As this week’s addition to the USNI Blog series in the run up to the release of LCDR BJ Armstrong’s book “21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era” we are republishing his article from the May issue of Proceedings. The call for sailors and Marines to become active participants in the debates of the 21st century has long been a rallying cry here at USNI. From Senior Chief Murphy’s “A Pseudo-Intellectual Wanna-be” in the March issue to the 2008 article “Read, Think, Write, and Publish” by ADM Jim Stavridis. While critical for the future of the Sea Services, it also applies to our brothers and sisters in arms, as illustrated by Jason Fritz at FP’s Best Defense Blog.
When the latest issue of Proceedings arrived in June 1906, Naval Institute members and the American people heard from a renowned global expert, a retired naval officer whose pen had been quiet for some months. His name was Alfred Thayer Mahan. His article, “Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea,” derived from the recent Russo-Japanese naval war lessons for U.S. fleet design and battleship construction. Just a few years away from Great Britain’s launch of HMS Dreadnought , which would revolutionize ship design by bringing speed together with an all-big-gun main battery, Mahan advocated for smaller and more numerous ships with mixed batteries of different calibers. As the leading naval expert, Mahan’s articles were voraciously read worldwide, and his analysis matched well with the “Big Navy” party line.
The U.S. Naval Institute, then as today, was a members’ organization. It didn’t exist for the sake of itself, but to share ideas and debate the future of the Sea Services. A naval arms race was developing in Europe; after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War, the nation stepped onto the global stage as a naval power. A year away from the Great White Fleet sailing around the world, the USNI members understood that their ideas, innovations, and wisdom mattered. Even though many considered Mahan the greatest living navalist and a strategic genius, he was not impervious to challenges from Naval Institute members.
In the December issue of Proceedings, a member responded to Mahan’s assertions. The article didn’t come from a civilian contractor who was building the next set of battleships, or from an academic expert who made his living advising politicians. The response came from an upstart lieutenant commander on staff duty in Washington, D.C. Then-Commander Mahan had once written him up for being disorderly at the Naval Academy as a first-class midshipman. Lieutenant Commander William Sims’ article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” dissected and refuted Mahan’s arguments. He argued that “if we are to remain a world power,” the large, fast, heavily gunned battleship was the future of naval warfare.
President Theodore Roosevelt read with great interest the exchange between the renowned, retired officer and the active-duty staff officer. The articles were republished in public-affairs magazines and entered into the record during debate on the floor of the Senate. The names of two great officers and naval thinkers make the story interesting, but it was the mission and membership of the Naval Institute that made it possible. The exchange didn’t happen in the pages of The Atlantic or Harper’s. It happened in Proceedings. Both men were USNI members and understood that ensuring the future of their Navy required discussion, debate, and participation of the membership.
In the case of battleship design, the lieutenant commander won the debate. After studying the response and new information about the Pacific battles, Mahan admitted that his argument didn’t stand up. Nevertheless, his expertise and experience as a retired naval officer-turned-civilian expert was central to the development of the future Fleet, as was his willingness to debate an upstart like Sims. The Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought before the United States could put its first large, fast, heavily gunned battleship to sea. But we weren’t far behind, because the ideas had already been debated in Proceedings.
In the first decade of the 1900s, the United States was fighting a counterinsurgency war in the Philippines. An Asian power, the Empire of Japan, was rising to become a major economic and military force, rapidly building up its navy. USNI members faced shifting alliances and adversaries, new technologies, tactical innovation, and globalized economics. These challenges should sound familiar today. We need the expertise and experience of our senior members to keep us from repeating past mistakes. We also require the exciting and innovative ideas of new, younger members, junior officers and enlisted personnel, to propel the discussion and debate forward.
The pages of Proceedings (and USNI Blog!) need your well-developed research, thoughtful articles, and best ideas to ensure that we continue the vital debate in the 21st century. To provide an independent forum to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and national defense, we must first have those who dare to read, think, speak, and write. The U.S. Naval Institute is a members’ organization—help us continue the debate!
As this week’s addition to the USNI Blog series in the run up to the release of LCDR BJ Armstrong’s book “21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era” we are republishing this post from USNI NEWS. First published July 7th of last year, it remains a relevant discussion today. The potential for negative impacts from globalization was the subject of ADM James Stavridis’s oped “The Dark Side of Globalization” in the Washington Post on Sunday, and it reminds us of the dangers that Mahan saw in an interconnected world.
“It seems demonstrable, therefore, that as commerce is the engrossing and predominant interest of the world to day… The instrument for the maintenance of policy directed upon these objects is the Navy.”
