A Conceptual Framework On The Maritime Strategy

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1st Jan 1970 History Reference this


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Actual meaning of strategy is “the art of the general” (from Greeks strategos). In its military aspect the term relates to stratagems by which a general seeks to deceive an enemy, plan the campaigns and the way he moves and disposes his forces in war. It is the art of projecting and directing campaigns in the naval warfare [1] . Nations add strategy to adjust and correlate political, economic, technological, and psychological factors along with military elements in the management of their national policies. Due to this addition, demarcation between strategy as a purely military phenomena and national strategy as a whole has blurred since 19th century and this distinction has become even less clear in the 20th century when nations became more independent and line between war and peace less clearly definable.

Colin S. Gray in his view says, ‘Man lives on the land, not on the sea, and conflict at sea has strategic meaning only with reference to what its outcome enables, or implies, for the course of events on land’. [2] Maritime strategy has a significant meaning for a grand strategy of a maritime state. It is a sub-set of grand strategy, a long-term plan of action designed to attain a special maritime goal and a connection between military power and politico-economic intention at sea. On the contrary, naval strategy means nothing more than the use of military forces to obtain, or deny, command of the sea. Winning sea command is the objective of the side that needs the sea in order to project naval capabilities onto the rival’s territory. The side that only requires avoiding the projection of antagonistic power from the sea can be satisfied with a strategy of sea denial. [3] In general, the terms of maritime strategy and naval strategy are often used interchangeably, but both terms are actually not the same. In a few words, the former is a seaward opportunity of grand strategy, shaped by geo-strategic setting, and determined by national leadership on what to control, for what purpose, and to what degree. [4] However, the latter is only the ocean-going military tactic and is the strategic thinking of admirals.

On the contrary, naval strategy means planning and conduct of war at sea, movement of fleets and deception of enemy. Naval strategy of any maritime power changes with the change in the geopolitical settings. Revolutionary technological changes and politico-economic metamorphosis have a direct bearing on land-sea relationships. [5] Changes in naval strategy depend on the way the radius of action for ships increases (or decreases); technical factors which augments the endurance of fleets through propulsion of ships; economic dynamics of the region; geographical factors which influence the national policies; and richness of the sea bed and its sub-soil which become assets and stakes to be protected. Thus the role of sea takes new dimension with the change in geopolitics – global, regional and local. The naval strategy is an important aspect of policy planning of a nation and is carried out by the navy which is the organized maritime military force of a nation. It includes personals, air and missile forces, ship yards and shore bases for the building and maintenance of fleets. Navy has been used in different ways throughout history. It was used in explorations and discovery in the 15th century, to discover sea routes to India, China, and the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries, to carry out trade and commerce and colonization throughout 17th and 19th centuries. Navies were used by different European nations in their national rivalries for control of sea routes and expand their domains as colonial powers. It was extensively used in the world wars and a deterrent during the Cold War. In the late 20th and early 21st century, along with its traditional role it is used for humanitarian operations, coastal defenses, secure the sea lanes of communications, check drug paddling, and fight out terrorism and sea piracy. [6] 

1.2 Concepts or Ideas of Mahan

Alfred Thayer Mahan is known as father of maritime strategy, he was an officer in the United States Navy. He was commissioned in 1859, and served in the vessels conducting the blockade of the Confederacy during the Civil War. However, he did not experience combat during the war. After the Civil War, he held a series of relatively nondescript assignments, until 1886, when he was assigned to the newly created Naval War College, where he was to teach tactics and history. [7] Four years after reporting the War College, he published The Influence of Seapower Upon History. Mahan’s book was an instant success, and generated profound interest throughout the world. He was received by senior officials in both imperial Japan and the United Kingdom. He later published several other books and articles, all concerning sea power.

