Close this search box.

Evolution of Maritime Strategy Part – II

Evolution of Maritime Strategy Part – II:   In the meanwhile, Russia and Turkey were at war. On November 30, 1853, a Russian squadron of ten vessels steamed into the Black Sea port of Sinop, where a Turkish fleet of twelve lay at anchor. The Russian ships were equipped with the gun which Henri Joseph Paixhans of the French Army devised in 1819 to fire an explosive shell horizontally and which, since 1822, he had enthusiastically been promoting for shipboard use. What took place was not a fight but a massacre; solid shot wooden ships could stomach as it punctured neat, patchable holes but bursting shells tore great, gaping gashes; when the Russians left after two hours only one Turkish craft was afloat.

The French, reacting first, summoned the blacksmiths to the rescue and scrambled to produce some ironclad, steam-driven floating batteries, and England followed suit. These did a good job in the Crimean War against Russian shore batteries, whose shells merely dented the iron overcoats that France followed up with armored men-of-war and in 1859 got out a seagoing ship, La Gloire, a wooden frigate swathed in a 4 inch coat of wrought iron armor.

Sinop Roads hadn’t scared the British Admiralty into anything more than floating batteries, but La Gloire did; the very next year England had an ironclad of her own in the water, the Warrior, 420 feet over-all and fifty-eight feet wide, with a broadside of twenty-eight seven-inch guns. La Gloire was merely a wooden ship covered with armor; the Warrior pointed to the future, for she was an armored iron ship; her plates were protected along the broadside by a swath of tough teak eighteen inches thick covered with a 2-inch crust of iron.

Introduction of Turret

Next and important development in warship design was turret mounted guns. All designers went in for a central battery instead of a broadside i.e. bunched the guns in an armored stronghold amidships, but that’s as far as the resemblances went. The British had some ships with the big guns along the sides of a large armored box, some that were like oversize monitors with a turret at either end of an armored redoubt and some with a short and massively armored box mounting one turret to port and one to starboard. The French put the big guns on top of armored tubes, protecting the crews with metal shields that reached up to the barrels. The Italians had their system, the Russians theirs.

It was again Ericson who brought the idea to practice for the first time onboard a US ironclad, the Monitor in 1861-62.  For the next forty years or so, naval development muddled along in a curious fashion. Every navy had to go in for increasingly heavy armor, for guns were getting bigger and better; the muzzle-loading smoothbore was growing up into the breech-loading rifle. The Monitor’s five inches of iron was an eggshell compared with the two-foot girdle battleships wore no more than fifteen years later. A warship’s hull now had to carry thousands of tons of armor plate as well as the massive new cannon and still provide for the power plant and bunkers to drive all this dead weight through the water at a fair speed.

Finally, by the beginning of the 20th century, the naval architects realized that the most efficient arrangement for the guns was in turrets placed, whenever possible, over the centerline. The turrets themselves were mounted on top of cylindrical armored barbettes which enclosed and protected the mechanism for swiveling the turret, the ammunition hoist, and the like. In 1906 Britain set a basic pattern with her Dreadnought which, abandoning secondary batteries almost completely and relied on a main battery of ten twelve-inch guns in turrets.

Then, in 1909, the United States, launched the battleship Michigan, whose designers not only put all the turrets, each mounting two twelve-inch guns, along the centerline but set them in tiered pairs, i.e., with one behind and slightly higher so that its guns could shoot over the other’s and all guns could bear on either broad side; the Michigan had two fewer guns than the Dreadnought and was two thousand tons less in displacement, yet was her match in a fight, thanks to the super firing turrets. All other navies quickly adopted the system and it has remained in use ever since. The Michigan was the last step, as it were. All that was left was to perfect and increase, and this was done so effectively that, by World War II, the United States, for example, was able to send into battle giants which had a displacement of forty-five thousand tons, mounted nine sixteen-inch guns and yet were able to dash at the incredible speed of thirty-one knots.

New Dimensions and Evolution of Maritime Strategy

A considerable change has happened since then. Inventions such as submarines, aircraft, aircraft carriers, amphibious ships, helicopters, stealth design, munitions improvements, missile technology, hard and soft kill systems, autonomous systems, satellites, net centric capabilities, cyber capabilities and above all nuclear capabilities etc. Threat has also evolved and now includes non-state actors, cyber criminals, and organized crime syndicates, nation states adopting more and more hybrid conflict mechanisms. However, the aspects that underline the maritime strategy today more or less remain the same.