— CAPT Alfred Thayer Mahan
Much of today’s discussion of international relations is based around the core idea that globalization has radically changed the political landscape of the world. Today’s thinkers, writers, and strategists tell us that because the world is flat, and we are closer to each other than ever before, we are in uncharted seas. In 2011 LCDR Matt Harper suggested in an award winning article in the pages of Proceedings that the economic ties between China and the United States, the “WALMART factor,” made military conflict almost impossible. Recently the discussion has once again been taken up in the pages of Proceedings. In the April issue LCDR Rachel Gosnell and 2LT Michael Orzetti wrote a piece suggesting that great power conflict was still something that should be planned for in the twenty-first century. LT Doug Robb responded in May with his Now Hear This…, “Why the Age of Great Power Conflict is Over.” He made a familiar case familiar to readers of the writing of Tom Friedman today or the idealism of Norman Angell, early in the last century.
Both articles suggest that this is a new question and the question is a new challenge to be tackled. The dawn of the twenty-first century, however, is not the first time that the world has dealt with globalization. Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote about it in a number of his essays at the turn of the last century. In 1905 he published “Considerations Governing the Dispositions of Navies,” which opened with what he called “an antecedent appreciation of the political, commercial, and military exigencies of the state.” He felt that before he discussed how and where naval forces should be deployed it was important to first talk about the condition and political state of the world because the use and deployment of a fleet in peacetime should be done in anticipation of the needs of war. ATM believed that any military policy had to be in tune with political and economic realities. This opening discussion centers around what readers in the twenty-first century recognize as globalization.
The adoption of steam power, transatlantic telegraph cables, and wireless telegraph technology had dramatically shortened the connections around the world. This created a global economic and political system that ATM called “an articulated whole.” He foresaw that as commerce and economic considerations increased in their power, there would be a desire to maintain the global status quo for reasons of economic power. The economic, political and military power of a nation, according to ATM, was all intertwined and he wrote, “This is the more necessary to observe, because, while commerce thus on the one hand deters from war, on the other hand it engenders conflict, fostering ambitions and strifes which tend towards armed conflict.”
In other writings ATM warned that “civilizations on different planes of material prosperity and progress, with different spiritual ideals, and with very different political capacities, are fast closing together.” He saw the rise of new powers in Asia as a source of future conflict. When the rising powers and the great powers come into commercial and economic competition ATM saw it as a recipe for the development of armed conflict. With economic conflict leading to potential political conflict, which would lead to military conflict, he believed that America required a solid strategy based in naval strength. Why? Because, “it seems demonstrable, therefore, that as commerce is the engrossing and predominant interest of the world today, so, in consequence of its acquired expansion, oversea commerce, oversea political acquisition, and maritime commercial routes are now the primary objects of external policy among nations. The instrument for the maintenance of policy directed upon these objects is the Navy.”
There is a common tendency for us to look at our challenges and strategic questions as new, with more complexity, or wickedness, or whatever other new adjective we can think of, than ever before. However, history and the strategic thinking of the past frequently helps us develop the right approaches to those questions, or can provide realistic starting points for debate and research. Reading and studying ATM, who addressed globalization in his thinking and writing, can help add to our modern discussion, debate, and strategy formulation.
The vast majority of naval theory and strategy has focused on fleet engagements during times of war, rather than the smaller engagements and expeditionary operations that, more often than not, occur in times of relative peace. Counter-piracy operations have long been one of the irregular missions conducted by naval forces that didn’t fit the traditional mold. The writing of Alfred Thayer Mahan is a common foundation for many naval thinkers, and they remember his strategic focus on blue water and fleet engagements. In his book Naval Strategy ATM lamented “police duties” and emphasized that these operations detract from the central principle of concentration of military power.
However, ATM’s dislike of anything that would distract from the concentration of effort for naval formations did not automatically mean that he disliked expeditionary operations or naval irregular warfare. He believed that counter-piracy missions, in particular, were a valid function of naval forces. In writing about Nelson’s operations in the Mediterranean in the early 19th century, ATM agreed in theory with the Admiral’s desire to attack the Corsairs of Algiers and end the Barbary menace. In Nelson’s own words, “My Blood boils that I can not chastise these pirates,” and Mahan identified with the sentiment. In practice, however, he supported Lord Nelson’s decision not to attack because it would split his force, and detract from his primary mission, which was the destruction of the French Fleet.
It wasn’t that attacking piracy was an invalid naval mission, as some who claim to be part of a Mahanian tradition maintain; it was that Nelson’s Fleet had a higher purpose that required concentration. Without that higher purpose, an attack on the Barbary Corsairs would have been an important and distinctly naval mission. In his biography of Admiral Pellew, ATM championed the 1816 attack on Algiers which did finally end the Barbary menace once and for all, an operation that would today be described as a multinational force conducting power projection against an asymmetric menace.
ATM also wrote about the American 1820’s counter-piracy campaign in the West Indies which was led by Commodore David Porter. In his brief discussion of the subject in his biography of Admiral Farragut, he approved of Porter’s decision to leave the heavy frigates and traditional naval warships behind in favor of Sloops-of-War, armed schooners, and gun barges. What he termed the Mosquito Squadron, fulfilled his thoughts on concentration, as the ships worked together to attack the pirates both offshore and in the shallows of Cuba. It also illustrated the point that he would made in his debates with William Sims over the need for a balanced fleet rather than a myopic focus on battleships.
