Taking Cues From New Administration, Naval Forces Shift Focus to Soft Power

By Grace V. Jean
The Navy and Marine Corps will be turning more attention to “soft power” missions in the coming years, officials said.

They are taking their cues from the Corps’ former commandant, retired Gen. James L. Jones Jr., who will be President Barack Obama’s national security advisor.

“We need to think of national security more holistically,” Jones told National Defense in an October interview at a Navy expeditionary warfare conference in Panama City, Fla.

For naval forces, this means more emphasis on diplomacy and cooperation with allies, Jones said.

 “Expeditionary presence, expeditionary capability are key instruments in what I call a critical mission for the military to become more proactive in bringing about world peace, so you don’t have to fight global conflicts.

“If you have a military that can’t go anywhere, can’t do anything except fight, then you’re going to have more conflicts,” Jones said. “If you have a military that’s adaptable to helping other countries develop along the paths of democracy… then you set the example, and you showcase all of those different alternatives.”  

The Navy two years ago began to step up efforts to strengthen maritime partnerships among nations through training and cooperation. So far, naval forces have participated in “security cooperation” initiatives in Africa, Asia and South America.

Marines also want to increase their participation in these missions, but that will be difficult as long as the Corps remains heavily engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Brig. Gen. Ronald Johnson, director of operations for the Marine Corps headquarters’ policy, plans and operations directorate.

“We need to allow the other combatant commanders to have the access to Marine forces,” Johnson said.

To illustrate the missions that naval forces will see more frequently in the future, he cited last year’s deployment of the USS Kearsarge amphibious assault ship. The vessel made several port calls as it conducted exercises and delivered humanitarian aid and relief operations in the Caribbean and portions of Latin America. The ship was loaded with CH-53 helicopters and various federal and non-governmental agency representatives.

These operations will require a much closer cooperation between the Navy and the Marine Corps, Johnson said. “The Navy and Marine Corps have to do a much better job at synchronizing where they go.” He lamented that on some of the deployments, there were missed opportunities. Mobile training teams taught only rudimentary skills, such as hand-to-hand combat. “What a waste of fuel and expense,” he said. “I take that blame on myself, because as director of operations, we should have done a better job of synchronizing those efforts out there.”

An expansion of soft power missions will require more focused training, officials said. That issue is particularly sensitive for the Marine Corps because it has spent the past six years preparing for urban combat and has devoted minimal resources to amphibious training at sea. Today, there are only two training commands in the Defense Department that have the mission for amphibious training, said Marine Corps Col. Stuart Dickey, commanding officer of the Expeditionary Warfare Training Group, Atlantic, based at Little Creek, Va.

“We’ve taken our eye off the ball,” he said. “My job is to make sure we’re able to do this: focus on amphibious operations while still training for the myriad of things we do at brick and mortar schoolhouses.”

Just like a retired football player who wants to return to the game, the Navy and Marine Corps must start rebuilding their skills. “That’s where we are with amphibious warfare. We have to get back into the gym. But first, we have to build the gym,” Dickey said.

The Navy has not funded a large-scale amphibious exercise because of ongoing operations. “It’s actually disappointing, because we don’t have the structure to do so right now, today. We don’t have the personnel trained to do so,” said Johnson.

Dickey said his command is holding brainstorming workshops in preparation for a possible Marine expeditionary brigade exercise in 2010. Johnson is pushing for that event to happen off the East Coast, and he also wants coalition partners to participate. When international naval forces came together in 2006 for non-combatant evacuation operations in Beirut, Lebanon, interoperability among the nations did not work well, he said.

There are similar challenges within naval forces. To deal with contingencies in the future, ships from disparate units must be able to come together and fight as a single force.

Part of the problem is that when the Navy disestablished the amphibious ready group structure and created expeditionary strike groups, it also altered the command element. There is now a mismatch between the Marine Corps and Navy staffs. A Marine expeditionary brigade consists of a staff of 200 to 300 people but an ESG command element, headed by a one-star admiral, has a staff of 50 people.

“Now we have disparity. We haven’t worked out the command and control relationships yet,” said Dickey. “These are the issues we have to work out long before we bring staffs together to do execution and training.”

Topics: International, Marine Corps News, Navy News

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