Maritime Logistics in a Changing Strategic Environment – Part 1

A Supply Officer’s Perspective

In the next four issues, we will include excerpts from “Maritime Logistics in a Changing Strategic Environment: A Supply Officer’s Perspective.” Each excerpt will offer valuable insight from Rear Adm. Peter Stamatopoulos, detailing how the Supply Corps plays a critical role in supporting the Navy. Part one serves as an introduction to the document and provides pertinent background information, featuring an informative break down of the four lines of effort from the CNO’s, “A Design for Maritime Superiority.” You may read the document in its entirety on the eSUPPO app.

It’s long been my belief that we are unable to realize our professional potential without a solid understanding of our place within the greater logistics enterprise. If we fully comprehend the ways in which our efforts impact organizations, systems and processes outside our immediate field of view, we certainly expand our technical proficiency…but more importantly, we become better leaders and decision makers. Viewed in this light, a broad perspective is integral to maintaining our Navy’s competitive advantage in a dynamic strategic environment. For Supply Corps personnel, this means knowing and understanding our systems, processes and their interconnectivity…and leveraging that knowledge to build strong teams to ensure the expeditious delivery of services and material solutions to the warfighter.

My Navy career began in 1988, but it wasn’t until many years later that I developed anything like a full appreciation of the scope and complexity of our business. I would have preferred to experience this professional epiphany much earlier in my career. Now, having served as a Fleet Supply Officer and on the OPNAV Staff, I’m convinced that a similar level of understanding will benefit all members of our community at every level of the chain of command which is why I decided to write and share this “Big Picture” overview.

In the recently published “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority,” the Chief of Naval Operations challenged us to expand and strengthen our network of partners. In the spirit of that mandate, I offer this document to all members of the Supply Corps, with the hope that it will provide an expanded perspective of our enterprise, accelerate learning and improve our individual and collective knowledge of where we fit into the “big picture.”

This paper covers much ground, but there are certain themes that recur throughout. They are:

  • We live and work in a dynamic world and must flex as needed to meet existing and emerging mission requirements.
  • Every process described herein should in some way positively influence the ultimate aims of combat readiness and fiduciary accountability.
  • We must understand that even though we function daily within the Navy framework, we should always expect to fight in a joint environment.
  • We will consistently perform more effectively if we develop a contextual understanding of our environment, roles and actions.

It’s my hope this will become a “living” document, to be reviewed and updated periodically to guarantee its currency and that the reader will study it carefully and refer to it often.

Peter G. Stamatopoulos
Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy



The United States Navy is entrusted by the citizens of this country with the first line of our national defense. The burden of this responsibility is enormous. Our end of this covenant of trust with the American people is simple…we are charged to build and operate the best possible fighting force to protect their lives, property and freedoms. In return, the citizens of the United States entrust us with their tax dollars and, more importantly, the lives of family members who volunteer to serve in our Navy. We have a solemn obligation to respect both the human and material capital that makes it possible to meet the demands of our global missions. We must also understand the synergies which enable the Navy to meet its sacred commitment to the American people.

The organizations, networks and processes that coalesce to generate a ready force are expansive and complex. Many of them are interdependent, but the connectivity that underscores the Enterprise writ large is not universally understood. Comprehending and strengthening those networks and their cross-organizational interactions are sufficiently important to merit a discrete line of effort in the Navy’s 2016 concept paper “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority.”

The “Design” represents an acknowledgment that our Service faces a new set of challenges within an evolving strategic landscape. It offers concepts and principles that are intended to guide our professional behaviors and operational thinking now and in the years to come. It is constructed along four Lines of Effort (LOEs) which are closely linked and foundational to the overall effort. Those LOEs, depicted and discussed in Figure A, are specifically tailored to meet the demands of a dynamic strategic paradigm.

The Four Lines of Effort

from “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority”

The Green LOE defines our need for adaptability. The accelerated rate of technology development and the rapid evolution of emerging threats compel the acquisition of individual and organizational knowledge at a commensurately rapid pace. The Green LOE places emphasis on innovation, creativity and the value of lessons learned. The principles of high velocity learning, appropriately adapted, will enable us to nurture resourcefulness and efficiency throughout the chain of command, maximizing our combat effectiveness in so doing.

One of the most important benefits of high velocity learning wil l be realized in the form of a much more powerful Navy team, which is the focal point of the Gold LOE. This line of effort urges us to lean on our history and the diversity of our talent – Sailors, civilians, and families – to “create a climate of operational excellence.” This approach, combined with a commitment to stress leadership training across all phases of career development, will result in a more cohesive and results oriented Navy team.

