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Seapower Conversation: NPS Hosts Discussion with Tri-Service Maritime Strategy Authors

Lead authors of the Tri-Service Maritime Strategy, representing the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard

Seapower Conversation: NPS Hosts Discussion with Tri-Service Maritime Strategy Authors

Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) students and faculty recently had the opportunity to directly engage the primary architects of the nation’s newly-published Tri-Service Maritime Strategy “Advantage at Sea: Prevailing with Integrated All-Domain Naval Power,” gaining first-hand insight into the sea services’ new strategic direction.

In a virtual exchange broadcast on the NPS Live Streaming Channel on Feb. 9, the lead authors of the strategy from the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard directly involved in the document’s creation discussed the vision of how, and why, the maritime services will more fully integrate, aggressively modernize and deepen ties with allies and partners over the next decade.

The discussion was produced by NPS’ Naval Warfare Studies Institute, the first in a series called Seapower Conversations, an ongoing dialogue series with strategic leaders to directly apprise students and faculty of emerging concepts, capability development efforts and global operations of the Navy and Marine Corps.

For these future Naval leaders of the 21st century, such knowledge is paramount observed NPS President retired Vice Adm. Ann E. Rondeau when welcoming the speakers.

“The foundation of our force development and design efforts and operations start with warfighting concepts: philosophically, why we fight and conceptually how we will fight,” she said. “This is the North Star that guides everything else and therefore is incredibly important to get right.”

Much has changed in the world since the previous maritime strategy, “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” was published in 2015.

The People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation and other authoritarian regimes have embarked on a strategy of aggressively disrupting the free and open international order – a system which has provided the collective security and prosperity the United States has enjoyed since the end of World War II. Through malign actions which blur the lines between military and civilian, they actively and consistently seek to undermine alliances and partnerships throughout the world in order to upset the balance of power. 

Meanwhile, China and Russia have embarked on a period of almost exponential military growth and modernization, directly challenging American ascendancy. Over the last two decades, for example, China’s naval forces have more than quadrupled in size, growing from approximately 150 to 700 maritime platforms, according to the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Left unchecked, these trends will leave America’s maritime services unprepared to guarantee our advantage at sea or protect our national interests within a decade.

Advantage at Sea meets these challenges head-on across the board, providing strategic guidance for the maritime services to prevail over a wide range of confrontation, from high-end conflict all the way down to the nitty-gritty of every-day competition side by side with our allies and partners.

“It’s important to recognize that this is not a regional strategy,” noted Capt. Matthew Culp, Deputy Director of Navy Strategy, OPNAV N7, leader of the effort to develop and draft the tri-service strategy. “This is a global look at everywhere that naval forces operate. This is a global competition with China and Russia, where fundamentally we see the free and open international order being challenged. This is not just military competition – they’re using all dimensions of national power and increasingly so.”

Alliances and partnerships are our key strategic advantage in meeting this global threat, he said, providing an asymmetric advantage across a continuum of competition.

“You need all kinds of assistance to maintain maritime security. You’ve got long logistics lines you need to secure; you need to deter opportunistic aggression,” he said. “This is not a bipolar problem. This is a multipolar world now. Alliances and partnerships help do all of that in a high-end conflict and, most importantly, this network helps build deterrence and capability that we can’t do alone.”

Engaging in a range of collective actions, from developing interoperable military capabilities to civilian capacity-building, will serve to strengthen powerful bonds with like-minded nations, he added.

At the same time, the Naval Services – the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard – must also deepen the way they work amongst each other, according to Advantage at Sea. The strategic guidance calls for the three services to integrate their respective capabilities, capacities, roles, investments and authorities in order to optimize their collective strength.

A dedicated effort to work and train together will yield a whole greater than its constituent parts in successfully meeting the global challenges of the new security environment, according to Col. Robb Sucher, National War Plans Branch Head and Strategy Branch Head at Plans, Policies and Operations, Headquarters, Marine Corps.

