By Vice Adm. Kevin Donegan
Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command
Commander, U.S. Fifth Fleet
Commander, Combined Maritime Forces
President Theodore Roosevelt said that, “A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It’s the surest guarantee of peace.” Those words came to mind as I read the vision for the Navy in the recently released A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority. This new “design” highlights the way the world’s security environment is undergoing rapid and fundamental change. To guarantee peace, we must move urgently to understand and adapt to this ever-shifting landscape, and further enhance our naval strength in the face of our adversaries’ advances.
This rate of change is extraordinarily evident in the 5th Fleet’s 2 1/2 million square miles of ocean, which encompasses some of the world’s most vital sea lanes, and three maritime straits where 30 percent of the energy vital to the global economy passes. Our area of operations is home to four nations embroiled in conflicts that have drawn in many of the world’s leading powers, so maintaining maritime stability in this region requires constant vigilance, and strong regional and trans-regional partnerships. Often times, when change in the security environment happens in the world, it happens here first, and our naval forces must remain ready to respond at a moment’s notice. If just one major maritime chokepoint in our region closes, gasoline prices back home at the pumps could quadruple within six weeks and the price of a liter of milk on the shelves at Costco could almost triple; vital energy could not get to market, and the sustaining food and other resources needed by our Gulf regional partners would not be delivered.
The Design directs us to organize our efforts at confronting the new global realities along four lines of effort: strengthening naval power at and from the sea; achieving high-velocity learning at every level; strengthening our Navy team for the future; and expanding our network of partners.
When it comes to strengthening naval power, the 5th Fleet is ready now to fight and operate decisively to defend our interests. Recently, we demonstrated true combined carrier operations, when along with our French, British and Dutch allies, the Charles de Gaulle Carrier Battle Group and the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group conducted dual carrier operations supporting Operation Inherent Resolve. With FS Charles de Gaulle performing daytime carrier operations and USS Harry S. Truman working nights, this combined United States-United Kingdom-France-Belgium team delivered around-the-clock, high-end warfighting capability to the Joint Task Force-OIR commander, ensuring relentless pressure on Daesh.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Marquis Wallace, an intelligence specialist assigned to my staff here at 5th Fleet, saw all this firsthand. He was part of a contingent of U.S. Sailors embarked on Charles de Gaulle, working with our French allies to provide naval aviation support to OIR. As an intel watchstander, he was a vital link between U.S. and coalition forces, resolving barriers and speeding the flow of vital information between each nation’s on-scene leaders.
At the same time, 5th Fleet is advancing new warfighting concepts by accelerating the integration of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force with our amphibious ready groups and the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Arabian Peninsula. At the same time we immediately plugged the expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Choctaw County into our operations.
Additionally, we’re adding firepower to our coastal patrol ships with improved “C4I” capabilities, remote-piloted vehicles and the Griffin missile system. We are also integrating new advanced underwater unmanned vehicles and helicopters to improve both mine-hunting effectiveness and combat readiness.
The second line, achieving high-velocity learning at every level, requires a true team-first culture. We’re learning from each other and our allies, and sharing those lessons with units entering the region, so they better understand the region’s challenges and are ready to advance our concept with new approaches. As a result, we are unsparing in our assessment of what approaches, techniques, and technologies work, and – most importantly – what doesn’t work.
Our international Combined Task Force 152, part of the Combined Maritime Forces, recently conducted Search and Rescue, Safety of Life at Sea, and First Aid training in the Arabian Gulf. The destroyer USS Ramage, and U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Monomoy took part along with many regional partners. Royal Navy Lt. Will Barrowclough, the operations and training officer for the task force, made sure the training scenarios were dynamic and challenging, with realistic circumstances that kept participants on their toes rather than “walking through” rehearsed steps. As the Sailors faced these unexpected injects, they were challenged to merge their training with new concepts that evolved from lessons learned.
Line three, strengthening our Navy team for the future, is practiced every day at 5th Fleet. The broad range of experiences gained in the real-world missions occurring here sharpen our warriors across the force and pay dividends over entire careers. Lance Cpl. Ryan Foster, a tank crewman with Tank Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 2/6, of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit currently embarked with the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group is one example. He’s been honing his mechanical expertise during exercises ashore in the 5th Fleet operating area. What he and his fellow Marines gain from these exercises is more than some experience turning a wrench; they routinely develop creative solutions to keep their equipment ready in the high humidity of the well deck and the sand-clogged training grounds ashore. On top of all this, let’s not forget every Marine is a rifleman. At any point, Lance Cpl. Foster and his fellow Marines may need to pick up their weapons and respond at a moment’s notice. In 5th Fleet, qualified isn’t enough; our Marines, Sailors, and Coastguardsmen must be proficient.
Finally, line four, expanding and strengthening our network of partners, has long been one of our primary objectives. Utilizing a wide range of cooperative engagements, from regional maritime exercises and key leader engagements, to deployed Sailors, Marines and Coastguardsmen taking part in subject matter exchanges, our contributions to the region have firm roots and cultivate true partnerships at all levels.
Our Combined Maritime Forces leads the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise, the largest maritime exercise in the world. IMCMEX challenges senior leaders, ships, units and Sailors all the way down the chain of command to confront and defeat threats to the free flow of commerce and other national interests. One example of this partnership is Lt. j.g. Nick Green. As an officer assigned to the staff of Destroyer Squadron 50, he worked directly alongside United Arab Emirates Navy Lt. Cmdr. Ali Al-Abdouli during IMCMEX. Together, they integrated the efforts of the command staff and the destroyer where they were embarked, USS Mitscher, with those of the UAE Navy’s fast attack craft Mubarraz during a maritime infrastructure protection exercise, a critical area of focus for IMCMEX. These ships worked jointly to counter advancing threats to port facilities that might otherwise be a vulnerable target for an adversary to either destroy or take over. The importance of both teamwork and interoperability between partners, just like we exercised in IMCMEX, is essential to strengthening naval power in this region.
IMCMEX is just one example. We’ve recently wrapped up a highly successful Amphibious Landing Exercise in Kuwait, a bilateral amphibious and ground exercise, to enhance operational readiness and improve interoperability between U.S. and regional partner forces. Sailors, Marines and their counterparts in the Kuwait Armed Forces worked together during PHIBLEX. We conducted ship-to-shore movements of personnel and equipment using amphibious vehicles such as LCACs and our various aircraft, non-combatant evacuation operations, medical exercises ashore, subject matter expert exchanges and sustainment training. These are two examples of the more than 50 naval exercises we conduct annually.
Part of the Navy’s mission is to deter aggression and find a peaceful resolution for any crises on terms acceptable to the United States and our allies and partners. At 5th Fleet, we do this job every day. The centerpiece of this deterrence is our ships, submarines, and aircraft deployed here in the area of operation. They remain poised and ready to provide potent naval striking power. We are also currently taking the fight to Daesh in Iraq and Syria. We are providing advice, intelligence and logistics support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, as they struggle against Houthi insurgents. We are also directly supporting our fight against violent extremist organizations in Yemen and wherever they operate.
Through these efforts and in meeting the Design’s objectives, we will continue fostering, as Roosevelt put it, “a good Navy” while enhancing the security of our nation and our partners in the region.