Being “Red”: The Challenge of Taking the Soviet Side in War Games at the Naval War College, Pt. 1

The following article originally appeared in The Naval War College Review and is republished with permission. It will be republished in two parts. Read it in its original form here.

By David Alan Rosenberg

Over four decades have passed since the U.S. Navy was last locked in combat at sea with a determined and capable oceangoing enemy. During those years, more than two generations of American naval technology have come and gone, as have the two generations of U.S. naval officers trained to operate and command that technology in combat. During those same four decades, the once minor Soviet Navy has emerged in both quality and quantity as a formidable seagoing force.

In the absence of actual hostilities between the United States and the U.S.S.R., an eventuality the United States has actively sought to deter, there has been no opportunity for the Navy to test its officers and its technology against the Soviet threat under wartime conditions. As the World War II reality of sustained combat at sea fades into distant memory, alternative means of measuring the U.S. Navy’s strategic and tactical readiness to fight a full-scale naval war have taken on increasing importance in the development of sound American maritime strategy.

Following the approaches established in the U.S. Navy of the 1920s and 1930s, two complementary techniques for measuring strategic readiness have emerged over these past 40 years. The first of these is a massive program of both regularly scheduled and special fleet exercises involving both U.S. and allied navies. Such exercises have their antecedents in the twenty-one fleet problems conducted on a more or less annual basis by the concentrated U.S. Fleet between 1922 and 1940. As mounted today, these exercises are designed to test interoperability, tactics, and operational capability in various regions, in all types of seasons and weather, against a wide range of possible combat scenarios. More than 100 major exercises involving actual forces afloat took place in 1985 and another 90 in 1986.1

The second approach is that of war gaming. The War Gaming Department of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island has emerged as the major institution where the U.S. Navy can test its strategic concepts and tactical and operational doctrine in a dynamic atmosphere of simulated battles and campaigns. Whereas during exercises commanders are restricted from firing a shot in anger against the U.S. and allied forces simulating the enemy, at Sims Hall in Newport, a full range of ordnance may be employed through the use of computer models of combat engagements and logistics generation. Experienced and prospective naval commanders are given the opportunity to make combat decisions and observe outcomes, and subsequently review their choices, explore alternatives, analyze the results, and draw lessons from the experience.

War gaming was introduced at the Naval War College a century ago. In the fall of 1886, two years after the War College opened, Lieutenant William McCarty Little, U.S. Navy (Retired) presented a lecture on “Colomb’s Naval Duel Game”—a simulation of two-ship combat. By 1894, gaming was a standard part of the course of instruction. It was conducted at three levels— single ship combat, tactical fleet formations and actions, and a strategic game simulating an entire war—as a means of teaching students to apply broad principles to specific situations. It was also useful in preparing plans and tactical formations for the fleet’s annual war problem.”2

Gaming became increasingly important in succeeding decades. In the interwar years, as the battles and campaigns of World War I were studied and the future shape of naval warfare examined, war gaming became a central element of the War College curriculum. An inexpensive (if imperfect) alternative to full-scale fleet exercises—an important consideration given the 1920s economy and 1930s austerity—the games were fought with increasing frequency in Luce Hall and, after 1934, on the checkerboard floor of Pringle Hall. In 1932, a standard game schedule was established which called for 304 of the 326 days in the academic year to be devoted to tactical and strategic exercises, tactical operations and quick decisions problems, critiques of gaming experiences, and a Battle of Jutland Board Maneuver.

Gaming played an important role in shaping the Navy’s strategic thinking and planning during the interwar period. While the Battle of Jutland exercise was used primarily as a training tool for gaining familiarity with gaming procedures and infusing the gamers with enthusiasm by offering the opportunity to refight the famous but inconclusive 1916 battle, the war games that pitted the U.S. Navy against the Japanese Navy, code-named “‘Orange,” served a more specific purpose. They cast doubt on the assumption that the U.S. Navy could easily defeat the Japanese in the Pacific by virtue of numerical superiority. By the early 1930s, as intelligence improved, awareness of logistical problems increased, and as the games grew more sophisticated, it became apparent that the U.S. Navy might well lose. During the rest of the decade, war gaming helped shape U.S. naval strategy, particularly by preparing those who would become the high command, to meet the challenges that lay ahead.3