In Mahans view historians had largely ignored the role that sea power played in history. Mahan’s book outlined the European naval conflicts between France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Great Britain up through the American Revolutionary War period. In these examples, he saw that sea power had played a critical role that had a significant impact in the overall campaigns, but had received little recognition from historians. [8] 

He has defined “six principle conditions” which affect a nation’s sea power. They are geographical position, physical conformation, extent of territory, number of population, character of the people, and the character of the government. [9] The geographic position of a nation has a most significant impact on the development of that nation’s sea power. Obviously, a landlocked nation may be concerned with the economic benefits that may come from the ocean, and from oceanographic exploration, however, they will not be concerned with developing a navy. [10] 

He says a non-island nation, especially one with hostile neighbors will be required to maintain an army to defend it. Coastlines have proven to be avenues for invading armies throughout history, as well as international borders. England has always been able to focus her efforts and resources on sea power for the simple fact of being an island nation. However, France and the Netherlands struggled to maintain a balance between having a naval fleet, and armies. [11] 

According to him, the position of a nation in relation with respect to other nations, and with respect to the geographic features around it plays a very significant role in the development of sea power. England has been given a significant natural advantage in being on the northern side of the English Channel, and the western side of the North Sea. From this position England has the ability to affect all of the maritime traffic coming from the Baltic, and from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries. Not only by the virtue of its own position, but also by the location of its colonies, may a nation have the ability to exert tremendous influence at sea. Again, England provides an excellent example. Gibraltar and Malta give England the ability to monitor, and when necessary, provide a base of operations in the Mediterranean. [12] 

The combination of the previously listed characteristics is that of “commerce destroying,”as it was known in Mahan’s time. [13] A nation’s ability to project sea power based on its location and that of its colonies gives it the ability to conduct commerce destroying. Mahan believed that the ability to intercept, and capture or destroy an enemies merchant fleet was greatly a function of its geographic position. The principle of commerce raiding will appear again.

Second factor which affects a nation’s sea power is physical conformation. If a nation has an extensive coastline, but few ports which are capable of supporting large ships, then that nation is at a disadvantage. However, again using England as an example, an abundance of deepwater ports permits the development of several locations for the use of on, and offloading cargo, and for the location of shipyards. On the southern coast alone, England boasts such excellent harbors as Plymouth, Portsmouth, and Dover. In addition to these, England has several ports along their western border on the Irish Sea, and along the North Sea. If the ports in Scotland are considered as well, then England clearly has the benefit of a coastline conducive the development of sea power. These ports give the English an advantage over the French, who have, at best, five harbors along their entire Atlantic seaboard. [14] 

One more factor of a nation’s physical conformation is the abundance, or lack thereof, of estuaries. Rivers provide natural “highways” which facilitate commerce from the internal areas of a country to its ports. A large number of rivers allows for the involvement of a greater portion of a nation in the economic growth that comes with the increased trading opportunities fostered by maritime trade. In war, rivers provide the means for naval forces to withdraw into a protected area. Mahan’s example of Germany illustrates how rivers can be used to carry trade from regions of a nation distant from the coast to its harbors. [15] 

Mahanin says extent of territory is also important. The length of the coastline which a nation must defend can either provide an advantage, or disadvantage, based on the nature of the people of that nation and its population.Mahan used the example of the Confederacy during the American Civil War to show that an extensive coastline with numerous rivers providing access to the interior became a liability for the South due to their relatively low population, and the fact that they were not a seagoing culture. [16] 

The number of a country’s population is a factor which he addresses as a factor in a nation’s ability to develop sea power. The larger the part of a nation’s population which may be called into maritime service yields an increased amount of sea power which that nation may develop. Although it would seem that the number of people involved in maritime related endeavors in peacetime would yield a greater number of personnel going to sea in naval vessels in times of crisis, this is not necessarily the case. Sir Edward Pellew, an English naval officer, was faced with a lack of seamen when war broke with France in the late 18th century. In 1793, he instructed his officers to look for Cornish miners, as the dangerous nature of the work would make them ideal for sea duty. Despite the unorthodox nature of his recruiting efforts, he defeated an enemy frigate in his first engagement after leaving port. [17] 

Mahan further explains that it is not only the number of men available during times of peace, but the ability of a reserve to go to sea at the outset of hostilities. So, the size of the sea-going population of a nation is a factor in its ability to develop sea power. Not only does the size of a nation’s population affect its sea power, but also the character of its population. An interest and desire to explore, travel, and trade with distant nations are all characteristics of a populace interested in maritime affairs. This provides the base for both commercial and naval fleets. Mahan brings up another aspect of the characteristic of a population. He contrasts Spain and Portugal with England and the Netherlands. According to Mahan, Spain and Portugal became wealthy because of the materials that their merchant fleets brought from their colonies in the new world. The gold and silver that came from the mines of Central and South America created great wealth for the two nations; however, they did create a growing domestic economy to further develop their nation’s economic strength. Rather, they became dependant on their imports. England and the Netherlands, on the other hand, used their merchant fleets to trade with other nations, and to export what they produced. This fostered the development of industry which proved to outlast the imported wealth of Spain and Portugal. The character of the nations proved to be as important to their developing sea power as any of the other factors. [18] 