Evolution of Maritime Strategy can trace its genesis first in building of boats than evolution of naval power and later in evolution of sea or maritime power. The evolution of maritime strategy has some underlying aspects. First is need that uses sea as a resource as well as medium of transport most extensively for trade. Second is knowledge, as humans experimented and gained knowledge their sea faring capability enhanced. Third is geography, sea faring culture has been greatly influenced by geography. Fourth is technological influence not alone in terms of materials, designs, weaponry but also tools available and sciences involved as well as techniques. Fifth is the need to protect one’s possessions. Sixth, is to enhance possessions. Amalgamation of these aspects transformed maritime strategy from ancient times to modern era, however, principles remained same.

As the developments took place in the naval as well as other maritime avenues such as trade and ability to sustain operations at far flung areas; the naval thought also developed. Then came Mahan. The Influence of Sea Power upon History 1660–1783, his most famous book, was published in 1890. For him, seapower revolved around a simple connection. Trade produces wealth that leads to maritime strength. Naval strength protects trade, and in turn is dependent on geography (access to sea routes, etc.), physical conformation (ports, etc.), extent of territory i.e. coastline, population and character of the people as well as character of government.

Naval strength was most obviously expressed by the number of battleships and how effectively they were deployed against an opponent. There was, in many of Mahan’s books, a strong focus on battle between concentrations of not merely on the quality of the ships present, however, but on training, morale, the effectiveness of command, tactical disposition (in particular, skill in pitting all of your force against a portion of the opponent’s) and, above all, on an offensive spirit; the desire to close and destroy.

It is because of Mahan’s emphasis on the destruction of the adversary’s main battle force that he is sometimes likened to Clausewitz, who said much the same about the conduct of battle on land when he talks about the concept of center of gravity and enemy forces as the main objective. Despite widely believed idea that Mahan was a proponent of Decisive Battle, an idea which Japanese took too literally to their peril in World War II. Mahan was perfectly willing to concede that battle was not always necessary.

The opponent could well be so strategically cowed by superior forces that battles would be few and far between. It might well be that naval supremacy appears only in the background; striking open blows at rare intervals. Mahan’s emphasis on naval supremacy did not mean that smaller fleets were powerless. In fact, he wrote, “It is not necessary to have a navy equal to the greatest, in order to ensure that sense of fear which deters a rival from war, or handicaps a rival from war; a much smaller force, favorably placed, produces an effect far beyond its proportionate numbers”. For him, simply relying on brute force was not enough; “war is a business to which actual fighting is incidental. As in all businesses, the true aim is the best results at the least cost”.

Naval supremacy conferred by such means made the commercial blockade possible; this was the only real way by which the enemy’s trade could be choked off and decisive strategic effects achieved. It was one of the truest expressions of seapower. The kind of ideas that Mahan expressed caused the United States to discard its nineteenth century emphasis on coastal defence and commerce raiding and instead to embark on the acquisition of a first-rate battle fleet eventually able to take on all comers. Many other nations followed suit, most notably in Bismarck’s Germany and in Japan. Mahan although has explained his attributes for seapower and naval strength, however, many of those factors now are part of modern maritime strategy with the naval component a contributor to overall maritime strategy of a nation.

Sir Julian Corbett was the first maritime theorist who seriously thought about naval strategy’s direct contribution to war on land. In his study on maritime strategy, Corbett distinguished between what he called a “general strategy” or “grand strategy” and a “limited strategy.” General strategy dealt with the needs of war, including international relations and economic function. On the other hand, a limited strategy dealt with the details involved in managing the war. In addition, he distinguished between a maritime strategy and the actions of the navy.

In Corbett’s view, the principal concern of a maritime strategy is to set the reciprocal relations of the army and fleet in a war plan. Corbett argued that a naval strategy is only the part that sets the movement of the navy, whereas a maritime strategy sets out the role the navy must play in relation to the activities of the ground forces. Corbett insisted that the goal of naval combat must always be to retain command over the sea, which, in his view, meant controlling the international trading lanes for commercial or military purposes.

This constitutes maritime influence. Command of the sea is achieved by defending against enemy invasion, attack and defense of sea trade, and cooperation with the military. Corbett put the navy in the central role of establishing command of the sea. According to Corbett, command of the sea does not mean conquering the territory like it does on land. In essence, his interpretation is that one has the ability to move at sea unhindered, or without significant resistance, and at the same time, to prevent the enemy from doing the same. In other words, one has the ability to obtain a command of the sea and to consolidate control in the naval arena, in which a state conducts combat during wartime, or which the state secures during peacetime and periods of calm.