One important element of gaming, even during the interwar years, was intelligence. Beginning in 1929, the War College maintained an intelligence department as an integral part of its institutional structure. The actual work of the department remains something of a mystery. An examination of the college staff rosters from 1929 through Pearl Harbor reveals that at least one captain and two to five commanders or lieutenant commanders, and even an occasional Army and Marine lieutenant colonel were assigned to the department along with the college’s professor of international law, G.G. Wilson, who was also on the faculty of Harvard University. Unlike the Department(s) of Operations, Strategy, and Tactics (actual departmental organization varied from year to year), which prepared the college curriculum and set the standards for gaming, the Intelligence Department appears to have been the research arm of the college, providing information on U.S. and foreign navies to support the curriculum, including gaming.

The kind and amount of information the Intelligence Department provided to students and faculty is not clear from War College archives. Three things are known, however. First, modern intelligence gathering was a factor in establishing the tactical situation for the game: mock radio intelligence intercepts were provided to ‘“Blue” and “Orange” teams as they prepared for combat. Second, there was no dedicated “Orange” team: students played both sides of the conflict. Finally, the absence of a dedicated ‘‘Orange”’ team, with its own unique approach to warfighting, reflected an assumption that the opposing navies were not only similar in force structure and weapons systems, but would rely on similar tactics. The theory of naval warfare at the time centered on the decisive fleet action, primarily involving battleships in a battleline engagement. Within this context, there appeared to be only a finite number of possible permutations in tactics or variations in military philosophy.

The U.S. Navy was in fact “reading the Japanese mail” during the 1920s and 1930s through radio intelligence code breaking, and used information gleaned from broken naval codes to ascertain the size and readiness of the Japanese Fleet. The full story of that intelligence effort has yet to be declassified, much less written, but based on information that is currently available, intelligence on the Japanese tactical and operational approach to war does not appear to have been a major concern of those in the Navy’s leadership who directed the collection and use of the “secrets from the ether” as such intercepts were called. It is possible that such information was collected and analyzed but was considered too sensitive for dissemination, In any event, it was not made available to either the fleet or to the War College.4

During the interwar years, the Naval War College was the pinnacle of the Navy’s professional education. As of 7 December 1941, every active duty flag officer qualified to command at sea, save one, was a War College graduate. That leadership, shaped by a curriculum centered on war gaming, had already anticipated, through gaming experience, most of the strategic challenges that World War II in the Pacific would present. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz’ comment that the courses and war games at Newport in the 1920s were so thorough that “nothing that happened in the Pacific [during World War II] was strange or unexpected’’ has been widely quoted. But Nimitz was referring to overall strategy and the “fantastic logistic efforts required to support the operations of the war.’’5 The inattention to enemy tactics and operational practices in the interwar war games contributed to the startling and devastating tactical surprises the Japanese were able to inflict on the U.S. Navy in a series of battles from Pearl Harbor through the Guadalcanal Campaign in 1941-1943. The lesson of this experience—not to assume that an enemy’s tactics and strategy will mirror one’s own—was paid for dearly.

War gaming suffered something of a decline at the Naval War College after World War II. The Navy perceived its mission in the 1950s in terms of readiness to conduct forward defense, power projection ashore, and sea control—concepts that did not lend themselves readily to then existing techniques of manual war gaming. The most likely enemy of the United States—the U.S.S.R.—was not nearly so formidable a seagoing power as the Japanese had been in the interwar period. In the absence of a real naval opponent who could be cast in the “Orange” role, it was difficult to generate scenarios that were as credible or compelling as those of the 1930s. In 1958, the old game board in Pringle Hall, where warship models had been maneuvered by hand, was replaced by the Navy’s first war gaming computer, the Navy Electronic Warfare Simulator (NEWS), which had been under development since 1945. The following year a separate war gaming department was established in Sims Hall. In contrast to the interwar period, however, the NEWS was used for only 63 days of war gaming in 1965, including War College games, and Atlantic Fleet and Destroyer School training exercises.6

