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Research Questions

  1. What are the existing formal requirements for NSFS, and how can they be improved, clarified, or made more specific?
  2. What are the gaps in the Navy's NSFS capability?
  3. What are possible technological and platform solutions to improve NSFS capability?

Naval surface fire support (NSFS) has been a traditional mission of U.S. Navy surface combatants. Although naval guns have been viewed as a major instrument of sea control, they have also been seen, and widely used, as ways to directly influence the battle ashore by providing the equivalent of artillery support for U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) forces operating ashore. Although there is no denying that the Navy and the USMC have viewed NSFS as important, the actual requirements are sometimes vague. For that reason, RAND researchers conducted an assessment of the formal requirements and programs for NSFS.

The researchers examined existing requirements documents and refined those requirements by applying battalion-level scenarios. They also applied a formal model to address volume of fire and required magazine size and considered possible technological and platform solutions. By comparing actual and potential requirements, the researchers were able to then make recommendations for capability development and for changes to existing requirements.

Key Findings

Formal requirements development for NSFS has been lacking

  • Until USMC formally specifies what it needs, the Navy will continue to meet Required Operational Capabilities/Projected Operational Enviroment (ROC/POE) requirements and treat the remainder of capability development as merely a suggestion.

There are several gaps in the Navy's NSFS capability, but new technologies could mitigate them

  • Targeting in denied environments is likely to be challenging and will be highly dependent on organic assets, principally unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Although UAVs can provide useful data, locating an enemy that is determined to deny the electromagnetic spectrum or use concealment is a major challenge for NSFS.
  • Sensor-to-shooter timelines are far too long to support effective engagement on a fluid battlefield. NSFS for maneuvering forces ashore must be capable of responding at very short notice to calls for fire.
  • A single ship firing rounds from a single gun is physically limited in the targets it can reach and the numbers of targets it can simultaneously service. This suggests that a single-ship model might be unworkable in heavily contested environments.
  • Lack of range exacerbates inability to support more than a single landing force element at a time. Thus, the effective area that a single ship can support is constrained to a few miles.
  • The Navy has undervalued magazines munitions that might be particularly valuable.
  • Singular reliance on high explosives, instead of a combination of high explosives and dual-purpose improved conventional munitions, exacerbates issues of insufficient volume of fire.
  • Formal modeling indicates a high volume of munitions expenditures, beyond what would be carried in a ship's magazine.


  • The USMC should identify exactly what it needs from the Navy in terms of NSFS, using some combination of scenario and quantitative analysis. Absent a formal definition of requirements, the Navy has neither the incentive nor the reason to go beyond what is stated in the ship basis ROC/POE documents.
  • USMC and the Navy should continue to invest in organic airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, which can be used even when parts of the electromagnetic spectrum are denied.
  • USMC and the Navy should invest in tactical command and control solutions that allow compression of sensor-to-shooter timelines.
  • Assuming requirements get determined according to what seem to be likely scenarios, the following additional investments should be considered: area munitions to challenge enemy maneuver capability; lighter munitions that allow extension of range, specifically to allow ships to service multiple landing force targets from a single location; ship modifications for larger magazines; unmanned fire support platforms that can be put into direct support roles; and additive manufacturing to allow for production of gun ammunition to increase on-station time during periods of high use.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and conducted within the Navy and Marine Forces Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense intelligence enterprise.

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