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Evolution Of Maritime Strategy History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Over 90% of world trade by volume goes through sea. Maritime nations went for overseas expansion and trade for exerting political influence and economic gains. Sea has thus played an important role towards prosperity and wellbeing of the mankind. In order to protect maritime trade, both maritime sector and naval forces evolved, which in turn gave birth to Maritime Strategy and concept of Sea Power. Thinkers like Mahan and Corbett propounded that control of sea would be essential for any country to exert influence in global affairs [1] ; which holds good even today. With the ever evolving security environment at sea coupled with technological advancements, Naval Warfare has under gone transformation.

In the realm of national security, Maritime Strategy and Employment of Naval Power act as compulsions for sovereign nations to safeguard their maritime interests. Pakistan being no exception as:-

It has a long coastline to defend. Karachi is the current economic hub, with major Naval Harbour, Dockyard, Shipyard and Commercial Port Infrastructure. Whereas it has co-located Port Qasim south eastward and Ormara Naval Harbour and Gwadar Port are located westward.

EEZ of 200 NM and Continental Shelf up to 350 NM provide a vast expanse of sea rich in both living and non-living marine, mineral and hydrocarbon resources.

Over 90% of Pakistan’s trade is through sea.

Foreign flag carriers handle 84% of sea trade, for which US$4 Bn had been paid as freight charges. Whereas, National flag carriers contribute only 16% of total trade including 90% of oil imports (7.5 MMT). This has implications during tension/ war time as foreign flag carriers refuse to transport cargo for/ from Pakistan.

PNSC currently has only 10 ships in its inventory.

There is no foreign ship construction/ repair order with KS&EW.

Fishing sector is performing much below par and exports contribute approx 0.12% of GDP/ 1.5% of total exports.

Pakistan enjoys superior strategic orientation as International SLOCs including Indian, pass through our area of responsibility.

This highlights significance of Maritime Strategy for Pakistan.


To present the evolution of maritime strategy and employment of naval power so as to draw pertinent lessons for Pakistan.


Sequence of presentation is given below:-

Part I-Evolution of Maritime Strategy (Lt Col Muhammad Farooq)

Historical Perspective.

Linkage between Maritime and Naval Strategies.

Mahan and Corbett’s Philosophies.

Contemporary Maritime Thoughts.

Part II-Employment of Naval Power (Capt Zakirullah Jan)

Attributes of Naval Power.

Employment of Naval Power.

Part III-Future Trends & Recommendations (Cdre Suhail Hameed)

Future Trends.

Salient Conclusions.



EVOLUTION OF maritime strategY

Historical Perspective

The history of maritime powers, to a great extent is the story of rivalries among nations. The maritime strategies evolved through following three distinct ages [2] :-

Age of galleys (up to 16th century).

Age of sail and gunpowder (16th to mid19th century).

Age of steam / gas turbines / nuclear propulsion (mid19th century onwards).

Age of Galley (up to 16th Century)

The galleys were ancient ships which were propelled entirely by human muscle mostly provided by slave oarsmen, and were used for warfare and trade 16th century AD [3] . The strategies adopted in early times were mostly piratical in nature; however, leading nations of 5th century BC had learned some basic elements of warfare. It was mainly a land style battle fought at sea, where belligerents would charge at each other in a typical infantry action of those days and fight a hand-to-hand combat. The major maritime activity involving galleys, accompanied by sea battles, was the 16th century sea engagements between Ottoman Empire Fleet and Joint Fleet of Spain, Venetia and Italy, duly supported by the Pope. The superior maritime strategy of Ottoman Admiral Kheir-ed-Din Barbarossa got better of much bigger Joint fleet of Spanish Admiral Andrea Doria in the battle of Preveza, however, the Turk Fleet of Ottoman Empire Commanded by Ali Pasha was virtually eliminated after the battle of Lepanto. During the age of galleys, Muslims had realized the importance of naval warfare as early as in the 7th Century under the rule of Umayyad’s. When Europe was going through the dark ages, Arabs embarked upon developing their maritime assets in the middle of 7th century, which included shipbuilding industry along the North African coast, building of merchant ships and fighting fleet. Arabs in fact were able to establish their complete naval mastery in the Mediterranean during the period from 9th Century till the beginning of 13th century. Thereafter, the powerful Arab fleet gradually lost its strength primarily due to lack of will on the part of Arab rulers. It is generally acknowledged that Europe’s art of shipping and seamanship was largely derived from the Arabs.