In the late 1960s, plans were laid for replacing the NEWS with a new and updated computerized war gaming center. In 1972, War College President Vice Admiral Stansfield Turner introduced a variety of reforms in the college curriculum. Among his many ideas, Turner disapproved of the way in which naval war games had been played at the college up to that time. He felt that in the past they had overemphasized the writing of complex operation orders and should be used more effectively as a teaching tool in educating students in the decision making process. Turner ordered extensive modifications in the new computer equipment for this purpose. He wanted every student, not just the select few, to have the opportunity to play an admiral’s role in a war game. While modifying the computer equipment for this purpose, Turner also encouraged the development of tabletop games created by Professor Jacques Naar, the first occupant of the McCarty Little Chair of Gaming and Research Technique.

It was the emergence of the Soviet Navy as a serious oceangoing challenge, however, which was primarily responsible for a resurgence of war gaming at the Naval War College. By the mid-1970s it had become apparent that the Soviet Navy would be a formidable opponent. War gaming would be a valuable tool for testing U.S. strategy, tactics, and capabilities against this potential threat, but only if the opposition were portrayed in the games as realistically as possible. Just as detailed intelligence about Japanese capabilities had been a critical component of the interwar games, so detailed intelligence about the Soviet Union had become a critical element in the 1970s. This time, however, it was apparent that knowledge of capabilities was not enough. The Soviet approach to naval warfare was known to be fundamentally different from that of the United States. To achieve a degree of realism, it was necessary to use the best possible information on Soviet strategy, decision making, and tactical doctrine in designing and implementing the games.

To meet this need, the Naval War College called on the Navy Field Operational Intelligence Office (NFOIO). In April 1976 the NFOIO (which became the Navy Operational Intelligence Center in 1984) sent a detachment to Newport to provide a “more comprehensive and informed intelligence input, particularly in the area of Soviet naval tactics, force structure, and capabilities.” A ‘‘dedicated intelligence team,’’ composed initially of one captain with an intelligence specialty, one commander or lieutenant commander line officer with a warfare specialty and intelligence subspecialty, one civilian intelligence analyst, and a civilian secretary, was attached to the Center for War Gaming.

Their mission, as established by an agreement between the President of the Naval War College and the Director of Naval Intelligence, was to act as “‘a permanent, in-residence ‘Opposition Team’ in appropriate war games,” with responsibility for directing opposition play or supporting a designated opposition force commander. The unit would provide opposition force intelligence data for operational units played in the game; simulate play of appropriate opposition political echelons and military commands; and “provide intelligence support to the Center for War Gaming on all matters pertaining to Soviet naval operations and tactical doctrine,’’ including all source briefings on the “‘capabilities, limitations, historical trends, and current developments in the Soviet Navy.” In addition, the detachment would conduct independent research on the Soviet Navy, assist in the preparation of intelligence publications, and assist NFOIO in preparing tactical analyses.7

The establishment of the intelligence detachment at the Center for War Gaming reflected growing concern about the expansion of Soviet military power, the same concern that prompted other U.S. intelligence innovations such as the creation of a permanent Office of Net Assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense during James Schlesinger’s tour as Secretary of Defense from 1973 to 1975, and the 1976 Team B reassessment of National Intelligence Estimates. It was part of a broad national effort to become more vigorous and professional in assessing and confronting Soviet military capability. Not since the interwar period had the Navy treated war gaming and simulation so seriously.

The creation of a dedicated opposition team also marked an important change in the Navy’s philosophy of war gaming, For one thing, it was a giant swing of the pendulum away from a long-standing institutional bias toward “mirror imaging” the enemy during war games. Equally important, it was designed to counter the kind of personal competition fostered by older approaches to war gaming. Under the old system, the games often became merely tests of skill between Navy commanders assigned to the two opposing sides. It was a personal contest between real-life competitors in which the main objective was not to play the ‘‘Red” or “Blue” side realistically or even to explore tactical and strategic lessons, but simply to beat the opposition. The question of who won and who lost overshadowed everything else. By taking the “Red” side out of the hands of the students or visiting admirals who were utilizing the war-gaming facility, the emphasis was shifted to the learning experience offered by simulated strategic interaction and tactical exchange.

