Matthew Danehy, Director of Concepts Naval Warfare Development Command

By Robbin Laird

On October 6, 2020,. Rear Admiral Meier, Commander Naval Air Forces Atlantic, interviewed Matthew Danehy, Director of Concepts, Naval Warfare Development Command.

Rear Admiral Meier’s prior command was the Naval Warfare Command.

In this interview, he talks with a member of that command with whom worked about a number of key issues of change affecting the fleet.

A key one has been working on the Distributed Maritime Operations concept.

According to Danehy:

“Concept is a visualization of future operation that describes how war fighters using, and this is key words, military art and science are expected to employ capabilities in the future and they exploit future opportunities. What this is, is a force shaping tool.

“In other words, we’re not just replacing the things we have, we’re looking at what the future challenges are going to be, and then how do we need to shape our force to meet those challenges using not just a science, a tool, a platform, but also how we’re going to apply the art, how we think, because we think that’s a critical piece. So, we came up with DMO. DMO looked at how do we look at what we envisioned the future fight, and we envisioned it against great power peer competitors.

“This is going to be different than what we’ve seen in the last so many decades. And we’re going to have to operate sea control again, and that’s something that… I know we’re approaching our 245th anniversary of the United States Navy, but sea control is what the Navy has done is one of its primary functions, and DMO is a return to sea control.

“There’s many of us that have been in the Navy, but there’s not many of us that did sea control, at least practiced it. I was young enough to come in when they were still called the Soviet Union, and we actually talked and practiced sea control, but then we went into the land campaigns of the last several decades. We didn’t think primarily power projection, and that’s a different way of providing Naval power. We need to return to sea control and DMO gets at that.

“DMO looks taking a distributed force that exploits integration of capabilities and maneuver in all domains to mass effects at the time and place of our choosing. It’s fleet centric. So if you’re operating as a fleet and you’re operating and maneuvering your forces at the time and place that you were choosing.”

Rear Admiral Meier:  “I think that’s an enormously important point that you made as far as how you set that up. Not many of us are old enough to remember those early days when we started flying, we really worked towards sea power, or long-range power projection strikes. Many of the principles that we’re kind of going back to our roots and somewhat foundational, not just to our history and heritage as a Navy, but really pulling that and advancing that into DMO and the technologies of the future.”

Clearly, what is being focused upon is blue water operations. This year we have focused in our various visits on the challenge of reshaping the force to do a variety of blue water operations, this time with the joint and coalition force, not just with the US Navy and its fleet. In many ways, this is drawing upon experiences in World War II but in a new technological age.

As Danehy put it:”Maneuvering your forces, trying to pick a time and place of your choosing to get him at your advantage. Basically shift the calculus if you will. I think we were successful, and it’s worth understanding that because the thinking hasn’t changed. The technology and the environment has, but we have to change the way we each provide our force, if you will, to meet that future challenge”

He then added with regard to the World War II experience: “Anytime you fix your force, you’re no longer maneuverable and it’s a target that’s easily taken….  I believe if I remember right as we were going well in Guadalcanal and Leyte, as we were fighting these larger forces we got fixed in support of these land operations, and that allowed them to basically to ake away our maneuver advantage. And that placed our forces at risk.”

Rear Admiral Meier commented on the Guadalcanal example. “I’m glad that you brought up Guadalcanal. It really reminds me of one of my favorite World War II history books. That is Neptune’s Inferno by James Hornfischer… We were really hanging on by a thread around Guadalcanal. We had overextended ourselves and you’re absolutely right about the more fixed we were, the more we made it easier, at that time, against a numerically superior adversary”

Meier then turned the conversation to the question of innovation.

“I’m wondering if you can share some thoughts with our audience on creating an innovative culture and how you apply that in concept development in the work you do at NWTC.”

Matthew Danehy: “We have filled our day with so much important training and readiness and maintenance and things, and that all needs to get done. But if we don’t find and carve out white space to kind of challenge ourselves, I don’t think we’re ever going to really get beyond what we currently do.

“We are trying to address fleet battle problems. How would you operate given your  capabilities? How would you operate with somebody who has equal capabilities, because it’s a different way of operating? You’re going to force yourself to do things differently. I think white space is probably the number one thing that I think we need to struggle with as a Navy.”

