Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Single Naval Battle

Co-blogger Richard Hicks recently alerted me to this document: The Report of the recently formed Amphibious Capabilities Working Group entitled Naval Amphibious Capability in the 21st Century: Strategic Opportunity and a Vision for Change. The entire document, in my opinion, is well-researched and well-written and should serve as an appropriate vector for both our return to our amphibious roots and the evolution of those capabilities. The heart of the document is a proposed concept: Single Naval Battle. Despite the Pentagonese title, it is a simple concept.
Single naval battle is an approach to the integration of all elements of sea control and naval power projection into a cohesive whole, removing artificial seams in the application of naval power.
A single naval battle approach views the maritime domain as an indivisible whole, allowing us to express the actions and forces within it as inherently integrated in effect. It provides a unifying perspective for naval operations and bridges the seams between air, land, and sea. It allows the commander to effectively focus the efforts of all elements of the naval force in the greater context of the Joint operation.
In short, a real world operation is not an AirLand Battle, or an AirSea Battle, or an AirSeaLandMaritimeDiplomaticInformationEconomicCulturalSpaceCyberNarnia Battle. It’s just warfare as it has always been, a conflict in which all contributing forces and actions are inherently interactive and must be integrated. This is not a new concept. At least, it shouldn’t be a new concept. Alexander the Great ran roughshod over the ancient Greek city-states because he was the first to effectively match the phalanx with effective cavalry and missile forces and properly integrate them on the battlefield. It’s the same concept that gives the MAGTF its potency. It’s Combined Arms writ large.

Truthfully, this is what AirSea Battle is attempting to hit, but it is only grazing the target so far. ASB attempts to better integrate air and naval forces to overcome A2/AD systems. That’s a good thing, but it does not include every aspect of power projection that needs to be integrated. Focusing solely on only two domains that need better integration ignores other important domains that they must support and interact with.

The name single naval battle implies a Mahanian outlook. It was Mahan, of course, who advocated that naval power was best focused on winning a single decisive naval battle with every available ship. Single naval battle does not advocate pinning our hopes on a single, decisive action. It is much closer to Corbett’s line of thinking. Corbett believed that maritime forces had the most strategic value in limited wars because they could, in Francis Drake’s words, “take as much or as little of the war as they pleased.” As the US government shies away from massive, open-ended ground deployments, political leadership will increasingly turn to offshore capabilities to affect crises around the world. Unity of command, unity of objective, and synchronization of efforts are always key factors in the maritime domain. An offshore operation may, at its core, may be a naval operation. But the joint forces employed operate, in support of each other, in any domain.

While the Commandant has directed, very appropriately, that we must return to our amphibious roots, there is a piece missing. The Navy must meet us halfway and return to their amphibious roots. Yes, sailors, you have amphibious roots. That is not to say that the Navy should abandon its blue water focus. But it also should not allow its brown water capabilities to be outshone. Indeed, the Navy has taken steps to reinvigorate these capabilities, but the Marine Corps cannot leave the Navy out of our equation. Part of getting back to our amphibious roots is getting back to our naval roots. The fact that a Marine Corps document is built around a concept titled, “single naval battle” is in itself a good sign that we’re moving in the right direction, but more remains to be done. There is very little opportunity for Marines to train and establish relationships with sailors beyond corpsmen and other US Navy personnel that reside in Marine units. Further integration of the Navy and the Marine Corps will take some work but it will reap dividends. This document, whether the single naval battle concept continues or not, could be the beginnings of a naval power renaissance for both services 


  1. Returning to our amphibious roots is a confusing metaphor. Our (the USMC) amphibious roots are seizing and defending advanced naval bases for the fleet. Is that what we are aiming at? We haven’t left the sea, we’ve been pumping out MEUs at a sustained rate, even while we’ve fighting ground campaigns. What we more specifically need to look at are larger amphibious operations (MEB and above). This is the specific piece that has been missing.

    Single naval battle highlights the realization that this is not simply about the Marines and the Navy amphibious forces. It is about the entire MAGTF and the entire strength of the fleet. Rather than prod the Navy back to some sort of “amphibious roots,” we need to prod both services to look at operating the totality of our forces—MAGTFs, ESGs, CSGs, etc. in the maritime battlespace (which includes the seaward and landward portions of the littoral) towards those objectives that support the joint objective. The issue of capability won’t be the marriage of marines and L-class ships, but the marriage of the MAGTF and the whole fleet.

  2. What Phil Ridderhof wrote is one of the finest examples of Military Systems Analysis I have ever seen. You cannot prepare the Marine Corps for the future by simply adding a better plane or amphibious vehicle. The first question to ask is how the USMC interacts with the (Larger System) the whole entire Naval Force. Again Phi's analysis is excellent!