He wrote that it would be a mistake to believe that if one side loses command of the sea, then it would automatically fall into the hands of the other side. In his view, the most common situation of war at sea is when no side has full command and control of the sea. In defining methods of disputing command, he also writes that “power too weak to win command by offensive operations may yet succeed in holding the command in dispute by assuming the general defensive attitude. He further writes, “For a maritime power, a naval defensive means nothing but keeping the fleet actively in being – not merely in existence but in active and vigorous life,” for him it is not a method of defence against invasion but “to express defence against any kind of maritime attack; whether against territory or sea communication”.

In the aftermath of World War I, the term command of the sea was replaced in the West by the term Sea Control. The use of the term sea control was a result of the gradual realization that the new technological advances, specifically mines, torpedoes, submarines, and aircraft, made it difficult, even for the stronger navy, to obtain full command of the sea for any extended time over a large part of the theater.

The term sea control more accurately conveys the reality that in a conflict between two strong opponents at sea, it is not possible, except in the most limited sense, to completely control the seas for one’s use or to completely deny their use to an opponent. It essentially means the ability of one’s fleet to operate with a high degree of freedom in a sea or ocean area, but only for a limited time. Mahan and Corbett are considered to belong to Blue Water or maritime mindset.

Continental Mindset

Now let us see what the other school of thought, the continental mindset says. Dr Kaplan in his book ‘Revenge of Geography’ states that Sir Halford J. Mackinder, the father of modern-day geopolitics, is famous not for a book, but for a single article, “The Geographical Pivot of History,” published in the April 1904 issue of The Geographical Journal in London.

In power-political terms his message is clear, “sea power alone, if it is not based on great industry, and has a great industry behind it, is too weak for offense to really maintain itself in the world struggle… both the sea and the railway are going in the future… to be supplemented by the air as a means of locomotion, and when we come to that… the successful powers will be those who have the greatest industrial base. It will not matter whether they are in the center of a continent or on an island; those people who have the industrial power and the power of invention and science will be able to defeat all others”. Similar predictions were made earlier as well. For instance as early as 1825, de Tocqueville a French political philosopher expressed predictions about USA and Russia on similar factors. Mackinder’s assertion implies that “Sea power itself was waning in relation to land power”.

The principal representatives of the Continental School were French Admiral Raoul Castex (1878–1968) and German Admiral Wolfgang Wegener (1875–1956). Castex borrowed Mahan’s historical technique about the centrality of sea power and the supremacy of battle ships. At the same time, unlike Mahan, his work focused on strategy as a whole, not just maritime strategy. In Castex’s view, a wide-ranging strategy unites the activities of armies and navies every time the two types of forces must work together.

Like Mahan and Corbett before him, Castex believed that the main goal of a maritime strategy is to obtain or at least share control of the sea. Controlling international trading lanes is one of the most important elements, since it provides the ability to defend the coastline. In addition, Castex identified the great economic importance of acquiring control of international trade to facilitate the ongoing function of the nation’s trade activities and industries. In his view, the strategic command of one side over the sea often necessitates a decision to attack or even conquer an enemy coast.

Castex also argued that the mistake in creating a separate naval doctrine is based on the belief that a navy’s existence is sufficient to create deterrence, and that it will necessarily silence the enemy. He may have been the first theorist to believe in the possibility of using planes against the enemy’s sea trade and exports. As many air power proponents had asserted in the early days of development of air power. Unlike Mahan, but similar to Corbett, Castex fully believed in the need to create close cooperation between the navy and army; all must be subordinate to the army, since its success is a reflection of the success of the general strategy.

Wegener was the most important twentieth century interwar German maritime strategist. He fully believed that Germany’s policy of building a large navy without the promise of free access to the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean was a useless endeavor. Wegener was influenced by Clausewitz. Wegener emphasized that a sea battle is significant to war only if it removes obstacles blocking one side from reaching its strategic goal. He explained that war at sea is composed of a ceremonial and a strategic component.

