For nearly 20 years none has challenged the supremacy of the United States in the open-ocean, blue-water environment. Increasingly, the contest of ideas is being waged in niche arenas, in the littorals, the near-shore green-water areas, and up and down contested riverine estuaries that provide concealment and cover for terrorists, pirates, and warlords. It is in these areas that the slow erosion of law and order is an accepted fact of life, and it is in these areas that the U.S. Navy must go if it is sincere in its strategic premise that preventing wars is at least as important as winning them. This is the environment of the Influence Squadron.In his April 2009 groundbreaking Proceedings article Buy Fords, Not Ferraris, CDR Jerry Hendrix advocated that in order to meet the broad requirements of the Cooperative Maritime Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, the US Navy needs to realign force structure to better manage steady state engagement operations with regional partners. Among observers of the US Navy, this strategic concept resonated as a responsible function of US naval power, but in the form advocated (the article suggested reducing the number of carriers in the fleet) it was met with visceral objection within the big blue Navy. In his second Proceedings article discussing Influence Squadrons, CDR Hendrix expanded the role of Influence Squadrons while also describing in specifics the form an Influence Squadron would take as an operational squadron supporting sustained presence in various regions globally.
It is a naval force tailored to missions both new and old. Harking back to the founding of the republic, Influence Squadrons will be numerous enough to combat piracy-the only naval mission actually enshrined within the U.S. Constitution-and strong enough to take on terrorists who smuggle weapons across the seas as well as interdict the drug lords whose products kill more Americans per month than al Qaeda has in its history. Larger numbers of platforms will also enable Influence Squadrons to both provide local medical assistance in the form of vaccinations and respond swiftly to natural disasters and thus prevent epidemics of such diseases as dysentery and cholera.
In addition, the simplified characteristics of the Influence Squadron's platforms will help the Navy to build partnership capacity and perform security force assistance missions without over-awing local coalition partners with Aegis-level technology. These missions will extend and solidify the continuing U.S. role of defining and administering the global political-economic system. To perform these missions, Influence Squadron commodores will need a strong and varied complement of platforms to cover low-end missions. Function, in this case, will follow form.
More Henderson, Less Bonds, Proceedings, April 2010, Commander Henry J. Hendrix, U.S. Navy
Full disclosure. When I first read Buy Fords, Not Ferraris, it became my objective to get to know Jerry Hendrix, and over time we have become very good friends. My thought process was - this fool is about to get thrown out of the Navy for writing this article, because as I saw the environment in the Navy; I did not believe the Navy would be very accommodating of any Commander who writes an article that challenges the status quo via Proceedings. Time has proven my assumptions in 2009 both regarding Jerry's career and the resilience of the Navy leadership to take criticism completely inaccurate. However, you might ask, if Jerry and I have become such good friends - why haven't I ever written about More Henderson, Less Bonds until now?
The answer is - I believe the Influence Squadron represents an incomplete concept that 1) needs to be tested before any serious investments are made and 2) better developed as a Joint concept more than it has been described to date in the two Proceedings articles. I see one specific issue completely absent from the Influence Squadron as produced to date that I believe must be addressed.
The Selective Engagement Problem
In December of 2009 I was shocked when Bryan McGrath posted that he believed a serious review of the Navy's maritime strategy was necessary, as CS-21 represents a document he was personally intimately involved in developing. He noted legitimately a concern that allies "will quickly grow disenchanted with us as the operational realities of declining budgets drive us away from cooperative security arrangements and toward selective engagement and offshore balancing." We are already seeing policy decisions during a time of difficult budgets force the Navy to primarily focus on high end naval requirements, but even more remarkable on the point of selective engagement - 3 years after the release of CS-21, Task Force 151 represents the only example where the US Navy has attempted to develop a force towards addressing a low end spectrum security threat. With all due respect to the US Navy, if results matter - Task Force 151 has been a feeble effort, at best.