As described in the Purple LOE, a more formidable team equates to a stronger network of partners. That line of effort emphasizes the critical necessity of deepening operational relationships within the Navy and beyond, to include other services, agencies, industry, allies and partners. The durability of these networks and the quality of the communications within them is vital to our national defense. Understanding their intrinsic symbiosis is perhaps the most critical enabler to our success as professional logisticians.

All the “Design” efforts described thus far are geared toward the ultimate aim of strengthening Naval Power at and from the Sea, which is the essence of the Blue LOE. As stated in the concept paper, the intent is to “Maintain a fleet that is trained and ready to operate and fight decisively–from the deep ocean to the littorals, from the sea floor to space, and in the information domain.”

With the precepts of the Navy’s “Design” in mind, this publication is intended to illuminate the processes, systems and relationships that serve as the underpinning to Navy readiness, and to explain their respective roles and functions within the framework of the whole. It is further intended to illustrate the reality that our efforts at all levels must be grounded in integrity and imbued with the spirit of our core values if we are to achieve operational dominance in an ever more challenging strategic environment. Through it all, the quality of our leadership will be the decisive key to our success.

Developing Future Supply Corps Leaders

The Navy’s January 2017 publication titled “Navy Leader Development Framework” serves as a guide for defining how our service will develop leaders who demonstrate strong character and operational excellence at every level of seniority. In that document, the CNO observes that leaders are faced with an ongoing tension between three elements: compliance, creativity, and values. He further discerns that a fully developed leader will recognize the value of all three.

Compliance – In this context, the term refers to the technical mastery of one’s trade and the adherence to the core body of knowledge from which it is derived. For most, this is learned in schoolhouses, on-the-job training, instructions, pubs, directives and, of course, experience. But pure technical competence is not enough. In order to achieve the highest measure of professional mastery, leaders must quickly grasp the broad corporate perspective that too often eludes us until we become senior officers with a wide range of tours and experience on our resumes. The acquisition of that perspective is one of the central themes of this paper.

Character and Values – A foundation in the Navy’s core values of honor, courage and commitment is fundamental to effective leadership. Navy leaders bear unique responsibility…both human and fiduciary. We cannot hope to succeed professionally and militarily without a pervasive and acute sense of ethics. Most Navy professionals enter the sea service with an intrinsic understanding of ethics and values. However, the nature of our vocation requires that this understanding be unimpeachable. Experience, education, and sound mentorship are all vital to honing ethical management skills, but character and moral discipline will be the traits that define us as leaders.

Operational Creativity – Successful application of operational creativity is contingent on a sound grasp of the preceding two attributes. It is also dependent on a comprehensive knowledge of the operating environment. The employment of operational creativity without these critical components can introduce undue risk and ultimately inflict much more harm than good. A strong and correct set of values must be present to infuse a leader’s operational instincts with the integrity and judiciousness required for sound decision making. Viewed from this perspective, our core values may well be the decisive determinant in the success or failure of our leadership. Operational creativity requires knowledge, experience and analytical proficiency, but the decisions derived from those sources cannot be effectively implemented without trust and confidence at all levels of the chain of command. Confidence is inspired by example, and the relentless application of our core values by Supply Corps leadership will certainly engender the requisite faith in our decision making to ensure operational success.


The primary intent of this paper is to inform Supply Corps officers of all paygrades. It provides the perspective that will enable them to understand their individual and organizational places within the greater logistics enterprise. In that sense, it conforms to the provisions of the concept papers discussed earlier, offering the Navy’s logisticians the context for operational creativity, with an appropriate level of emphasis on compliance and values. It should certainly serve as one of the integral building blocks for the professional development of the Supply Corps community’s leadership.

We must also remember that there are limits to the utility of technology. In the final analysis, it is the human element that separates us from our potential adversaries. Our competitive advantage ultimately resides within our Sailors and officers. We must constantly strive to improve our ability to make smarter decisions, and to make them quickly. This fundamental truth is as applicable to the logistician as it is to the F/A-18 pilot or the destroyer s kipper. The “Navy Leader Development Framework” reinforces this concept through the three elements in tension. Simply translated, when the technology fails we will be sustained by our professional knowledge, our ethical strength and our ability to adapt and persevere.

Maritime Strategy


The United States Navy shall be prepared to conduct prompt and sustained combat incident to operations at sea. It will protect America from attack and preserve our strategic influence in key regions of the world. U.S. naval forces and operations will deter aggression and enable peaceful resolution of crises on terms that are acceptable to our country and its partners. If deterrence is unsuccessful, our Navy is prepared to conduct decisive combat operations to defeat any enemy.

