Small Wars Journal

Shadowy Special Ops Sea Bases are a ‘Gap We Know We Have and We’re Working On,’ Navy Secretary Says

Shadowy Special Ops Sea Bases are a ‘Gap We Know We Have and We’re Working On,’ Navy Secretary Says by Kyle Rempfer - Military Times

The struggle between managing resources for the United States’ counterterrorism fight and an emerging great power competition has quietly begun.

While the U.S. Navy is building up the fleet, the focus on peer-level adversaries like Russia and China is at contention with the responsibility to provide off-shore staging areas for special operations forces.

The issue was put forward by Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst at a hearing on Navy and Marine Corps readiness Wednesday.

“Especially with our renewed focus on great power competition, naval resources will be strained as we continue to build up the fleet,” Ernst said. “The demands in the Pacific and in Europe mean that the Navy and SOCOM [Special Operations Command] will be required to find intuitive ways to supply capabilities to our SOF warriors.”

One way the Navy has explored bringing sea basing to SOCOM in the past is through afloat forward-staging bases, which offer littoral mobility, support and refueling of small boats and special rotary-wing aircraft. Military Sealift Command has also acquired commercial container ships, and outfitted their bays with special dive lockers, armories and surgical suites, according to federal contracts

Read on.


This is long.  But I hope that you find it worth considering:

1.  It is important, I believe, to understand that -- much as in the Old Cold War -- likewise today:

a.  The counterterrorism fight and great power competition; these:

b.  May need to be seen -- not as two separate and distinct conflicts and/or wars -- but as part of the same, single conflict and/or "war."

In this regard, consider this item from Major General Linder, et. al, in their "The Battlefield Tomorrow Fought Today: Winning in the Human Domain:"

"Instead, we have seen the resurgence of great power rivalries across the political, economic, and social arenas. ...

Differing from the previous Tsarist regional empire and the Soviet globalist one, the new Russian foreign policy has a more pragmatic goal. It aims to build different types of buffer zones against NATO encroachment to the West and U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in Central Asia."

(Note here that MG Linder and his co-authors seem to [a] formally INCLUDE counter-terrorism; this [b] in their description of our great power competition, in this case, versus Russia -- more on this at my "Bottom Line" item below.) 

2.  Likewise it important, I suggest, to likewise consider that:

a.  As Russia, China, Iran, the Islamists, etc., seek to contain and roll back U.S./Western power, influence and control throughout the world; this, especially in these such opponents' own spheres of influence/their own necks of the woods (much as we did versus the Soviets/the communists in the Old Cold War) --

b.  They (much like the U.S./the West in the Old Cold War?) are likely to do this (a) often at the far-reaches of our (over-extended?) "empire" and, thus, (b) via proxies; herein, (c) relying significantly on unconventional/hybrid means?

From the War on the Rocks article entitled "America Did Hybrid Warfare Too:"

"The last time Russia and the United States grappled indirectly as adversaries in 'the gray areas' during the final phase of the Cold War, it was the United States that put a hybrid 'blend of military, economic, diplomatic, criminal, and informational means' to effective use, notably in Central America. Of course, there were important differences between the character of that confrontation and today, but much about the goals and the means were comparable, only it was the United States that seemed to 'have it down. ... 

Employed as part of a broader strategy, what hybrid warfare did was allow the United States to carry out open-ended competition and signal certain confidence that the value of protecting the U.S. sphere of interest was greater than any opponent’s interest in upsetting it. After all, it would have served little purpose to test the escalation dominance the United States enjoyed in the hemisphere, say by threatening direct action against Cuba or rattling nuclear sabers. Instead, the method was a low-fear, low-cost, economy-of-force way to manage superpower confrontation."

3.  Last, if one looks to the possibility that our opponents today may -- in their "containment" and "roll back" missions currently -- be using the "Reagan Doctrine" (somewhat described by Charles Krauthammer below) as their guide/one of their guides,

Then -- based on this such understanding -- should we not place more -- not less -- emphasis on (a) our unconventional/counter-unconventional approaches/responses/capabilities and (b) these such items corresponding resource needs?

And, thus:

a.  See current "great power competition;" this,

b.  More through a "unconventional/counter-unconventional warfare lens?


And I did a lot of writing in foreign policy. And I remember saying in one of the editorial meetings, “There’s something very peculiar going on.” For most of our lives there were guerrilla movements around the world, and they were invariably national liberation, and they were Communist or Soviet-supported, or Chinese-supported, Vietnam, Cuba. I mean, that was the norm.

And then I said, there’s an interesting counter-development, we have anti-communist guerrillas in Nicaragua, Angola, Afghanistan – of course, this was the Mujahedeen, and we’re backing it – I wonder what it means? And one of the people at the meetings said, “Well, you ought to write that.” I wasn’t actually thinking of doing it. So I put that together.

And I basically came to the conclusion is what had happened, the Soviets had overextended their empire, and they were getting what the West had gotten with its overextended empire decades before a reaction, they got a rebellion, they got resistance. And the Soviets were now beginning to feel it, and the genius of Reagan, although I don’t think they had a plan in doing this is he instinctively realized that one of the ways to go after the Soviets was indirect, and that is you go after their proxies, you go after their allies, you go after their clients, or even in Afghanistan you go after them directly.

So that’s what I called the Reagan Doctrine, it was sort of the opposite of the Brezhnev Doctrine, which was whatever we control we keep. And Reagan was saying, no you don’t.


Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:


If:  We accept that Russia, China, Iran, the Islamists, etc., (paraphrasing Krauthammer in his second to past paragraph above) are "going after the U.S./the West indirectly; this, by going after our proxies, going after our allies, going after our client/partner states, and in Afghanistan, going after us directly (in this last regard, see the BBC item "Is Russia Arming the Taliban?" -- to be found at, 

Then:  In these such circumstances, which of the U.S./the West "instruments of power and persuasion" should be given priority; this, as relates to their resources needs?