This week’s report of Russia’s intention to dramatically increase production of several weapon systems as a part of the modernization of nuclear and conventional forces included the construction of 14 new warships. This comes on the heels of Russian warships making a highly publicized visit to Cuba following joint naval exercises with the Venezuelan Navy. This news, and the tone of Russian President Medvedev in his “State of the State” speech in the aftermath of the US Presidential elections, represents a clear and powerful statement of intent on the part of a resurgent Russia to challenge the United States as has not happened since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

China, meanwhile, has announced plans for obtaining an aircraft carrier for its rapidly expanding navy. Though the vessel will not, in the estimates of analysts, be ready for several years, such an announcement represents the continuation of a shift in China’s naval strategy. The idea of a Chinese aircraft carrier is not new, having been attempted in fits and starts for the last couple of decades. On this occasion, however, the acquisition of a carrier represents a logical extension of China’s vision for her navy’s worldwide blue-water mission of protecting what a defense spokesman called “maritime rights and interests” of a globally-engaged economic powerhouse.

Though one is quite overt, and the other much more subtle, each of these two expanding maritime powers represents a serious and direct challenge to the United States Navy. Each country has expressed the desire for a “counter-balance” to what has been perceived as a fifteen year US monopoly on blue-water maritime power.

During those fifteen years, without a maritime adversary of note, the United States Navy has shrunk to levels which call into question its ability to meet with one major challenge, let alone two, in the blue-water maritime domain. While surface combatants of the US Navy are undoubtedly more lethal and capable in 2008 than those in commission in the 1990s, the decline in the number of warships, amphibs, and support vessels represents a reduction of the ability to project power and provide presence that has been the hallmark of the US Navy since the end of the Second World War.

At the conclusion of the Gulf War in 1991, the US Navy had in commission some 529 ships, a total that included 22 mine warfare vessels, 61 amphibious ships, and 112 auxiliary units, those unglamorous platforms so critical to any sustained land or naval campaign. Today, the US Navy has fewer than 290 ships in commission. Of these, the numbers of mine warfare vessels, amphibious units, and auxiliaries, have shrunk to a fraction of the 1991 totals. Additionally, this diminished force is now devoid of any substantial naval gunfire capability so vital to successful amphibious operations. As older (sometimes “old” has meant “very capable but expensive to operate”) ships are decommissioned, few new vessels with similar capabilities have replaced them.

It is necessary, then, to reassess former CNO Admiral Mullen’s concept of the Thousand Ship Navy, an “international fleet of like-minded nations”, comprised of warships, commercial shipping companies, and merchant vessels, willing to band together to promote and maintain Maritime Domain Awareness. This concept is a major pillar of US Global Maritime Strategy. Admiral Mullen described the Thousand Ship Navy “not as an acquisition program, but rather an operating concept”. What the Thousand Ship Navy seems to be is an overly-optimistic operating concept that relies on other nations’ participation in collective security to make the best of an inadequate acquisition program, a shrinking shipbuilding capability, and a badly flawed Naval Sea Systems Command.

The last decade has extended the 20th Century’s dismal record of failure of collective security. The unwillingness of the UN to enforce its own resolutions with Iraq, and the lack of meaningful response to an Iran determined to obtain nuclear capability should have come as no surprise to anyone. However, the events of August, 2008 and Russia’s invasion of Georgia provoked an interesting and disturbing range of responses that portend a new and different paradigm.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion, NATO, once a bulwark against Warsaw Pact (Russian) domination of Europe, was incapable of any kind of consensus regarding collective action. German Chancellor Merkel’s trip to St Petersburg to meet with Russian President Medvedev highlighted the unwillingness of many nations to antagonize a re-arming Russia, particularly a Russia pointing the proverbial energy pistol at their temples. The events in the Autumn of 2008 make clear that even pro-western nations will act in their own national, economic, and security self-interests rather than risk those interests through participation in collective action in defense of a threatened neighbor.

