Jan. 12, 2017
Thanks Carol, for that warm introduction. You’re all probably asking yourself how I was invited to speak to this important gathering of our surface warfare extended community. Perhaps for “the old salt,” SNA feels an obligation, as a matter of professional courtesy, to invite the longest serving surface warfare officer still on active duty. But you’re probably thinking “wait a minute, isn’t he in charge of that regional command that includes fourth fleet? And isn’t that the fleet that has no ships?
Now, I should start right off by giving a big shout out to our United States Coast Guard, who are also proud members of the surface naval association. You need to understand that because our fleet is stretched thin, with more global demands than forces available, for the most part our maritime force in SOUTHCOM has white hulls and orange stripes. The Coast Guard is doing both their DHS mission and our congressionally directed title 10 mission of detection and monitoring in the western hemisphere. So thank you, U.S. Coast Guard!
With that said, what could I possibly have to say about surface warfare and distributed lethality?” That’s a fair question, so let me see if thirty-six years as a SWO will give me enough insight to connect these dots.
Over the past few days, you’ve discussed the merits of our new surface force strategy. This concept of ‘returning to sea control’ harkens back to the foundations of our naval service. Within this construct you’ve heard a lot about how “distributed lethality” promises increased offensive capability across our surface force with the ability to project that lethality across the globe.
This renewed focus on improving the effectiveness of the surface force is an important element as we re-embrace classic military principles that allow us to establish and maintain military superiority against a range of transnational, transregional threats capable of operating in multi-domain and multi-function conflicts.
For the next few minutes, I’d like to share a few thoughts on these issues. Whatever you call it—unrestricted, complex, hybrid, or some other trendy term—the type of competition and potential conflict our Navy is likely to face is increasingly comprised of compressed layers of state and non-state actors, all comprising a complex web, or network.
As a Navy, we have traditionally viewed 'unrestricted,’ or ‘hybrid' conflicts as anomalies, and very land centric. Based on what we see today, and how some powers – both state, and non-state -- have chosen to pursue their strategic aims, they are definitely no longer anomalies. Hybrid and complex threats are here to stay; on land, at sea, and in every other domain - everywhere.
What this requires is a different way of thinking about how we control and dominate in the maritime domain. If we are going to be relevant, our thinking should be shaped by the realities of today’s multi-polar world, and reflect today’s transnational, transregional threats.
The real challenge, of course, lies in the fact that our interests aren’t challenged by just a single adversary, in just one region….our interests are challenged by a range of actors, in multiple regions, across multiple domains—all happening at the same time.
A few illustrative examples: on the state-actor side, this involves, for example, Iran routinely using fast boats and UAVs engaged in belligerent and harassing activities in international waters. China creates artificial islands, then employs its Navy, Coast Guard, and scores of fishing vessels to challenge international norms and rules. They use aggressive cyber operations to obtain us military and commercial intellectual property. We observe as Russia stakes a claim to arctic territory through stepped up military activities, while engaging in widespread and expansive dis-information campaigns to erode faith and confidence in global institutions. We see a whole host of non-state actors exploiting the maritime global commons to traffic in people, weapons, minerals, and of course, illicit drugs.
These maritime examples are part of broader campaigns and strategies of state and non-state actors employing the full range of military and para-military activities, information operations, cyber, sea, air, space, political manipulation, to achieve economic leverage and coercion, and the exploitation of civil society. And all of this is happening at the same time; it is so intermixed and often so subtle that some fail to recognize these activities in the gray zone as belligerent and of any concern. Yet they form layers of a coherent strategy, compressed and interwoven one upon the other - it all should be seen as multiple strands of a single woven fabric. Let’s think broadly about what sea control means in the context of complex, hybrid, unrestricted competition.
On the non-state actor side, this involves threat networks that move people, weapons, and drugs in a range of ever-evolving maritime conveyances….fishing vessels and go-fasts and semi-submersibles and fully submersibles…each illicit conveyance that reaches its destination further erodes maritime and border security and sovereignty, not just of our partners, but of the United States as well.
These may seem like unrelated issues – state and non-state actors operating independently within individual regions or theaters. And in the past that’s precisely the way we as a military treated these challenges; PACOM focused on china, EUCOM on Russia, and CENTCOM on Iran. AFRICOM primarily focused on non-state actors. And SOUTHCOM? Well, we were those guys who just did drugs… right? But our recently signed national military strategy tells us differently, we now recognize that these are all global, networked problem sets.
Transnational, transregional, multidomain, and multifunctional. And in this era of global competition with state actors, if we are faced with a conflict – state and non-state will be blended and compressed together.