The naval forces have done a much better job with cooperative assistance. Global Fleet Stations and Medical Diplomacy and Engagement activities have been impressive activities of the maritime services over the last few years. The Southern Partnership Station, the African Partnership Station, and the Pacific Partnership deployments all represent forward thinking engagements where maritime forces can and have made a significant impact in developing partnerships in various regions. It is important to note however that while these are very important and useful activities, at a time when security problems in the maritime domain are expanding and the nation is fighting enemies in a global war on multiple maritime fronts - these engagement activities provide no direct warfighting contribution to the global war effort. Ultimately the success of promoting security with these deployments depend almost entirely on secondary effects by training other nations to make a contribution towards maritime security.
I find it frustrating that three years after the release of maritime strategy the Navy cannot point to a single major activity, whether experimental or traditional, where the entire range of low spectrum threats are addressed as a dedicated naval solution to a specific regional problem - the very quiet Philippines operations being an "almost" example. While the Navy is clearly globally distributed, as a naval observer I would argue that the Navy's version of "mission tailored maritime forces" is in reality either 'whatever can be spared from high end requirements' or 'mission tailored engagement only' activities. Where is the intellectual rigor within the COCOMS towards deploying naval capabilities that aligns "mission tailored maritime forces" to a region specific to the strategic objective of "preventing war?" The absence of a single example, and compounded by the feeble results of Task Force 151 in the context of expanding problems off Somalia, explains why Influence Squadrons resonates as a starting point, or strategic foundation, for how to leverage naval power along the broad range of capabilities short of major war at sea.
Evolve the Influence Squadrons Capability
We are seeing serious negative trends is Somalia. In an AP interview last week, Interpol's secretary general Ronald K. Noble said "we believe that 'the Afghanistan' in the next five to 10 years will be Somalia and those parts of Africa (countries in the north and west)." That is a serious warning, and in the context of all the counter-terrorism activities across Europe over the last week, it is a warning that goes to the heart of CS-21 regarding preventing future war. As the US prepares to potentially draw down forces in Afghanistan, will events unfold that will make Somalia the next land war against terrorist extremists? If that scenario is possible (and I believe we are trending towards probable), then it should be the strategic purpose of naval forces to prevent such a war from occuring - as it is the specifically stated strategic purpose of naval forces as spelled out in the US Navy's own maritime strategy.
I completely understand this is a policy issue, but this is the case that Navy leadership must be able to make at the policy level if the Navy is to justify its role as a military capability intended to prevent future war.
One of my biggest complaints with the US Navy today is how discussions regarding the rise of al-Shabab in Somalia immediately trends towards a conversation of a problem on land. The same is true of conversations surrounding Somali piracy - very smart people stand up to sound smart describing piracy as a problem on land. These are factual statements, but it is also a factual statement that throughout the history of the United States, naval power formed the foundation by which our nation has successfully influenced events on land.
My issue with Influence Squadrons as described is that it is an organization of capabilities that addresses functions of naval power specific to the maritime domain. In public policy debates of the 21st century, even Navy advocates often refer to the shore line as a great wall that seemingly prevents naval power to be influential to problems that originate in ungoverned spaces on land - short of recommending major combat activities. The shore is not a wall; it is a Maginot line waiting for military power from the sea to blitzkrieg across selectively for purposes of positively influencing local conditions. In ungoverned spaces like Somalia where security threats like terrorism and piracy are on the rise; where narcotics, human migration, weapons proliferation, human trafficking, and other illicit activities are prevalent primarily due to the conditions on land - it is critical that naval forces develop and deploy mission tailored maritime forces with the capabilities to influence this entire range of challenges. I believe the US Navy is capable of fielding "Influence Squadrons" with the ability to make positive regional influence, and I include regions like Somalia that are ungoverned and extremely complicated.
