Last week, President Obama announced the deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. The troop surge is part of a new strategy set forth by General Stanley A. McChrystal. The strategy shifts focus from kinetic to non-kinetic operations: protecting civilians, development projects, and winnings hearts and minds. It will be central to America’s operations in Afghanistan for years to come, and even the basis for an American endgame there. Army, Marine, and Air Force roles in the McChrystal approach are clear. The former two are boots on the ground, while the latter provides logistical, intelligence, and combat support. The Navy, however, appears to have little place in this new strategy. The Navy’s primary contribution so far has been combat air support. But, airstrikes have fallen out of favor in Afghanistan as of late due to mounting civilian casualties. McChrystal’s new strategy should worry the Navy leadership, since Secretary of Defense Gates has demonstrated a strong preference for funding programs with applications in current conflicts, and a willingness to cut programs failing that criteria (and more importantly: to fight legislators’ attempts to block cuts). Does the Navy have a place in McChrystal’s war? Yes, but not without some soul-searching.

The Navy can play a significant role in McChrystal’s strategy. Every year, thousands of sailors deploy on humanitarian, development, and disaster relief operations around the world. Sailors have repaired schools in the Pacific, organized health clinics in South America, and delivered disaster aid in the Caribbean. These operations are outside traditional military education and have required developing a new set of skills, notably the ability to plan and work side by side with different services, agencies, governments, and NGO partners. The missions have given the Navy hard won experience adapting military resources to humanitarian, development, and disaster relief challenges. This is particularly true of short term, high impact programs, the type of military involvement in development envisioned by Secretary of Defense Gates. The Navy could have precisely the type of soft-power experience McChrystal’s Afghanistan strategy requires.

The main obstacle to a major Navy role in Afghanistan is not material, but cultural. The Navy’s leadership is dominated by line officers. This perpetuates an institutional culture valuing warships and warplanes. However, the enemy has neither fleet or coastline. All the carrier strike groups in the world will not find victory in the mountains of Afghanistan. To win over the hearts and minds, McChrystal’s strategy requires a surge of a new sort: of nurses, doctors, dentists, engineers, and civil-affairs units, the domain of the staff corp officer. While staff corp officers have a secondary role in the Navy’s traditional warfighting focus, they have played a major part in the Navy’s humanitarian and development cruises. Staff corp officers might not be able to plan a defense of the North Atlantic, but they can run health clinics, manage construction projects, and coordinate with NGOs. They are America’s soft-power specialists. If the Navy is going to take advantage of the humanitarian and development institutional knowledge of its staff corp officers, it must overcome its cultural biases towards the interests of line officers. In the 1980s, the Soviet Army learned that Afghanistan was not the Fulda Gap. Now, the US Navy must accept it is not the Taiwan Strait either.

Posted by Christopher Albon in Navy

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  • Chris,
    I think I know where you are going here, but you are a bit off phase on the problem, methinks.

    AFG is a NATO run operation, though in a transistione of the USA taking back the keys and driving the problem after we gave AFG to NATO in late ’05 early ’06. NATO culminated in late ’07, and the USA has been trying to get back on step since early ’08.

    On the USA side, most of the planning is being run out of USCENTCOM following the lead of the Joint Staff. As part of their developing plan, there are specific requirements outlined via tasks, effects (however you want to define them) which in coordination with NATO is translated into a statement of requirements for specific kinds of units with specific skill sets available at a specified location, needed for a specified time.

    AFG is a Combined (allies) & Joint (all services) operation. USCENTCOM and the Joint Staff are Joint institutions. The Navy contributes as part of that Joint and Combined effort. It responds by contributing, where it can, to the defined requirements (see Seebees in RC(S), SEALS, etc ).

    That is the executive summary with crayons. One thing the challenge with the USN in AFG is not, is a “Line vs. Staff” issue. There are already some exceptional Staff (and Line) USN officers deeply involved with the AFG operation both inside the Joint arena and as part of NATO, the combined arena.

    The challenge of the Navy in AFG is the same as everyone else: funding and maintaining a healthy deployment ratio for our high demand/low density assets (Seebees, EOD, SEALS, etc). There is also the challenge that most of the skill-sets needed in AFG are Army/USMC centric – and that is fine. We help where we can and should – and otherwise try to excel in other places where our core competence is needed (i.e. Horn of Africa).

    No USN unit is going to go to AFG and try, by itself, to hook up with a NGO, open a health clinic, or the other things you mention. Perhaps with the few PRTs they run – but they will only do that in response to a defined requirement coming from the Joint Staff/USCENTCOM and working with ISAF HQ in Kabul. As it should be – and as we are doing.