In ATM’s eyes the effectiveness of the squadron fulfilled the important naval mission of providing for “the security of commerce.” Ultimately, because they could not take or occupy territory, ATM realized the influence that navies could exert on an enemy was based in the ability to impact economics. First and foremost the battlefleet had to be ready for fleet engagements to drive the enemy’s naval forces from the sea, to fight the decisive battle in blue water. However, naval forces also needed to be ready to conduct irregular missions, like counter-piracy, because ultimately Mahan believed that “Navies exist for the protection of commerce.”
This is the first post in a weekly series about the writing and thinking of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, leading up to the release of “21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era” by The Naval Institute Press.
This week is Commissioning Week at The U.S. Naval Academy. It’s an exciting time of ceremonies, balls, parties, and obelisk climbing. At this year’s ceremony the new Ensigns and Second Lieutenants will hear advice from many, including the CNO, SECNAV, Governor of Maryland, and the Commander-in-Chief. Ultimately much of it comes down to the central question: What are the skills, the requirements, the qualifications, of a good naval officer? Or to put it another way: What does it take to earn that “Special Trust and Confidence” from the President of the United States?
It is well known that the passage memorized by Plebes at the Academy entitled “The Qualifications of a Naval Officer” never actually flowed from the pen of Captain John Paul Jones. The story is well documented in an article from Naval History, debunked by a writing team of a Midshipman and an Academy Professor. However, the ideals listed in the passage are worth considering as a benchmark and sometimes we still see them in official Navy documents.
[Republished from 13 June 2011] A little bit over a month ago, at his home blog Information Dissemination, Galrahn noted that the 27th of April marked an important day in the history of the United States Navy and Marine Corps, the anniversary of the Battle of Dernah. In his post Galrahn drew a connection between the First Barbary War and Operation Odyssey Dawn and the current operations that are being conducted under Operation Unified Protector. It can certainly be said that the success of Hamet Karamali’s insurgent army, led in reality by Naval Agent William Eaton and Marine Corps First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannnon, played a central role in the conclusion of the First Barbary War for the United States of America. In 1805 boots on the ground mattered after nearly four years of naval operations which had experienced little success driving the Tripolitan Pasha Jousef Karamali to the negotiating table. However, the history of Eaton, O’Bannon, and Hamet in Dernah offers a great deal more to consider than a simple lesson about the effectiveness of land forces.
The March to Dernah
Hamet Karamali had been the crown prince of Tripoli, but was deposed by his brother Jousef after their father’s death. It was Jousef who had declared war on the United States in 1801. When Eaton found him in Alexandria and offered to build him an army, and to help him lead it to Tripoli to reclaim his throne, Hamet jumped at the chance. Eaton, a former U.S. Army officer and previous U.S. consul to Tunis, had at his disposal twenty thousand dollars and a small detachment of United States Marines led by O’Bannon.
On the third of March, 1805 a rag tag army set out from Alexandria, Egypt to cross the desert toward the Tripolitan region of Bomba. About six hundred fighters strong, the force that Eaton organized marched for many different reasons. Some were Greek mercenaries (frequently referred to in the dispatches of the American officers involved as “the Christians”) who were in it for the money that Eaton promised them. Some were tribal loyalists to Hamet. Others were members of local desert tribes who’s Sheiks had been bribed, cajoled, or promised positions of power to join the insurgency. Eaton lamented the “ungovernable temper of this marauding malitia [sic],” which traveled with their families and flocks and offered constant leadership challenges and two mutinies as they crossed the desert.
When they arrived near the coastal city of Dernah on the 24th of April the army was twenty five days since their last meat and fifteen days since their bread ran out, mainly subsisting on rice and water. Eaton’s force rendezvoused with USS Argus and USS Hornet. Under the orders of Master Commandant Isaac Hull, the Sloops of War offloaded as much food, supplies, and ammunition as they could spare which reanimated the insurgent army. They moved forward and took position on a hill south of the town.
On the 26th Eaton sent a letter to the Governor of Dernah and made him an offer to join the insurgency. By allowing Hamet’s army to resupply and pass unmolested he would be permitted to retain his position when Hamet took the throne. Eaton closed the letter saying “I shall see you to morrow, in a way of your choice…” The Governor responded that evening: ”My head or yours.”
On the morning of the 27th Hull’s Sailors moved a field piece ashore, hoisting it up a twenty foot beach front cliff to Eaton and his men. Joined by USS Nautilus, the three Sloops moved to positions off the fortress that protected the town with a battery of eight cannon that faced the sea. Hornet’s skipper, Lieutenant Evans, brought his ship within one hundred yards of the fortress and anchored by setting spring lines. Argus and Nautilus took up positions on either side. It was about two in the afternoon when Hamet’s tribesmen and the mercenaries were in position and the assault began. Eaton later reported that “The fire became general in all quarters.” All three ships opened fire on the fortress and battery, decimating the eight cannon that opposed them. The bombardment lasted about an hour while Hamet led his tribesmen into the southern end of the city. Eaton and O’Bannon led the Marines and the mercenaries around the town and assaulted the fortress along the beach. Hull wrote in his report that “about half past three we had the satisfaction to see Lieut. O’Bannon and Mr. Mann, Midshipman of the Argus, with a few brave fellows with them, enter the fort, haul down the Enemy’s flag, and plant the American Ensign on the Walls of the Battery.” By four o’clock the insurgents had taken control of the town.