Rear Admiral Meier: “One of the other things that NWTC does is we spend a lot of time in the war gaming space. Now we do war games, not with operational units, but we do it more of a training piece, the operational level training. That has advanced over the years, but what you just described is the importance of free play of allowing a carrier striker commander to effectively challenge another carrier strike group commander, for bragging rights.

“But in a essentially an unscripted aside from the safety margins that we would want to have a blue on blue kind of engagement. I think that’s something that we need to pursue to get back to as we really continue to advance the levels of our COMPTEXs, the war gaming that we’ve been doing, I think, had a rebirth here, probably the last five to ten years.”

Rear Admiral Meir then raised the challenge of logistical support to a distributed integrated force.

Matthew Danehy: “You brought up Neptune Inferno, and I’ve read the book and I am a huge fan of that book. For those that haven’t, please go out and read it. But as you read that book and you think of Guadalcanal and that tremendous fight that the Navy Marine Corps did for that six months, to me, in my mind, as I read the book that was a logistics fight.

“It was a race, who could support those two armies. The first one who was unable to support led to their withdrawal. And that was the Cactus Air Force. It was used during the day to keep resupply ships from coming down, forcing the Japanese to only come at night….

“That Cactus Air Force, that pounding of the logistics allowed the Marines to basically outlast an eventual withdraw and produced victory.

“So, when we look at that Pacific fight, logistics is the key. I think as we look at the new concepts and we started to look at logistics, for the last 20-some years, we built a logistic posture that was peacetime and focused, just in time efficient. As the wing commander, I knew how many engines were located on what ship and what was available. We had just a correct number of supply ased on demand, which is rearward looking.

“But in the future, it’s going to be a different kind of usage. We’re going to operate 24 hours, seven off, we’re going to operate a lot more sorties, but yet our posture is based on a peacetime demand signal.

“We have to get into more of a push logistics, a more algorithms that predict when operations ramp up, the supply system is ramping up prior to that, and start moving those key components forward. We had to get the ability to have these algorithms to accurately predict to say, when I’m about to have the first day of the war and I’m going to launch these long weapons, I don’t need to wait until I fire the weapon to call back home to say, send more out here. They should be moving forward, even before I pull the trigger. So, the next day the resupply ship pulling up and I’m reloading.

“That’s the kind of mindset we need to be able to do. That’s kind of what we’re trying to get at operational logistics, is more of a forward looking instead of a rearward peacetime kind of a focus.”

Rear Admiral Meier highlighted  logistics support structure challenge.

“And that is exactly what the professionals that analyze distributed maritime operations are looking at is those strengths of the carrier strike group that we touched on earlier of maneuver. The fact that our carrier strike groups can move 700 plus miles in a 24-hour period, the increasing range and lethality of our ever-advancing air wing and the weapons that those aircraft carry can hold huge areas of the surface at risk. Over the course of a three-day period, just a staggering volume of a real estate, roughly the entire Pacific AOR over a 72-hour period.

“But it is that logistics support train that is really key part that makes that happen.”

They then opened briefly to the discussion of what I consider really a very critical aspect of reshaping a force to operate as an integrated distributed force, namely, its ability to work with the joint and coalition force. This is a major topic and one which we will address in a future book.

For their discussion, the focused on the enhanced focus on shaping the USMC-US Navy integration.

Rear Admiral Meier certainly gets this point and is one we have discussed recently.

The way he put the significance of engaging the Marines in the Navy’s rethink on distributed maritime operations was as follows:

“You hit the nail on the head. When you say that Marines see things differently. What you’re really talking about is the strength of diversity of opinions in how we engage adversaries, and how we plan, and how we develop concepts.

“If it’s a bunch of aviators specific to your community, if it’s a bunch of E-2 aviators sitting around, you’re going to get a pretty good E-2 aviator idea.

“But if you open that aperture to all aviation, to our surface brethren that are in the strike groups, and then you pull the Marines in, and the Marines’ ability to turn on a dime, as far as how they’re restructuring their force to support the EABO concept. Wow.

“You now really get just a whole wide array of options that really improve the lethality and create increasing dilemmas for potential adversaries in the future.”

The full interview can be heard here:

Featured photo: NORFOLK, Va. – Rear Admiral John F. Meier assumed command of Navy Warfare Development Command (NWDC) in a change of command ceremony July 3, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by SHSN Kassandra Santa Cruz, NWDC/Released)