Toward that end, one must ask the question of just how willing the participants in this Thousand Ship Navy, both national and mercantile, will be when required to act on what America defines as maritime security requirements when that action would potentially place them opposite a Russia or China who can leverage economic or military advantage against them.

The multi-national effort to combat piracy in the waters off Somalia is often touted as an example of international cooperation that might be the model for the future of security cooperation on the world’s oceans. This international cooperation as a model of the future is illusory, as at the moment the pirate activity furthers no participating nation’s aims. What should happen when similar activity is being sponsored by Russia or China as they resurrect their considerable talents for fighting wars (and backing terrorists) by proxy, in order to further national interests or subvert the interests of military and economic rivals (the US)? This prospect is precisely the fear of many analysts who have watched events unfold. If traditional US allies are unwilling to face the Russians in Europe, what would make them, the key partners in The Thousand Ship Navy, more willing to challenge Russia or China on the world’s oceans?

The US Navy at its current strength of 280-odd ships has been reduced to being barely adequate for the tasks at hand. Russia (very publicly) and China (quietly) have shown themselves to be willing to challenge US influence around the globe, well beyond their traditional spheres of influence. When confronted with a major maritime adversary who directly or indirectly challenges American strategic interests in a vital region of the world, the answer cannot be US reliance on a collection of other partners, military and commercial, whose capabilities and willingness cannot be counted upon when decisive measures are required.

To allow US naval strength to erode to the point where the assistance of such a Thousand Ship Navy is required to defend US interests or maintain security, is to abdicate this nation’s defense to that same collective security model that has failed on each occasion since the end of the First World War. Such a state of affairs would have drastic consequences for the US, and for the Western world.

It is time to sink the Thousand Ship Navy, and replace it with a US Navy whose capabilities meet the requirements of its mission “to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas”, in the face of any threat that currently exists or is visible on the horizon.

Our enemies, present and future, are watching.

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Foreign Policy, Maritime Security

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  • PK

    i agree.

    we have seen how these mixed forces (i.e. NATO in afganastan and iraq) work.

    we would be faced with a battle where the british ships could shoot only 200 rounds, the french ships would be there only 32 hours a week, the germans would be there but could not shoot, the burmese would be there until their government got money and then would go home to get paid………

    thats not good for our interests.


  • SeniorD

    Sovereign nations do not have ‘friends’, they have allies with mutual interests. Having said that, when this country expects others, for example Canada, to deploy what few ships they have in support of American interests, suddenly those interests are not as important.

    We have seen the intense ground fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan so we know the Marines (never a force to be reckoned with in the first place) and Army can deliver the goods. Unfortunately, the Navy’s continuing decline in ship count, increased focus upon CBG protection and disdain for other Navies will come back to haunt us. If SECNAV and CNO expect the Air Force to bail us out of a conflict we’re doomed. Air Power has never been the victor in any conflict; indeed the Air Force may well be considered a ‘terrorist’ threat writ large (consider the Dresden fire storms) rather than a viable force multiplier. As for transport to the latest ‘dance’, we don’t have the airlift capacity to deliver a Regiment let alone an entire Division – and let’s not forget how much an M1A1/A2 weighs shall we?

    The presence of a Navy that can, without fear, traverse what used to be called the ‘Sea Lanes of Communication’ is little more than a paper tiger. Without the heavy lift capability to transport the mechanisms of war, this country may well give up the fight. The Navy is rapidly becoming an echo of the ‘Battleship Admirals’ canard of pre-WWII fame; the difference this time is rather than armored big gun ships, its the ‘Carrier Admirals’ demanding the biggest share.

    I’m appalled at the state of the Navy. Why can’t the ‘Powers that Be’ start thinking in ways other than ‘Carrier Battle Group Uber Alles’? We used to be the biggest dog on the block. What happened and why did we let it happen?

