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For the United States, the oceans are important for both their global economic and military security. Public policy in the United States, along with private enterprise, have long been shaped by a keen appreciation of the strategic importance of the seas to the nation’s economic well-being and global security.

Oceans, seas, and waterways connect most of the nations and people of the world, either directly or indirectly. As modern communications and transport bring the world’s population closer together, the oceans become more important as avenues of connectivity than as barriers of separation. Throughout the nation’s history, the seagoing members of U.S. armed and auxiliary forces, and a wide variety of civilian maritime participants, have been involved in operations at sea and have assisted in promoting U.S. national security interests.

Three US uniformed armed services operate on the world’s oceans: the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard. Each has a different mission and unique capabilities. The Navy forward deploys heavily armed air, surface, and subsurface platforms forward to carry our battles overseas and check adversaries on "blue water." The Marines respond in times of crisis with ship-borne amphibious expeditionary forces to carry the fight forward and ashore from the sea. The Coast Guard’s national security missions include national defense, maritime safety, maritime law enforcement, and marine environmental protection. In addition, a wide variety of civilian maritime participants, including the ships which are either owned by or under charter to the Military Sealift Command, the U.S. Maritime Administration, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are involved in operations at sea to promote US national security interests.

The role of naval power in U.S. military strategy is in transition. With the end of the Cold War, the United States is much less likely to face the prospects of a world war. However, uncertainty remains over when, where, and how future conflicts involving U.S. armed forces will occur. Draw-downs in the size of U.S. forces maintained, and a more diffuse and complex political environment, have put a premium on flexible forces that can quickly move anywhere and remain there for a long time. These forces must function without undue logistic strain to respond to threats to international peace or security. There is also a premium on flexible forces that are capable of multiple missions. Maritime forces have inherent strengths which make them America’s best tool to effectively meet most emergent and changing military situations.

Through the use of the world’s oceans by U.S. forces, the advantage of on-scene capabilities for simultaneously executing all three components of the National Military Strategy is possible without infringing on any nation’s sovereignty.

Modern military systems allow the United States to hold potential adversaries at risk at ever greater distances. As technologies shrink the globe, the United States is effectively closer to potential enemies who also have long-distance military capabilities. To counter these capabilities, U.S. forces are prepared to use the oceans to meet potential adversaries on their home ground or on waters far from U.S. coasts. In this very important way, the oceans can buffer North America from conflict overseas.

The oceans provide access to littoral states. Military presence on the high seas provides the United States with the capability to project power to areas of international tensions, to help friends and allies, and to preserve international peace and stability. A range of options is thereby available to U.S. foreign policy makers. Military power may be projected symbolically as a diplomatic goodwill gesture or to deter war.

Mobility, endurance, lift, and response are the components of global projection of military power over the oceans. Sealift and airlift can transport land forces and materiel across the oceans to most trouble spots worldwide. Naval forces have the unique ability to remain at their stations for months, ensuring continued presence on the oceans wherever trouble may arise.

Platforms operating at sea bring special capabilities to the table in those situations in which U.S. military forces must be ordered into action to meet one or more components of the US national strategy of peacetime engagement, deterrence and conflict prevention, or conflict control. Navy and Coast Guard vessels have unique attributes of carrying capacity, the endurance inherent to the duty cycle, mobility, sovereignty, and other abilities to resist attack:

Readiness. One of the strengths of maritime forces lies in their immediate availability to respond to contingencies. By maintaining proficiency in the capabilities necessary to resolve major conflicts, maritime forces can provide a wide range of services in support of peacetime operations.

Flexibility. Maritime forces have been employed in the resolution of many international crises since the end of World War II. The inherent flexibility of maritime forces permits political leaders and commanders to shift focus, reconfigure and realign forces quickly to handle a variety of contingencies. Maritime forces provide a wide range of weapons systems, military options, and logistical or administrative skills. Maritime forces can control the seas and provide diplomatic leverage in peace or time of crisis performing tasks ranging from forcible entry and strike operations to non-combatant evacuation operations, disaster relief, and humanitarian assistance. The excellent strategic and tactical Command, Control, and Communications(C3) capabilities of maritime forces provide for a uniquely controllable force that complements diplomatic efforts. Maritime forces offer presence without occupation and deterrence without commitment. They represent a worldwide, balanced and autonomous intervention capability, which may be employed nationally or multinationally.

