WASHINGTON — The expeditionary warfare community is eyeing ways to use all its forces in future operations, with fleet experiments looping special operations forces, mine countermeasures sailors, Seabees and more into traditional naval operations.
Brig. Gen. David Odom, the director of expeditionary warfare on the chief of naval operations’ staff (OPNAV N95), told Defense News in a March 31 interview there’s an ongoing sea services campaign of learning drawing from every training event, exercise and experiment the Navy and Marine Corps conduct.
Many of these events are beginning to combine forces that — in the last two decades, at least — haven’t traditionally operated together.
This was demonstrated in the February 2021 Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group pre-deployment certification event, which — through a combination of live forces and simulated forces piped into the training scenario on the carrier’s combat systems — allowed the carrier strike group admiral to command SEAL platoons, special boat detachments, and Marines conducting Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations focused on surface-to-air and surface-to-surface strike missions.
Odom said that event was just the beginning of these pairings.
In mid-March, the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group and elements of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command worked together on a Fleet Battle Problem that integrated Marines and Navy Special Warfare units — each able to conduct distributed operations in austere environments — with a single battle staff commanding both groups’ operations at sea and ashore.
Odom said the entire range of expeditionary forces would be affected by, and could contribute to the success of, the Distributed Maritime Operations concept that’s increasingly shaping Navy and Marine Corps acquisition, training and operations.
Odom, the lone Marine general serving on the chief of naval operations’ staff, told Defense News seamlessly integrated naval warfighting is a top goal for the sea services. Achieving that will require pairing Marines with all arms of the expeditionary navy: mine countermeasures sailors to assure maritime access in the littorals; naval special warfare sailors to prepare the battlefield; and NECC to ensure continued access to ports and beaches.
To that end, N95 is working to field not only the mine countermeasures mission package on littoral combat ships, but to integrate the mission package with the expeditionary sea base ship and other potential “vessels of opportunity.” It’s also growing the expeditionary mine countermeasures companies so the Navy is positioned to clear waterways and allow naval operations to resume quickly.
Elsewhere in NECC, he said, the Navy is eyeing an expeditionary reloading capability for vertical missile launchers — something typically done at the pier — to increase the Navy’s lethality forward under Distributed Maritime Operations. And the naval construction battalions, or Seabees, are bolstering their port and airfield damage repair capability, also in support of DMO in remote locations.
Odom noted the Marines’ Combat Development and Integration directorate is assessing NECC capabilities, which “would certainly have a key role in Force Design, Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations, [Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment], and fleet operations. So that’s ongoing” as the Navy and Marines continue to plan exercises that pair different communities and see how they integrate to support these new concepts.
“You see the synergies” in the fleet today, with Marines connecting to new types of ships at sea and with expeditionary sailors ashore to extend their ability to see and strike, Odom said.
Harkening back to the Swiss army knife nickname for amphibious warships, Odom said these exercises prove Marines on amphibs can provide “these multi-option capabilities that integrate together with our special ops or expeditionary forces.”
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.