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  • Dangerous waters: Ignoring operational art at sea could doom U.S. maritime strategy

    Dangerous waters: Ignoring operational art at sea could doom U.S. maritime strategy
    BY MILAN VEGO
    armedforcesjournal

    The new U.S. maritime strategy to be unveiled this fall is expected to fill the lack of a clear and well-articulated vision of the role of U.S. maritime forces in defense and protection of the national interests at sea and of those of its allies and other friendly nations. However, the lack of sound theory and doctrine for the employment of maritime forces at the operational level of war might pose some serious limitations and ultimately doom the execution of the new U.S. maritime strategy.

    This situation might not be acute in the case of the employment of U.S. maritime forces in operations short of war or to fight some weak opponents at sea, but in the case of a war with a strong regional competitor it will be quite different. The Navy urgently needs to address its lamentable lack of interest in the theory and practice of operational warfare; otherwise, it might find itself outthought and outfought.

    Despite all the experiences of naval history, too many naval officers seem to believe that operational art is valid only for war on land, or even worse, has little if any utility for war at sea. Another major reason for the general lack of interest in and knowledge of operational art in the Navy is its traditional focus on technology and naval tactics, and tactical employment of single platforms and weapons in particular.

    What is maritime strategy? In U.S. terms, depending on the predominant sources of national power to be used in accomplishing political strategic objectives, the distinction is made between the national security strategy and military strategy. The U.S. military strategy must be consonant with the diplomatic, political, economic, informational and other aspects of the national security strategy; otherwise, it cannot be successful.

    The new maritime strategy should explain in some detail how the national interests at sea should be protected, defended and enhanced across the entire spectrum of conflict — that is, from peacetime competition to crisis, operations short of war to high-intensity conventional war. This task cannot be accomplished by U.S. national security and military strategies because they are concerned with much more diverse and broader sources of non-military or military sources of national power. Like the U.S. military strategy, the new maritime strategy must be all-encompassing. Afterward, the combatant commanders of maritime theatres should translate the objectives of the maritime strategy into maritime theatre strategic objectives — not an easy task. At the same time, the maritime strategy must be in full harmony with the U.S. national security and military strategies; otherwise, it would not accomplish its stated purpose. The maritime strategy supports the accomplishment of the military strategy by focusing on those aspects of the military strategic objectives that pertain to the sea. At the same time, it also supports those non-military aspects of the national security strategy concerned with protecting national interests in the maritime domain. Policy and strategy provide the framework and set limitations to national security and military strategies. Likewise, the maritime strategy must be fully subordinate to the national military strategy.

    The scope and extent of the new maritime strategy should be large because of the sheer diversity and complexity of the real and potential threats facing the U.S. in the maritime domain. One of the most critical parts of any maritime strategy is to articulate strategic objectives at sea. Specifically, the new maritime strategy should focus on the role of maritime forces in enhancing strategic deterrence and on objectives in operations short of war and in a regional or global conflict at sea.

    A critical but difficult part of the new maritime strategy is articulating a sound vision of and duration of the future conflict at sea. The lack of such a vision would make it difficult to write service wide doctrine and thereby prepare maritime forces for a future war at sea. Also, the vision of the future war at sea plays a critical role in planning for the maritime forces’ structure.

    war at sea

    The new maritime strategy should also explain ways of enhancing the U.S. maritime geostrategic position by strengthening the existing alliances or coalitions and building new ones. These actions must be in harmony with the corresponding aspects of the U.S. national security and military strategies. It also needs to address ways of enhancing deterrence and creating prerequisites to win the war at sea if deterrence fails.

    The new maritime strategy should not ignore the possibility of fighting a high-intensity conventional war at sea. Such a conflict might break out because of the threats to vital U.S. national interests posed by a single or a combination of regional powers in a certain littoral area. A high-intensity conflict at sea also could ensue because of the need to roll back aggression by a rising major power at sea. Hence, the new maritime strategy should describe in some detail strategic objectives at sea in a single or multiple maritime theatres, determine whether war at sea will be offensive and/or defensive, and determine which maritime theatre should be the theatre of main effort. It should also determine in broad terms the distribution of the maritime forces among the various maritime theatres. In the case of a regional or global conflict, the tasks of the maritime strategy are to articulate maritime aspects of the desired strategic end state and the timing and conditions for war termination.