Age of Sail and Gunpowder (16th- mid 19th Century)

Though the sails had started to supplement oar as far back as the 8th century, the real age of sail may be considered to start from 15th or 16th century, when it became the primary mode of propulsion and has enhanced mobility of the ships. The compass coming into use on ships gave the seafarer direction to follow. It is during this time that Portugal and Spain made overseas discoveries, which triggered nations to think about maritime tactics and strategy in a much more ambitious way. Britain started to emerge as a Sea Power in late 16th century, when it defeated the Spanish Armada off its coast. This age saw extensive naval actions in the Mediterranean, between British and combined Franco-Spanish fleets like the Battle of Trafalgar, which involved a heavy quantum of forces. In the age of sail, though admirals and statesmen practiced the art of maritime strategy, as if it were part of one great continuum, rarely putting the reasons for their actions on paper. Some maritime literature began to appear under names as Paul Hoste, Walter Raleigh and Francis Bacon, with theories as:-

“England should not waste her energies in fickle wars on land, as Athens had done against Syracuse”

“He that commands the sea is at great liberty, and may take as much and as little as he will”

“Whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the worlds and consequently the world itself”.

These strategic thoughts centered on sea trade were instrumental in colonization of the East by the West as European dominions began to appear worldwide. The race for colonization often led to conflict which was sorted out militarily at sea, particularly in the Mediterranean. This age lasted up to 19th Century, which saw extensive naval actions employing canons for improved fire power [4] . Fleets could engage at a distance using broadside and line of battle tactics.

Age of Steam, Gas Turbine & Nuclear Propulsion(mid19th Century to date)

The industrial revolution in Europe and advent of steam turbine engines revolutionized defence industry and brought new strategic thoughts [5] . For capturing resources for industrial input and market for finished goods, the Europeans spread their dominion eastward, into the Indian Ocean, South East Asia and the China Sea. And, they went by sea because it meant they could outflank the Islamic dominance on the land routes. As against European powers, the prominent Eastern powers for example the Moghals of India, Arabs, Countries of the Far East etc ignored the importance of establishing navies to guard their seaward defence and hence were exploited by the colonial powers. The Turks also could not keep pace with naval technological improvements despite living in close proximity of European maritime nations. The advent of steam ships enabled people to make new strategic thoughts. Amongst various thinkers, Sir John Colomb (British Naval Strategist 1838-1909) was arguably the first to have formally written a book on naval warfare and analyzed the tactics of decisive battle, the concept of fleet in being, offensive action and various types of blockade. He was proponent of mutually complementing roles of army and the navy. He said that “The real role of army was to garrison bases at home and abroad, to defend India and to be used for expeditions overseas. Once the Navy had secured command of the sea then the army could be set for action. Navy would provide the necessary maritime conditions for such enterprises and would act as a shield to guard the army.” As the navies began to steal the show, intense debates started between the proponents of maritime and continental strategies, evident from the quote below:-

“If the Navy is not supreme, no Army, however large, is of slightest use. It is not invasion we have to fear if our Navy is beaten; it is starvation.”

(Admiral John Fisher in 1904)

This laid foundation for military tactics during WW – I, where the concept of convoy operations, blockade and use of submarine for commerce raiding were formulated [6] . The era of steam influenced WW-II tactics and was characterized by employment of the German’s wolf pack tactics, commerce raiding and convoy operations for protection of SLOC. Later in 1950, the invention of gas turbine engines for surface ships by the Europeans added high speed maneuvers during various types of operations.