  • Byron

    Senior, point by point:

    Agree on the “Thousand ship navy”: Todays friends, are tomorrows enemies. There’s a reason why war plans are made for even friendly countries: stuff happens

    Marines: was that a mis-statement? Marines are highly trained, highly motivated warriors. “No better friend, no worse enemy” indeed.

    Air Force: without the Air Forces tankers, transports, and bombers, the Navy would be sorely pressed in any endevor like Afghanistan: it took Air Force and Brit tankers to get the Tomcats and Hornets over target, and then back home again. Sometimes the “Total Force” concept is a requirment, not a Powerpoint presentation.

    Carriers: No, they aren’t facing the Red Menace of the Red Banner Northern Fleet any more. The CSGs are on station to provide power projection and TACAIR for troops in contact. Sometimes, the Air Force just can’t get a base to operate from in theater…like the opening shots of the Global War on Terror in Afghanistan.

    Sealift: MSC ships stand ready within 24 to 96 hours notice to provide the life necessary to get those tanks to a theatre. Many things have changed since Desert Storm.

    The Carrier Strike Group MUST stay. Simply look west to the Peoples Repulic of China and their stated goals of long distance power projection and their intents to build carriers and current submarine aquisition and shipbuilding. You don’t have new surface warfare vessels because of unholy relationships between DoN, DoD and big mil-contractors like NG and GD. Throw money-grubbing, power hungry Congress into the mix, and you have a helluva mess. I got answers for that, but it involves firing a lot of people and putting the fear of God into Congress. I’ll quit smoking that stuff one day.

  • SeniorD


    Another way of saying ‘No better friend, no worse enemy’ is by never having to face them when they come to ‘dance’. If I were in charge, Marines would get whatever they asked for (I’d take money away from the Air Force)

    We have to remember that, in a serious shooting conflict, the relatively small number of CSG aviators is a liability if the conflict gets too hot. I’m on record as saying it takes upwards of 5,000 men and women to enable a mere 100 aviators to deliver ordnance on target. That large number does not include the AEGIS ships and submarines needed to protect the carrier. To top it off, the carrier is vulnerable to lower technology (read non-nuclear) attacks. For example, see Patrick Robinson’s fictional account in ‘Nimitz Class’.

    Yes, MSC ships are ready to go. Problem is, we don’t have the resources to force open an port so the MSC can deliver.

    While I heartily agree with your alliances concept, ain’t no way to blow that problem aside without a major conflict showing the Emperor(s) have no clothes.

  • Byron

    Won’t argue on giving Uncle Sams Misguided Children whatever they really need.

    And don’t forget, on more than a few of those carriers, are the Marines VFMA squadrons. Further, get a Doggie to tell you the teeth to tail ratio in any Army combat unit; it’s pretty similar to what you see in a CSG. Also, CSGs don’t sail now with the amount of other vessels to support/protect them like they did during the Cold War. Also, most if not all the surface escorts are also T-LAM shooters used in support of troops ashore. They do a lot more than protect against subs or inbound ASMs. Bigger picture, my friend. You’ll never get me to agree that we need fewer carriers, not at all. Remember, every president since FDR has said at least once, and usually more, “Where are the carriers?” because these are the ships that can provide the quickest National Command Authority response ashore and at sea.

    The other? Depending on todays friends to assure my safety with nothing to back it up is a sure way to get screwed. Pardon my Francais…not.

  • Rubber Ducky

    Eight years of unmitigated disaster in national security because the Putz In The White House also had disdain for alliances … and some you guys want more of the same.

    Two reasons for the 1000-ship Navy: 1) it works; 2) it’s affordable. The alternative espoused above – go-it-alone and buy-it-ourselves – lacks both viability and affordability.

    I watched John Lehman struggle to get his 600-ship Navy. He got to 599 and then it all crashed on affordability. That was during the Cold War against the Soviet Navy, both of which were real. To now posit a 1000-ship Navy funded by US alone – against non-existent bluewater foes – in a conflict way beyond the reach of naval forces – is folly itself. Real defense needs will surely crib-kill fantasies like this. Get a grip, guys.