By the late 1970s, war gaming at Newport had become much more than a means of training students in decision making and tactics. The revised operations course created by retired Vice Admiral Thomas Weschler in 1977-1981 changed the focus of the games from the level of individual ships or small units to the fleet and task force level. The multi-week Global War Game was begun in the summer of 1979 to examine changing strategic, logistic, and tactical options for U.S. worldwide military operations. Originally intended primarily to occupy War College students who stayed in Newport over the summer break, this innovative, broad-ranging game soon took on a life of its own. In recent years, sizeable contingents of flag officers and civilian decision makers from Washington have come to Newport every summer to play in the most extensive simulation of general war staged in the United States.8

David Alan Rosenberg is a Naval Reserve officer assigned to the Chief of Naval Operations Intelligence Analysis 0166 Reserve unit based at Naval Air Facility, Washington, D.C. As a civilian, he is a professor in the Strategy Department at the Naval War College.


1. On current exercises, see Christopher C. Wright, “U.S. Naval Operations in 1985,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Naval Review, May 1986, pp. 34-40ff; and “U.S. Naval Operations in 1986,” U.S, Naval Institute Proceedings, Naval Review, May 1987, pp. 30-43ff. Interwar fleet problems are documented in the National Archives and Records Service microfilm publication M496, U.S. Fleet Problems, 1922-1941; their importance is discussed most recently in Thomas C, Hone and Mark David Mandeles, ‘Managerial Style of the Interwar Navy: A Reappraisal,” Naval War College Review, September-October 1980, pp. 88-101.

2. John B. Hattendorfet al., Sailors and Scholars: The Centennial History of the U.S, Naval War College (Newport, R.1: Naval War College Press, 1984), pp. 24-25, 40-41; see also Francis J. McHugh, Fundamentals of Naval War Gaming (Newport, R.L: Naval War College, 1966), chap. 2.

3. Hattendorfet al., pp. 137-161; Michael Vlahos, The Blue Sword: The Naval War College and the American Mission, 1919-1949 (Newport, R.L: Naval War College Press, 1980), pp. 131-156; see also Michael Vlahos, “Wargaming, an Enforcer of Strategic Realism, 1919-1942,” Naval War College Review, March-April 1986, pp. 7-22; and Edward Miller’s forthcoming study of War Plan Orange for the Naval Institute Press.

4. The evolution of organization and personnel of the intelligence department is documented in U.S. Naval War College, Register of Officers, 1884-1977, Naval War College Archives, Newport, R.I., pp. 37-62; on radio intelligence code breaking and the work of the Office of Naval Intelligence in the interwar period, see the declassified Top Secret Ultra history by Laurence Safford, “A Brief History of Communications Intelligence in the United States,” SRH 149, Record Group 457, Modern Military Headquarters Branch, National Archives, Washington, D.C. This 22-page paper contains more detail on what was being read, when, and how it was used before World War II than any published source. On using simulated radio intercept messages, see Vlahos, The Blue Sword, pp. 136-139. The failure to consider Japanese tactics and training in war games is discussed by T.J. McKearney, “The Solomons Naval Campaign: A Paradigm for Surface Warships in Maritime Strategy,” Unpublished Student Research Paper, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif.: September 1985, pp. 105-138.

5. E.B. Potter, Nimitz (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1976), p. 136, contains the quote from Nimitz” letter to Vice Admiral Charles Melson. The quote also hangs in the lobby of the Naval War College War Gaming Center at Sims Hall.

6. Hattendorfet al., pp. 237-238; on NEWS, see McHugh, chap. 5.

7. Memorandum of Understanding between Rear Admiral B.R. Inman, U.S. Navy, Director of Naval Intelligence, and Vice Admiral J.J. LeBourgeois, U.S. Navy, President, Naval War College, Subject: NAVINTCOM Element at War Gaming Center, April 1976, from the files of the NAVOPINCEN Detachment, Naval War College, Newport, R.I.; on the Turner reforms, see Hattendorf et al., chap. 11, especially pp. 286-287.