A City Under Siege
The Battle of Dernah, however, is just the beginning of this story. The great Mark Twain once said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. It is after the battle that we begin to pick up the rhythm that reminds us of today’s challenges on the North coast of Africa.
Eaton immediately set about shoring up the defenses of the city. The guns of the fortress’ battery were turned inward toward the desert and Hull and the skippers of the other Sloops landed Sailors to help move supplies ashore and work on the city’s defenses. After helping the Marines and mercenaries reinforce their defenses the Sailors embarked on their ships. Hull, unsure of Commodore Barron’s orders with regard to the occupation of the city, began cycling the Sloops back to Malta to resupply and inquire about orders. Hornet was sent first, while Argus and Nautilus remained with three weeks of provisions each. Hornet would return with fresh stores and ammunition for the city.
Hull sent a report to Barron detailing his thoughts on the occupation, and what it would take to move the insurgency forward. He felt that holding the city itself would not necessarily be a difficult task and could be completed by the force on the ground as long as it was provided proper supplies from the sea and that at least one warship was kept on station to provide fire support against any attempt by the regime to retake the city. In order to push forward toward Tripoli, however, it would have required a different approach in the young Master Commandant’s mind. He wrote “I am clearly of the opinion that three or four hundred Christians, with additional supplies, will be necessary to pursue the expedition to Bengaze and Tripoli.” It was a significant increase in support, and an escalation from the American reliance on sea power.
Eaton came up with a plan that was slightly different. Pointing out that, with the proper funding, Hamet could recruit local Sheiks as he moved west, Eaton thought the insurgent army would grow. He recognized that loyalty that was purchased was suspect as a motivator for fighters. To counter that he suggested that as the force encountered difficult or entrenched enemies he would need detachments of Marines or regular soldiers to be landed by the American squadron. This support by amphibious forces would “aid and give effect to such operations as require energy.” After each amphibious raid the forces could embark aboard ship and continue to patrol the coast awaiting the next call.
It wasn’t long after the insurgents victory at Dernah that an army from Tripoli arrived. Initially they took up position on the hill south of town where Eaton and Hamet had planned their own assault. The regime forces laid siege to the city. Attacks or probes were made several times a week. During some of the heavier attacks the regime forces penetrated through the defenders outer lines and into the city. Brutal house to house urban combat was conducted by the insurgents and, with fire support from the Sloops sitting in the harbor; they were able to drive their attackers back to their positions outside the city. In a few instances Eaton lead his Marines and mercenaries out to face the irregular cavalry and undisciplined infantry that opposed them, each time having minor successes but never driving away the Pasha’s army.
While Eaton and Hull endeavored to keep the siege lines away from Dernah, and the regime’s forces at bay, the American Naval and Diplomatic leadership began to listen to Jousef’s new attempts at negotiation. Whether it was the deteriorating situation in his own country, the poor harvest that year, lack of popular support for the war with the Americans (all of which appeared to be true), or whether it was the threat posed by his brother’s foothold in Dernah, the Pasha made an overture for peace.
As the diplomats worked their negotiations the regime’s forces continued to attack and probe at Dernah. Eaton reported that spies had heard dispatches received with orders from Tripoli. The Pasha intended to conclude a peace with the United States and once it was complete he would be able to “dispose of his internal enemies.” Eaton warned Commodore Barron not to accept terms of peace too hastily, and pointed out that consideration of Hamet’s position could result in a true ally on the coast rather than a suspect treaty. He pushed hard, commenting that the honor of the United States required that they not simply abandon Hamet on the shores of Dernah. Cooperation between the United States and Hamet would, according to Eaton’s reasoning, “very probably be a death blow to the Barbary System” of piracy and hostage taking.
Eaton realized, as time went on and the regime’s army was reinforced, that Hamet was being used as a bargaining chip. He received a report that a pair of women had come into the city with orders to poison him and he began spending more time aboard Argus or Hornet, Nautilus having been dispatched for more supplies. On the 4th of June Hull received orders to return to Syracuse with Argus and Hornet and sent word for Eaton and the Americans to join him. Eaton confided to Hull that he was sure that his position in Dernah was playing an important role in the negotiation and he didn’t feel that he could leave until he knew that the negotiation had been completed. Hull prepared to send Hornet to Syracuse as ordered, but remained off Dernah aboard Argus, unwilling to abandon his countrymen.