    In the modern era, victory in a war was the result of close cooperation among all the services of the country’s armed forces. Although the land forces invariably had the most decisive role in winning one’s wars, such victories were difficult, if not impossible, to achieve without strong and effective support from one’s maritime and air forces. Traditionally, the strategic objective of the Navy has been, in the case of war or, sometimes, in operations short of war, to obtain and then maintain and exercise sea control in a specific part of the maritime theatre. These objectives will remain an integral part of a war’s overall objectives.

    GLOBAL SEA CONTROL

    All too often, the Navy’s high officials claim publicly and in various official documents that the Navy enjoys so-called global sea control. However, no navy in history, even the Royal Navy at the height of its power in the 19th century, was able to have control in all the parts of the world’s ocean. The situation today is even more complex because of the proliferation of modern weapons and the ability of many weaker powers in the littorals to frustrate and possibly even prevent the Navy from achieving the desired degree of sea control. The Navy might be opposed by either a strong regional sea power or an inferior littoral navy that might use its limited strengths asymmetrically and quite successfully against the Navy’s weaknesses. In a war at sea, a blue-water navy such as the U.S. Navy would rarely achieve sea control in all three physical mediums (surface, subsurface and air) and over large areas of the world’s ocean and for the duration. As in the past, various degrees of sea control would exist. The extent and degree of one’s sea control is also subject to great fluctuations in the course of a war. For example, the Navy might obtain a general control of a large part of the Indian Ocean but only local control of the surface and the air in the Arabian Sea or the Persian Gulf. That control might be temporary, not permanent, until the weaker side suffers substantial losses. These are the realities that the new U.S. maritime strategy should not ignore.

    Sea control, properly understood, refers only to the strategic or operational, not tactical, levels of war. In practical terms, strategic sea control pertains to the entire maritime theatre. Control of a major part of a maritime theatre represents operational sea control. The Navy’s term “battle space dominance” clearly refers to a tactical, not operational or strategic, level of war at sea. It essentially deals with temporary control of a part of a maritime theatre in which one’s forces are engaged in accomplishing some major tactical objective.

    The new maritime strategy should also anticipate the possibility that in the case of two simultaneous or nearly simultaneous regional conflicts, the Navy might not have sufficient forces to go on the offensive in both maritime theatres. In such a case, the initial strategic objective in one theatre might be sea denial, not sea control. Only after sufficient forces were released from the theatre of main effort would the U.S. Navy go on the offensive, obtain and then maintain/exercise sea control. British naval historian and theoretician Julian Corbett observed that when the command is in dispute, the general conditions might give a stable or unstable equilibrium. Then, the power of neither side preponderates to any appreciable extent. It may also be that the command lies with the opponent. Then both sides at sea operate at high risk, because their strength is approximately in balance. One side usually controls one or more parts of a given theatre, while its opponent controls the remaining part. Each side’s control of a specific sea area is usually limited in time.

    OPERATIONAL ART

    Strategy in general is often misunderstood to also include the combat employment of one’s maritime forces. This was true until the late 19th century, when military art consisted only of strategy and tactics. However, because of radical changes in the character of war as a result of political and social changes and advances in technology in the 19th century, a new and intermediate field of study and practice emerged from the lower part of strategy. The term “operational art” was coined by the Soviet theoretician and former tsarist general Aleksandr A. Svechin 1923. The same term was borrowed by the U.S. Army in the early 1980s and then adopted by the U.S. joint community.

    Today, there is no common, agreed definition of what operational art is. However, there is a common understanding that operational art is an intermediate field of study and practice between strategy and tactics. In generic terms, operational art at sea can be defined as a component of military art concerned with the theory and practice of planning, preparing and conducting major naval/joint operations and maritime campaigns aimed at accomplishing operational or strategic objectives in a given part of a maritime theatre. Only by applying tenets of operational art is it possible to accomplish objectives determined by national strategy and policy in the most decisive manner and with the fewest losses in personnel and materiel by friendly forces. The main role of operational art is to properly sequence and synchronize or orchestrate the use of all available military and non-military sources of one’s power.

