I was rather surprised to see that CDR Salamander took what I considered idle, but pointed comments to one of his posts here at USNI, and wrote a piece over at his place.

I was so new to the Navy when I first heard the term ‘1000 Ship Navy’, that I hardly knew my way from my berthing to my work center aboard SAN. I read all the blog postings about it back in 2007, but didn’t really pay too much attention to it. But, in seeing how my old Ship and others functioned in CTF 151 in 2009, how EUNAVFOR operates in the Indian Ocean, as well as the Indians, Russians, Chinese and others all in an ‘effort’ against piracy, I started to notice a similarity between the words I had read on the 1000 ship navy and what I saw seeing. With the assembled ships and aircraft from many NATO Nations as well as the aircraft from the UAE and Qatar, I am again seeing actions that mirror then CNO Mullen’s words.

Membership in this ‘navy’ is purely voluntary and would have no legal or encumbering ties. It would be a free-form, self-organizing network of maritime partners — good neighbors interested in using the power of the sea to unite, rather than to divide. The barriers for entry are low. Respect for sovereignty is high.

While adding the NATO dimension to operations off Libya, the notion of the fleet being ‘free-form, self-organizing’ is not exactly applicable, the rest of the quote is still rather accurate in terms of how hostilities began off Libya.

To start, I do not think the term 1,000 ship navy is the right term to use. That name itself is antithetical to Admiral Mullen’s words in that he said,”Respect for sovereignty is high.” After all, a Navy is defined as “the whole body of warships and auxiliaries belonging to a country or ruler”. Where as the definition of fleet, “the largest organized unit of naval ships grouped for tactical or other purposes”. What Admiral Mullen was proposing was never a navy, it was a fleet at best.

Alliances of any form, or even just bilateral security agreements between nations are a difficult thing. The ever changing political calculus of each government involved is something that can defy the abilities of even the best statesmen in holding an alliance together. A situation that would warrant the vast array of nations to muster the strength to find enough common ground in bringing their combined maritime forces to constitute a single navy (or fleet) is on par with the World Wars–not a possible reality that is likely enough to warrant such an initiative to become the cornerstone of US Naval Operations.

More well put would be the notion of a Complex Adaptive Fleet (CAF) [note: I called it a Complex Adaptive System Fleet, in the comments. But, The term I use here is less of a mouthful.]. I call it complex, because of the myriad of different Standard Operating Procedures that each ship brings to the fleet. I use the term Adaptive, because the fleet is being joined based on the demands of the specific operation. The number of hulls made available to the fleet, as well as the number of nations contributing to the fleet are not the point, so there is no reason to reference any numbers in the terminology for such a fleet. The marketing, design and grandeur placed on the 1,000 ship navy is what made the initiative a nonstarter.

At the highest levels of World Navies is where this initiative was espoused. But, it is from the highest levels of national power where such an initiative has to be started and implemented, as it has been off the coasts of Libya and Somalia. What the then CNO was looking to do was only a Naval matter in a secondary sense. Primarily, what the initiative looks to do, is increase the amount of cooperation at the highest levels of government, and it is there that the most amount of work is needed to improve our ability to operate in such a manner. We already practice the skills needed to operate in a fleet such as a CAF, we do so by war games with allied and friendly nations and in personnel exchanges. The only place where such an initiative such as a CAF would have a noticeable impact on doctrine is at the level of government where people don’t wear uniforms any more.

At this point I should be clear. For the US Navy today, in terms of power projection or in terms of war at sea a la WWII we do not truly require any allies. However, putting holes in ships and Tomahawks on land isn’t all there is to war fighting. Hell, there isn’t even much fighting to war fighting at sea any more (that is not to say that such a reality can’t change in a heartbeat). The ‘everything else’ in war fighting has to be included. The reality is that for any conflict at sea we are likely to see we will need something like a UN Security Council Resolution. I will also say that the current operations off of Libya set a precedent that Mediterranean operations will demand NATO involvement. The causes of this reality are not so much the waning power of the US, as much as it is stronger regional powers (stronger politically, if not militarily). Isn’t warfare just the continuation of politics? If so, then how we operate in conflict must be in accordance with the political realities of where we are operating — which means allies and partners are required. Which means the banalities of an alliance are as necessary to put up with, work through and make the best of, as the Sun in Kandahar was for me a few months back.

By stating all of this, I do not mean to say that clear objectives are not required for operations. Or that a logical unified command structure is no longer a necessity. What I am stating here is nothing more than the political realities I’ve found in nearly every operation the United States has been engaged in since… Well, most of my life. Again, I do not feel that the US Navy or most other navies have much they need to change in terms of doctrine, not yet at least. On the part of the Navy, I view this as a continuation of the resistance to joint operations a few decades back. But, at the higher civilian levels, I do think there is much work to be done. Where as we have certain tripwires that trigger different responses aboard ships, we also need well defined tripwires geo-politically which trigger certain steps in any escalation of force against a common threat that nations face. As we in the military have preplanned courses of action against potential enemies, we need more planning at the political level between sovereign governments, so that operational caveats are not done in such an ad hoc and clumsy manor when operations should have started days/weeks ago. A notion such as the CAF does not lend itself well to anything beyond what we are seeing today in Libya or Somalia. It is a methodology best suited for sudden turns of events that demand quick action by nations and, as such shouldn’t be considered for anything outside of low intensity conflicts.

