Naval Transformation: Background and Issues for Congress
Naval Transformation: Background and
Issues for Congress
Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
The Department of the Navy (DON) has several efforts underway to transform U.S.
naval forces to prepare them for future military challenges. Key elements of naval
transformation include a focus on operating in littoral waters, increasing the Navy’s
capabilities for participating in the global war on terrorism (GWOT), network-centric
operations, use of unmanned vehicles, directly launching and supporting expeditionary
operations ashore from sea bases, new kinds of naval formations, new ship-deployment
approaches, reducing personnel requirements, and streamlined and reformed business
practices. This report will be updated as events warrant.
This report focuses on the transformation of U.S. naval forces — the Navy and the
Marine Corps, which are both contained in the Department of the Navy (DON). For an
overview of defense transformation in general, see CRS Report RL32238, Defense
Transformation: Background and Oversight Issues for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke.
Key Elements of Naval Transformation. Table 1 summarizes several key1
elements of U.S. naval transformation. Each of these elements is discussed below.
1 Up through 2006, DON organized its transformation efforts under its overall vision for the
future, called Sea Power 21. The Sea Power 21 framework remains in place, but the Navy in
2007 appears to be emphasizing it less in discussing DON transformation. The Sea Power 21
framework is built around three main components: Sea Strike, which refers to the ability of naval
forces to project precise and persistent offensive power from the sea; Sea Shield, which refers
to the ability of naval forces to not only defend themselves at sea, but to contribute to homeland
defense, project an overland defensive shield to help protect overseas U.S. allies and friends, and
provide a sea-based theater and strategic defense against ballistic missiles; and Sea Basing, which
refers to the ability of naval forces to operate at sea, as sovereign entities, free from concerns of
access and political constraints associated with using land bases in other countries. (This use of
the term sea basing is more general than sea basing concept discussed elsewhere in this report.)
Table 1. Key Elements of U.S. Naval Transformation
Previous U.S. Naval forcesTransformed U.S. Naval forces
Plan for stand-alone, mid-ocean operationsPlan for joint and combined operations in littoral
against Soviet naval forceswaters against regional adversaries
Primary focus on major combat operationsIncreased focus on global war on terrorism (GWOT)
Platform-centric operationsNetwork-centric operations
Manned platforms onlySignificant use of unmanned vehicles
Intermediate land bases established to supportSea basing concept for staging forces at sea and
expeditionary operations ashoreconducting expeditionary operations ashore with
little or no reliance on nearby land bases
Primary formations are carrier battle groups andUse of new naval formations, such as expeditionary
amphibious ready groupsstrike groups
Traditional ship-deployment approachesNew approaches, such as the Fleet Response Plan
(FRP) and Sea Swap
Manpower-intensive ships and shoreShips and shore operations with fewer people; cost
operations; people treated as a “free good”of personnel fully recognized
Traditional business practicesStreamlined, reformed practices
Source: Table prepared by CRS.
Littoral Operations. In late 1992, with the publication of a Navy document
entitled ...From the Sea, the Navy formally shifted the focus of its planning away from the
Cold War scenario of countering Soviet naval forces in mid-ocean waters and toward the
post-Cold War scenario of operating in littoral (near-shore) waters to counter the land-
and sea-based forces of potential regional aggressors. This shift in planning focus has led
to numerous changes for the Navy in concepts of operation, training, and equipment over
the last 12 years. Among other things, it moved the focus of Navy planning from a
geographic environment where it could expect to operate primarily by itself to one where
it would need to be able to operate effectively in a joint manner, alongside other U.S.
forces, and in a combined manner, alongside military forces of other countries. It also led
to an increased emphasis on amphibious warfare, mine warfare, and defense against
diesel-electric submarines and small surface craft. The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and
the DDG-1000 (formerly DD(X)) destroyer are key current Navy efforts intended to
improve the Navy’s ability to operate in heavily defended littoral waters.2
These three components are to be supported and bound together by FORCEnet, which is the
Navy's overarching concept for combining the various computer networks that U.S. naval forces
are now fielding into a master computer network for tying together U.S. naval personnel, ships,
aircraft, and installations. For a description of the Sea Power 21 framework, see Vern Clark,
“Sea Power 21, Projecting Decisive Joint Capabilities,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Oct.
2 For more on the LCS and DDG-1000 programs, see CRS Report RL33741, Navy Littoral
Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Oversight Issues and Options for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke,
and CRS Report RL32109, Navy DDG-1000 (DD(X)) and CG(X) Ship Acquisition Programs:
Oversight Issues and Options for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke.
Global War On Terrorism (GWOT). The Navy in mid-2005 began implementing
several initiatives intended to increase its ability to participate in what the administration
refers to as the global war on terrorism (GWOT). These initiatives include the
establishment of the following: a Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (ECC); a riverine
force; a reserve civil affairs battalion; a maritime intercept operations (MIO) intelligence
exploitation pilot program; an intelligence data-mining capability at the National Maritime
Intelligence Center (NMIC); and a Navy Foreign Area Officer (FAO) community consisting
of officers with specialized knowledge of foreign countries and regions.3
Network-Centric Operations. The concept of network-centric operations, also
called network-centric warfare (NCW), is a key feature of transformation for all U.S. military
services. The concept, which emerged in the late 1990s, involves using computer networking
technology to tie together personnel, ships, aircraft, and installations in a series of local and
wide-area networks capable of rapidly transmitting critical information. Many in DON
believe that NCW will lead to changes in naval concepts of operation and significantly
increase U.S. naval capabilities and operational efficiency. Key NCW efforts include the
Navy’s Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) network, the Naval Fires Network (NFN),
the IT-21 investment strategy, and ForceNet, which is the Navy’s overarching concept for
combining the various computer networks that U.S. naval forces are now fielding into a
master computer network for tying together U.S. naval personnel, ships, aircraft, and4
installations. A related program is the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI).
Unmanned Vehicles. Many analysts believe that unmanned vehicles (UVs) will
be another central feature of U.S. military transformation. Perhaps uniquely among the
military departments, DON in coming years will likely acquire UVs of every major kind
— air, surface, underwater, and ground. Widespread use of UVs could lead to significant
changes in the numbers and types of crewed ships and piloted aircraft that the Navy
procures in the future, in naval concepts of operation, and in measurements of naval
power. The LCS is to deploy various kinds of UVs. Unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and
unmanned combat air vehicles, or UCAVs (which are armed UAVs), if implemented
widely, could change the shape naval aviation. Unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs)
and UAVs could significantly expand the capabilities of Navy submarines.5
Sea Basing For Expeditionary Operations. Naval forces are inherently sea-
based, but the Navy is currently using the term sea basing in a more specific way, to refer
a new operational concept under which forces would be staged at sea and then used to
conduct expeditionary operations ashore with little or no reliance on a nearby land base.
Under the sea basing concept, functions previously conducted from the nearby land base,
including command and control, fire support, and logistics support, would be relocated
to the sea base, which is to be formed by a combination of amphibious and sealift-type
ships. The sea basing concept responds to a central concern of transformation advocates
3 For more on the Navy’s role in the GWOT, see CRS Report RS22373, Navy Role in Global War
on Terrorism (GWOT) — Background and Issues for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke.
4 For a discussion of NCW, CEC, NFN, IT-21, ForceNet, and NMCI, see CRS Report RS20557,
Navy Network-Centric Warfare Concept: Key Programs and Issues for Congress, by Ronald
5 For more on naval unmanned vehicle programs, see CRS Report RS21294, Unmanned Vehicles
for U.S. Naval Forces: Background and Issues for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke.
— that fixed overseas land bases in the future will become increasingly vulnerable to
enemy anti-access/area-denial weapons such as cruise missiles and theater-range ballistic
missiles. Although the sea basing concept originated with the Navy and Marine Corps,
the concept can be applied to joint operations involving the Army and Air Force.
To implement the sea basing concept, the Navy wants to field a 14-ship squadron,
called the Maritime Prepositioning Force (Future), or MPF(F) squadron, that would
include three new-construction large-deck amphibious ships, nine new-construction
sealift-type ships, and two existing sealift-type ships. Additional “connector” ships would
be used to move equipment to the MPF(F) ships, and from the MPF(F) ships to the
operational area ashore. Some analysts have questioned the potential affordability and
cost effectiveness of the sea basing concept.6
New Kinds of Naval Formations. The Navy in the past relied on carrier battle
groups (CVBGs) (now called carrier strike groups, or CSGs) and amphibious ready
groups (ARGs) as its standard ship formations. In recent years, the Navy has begun to use
new kinds of naval formations — such as expeditionary strike groups, or ESGs (i.e.,
amphibious ships combined with surface combatants, attack submarines, and land-based
P-3 maritime patrol aircraft), surface strike groups (SSGs), and modified Trident SSGN7
submarines carrying cruise missiles and special operations forces — for forward
presence, crisis response, and warfighting operations. A key Navy objective in moving
to these new formation is to significantly increase the number of independently
deployable, strike-capable naval formations. ESGs, for example, are considered to be
formations of this kind, while ARGs generally were not.
The Navy in 2006 also proposed establishing what it calls global fleet stations, or
GFSs. The Navy says that a GFS
is a persistent sea base of operations from which to coordinate and employ adaptive force
packages within a regional area of interest. Focusing primarily on Phase 0 (shaping)
operations, Theater Security Cooperation, Global Maritime Awareness, and tasks
associated specifically with the War on Terror, GFS offers a means to increase regional
maritime security through the cooperative efforts of joint, inter-agency, and multinational
partners, as well as Non-Governmental Organizations. Like all sea bases, the composition
of a GFS depends on Combatant Commander requirements, the operating environment,
and the mission. From its sea base, each GFS would serve as a self-contained
headquarters for regional operations with the capacity to repair and service all ships, small
craft, and aircraft assigned. Additionally, the GFS might provide classroom space, limited
medical facilities, an information fusion center, and some combat service support
capability. The GFS concept provides a leveraged, high-yield sea based option that
achieves a persistent presence in support of national objectives. Additionally, it8
complements more traditional CSG/ESG training and deployment cycles.
6 For more on the seabasing concept, see CRS Report RL32513, Navy-Marine Corps Amphibious
and Maritime Prepositioning Ship Programs: Background and Oversight Issues for Congress,
by Ronald O’Rourke.
7 For more on the modified Trident submarines, see CRS Report RS21007, Navy Trident Submarine
Conversion (SSGN) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke.
8 U.S. Department of the Navy, Naval Operations Concept 2006, Washington, 2006, pp. 30-31
New Ship-Deployment Approaches. The Navy is implementing or
experimenting with new ship-deployment approaches that are intended to improve the
Navy’s ability to respond to emergencies and increase the amount of time that ships spend
on station in forward deployment areas. Key efforts in this area include the Fleet
Response Plan (FRP) for emergency surge deployments and the Sea Swap concept for
long-duration forward deployments with crew rotation. The FRP, Navy officials say,
permits the Navy to deploy up to 6 of its 11 planned CSGs within 30 days, and an
additional CSG within another 60 days after that (which is called “6+1”). Navy officials
believe Sea Swap can reduce the stationkeeping multiplier — the number of ships of a
given kind needed to maintain one ship of that kind on continuously station in an overseas
operating area — by 20% or more.9
Reduced Personnel Requirements. The Navy is implementing a variety of
steps to substantially reduce the number of uniformed Navy personnel required to carry
out functions both at sea and ashore. DON officials state that these actions are aimed at
moving the Navy away from an outdated “conscript mentality,” under which Navy
personnel were treated as a free good, and toward a more up-to-date approach under
which the high and rising costs of personnel are fully recognized. Under the DOD’s
proposed FY2008 budget and FY2008-FY2013 Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP),
active Navy end strength, which was 365,900 in FY2005, is to decline to less than
325,000 by FY2010. Reductions in personnel requirements ashore are to be accomplished
through organizational streamlining and reforms, and the transfer of jobs from uniformed
personnel to civilian DON employees. Reductions in personnel requirements at sea are
to be accomplished by introducing new-design ships that can be operated with
substantially smaller crews — a shift that could lead to significant changes in Navy
practices for recruiting, training, and otherwise managing its personnel. Current ship-
acquisition programs related to this goal include the LCS, the DDG-1000, and the Ford10
(CVN-78) class aircraft carrier (also known as the CVN-21 class).
Improved Business Practices. DON is pursuing a variety of initiatives to
improve its processes and business practices so as to generate savings that can be used to
help finance Navy transformation. These efforts are referred to collectively as Sea
DON Transformation Centers, Exercises, and Experiments. Many DON
transformation activities efforts take place at the Navy Warfare Development Command
(NWDC), which is located at the Naval War College at Newport, RI, and the Marine
Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL), which is located at the Marine Corps Base at
Quantico, VA.11 These two organizations generate ideas for naval transformation and act
as clearinghouses and evaluators of transformation ideas generated in other parts of DON.
NWDC and MCWL oversee major exercises, known as Fleet Battle Experiments (FBEs)
9 For more on new naval formations and new ship-deployment approaches, see CRS Report
RS21338, Navy Ship Deployments: New Approaches — Background and Issues for Congress,
by Ronald O’Rourke.
10 For more on the CVN-21, see CRS Report RS20643, Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class (CVN-21)
Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke.
11 Additional information about NWDC and MCWL is available online at
[http://www.nwdc.navy.mil/] and [http://www.mcwl.usmc.mil/], respectively.
and Advanced Warfighting Experiments (AWEs), that are intended to explore new naval
concepts of operation. The Navy and Marine Corps also participate with the Army and
Air Force in joint exercises aimed at testing transformation ideas.
Issues for Congress
Potential oversight questions for Congress include the following:
!Are current DON transformation efforts inadequate, excessive, or about
right? Are DON transformation efforts adequately coordinated with
those of the Army and Air Force?
!Is DON striking the proper balance between transformation initiatives for
participating in the global war on terrorism (GWOT) and those for
preparing for a potential challenge from improved Chinese maritime
!Is DON achieving a proper balance between transformation and
maintaining near-term readiness and near-term equipment procurement?
!How might naval transformation affect Navy force-structure
!Will the need to fund Army and Marine Corps reset costs in coming years
reduce funding available for Navy transformation?14
12 For discussions of these two issues, see CRS Report RS22373, Navy Role in Global War on
Terrorism (GWOT) — Background and Issues for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke, and CRS
Report RL33153, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities —
Background and Issues for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke.
13 For more on Navy force-structure planning, see CRS Report RL32665, Navy Force Structure
and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke.
14 For a discussion of Army and Marine Corps reset costs, see CRS Report RL33110, The Cost
of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11, by Amy Belasco.