From Naval Forces: Hanging the “Shield” over the Sea Base

<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Transformational Sea Shield Capabilities assure access and persistent presence, permitting Expeditionary Forces to project power ashore and far inland<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />

Hanging the “Shield” over the Sea Base

By Edward Lundquist


Seabasing is the enhanced ability to position persistent, operational joint military power at sea to accelerate deployment and employment time so those forces can project and sustain combat power in the absence of available shore bases.



In a nutshell, it means arranging naval capabilities at sea, wherever those capabilities can be brought to bear, whenever needed, for as long they are needed, without requiring any nation’s permission. 


“Seabasing is everything we operate from our domain,” said Adm. Vern Clark, Chief of Naval Operations.


The recent deployment of sea-based forces in south Asia, able to respond rapidly to provide humanitarian assistance to the victims of the devastating tsunami, demonstrates the versatility of these forward deployed capabilities.


The foundation of the concept is the “Sea Base.”  The Sea Base of today and the near future could be an Expeditionary Strike Group and its accompanying Marines, prepositioning ships or other logistics support, as well as the lift and connectors to bring the combat force to the objective and sustain them during operations. 


In the future, such a force could include prepositioning ships expressly built to accompany the expeditionary forces to the Sea Base and then ashore so those forces have exactly what they need with them.  The new design, known as MPF(F), is not as densely packed as other logistics ships used previously to support expeditionary forces. 


The advantage to the new concept is that warfare commanders can selectively offload and rapidly retrieve just what they need for a particular operation.  The material can be transferred while at sea without the need to wait for access to a port to permit an entire ship to be offloaded ashore to receive the material.  With the airlift and high-speed connectors available to the Sea Base, combat power and logistics can flow to objectives ashore, and far inland. 


All of this can be accomplished under the protective Sea Shield and with the support of combat strike capability from Seabased naval fires, Tactical Tomahawk and new weapons such as the Affordable Weapon System or future weapons like Rail Gun.


Assured access is required to permit the establishment of a Sea Base.  Likewise, access must be assured for the Seabasing components to operate and for the joint expeditionary forces to transit from the Sea Base to the object. 


Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, U.S.M.C., Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command and Deputy Commandant for Combat Development, says the Marine Corps is a sustainable expeditionary force because of the Seabasing assets in the U.S. Navy. 


Seabasing provides speed of response, persistent presence and pervasive influence.  As a concept it is not without precedent, Mattis says.  The U.S. Island hopping campaign of World War II and the British experience in the Falklands are two examples of power being marshaled and brought to bear from the sea.  Seabasing is, however, a new way of thinking because it offers much more than a naval solution, but the full force of joint capabilities.  What gives this idea traction today is that the different components all have a say and have found the concept workable. This consensus has given the concept credibility and has driven forward its implementation.


“How many concepts are stillborn because people can’t agree?” Mattis asks. 


Seabasing is all about maneuver, and using the sea for maneuvering, Mattis says.  The technology today allows for Seabased forces to “tread lightly and leave a very light footprint on our host nations.”


Seabased forces, positioned over the horizon, permit the Joint Force Commander a full range of options to exercise the initiative.  Smaller, more agile forces allow more time for the President to make decisions.


“We need a concept to tell a Joint Force Commander that ‘I can put a force in there quickly and not require a land base to do it,’” says Mattis.


Joint operations would likely include international partners.  The coalition membership would vary depending on the scenario.  Likewise, numerous factors effect how, where or if operations can be supported ashore.


Host nation support, says Royal Navy Commodore Joe Gass, “can never be taken for granted.”


The Sea Shield


Assuring access and protecting the Sea Base from ballistic and anti-ship cruise missiles, submarines, mines and surface craft is the role of the “Sea Shield.” 


Sea Shield is required to guarantee the Sea Base’s persistent presence wherever needed, and to enable and protect the forces operating from or connected to the Sea Base for as long as is necessary.


To that end, the U.S, Navy is focusing on the elimination of threats that might prevent friendly forces from arriving, maintaining a presence, operating in an area, being able to move expeditionary forces and logistics to wherever they need to be, and sustaining those forces.  The challenge is denying these threats access to the Sea Base.  To project a protective shield across the battlespace, including over land where expeditionary forces may be operating, the “Sea Shield” must be netted and distributed.  New capabilities are required, and some new platforms will be developed to take these capabilities into the battlespace.  


Protecting the Sea base and Expeditionary Forces requires a clear understanding of the access-denial threat:


Small, fast armed boats:   .  Dramatic evidence has shown that asymmetric threats can disrupt, deter and inflict catastrophic damage.  The Sea Shield will defend the Sea Base as well as units defending or supporting the Sea Base from threats such as small boats, slow and low-flying aircraft.