    The executor of any maritime strategy is service doctrine. The Navy has written numerous naval warfare publications (NWPs) focused on tactical employment of naval combat arms and individual platforms. For the most part, they are well-written. However, none of these NWPs was based on the requirements of a servicewide doctrine; that is, one providing for the employment of the U.S. maritime forces at the operational level of war. The last servicewide doctrinal document, Naval Warfare, was written in 1947. Not until 1994, when the Naval Doctrinal Publication (NDP)-1, Naval Warfare, was published by the former Naval Doctrine Command in Norfolk, Va., was an effort made to fill the doctrinal gap between the tactical and operational levels of war at sea. However, this publication was deeply flawed because its focus was almost entirely on the tactical level of war. The new NDP-1, Naval Warfare, Rev, is supposed to remedy this problem by embracing tenets of operational war at sea. This publication is under review and is expected to be eventually adopted by the Navy. However, it would be a mistake to approve the NDP-1 Rev before its content is brought into harmony with the new maritime strategy; otherwise, this document would be in disconnect with the larger framework provided by the U.S. maritime strategy. Without a sound servicewide doctrine focused on the operational level of war at sea, it is hard to see how the U.S. maritime strategy can be applied in both peacetime and in times of war. Afterward, the Navy should review and, if necessary, change, modify or rewrite all its naval warfare publications that deal with tactical employment of naval combat arms. The NDP-1 Rev should provide the much-needed overarching structure in ensuring that training for tactical combat at sea is in harmony with the larger objectives at the operational level and thereby also with the new maritime strategy.

    The new U.S. maritime strategy cannot be successful unless it is executed using all applicable instruments of national power in a synchronized fashion. Clearly, the non-military sources of national power should play the predominant role in the execution of maritime strategy in times of peace and in operations short of war.

    In operations short of war, such as support of insurgency or counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, the U.S. maritime forces would accomplish operational objectives by conducting a series of naval and air tactical actions over time in a specific part of the maritime theatre.

    The main methods of obtaining sea control in a certain sea or ocean area have traditionally included the destruction or neutralization of the enemy fleet at sea and/or in its bases, and naval blockade. Destroying the enemy’s naval forces is the most direct and effective means of obtaining control of operationally or strategically important areas. The most effective and quickest way of accomplishing this is through the planning and execution of a series of major naval and joint/combined operations. The Navy can possibly accomplish the same objectives by conducting a series of tactical actions such as strikes and attacks. However, that would require much more time and would invariably result in larger losses for friendly forces. Only major naval/joint operations would allow the U.S. maritime forces to seize the initiative and destroy enemy forces relatively quickly and thereby bring about a radical change of the situation in a given part of the maritime theatre. A major naval operation consists of a series of related tactical actions (naval battles, engagements, strikes, attacks, etc.), sequenced and synchronized in terms of place and time and aimed to accomplish an operational (and sometimes even a major part of the strategic) objective. Major naval operations should normally be planned and executed by a single commander (or Joint Force Maritime Component Commander/Combined Force Maritime Component Commander) and planned in accordance with a common operational idea (scheme). They are normally an integral part of a maritime or land campaign, but they can sometimes be conducted outside of the framework of a campaign.

    Today, major naval operations will be predominantly conducted by the Navy in the littoral waters and rarely on the open ocean. In the littorals, such operations will be predominantly joint or combined, because they will involve the participation of not only the Navy and Marine Corps, but also of the Air Force and the Army, and the services of our allies or coalition partners. In short, they will be joint and often combined in character.

    Specifically, the main purpose of major naval/joint operations conducted by the Navy can be aimed to destroy or annihilate the enemy’s fleet at sea or in its bases, to neutralize the enemy’s fleet by establishing a naval blockade of a sea’s exits or the larger part of the enemy’s coast, to seize control of a strait/narrows or some other operationally significant position within an enclosed or semi-enclosed sea, or to capture the enemy’s naval basing areas.

    The new maritime strategy can be successful only if the Navy embraces and properly applies tenets of operational warfare at sea. It is operational art that serves both as a bridge and as an interface between maritime strategy and naval tactics. The results of naval tactical actions are useful only when linked together as part of a larger design framed by strategy and orchestrated by operational art. By themselves, technological advances, numerical superiority, and brilliant tactical performance are inadequate to achieve ultimate success in war. A sound, coherent maritime strategy combined with operational excellence were the keys to winning wars in the past and will remain so for the near future.
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  • #2
    Another great find Herman, thanks!
    Any metaphor will tear if stretched over too much reality.

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    • #3
      There is another thing that has always bothered me about the Navy, and Captains in particular.

      They always seem to be more concerned with perserving thier ships than they are with winning the war. They seem to think that there is something special, even mystical, about "going in harms way", and aviod it in ways that would get a battialion commander shot for cowardice.

      Why build a weapon system that is too valuable to risk in combat?
      Harsh inquiries into any damage suffered by warships caused Captains in the Italian Navy to be inneffective during WW2, and British and German caution casued the North Sea to be a very quiet place during WW1.

      There seems to be something wrong with the way Naval Commanders have been taught, and this is not a recent development.

