)Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan hold up documents as they participated in the signing of the Abraham Accords where the countries of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognize Israel, at the White House in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020. Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images