  • DirtyBlueshirt

    Rubber Ducky, I don’t think anyone is calling for an actual 1000-ship Navy (though it would make sea duty much more bearable). The article was pointing out that while other nations may be willing to say they’d lend support to the US’s naval goals it’s quite a different thing from actually putting your precious national assets on the line for somebody else’s war. In other words anyone who believes in the 1000-ship will probably be surprised that 700 of those ships won’t show up when needed.

  • Byron

    Not to mention, Ducky, that if the other nations holding stakes in this kumbaya 1000 ship fleet call a marker for us to help, are you willing to sink our treasure and our young service memberss lives on the line for it? Personally, I think the whole idea is a bit loony, if not outright stupid.

    One more thing, Ducky, the whole point of the 600 ship Navy was to get the Russians to match us, force on force. Communism being so terribly efficient, they bankrupted themselves trying. And last I recall, during the whole Cold War, nary a shot was fired between the contestants, unless you count in the various LICs where our surrogates did a fair bit of the fighting.

  • Byron

    By the way…you say you were a commissioned officer in the US Navy for 37 years, and you call the President of the United States a “putz”. I know what a putz is, Ducky. I dearly would have liked to have seen what you could have done in the Oval Office; I suspect you would have been measured and then found wanting. No President is perfect, Ducky. Bush kept us from being attacked on our soil. I call that a good thing.

  • Rubber Ducky


  • Byron

    Me, or the President?

  • Byron–I hate to nitpick, but…I think I recall something about how our soil endured couple of terrorist events…back sometime in 2001? It’s been awhile, but I think Bush was president then…

  • PK

    our navy’s real problem is that communications with the head shed are to good.

    we have the resources to drive into a port and “force it open”. the major problem is that non military are looking over the uniforms shoulders and when its time for the work to be done the politicians get the “shaky leg syndrom” (possibly driven by offshore propaganda mills) and call the whole thing off just about the time the lads get the hammer back.

    look at the major casualties on the bird farms over the years. a significant number of them come from loading aircraft for one mission then downloading them and reloading them for another. during WWII the japanese actually lost a couple as a direct result of this.


  • PK

    and furthermore:

    GB went to school at an institution of learning a bit higher on the food chain than Algore or J Kerry (he served in vietnam you know) and got better grades than either of them. yet he was called a d*&bSh9t by the MSM.

    he also flew single seat military combat aircraft and walked away from every landing.

    all of this while being accused of being a drunk.

    can the current liberal top end even approach this?


  • Byron

    SB, as I recall, it was in response to the attacks on 9/11 that President Bush initiated the Global War on Terror. And since, not one attack on American soil. The next point brought up will be: “Oh, but the bad guys attacked in other places!” Do a graph. Plot the attacks on a timeline from the start and tell me whether or not the rate of out-of-theater incidents has steadily decreased. I won’t claim this is because of high body counts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, I’ll attribute this to the intelligence we have gotten since then, and the work done with that intelligence, 99% of which we’ll never hear about, as it should be.

  • Byron–You said, “Bush kept us from being attacked on our soil” not “Bush, AFTER 9/11, kept us from being attacked on our soil”

    All I’m doing is just pushing you to be technically correct.

    And, with accuracy in mind, if 9/11 was the benchmark event that started the War on terror, then what were the anthrax attacks? Were they just a misunderstanding? Or terror?


  • Byron

    SB, No leads other than domestic were ever developed in the Antrax case. Further, Al Queda never took credit for it (in complete knowledge that this would fall under the NBC protocols, allowing the President to authorize use of retaliatory WMD.

    As for post/pre 9/11, you got to be kidding me. You wasted your time to split a hair?