At the end Mahan addresses the character of the government as the last of the six issues that affect a nation’s ability to develop sea power. A government with the vision and determination to develop sea power, especially when combined with the will of the people, has the potential to become a maritime power. When the government has the vision to build ships, especially when they are willing to accept risk and strive for innovations, and has the foresight to recruit its citizens as seamen, and create conditions which will encourage them to remain in service, will certainly lead its people to prominence at sea. In summary, Mahan believed a nation’s sea power was a function of both its maritime commerce and its navy. In war, he saw decisive fleet engagements as the key to gaining the advantage over a maritime enemy. [19] 

Mahan has written many books that discussed other aspects of maritime warfare. For example, he wrote about the composition of a fleet and what kind of ships it should consist of. Whether to build a navy of “a few very big ships, or more numerous medium ships might be arguable . . . the maximum power of the fleet . . . and not the maximum power of the single ship is the true object of battleship construction.” [20] 

Before the development of naval aviation, this view reflected the primary importance of the battleship. However, his statement that “the maximum power of the fleet” was most important illustrated that he was thinking beyond ship type. Had he written this article forty years later, he would have undoubtedly included the aircraft carrier due the striking power it added to fleets.

Mahan touched other subjects as well. Not only was the composition of a fleet a subject of interest for him, but the employment of a fleet was a subject he wrote about. He said that the single result of all naval action was the destruction of the enemy’s organized force and the establishment of one’s own control of the sea.. [21] He developed a vision of a decisive engagement between two fleets, with the victor being able to establish control of the sea and from that achieve victory over one’s enemies.

1.3 Concepts or ideas of Corbett

An other great maritime strategist Julian Stafford Corbett was born in London in 1854. The son of a well-to-do architect, he read law at Trinity College, and achieved first class honors. He became a barrister in 1877, but did not work full time due to his independent wealth. He traveled, and in 1886 published the first of several novels. They made little money, and in 1898, he published his first historical book, a two-volume work titled Drake and the Tudor Navy. It was much more successful than any of his novels, and in 1899, he decided to devote all of his efforts to naval historiography. In 1902, Corbett was invited to the Royal Naval College to begin lecturing. This began his association with the Royal Navy which was to last, in varying degrees for the rest of his life. Many of the theories he advanced were very controversial, but he always found supporters, within and without, the Royal Navy. [22] One of his most important supporters was Admiral Fischer, future First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy, and father of the Dreadnought class battleship.

His crowning achievement was his book Some Principles of Maritime Strategy; it received immediate attention, both positive and negative. Some of his theories were contrary to those of Mahan, who was widely regarded as a, if not the, leading expert on Naval Strategy. Some Principles of Maritime Strategy represented the collective thoughts that Corbett had been working on during his tenure at the Royal Naval College. He takes a different direction in developing his ideas on maritime strategy in that he discusses outright strategic principles, compared to Mahan’s use of historical examples to discuss the influence of sea power. In the first chapter, Corbett states that the central theme to his book is maritime, vice naval. He contends that “it is almost impossible for a war to be decided by naval action alone.” [23] In his book he claims that it is necessary to emphasize the interdependence of land and sea aspects of war. Also, Corbett makes extensive reference, and comparison, to Clausewitz.

Corbett compares to contrasts the maritime theory of war to the overall theory of war. He describes the differences between war on land and war at sea, yet realizes that Clausewitz’s overarching theories apply as much to maritime warfare as to land warfare. Specifically, he states that war is a means of political action, and also, discusses limited versus unlimited war. Corbett makes his most fundamental statement in Chapter Three when he says that: He compares to contrasts the maritime theory of war to the overall theory of war.” [24] He then goes on to define command of the seas as “nothing but the control of maritime communications, whether for commercial or military purposes.” [25] Corbett then goes on to further defines maritime communications, the role of the “cruiser,” the role and practice of commerce destroying, and many other topics pertinent to the discussion of maritime strategy.