However, this was not to last long, as Europe’s internal political and commercial rivalries soon saw them embroiled in two grueling world wars. The two wars saw all conceivable naval actions – sea control, sea denial, blockade, amphibious operations, sea interdictions, decisive battles, attrition warfare etc. The advent of Radar, Aircraft and Submarine gave three new dimensions to the naval warfare. The steam age ended and the nuclear age began with the first use of nuclear weapons in 1945, followed by nuclear submarines and nuclear propelled aircraft carriers and cruisers in 1960s [7] , which outperformed the conventional submarines and ships at sea with improved speed and endurance. The unusual destructive capacity of nuclear powered platforms equipped with strategic weapons changed the cause of wars and state power equation. Both US and Russian Navies adopted strategic deterrence tactics, use of naval blockade and conduct of joint operations became general practice.

Maritime and Naval Strategies

The Oceans have been historically the arenas for contest between maritime powers. The great wars fought by Romans, Greek, Arabs, Turks and lately by European nations and by America, are the living examples of ever growing prominence of seas for the survival and prosperity of nations and power projection by their navies, air powers and land forces. The vital use of the sea throughout the history, undoubtedly, has been its use as the most cost effective highway to carry trade across the continents. Consequently, most of the world’s trade by volume and weight is conducted through sea. However, in times of crisis or war the mercantile marine becomes a highly vulnerable target. Sea blockade / embargo is a logical consequence to strangle the enemy economically thus undermining its war waging potential. The severance or disruption of Sea Lines of Communication leads to collapse of economy, national morale and armed force’s capacity to pursue war. Nations mindful of the prosperity attached with seas has also embraced the notion of safety and security of sea routes in their overall scheme of policy formulation. The need of safety and security of sea trade, propelled requirement of Maritime as well as Naval Strategies, which surfaced almost concurrently. Further discourse on maritime strategy is only possible after clearing the conceptual fog surrounding the concept of Maritime & Naval Strategies.

The terms Maritime Strategy and Naval Strategy are often used synonymously, though there is a subtle difference between the two. In order to set the stage for proper comprehension of the evolution of Maritime Strategy and Employment of Naval Power, various terms are explained below; concepts and definitions applicable in past and contemporary strategic thoughts will, however, have been discussed in later part of the dissertation. The term Maritime is broadly used for everything that is directly or indirectly related to sea. The important maritime components, which together form Maritime Power or Sea Power of a nation are as follows:-

EEZ, Sea based Economic Resources.

Ports and Harbours.

Mercantile Marine and Fishing Fleet.

Maritime Industry and Coastal Infrastructure.

Naval Forces.

Maritime Strategy. The Maritime Strategy is the science and art of developing and employing all elements of maritime potential of a state. It is the planned and concentrated application of all political, economic, military, technological and intellectual resources of a nation to secure and implement national goals in the maritime sector on a long-term basis. In essence, Maritime Strategy governs the development, protection, distribution and best application of maritime resources in order to draw maximum economic befit for the nation. Maritime Strategy is unique, as it encompasses both economic and military aspects and the term is broadly used for everything that is directly or indirectly related to sea.

Naval Strategy. On the other hand, the strategy that governs development, deployment and employment of naval forces to protect country’s sea frontiers, national political, economic and military interests at sea while denying same to the enemy is referred to as Naval Strategy. The term naval forces signify the total sum of their Surface ships with embarked aircrafts and land forces, submarines and air assets in support role, which are important pillars of Maritime as well as Naval Strategy.

Linkage between Maritime and Naval Strategies

Alfred Thayer Mahan is credited with convincing US government that the key to achieving its strategic goals is through the influence of Sea Power. Mahan’s definition of “Sea Power” involved six broad strategic elements including, Geographical Position, Physical Conformation, Extent of Territory, Number of Population, National Character and Character of the Government. The basic principles of Mahan’s maritime strategy were instrumental in evolution of the United States Navy and shaped its operations across two World Wars, the Cold War, and violent peace of the 20th and 21st centuries. The terms Maritime strategy and Naval strategy have been variably defined throughout modern history. Following quotes are relevant in this regard:-

Sir Julian Corbett, writing in 1911, defined Maritime strategy as “the principles which govern a war in which the sea is a substantial factor” [8] . Naval strategy is but that part of it, which determines the movements of the fleet when maritime strategy has determined what part the fleet must play in relation to the action of land forces”.

