A Maritime-Focused Combined Task Force

A Maritime-Focused Combined Task Force

By Staff Officers from the Brazilian Navy and U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South
November 01, 2019

From a military perspective, the maritime domain represents maneuver space. In the southern portion of the Western Hemisphere, this maneuver space is invaluable, particularly during a crisis. After a hurricane, an earthquake, a flood, a volcanic eruption, or a man-made disaster, crisis response forces with amphibious platforms can launch humanitarian relief efforts from ship to shore without relying on ground-based lines of communication, which may be untenable during the disaster.

Of course, transnational criminal organizations also leverage the maritime domain by maintaining a steady flow of illicit goods from south to north in both the Caribbean Sea and the eastern Pacific Ocean. Money and weapons flow in the opposite direction back to these organizations, further increasing their wealth, power, and influence.

Unfortunately, neither Brazil nor the United States—two of the wealthiest nations in the Western Hemisphere—is able to allocate adequate personnel or amphibious platforms to unilaterally respond to natural disasters or defeat threats, such as the cartels, in South and Central America, and the Caribbean. Individual nations’ resource shortfalls necessitate that they act in concert, sharing burdens as they confront common threats and challenges.

This need for collaboration has led to an appealing potential future for United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and Brazilian naval forces. This article argues that the liaison officer (LNO) concept is a powerful first step toward establishing a maritime-focused Combined Task Force (CTF). Hence, Brazilian LNOs currently deployed with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Southern Command (SPMAGTF-SC) 19 may be the catalyst for incorporating Brazil and other regional partners in the nascent maritime- focused CTF, as contributors to the headquarters staff, force providers for mission-oriented task forces (TF), or both.

Investing in the future

Brazil has already invested in this potential future—a multinational, maritime-focused CTF that operates primarily in the southern portion of the Western Hemisphere. The Brazilian Navy selected two of its finest officers, Corvette Captain (CC) Luiz Roberto dos Santos Carneiro, Junior, and Lieutenant (CT) Rafael Bortolami Catanho da Silva, to serve as LNOs on the command element staff for SPMAGTF-SC 19, headquartered at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras. CC Carneiro is a Brazilian Marine who graduated from the Brazilian Staff Course forIntermediate Officers.

He assisted in the United Nations (UN) Peace Keeping Operations in Haiti, referred to as MINUSTAH (UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti), from 2004 to 2017. CC Carneiro serves alongside the SPMAGTF-SC 19 Operations Officer. CT Bortolami is a Naval Surface Officer who graduated from the Tactical Airborne Controller course. Additionally, he has experience in the UN Peace Keeping Operation ongoing in Lebanon, commonly referred to as FTM-UNIFIL (Maritime Task Force-UN Interim Force in Lebanon). His background made him a natural fit to serve alongside the SPMAGTF-SC 19 Air Officer.

Training in the U.S.

In preparation for his SPMAGTF-SC 19 involvement, CC Carneiro participated in two months of pre-deployment training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He saw firsthand how certification exercises (CERTEX)—CERTEX 1 and CERTEX 2—allowed SPMAGTF-SC 19 to train using a scenario that replicated the conditions the unit may face while deployed. During CERTEX 3, the Expeditionary Operations Training Group (EOTG)—one of the USMC’s premier training and evaluation organizations for deploying units—observed SPMAGTF-SC 19 and evaluated its performance. We will return to this subject of an EOTG-like organization and its importance later in the article when we discuss the evolution of the CTF, the development of doctrine, and the execution of CERTEXs (based on that doctrine) to prepare professional, trained units for deployment.

In an effort to build cohesion and resilience, SPMAGTF-SC 19 also conducted helicopter underwater egress training (the ‘helo dunker’), a CH- 53 Super Stallion familiarization, small arms live-fire training, and two dismounted marches. Of note, CC CARNEIRO’s unique perspective was necessary during this training because it shaped how SPMAGTF-SC 19 crafted its best practices. In fact, CC CARNEIRO’s involvement enabled trust-based relationships to form early, which is a best practice worth replicating.

Brazilian Marine Maj. Luiz Roberto Dos Santos Carneiro Junior shows U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Austin Alexander, an aircraft maintainer, how to filter water during a jungle warfare training exercise in Comayagua, Honduras, July 22, 2019. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Mathew Rosado)

While on deployment, the Brazilian LNOs are invaluable for many reasons, but in particular, two stand out. One, like Brazil, the LNOs are “neutral brokers” during military-to-military engagements and crisis response operations. This reputation, stemming from Brazil’s foreign policy of non-intervention, is undoubtedly an asset to the SPMAGTF- SC 19 Commander, and will be to future CTF Commanders. Two, incorporating officers, staff non-commissioned officers, and units with extensive experience conducting peacekeeping operations and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) operations into formations such as the current SPMAGTF-SC (and future CTFs) is a “force multiplier,” creating countless advantages and opportunities for a commander.

In some ways, Exercise UNITAS AMPHIBIOUS 2019 was  a preview of this potential future for SOUTHCOM and the Brazilian Navy. Not only did Brazil host UNITAS on its 60th anniversary in August 2019, but also during the exercise, a CTF comprised of staff officers, units, and assets from Brazil, the US, and eight other partner nations was formed. UNITAS AMPHIBIOUS 2019 focused on HA/DR operations, both afloat and ashore. It is thus fitting that Brazil holds a leadership role to rehearse this theory of action called the “maritime-focused CTF.” So what’s next?

