San Diego Union Tribune

December 3, 2005

Navy's new command distances it more from Cold War
Shallow-water, land missions aimed at fighting terrorism

By Otto Kreisher
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – In another move away from its Cold War concentration on deep-ocean operations, the Navy is forming a command that will focus on missions on land and in the shallow waters of ports and rivers, which could be more relevant in fighting terrorism.

The new Navy Expeditionary Combat Command will have a certain back-to-the-future look, with units designed to operate in the rivers and coastal waters much like the "brown water" Navy missions in Vietnam and in the Civil War. It will consist of about 40,000 sailors trained for a physical, up-close style of conflict more from the 18th century than today's stand-off, high-tech naval combat.

"It's not anything new. It's putting an emphasis on all those things that are important in the global war on terror," said Robert Work, a naval analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "I think it is a good step."

The new command will bring together a number of existing organizations, such as the Seabees, Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams, elements of the Maritime Force Protection Command, Mobile Dive and Salvage units, the Coastal Warfare Command, the newly expanded Master-at-Arms force and the Naval Expeditionary Logistics Support Force.

And it will form a new river combat force to take over some missions now performed by the Marines.

But the newly installed commander, Rear Adm. Donald M. Bullard, insists that his command will support, augment and reduce the operational load for the Marines, not compete with them.

"We're working very closely with the Marine Corps," Bullard said from his headquarters near Norfolk, Va. "Some of our missions in this command will be to pick up some rear (area) duties for the Marines as they move forward from the sea."

The new command will not include the "naval infantry" battalion that Adm. Michael Mullin, the chief of naval operations mentioned when he announced plans for the command.

"The naval infantry is the U.S. Marine Corps. We're not going to change that," said Bullard, a veteran attack pilot and a former captain of the San Diego-based aircraft carrier Constellation.

He said a study begun a year ago noted that the Navy had many different units that were operating on land or in the ports and coastal waters, doing somewhat similar missions but with different organization, leadership and training. Many of those units are "working in the same battle space" in Iraq, he said.

But those units did not have a "type commander" responsible for their policies, resources, training and budgets as the Navy's air, surface and submarines forces do, Bullard said.

"We need to provide some over-arching umbrella to get some synergy, to improve overall effectiveness."

The different elements of the command will support one another in the combat zone, with force protection units guarding the logistical personnel as they handle cargo and the Seabees as they perform their construction duties, Bullard said.

Starting next year, the command will begin to form the first of three squadrons, which are expected to have 12 boats and about 200 personnel, he said. The first squadron is expected to be operational in early 2007.

The type of boats the squadrons will have has not been decided, Bullard said.

In Vietnam, the "brown water" Navy had several types of boats, including the small Patrol Boat River, the larger Swift boats and armored troop carriers.

The Marines have a river combat company that uses 35-foot and 38-foot powered boats. That unit is expected to be eliminated when the new Navy squadrons are ready for combat.

"I wouldn't say we're going back to the Vietnam era," Bullard said. But he described a number of likely missions that are similar to those performed by the PBRs and Swifts in Vietnam, such as moving ground forces on river operations, interdicting small boats and ships. He also cited prevention of piracy and terrorist actions.

"We see that as an expeditionary force, which the Navy has been for 230 years," he said.

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