    The original question centered on the thousand ship navy. Bad.Idea.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    It seems clear that NATO, and any other collective security organization of which the US is a part, will do little enough even with US participation, and virtually nothing without it. Nobody called for a thousand ships, and we certainly like to have allies. But to count on them for our basic security needs is a dangerous game. Also, we would do well to remember that, when we allow our capabilities in parts of the warfighting spectrum to disappear (for reasons budgetary or otherwise), our enemies are unusually skilled in forcing us to fight the next conflict precisely in that part of the spectrum.


  • UltimaRatioReg

    Also, Ducky,

    Phrases like “putz” and “unmitigated disaster” seem to betray a less than objective professional analysis in the formation of an opinion.

    The brave soldiers and Marines who have kicked the hell out of AQ in Iraq after they were told that it couldn’t be done would probably disagree with the assessment of unmitigated disaster.

    I know I would.


  • Heh…but Sid we agree about the 1000 ship navy! And it’s no fun to agree, right? (grin)

  • sid

    And it’s no fun to agree, right? (grin)

    Bad form indeed 😉

    Such collaborative fleet efforts have a chequered history

  • Rubber Ducky


    The American people have made their judgment on the Putz and his stewardship. Bush’s average job rating in the 9 national polls conducted in December is 28% favorable, lowest on record.

    And it’s hard to find those folks who said that military victory in Iraq “couldn’t be done.” The iconic phrasing for that judgment before the war was “cakewalk” and so it was … until the hapless Bush Administration then faced its next task: turning military victory into a sustained and sustainable peace. Far from denigrating service in Iraq, I rue the waste of lives and resources squandered since Baghdad fell.

    Our military readiness has been seriously weakened by this war of choice. Admiral Mullen knows that US resources alone are insufficient to bring us back to full strength with the timeliness needed for national security and so advocates for collective strength with allies. Isolationism is a resonant theme in our nation’s history, but the victories we have earned have been gained through collective effort with other nations and other navies; two to name are World War II and the Cold War.

    Al Gray was one of the many cerebral Commandants of the Marine Corps. On several occasions I’ve heard him say “There are no crowded battlefields.” If the soldier (or man-of-war) alongside you is shooting in the same direction you are, that’s a really good thing and don’t knock it.

    To my friend Byron and his praise for preventing terror attacks, there are four stunning failures in the Global War On Terror (terrible concept – wonderful marketing) on Bush’s watch. 9/11 is the first: “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States” was the title of his Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). Bush ignored the warning and denigrated the briefing (“You’ve covered your ass now”). Good history here:

    The next three are London, Madrid, and now Mumbai. The vaunted GWOT doesn’t seem to work ‘globally,’ with the Mumbai attack now causing gigantic tensions in Pakistan that seriously degrade US ability to deal with problems in that region. If that’s success, what would failure look like?

  • SeniorD

    Folks, we’re getting WAY off topic.

    If we do a quick review of the geopolitical situation, we find several hot spots (the biggest, in my mind, is Pakistan/India). When nuclear elephants dance, things get broken and those two supposed U.S. allies are getting ready for a dance. Now, how should a 1,000 ship Global Navy answer? For that matter, which side do we support?

    Sure, China is building a true, blue water Navy, but their backyard is relatively shallow and full of oil. The Spratley Islands, claimed by several countries, is another area of concern. And, to be sure, let’s not forget Taiwan.

    What about the Norks? Their eyes have been focused on the extremely rich South but trying to support any kind of defense in that area requires gun platforms (which this country is rapidly running away from). What other member of the 1,000 ship Global Navy will come to the rescue of the U.S. and our allies? Hint, it won’t be India or China while the Russian ‘Cub’ is growing into another Bear.

    My point in this rambling post is that the United States Navy cannot, in its present condition, fight in three different theaters and have anything left over for simple coastal defense. Someone in the Five Sided Monument to Murphy’s Law needs to wake up to what they’ve done to the best Navy this benighted world has ever seen.

  • Byron

    Senior, on that we can agree. Our new construction program (with the notable exception of the Virginia SSNs) is as pocked up as a wooden watch. Greed on the part of the mega-milcorps, greed on the part of DoN, DoD, and senior Navy officers looking to retire and get on the gravy train. Time to slice the raw meat thin, living or dead.