Near-Term Future  

The USMC and US Army have long espoused a learning model based on the “crawl, walk, run” methodology, which is an apt way forward for the Brazilian Navy and SOUTHCOM regarding the maritime-focused CTF (Training Circular 7-9, p. 2-5). In effect, this methodology does two things: (1)i t tempers expectations about how quickly (or slowly) an organization such as the CTF can gain proficiency, and (2) it provides an underlying logic for developing an approach which turns the CTF concept (current state) into a capable organization (desired state). If  Brazil sees value in LNOs on the SPMAGTF-SC 19 staff, continued partnering in the “crawl phase” can occur in two ways.

First, the Brazilian Navy can increase its level of participation—staff personnel (particularly in functional areas where it lacks expertise and desires improvement), units, ships, or aircraft—on future SPMAGTF-SC deployments. Second, SOUTHCOM could change the goal of one of its exercises (e.g., UNITAS or TRADEWINDS) to focus on the development, and eventually, sustainment, of the maritime- focused CTF. Moreover, the Brazilian Navy can commit personnel to serve in leadership and planning roles within the CTF—in its headquarters, one or more subordinate mission-oriented TFs, or both—during subsequent exercises.

The lessons learned from SPMAGTF-SC deployments and various exercises, particularly from formal after action reports (AAR), will feed into the follow-on “walk” and “run” phases. Both options provide opportunities over the next one to three years for key stakeholders to learn in a low-risk environment. Moreover, these can be executed together— creating a hybrid, third option. A “crawl” phase structured in this man

Braner may appeal to other partner nations and garner their participation, because associated rewards will out-weigh costs (and risks). At its core, the “crawl” phase begins to establish the maritime-focused CTF on an episodic basis (i.e., form, operate, and dissolve for an exercise). Since HA/DR will likely be a regular mission set of the CTF, this episodic model is fitting: the hurricane season’s predictable nature provides an annual trigger for forming, operating, and dissolving the CTF in the “run” phase.

Training and operations

During the “walk” phase (occurring over the three to five year period), AARs from the “crawl” phase will inform the development of written and practiced standard operating procedures (SOP) for the CTF headquarters and one or more subordinate mission-oriented TF(s). Undoubtedly, this effort will require a dedicated team of personnel to turn lessons learned and best practices into a series of products that staff members and tactical units can use in execution—for training and operations.

Two basic actions must occur during the “walk” phase: (1) develop and write SOPs, and (2) test and refine the SOPs. The SOP development team will likely consist of personnel from the Brazilian Navy, SOUTHCOM, Navy South (NAVSO), Marine Corps Forces South (MARFORSOUTH), Chile, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Canada, United Kingdom, Netherlands, and France. The SOP development team will naturally welcome other partner nations’ participation.

Existing SOPs such as the Multinational Forces SOP (MNSOP), used during Exercises TALISMAN SABER and RIM OF THE PACIFIC (RIMPAC), may be useful starting points to gain early momentum in SOP development. Because the SOPs for the CTF headquarters and for any subordinate mission-oriented TFs will differ, two or more separate groups of SOP development personnel will be required. For example, the CTF headquarters SOP will likely focus on how and where to form, operate, and dissolve the CTF headquarters (i.e., the various boards, bureaus, centers, cells, and working groups, or B2C2WG, needed to function as an effective multinational force in the maritime domain).

In contrast, the TF HA/DR SOP, for instance, will likely focus on a myriad of tactical considerations, such as the tactics, techniques, and procedures related to ship-to-shore movement, convoy and site security, distribution of supplies, casualty treatment and evacuation, and reporting. Once written, these SOPs can be tested and refined, at a minimum, during each SOUTHCOM designated exercise: UNITAS, TRADEWINDS, etc. As the SOPs mature and the episodic CTF demonstrates proficiency, the necessary conditions will be set to transition to the “run” phase.

Long-Term Future  

During the “run” phase, the CTF will be called upon to respond to crises after disasters (natural and man-made) and defeat threats (state and non- state). We foresee routine contributions of staff members, tactical units, ships, and aircraft to the CTF headquarters and subordinate mission- oriented TFs from the Brazilian Navy, SOUTHCOM, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Canada, United Kingdom, Netherlands, and France. Support to the CTF’s subordinate mission-focused TFs will occur based on the political will of each country. Thus, a nation can support the CTF at large without providing forces to every subordinate mission set.

When the CTF operates in and from the maritime domain, observers will see a professional, reliable force taking swift action to mitigate suffering or defeat common threats. The President of the United States’ recent recognition of Brazil as a major non-NATO ally of the US, and Brazil’s strategic aim to expand its oversight and control of the blue Amazon (Amazonia Azul), indicate that now is the perfect time for the Brazilian Navy to assume a leadership role within the maritime-focused CTF (Presidential Memorandum, p. 1).  Brazil’s leadership in this endeavor will both demonstrate the prestige of its armed forces and encourage other partner nations to contribute to the security and stability of the Americas.

Over time, as the CTF operates and continues to learn, its SOPs will evolve into doctrine. As this happens, doctrine will likely create future pre- deployment training requirements (or certifications) for members of the CTF headquarters and subordinate mission-oriented TFs. A training center of excellence for the maritime-focused CTF, with a training cadre (similar to EOTG), could provide dedicated support to its training requirements.

Brazil, given its location and prestige, may be a natural fit for such an entity, which enables the sustained professionalism of a force manned, trained, and equipped to confront the threats and challenges we share in the southern portion of the Western Hemisphere.