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      • #4
        I remember playing an SPI game in the 1970s called Sixth Fleet, in which the premise was the result of a loss in combat was the withjdrawl of the losing ship(s) as it was assumed that no captain would actually risk their ship being destroyed by combat action. The only way to actually lose a ship was to have it surrounded by enemy vessels or aircraft so that it was unable to withdraw.

        At the time, I considered the unrealistic. It would seem that I was wrong and that doctrine suggetsts that withdrawl in the face of possible damage or destruction to the ship was in fact likely.

        OTOH, the British seemed willing enough to risk their ships in order to recover the Falklands from the Argentines, so perhaps there is more to the story.
        "I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them."
        George Mason
        Co-author of the Second Amendment
        during Virginia’s Convention to Ratify the Constitution, 1788

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        • #5
          Good article, however, IMO one has to wonder, how much of this is for public consumption, if I was the Head of the US Navy, I don't think I would make available my real doctrines and war plans, food for thought. Remember we are at War even if undeclared.

          Exorcist,

          They always seem to be more concerned with preserving their ships than they are with winning the war.
          I can see why you would think that, but you must consider what the ship's function is and how much time material and manpower it takes to replace a ship. It of course is relative to unit sizes in the Army or Airforce. For argument sake compare a Carrier Group to a Corps sized unit. No Supreme Commander would expect you to lose the whole Corps fighting the enemy, smaller units yes, Regts BNs maybe Divs. Well in Navy a Destroyer is the same as a Regiment and so on so forth. Prime difference being a Destroyer with battle damage may be totally useless to the Battle Group. An army or air unit with the same percentage of damage will still fight.

          In Naval Battles, yes, one will try to preserve ships; taking out the Capital Ships equals the Corps being made non-effective, so game over. I know this is simplistic but I think this helps explain the perception.

          Good examples of this thinking: Pearl Harbour, Midway, Trafalgar, Spanish Armada, and Jutland. To name a few.

          Please, Let me know if I’m only making sense to myself. Brain tired.
          Eternal War(gaming) Armoured Struggle Car Bob

          History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis.
          Lazarus Long

          Draw the blinds on yesterday and it's all so much scarier....
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          • #6
            nope, that makes sense to me...

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            • #7
              In Naval Battles, yes, one will try to preserve ships; taking out the Capital Ships equals the Corps being made non-effective, so game over. I know this is simplistic but I think this helps explain the perception.

              So far so good, but the examples turned it right around in my head;

              Good examples of this thinking: Pearl Harbour, Midway, Trafalgar, Spanish Armada, and Jutland. To name a few.

              Pearl Harbor; They took out 8 Battleships, and yet the US Navy endured the first six months of the war and managed a draw at the Coral Sea and a big win and Midway. Capital ships are not the Navy.

              Jutland; excesive caution leads to the biggest non-descision in history. Jelicoe was called "the onle man who could loose the war in an afternoon", which naturaly destroyed his dash. THere were too many ships for one man to control, but he did not let his various commanders operate indepandantly that night, and the Geramns got away... again!

              Trafalgar; He who dares, wins. This battle proves to me that daring commanders can win big at sea.

              Midway; failure to concentrate forces at the point of battle, scatter-brained tactics and constant shifting of proirities did the Japanese in, as well as really bad luck. You can't tell me Nagumo was TOO daring!

              The Spanish Armada; not sure what this example is supposed to mean...

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Exorcist View Post
                In Naval Battles, yes, one will try to preserve ships; taking out the Capital Ships equals the Corps being made non-effective, so game over. I know this is simplistic but I think this helps explain the perception.

                So far so good, but the examples turned it right around in my head;

                Good examples of this thinking: Pearl Harbour, Midway, Trafalgar, Spanish Armada, and Jutland. To name a few.

                Pearl Harbor; They took out 8 Battleships, and yet the US Navy endured the first six months of the war and managed a draw at the Coral Sea and a big win and Midway. Capital ships are not the Navy.

                Jutland; excesive caution leads to the biggest non-descision in history. Jelicoe was called "the onle man who could loose the war in an afternoon", which naturaly destroyed his dash. THere were too many ships for one man to control, but he did not let his various commanders operate indepandantly that night, and the Geramns got away... again!

                Trafalgar; He who dares, wins. This battle proves to me that daring commanders can win big at sea.

                Midway; failure to concentrate forces at the point of battle, scatter-brained tactics and constant shifting of proirities did the Japanese in, as well as really bad luck. You can't tell me Nagumo was TOO daring!

                The Spanish Armada; not sure what this example is supposed to mean...
                They were all battles where the Capital Ships were the Goal

                Pearl gave the IJN a perceived victory because they believe they had pulled Amercias teeth, their Capital Ships.