None of it would be easy to work out, nor do I have complete faith that such arrangements can be pulled off politically. But, as I said, the only think I think I am doing here is pointing out what I’ve seen as a reality, and offering how to do what we’ve already been doing, better.

Posted by CTR1(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III in Air Force, Army, Foreign Policy, Hard Power, History, Marine Corps, Navy, Piracy, Soft Power

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  • Just a note YN2; look to the history of coalition warfare at sea. It goes back thousands of years – documented earliest by the Greeks.

    No one is arguing against it – only cautioning about the realities of it.

    Speaking of Libya – remember that our first efforts off that coast were in coalition with the Swedish Navy … until they left – and minor help by The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. That is why we had to go to the “shores of Tripoli” by our own from the sea, and joined up with our Greek, Arab, and Berber mercenaries ashore.

    206 years later – technology and personalities have changed; but the fundamentals of the promise and weaknesses of coalition warfare at sea remains the same.

  • Byron

    Alliances that create a fleet in being does not always equate to a secure Nation…since these alliances are all driven by individual needs and pressures and theirs might not be ours…and actually, usually aren’t.

  • B. Walthrop

    The rhetoric surrounding the “1000 ship navy” when first forwarded by the CNO to other nations’ equivalent CNOs generated quite a lot of interest and discussion. It also generated quite a bit of confusion because of the quantitative nature of the term as well as the weaknesses surrounding the definition of “navy” that YN2 stated eloquently above. The concept then matured into Maritime Security Cooperation within the context of Maritime Strategy 2010.

    I think YN2s observations are quite interesting and worthy of discussion. It may boil down to a question of risk vs. cost. The detractors of the concept seem to be saying that if the USN were to completely rely on the construct of CAF to secure our national interest then that would lead to unacceptable security risks for the nation. Their solution would be for the USN to field a force structure that could be solely relied upon to secure our vital national interests. Depending on how one defined “vital national interests” this force structure would probably prove unaffordable rather quickly.

    That said, when the USN is called upon to support efforts that are in the interest of the US, but outside the VITAL national interests of the US for a particular action (Libya for example) then the concept of CAS makes quite a bit of sense to me. It also is probably more affordable from a fiscal perspective as well. It’s not enough to point out that coalition warfare, historically, has some impediments to implementation. War is a serious undertaking, so perhaps some impediments are of value. It is not enough to only focus on the risk side of the equation. You have to consider the implications to alternative force structure constructs. Since the USN is larger than the next 11 largest navies combined, I don’t see rhetoric supporting a 1000 ship navy or maritime security cooperation or CAF as particularly troubling or dangerous. On the other hand, cooperating with like minded maritime forces in areas where it makes sense seems like a fiscally responsible position from which to attempt to provide more robust maritime security. It’s probably no way to size a fleet, but the cost is low, the payoff is potentially high, and it probably increases security over the long haul. Five decades of US interaction with the Egyptian military has directly contributed to a more positive progression of that country’s political transition (compared to Libya) to date, and that suggests a model for maritime implementation of CAS where it makes sense.


  • AT1 Charles H. Berlemann Jr

    The problem with the 1k ship Navy concept and potential this concept is how to maintain the fleet if it is affected by “Mission Creep” as we have seen just in the NFZ-L ops, some nations like the Norwegians and Danes are more then willing to bag MiGs, but not put bombs on the ground. So allies in a sense are finicky with regards to what the mission actually is. This is also a two way street; there are certain laws, rules, and instructions that prevent our forces from doing things without explict premission from the US Congress.
    I would also ask the question of what would a commanding officer of a US Navy ship do, if the Task Unit commander asked him to violate a law of warfare, to do something that could cause an international incident, or be party to something that is highly illegal? I only ask that because some of the places where we are trying to foster this 1000 ship Navy concept, we are dealing with nations that are very young. Also, as we have seen with in some of the regions we are operating in, there are hatreds that go back decaded is not millenia.
    The final question that I would ask is traditionally, this nation’s military forces have chaffed at operating as the junior partner in an allied force. It has been like that since even our first overseas expeditions with the relief forces heading to Bejing during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 and later caused a massive amount of issues when General Pershing found his American Expeditionary Force being used as garrasion troops while the supposed “Pros from Dover” did the heavy lifting. Since then we have traditionally wanted to be in charge; this has caused heartburn by not only those from Foggy Bottom but also some of our allies military leadership.

    I do think this could potentially idea could work in our favor, the hard part is getting the details down. As I have noticed with just trying to work with the rest of the DoD, we have instructions that talk past each other about who, what, how, and where just the executive washroom key is supposed to be controlled. So trying to get nations that have differnt operating experiences, different expectations, and even different languages all on the same page will be the challenge.