Missiles:  As the Sea base becomes a concentrated mass of combat power it will become a more likely target.  Anti-ship cruise missiles and a variety of ballistic missiles pose a threat to our forces at sea, including expeditionary forces moving ashore, and operating inland, even far from the sea. 


Submarines:  The submarine is an anti-access weapon.  While even older subs can be deadly and difficult to detect, many navies now possess or are trying to obtain modern submarine technology.  Today’s diesel subs, including those with Air Independent Propulsion, can remain submerged for days, even weeks at a time, denying access, interdicting expeditionary forces and disrupting or halting the flow of logistics.  The Sea Shield goal is to neutralize this very real ASW threat.


Mines:   Mines are a proven and effective anti-access weapon.  Many potential adversaries have them; they are inexpensive; and they are readily available on the international arms market.  Even the possibility of mines can change the course of an operation. Friendly forces must be able to find, localize, avoid, and, if necessary, to destroy them. 


Countering Threats


The suicide-boat attacks against USS Cole in October 2000 and the French commercial tanker M.V. Limburg two years later exemplify the need to be able to the defend against the asymmetric means of attack utilized by our enemies in the Global War on Terrorism.  A persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) solution is required to uncover the enemy and allow the U.S. and its allies to deal with terrorists at a time and place of our choosing – not theirs.


The Navy has made great progress in the area of Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection to protect ships in and around the Sea Base.  Some ships now have the Mk-38 25mm machine gun system, a single-barrel, air-cooled, heavy machine gun capable of firing 175 rounds per minute, and the Integrated Radar Optical Surveillance and Sighting System (IROS3).  Non-lethal force protection measures include the Swimmer Detection System (SDS), effective loudhailers, and promising biometric technology that will help track and identify individuals encountered during Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO).


The CIWS 1B upgraded version of the Close-In Weapon System found throughout the fleet and among many allied navies provides a day-or-night radar and thermal image capability in the surface mode to identify targets in cluttered near-shore, littoral environments.  CIWS 1B protects ships and crews against a growing spectrum of threats such as standard and guided artillery; helicopters; floating mines, shore-launched, anti-ship missiles and swarming attacks of small, fast gunboats.


Sea Shield also provides for layered active and passive defenses against airborne threats, including anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs).  The Evolved Seasparrow Missile (ESSM) and Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) actively engage incoming targets, while the Nulka decoy provides terminal-phase countermeasures against ASCMs that survive the active defenses.


The Navy’s AEGIS air defense system has been upgraded for ballistic missile defense, and deliveries of the new Standard Missile-3 have begun.  The Navy will be modernizing 22 of its AEGIS guided missile cruisers and its fleet of 61 guided-missile destroyers to keep pace with the threat.  The SM-3 will be able to shoot down missiles in the exoatmosphere. 


The Standard Missile-6, in development, will have a 200-mile overland capability to better protect expeditionary forces ashore.  The SM-6 will counter the threat of cruise missiles overland and will be deployed on AEGIS combatants as well as with the new DD(X) destroyer.  New ships, such as the DD(X) destroyer and CG(X) cruiser will provide maritime dominance for the Sea Base.


The Multi-Mission Aircraft (MMA), based on the 737-800 commercial airliner, is the replacement for the P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft.  The MMA will operate with the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned aircraft, which can remain on station for extended periods.  Together they represent the first new aircraft program that teams manned and unmanned aircraft together to extend operational coverage.

The Advanced Deployable System (ADS) provides a netted distributed sensor field that provides unprecedented detection, localization and tracking ability in key areas of interest. This system was recently tested during Exercise Undersea Dominance 04, where ADS was deployed by the High Speed Vessel “Swift” at 30 knots in a similar manner to how the Navy intends to deploy ADS from the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).


In addition, a new breed of unmanned systems will conduct operations in hostile littoral waters near the Sea Base, so that ships and crews can remain safe. 


The U.S. Navy’s multi-mission surface combatants are still the most capable ASW ships in the world.  Investments in new technologies, new concepts and new weapons to protect these ships and defeat enemy submarines include the Anti-Torpedo Torpedo, the Surface Ship Torpedo Defense System, and supercavitating weapons.


Mine warfare presents a major Sea Shield challenge.  Mines are already in the hands of adversaries who have demonstrated the willingness to use them.  Mine Warfare is one of the focused missions assigned to the Littoral Combat Ship.  When equipped with the MCM Mission Package, LCS will conduct mine warfare missions from deep to shallow water. LCS will bring the MIW capability we need right where the combatant commander needs it.  The MIW mission package includes manned and unmanned aircraft, as well as unmanned surface and underwater vehicles.  Through employment of unmanned systems, LCS gets the man out of the minefield.  In the initial Flight 0 ships, LCS will feature current “off the shelf” technology.  The Navy expects industry to create systems designed for LCS to be put to sea in subsequent flights. 