He continued to develop the connection between the effectiveness of command of the sea with the effectiveness of a nation’s ability to wage war. He stated that “Consequently by denying an enemy this means of passage we check the movement of his national life at sea in the same kind of way we check it on land by occupying his territory.” [26] 

Corbett saw the benefit in using naval forces to deny a nation the use of the seas as a means of moving materials vital to that nation’s economy. By choking off these materials, naval forces could have a significant impact on the conduct of a campaign ashore.

In short, Corbett believed that the main focus of naval warfare was command of the sea. He then went on to define command of the sea as control of maritime ommunications. The importance of controlling maritime communications was to have the ability to protect one’s own maritime commerce, and prevents the adversary from using the seas for communications.

1.4 Historical Significance of Maritime Strategy

1.4.1 Maritime Strategy 1900-1945

In both World Wars one cannot neglect the role of navy and its influence on the theater of war at sea. In World War I, and the European Theater in World War II, sea power was “trans-oceanic” in nature, because transporting troops and supplies was the primary strategic focus of the Navy, and sea transport was the only viable option. With the emergence of an effective enemy submarine threat, protection of convoys became a significant mission for the allied naval forces.3

Especially, the Pacific Theater in World War II was fought as an “oceanic” campaign, where victory was achieved through amphibious operations to gain control of strategic bases, significant naval battles to destroy the Japanese Navy, naval interdiction of Japanese sea lines of communication, isolation of the home Islands, and preparations to invade if necessary Maritime strategy during the World Wars was linked to the national and allied strategy of total war, and the Second World War’s end state was the destruction of axis forces on a global scale. The means of naval war were provided by an unprecedented industrial surge in the United States to manufacture war-fighting equipment. The means were applied through naval battles and a succession of amphibious operations, transport of equipment and supplies, and protection of sea lines of communication. The naval strategy was decisively successful largely because the axis powers, particularly the Japanese, were unable to recover from losses while the United States rebuilt and expanded its force, was able to exploit the maritime maneuver space, control the tempo of operations and take the fight to the enemy along multiple lines of operations.

1.4.2 Maritime Strategy 1945-1989

Immediately after the World War II, a debate emerged concerning the need for a Navy, particularly aircraft carriers. The Army Air Forces argued that their new, long range, United States based aircraft with nuclear weapons could replace the aircraft carrier strike capability. Many believed that the next war would be against the Soviet Union with no need for amphibious operations, and that the Navy would play a supporting role. In addition, there was a strong argument that future wars would quickly escalate to a nuclear conflict and that large conventional forces were no longer needed. These arguments were used to justify a significant reduction in naval forces pending the development of a post war military strategy. “As far as Congress was concerned, the United States had command of the seas and was in no danger of losing it.” [27] In 1947, Vice Admiral Forrest Sherman created a maritime strategy based on the notion that the next war would look much like the last one. For force structure, “he kept carriers at the core of his planning and proposed that they be given the option of delivering conventional or atomic weapons.” [28] 

The Korean War of 1950’s supported Sherman’s belief that conventional wars remained a threat, and the Navy was employed as an integral part of a balanced military force. North Korea had a small Navy, so control of the seas was not a major factor and the United States Navy conducted carrier strike operations throughout the war. Sea control also allowed the United States Navy to move troops and supply friendly forces. In fact, “six of every seven men who landed in Korea came by sea.” [29] As the Soviet Union became a more significant threat, the maritime strategy for the bipolar Cold War world required significant naval power to project the national influence of the United States. “The NATO alliance prepared for the struggle for control of the sea and containment of the Soviet Navy…as well as the ability to protect sea lines of communication for extended periods.” [30] As an instrument of national strategy, the Navy played a vital role in the Cold War, particularly through forward presence and power projection.

At that time the focus of maritime strategy was on a large Navy, equipped for optimum power projection against the enemy (primarily the Soviet Union) and capable of sea control, sea denial, and maintaining the sea lines of communication. Navy ballistic missile submarines also provided one leg of the nuclear deterrent triad in the event of nuclear warfare against the Soviet Union.