Neither man knew that on the 3rd of June a peace treaty was signed by Jousef and Tobias Lear who was the State Department’s lead negotiator. The crew of the captured USS Philadelphia, held since the fall of 1803, were freed and sailed for Malta aboard USS Constitution. Lear wrote to Eaton that he had tried to secure some consolation for Hamet, however he decided based on his negotiations that it was “impracticable.” Lear agreed that the United States would remove all support from the insurgent army at Dernah, and also promised the Pasha that he could keep Hamet’s wife and daughters as hostages to ensure that his brother left the country.
The news was slow to spread, and on the 9th and 10th of June the regime’s army launched assaults on the city which were repelled through vicious fighting. The Sloops moved close to the shore and their guns were brought into action, “keeping up a brisk fire” according to Hull’s journal. The Pasha’s army was pushed back yet again and Hull landed more powder for the fortress’ guns.
As the sun reached toward the western horizon on the 11th of June USS Constellation arrived off Dernah, with orders for Eaton and the Americans to embark and withdraw from the assistance of the insurgent army. The withdrawal would be tricky business, and Eaton would not leave Hamet in the lurch. He consulted with the insurgent ruler and they concocted a ruse to have Hamet’s people prepare for an attack on the enemy. After dark on the 13th the Arabs and Tripolitans prepared themselves for their attack while the boats of Constellation rowed to the seawall and began taking off the Greek mercenaries. Once the Greeks were aboard word was sent to Hamet that Eaton wanted a meeting and the leader and his court slipped into the fortress and aboard Constellation’s boats. Eaton, O’Bannon, and the Marines were the last to embark, quietly covering the amphibious withdrawal. By two in the morning the force had been embarked and the insurgent army abandoned. Constellation, Argus, and Hornet sailed into the Mediterranean as Hamet’s tribesmen and the Arabs who had joined him attempted to slip away into the mountains and desert before the regime’s forces could corner them.
The victory of the United State Navy in its first conflict on a foreign shore is something that we continue to celebrate. However, few know these details of the “success.” Many of Hamet’s supporters were able to escape, a small number were captured and executed. Based on their agreement with the Pasha, a representative of the regime was landed by the Americans just before they left and he immediately began demanding loyalty oaths from anyone in the city. The United States paid Jousef sixty thousand dollars and all the Americans held in Tripoli’s slave camps were freed.
The peace held for less than a decade. Once the Barbary powers learned of the American’s war with the British in 1812 they began falling upon American merchants as their Navy fought in the Atlantic. Americans again began to fill the slave camps on the Tripolitan coast. It would take another conflict and two squadrons of battle hardened naval veterans after the end of the War of 1812 to pacify the Barbary Coast again. The Second Barbary War was considered another successful conflict for the early U.S. Navy. However, piracy and slavery on the Barbary Coast didn’t end until several years later when the Royal Navy finally decided to stamp it out.
The study of history does not provide us checklists for success. It doesn’t describe equations which will give military or government leaders a perfect answer every time. However, it can certainly help illuminate the questions that should be asked, and the possible effects of the answers to those questions. April 27th is an important anniversary in the history of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, but so is the 13th of June, when USS Constellation departed the harbor of a besieged city on the Barbary Coast. Eaton, O’Bannon, and Hull slipped away from a besieged insurgency, which had been resupplied and defended from the sea, and which relied on Western support for survival.
Was it the right decision? The expensive war being fought on the other side of the globe was certainly running the American treasury into the red. The infant American democracy struggled with the political challenges of an undeclared war on foreign soil. American casualties were few, the number of Americans taken hostage also dropped, and the reasons to keep fighting seemed small. What of the aftermath? The payment to the Pasha was arguably the very ransom that the Americans did not want to pay. The result of the diplomacy was neither a supportive local government nor a successful treaty of peace. Americans had to risk their lives on the Barbary shore again, many of them the same Sailors who started their career there.
For those who study strategy or who make policy, the story of Dernah may be history worth considering.
Sources: Dudley Knox, Ed., Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers: Naval Operations Including Diplomatic Background From 1785 to 1807, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1939-1944). Volumes 5 and 6 contain the original letters and reports related to the Battle of Dernah and the siege of the city.
In June and July of last year USNI published my series of posts on William Sims and the Gunnery Revolution. The discussion of innovation inside military has continued at a slow boil. I was recently invited to Tampa to speak at the U.S. Special Operations Command Innovation Conference. It was a great conference and the speakers included a number of luminaries from the innovation and technology sectors of the business world, including Tom Kelley of IDEO and Michael Jones of Google. The auditorium was filled will staff officers, DoD and contract civilians, and the front table was crowded with Senior Executive Service civilians and Flag and General Officers including Admiral McRaven.
The involvement of Junior Officers in innovation has certainly been highlighted in the past year. However, what is the role of the mid-grade or senior officer? And what about an officer’s peers? In my talk at SOCOM, I told the story of “The Gun Doctor” William Sims again, but with a slightly different focus at the end. The story I’ve told you here at USNI about the Gunnery Revolution is the story as Sims himself likely would have told it. It’s the story that appears in many history books. However, when you keep reading, and get into some of the letters and reports of the time, you realize that while William Sims was the driving force, the brains and the brawn behind this innovation, he wasn’t exactly alone. The Gunnery Revolution had an entire cast of supporting characters, including a number of Senior Officers and some staff officers who were Sims’ friends and peers.
