Report to Congress on Navy Distributed Maritime Operations Concept

February 29, 2024 1:31 PM

The following is the Feb. 27, 2024, Congressional Research Service report, Defense Primer: Navy Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) Concept.

From the report


Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) is the operating concept of the Department of the Navy (or DON, which includes the Navy and Marine Corps) for using U.S. naval (i.e., Navy and Marine Corps) forces in combat operations against an adversary, particularly China, that has substantial capabilities for detecting and attacking U.S. Navy surface ships with anti-ship missiles and other weapons. An issue for Congress is whether Congress has sufficient information about DMO to assess its merits, and whether DON has adequately aligned its programs and budget with DMO.

Terminology: Operating Concept

An operating concept is a general idea for how to use certain military forces (in this case, U.S. naval forces) to conduct operations, particularly in combat situations. An operating concept can support the implementation of a strategy or war plan for fighting a specific conflict, and the tactics used by individual military units (such as Navy ships and aircraft) can reflect an operating concept.

DMO: A Brief Description

A 2022 document from the Chief of Naval Operations refers to DMO as “the Navy’s foundational operating concept” (Chief of Naval Operations, Navigation Plan 2022, p. 8). DON has not released a detailed unclassified description of DMO. Statements by DON officials indicate that a key aim of DMO is to improve the ability of U.S. naval forces to counter China’s maritime anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) systems (i.e., its capabilities for detecting and attacking U.S. Navy surface ships and aircraft) and thereby permit U.S. naval forces to operate effectively during a conflict with China in waters that are within range of China’s A2/AD systems. Key features of DMO appear to include the following:

  • Dispersing Navy units over a larger area within the theater of operations, so as to make it harder for an adversary to detect and target Navy units, while still permitting Navy units to support one another and concentrate their fires on adversary targets.
  • Spreading the Navy’s sensors and weapons across a wider array of ships and aircraft, so as to reduce the fraction of the Navy’s sensors and weapons that would be lost due to the destruction of any one Navy ship or aircraft (i.e., avoid “putting too many eggs into one basket”).
  • Making greater use of longer-ranged weapons, unmanned vessels, and unmanned aircraft in support of the previous two points.
  • Using resilient communication links and networking technologies to knit the resulting widely dispersed force of manned and unmanned ships and aircraft into a coordinated battle force that can withstand and adapt to enemy attacks on Navy communications and networks.

One observer writing about DMO (see Filipoff in the Other Resources box below) states that “[Navy] explanations of DMO contain several defining traits that have consistently featured in the Navy’s public definitions of the concept. They include the massing and convergence of fires from distributed forces, complicating adversary targeting and decision-making, and networking effects across platforms and domains.”

Download the document here.

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