The ceremonial component is action, while the strategic component is the effect. If the strategic goal is faulty, the battle stops being a means and turns into an end goal in itself. Wegener argued that a maritime strategy is needed when there is a sea battle; it is supposed to reach a target of some kind, and not be a goal in and of itself. In his view, a maritime strategy is tied to the formation of the coastline; in other words, geography is important in the development of a maritime strategy.

According to his argument, the main purpose of the controlling power with a strategic stance is to realize its command of the sea, in other words, control of the trade routes. Wegener wrote that the maritime action plan is dependent only on a strategic location and not on the relative points of strength of the navy. Irrespective of mutual power, strategic location, and action plans, the ultimate goal of a strategic sea attack is to obtain equality in geographic positions. He emphasized the need to hold a geostrategic position that is comfortable for creating a successful maritime strategy.

Entry of Gorshkov

Russian Admiral Sergey Gorshkov thoughts on maritime strategy are known to be the major influence on US maritime and naval strategies. “Navies in War and Peace,” by Admiral of the Fleet Sergey Gorshkov, Commander in Chief of the Soviet Navy, appeared in 11 installments in the journal Morskoi sbomik (Naval Digest) in 1972 and 1973.

In his introduction Admiral Gorshkov identifies two principal subjects of discussion; the role and place of navies within the system of component branches of the armed forces and the dialectical relationship between the development of naval forces and the goals of the state policies they were intended to serve. He states that his objective in conducting this examination of “the employment of various branches of armed forces in time of war or in peacetime” is to “determine the trends and principles of change” in “the role and place of navies in wars,” and “navies’ employment in peacetime as instruments of state policy”.

His argument contains five fundamental theses. First, given the increasing importance of the oceans as an arena of potential military conflict, and the navy’s special military features, the wartime importance of the navy is increasing. Although, in a joint environment this increased importance does not give the navy a unique position within the armed forces.

Second, despite the introduction of nuclear weapons and the advent of detente, the armed forces have not lost their historic importance as instruments of state policy in either wartime or peacetime rather the political influence of demonstrably superior military potential has increased. Third, given the increasing economic and hence political importance of the oceans, and the navy’s special political features, the peacetime utility and importance of the navy are increasing, which gives it a unique position compared to the other branches of the armed forces as an instrument of foreign policy. It can be employed in peacetime for demonstrating the economic and military power of the state beyond its borders; it is the only branch of the armed forces capable of protecting the state’s over-seas interests.

Fourth, the structures of armed forces and the roles and places of their component branches can and do change. Such changes are situation dependent, can occur in peacetime as well as in the course of war, but have limits e.g., maritime states must have navies as well as armies; and if they are to achieve and maintain great power status, their navies must be commensurate with the full range of their interests.

Lastly, there is a necessary link between the acquisition and maintenance of armed forces and the goals of the state policies they are intended to serve. In order to achieve those goals, command echelons must have a shared understanding of the relative capabilities and optimal modes of employment of each branch of the armed forces.

His assertions are simple, exploitation of the sea, and seapower in all of its forms are necessary to achieve and maintain Great Power status, and consequently have always been and will always be important to maritime states. Large, modern and balanced naval forces are the sine qua non of effective seapower and seapower can be used in peacetime as well as in wartime to implement state policy. Gorshkov’s thoughts although heavily influenced towards naval strategy are closer to the maritime strategy as a whole, especially when he talks about “seapower in all its forms”.

Seapower and Deterrence

Naval writers argue that the strength at sea is the best preserver of peace and guarantee of national security. Strength, capacity to prevail or at least to give a sufficient account of oneself; is the main constituent of deterrence. It doesn’t imply that enemy will fear defeat, but is it useful in terms of cost and benefit. An estimate of opponent’s determination is an essential part of this calculation. For this reason, many analysts refer to the “seamless web” of deterrence, so as not to show any weakness in any aspect that may make one vulnerable; like a chain, deterrence can only serve its purpose, if all links are securely connected.

This seamless web covers both peacetimes, less then perfect peace and wartime. Maritime deterrence is therefore not a discrete component of maritime strategy; it comes merely as a preventive variant of the traditional functions of navies. Thus, concentrating on combative function will take care of the deterrent function. But this is not so evident when it comes to nuclear end of spectrum.

The task of nuclear forces in the maritime domain is distinctly different. It is solely focused on nuclear deterrence alone. That is why this is carried out by specialized platforms and they do not have any direct effect on war at sea, unless a nuclear exchange happens. According to Gorshkov, there were, and remain, four basic reasons for putting such strategic nuclear forces to sea; it increases reach, since SSBNs can use the sea to approach their target more closely; it conceals the missiles from pre-emptive attack and reduces the incentive to use them early in a conflict.