Open Minded Seniors
When Lieutenant Sims was on China Station the Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Squadron was Rear Admiral George Remy. Remy was a hero of the Spanish American War and was one of the most highly respected officers of the day. He held a position that is roughly equivalent to the Commander of PACOM today. Sims’ reports went through Admiral Remy on their way back to Washington. The Admiral always added an endorsement and it was always a positive endorsement. Sims’ time on China Station wasn’t entirely spent onboard KENTUCKY. After he forwarded the first couple reports to D.C. Admiral Remy ordered him onto his staff aboard the flagship USS BROOKLYN. Sims was given the position of “Special Intelligence Officer,” an invented job that wasn’t on the organizational chart. Remy told him that he had free reign to work on, study, and report on whatever he wanted; from the growing potential for military conflict between Japan and Russia, to comparisons of the designs of foreign warships on China Station, to gunnery tactics, techniques, and procedures. Remy was a key enabler by helping to create the time and space for Sims to do his work.
We hear a lot about the Battle Force when talking about US Navy force structure and the documents that guide how we deploy and employ our Fleets. As a reader of Mahan, the language brings me back to a phrase he repeatedly uses in his writing, “The Battle-fleet.” See, in Mahan’s day the U.S. Navy started out as a 5th rate power (or worse) and didn’t even have a single fleet that could stand up to a foreign navy when massed together. Over the years he wrote, culminating about the time he passed away in the prelude to World War I, the USN slowly built its battle-fleet to be a peer of almost any navy on the seven seas. Over the next century the USN continued to build and develop itself into the superpower it is today, with several fleets positioned globally.
Much of what we hear about the Battle Force today harkens back to Mahan’s writing on how to use the battle-fleet. The focus is decisive combat against the enemy’s naval forces followed by or concurrent with the projection of power ashore. The focus is on the high-end and kinetic operations which should be the focus of the battle-fleet and, by analogy in today’s language, the modern Battle Force.
But the comparison to today’s Navy starts to come apart as you read about the types of ship’s Mahan thought were appropriate for a navy. While most of us are taught about his belief in the battle-fleet, and its role in pursuing and winning decisive battles that would establish American command of the sea, we’re rarely reminded that in his view a Navy didn’t stop there. Yes, he believed the battle-fleet had to win the decisive battle but there are many other tasks of naval forces. In his essay “Considerations Governing the Disposition of Navies” he wrote that a properly constructed navy needed to be balanced and have three main parts. First was, yes, the battle-fleet. Second was independent cruisers. Third was small combatants and craft to operate in close to an enemy’s shoreline. It wasn’t all one battle-fleet, but a balanced naval force designed for more than just blue water battle.
Each of these different groups of naval vessels had a role to play in major combat operations, but also a matching role to play in peacetime operations. In war the battle-fleet remained offshore, far enough away from the enemy’s coastline that it wouldn’t fall victim to costal defenses (what today we call A2AD threats). There the battle-fleet awaited the enemy’s fleet, maneuvering for positions of advantage for the coming decisive battle. The independent cruisers would range between the battle-fleet and the enemy’s coast, looking to pick off scouts and small squadrons or ranging further afield to strike at the enemy’s merchant shipping and impose an economic cost. Finally, the smaller littoral ships ranged in close, tested and engaged the enemy’s coastal defenses, and scouted for the enemy’s fleet to determine when or where it would sortie to engage in the decisive battle.
Today’s Battle Force has platforms which fill all of those rolls in the vision of the 21st century naval conflict. In Mahan’s day it was an all surface affair, with ships of varying sizes and armaments filling the roles. (He wrote that submarines and torpedo craft, which were experimental platforms for turn of the century navies, were likely to gain success and capability and become part of the mix, but it hadn’t happened before his death). Today, many of the roles are still filled by surface combatants, but submarines and aircraft have taken over significant parts of the equation. They have assumed many, if not all, of the roles and missions traditionally taken by the independent cruisers and the small combatants in the littorals, and with much success in kinetic operations. The name Battle Force, rather than battle-fleet, is certainly accurate.
The problem with today’s Battle Force is that by replacing the cruisers, scouts, and small combatants with submarines and aircraft it loses the capabilities those vessels brought to the peacetime missions. For centuries navies, unlike armies and more recently unlike air forces, have had dual responsibilities not just to fight and win the nation’s wars at sea but to serve in peacetime to protect the nation’s interests, deter challengers, and serve as a diplomatic arm of the military in building partnerships and friendships across the globe. From our nation’s earliest days the dual uses of naval forces were on our leaders minds. Former Naval Academy and Naval War College professor Dr. Craig Symonds wrote in his book Navalists and Antinavalists:
All of President James Monroe’s surviving papers on the navy or on naval policy reflect a concern that it efficiently perform two distinct services: first, that it be adequate to cope with the daily problems of a maritime nation – smuggling, piracy, and combating the slave trade; and, second, that it provide the United States with a comfortable degree of readiness in case war should be forced upon the nation.
