Sailing into the 21st Century: Operating Forward, Strengthening Partnerships
Greenert, Jonathan W., Joint Force Quarterly
The United States is at a strategic inflection point, as described in the new defense strategic guidance Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.1 American forces left Iraq last year and are drawing down in Afghanistan. Political transformation is shaking the Arab world. Security threats continue to emerge from those seeking to deny access to the commons and from provocative nations such as Iran and North Korea. At home, we must address the Federal budget deficits and grow the Nation's economy.
This inflection point presents U.S. leaders with both challenges and opportunities. It presents challenges because each of these changes impacts the Nation's ability to pursue its longstanding objectives of economic growth, strengthened alliances and partnerships, defense against direct attack, and promotion of freedom abroad. It presents opportunities because this dynamic period is one in which America may be able to "lock-in" new strategic approaches that improve its ability to pursue objectives over the long term.
Upon taking office as Chief of Naval Operations, I identified what I believe are the key tenets that our forces should apply in developing these new approaches. They are warfighting first, operate forward, and be ready. Warfighting first is our fundamental responsibility. The most likely and consequential threats to our security and prosperity today come from regional aggressors who will only be deterred by current, present warfighting capability. Be ready acknowledges that our ability to shape the security environment depends on whether we can respond quickly and proficiently to counter aggression or attacks before they escalate. Operate forward is the focus of this article and describes how our ready warfighting capability must be employed to pursue our nation's security objectives.
Operating Forward Today
Operating forward allows naval forces to provide offshore options to deter aggression, influence events abroad, and win conflicts in an era of uncertainty. Our history and current operations both show that operating forward is essential to our national security objectives. As a nation separated from significant threats by two oceans, those objectives are more outwardly focused than they are for other nations, and U.S. military power is most often used to protect and aid allies and partners, as opposed to defending America from direct attack. For example, forward Navy and Marine forces responded to the Great East Japan Earthquake to deliver hundreds of tons of relief supplies and logistics that reconnected affected areas with the rest of Japan. Forward Sailors and Marines on ships in the Mediterranean made the first strikes to defend civilians during the Libyan civil war, and naval forces at sea continue to deliver dozens of sorties each day to support troops in Afghanistan as we reduce our footprint on the ground there.
Maintaining forces forward requires bases and host nation "places" overseas where our ships, aircraft, and Sailors can rest, refuel, repair, and resupply. Some of these places are on the territory of longstanding allies such as Japan, the Republic of Korea, Spain, Italy, Greece, and the United Kingdom. Others are facilities made available by partners including Singapore, Djibouti, and Bahrain or leased areas such as Guantanamo Bay. These places join our own bases on Guam and in Hawaii and in the continental United States as locations from which our forces operate and can be supported.
Where we establish bases and places is critically important. While our overseas Cold War infrastructure emerged from the need to contain the Soviet Union, our posture today must be driven by enduring objectives and the threats and opportunities of the current strategic environment. These place a premium on warfighting capabilities at the strategic maritime crossroads where our security interests and air, maritime, and cyber transportation systems intersect. …