8. Hattendorf et al., pp. 312-315.

Featured Image: Sailors on an American warship observe a Soviet Tarantul III class missile corvette underway. (U.S. National Archives/Scene Camera Operator: PH1 Scott Allen, USN)

The U.S. Navy in the War of 1812: Winning the Battle but Losing the War, Pt. 1

By William J. Prom


Many popular American histories of the War of 1812 portray the conflict as a series of stunning successes for the young nation and the United States Navy in particular. This is a war that included storied events like the U.S. frigate Constitution earning the nickname ‘Old Ironsides,’ the U.S. frigate Essex’s cruise of the Pacific, and numerous victorious frigate duels against the preeminent naval power of the era.

Some histories gloss over the U.S. Navy’s failures enough that it even appears the young nation won a war against the most powerful navy in the world. Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, however, summed up the war quite differently stating that “although relieved by many brilliant incidents, indicative of the real spirit and capacity of the nation, the record upon the whole is one of gloom, disaster, and government incompetence, resulting from lack of national preparation, due to the obstinate and blind prepossessions of the Government, and, in part, of the people.”1 The U.S. Navy’s actions before and during the War of 1812 deserve critical examination to better evaluate the service’s success and understand how the war was fought. A consideration of the U.S. Navy’s preparation and conduct of the War of 1812 as a whole and at Lake Champlain in particular provides enduring lessons regarding maritime superiority and adversary-oriented planning.

Part One will discuss the U.S. Navy’s performance in general and Part Two will focus on Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough’s actions on Lake Champlain.

The Path to War

After resolving the Quasi War with France in 1800 and establishing peace in the Mediterranean with the Barbary States in 1805, the U.S. Navy’s clear antagonist was the British Royal Navy. Britain and France were in a relatively uninterrupted state of war with each other since the start of the French Revolution. The conflict intensified when Napoleon took control of France in 1803. To maintain their dominance on the seas, the Royal Navy relied on impressing sailors to man their ships. As a seafaring nation of immigrants mostly from the British Isles, American sailors were prime candidates for impressment into British service. American sovereignty and citizenship meant little to a monarchy that regarded its citizens as subjects indefinitely.

The British Government issued the first of their Orders in Council on January 6, 1807 to bolster their blockade of France. These Orders justified seizing and inspecting neutral ships to prevent any aid to Napoleon. American merchantmen were regularly stopped by the British to inspect cargo and impress sailors. On June 22, 1807, the most egregious infraction occurred when the frigate HMS Leopard stopped the American frigate Chesapeake off Norfolk. When the American Captain James Barron refused to allow the British aboard to inspect for suspected deserters, HMS Leopard opened fire.  Chesapeake was unprepared to engage and had to surrender after firing a single shot. The affair ended with three dead and eighteen injured aboard Chesapeake before giving up four suspected deserters to the British. President Thomas Jefferson believed that had Congress been in session or had he requested it, war would have been declared right then.2

The incident enraged the American public, but no change occurred with naval funding, manning, or deployment.  President Jefferson levied a heavy embargo against the British, and for their part the British Admiralty recalled HMS Leopard’s commander and admitted the error. The situation deescalated and soon the American public was enthralled by the revelation of Vice President Aaron Burr’s conspiracy and trial for treason. However, despite repeated American requests the British did not rescind the Orders in Council. Instead, they issued more and the impressments continued.

President James Madison spoke before Congress on June 1, 1812 regarding relations with Great Britain. He cited the impressment of American sailors, disregard for American sovereignty, and the plundering of American commerce as evidence of a state of war existing between the two nations.3 Since 1800, Great Britain captured 917 American ships and impressed 6,257 American seamen.4 With support from the War Hawks who sought to acquire Canada, Congress declared war on June 18, 1812. Ironically, the British rescinded the maligned Orders in Council two days earlier.