In 1986, Admiral James D Watkins, USN, stated, “The goal of overall Maritime strategy is to use maritime power, in conjunction with the efforts of our sister services and forces of our allies, to bring about war termination on favorable terms”.

Definition of Naval strategy by Mahan states, “In war the common sense of some, and the genius of others, sees and properly applies means to ends; and Naval Strategy, like naval tactics, is simply the proper use of means to attain ends”.

Keeping the discussion in context, it can be safely concluded that there is considerable interlining between the two, because Naval Strategy is designed to protect maritime interests of the state in peace and war. Moreover, it has the potential to support broad national objectives, particularly in the foreign policy. In the context of maritime affairs, naval forces safeguard the elements, which are lucrative and open to dispute because conflicts over the riches of the sea are bound to arise. Use of the phrase maritime strategy, in most of the western strategic writings, is primarily warfare oriented. The inter-linkage of Naval and Maritime strategies under overall National Policies has been graphically explained below:-

Mahan & Corbett’s Philosophies

The concept of Sea Power and Maritime Strategy contributed to emergence of great power blocs [9] . In 19th century, after the French fleet was annihilated at Trafalgar in 1805, Great Britain was the only naval power in the world. It was the century in which Britannia ruled the waves, her power was so overwhelming that no nation or combination of nations could contest her authority. The United States, Japan, Germany and the erstwhile Soviet Union have all sought to gain influence on and in consequence over the seas and today, the relevance of sea power is enduring. History has thus demonstrated that he who controls the sea can influence, though not totally, what goes on land. In short, the study of the theory of sea power is as valid today as it was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the two classical theorists and the founding fathers of naval strategy, the American Alfred Thayer Mahan and the Briton Sir Julian Stafford Corbett were laying down the principles of Maritime Strategy. In that age, sea power constituted the major means of controlling the destiny of a nation’s activities as well as that of her rivals overseas. Yet these two strategists and historians of sea power laboured to convince others of the value and utility of a nation- state possessing a sea-going capability that could fulfill and meet its national objectives in time of war. And that the military use of sea would determine the outcome of the dramatic and dangerous shift in imbalances in world politics. It was Alfred Thayer Mahan who pointed out the role of sea power in wartime national policy. Likewise, Sir Julian Corbett, a lawyer turned naval historian and a civilian professor in RN war college was first to provide a more complete theoretical statement of the principles for establishing control of the sea in wartime [10] . Just as there were conflicting theories on land warfare, there were conflicting thoughts on naval warfare also. Maritime strategy has evolved in much the same manner as land warfare. Like Jomini and Clausewitz, Mahan and Corbett agreed on a central theme. Their differences are much the same as those of Jomini and Clausewitz. To a degree, Jomini influenced Mahan while Clausewitz was held in high esteem by Corbett. Let us analyze their views on the subject and influence on the history:-

Thoughts of Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840 – 1914). Towards the end of 19th century, many American naval thinkers were criticizing the century old US tradition of coastal defence and commerce raiding. Mahan, who had joined navy against the wishes of his father (an Army Officer), produced his famous book “Influence of Sea Power upon History”. The book became so popular that it was translated into German and Japanese languages and used for implementing their maritime strategies. Mahan was primarily a Jominian, his ideas were based on scientific historical analysis of the rise of Britain to global colonial and imperial prominence. He then applied these ideas to the United States. His work explained how Britain acquired global leadership and how France fell from power during napoleon’s era. Mahan had analyzed Britain’s greatness as a global power and deduced that, “Greatness and strength are the product of wealth, derived from sea and trade; navies facilitate and protect trade”. Mahan’s thesis stated that commerce was fundamental to maritime power, and that the best way to threaten and or defend it was to engage the enemy’s most powerful forces in decisive battle. Mahan was strong advocate of ‘Command of the Sea’ and against the concept of the self limiting notion of ‘Coastal defence.’ Mahan was conscious of the growing power of the United States and its almost unlimited resources and potential. In the context of quickly changing geopolitical realities for the United States, Mahan advocated for a large fleet of capital ships whose purpose would be to destroy the enemy battle fleet in a decisive fleet engagement (guerre d’escadre), thus achieving total command of the sea. He assumed that there was no foreign enemy capable of attacking Continental United States (CONUS) with a large land army and called on the United States to acquire key overseas possessions to act as coaling stations for America’s large fleet of capital ships. It was perhaps his influence that the US Navy eventually moved from a ‘Coastal Defence’ outfit to a level in Second World War, when Admiral Nimitz stated that “US Navy now possess control of the seas more absolute than ever possessed by the British”. The Admiral was probably referring to the D-day at Normandy, when the US Navy exercised classic Mahanian ‘Command of the Sea’ and was found spearheading an armada of about 6000 Ships and landing craft, supported by 11000 aircraft and 700,000 men, which resulted in delivering a final blow from the sea to the German occupation of France. It can be seen in the historical perspective that as the US Navy continued to improve, their wealth and great power status also improved, as enjoyed by Great Britain, when she commanded the seas. To summarize, Mahan:

