Of course, there are some complications with this
system. After all, there is only so much intelligence the
Navy can share with these countries, many of whom
are not allies, or at least not on the level of partners
like the United Kingdom or Canada.
“The info the Combined Maritime Forces get is
somewhat filtered,” Thompson said.
But it’s not just about trading experience and intelligence and staff, it’s also about building relationships.
“We are a voluntary organization,” Thompson said.
“Unlike NATO or the EU [European Union], we don’t
have treaties or charters that force people to do things
down the road. And because of that, if we ask a country
to do something they don’t want to do, they can just
pack up and leave.
“We put a lot of effort into ensuring interactions
are positive. We never ask a country to do something
they don’t want to do. Some countries will only do
counterpiracy, for example, and some will only send
one staff officer. We’re OK with that,” he said.
CMF was born after the terrorist attacks of Sept.
11, 2001, as the United States, Great Britain, Canada,
Australia and New Zealand — the “Five Eyes” — and
France started collaborating more closely, and it has
grown dramatically since then. The outbreak of piracy
between 2008 and 2012 helped increase the motivation
for other countries to get involved, some that may have
been reluctant to participate in counterterrorism activities that were a focus at the time
for the United States and its allies.
“The war on terror was not
necessarily popular with all the
countries throughout the world,
but everybody hates pirates, and
that was an easy mission for a
lot of countries to get behind,”
Smaller countries make up a
significant part of the CMF staff.
Thompson estimates that as many
as three quarters of his staff would
be made up of officers from what
could be termed smaller nations.
So even though they do not provide capital ships or aircraft, they
provide a “big chunk” of the intelligence analysis, operational planning
and force planning, he said.
John Schaus, a fellow in the
International Security Program
at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, told Seapower
that from a smaller country’s perspective, it’s helpful
just to be on the same page as larger navies that are
going to be operating in their backyard anyway.
“Whether your navy consists of a bunch of essentially
coastal patrol craft, or 12 aircraft carriers, or something
in the middle, knowing how each other operates and
how to communicate with each other is really helpful,”
There is a second benefit as well, he noted: Some-
times it results in future cooperation between navies.
“So maybe such and such country wants to increase
their helicopter search and rescue capability, and two
ship captains are talking about it and touch on that,”
he said. “The next year, that will be an area of deeper
cooperation. So I think both of those areas are positive.”
In a way, it’s a lot like networking between mil-
itaries, with the added benefit of serving as a force
multiplier for the U.S. Navy.
“There’s certainly that potential,” Schaus said. “It
depends on the country and if they’re willing to share
and how willing they are to communicate.”
He pointed out that incidents of piracy have dra-
matically declined in recent years, and many would
argue that the collaboration among the U.S. Navy and
the smaller nations responsible for that part of the
world is a big reason for that.
“I think there’s a concrete benefit, and not just a
theoretical benefit,” he said. n
Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Batiste, left, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower’s flight deck handling officer, speaks
with staff members from Combined Task Force (CTF) 152 in the flight deck control room of the
aircraft carrier during a theater security cooperation embark in the Arabian Gulf Nov. 14. CTF
152 conducts maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf, with countries such as Kuwait,
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Iraq as member states.