In 1812 the British Navy included 130 ships of the line with 60-120 guns and 600 frigates and smaller vessels. And the U.S. Navy at that time? Seven frigates fit for sea, three needing repairs, eight brigs, schooners, or sloops, and 165 gunboats (of which 103 were in ordinary or under repair). Never large to begin with, the U.S. Navy almost evaporated after hostilities ended with Tripoli in 1805. Cuts continued even after the ChesapeakeLeopard incident in 1807, and accelerated in the spring of 1810.5 Naval historian Charles O. Paullin described succinctly that when Congress declared war, “the Navy Department was unprepared in every essential means, instrument, and material of naval warfare. It had no dry docks. It had few ships. With the exception of the naval establishment at Washington, the navy-yards were in a state of neglect and decay.”6 Thankfully for the U.S. Navy, Napoleon thoroughly occupied the British Navy and the American declaration of war was entirely unexpected by the British government. Of their hundreds of warships, the British had only one ship of the line, seven frigates, and a dozen smaller vessels operating out of Halifax in the summer of 1812.7

In the year before declaring war, Congress and the Navy Department did little to prepare for the conflict. In a country where many questioned the need for or even dreaded the existence of a standing military, the small staff of the Navy Department focused more on relevancy and survival than war preparations. Only months before the war, Congress slowly began a meager build-up but spent nothing on ship construction. Perhaps out of hubris, only weeks after declaring war Congress approved $829,000 for purchasing, repairing, and equipping captured enemy vessels. So much opposition to or disinterest in the war existed that Congress couldn’t pass a bill to build more ships until January 1813. They approved $2,500,000 for four ships of the line and six frigates—25 percent more than the Navy Department’s entire 1811 budget. These warships would never see combat against the British.8

The Maritime Frontier and the War at Sea

The U.S. Navy began the war with three objectives: defend the maritime frontier, capture enemy warships and merchantmen, and maintain naval superiority on the lakes. Defending the maritime frontier consisted of guarding the American ports with gunboats, barges, or other small craft. This consumed almost half the U.S. Navy’s personnel without even adequately manning every vessel. Early in the war, Congress spent almost $2 million to reinforce the maritime frontier, but unless supported by land-based defenses, they were entirely ineffectual.9 They occasionally discouraged small enemy vessels from entering harbors or landing, but could not stop attacks from entire British squadrons.10 In August 1814, Rear Admiral Cockburn’s squadron overwhelmed the flotilla defending Washington and landed Major General Ross’s army, which burned down the capital city. The money spent on gunboats could have built eight frigates, but most unfortunately, they were made from materials originally allocated for six ships of the line.11

The war at sea to capture enemy warships and merchantmen was the most desirable objective for naval officers and the most popular in historical accounts. The numerous ship duel victories in this theater are some of the most famous victories of the early U.S. Navy. They include Captain Isaac Hull and the frigate Constitution’s capture of the frigate HMS Guerriere, Captain Stephen Decatur and the frigate United States’ capture of the frigate HMS Macedonian, and Captain William Bainbridge and Constitution’s victory over the frigate HMS Java. These and most other victories at sea, however, occurred in the opening months of the war. By early 1813, the British had eleven ships of the line, thirty-four frigates, and fifty-two other vessels operating off North America, while the U.S. had only two frigates at sea.12 By November 1813, the British established a commercial blockade that stopped all traffic regardless of nationality across the entire east coast south of New England.13

The resources of the British Navy quickly overwhelmed the U.S. Navy’s famous heavy frigates. After evading the blockade out of New York in May 1813, Decatur’s squadron of the frigates United States and Macedonian and sloop Wasp had to escape to New London, CT.  They remained there for the rest of the war. After sinking HMS Java, Constitution saw little action. Even though the British did not yet have Boston under a full blockade, they kept “Old Ironsides” in Boston Harbor for most of the war. The frigate Congress managed to slip out of Boston, only to return by the end of the year too damaged to repair. Her guns were stripped and she spent the rest of the war in ordinary. The frigate Constellation never escaped Norfolk throughout the war.14 Again with a voice of reason, Mahan evaluated the U.S. Navy’s conduct of the war at sea accurately:

“Tradition, professional pride, and the combative spirit inherent in both peoples, compelled fighting when armed vessels of nearly equal strength met; but such contests, though wholly laudable from the naval standpoint, which under ordinary circumstances cannot afford to encourage retreat from an equal foe, were indecisive of general results, however meritorious in particular execution.”15

Ultimately, no amount of successful frigate duels could win a war against the most powerful navy in the world.