We need to be thinking about how these competitors, (both state and non-state) view, use, and exploit the maritime domain, the seams between maritime and littorals and interactions between maritime and land transit routes. We need to assess the full hybrid warfare toolkit at their disposal and how they are able to work against our Navy and nation. We need to think about how we might adapt and apply our own tools in this domain. And most importantly, we need to think about how these things are connected to one another—and how different forms of distributed lethality inherent in our naval forces can pressurize and attack the networks of our adversaries from the sea.
When we look at the illicit worldwide flows of goods and people, and the violence and corruption these flows fuel at home and abroad, we have to recognize that these flows are merely the visible manifestations of complex, adaptive, networked threats. These illicit networks operate unrestrained by laws, unimpeded by morality, and fueled by enormous profits.
They prey on weak institutions, transcend international borders, and exploit the interconnected nature of our modern financial, transportation and technological systems and the seams in our organizational boundaries.
And instead of just confining our gaze, for example, to Russia’s efforts to expand influence within the western hemisphere, we need to take a step back and look at their power projections around the world. We need to evaluate the sum of their activities by looking at them through the prism of Russia’s global strategy. How do Russian activities in the military, political, diplomatic, and information arenas complement (or are complemented by) other types of unconventional power projection tactics?
Our awareness of and actions in the gray zone will either contribute to or constrain or deny our strategies at the high end of conflict.
Thinking about how everything is connected applies to us, as well. We must think carefully about how our community strategy nests and supports not only our overarching naval strategy. We also need to think about how to connect our unique maritime capabilities, placement, and access into the broader blue network that includes our joint service partners, members of the intelligence community, law enforcement, diplomatic, interagency, and our broader multinational forces.
When it comes to addressing global challenges, this is a crowded but sloppy playing field. All of the right players are talking, but there does not seem to be a common awareness or shared way of seeing and acting on these problems.
We can all agree that we must impose costs on those who seek to cause chaos and overturn the established international order. To be relevant our surface forces must play an appropriate role. Being effective, requires shifting from a mindset of “capability interoperability” to a mindset of “capability integration.”
Instead of focusing on ensuring that our forces can work together (interoperability), we need to think bigger—we need to work towards having a shared, common, understanding of the tactical, operational, and strategic environment—not just of the kinetic threats we face, but also of the opportunities to participate as critical nodes in our friendly, blue network; the totality of our integrated efforts against threats that will allow for more efficient and effective employment of our respective resources.
Our surface force can and should play a very important role in enabling shared understanding amongst our sister services and interagency/multi-national partners. Although it’s not explicitly stated, that the concept of distributed lethality can help us achieve shared understating of the maritime environment.
To this end, we must open the aperture of definitions of distributed lethality from primarily kinetic; kinetic is important, but not sufficient if we want to maximize our contribution, and thus our, to the joint force commander. We need to think about how non-kinetic effects can add value to the relevance full range of joint force options available to combatant commanders. Our surface forces present unique advantages simply from their persistent posture in the maritime domain.
How might we posture, equip, and optimize our surface forces to be effective not just in the maritime domain, but also to have relevance in the land, air, space, and cyber domains? What are the tailorable, scalable, sensor packages that must be distributed throughout the surface force in order to provide unique insight to decision makers in the form of ops/intel fusion? How are our conventional surface forces postured to employ these adaptive sensor packages to inform external commanders of emerging opportunities and increased access available during routine patrols, transits and operations?
How are we developing our next generation of officers and sailors, imbuing them with skills and equipping them with the right tools to synthesize massive quantities of both classified and publically available data to mitigate threats and exploit opportunities?
Can the surface force dynamically harness emerging commercial technologies, such as deep learning algorithms, neural networks, and the incorporation of unmanned micro, subsurface, surface, and aerial vehicle swarms?
How do we cultivate a mindset of innovation throughout our force, to develop new approaches and solutions that don’t just make us smarter, but better? How can we grow and incentivize innovative minded junior officers to challenge traditional naval paradigms through mentally agile approaches to emerging problems?
How can the surface force enhance our capable, professional partners in support of global, multi-national coalition operations?
Our surface community can and should facilitate this integration. We can start by building and distributing our shared understanding of the global environment to the joint force, which builds and reinforces the bonds of trust across and between our own military, law enforcement, diplomatic and intelligence communities. And because of the depth of our international maritime partnerships, we can play an important role in bringing our key partners into this integrated network.
In closing, a mindset of true integration and distributed lethality in terms of effects is how the surface force, fully realizes sea control. That control is best achieved—and sustained—not through any single platform, capability or any single service, but instead by an overwhelming application of integrated effects from multiple instruments of national power.
We need to ensure we align and sequence our maritime activities and operations to pressure threat networks and state actors across multiple fronts.
Nothing we plan or execute should happen in isolation. After all, if everything is connected to everything else…that should apply to our own efforts, as well.
Okay, I’ve run on long enough. Let’s hear your thoughts and questions.
 Convergence: Illicit Networks and National Security in the Age of Globalization. Center for Complex Operations, National Defense University, 2013.