This may help stabilize a dangerous situation. Moreover, it means that however skillful the aggressor’s attack, he will still be subject to devastating retaliation. This was the whole basis of ‘mutual assured destruction’  ‘a most important factor deterring his nuclear attack’. Attacks can be launched from different directions, complicating the enemy’s protective task. Putting such forces at sea reduces the enemy’s incentives to launching disarming strikes against the homeland with all the horrifying death and destruction that would cause i.e. preemptive strike would be deterred.

Deterrence is dependent on three requirements. First is communication. Clear and careful communication is necessary to underscore what action or actions of adversary are unacceptable. Second is capability. The deterrer requires the capacity to impose unacceptable costs relative to possible gains his opponent can hope to gain. This assumes some rationality in thought and behavior of the party being deterred. Last is credibility. For effective deterrence, the opponent must be made aware that capability will actually be used to impose unacceptable cost.

In other words, it is necessary to influence the adversary’s expectations. Deterrence is inherent part of all militaries and has been a characteristic feature in inter-state relations. So, what has changed when we talk about nuclear forces and strategic deterrence? The answer is that war prevention has by and large superseded victory during hostilities as the main objective of the nuclear powers.

Alternate Maritime Strategies

Up till now we have discussed evolution of maritime strategy, highly influenced by naval strategy, focusing on the purpose of naval forces in terms of command of the sea, sea control, sea denial, navy and army relationships and strategic deterrence. Let us now take our discussion to what Geoffrey Till terms as “alternate visions in maritime strategy”.

First is “War on commerce/guerre de course theory”. The immediate intellectual origin of this movement was Baron Richard Grivel’s De La Guerre Maritime (1869). Grivel contended that the classical approaches of maritime strategy were inappropriate measures for France to take against Britain. Instead, ‘commercial war, the most economical for the poorest fleet, is at the same time the one most proper to restore peace, since it strikes directly at the very source of the prosperity of the enemy’.

These ideals were expanded and publicized from 1874 onwards by Admiral Theophile Aube and journalist Gabriel Charmes amongst others. Their influence peaked in 1886 when Admiral Aube became Minister of Marine. He immediately suspended France’s battleship construction program, built a naval base at Bizerte, boosted France’s research and development efforts in submarines and began building cruisers and torpedo boats at a high rate.

The French campaign against British commerce in the wars of Louis XIV, the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars showed that this was an effective means of attacking the adversary’s vital interest especially for a weaker fleet. American Civil War also demonstrated its usefulness on a smaller scale. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century technology appeared finally to confirm the promise of this approach. Torpedoes, mines and submarines all seemed to make the major surface warship more vulnerable, and so to herald the end of the kind of maritime strategy that was based on big ships.

Strong enemy naval forces would be so concerned with their own security that their offensive potentiality would be much reduced, while that of the smaller ships would be correspondingly increased. The proposals offered were obviously not the solution to all problems but were nonetheless a bold and novel attempt to solve the historic problem of how best to use a inferior navy against a predominant maritime power. Because many countries have found themselves in a similar situation, these ideas have had considerable appeal at various times, especially German strategy in World War II.

For his part, Gorshkov’s discussion of the First and Second World Wars made clear how important it was to sever the enemy’s military communications at sea. Gorshkov was well aware of the West’s particular vulnerabilities in this respect; ‘The most zealous advocates of military adventures in the West ought to stop and think of their . . . greatly extended communication lines’, he warned. In more recent times, the potential vulnerability of military and normal shipping remains an issue.

During Desert Shield/Storm, for example, there was much concern about the possibility of a high seas attack on Coalition Forces enroute to the Gulf. The threat was in fact remote but the severe political consequences of a successful attack meant it was taken seriously. Moreover, the Iraqi missile attack on Al-Jubayl in that same conflict revealed the vulnerability of ships and military cargoes in their ports of receipt. More recently media reports suggest an ongoing grey-hybrid conflict between Iran and Israel, where number of merchant ships from both sides has come under attack. Further, impetus to vulnerability of major ships has emerged with the invention and integration of autonomous systems. Should naval strategy and for that matter maritime strategy forgo the requirements to maintain a fleet of surface ships? What are the lessons of Ukraine conflict so far?

