Admiral Predicts Greater Naval Role in Future Conflicts
ARLINGTON, Va. - The recent eight-month conflict in Libya may foreshadow future engagements, the president's choice to be the next leader of U.S. Pacific Command said during an industry conference this week.
The small joint operation provides “a sense of what the future of tactical operations might imply for us as a Navy,” Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, who commanded the U.S.-led Odyssey Dawn in Libya, said Jan. 11 at the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium.
The opening salvos of the conflict consisted of 112 Tomahawk missiles fired from surface and subsurface assets, including the USS Florida, a cruise missile submarine. By the end of the conflict, naval platforms had fired more than 230 cruise missiles, which will continue to be a relevant weapon of war, Locklear said.
Fifty ships from 12 nations patrolled 1,100 nautical miles of Libyan coastline. The coalition held more than 3,000 ships, conducted more than 300 boardings and denied 11 ships suspected of carrying embargoed cargo to the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. They also conducted mine clearing operations.
More than 200 aircraft flew 27,000 sorties. Most were offensive or defense counter-air sorties. About 3,100 were to provide reconnaissance. More than 500 involved unmanned aerial vehicles. Others consisted of maritime patrol and refueling efforts. Interestingly, more than 180 of these sorties were psychological during which 8.5 million leaflets were dropped to the ground in 15 different locations.
On the kinetic side of the operation, the United States and its partners struck more than 6,000 targets, including bunkers, individual pieces of artillery and pickup trucks. In the middle to later stages of the conflict, French and U.K. ships got in close enough to provide some naval gunfire support.
“We were there to protect a civilian population from its own government, which is a unique undertaking in its own right and one that was intentionally scrutinized by the international community,” Locklear said. The scrutiny will be a part of all future conflicts, he said.
Civilian casualties, or simply the suggestion of them, could have been detrimental to the operation. This influenced the tactics used by the United States and its allies.
“In the end, every weapon we delivered was a precision weapon,” Locklear said.
Future conflicts will require an increased use of short- and medium-range UAVs that can perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance functions as well as carry small weapons, he said. These assets will allow individual units to disperse and cover a vast area as well as come back together quickly when needed, Locklear said.
The United States certainly will see more small, dispersed joint operations fought from the air and sea in the future, he said.
“As we draw down land forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Navy will remain, as it always has, on the front line of U.S. foreign policy,” he said.
The president's new defense strategy puts a focus on air, sea and the Pacific. And though he would not address questions about his nomination to be the commander of PACOM, Locklear's Libya experience may prove to be a perfect prelude to that position if he were to be confirmed.