Developing Realistic Security and Assistance Squadrons
It is said that rising powers like China prevent the US Navy from adequately providing the forces necessary to address regional security problems in places like Somalia. I would argue that the rise of China is why addressing problems in other regions is critical to overall US strategy that emphasizes positive sum arrangements among allies. With that said I completely understand why the shipbuilding budget cannot be adjusted at this time to meet regional security challenges in places like Somalia. I also do not believe the funding must come from the shipbuilding budget to address the range of threats in places like Somalia.
Whether one calls it an Influence Squadron or African Partnership Station - East, I believe the US Navy should deploy a realistic security and assistance squadron to the Horn of Africa scheduled to arrive in October of 2011. This squadron would be developed with existing platforms the Navy already has access to and would consist of:
The most reliable LPD in inventory whether 2 years old or 42 years old. The LPD will support a company sized SOF capable force of Marines tailored to meet the requirements of anti-terrorism, anti-piracy, and regional security assistance training. The well deck will support the M80 Stiletto and small boats, and a 2 helicopter UH-1 detachment is a requirement. The LPD will act as flagship for the squadron and primarily focus on influencing activity ashore.
A dedicated T-AKE to provide logistics support for the squadron.
FSF-1 Sea Fighter. Sea Figher will primarily be used as a UAV launch, recovery, and maintenance platform for the squadron, but will also function in regional maritime security operations and as a security training and assistance platform for regional security engagement and exchange.
ALAKAI and HUAKAI (both PDF), which for the record MARAD purchased at auction for $25 mil each on September 30, 2010 (so the rumor goes). These ships will function as UAV platforms in addition to transporting riverine squadron equipment and other detachments from the NECC. Supporting small boats and participating in regional training exchanges, the high speed vessels will be expected to do a lot of everything.
Two Perry class frigates. These ships will be outfitted with both lethal and non-lethal weapons of many types, and also serve as platforms for helicopter detachments. These are my primary pirate hunters.
Sea SLICE is my primary inshore platform that would be utilized to support disruption operations against both terrorist and pirate related activities.
The USCGC Bertholf (WMSL 750), which will work in cooperation with regional Coast Guards to establish fishery protection operations and training around Somalia.
Other assets will include Coast Guard LEDET and DOG detachments, a Riverine detachment, a SEABEE det, and a Navy medical det with at least 4 doctors.
This force would be sent with a mandate to kill terrorist, hunt pirates, assist the various United Nation operations in the region, train local security, and generally establish a proactive American presence off the Horn of Africa leveraging less restrictive rules of engagement for the purposes of preventing a future war that could potentially require western ground forces in Somalia. The squadrons mandate includes building security capacity and information exchange with the regional Coast Guards including regional nations but specifically the Coast Guard and maritime security forces of Somalia, Somaliland, and Puntland. Disruption of terrorist activity and pirate activity is a primary function of this squadron. Any nation willing to join this security and assistance squadron would be required to commit forces for training and workups by February 1, 2011.
To me, that is what an Influence Squadron would be. It would operate both at sea and selectively on land. It would be designed to meet the entire range of challenges in a region suffering from maritime security and governance instability issues. It would consist of enough vessels that it can support security operations and regional engagement concurrently. It would be constructed using existing assets readily available for purchase or charter. It would provide opportunity for buy-in from allies willing to conform to established ROE, or allow for logistical support from allies wanting to contribute but politically unwilling to commit at the warfighter level. It combines joint maritime service capabilities into a single force, tailored to the mission, globally distributed while regionally concentrated to meet specific emerging security problems with the intent of preventing war. The squadron sustains presence for 6 months, October 2011 until March 2012 - with Sea Fighter and Sea SLICE remaining permanently deployed to the region as operational assets for future operational experimentation.
The US Navy doesn't need to invest major shipbuilding budget money to deploy Influence Squadrons, but should indeed leverage GWOT operational funding to invest a small amount towards preventing a future war in Somalia using existing vessels readily available, and letting loose a few highly creative Navy and Marine officers ready to prove that US naval power can influence the global war on terror in ungoverned regions at a much lower cost than land military power can.