Tags: WEST 2012
The morning panel discussion at USNI West 2012 was entitled “The Navy-Marine Corps Team: Hang Together or Hang Separately?”
Excellently moderated by Frank Hoffman, the panel members were:
VADM Gerald Beaman, Commander, Third Fleet
VADM John Blake, DCNO, Integration, Capabilities, and Resources (N8)
BGen Dan O’ Donohue, Capabilities Development Directorate, HQMC
MajGen Melvin Spiese, Deputy CG, I MEF
Panelists were unanimous in their comments as to the new appreciation of the truly integrated nature of the Navy-Marine Corps team, and the necessity of that close and long-standing relationship as US focus “pivots” toward the Western Pacific. The unique combined capabilities of the Navy-Marine Corps team to project power globally and to gain entry, as Admiral Vern Clark once stated, “without a permission slip”, was acknowledged to be as important in the coming decade as it has ever been in our nation’s history.
As such, the integration of Navy-Marine Corps fixed-wing air, the maintenance and enhancement of amphibious assault capability, and the return of the Marine Corps to its nautical roots after two protracted land campaigns, all were indicators of the new-found sense of teamwork between the services. Several panel members commented pointedly on just how closely the guidance of CNO Admiral Greenert and Marine Commandant General Amos align. This is not coincidental, as in the coming budget challenges the Department of the Navy, which includes the Marine Corps, needs the capabilities of each of the respective services to execute the Maritime Strategy in the growing A2AD environment. Joint Operational Access must indeed be accomplished jointly, with each service enhancing and complementing the capabilities and mission sets of the other.
This represents a much more harmonious situation than the somewhat discordant voices (behind the scenes, at least) which were heard in the last several years. That is good news. Because the assertion of how much each service needs the other to operate in the vast expanse of the ocean to our west is difficult to overstate.
There was much discussion regarding the F-35B, which General Spiese termed the most important program in the Marine Corps. He stated that its capabilities to operate off big-deck amphibs and high sortie generation rate are keys to USMC warfighting doctrine. With a current and near-future paucity of sustainable Naval surface fire support, General Spiese’s assertion is spot-on.
A question to the panel from your humble author regarded identified capabilities gaps, lack of viable NSFS, and mine warfare, specifically counter-mine capabilities. As the Amphibious Operations Area expands exponentially, a necessary result of fielding of longer-range systems of delivery (MV-22, a future ACV), those two tasks in particular have been flagged as being an even greater gap than exists with current systems and methods. (Simply, the farther from shore the amphibs launch the landing force, and the farther inland the Ospreys can execute vertical envelopment, then the larger the mine-clearing task and the more expansive the target list. This is true even if the landing area is lightly defended.)
The answers were instructive, as Admiral Beaman asserted that prioritization of systems in the current budget environment might mean modification of requirements. Moderator Frank Hoffman identified the need for a low-cost and high-volume FS system to fill the gap until newer systems are fielded (rail gun, possibly) and existing systems improved. (An ability to UNREP VLS, perhaps?)
BGen O’Donohue talked in positive terms about the mine-clearing module of the LCS, and it is clear there is a tremendous amount riding on the success of that system. Admiral Blake explained that the migration is taking place from current methods of mine clearance where the sailor is in the mine field to methods where the sailor is not, and the clearance is performed remotely.
The panel espoused the distinct and realistic view that the current proliferation of A2AD systems make for a very challenging operating environment, and the emergence of a near-peer potential adversary in China raises the ante for getting it right with our Naval forces. But at least those challenges will be met together by the Navy-Marine Corps team.