Argued that mastery of the sea would fall to the nation, whose battle fleet of capital ships could defeat its opposite numbers in a decisive fleet engagement thus achieving total command of the sea.

Assumed there was no foreign enemy capable of attacking continental US with a large land army.

Called on the United States to acquire key overseas possessions to act as coaling stations for America’s large fleet of capital ships.

Mahan’s concepts of maritime strategy subsequently played a key role in the political framework of the United States, which evolved from a coastal to an oceanic, and then to a transoceanic power. His basic principles shaped the operations of United States Navy across two world wars, the Cold War, and violent peace of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Thoughts of Sir Julian Corbett (1854 – 1922). The next famous name among Maritime Strategists is Sir Julian Corbett and his book ‘Some principles of Maritime Strategy (1911) [11] . He and his writings are greatly influenced by Clausewitz. In fact he has applied Clausewitz theories in the maritime field and that is one of the reasons, he was greatly criticized by many die-hard naval officers. He somewhat linked maritime strategy to continental strategy and did not fancy seeking decisive battles and modified the notion of “Command of the Sea” to the rather restricted “Control of the Sea” concept, which is limited in both time and space. Corbett also draws an analogy with land warfare in that, land warfare cannot attain its ends by military victories alone. The destruction of enemy’s forces will not avail for certain, unless you have a sufficient reserve force to complete the occupation of his inland communications and principal points of distribution. This power is the real source for victory, the power to strangle the whole national life. It is not until done that a high spirited nation, whose whole heart is in the war, will consent to make good its will. It is precisely in the same way the Command at Sea works toward peace, though of course in far less coercive manner, against a continental state. By occupying her maritime communications and closing the points of distribution in which they terminate we destroy the national life afloat, and thereby check the vitality of that life ashore as far as one is dependent on the other. He further advocated, “Success will only come from achievement of the right balance and appropriate use of armies and navies. The most fruitful use of maritime power is in limited wars”. Corbett’s theme is the soul of today’s drive towards Joint Warfare and an increased integration among the land, air and naval forces so as to have a synergetic effect on the opposing forces. The theme was effectively vindicated in Falklands war of 1982, when an appropriate balance and timely application of Maritime and Land forces in a synchronized campaign resulted in a victory for the British over Argentineans. More recently in Gulf War, US naval & integrated air component along with USAF were applied in synchronized mode to cripple Iraqi air defences prior mounting Land Campaign.