    I think what we also need to do is to make sure that we don’t get scope-locked. We should dial down the power on the scope a bit and get a look at the larger scale of what is going on. Off the Tactical/Operational, and a bit more focused on the Strategic. There is a lot more than AFG going on right now.

    There is a lot that we can do that the stretched Army/USMC cannot expend their efforts on right now. Things that are just as critical, depending on the timeline you are looking at, as AFG. Building on our relationship with the largest representative republic, India. Build and encourage those Central and South American Nations such as Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Chile and Brazil who are building or already have institutions on par with ours.

    All these things are, if you insist, “Staff” heavy functions.

    I don’t see the “Staff vs Line” problem as you, and thats OK. I think a question we could both agree on though is; “With the limited amount of assets, personnel, and capital that we have, is the USN properly prioritizing its effort for Strategic Effect while preparing for conflict with potential adversaries?”

    That is when the conversation gets fun.

  • Ardmore

    …except that you are also advocating the same position as the current and most recent past CNOs – involvement in the war in Afghanistan because it’s a war. And in the process, we neglect (or rather, underemphasize) the emerging threats by not getting those ships – filled with doctors and dentists and nurses – into the coast of Africa and work to build goodwill there. Instead we work to build goodwill in the halls of the Pentagon with the other services.

    If any service has to work to demonstrate relevance, then there is a mission-strategy mismatch. And lots of folks have written volumes on that.

  • ADM J. C. Harvey, Jr USN

    Chris, your post appears to be an argument in search of the facts to support it.

    Having returned from Afghanistan (and Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE, Djibouti and Iraqi coastal waters) yesterday, I saw first-hand the significant contributions our Sailors are making to our efforts in the region – without these Sailors, and the Navy resources behind them, and their impact across every line of operation in the theater, our chances for success would be limited.

    Clearly, this era of protracted global conflict (the steady rise in disorder due to extreme religious and cultural conflicts, the activity of global criminal organizations, failing states serving as incubators of extremism and a variety of non-state actors with access to rapidly proliferating high-tech weapons technology) will stress the Joint force as we “man, train and equip” to deal with this brave, new world.
    This stress will certainly extend to Navy as we both learn from the past 8 years and, just as importantly, hold on to what we have learned over the past 234 years.

    We may be an inherently conservative organization (show me a military that isn’t), but we are a learning organization as well. The current balance in the Navy between line and staff pretty well matches the missions we’ve been assigned which include a great deal more than what is now taking place in Afghanistan.
    Our line officers and enlisted are learning from the unique demands placed upon us in Afghanistan (and Iraq, the Horn of Africa, the Philippines, Central America, etc) and our Staff/RL Corps are learning how their traditional roles will be changing as well.
    And it is precisely the strength of our service culture that is the fundamnetal enabler for this service-wide learning that is taking place all over the Navy.
    Our job is to strike the right balance and ensure the inherent flexibility and adaptability of our people and our platforms are brought to bear in the right place, at the right time to achieve the right effects.

    Come on down to Fleet Forces and we’ll show you what I’m talking about. All the best, JCHjr

  • Spade

    “The main obstacle to a major Navy role in Afghanistan is not material, but cultural. The Navy’s leadership is dominated by line officers. This perpetuates an institutional culture valuing warships and warplanes. However, the enemy has neither fleet or coastline.”

    Disagree with Chris, agree with Ardmore.

    Chris is right about this: “Sailors have repaired schools in the Pacific, organized health clinics in South America, and delivered disaster aid in the Caribbean.”

    But one of the major reasons that the Navy is successful there is because the Navy has ships that allow them to go there and haul stuff and other services don’t. Which is also why other services do a lot of that stuff in A-stan (because they have big cargo planes and stuff and the Navy doesn’t).

    “The main obstacle to a major Navy role in Afghanistan is not material, but cultural.”

    A paragraph before that sentence you pointed out the Navy does good humanitarian work in other places, but suddenly falls down in A-stan because the leadership wants big grey hulls. How does that work?

    Basically, if the Navy is doing such a great job in, as you say, the Pacific, Caribbean, etc, maybe instead of saying “how can we get more into A-stan?” (which would deplete resources for those other areas and do things other services already do), shouldn’t the Navy say “how can we do better in those places the other services can’t get to where we already do good work”? It’s a global war after all. And in those places we can use those big grey ships (which we might need in the Taiwan strait one day).

    I also hate arguments like this: “Secretary of Defense Gates has demonstrated a strong preference for funding programs with applications in current conflicts, and a willingness to cut programs failing that criteria”. A service should never go with “what can we do to get more of the funding pie to show up those USAF jerks.” It should be “what can we do with the resources and strengths we have that the other services don’t posses”.

  • leesea

    I believe their is a huge impediment to all services which cannot be ignored and that is the significantly constrained lines of communication into the country. For better or worse, all will have to rely rather too heavily on airlift.

    There are units which can get into AFG and make a difference NOW. Mostly from NECC (besides the Seabees who have already been there and done that). Not to be ignored are the Navy medical units in the form of MESF (or whatever the Fleet Hospitals have become?).

    What SECDEF has already identified as needed assets are the rotary lift units. The Navy and Marines need to be very cautious about which of those helo squadrons they want to dissestablish since they may well be needed for awhile longer in-country?

    Let us also up not forget that naval aircraft were used as key ISR platforms earlier in AFG. Couldn’t P-3s and S-3s help again?

    I do not mean to overlook all the IAs on the ground now either.

  • Cap’n Bill

    I am surprised to note that many people in or very close to the Navy have such a poor insight into the contributions being made by that Serive to the war in AFAGN. Perhaps they are too close to see the full picture.

    For over 30 years I’ve been “retired” from the Navy and have been living the civilian life in a large population center with no military base or any routine association with military life. I have not been on a military base in over 20 years. Have been able to renew military ID cards by mail. In most all considerations I am Joe Civilian and believe that I reflect that lifestyle.

    Believe me when I note that the U S Navy contribution to the War is an unknown factor in the typical civilian world.
    The vast Navy Public Affairs community seems to be spinning their tale to friends of a Navy that operates from a handfull of traditional major Navy enclaves. As far as I can see their impact on the large civilian world, that world away from the ocean is minimal. A Failed Mission. Could they spend too much time talking to the converted.

    Some refocus would be in the best interests of the Navy. Almost everything noted in the “heartland” media is based on the Army and Marines. Good for them but potentially harmful for the Navy and Air Force who have become ignored over the years in AFGAN.

    But if those close to the Navy are a bit unaware, one shouldn’t be surprised that those quite distant are very much unaware.

    Navy Leadership must Recognize now that out of sight means out of mind. Not good for future civilian support.

  • “The strategy shifts from kinetic to non-kinetic operation etc.”…I have a 4 Part/Way kinetic special power that is documented. Information about it is contained within the pages of “A Kinetic Person’s Power”(Creative Non-Fiction), By: Kenneth Adrian Ellis . View my professional Author Display Video @ , search: Kenneth A. Ellis then after that, check out my On-Line “State Side” Press Release(There is also a International Press Release) @ I hold a Certificate of Copyright from the Library Of Congress for video footage on which a perform my kinesis! God Bless for allowing this posting!

  • Mike M.

    Cap’n Bill is 100% right, but the problem does not lie in Navy Public Affairs, but in the Navy’s leadership.

    Sailors have frequently fought ashore. Whether it is the modern sailor taking a convoy through Iraq or his Greek forebear climbing off the trireme three thousand years earlier, occasionally fighting ashore has always been part of the job.

    However, it has been customary for naval personnel engaged in shore actions to be organized and deployed as naval units. Naval personnel fighting ashore were organized into landing parties and naval brigades. And their feats of arms won honor and distinction for themselves and the Navies they served in.

    But in the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, the U.S. Navy’s leadership fell into the trap of supplying large numbers of Navy personnel…but as individuals, not as a Naval Brigade or two. As a result, the Navy has made all the sacrifices of war – and received none of the credit.

    It’s a mistake that needs to be corrected. Because the Navy will need all the support it can get to meet the challenges of the next two decades. The balance of power is shifting toward the Pacific – and in that theater, seapower has always been the trump card.

  • leesea

    What MikeM is talking about is a naval raid. The new riverine units in Iraq have been trained by Marines and equipped to perform that mission. So as they are leaving Iraq (and presumably do not have a mission in AFG?), why not use them off Somalia to conduct naval raids from an amphib mothership?

    We all know the Marines are headed elsewhere (again)!

  • Mike M.

    Not simply raids.

    During the First World War, the Royal Navy put an entire division of sailors into the trenches…complete with air support. That’s only one example, but a good one.

    The point being that it was a Naval Division, not fifteen thousand (or so) sailors handed (IA’d, on other words) to the British Army to spread where the Army pleased.

  • How could a very few ppl with no nuclear power be a threat to the World’s most powerful country with the world’s most powerful army and weapons??

  • I agree with Blue Cross, what is the true threat here? What is going to be considered a “win”? As someone who lost a friend in this war, I am still very confused for the reasons.