What today we refer to as maritime security operations and partnership building isn’t a new-fangled 21st century idea. In fact, it’s a mission which goes back to the very founding of our service, shared with navies throughout history.
Today’s Battle Force is a battle-fleet on steroids, one that has absorbed the rest of the naval force. It is surely powerful and brings us more than “a comfortable degree of readiness in case war should be forced upon the nation.” For fighting and winning a major war it has no equal on the seven seas. However, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because major war may become more likely if there are no ships to conduct the first distinct service President Monroe enumerated.
While the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower says all the right things, the Battle Force isn’t built for that strategy. It is only built for one half of our navy’s job. It has mobility and the flexibility to engage multiple targets, but more and more often it lacks true adaptability to do more than just put warheads on foreheads, or threaten it. As the Battle Force shores up its control of the Navy the ability to adapt to smaller contingencies, work in contested waters that are not yet in kinetic conflict, or engage non-state actors and build partnerships becomes harder and harder. Yet these are all the things needed to help avert war, and so actual war at sea becomes more likely, and the Battle Force continues to become stronger.
Naval thinkers from Mahan to Corbett to Zumwalt to Hughes have discussed the importance of having a balanced fleet. High/low mix, Streetfighter, or Influence Squadrons are just other ways to talk about a balanced fleet which is capable of the “regular” major combat operations and fleet engagements as well as the “irregular” maritime security operations and partnership/diplomatic development. Mahan wrote that his own thinking and writing provided a solid foundation to move on to the writing of Sir Julian Corbett, the British navalist who told us that “in no case can we exercise control by battleships alone.” Today’s networked Battle Force is impressive and powerful. As Mahan wrote, it is the starting point for a properly constructed naval force. But the question is…does a powerful battle-fleet alone provide the Navy we need to face the turbulent seas of the 21st century?
“There is, at all events, no perplexity exceeding that with which men of former times haven’t dealt successfully.”
– CAPT Alfred Thayer Mahan
Back in 2003 Dr. Andrew Krepinevich, Barry Watts and Bob Work (now the Under Secretary of the Navy) coined the term “A2AD,” for the growing Anti-Access, Area Denial threat posed by the proliferation of long range missiles systems, precision munitions, and satellite technology that will make operations in the littorals more challenging for 21st century naval forces. They were right when they wrote that ignoring the threat “appears to be a huge gamble and one that neither prudence nor history could recommend with much confidence.” The challenge of A2AD spreads from the shores of the Arabian Gulf to the South China Sea and beyond with players like Iran, China, and North Korea continuing to develop and spread the capabilities and technologies like the C-802 anti-ship missile and FAC’s like the Chinese Houbei that has come to symbolize part of the threat.
While it is cast as a threat based on rapidly modernizing, high technology weapons the A2AD threat is actually nothing new in the annals of naval history. Despite the description of certain technologies, like the Chinese DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, as “game changing” and “revolutionary” there are still basic principles of naval strategy and tactics that apply to these weapons. At the turn of the last century the United States and the naval powers of the world faced a similar challenge. Modern technology was advancing weapons systems and making it harder for naval forces to get close to the enemy’s shores. The eminent naval strategist and historian Alfred Thayer Mahan (ATM) wrote on the subject, and offered some thoughts that may be worth considering as the world once again faces A2AD challenges.
In 1911 ATM published the lectures he originally gave at the United States Naval War College in the decade leading up to the start of the 20th century as the book Naval Strategy: Compared and Contrasted with the Principles and Practice of Military Operations on Land. In it he discussed the A2AD threat which developed after he gave his original lectures. “It seems appropriate here to mention, if only incidentally, certain changes in the weapons with which war is waged,” he wrote, continuing “the progress of the submarine, the immensely increased range of the automobile torpedo, and the invention of wireless telegraphy,” were significant changes to the technology of naval warfare. According to ATM the introduction of these new weapons would have an important impact on the development of naval tactics, however, “these consequences will not change the principles of strategy,” which apply to naval warfare.
In his essay “Considerations Governing the Disposition of Navies,” published in May of 1902, ATM also discussed torpedo boats and “the added range of coast guns, which keeps scouts at a much greater distance than formerly, and the impossibility now of detecting intentions which once might be inferred from the conditions of masts and sails.” However, ATM’s continued discussion reminds us that the technologies which make A2AD a challenge are not exclusive of one side in the fight. He says that “on the other hand the sphere of effectiveness has been immensely increased for the scout by the power to move at will, and latterly by the wireless telegraph.” Today there are differences of distances, stand-off ranges, and communications and ISR, but these are the same issues faced over a century ago.