The Influence of Sea Power Upon History

In the late 19th century, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan developed a vision for naval power that continues to underpin our maritime strategy to this day. He recognized that our country’s security and economic well-being depend on a Navy that can operate effectively in all the world’s oceans, protecting the sea lanes that enable access to international markets. Mahan’s prescience has served us well over the passing decades. As the world’s diplomatic and commercial ventures trend toward globalization at an accelerated pace, his writings and concepts have become increasingly relevant. The details may vary from one generation to the next, but Mahan’s doctrine has been the durable filament around which our greater maritime strategy has been woven.

The constantly changing geopolitical climate compels relentless vigilance and timely, judicious adjustments to our maritime strategy. Our nation’s sea services framed the approach this way in the 2015 publication titled “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.”

“The United States Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard are our nation’s first line of defense, often far from our shores. As such, maintaining America’s leadership role in the world requires us to return to our maritime strategy on occasion and reassess our approach to shifting relationships and global responsibilities. This review has affirmed our focus on providing presence around the world in order to ensure stability, build on our relationships with allies and partners, prevent wars, and provide our nation’s leaders with options in time of crisis. It has confirmed our continued commitment to maintain the combat power necessary to deter potential adversaries and to fight and win when required.”

British naval strategist and historian Julian Corbett, a Mahan contemporary, further influenced our nation’s approach to maritime warfare. His views overlapped Mahan’s but were at variance in some key respects. Corbett was a subscriber to the principle of disaggregated operations, with emphasis on a naval presence as a powerful diplomatic and political tool. His perception of the “fleet in being” concept was the employment of a naval force in an aggressive defensive role, also serving as a deterrent by virtue of its very existence. Present day U.S. maritime strategy is generally reflective of Corbett’s vision…with Forward Deployed Naval Forces, global allocation of assets and an expanding ballistic missile defense capability. As with Mahan, Corbett’s innovative thinking continues to illuminate strategic and operational concepts from the distance of a full century. Their principles, referenced in figures D and E, have been refined, adapted and translated into distinctive 21st century capability goals. They are:

  1. Deterrence. This is strategically accomplished through the strengthening of our SSBN force–the survivable leg of our strategic triad – and associated programs. Conventional deterrence options include long range, precision strike capabilities as fielded in the next generation of our aircraft carriers and surface units.
  2. Sea Control and Power Projection. Improved weapons technology and capabilities in every aspect to more efficiently deliver striking power in support of national interests.
  3. Maritime Security. Improved interoperability with other services and nations to address security challenges, and enhanced capability to perform boarding, search and seizure operations.
  4. All Domain Access. Leverage technology to realize improved ability to operate in both the physical and cyber realms.

The past decade has been witness to ominous shifts in the global balance of power, the proliferation of unstable and unpredictable regimes, the resurrection of traditional rivals and the emergence of a potential economic and military challenger the likes of which have not been seen since the demise of the Soviet Union. The combination of these pressures has forced a strategic reassessment of our approach to the nation’s core maritime strategy.

The Near Past and the Current State

A decade ago our operational forces conducted their work ups in local Operating Areas (OPAREAs), steamed independently and deployed forward without meaningful restriction or harassment. The traditional geographic “choke points,” like the Suez Canal and the Straits of Hormuz, were (consistent with Mahan’s teachings) an omnipresent military concern, but the environments were generally permissive. During this time, our ships enjoyed unfettered access to re-supply and logistics support, communications were generally unconstrained and Sailors could write, call or email home at their convenience. The threats were low key or dormant, and potential adversaries were not well positioned diplomatically or militarily to offer our Strike and Ready Groups a substantive challenge. But the times…“they are a-changing.”

This characterization of peacetime operations, known as “Phase 0” operations (COMUSFLTFORCOM/COMPACFLTINST 3000.15B for an expanded explanation of phases) has been the routine for our deployers more often than not, but recent encounters in and around the Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Gulf and the Western Pacific have altered the paradigm. Incidents with gun boats, shore-based missile launches and in flight confrontations have become increasingly frequent. Prevailing trends seem to indicate a near and potentially long term continuation of these occurrences.

These episodes, combined with expanding global threats, represent a challenge to U.S. maritime preeminence. Unrestricted freedom to transit the oceans and straits of the world can no longer be assumed. Consequently, our deployed units operate in a near permanent operational “Phase II” (seize the initiative) footing as defined in Naval Warfare doctrine.

A Changing Strategic Environment

For the first time in decades, our country is facing a return to “great power” competition. Our rivals have advanced their military capabilities significantly, developing systems that are specifically designed to exploit our vulnerabilities. The scope and complexity of the challenges we face demand a far more innovative approach than that offered by a traditional campaign plan. The Navy’s recently published “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” forcefully emphasizes the need to prepare for decentralized operations. This shift in our maritime approach presents a unique set of challenges for logisticians, with a probable requirement for expanded use of advanced and mobile bases. It will test our ability to support distribu ted and disaggregated warfighting platforms with agility and precision.

“Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” cites three critical forces that currently shape today’s operating environment. These elements are “increasingly used, increasingly stressed, increasingly important, and increasingly contested.”

The first of the three is the sheer volume of traffic on the sea lanes of the world. The inexorable move toward globalization has made national economies interdependent to an unprecedented degree, and this connectivity has generated an escalating level of maritime commerce. The challenges inherent in this development are fairly obvious. Commercial maritime traffic has been susceptible to predation and disruption since before the Phoenicians plowed the waters of the Mediterranean. Technological advances have only improved the ability of rivals, challengers and outright criminals to monitor and interfere with shipping traffic. Simply stated, increased dependence on maritime commerce equates to increased risk to national security, economic stability and the integrity of international alliances.

The second concern is the expansion of the global information system. The tentacles of this network pervade virtually every aspect of our daily lives. It has revolutionized the flow of information across the spectrum of human activity, but along with its convenience comes an imposing suite of unique risks. The vulnerabilities associated with our reliance on the global information system place our financial networks, power grids and national security support systems – to name only a few – at the mercy of those with the requisite genius and persistence to penetrate them. Obviously, logistics operations are particularly susceptible to this threat. Precious little of our business is accomplished “off the grid.” The functions run the gamut; requisitioning, status, inventory management, allowancing and financials. The critical nature of these applications warrants our utmost efforts to ensure their security.

The third element discussed in the paper is the pace of technology generation and its accelerated adaptation into modern life.

The innovations encompassed extend far beyond information networks. They include robotics, artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing, 3D printing and similar initiatives. Many of these technological manifestations are in their infancy, but it’s easy enough to foresee a future with them integrated into both society and the defense industry to the point of dependency. The Navy’s design offers a template for success in this brave new world. The Navy’s core values remain the centerpiece of our service’s efforts, defining the personal and moral characteristics that will serve as the foundation of our every action. But there are four discrete lines of effort that must ultimately source our success in this uncertain age. From the “design,” we are organizationally and individually chartered to:

  1. Strengthen Naval power at and from the sea. Maintain a fleet that is trained and ready to operate and fight decisively – from the deep ocean to the littorals, from the sea floor to space, and in the information domain. Align our organization to best support the generation of operational excellence.
  2. Achieve high velocity learning at every level. Apply the best concepts, techniques and technologies to accelerate learning as individuals, teams and organizations.
  3. Strengthen our Navy team for the future. We must build on our history to create a climate of operational excellence that will enable us to prevail against all future challengers.
  4. Expand and strengthen our network of partners. Deepen operational relationships with other services, agencies, industry, allies and partners – who operate with the Navy to support our shared interests.

Along with the need to build a more powerful Navy, populated by officers and Sailors with the ability to adapt quickly to learn sophisticated systems in a fast-paced technological age, there is also an urgent requirement for a holistic re-evaluation of the capabilities, tools and training needed for a high end fight. Moving forward, these changing operational paradigms will drive a shift away from platform specific capabilities toward cross-domain solutions and greater integration. Navy fleets in the future must be able to fight not only in the domains of sea and air, but land, space and cyberspace as well. This reassessment must include a thorough examination of our acquisition, logistics, and supply strategies as well.

Logistics Support in a New Age

As defined in the revised Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (hereafter referred to as RCS21), the operative descriptors for future success will be “flexible, agile and ready.” The document emphasizes the need for a balanced force of combat units, complemented by reconfigurable platforms like the Virginia class submarine, Mobile Landing Platform and the Afloat Forward Staging Base. These cutting edge platforms will stress traditional life-cycle support models. An innovative and knowledgeable cadre of logisticians will be required to ensure that they are accurately allowanced and optimally positioned for sustainment and operations.

Naval forces must be surge ready, poised to respond quickly to crises, contingencies and threats to the homeland. No such response will be possible without a comprehensive re-evaluation of our approach to logistics. Traditional networks of shore-based “hub and spoke” support systems must be updated and augmented to incorporate supply, ordnance and fuel delivery mechanisms that are responsive, nimble and less detectable than their predecessors.

On a broader scale, RCS21 further stresses the importance of a predictable, manageable and effective force employment model as currently expressed in the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (O-FRP). The O-FRP structures pre-deployment maintenance, training and certification schedules to enhance operational readiness and unit availability in support of Global Force Management (GFM) requirements. Existing logistics support systems are well equipped to deal with O-FRP, but it remains incumbent on our logisticians to adapt along with the cycles and schedules to ensure economy and optimum levels of operational availability. The O-FRP writ large will be discussed extensively in another section of this paper.

These and other challenges will test our skills, resourcefulness and creativity as logisticians in the coming years.

Fall 2018