    RD: have a nice day.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Never going to agree with your outlook. To consider the lives lost since Baghdad fell as “squandered” is a denigration of our service. Men do not fight so hard and so well, and dedicate so much to a cause they do not believe in.

    Funny, in all the time gearing up for and serving in Iraq, I never heard “cakewalk” or “welcomed as heroes”, not from anyone. But I heard “unwinnable” from MSM and pols opposed to the war countless times.

    In the GWOT, I didn’t recall that we assumed responsibility and/or operational control of British, Spanish, or Indian national security. If we have, we are gonna need some more troops.

    As for the Prez and his 28% approval rating, if that is the yardstick, whither Congress (19%)?

    For this line of discussion, to quote the late owner of the Third Base Pub, “‘Nuff said.”


  • Rubber Ducky

    URR: if you’re gonna get upset, get upset at the right people. here’s a list…

    Ken Adelman
    “I believe demolishing Hussein’s military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.” – Washington Post Feb. 13, 2002

    “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” –Vice President Dick Cheney, “Meet the Press,” March 16, 2003

    “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.” –President Bush, standing under a “Mission Accomplished” banner on the USS Lincoln aircraft carrier, May 2, 2003

    “It’s hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam’s security forces and his army. Hard to imagine.” –Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, testifying before the House Budget Committee prior to the Iraq war, Feb. 27, 2003

    “Oh, no, we’re not going to have any casualties.” —President Bush, discussing the Iraq war with Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson, after Robertson told him he should prepare the American people for casualties

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Not upset in the least. This is my first ever blog, and I knew that there was a chance, however implausible, that someone out there might disagree with me. URR

  • Rubber Ducky

    Welcome aboard.

  • URR,

    Just as the Thousand Ship Navy finds its first role since conception of the idea, and before it becomes a useful international coalition against a shared low intensity threat like piracy, you are ready to sink the idea?

    Can’t say I’m compelled to agree. I can barely find evidence the US Navy needs to involve itself in Somali piracy for ships bound to Asia and Europe, and now we want to advocate that the US Navy does the job of Asian and European Navies in protecting their commerce at sea? I must be missing something here.

    Our size is important but relative to our obligations and commitments, not the obligations and commitments of others. The size of the Royal Navy should have no bearing on the size of the US Navy, and in the same vein, I don’t see how the size of the PLA Navy holds similar value. Yes, I said it. We don’t match unit for unit with anyone, its a poor way to manage our force structure, instead we manage our capabilities in relation to our requirements. Other Navies can determine both the capabilities we need and the requirements necessary to meet those needs, but size isn’t the driving metric in this bloggers opinion.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    My point is that the concept of the thousand ship navy is of very limited use when the US would be confronted with a major challenge to our ability to project power, protect commerce, or secure our SLOCs against a major foe (Russia, China, and regionally, Iran). With Russia supplying a great deal of Europe’s oil and natural gas, we have already seen Germany shy away from antagonizing Moscow, and the rest of NATO deeply divided regarding collective action, for the very same reason.

    The size of our Navy is not necessarily the determining factor, and I am certainly not advocating a US Navy of a thousand ships. The proper mix of surface and subsurface combatants, amphibs, and support vessels is another important factor.

    The US Navy needs to be prepared to face down any major challenges on the world’s oceans with very little help. As the summer showed us, national self-interest still drives what actions our allies are willing or not willing to take in support of collective security. The same can be said of the multi-national commercial shipping firms envisioned as partners in this thousand ship venture. If they stand to lose too much by participating in an action that might antagonize a power that can do them financial harm, we will not be able to count on them.


  • jim

    How long would it take the US to reconstitute an effective fleet? I’m assuming little of anything good will happen under our new tyrant Obama. So after he does his worst, how long will it take us to rebuilt. Years? Decades?