Self-Sustainment. Although the degree of self-sustainment achievable by an allied force will be determined by the nature of the operation and the types of units committed by the participants, maritime forces are capable of operating in forward areas at the end of long supply lines without significant land-based supply structure. With the provision of replenishment-at-sea, on-station replacement of personnel and ships, and the resilience of ships (their ability to sustain damage and continue the mission), maritime operations may be continued indefinitely.

Mobility. Maritime forces are much less constrained by political boundaries than air or ground forces. Maritime forces can deploy virtually anywhere in the world and transit the seas in accordance with International Law. With their strategic, operational and tactical mobility, maritime forces have the ability to monitor a situation passively, remain on station for a sustained period, respond to a crisis rapidly and deploy in combat with authority. Mobility enables maritime forces to respond from over the horizon, becoming selectively visible and threatening to adversaries, as needed. If diplomatic, political or economic measures succeed, maritime forces can be quickly withdrawn without further action ashore. Maritime forces can also respond to indications of pending crises by relocating rapidly from one end of the theater to another or from one theater to another, usually independent of fixed logistics. In combat, the ability to position maritime forces quickly provides commanders with a significant tactical and operational advantage.

Carrying capacity: Ships can duplicate land bases because of their ability to carry a variety of essential defense functions. Theater missile defense is one example. Although space systems may contribute to the launch detection of hostile missile(s), large, heavy radars based at sea are needed to either detect, in the case of depressed trajectories, or to manage the interception of hostile missile threats. Ships are the obvious platform for such systems since they can carry the detection systems as well as large quantities of interceptors. Because of their carrying capacity, ships are also ideal platforms for almost all heavy logistics evolutions, command and control duties, space tracking, and intelligence operations.

Duty cycle and Mobility: The constant presence of a ship gives U.S. military planners a significant advantage. Space sensors generally observe intermittently, and airborne sensors, unless based aboard ship, require large numbers to maintain a presence far from base. Because ships can often perform their missions far from a potential adversary’s coastline, they can continuously gather valuable information without threatening or alerting them.

Sovereignty: Warships and public vessels engaged in non-commercial service enjoy sovereign immunity. Therefore, questions of landing or access rights do not arise if U.S. ships are operating on the high seas or transiting through littoral areas and through straits.

Defense against physical attack and jamming: A ship standing well offshore is much more secure from physical attack than warfare centers ashore, and it has the carrying capacity to serve as the platform of choice for many information collection operations against an actual or potential adversary. Warfare centers ashore may be surrounded by a hostile populace and if attacked from over the horizon, must defend in a more cluttered environment. A moving ship is much harder to target with a missile or truck-bomb than an installation ashore, whose static coordinates can be read from a map or a GPS receiver. The positioning of warfare capabilities offshore provides separation from the land-based jammers, thus limiting their effect.

Naval forces are among the most useful of diplomatic tools. Policy makers can send them to over two-thirds of the world’s surface at any time without having to obtain advance basing rights or prior permission to conduct naval movements. Having a sound capability for deploying military forces to almost any coastal (littoral) area makes it possible for the United States to provide the tangible leadership that is necessary to facilitate the assembly of coalition forces, or negotiate forward basing rights should the circumstances so require.

While U.S. maritime forces may not be immediately visible offshore, they are a potent deterrent to potential adversaries since such forces can arrive quickly and remain indefinitely. Routine forward deployment provides the President of the United States with "on-call military presence" almost anywhere in the world and furnishes the capability to project military power and show credible resolve without provoking war. This presence also reminds potential adversaries of U.S. military capability and resolve to enforce international law. In this regard, the oceans and U.S. naval forces provide the United States with unparalleled peacemaking capability and promote the rule of law.

Sea Denial and Operations Other Than War

As world attention turns from the old ideological East-West confrontation of the Cold War to the economic disparity between developed free market societies and developing nations, there has been a re-emergence of maritime interception operations in situations short of hostilities. There has been no decrease in crises that require military operations other than war. Transoceanic operating and logistic capability permit the United States to take a lead in such operations, often as a member of a multinational coalition.

Since 1989, several multilateral embargoes have been enforced by coalition naval forces. These have been supported by the consensus of the international community, and conducted under international law. Such embargoes are best understood as attempts to maintain world order, peace, and human rights rather than as acts of war. Modern maritime interception operations are typically mandated by resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, and normally allow humanitarian shipments of food and medicine to the civilian population. Naval "visit and search" operations are conducted with respect to international law and custom.