“We want to make sure we’re really capitalizing on the strengths that we all bring together,” he said. “This is certainly something that in our day-to-day we really need to do well and we need to do often. This is going to take years to make sure that we’re incredibly proficient, but it’s something we need to do.”

Working as a whole, this synchronization will enable an All-Domain Naval Power able to triumph through any realm, from the depths of the seas to outer space, across the world’s oceans and shores, and throughout the cyber domain and electromagnetic spectrum.

“This concept of integration is really, as you look at a resource-constrained environment, to put the right assets against the right threat at the right time,” explained Cmdr. Kate Higgins-Blum, Strategic Foresight Director at the Coast Guard’s Office of Emerging Policy. “The Coast Guard should really be specializing and leaning in where it has the competitive advantage, which enables the Navy to invest where it needs to invest, the Marine Corps to invest where it needs to invest, and then synchronize this to really address both the global threats that we face and recognize those focused regional challenges. The end result would be to expand our ability to really operate across the continuum of competition.”

While the Pentagon was focused on the Global War on Terrorism, the maritime security environment has clearly changed, Culp said, with the proliferation of advanced sensors and long-range precision weapons by our adversaries, making surveillance, anti-area access and denial much more effective for the adversary.

“For many years we’ve imagined the seas as these huge strategic moats for the nation and largely opaque areas for us to operate,” he said. “It’s not that sea control is important when it wasn’t before; we’ve just been able to assume that we had it, but now it is contested.”

“Sea control becomes the cost of entry for doing all of our other missions,” Culp continued. “In order to project power, in order to maintain maritime security, in order to conduct sealift, we need to maintain sea control.”

In order to maintain that effective sea control, however, it will be necessary for the Naval Services to undergo significant modernization efforts, a topic of frequent discussion across the U.S. defense and political landscape.

Sailing at the dawn of a new era – the Cognitive Age – will see intelligent systems, big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence increasingly augment human activity and decision-making. Maritime forces will therefore require new platforms, new thinking and new technologies to meet these new challenges. 

Enhanced distributed operations, smaller ships, lighter amphibious ships, updated aircraft, expanded logistics, resilient space capabilities, and integrated manned and unmanned systems will all need to be incorporated into the sea services over the next decade.

The Navy, according to Advantage at Sea, will have to prioritize lethality, capacity, readiness and expeditionary logistics over sustaining legacy capabilities; the Marine Corps modernization over force-structure size; the Coast Guard readiness, capacity and future capability over legacy capability.

This does not mean, however, that current systems should go by the wayside. Realistically, Culp noted, a large portion of the fleet of 2030 is afloat today.

“The hybrid fleet is going to be a mix of existing platforms and these future platforms as they come down the pipes,” he said. “It’ll be a combination of all those things, so what we are trying to achieve right now is to find the right balance, to optimize that blend right now and come up with the correct platforms.”

This requires investment in the most powerful platform the United States can bring to the table: the human mind.

Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen must be prepared to be agile and adaptive in an era of complex, rapidly changing operating environments replete with cyberattacks, electromagnetic spectrum denials, swarm attacks by small, unmanned aerial vehicles and other challenges yet evolving. If the lights go out, creative people will be needed who are capable of making independent decisions in the dark.

“For institutions like the Naval Postgraduate School, where you have people with this incredible technological savvy and creativity, that’s where the intellectual horsepower is going to come from to solve these problems,” Culp said.

“I would challenge everyone at the Naval Postgraduate School that this is the work of analysis and wargaming,” he said. “It’s very important to do a lot of that sort of stubby pencil work over the next five years or so. Let’s get the right blend of this. Let’s solve these networking problems. Let’s find a way to integrate our forces, to build these compatible systems.”

“We really need to get this right in this decade,” Culp added.

Watch the complete Seapower Conversations discussion with the Tri-Service Maritime Strategy authors on the NPS YouTube Channel.  


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