Regional incidents for instance, the Vietnam War further confirmed that the Navy required a strategy to handle contingencies across the spectrum of conflict. By the mid 1960’s, Navy procurement programs were developed almost exclusively against the emerging Soviet Navy. Maintaining the resources to counter the Soviet threat was a significant factor in naval strategy, with an emphasis on high cost systems such as nuclear carriers and surface ships. The high cost of these systems, however, restricted the quantity produced and was leading to an imbalanced fleet. At the time, the Navy was building the Nimitz Class nuclear aircraft carrier, the large Spruance Class destroyer, and was planning to build very expensive nuclear powered frigates as carrier escorts. In 1971, ADM Zumwalt, then Chief of Naval Operations, proposed a procurement strategy to improve force structure called “High-Low.” The intent of Zumwalt’s plan was to balance the expensive ships and weapons systems with more moderate cost systems. Zumwalt accepted short term risk in decommissioning older platforms in order to free resources for the purchase of a more balanced fleet. In Zumwalt’s view, “an all-low Navy would not have the capability to meet certain kinds of threats or perform certain kinds of missions. In order to have both enough ships and good enough ships there had to be a mix of High and Low.” [31] Jumwalt’s efforts resulted in cancellation of the plan to procure nuclear powered frigates and replaced them with the construction of more economical conventionally powered frigates. Zumwalt also reduced he number of expensive ships constructed in order to fund procurement of new ship classes including the hydrofoil patrol craft, a small carrier called the “sea control ship”, and a “surface effect ship” which was a high speed transport ship to carry troops and equipment across the ocean rapidly, then serve as a helicopter or vertical launch aircraft platform. Two of the four procurement programs, the frigate and the hydrofoil patrol craft, were funded and constructed. A version Zumwalt’s high speed transport remains a procurement priority in “Sea Power 21.” The “high-low” concept remains an important aspect in balancing the cost of high end Navy ships and systems with efficiently conducting naval operations, particularly in missions such as presence, maritime interdiction, or convoy screening, which require large numbers of ships with moderate capabilities.

As the USSR continued to pose a formidable naval threat, maintaining a sound maritime strategy became increasingly important. In 1977, ADM Thomas B. Hayward, then Commander in Chief United States Pacific Fleet, developed “Sea Strike, a strategy that envisioned a carrier task group offensive against Soviet Far Eastern bases in the event of war.” [32] Hayward’s strategy assumed an offensive bias and called for the “integration of the other services and the nation’s allies” [33] into a theater strategy. Details of United States maritime strategy were made available in an unclassified 1986 publication called “The Maritime Strategy.” “The Maritime Strategy” (and the concurrently emerging Army “Air Land Battle Doctrine”) provided a more offensive strategy for the nation in support of the National Military Strategy. “The Maritime Strategy” was comprehensive, based on existing capabilities, linked to National Military Strategy, and developed as a “vehicle for shaping and disseminating a professional consensus on war fighting where it matters-at sea.”. “The Maritime Strategy” provided a convincing overview of world events to highlight the necessity to support forward defense, alliance solidarity, and deterrence. It also emphasized emerging issues such as state sponsored terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. A real strength of “The Maritime Strategy” was a detailed overview of the Navy’s role in peacetime presence, crisis response, and war fighting. This overview, coupled with a meticulous description of how maritime forces would be used at each phase of war against the Soviet Union, clearly defined the ends, and articulated the case for a larger Navy (means). A new naval force structure was developed based upon the threat posed by a large, Soviet conventional and nuclear capable naval force at sea. This threat was derived primarily from the observed numbers and perceived capabilities of the Soviet fleet. The renewed military emphasis and plan for an increase in force structure “was presented as part of the Reagan Administration’s defense build-up…calling for the expansion (of the Navy) to 600 ships.” [34] 

Maritime strategy at that time included an offensive framework to defeat the Soviets both in blue water and in the littorals, with both carrier and amphibious task forces. The Navy was structured to fight large scale blue water naval battles, either conventional or nuclear, against a Soviet force of nearly equal size. Carrier battle groups and Amphibious Ready Groups would have been employed to defeat the Soviet Navy, strike their supporting infrastructure, and to support amphibious operations to “retake conquered territory and to seize key objectives in the Soviet rear.” The Navy also maintained a significant nuclear arsenal to serve as a deterrent to the Soviet Union. “The revamped United States military doctrine of the 1980’s restored the primacy of combat engagements and decisive military victory to American Military Strategy…The Pentagon heralded the official arrival of this doctrine, generally known as overwhelming force.” [ Share this: Facebook Twitter Reddit LinkedIn WhatsApp  

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