Organizing for Large-Scale Maritime Combat Operations

Michael D. Purzycki is an analyst, writer, and editor based in Arlington, Virginia. He has worked as a communications and media analyst for the United States Marine Corps and a technical writer for the Department of the Navy. In addition to Divergent Options, he has been published in Charged Affairs (the journal of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy), Merion WestBraver Angels, the Washington MonthlyFrance 24, the Truman National Security Project, and Arc Digital. He can be found on Twitter at @MDPurzycki and on Medium at https://mdpurzycki.medium.com/. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  China and Russia pose threats to U.S. interests and allies. While the Biden administration seeks to deemphasize military force relative to other aspects of U.S. power, only a credible deterrence, including an appropriately sized and based maritime capability, can enable maximal use of America’s non-military strengths.

Date Originally Written:  April 16, 2021.

Date Originally Published:  May 3, 2021. 

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the perspective of U.S. policymakers who seek to prepare the United States for the maritime aspect of large-scale combat operations with China and/or Russia. These policymakers are constrained by limited industrial and shipyard capacities, a shortage of Americans fit to serve, and probable cuts to military spending.

Background:  The U.S. defense industrial base is in decline[1]. The Navy’s public shipyards are unable to meet its repair needs[2][3]. The COVID-19 pandemic made nearly a quarter of the shipyards’ workforce “unable to come in to work due to being deemed ‘high risk[4].’” Data released by the U.S. Department of Defense in 2017 found 71% of Americans ages 17 to 24 would not qualify for military service, largely due to obesity, inadequate education, and criminal records[5]. Defense spending is likely to fall in the coming years. All these problems curtail the Navy and Marine Corps’ ability to respond quickly to emerging threats and crises. 

Greater use of unmanned vessels offers a partial solution to manning problems. However, unmanned technology is still in its early stages, and the rapid cost increases of the F-35 and the Littoral Combat Ship are warnings not to scale up any major system too quickly[6][7]. 

Significance:  While increased investment by European and Indo-Pacific allies in their own militaries would greatly help the U.S., basing more U.S. vessels in allied ports would make clear America’s commitment to its allies’ security. Meanwhile, the stated wish of Commandant of the Marine Corps General David H. Berger to reduce reliance on “legacy” systems and large numbers of personnel provides an opportunity to experiment with smaller, more mobile Marine units[8].

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