Examples of maritime interception operations include the multinational maritime interdiction operations against Haiti, Serbia/Montenegro, and Iraq. These operations are less than airtight and require time to take effect. However, they are part of the foreign policy process which led to the implementation of democracy in Haiti, motivated Serbia to accept the Dayton Accord, and reduced Iraq’s capability for military aggression both before and after the Gulf War. The United States has been at the forefront of this emerging area of modern operational peacemaking.

In the realm of military operations other than war, naval forces also contribute presence and amphibious capability, along with the ability to apply power at varying levels of intensity in "smaller scale contingencies." Maritime forces seek to ensure continued, unhindered and unrestricted use of the sea to further national or shared interests and objectives. The following paragraphs discuss the nature of maritime force employment in peace and war. It must be remembered, however, that the distinctions drawn between peacetime and wartime operations are not clear cut in many instances.

Maritime forces lend themselves well to various peacetime operations, which differ from war time operations in some respects. Although in some situations peacetime operations are designed to influence governments and military forces (presence and deterrence) they are increasingly designed to influence non-national entities, such as criminal organizations and transnational groups. Non-governmental and non-military organizations often have the expertise and the finances to conduct certain operations and may be involved in peacetime operations to varying degrees. Maritime forces should be prepared to deal with these other organizations and recognize the contributions they can bring to an operation. In some contingencies, maritime forces may operate more in a supporting or enabling role, contributing a supply of well-trained and equipped personnel who can adapt and sustain themselves. Peace-time operations will normally have a varying mix of security, humanitarian, and environmental components, and may be grouped under the following broad headings.

  1. Presence and Deterrence. The presence of maritime forces can avoid confrontation and support political aims without necessarily violating national sovereignty. Maritime forces may strengthen diplomatic efforts by "showing the flag" (presence) in a benign fashion as a general indicator of interest and latent capability, thereby helping to prevent emerging conflicts. Alternately, maritime forces can be deployed as a deterrent against specific actions. Maritime forces can also "shield" states at their request by establishing an at-sea presence within territorial seas, thus providing a "trip-wire" function in threatened areas. These operations are, however, fraught with danger because not all parties may cooperate with or refrain from challenging such deployments. Nevertheless, the use of maritime forces is less intrusive than the use of land based forces.
  2. Peace Operations. This term is used in a generic sense to cover a range of activities, including conflict prevention, peace making, peace keeping, peace enforcement, and peace building. The use of maritime forces in peace operations will usually complement land forces and may involve a considerable range of tasks. These tasks may include monitoring/observing cease-fires, interposition between the maritime forces of belligerents and establishing disengagement zones, providing a neutral venue for supervised negotiations, and preventing forces of the belligerent parties from violating agreements.
  3. Humanitarian Operations. Maritime forces are well suited to support humanitarian aid efforts that relieve or reduce the suffering, loss of life, and damage to property caused by natural or man-made disasters. In particular, military forces are useful to provide a secure environment to allow the humanitarian relief efforts of other organizations to progress as directed by cognizant legal authority. Short notice readiness, flexibility, and mobility allow maritime forces to respond quickly to a disaster, particularly if they have Marines or other troops embarked. Maritime forces can be tailored to supplement or complement the efforts of the host nation, civil authorities, or non-governmental organizations. Maritime forces may provide personnel, equipment, supplies, medical and dental care, security, limited construction and engineering, communication, and transportation support.
  4. Protection of Shipping and Freedom of Navigation. When nations make claims over waters that are contested, challenges to freedom of navigation may arise. In such instances maritime forces can exercise freedom of navigation by traversing or exercising in the contested waters (in accordance with recognized international law). Maritime forces may also protect merchant shipping with flag-state consent that could otherwise be threatened.
  5. Maritime Constabulary Tasks. In the last three decades developments in international maritime law, particularly the extension of national authority further from shore, has resulted in a variety of low intensity constabulary functions. These functions are likely to involve naval forces as well as coast guards and/or civilian maritime agencies. Specific functions may include:
    1. Enforcement of fisheries regulations and EEZ arrangements.
    2. Operations against piracy.
    3. Counter-terrorism.
    4. Interdiction of drugs and other contraband trade.
    5. Interdiction of the slave trade or illegal migration.
    6. Enforcement of environmental regulations.
    7. Control of traffic separation schemes and other maritime traffic management tasks.
  6. Environmental Operations. Maritime forces may also be tasked to respond to oil spills and other environmental disasters. In these cases, maritime forces can be a valuable source of trained and disciplined personnel as well as equipment. Often these operations will be conducted in concert with or in support of other governmental, international, or private agencies whose specific missions include disaster response.
  7. Embargoes/Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO). Maritime forces may be tasked to enforce internationally imposed sanctions. Effective enforcement of sanctions may require sophisticated coordination of military operations at sea and in the air. This is especially true in areas of armed conflict or high tension, where the absence of commonly understood and accepted rules of engagement can greatly increase the risks to enforcement units. Assigned tasks may include stopping, inspecting, seizing, and diverting suspect ships and aircraft and establishing and enforcing a maritime exclusion zone for the maritime vessels of one or more parties to a conflict.
  8. Noncombatant Evacuation Operations (NEO). Noncombatant evacuation operations are conducted to move personnel out of an area where deteriorating security conditions place lives at risk. This type of operation is similar to an amphibious raid, involving swift incursion, temporary occupation of an objective, and fast withdrawal after the mission is complete. During a NEO, rules of engagement usually limit the use of force to that required to protect the evacuees and the evacuation force. Maritime forces may have an integral capability to accomplish a NEO without assistance from other forces. If not, ships stationed at sea may provide lift capability and the close, secure staging areas for other forces. By evacuating directly from a secure site to ships outside territorial seas a very low political profile can be maintained. The evacuation force commander must be prepared to deal with the political sensitivity of the situation that will be monitored, if not controlled, from the highest level.