ATM made some suggestions on the tactical and operational level to approach the A2AD threats of his day. He suggested that by taking advantage of high speed and large numbers, “it should be possible to sweep the surroundings of any port so thoroughly as to make the chance of undetected escape very small, while the transmission of the essential facts – the enemy’s force and the direction taken – is even more certain than detection.” Today ATM might call for numerous and inexpensive unmanned systems to work the near shore and scout deep inside the enemy’s coastal WEZ.
Despite the fact many strategy and history students are taught ATM only cared about big guns and battleships, in his concept of the modern fleet which would face the early 20th century A2AD threat ATM wrote “the vessels nearest in are individually so small that the loss of one by torpedo is militarily immaterial; moreover, the chances will by no means all be with the torpedo boat.” After calling for small combatants which can take the fight in close in search of the torpedo boats, while assuming some individual risk, ATM suggested that a group of cruisers sail further out from the enemy’s A2AD threat range. The cruisers are able to sprint to the support of the smaller ships if needed but also able to discover other enemy concentrations, or fall back to support the main battle fleet. ATM pointed out that the main battle fleet has great freedom to maneuver. He said the main force of the fleet can be hundreds of miles away, connected to the scouts, small combatants, and cruisers by wireless and “in a different position every night, [it] is as safe from torpedo attack as ingenuity can place it.” The point is as valid today as it was at the dawn of the last century. The ocean is a large expanse and in order for the enemy to attack, he has to be able to find you. Even satellite surveillance and broad area ISR can only cover a portion of the maritime domain.
ATM believed there was nothing about the early 20th century A2AD threat that fundamentally changed the way naval strategy was developed, or how naval wars were led. There would be changes to tactics, and the requisite adjustments to operational planning that those changes required. He also made the point that a properly balanced Navy, with small combatants, cruisers, and the main battle fleet was required for success in any naval conflict. However, at its heart countering A2AD is more about applying the intellectual rigor to overcome the time, distance, speed differences than it is about fundamental changes to naval strategy; as ATM wrote “war is a business of positions.” In the end, naval commanders must also remember it takes two to have a fight, and the idea is to ensure the enemy is dealing with as many, or more challenges, than you are. You threaten him too and as ATM wrote, “These probabilities, known to the enemy, affect his actions just as one’s own risks move one’s self.”
Dr. James Holmes, a USNI Member and author of both articles and books at the Institute, has a series of posts over at his blog The Naval Diplomat about the strategic thinking of Colonel John Boyd and strategy in East Asia. As an occasional student of Boyd’s work, I always love reading thinkers who use his ideas to attack today’s challenges. Aviators are all aware of Boyd’s work because to this day we study the Energy/Maneuverability diagrams for our aircraft (which he discovered and first mapped as a Major) and those of our opponents to learn how to get the most out of our airframes. As Holmes outlines, Boyd is also the father of the OODA Loop, sometimes called The Boyd Loop. Starting at the tactical level, but also moving through the operational to the strategic, Boyd identified four phases that occur in any competition: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.
Many people who have studied Boyd’s work focus on the speed element. Speed plays an important role in his thinking. He focuses on “fast transients” in a lot of his work, or the ability to move through the loop faster than your adversary. He suggests that success comes with the ability to change directions or adapt most quickly. The element of speed draws a lot of people in, from business strategists and writers to military strategists who suggest that out-speeding your opponent will result in a shock to their system that can end fighting quickly. However, this focus ignores an important question: Can you speed in the wrong direction?
The discussion of junior leader innovation has slowed as of late, in a post-NWDC conference deep breath. One of the regular criticisms levied at LT Ben Kohlmann, LT Rob McFall, and others who have written about the need for disruptive thinking and junior officer innovation is that this is a case of “same old, same old.” In particular, every generation of junior officers has angst and feels that the system is out of balance. According to the critics it is simply the result of the military’s hierarchical organization and structure and there’s nothing to worry about.
History proves part of this observation correct. MAJ Pete Munson at Small Wars Journal has highlighted the USAF’s “Dear Boss” letters in an illustration from the 1970’s. In the 1950’s Proceedings printed LCOL Robert Heinl’s classic “Special Trust and Confidence” which discussed the issues of trust between junior and senior officers in the Marine Corps. Reminiscent of BGEN Arnold’s recent article “Don’t Promote Mediocrity,” in the first two decades of the 20th century Proceedings published a series of articles from junior leaders debating the promotion system and discussing the need for selection boards to pick the officers who were to promote, rather than using a simple system of seniority.
The question becomes, does the JO angst matter? With the long history of generational conflicts, should we even care? The answer is yes. The history demonstrates that there are many times when the issues raised by junior leaders can have an impact on the military’s ability to fight and win the nation’s wars. I’ll share two brief examples.
- On Midrats 29 March 15 – Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC
- The Pen and the Sword: An Interview with Professor Timothy Demy on Reading Fiction and Studying War
- On Midrats 22 March 2015 – Episode 272: Naval Professionalism; up, down, and back again – with Will Beasley
- Missile Defense and Budget Issues
- On Midrats 3/15/15 – Episode 271: “Red Flag and the Development USAF Fighter “