Connectivity and Interoperability


A vital component to Sea Shield is the netted and distributed nature of the force.  The Navy’s operational construct and architectural framework for naval warfare is called FORCEnet.  It is the means that will make Network Centric Warfare (NCW) an operational reality.  FORCEnet integrates warriors, sensors, weapons, networks, command and control, platforms, into a networked, distributed combat force, scalable across the spectrum of conflict from seabed to space, from sea to land. 


The FORCEnet of today exists in Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), which provides long-range detection and integration capability.  CEC allows sensors throughout the force to work together to form a single composite track for each target in the battle-space, and allows one ship to shoot a weapon at a target based on another ship’s firing solution.  CEC delivers improved force level detection and tracking, better track identification continuity, track accuracy and situational awareness for all ships and aircraft in the force.  Moreover, CEC allows employment of weapons at the maximum flight capability of the missile rather than limitations of a ship’s sensors. 


To prevent access denial from submarines, new capabilities – such as distributed, persistent and networked fields of sensors that monitor vast areas of littoral waters for days, weeks, even months at a time – are needed to neutralize enemy submarines.  These fields must be able indicate when a submarine has entered the monitored area, identify the submarine and its activities, and, if necessary, enable the submarine’s destruction long before it is able to affect friendly forces. 


This connectivity must be joint to permit all forces to contribute, and to benefit.  Likewise, the network must be useable by our allies.  “Interoperability issues are critical,” says Commodore Roberto Carvajal, Naval & Assistant Defence Attache, Embassy of the Republic of Chile, “even if participation is a token presence.”


Future ASW capabilities will reside aboard the Littoral Combat Ship when it is configured for the focused-mission of ASW.  This ship, with it’s specialized mission modules, manned and unmanned aircraft and unmanned surface and underwater vehicles will assure access for the Sea Base and expeditionary forces. 


Platforms Deliver Capabilities


In order to equip and operate the Sea Base, the U.S. Navy will build a fleet of new, agile combatants.  The Littoral Combat Ship is not small or vulnerable.  These ships will have a robust self-defense capability, and will send unmanned systems into the minefields or most dangerous waters.  


The Sea Shield will protect the high-speed connectors that enable the Sea Base, such as LCACs and HSVs, and airlift, including CH-53E Super Stallions and MV-22 Ospreys.


The Sea Base will be more than a jumping off point for Marines.  It will also be a transit point for the insertion and sustainment of Special Forces and Army troops.  The Sea Base figures to play an important role for the Army as is becoming lighter to achieve greater speed in deployment. The Sea Base may also serve to deliver or reintroduce indigenous forces. 


In addition to their superlative Sea Shield roles, the Navy’s multi-mission surface combatants of today and tomorrow will provide naval surface fires support, including precision strike, to support expeditionary forces moving ashore and far inland.  The Seabased strike capabilities will compliment the deep-strike capabilities of the U.S. Air Force to meet joint requirements.


“We will bring offensive and defensive power to bear to exploit everything to our advantage and make sure there are no even fights,” says CNO Clark.


The current force of frigates, guided missile destroyers and guided missile cruisers will serve into the next several decades.  The multi-mission DD(X) destroyer of the future will be the most capable combatant afloat on any ocean.  With its stealth, it can operate in hostile littoral waters to support expeditionary forces.  DD(X) will have a superior radar to AEGIS, and a better ASW capability than DDG-51-class ships.  With its Advanced Gun System, a new gun that fires the guided Long Range Land Attack Projectile, DD(X) can reach targets with precision at ranges of up to 100 miles.  The Navy will leverage the investment in DD(X) to develop the follow-on CG(X) maritime dominance cruiser.  The joint force commander will appreciate the capabilities that CG(X) provides to support and defend expeditionary forces and the Sea Base as they approach shore and move inland.


It all comes back to capabilities, says Rear Adm. Mark Edwards, the director for Surface Warfare on the Navy staff.  “What our Navy needs from us is speed, access and persistence, so that our Surface Fleet can protect the Sea Base, and enable combat commanders and our expeditionary forces to conduct operations wherever needed in the world.”


Concludes Gen. Mattis, “We’re like the guest who wasn’t invited to dinner.  We’re going to stay there until the dinner is done.”




Captain Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) supports the Navy's Surface Warfare Directorate.  He is the director of corporate communication for the Center for Security Strategies and Operations with Anteon Corporation, Washington, D.C.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.