Homeland Defense:

Actions Needed to Improve DOD Planning and Coordination for Maritime Operations

GAO-11-661: Published: Jun 23, 2011. Publicly Released: Jun 23, 2011.

Additional Materials:


Davi M. Dagostino
(202) 512-3000


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Recent events, such as the seaborne terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008 and the pirate attack on the Quest in February 2011, highlight maritime threats to the United States. The maritime domain presents a range of potential security threats--including naval forces of adversary nations, piracy, and the use of vessels to smuggle people, drugs, and weapons--which could harm the United States and its interests. The Department of Defense (DOD) has also identified homeland defense as one of its highest priorities. GAO was asked to determine the extent to which DOD has (1) planned to conduct maritime homeland defense operations, (2) identified and addressed capability gaps in maritime homeland defense, and (3) made progress with interagency partners, such as the U.S. Coast Guard, in addressing information sharing challenges related to maritime domain awareness. To conduct this work, GAO examined national and DOD guidance and interviewed officials from DOD, Joint Staff, combatant commands, the military services, and others.

U.S. Northern Command, as the command responsible for homeland defense for the continental United States, has undertaken a number of homeland defense planning efforts, but it does not have a key detailed supporting plan for responding to maritime threats. Northern Command requires supporting DOD organizations to develop plans to support its homeland defense plan. The current, 2008 version of the plan requires a supporting plan from the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, who is designated as the joint force maritime component commander for Northern Command. Fleet Forces Command has undertaken some planning efforts, but has not developed a supporting plan. Because the Northern Command homeland defense plan is a concept plan, which are less detailed than operation plans, and because the command does not have naval forces routinely under its operational control, supporting plans provide critical details on how operations are to be conducted and allow Northern Command to assess the extent to which subordinate commands are prepared to support the maritime homeland defense mission. DOD has identified maritime homeland defense capability gaps and determined actions necessary to address them, but it has not adequately assessed the extent to which those actions have been implemented. One way DOD identifies capability gaps that affect mission execution is through capabilities-based assessments. A 2008 assessment identified three capability gaps specific to the maritime homeland defense mission--such as engaging and defeating maritime threats--and eight other gaps that affect a number of missions, including maritime homeland defense--such as information management and sharing. The Joint Requirements Oversight Council reviewed the findings and requested relevant DOD organizations to take action to close identified gaps. However, the responsible organizations did not provide implementation plans or other documentation of actions taken or under way to address these gaps. Without documentation on progress in implementing recommended actions, Northern Command cannot be assured that it has full and accurate information about the extent to which other organizations have taken action to close these gaps. National and DOD documents have identified challenges to the sharing of maritime domain information, such as international coordination, policy and processes, technology, legal restrictions, and cultural barriers. DOD and interagency partners, such as the Coast Guard, have efforts under way to address many of these challenges. One effort, the interagency National Maritime Domain Awareness Architecture, is intended to improve data management by establishing data standards, providing common terminology, and developing supporting technology. It is intended to leverage the interagency National Information Exchange Model, an effort currently under way to establish data standards, facilitate the accessibility of common data across the maritime community, and allow stakeholders to focus on configuring the display of information to best meet their specific missions, whether through data analysis capabilities or geographic displays. GAO recommends that Fleet Forces Command develop a plan to support Northern Command and that responsible DOD organizations provide Northern Command with implementation plans for the actions identified by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council. DOD partially concurred and agreed to take actions on each recommendation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Commander of Fleet Forces Command provided a supporting plan for the Northern Command homeland defense plan. We had recommended they do so in Homeland Defense: Actions Needed to Improve DOD Planning and Coordination for Maritime Operations (GAO-11-661), and DOD had partially concurred with the recommendation. We had found that, by completing a supporting plan, Fleet Forces Command would expand on the operations planning already done for maritime homeland defense and help Northern Command further mitigate planning, operations, and command and control challenges to the maritime homeland defense mission. In their comments, DOD had reiterated many of the ongoing coordination and planning efforts between Northern Command and Fleet Forces Command that we noted in the original report. DOD further stated in June 2011 that in response to the recommendation, the Commander U.S. Fleet Forces Command had initiated development of a supporting plan to US Northern Command's homeland defense planning efforts. The Commander Fleet Forces Command provided the supporting plan in February 2013. U.S. Northern Command also continues to work with U.S. Fleet Forces Command on the next iteration of Northern Command's homeland defense plan. Northern Command is regularly exercising these plans to help identify any capability gaps. Taken together, these actions address the intent of the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that Northern Command is sufficiently prepared to conduct maritime homeland defense operations, the Secretary of Defense should direct the commander of Fleet Forces Command to develop a complete supporting plan for the Northern Command homeland defense plan, currently under review, once it is approved.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: U.S. Northern Command reported in July 2013 on some of the processes in which the combined North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command collaborates with other DOD entities and multinational partners--particularly Canada--in identifying and assessing maritime homeland defense capability gaps. Among the efforts in which NORAD/Northern Command reported participation were a Maritime Domain Awareness Interagency Solutions Analysis; a study by the National Maritime Intelligence Integration Office that correlated U.S., Canadian, and global supply chain maritime gaps; maritime stakeholders conferences; an operational maritime domain awareness process to help the command and partners identify interests, assess data, and facilitate collaboration; and a 2013Canadian-U.S. Multinational Vessel of Interest Lexicon to provide rapid information on vessels that may pose a threat. Taken together, these actions address the intent of the recommendation and, if pursued diligently, should help U.S. Northern Command and DOD identify and address maritime homeland defense capability gaps.

    Recommendation: To enable Northern Command to monitor progress toward addressing maritime homeland defense capability gaps--including the three specific to maritime homeland defense as well as the others that affect the mission--identified in the Northern Command homeland defense and civil support capabilities-based assessment, the Secretary of Defense should direct responsible DOD organizations to provide Northern Command with implementation plans for undertaking the actions identified by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Oct 21, 2020

Oct 7, 2020

Oct 1, 2020

Sep 23, 2020

Aug 20, 2020

Aug 14, 2020

Aug 6, 2020

Jul 30, 2020

Jul 27, 2020

Looking for more? Browse all our products here