Coastal defence has been another rather different emphasis in the development of thinking about maritime operations. Again, it has tended to be of particular interest to weaker and smaller navies. In the United States of the nineteenth century, for example, it found expression in the construction of a chain of coastal fortifications along the eastern seaboard, in the development of minefields and the construction of small warships maximized for coastal operation.

Mahan was perfectly content that the static coastal defence element of sea warfare complemented its mobile and offensive element, ‘one possessing what the other has not; and that the difference is fundamental, essential, unchangeable – not accidental or temporary’. If anything, with the impact of the new technology of the industrial age, this interest grew, in the United States and elsewhere. It even found expression in Britain; First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Jacky Fisher was at times much more concerned with the future prospects of ‘flotilla defence’. He was convinced that new technology in the shape of the submarine would make it impossible for hostile fleets to operate in comparatively narrow waters like the North Sea.

Accordingly, it would not be possible for anyone to blockade Britain, or invade it once such a flotilla defence was in place. Fisher sought to switch resources from the battle fleet to flotilla defence largely through submarines and aircraft. Hinged on similar strategy, Great Britain developed “Singapore Fortress” which relied heavily on twenty-five coastal defense guns, five of them were formidable 15-inch weapons just like the ones on the Battleships, all placed in reinforced concrete emplacements and all facing towards the sea sited to engage ships. Singapore had been built in ten years with an expenditure of sixty million pounds. It was a symbol of British strength in Far East, its defense absolutely essential for the British stature and yet it failed miserably because enemy came from the landward side rather then approaching from the open sea.

There were many in Russia who also argued that Command of the sea as a doctrine was not merely irrelevant for Soviet Russia; technology, it was claimed by the likes of A.P. Aleksandrov (Head of Department at the Naval War College), had made it obsolete. Aleksandrov challenged the whole notion of the command of the sea and argued for a much more localized defence of Soviet coasts against serious maritime attack using an integrated system of minefields, coastal artillery, submarines and motor torpedo boats. This called for a joint approach amongst the services and an overall command system that made use of the latest communications technology.

Something similar happened in China in the 1940s and 1950s when circumstances encouraged the development of a school of maritime thought that put all the emphasis on a large mosquito fleet (with army and air support) whose essential task was coastal defence.

The increase in the number of countries with significant maritime interests and the huge extension in the area of that responsibility brought about for many of them by the UNCLOS, together with certain developments in weapons technology have increased interest in this relatively more limited approach to maritime strategy.

According to Norwegian formulation of an accompanying theory, the coastal state’s approach to seapower will be characterized by a tendency to make the most of joint action and coastal topography in order to contest maritime access with stronger powers. It will aim at the deterrence of large-scale naval action through the infliction of punishment, rather than crudely attempting to defeat it. In essence all coastal states need to protect their interests, however, to go about that business is also dependent on number of factors especially the finances involved as well as nature of threat faced. Therefore, defence starts from the coast and graduates to oceans; strategy thus starts from Coastal defence strategy and graduates to Blue Water strategy.

Chinese Navy is apparently developing an interesting variant in sea denial thinking through adoption of a set of operational concepts variously described by others as Anti-Access and Area Denial (A2/AD) or sometimes counter-intervention strategies. Put briefly, the aspiration is to challenge external access to the waters within the first island chain and an adversary’s freedom of manoeuvre inside it. This aspiration does not in itself necessarily imply that the Chinese Navy itself can control those waters for its own purposes.

If it did, these ideas would after all be simply another form of sea-control operation. While the concept of sea denial focuses on the ‘sea area’, anti-access/ area denial focuses on sea area as well as combat potential and effectiveness. The range, precision and lethality of anti-ship cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and diesel submarines are being continuously improved. These capabilities can hold naval forces that are hundreds of miles from coast at risk; thereby degrading the ability of a naval force to deter and accomplish military objectives with minimal losses.

Once naval forces defeat or circumvent opposed transit and anti-access threats to enter a littoral, they can be increasingly exposed to an array of land-based air, naval, and ground weapons that can be extended seaward to degrade naval forces’ operational effectiveness. Area-denial weapons include submarines, fast attack craft, coastal defence cruise missiles, guided munitions and mines. Swarming attacks and layered defensive mechanism are part of such a strategy.