                Jutland, indecisive yes, still it was Capital Ships lost that cost the RN the Battle and the damage to the German High Seas Fleet that caused them to never venture forth again.

                Midway, no matter how big the horse shoe, still 4 of the NEW Capital Ships of that era went to the bottom, invasion over.

                Trafalgar, Nelson smashed the Enemy Fleet. equal that to Most of a Countries Army. Notice even though he dared he still had a lot more of his ships at the end.

                The Spainish Armada is a how not fight and navigate your fleet....leading to massive loss of Capital Ships.

                Each Capital Ship and it's Battle Group = A Corps, A Fleet = an Army. All Captains must preseve their ships to Protect the Capital Ship/Fleet to win. Simply put a sunk or heavily damaged ship can't do it's job.

                Patton put the situation, simply a soliders job is not to die for his country but to make the other SOB die for his. (Not the exact quote)

                Why this is twice now I've tackled this answer dead tried, Sorry Exorcist. Hope I've clarified this.
                Eternal War(gaming) Armoured Struggle Car Bob

                History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis.
                Lazarus Long

                Draw the blinds on yesterday and it's all so much scarier....
                David Bowie

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                • #9
                  On the subject of navies...

                  Media over here have recently begun to question the numerous sub hunts in our waters during the 80s and early 90s. At the time the russians where to blame, although we probably knew that alot of the intrusions where from American and other NATO submarines. Anyway, somehow this debate led to make some people belive that there where no subs at all (completely disregarding U137 that went aground well inside our borders).


                  "Whiskey(class) on the Rocks"

                  To clear up this discussion the navy just released a photo of a mini submarine caught on active sonar, as well as sound recordings from passive sonar on a submarine and a merchant vessel as reference.

                  Its all on this page:
                  http://http://www2.mil.se/sv/Nyheter/Nyheter-milse/xx/?from=headlines
                  (The sounds are in .mp3 format at the bottom of the page, and all text is of course encrypted in swedish)

                  Its not often material like this is released, so I thought it would be nice for anyone interested to see/hear/experience what a sub look like in these sensors.
                  Last edited by Pergite; 21 Nov 07, 12:20.
                  "The secret of war lies in the communications" - Napoleon Bonaparte

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                  • #10
                    I'd be interested in seeing that. However, the link appears to be dead.
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                    • #11
                      Thanks for fixing the link.
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                      • #12
                        Bob-
                        Oh, okay. Im getting confused myself here.... the thread was about tactics and the lack of daring commanders, for a while. THis is getting to complicated for me, backing out of this one now...

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Herman Hum View Post
                          I'd be interested in seeing that. However, the link appears to be dead.
                          There is something fishy being done with the fourm, I however managed to correct my link. You cant cut and paste URL:s like usual, maybe some sort of update.


                          Regarding aggression and naval warfare I would guess that the Swedish navy up to the middle 90´s is a good example. To compliment the fixed emplacements and mines we had a very aggresive method regarding fast missile boats and coastal rangers. The missile boats was intended for suprise attacks on Russian fleets aproaching our shores. They would break out of littoral cover doing 40 kts speeding towards their targets, launching missiles as fast and accurate as they could (often with their radar turned off for remaining hidden) relying on target data from other units. Then closing in on their targets launching torpedoes before finally heading back into cover, rearming and heading out again doing the same thing.

                          The idea was that we only had one chance to counter a russian invasion, and that was before it had landed and started to take over ports and airfields. It would have meant a very violent fight on, under and over the Baltic Sea.
                          "The secret of war lies in the communications" - Napoleon Bonaparte

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Pergite View Post
                            The missile boats was intended for suprise attacks on Russian fleets aproaching our shores. They would break out of littoral cover doing 40 kts speeding towards their targets, launching missiles as fast and accurate as they could (often with their radar turned off for remaining hidden) relying on target data from other units. Then closing in on their targets launching torpedoes before finally heading back into cover, rearming and heading out again doing the same thing.
                            Was that ever a realistic expectation? I was always under the impression that missile boats would be 'lucky' to survive long enough to reach their launch point for even one salvo. The thought that they might actually return to port for re-loading strikes me as wishful thinking. Am I wrong?
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                            2) Enjoy playing it
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                            4) Enjoy helping others create them

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Pergite View Post
                              There is something fishy being done with the fourm, I however managed to correct my link. You cant cut and paste URL:s like usual, maybe some sort of update.
                              It's working, but the new insert link window has http:// already typed so when you paste a URL beware of not having it twice or the link won't work.

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