Operations in Wartime

In wartime the activities of the maritime force are normally aimed at achieving sea control and projecting power ashore.
  1. Sea Control. Use of the sea requires a degree of control . Total sea control is rarely possible as long as an adversary continues to threaten forces in the area. Therefore, a degree of sea control is normally established within a designated area for a defined period of time. Sea control must provide security for forces, facilities, and sea lines of communications. Large maritime forces using an area for their own purposes can usually achieve and maintain sufficient sea control, but smaller specialist forces and civilian shipping require sea control to be established by other forces or escorts. Sea denial is a subset of sea control. Sea denial is achieved when maritime forces prevent an opposing force from using the sea for its own purposes. Sea denial is normally exercised in a given area and for a limited time.
  2. Power Projection. Conflicts at sea rarely exist in isolation from a land campaign or the pursuit of territorial objectives. Even when the maritime component is operationally dominant, the ultimate outcome in the theater is likely to depend on success ashore. Maritime forces often must be prepared to operate in the littoral environment to project force ashore as part of joint operations involving naval, air, and land forces. Naval forces are normally the first forces into a crisis area and may comprise the enabling force that allows a joint force access to the region. Naval forces then contribute to operations ashore by conducting operations in direct or indirect support of those land operations. It is important to note that a maritime commander responsible for sea control may find it necessary to plan and execute power projection actions (e.g., maritime air attack of a littoral enemy air field) in order to achieve and/or maintain sea control.