Comparative Analysis of Mahan and Corbett

The comparative analysis [12] reveals following:-

Maritime Sea Power. Mahan’s and Corbett’s greatest theoretical contribution was in providing a coherent framework for naval strategists to think about maritime strategy. Their theories made an unequivocal connection between utility of the sea and the broader national and political prerogatives. Mahan in particular expounded that dominance at sea from the historical perspective has always accrued prosperity and power to a nation. He argued that sea power, comprising a powerful fleet to acquire colonies and secure markets, and a strong commerce will lead to increased wealth, national strength, and consequently increased capacity to house a larger population. In this connection, he noted six elements that would confer an enormous advantage on a nation; geographical position, physical conformation or seaboard, extent of territory, population size, national character and character of government. By defining these basic components of power which would give countries an overpowering power on the sea and hence national greatness, Mahan propounded a generalized theory of power politics. Similarly, Corbett stressed the useful nature of the maritime dimension in supporting the primacy of politics. Unlike Mahan who believed in an absolute dominance of the sea, Corbett saw the sea merely as a means to serve a higher end. He acknowledged that military is only one option in dealing with an adversarial situation, and even if war is resorted to, it may itself be limited by contingent. A corollary to this is Corbett’s belief that the core of a war is really about competing economic strengths – not so much in military power – and that crippling the enemy’s finances may in fact lead to his demise more expeditiously. Towards this end, the navy, Corbett stressed, is but a part of a maritime strategy whose efficacy lies in its instrumentality – together with other means – to achieve political ends.

Object of Naval Warfare. Both Mahan and Corbett differed on the object of warfare. In that for Mahan the object of naval warfare was to seek out and destroy enemy’s main force. In contrast, the object of naval warfare for Corbett was the control of maritime communications, whether for commercial or military purposes.

Command of Sea. Both theorists were absorbed with the command of the sea. Mahan argued that this should be unequivocal, absolute and spanned a “great common” to shut the enemy from their shores. To achieve this goal, he emphasized the need for the acquisition of a superior fleet of armoured battle ships, or capital ships, to seek out and annihilate the enemy’s fighting fleet. In other words, the decisive battle at sea should be the main focus of the navy. This theme is found clearly emanating in the Japanese Imperial fleet’s action on the morning of 7 Dec 1941, when it tried to annihilate the US fleet in Pearl harbour. Having achieved tactical victory and making strategic error, the Japanese continued to harp on the same theme. To Admiral Yamamoto, there was only one solution; a quick, decisive victory before America got rolling. If he could crush the weakened US fleet especially carriers missed at Pearl Harbour, he would have controlled the Pacific completely. Then just possibly U.S. might settle for a peace favourable to Japan. In the run-up to achieve this Japanese passion, ensued the great carrier battles of the World War II i.e. battle of the Coral Sea (May 1942) and battle of Midway (June 1942). Whereas the luck favoured Americans in Pearl Harbor (where the US fuel dumps and ship repair facilities escaped destruction) and Japanese at the Coral Sea (only one Japanese carrier was lost), the Midway proved to be a death ground for the Imperial Japanese fleet. In a ‘decisive battle at sea’ as professed by Mahan, the Japanese fleet lost 9 capital ships, including four carriers, which broke their back and the Japanese Navy was never again able to challenge the US Navy in the Pacific theater. In contrast to Mahan, Corbett on the other hand stressed that there will always be imponderables in naval warfare, or what he called “friction at sea”. His conception of the “working control of the sea” to merely secure communications and a safe passage through it underscored this perceived vulnerability. Command of the sea would, at best, be relative and local, not absolute. The allied tactics of resorting to convoy thus avoiding the threat of U-boats in the battle of Atlantic was a manifestation of this theme where the emphasis was on avoiding the concentration of enemy U-boats operating in Wolf-Packs and maintaining the vital Sea Lines of Communications between Mainland US and the Britain.

Blockade. Both Mahan and Corbett agreed on the central theme of blockade, to the extent that it does not only provide immunity to the superior side’s territorial possession and shipping, but also enables its superiority felt as part of planned strategy. Mahan, however, preferred destructions of enemy forces over blockade, which is done as a last resort when enemy is avoiding a battle. Here, Corbett differed from Mahan’s somewhat determined approach. He moved away from the sanctity of the decisive battle to also stress on the importance of coercive protection and the use of blockade. Decisive engagement, he added, may not be necessary so long as the enemy was kept at bay, in the port, as a “fleet-in-being”. Besides, Corbett believed that decisive battle was difficult to orchestrate, as an inferior enemy would most likely not accept the engagement unless there was no alternative, if the objective of maintaining communications could be achieved without battle then there was no reason to seek battle for its own sake.

Summary. To Summarize, Mahan and Corbett leads to at least following:-

Security of seas remains the key to prosperity of countries for

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