Other countries also demonstrate an interest in strategies of sea denial, posing challenges for those navies that emphasize the need for sea control and assured access. One such country frequently mentioned in the discourse is Iran, which may seek strategic advantage through using its forces and geographic position to deny access to the Gulf. Similar strategy also seems at play in the Baltic or Black seas or in the Eastern Mediterranean where other such A2/AD ‘bubbles’, most notably by Russia, are sometimes said to be developing.

Strategies discussed so far hinged upon state vs state issues. However, contemporary threat environment is laden with non-state actors and organized crime syndicates. Climate change, pollution, smuggling, piracy, IUU fishing, human trafficking, terrorist threats etc are becoming increasingly debated in maritime security threat spectrum. In addition, cyber threats are becoming pronounced and increasingly gaining attention worldwide. What is the strategy against such threats?

Integrated Strategy is the answer. This strategy hinges on common national and multi-national objectives and involves not only whole of government approach but also involves partnerships in maritime security realm. It deals with coordinated and cooperative response to threats in maritime domain and while it is being used in state vs state or state vs alliance strategy frameworks; however, for non-state threats it is by far a more useful strategy as non-state threats are generally transnational and are therefore a concern for majority of nations.

Maritime-Naval Strategy Linkage

As we have seen, maritime strategy is a broader concept, whereas, naval strategy is more related to military strategy. The question is how naval strategy or military strategy, where joint operations concept is fundamental, is linked to maritime strategy. The answer is in the analysis of sea power.

Seapower is the product of an amalgam of interconnected constituents that are difficult to tear apart. These constituents are attributes of countries that make it easier or harder for them to be strong at sea. If seapower is indeed to be defined as the capacity to influence the behavior of other people by what you do at or from the sea, then these attributes must be accepted as part of the mix. The broader conceptions of strategy outlined earlier imply that what a national government does to nurture these constituents of seapower should indeed be regarded as part of a well-rounded maritime strategy.

The fact that these constituents are constantly on the move, shifting and changing in accordance with a variety of social, economic, technological and political developments, however, raises the question of the extent to which governments can, or even should, seek to direct this process as a means of increasing their maritime potential. Answers to this question may reflect assumptions about the power of governments in general, especially in the social and economic realm.

Traditionally naval power has been based on navies’ inherent capabilities. Increasingly other sources of power, namely: Land power, airpower, joint and coalition operations, space and cyber space, lawfare contribute towards seapower. Other important technological developments that are likely to impact the sea power dynamics are Artificial Intelligence and automation. As automation and AI will enhance, the dependence of sea power in the peoples’ domain will likely be effected.

Therefore, smaller percentage of population in terms of seafaring culture and tradition will be able to exploit the technology to enhance the outcomes far greater then otherwise possible. It also implies that reliance on human resource in hardcore military jobs will also reduce as automated system will take over. In addition, technological advancements will make access to the technology far cheaper then previously possible effecting policy decisions at government level.

Another aspect is the pace at which technology is changing; with AI in play this cycle of change will continue to hamper developmental programs world wide. It will become extremely difficult to gauge the needs of future as the present itself will transform at a considerable pace. Hence, where to invest is a fundamental policy decision which will always have to face the greater element of risk.

Seapower thus is the cumulative result of naval as well as civilian maritime component. It includes military power at sea, merchant fleet, mariners, ports and infrastructure, ship building and repair, fisheries, natural resources at sea, ability to exploit natural resources, trade and access. It is amplified or curtailed by factors such as local security dynamics, legal regimes for business, support infrastructure, culture and tradition, sea dependence, strategic environment, skilled human resource, geography including extent of coast line etc.

Study of history and evolution of maritime thought informs us that security is required for business yet business leads and security follows. It implies that the development of naval strategy will mostly be subservient to development of maritime strategy as economics will dictate the importance of the need as well as availability of resources to establish and maintain military power at sea.

However, this is not the case always. Nations often are forced to balance the requirements for security first based on the specific security dynamics and strategic environment. Often, the change in strategic environment also forces changes in priorities. Policy itself can change altogether with change in government. Therefore, while seapower is the cumulative result of naval as well as civilian maritime component; both aspects though inter-related does not imply that to develop seapower, a nation should focus on any one first or both. Circumstances will dictate the final approach. Yet it will always be wise to focus on balance as far as the specific situation allows.

Note: More than 40 references have been used in this article. For academic use please consult via email.

About the Author.

Get our best news & expert tips right into your inbox!

Join over 10k subscribers

By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
Share this post:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *