U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL 750) crew members aboard a 35-foot Long Range Interceptor cutter boat wave to passing Korea Coast Guard members aboard the Korea Coast Guard boat Lee Cheong Ho (ARS-5002) following joint training scenarios in the East China Sea, March 28, 2019. The two services executed simulated interdiction and search-and-rescue drills during a capacity building exercise. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)

Sea Services ‘Must Operate More Assertively to Prevail’ in Face of China, Russia Threats, Says Joint Strategy

The new joint maritime strategy issued by the Coast Guard, Navy, and Marines calls China and Russia “the two most significant threats to this era of global peace and prosperity” and said the services must act “with urgency, clarity, and vision to take the bold steps required to reverse these trends.”

Emphasizing the importance of the maritime domain to America’s security and supply chain, Advantage at Sea says the services “must operate more assertively to prevail in day-to-day competition” while building stronger alliances and partnerships and aligning efforts.

“If our rivals escalate into conflict, becoming our adversaries, we must control the seas to deny their objectives, defeat their forces, protect our homeland, and defend our allies,” the document states. “And, we must boldly modernize the future naval force to maintain credible deterrence and preserve our advantage at sea.”

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael M. Gilday, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David H. Berger wrote in the report’s foreword that “significant technological developments and aggressive military modernization by our rivals are eroding our military advantages,” and “the proliferation of long-range precision missiles means the United States can no longer presume unfettered access to the world’s oceans in times of conflict.”

“Optimism that China and Russia might become responsible leaders contributing to global security has given way to recognition that they are determined rivals,” they noted, stressing that while the services have expanded reach and engagements in critical areas getting to where they need to be “will require predictable budgets and on-time funding.”

The document highlights the fact that 90 percent of global trade travels by sea, facilitating $5.4 trillion of U.S. annual commerce and supporting 31 million American jobs, and undersea cables transmit 95 percent of international communications and roughly $10 trillion in financial transactions each day.

However, if Russia and China’s “revisionist approaches in the maritime environment” go unchecked, “these trends will leave the Naval Service unprepared to ensure our advantage at sea and protect national interests within the next decade.”

China “seeks to corrode international maritime governance, deny access to traditional logistical hubs, inhibit freedom of the seas, control use of key chokepoints, deter our engagement in regional disputes, and displace the United States as the preferred partner in countries around the world,” the strategy states, and is developing the world’s largest missile force to support its multilayered fleet while sinking significant resources into aggressive military modernization and robust shipbuilding.

“As China seeks to establish regional hegemony, it is also expanding its global reach,” the document notes. “China’s One Belt One Road initiative is extending its overseas logistics and basing infrastructure that will enable its forces to operate farther from its shores than ever before, including the polar regions, Indian Ocean, and Atlantic Ocean. These projects often leverage predatory lending terms that China exploits to control access to key strategic maritime locations.”

The Russian threat comes from its military modernization, cyber and kinetic attack abilities, and potential attacks to undersea cables. “It may also gamble that use of nuclear weapons might avert defeat in combat or preclude retaliation,” the strategy adds.

“Russia’s operations are designed to fragment the international order. Its pursuit of an expanded sphere of influence has been defined by opportunism and a willingness to violate international agreements and laws, as well as use of military force. Its campaign to restore strategic depth has motivated RF aggression in Ukraine and Georgia, as well as its intervention in Syria,” the document continues. “In the event of conflict, China and Russia will likely attempt to seize territory before the United States and its allies can mount an effective response—leading to a fait accompli. Each supports this approach through investments in counter-intervention networks. Each seeks to shift the burden of escalation by reinforcing annexed territory with long-range precision-strike weapons and make a military response to an invasion seem disproportionately costly.”

Other threats comes from violent extremists and criminal organizations that “exploit weak governance at sea, corruption ashore, and gaps in maritime domain awareness.”

“Piracy, drug smuggling, human trafficking, and other illicit acts leave governments vulnerable to coercion. Climate change threatens coastal nations with rising sea levels, depleted fish stocks, and more severe weather. Competition over offshore resources, including protein, energy, and minerals, is leading to tension and conflict. Receding Arctic sea ice is opening the region to growing maritime activity and increased competition. These forces and trends create vulnerabilities for adversaries to exploit, corrode the rule of law, and generate instability that can erupt into crisis in any theater.”

The strategy stresses that “alliances and partnerships remain our key strategic advantage,” and “operating forward deters coercive behavior and conventional aggression.” A renewed emphasis on sea control is necessary, and modernization must be driven forward by “new platforms, new thinking, and new technologies.”

Ways for the services to “partner, persist, and prevail across the competition continuum” include advancing global maritime security and governance, confronting and exposing malign behavior, expanding information and decision advantage, and deploying and sustaining combat-credible forces.

“Operating our naval forces far forward—in harm’s way and in contested environments— raises the risks for rivals considering the path of escalation and prevents crisis from escalating into war. Navy and Marine Corps forces demonstrate visible combat readiness, support deterrence, and missile defense,” the report notes. “Coast Guard forces provide additional tools for crisis management through capabilities that can de-escalate maritime standoffs nonlethally.” In conflict, “distributing and maneuvering our forces across all domains allows us to exploit uncertainty and achieve surprise.”

The naval services intend to “develop an integrated all-domain naval force through training and education; capabilities and networks; plans, exercises, and experiments; analysis and wargaming; investments and innovation; and force design.”

“Together, we must act with urgency to integrate and modernize our forces as we prepare for the challenges ahead,” Schultz, Gilday and Berger wrote. “The boldness of our actions must match the magnitude of our moment. The security of our Nation depends on our ability to maintain advantage at sea.”

Schultz said separately that “as the only military service in the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard provides unique multi-mission and intelligence capabilities to complement the ability of our Marines and Navy to protect our national interests when necessary and deliver lethality across the globe.”

“Our hallmark is working daily with partner agencies, sister sea services, and international navies and coast guards to counter maritime coercion and uphold the rules-based order – partnerships work,” Schultz said.

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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