Tasks for Maritime Operations

Although the following tasks are primarily applicable to wartime operations, some, or all, may apply to any maritime operation. All require an ongoing surveillance effort, using both force and external sensors, and good intelligence to create a common tactical picture on which the force can base decisions.
  1. Anti-Air Warfare (AAW). AAW encompasses the threat from all aircraft and airborne weapons, whether launched from air, surface, or sub-surface platforms. Denial of intelligence to the enemy and achieving adequate attack warning are crucial to the AAW battle. AAW is based on the principle of layered defense: defeating air raids using sea- and shore-based aircraft, long- and medium-range surface-to-air missile systems, point defense missile systems, guns, close-in weapons systems, electronic decoys, jammers, and chaff. These layers are necessary to gain early warning, counter the enemy surveillance and targeting effort, destroy attacking aircraft before they can release their weapons and, finally, to destroy or decoy missiles before they can hit friendly forces.
  2. Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). The ASW protection of a force depends on defense-in-depth and close coordination between maritime patrol aircraft, helicopters, surface ships, and friendly submarines. The complexity of such coordination, and the special environmental factors involved makes the submarine threat one of the most difficult problems to counter.
  3. Anti-Surface Warfare (ASUW). Action against enemy surface forces may seek to achieve either sea control or denial. Long range warning from intelligence sources is valuable prior to detection by shore or ship-based fixed-wing aircraft, ship-borne helicopters, or ships' sensors. Once a threatening force is detected its composition and disposition must be ascertained before an attack can effectively be pressed home.
  4. Strike Warfare (STW). Maritime forces contribute to strikes against targets ashore using carrier-based strike aircraft, sea-launched cruise missiles, naval guns, and special operations forces. In maritime air operations, particularly in the littoral environment, air forces work in close cooperation with naval forces to ensure the most effective use of available air assets in strike roles.
  5. Amphibious Warfare (AMW). An amphibious operation is an operation launched from the sea by naval and landing forces against a hostile or potentially hostile shore. Amphibious operations integrate virtually all types of ships, aircraft, weapons, special operations forces, and landing forces in a concerted joint military effort. Amphibious operations are probably the most complex of all joint operations; detailed, specialized knowledge and a high degree of coordination and cooperation in planning, training, and execution are essential for success. Maritime forces will be responsible for: the safe and timely arrival of seaborne forces at an amphibious objective, landing of a force in good order at the right place and time, defense of shipping, and control of ship-to-objective movement. An amphibious force can poise at sea, raiding or landing at a politically decided time and place independent of shore infrastructure.
  6. Command and Control Warfare (C2W). Supported by intelligence, C2W integrates the use of operational security (OPSEC), operational deception (OPDEC), psychological operations (PSYOP), electronic warfare (EW), and physical destruction to deny information to, influence, degrade, or destroy an adversary's C2 capabilities and to protect friendly C2 against such actions.
  7. Special Operations. Maritime Special Operations Forces (SOF) contribute direct and indirect support to sea control and power projection missions. Capable of operating clandestinely, SOF can provide advance force operations, hydrographic and near-shore reconnaissance in advance of a landing, direct action missions, combat search and rescue missions, and the ability to degrade enemy lines of communications.
  8. Mine Warfare (MW). Mine warfare can involve both the offensive use of mines and defensive Mine Counter Measures (MCM). Offensive minelaying operations aim to dislocate enemy war efforts and improve the security of own sea lines of communications by destroying, or threatening to destroy enemy seaborne forces. MCM includes active measures (to locate and clear mined areas), passive measures (routing shipping around high threat areas), and self protective measures (ship signature reduction).
  9. Naval Control of Shipping (NCS). A multinational maritime mission may require some form of control and coordination of shipping within a given region. The control and coordination of shipping aids the force commander by reducing the surveillance and reconnaissance effort and managing confrontation between shipping and an adversary. NCS is implemented by advising ship owners and operators of the situation, the region(s) affected, and the measures being implemented. Shipping authorities accepting NCS agree to provide position, movement, and communication information to naval authorities and, subject to the master’s discretion, comply with any routing information and direction given by naval authorities.

Information Warfare

The ocean environment enhances military command, control, and communications. Ocean-borne platforms can provide military units deployed overseas with constant, secure, real-time communication with tactical and strategic leadership in the United States. Information superiority has several components: gathering, processing, and disseminating information; information operations to defend against attack; and information operations directed against an adversary’s information. Information warfare is in its infancy but holds forth the hope of military dominance without the use of physical force or loss of life.

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (IS&R)

The forward presence of ocean-based military forces enable the United States to gain a better understanding of developing political military situations. Developing better intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance are key ways to improve awareness of the battlespace, to track the disposition of enemy forces, to enhance transparency among nations (i.e., reduce the risk of accidental war), and to monitor U.S. allied and neutral warfighting assets. Better IS&R technology permits more precise tracking of enemy assets, allowing for more effective disabling of opponents with less use of firepower, less brute force, and less chance of collateral damage to noncombatants. It also promises the potential for improved tactical and strategic awareness, enabling forces to "fight smarter." Thus, the use of up-to-date information technology and modern sensors can help reduce battlespace confusion, often referred to as the "fog of war."

Tactical Environmental Support

A thorough understanding of the dynamics of the ocean environment is necessary for the success of maritime missions. The Navy’s operational oceanography community is responsible for understanding the effects of the natural environment on the planning and execution of naval operations, and for interpreting atmospheric and ocean phenomena for forces worldwide. This community must respond to new technological opportunities and to new mission needs. The ocean and marine environment affect all aspects of naval warfare. Amphibious, mine, and special warfare forces all require rapid, accurate environmental information to support their basic operations. The ocean’s structure, which varies due to subtle changes in salinity and temperature, determines how sound propagates through water and thus affects the use of sonars; likewise, the environment can be used to find or hide submarines. Similarly, changes in temperature and moisture through the atmosphere affect radars used to detect incoming aircraft or missiles and can create "ducts" where radars cannot detect incoming threats. Today’s high-tech weaponry increasingly requires sophisticated environmental inputs for optimal performance and to support the precision required to engage hostile targets while avoiding collateral damage to civilians persons, property, and other noncombatants.

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Maintained by Robert Sherman
Originally created by John Pike
Updated Sunday, October 15, 2000 10:57:42 AM