Earlier in April 1814, the British extended their blockade to include New England. American imports shrank more than 25 percent from 1811 and exports dropped from $108 million in 1807 to less than $7 million.16 In August, the British marched on Washington, D.C. and burned down the capital city. To deny the British any resources, the U.S. Navy burned down the Washington Navy Yard themselves, including the U.S. Navy’s first 74-gun ship of the line, Columbia.  Of the seventeen sea-going U.S. Navy vessels at the start of the war, only seven remained by its end.17 By the end of 1814, the British held almost as many U.S. Navy sailors as prisoners as the U.S. Navy had sailors out to sea.18 Signed on December 24, 1814, the Treaty of Ghent restored pre-war territorial borders but did not address the U.S.’s greatest concern, impressment. The British already ceased the practice. They had far less need for sailors after Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig earlier in October 1814.

Part Two will provide a counterexample to the U.S Navy’s performance with Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough’s preparations at Lake Champlain.

William graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2009 and served for five years as an artillery officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, deploying to Afghanistan and afloat. He now writes with a focus on early American naval history.


1. A.T. Mahan, Sea Power in Its Relation to the War of 1812 (London: Sampson, Low, Marston & Company, 1905), 1: 290.

2. Walter R. Borneman, 1812: The War That Forged a Nation (New York: Harper Perennial, 2005), 24.

3. “June 1, 1812: Special Message to Congress on the Foreign Policy Crisis — War Message,” Miller Center, February 23, 2017,

4. Mahan, Sea Power in Its Relation to the War of 1812, 1:299-300.

5. Charles Oscar Paullin, Paullin’s History of Naval Administration, 1775-1911 (Annapolis, Naval Institute Press, 2012), 142, 148-150, 154; Theodore Roosevelt, The Naval War of 1812, 2 vols. (New York: Putnam, 1902), 1:109-110.

6. Paullin, Paullin’s History of Naval Administration, 147.

7. Ships at Sea extract from the Admiralty Office, July 1, 1812, in William S. Dudley and Michael J. Crawford, eds., The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History. 3 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 1985), 1:180-182; Roosevelt, The Naval War of 1812, 1:109-110.

8. Paullin, Paullin’s History of Naval Administration, 147-149.

9. Roosevelt, The Naval War of 1812, 1:244-246; Paullin, Paullin’s History of Naval Administration, 147-154.

10. Paullin 147-148, 151-154; TR 98-100

11. J. Russell Soley, “The Naval Campaign of 1812,” Proceedings 7, no. 3 (October 1881)

12. First Secretary of the Admiralty John W. Crocker to Admiral Sir John B. Warren, February 10, 1813, in Dudley and Crawford, The Naval War of 1812, 2:16-19; Mahan, Sea Power in Its Relation to the War of 1812, 2:13.

13. Borneman, 1812, 174.

14. Roosevelt, The Naval War of 1812, 1:204-208; Borneman, 1812, 175.

15. Mahan, Sea Power in Its Relation to the War of 1812, 1:289.

16. Borneman, 1812, 216; Mahan, Sea Power in Its Relation to the War of 1812, 1:406-407; Allan Reed Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America (New York: Free Press, 1994), 112.

17. Soley, “The Naval Campaign of 1812,” Proceedings 7, no. 3 (October 1881).

18. Jones to Madison, October 26, 1814, in Dudley and Crawford, The Naval War of 1812, 3:631-636.

Featured Image: “Action between U.S. Frigate Constitution and HMS Java, 29 December 1812″Painting in oils by Charles Robert Patterson. It depicts Constitution (at left), commanded by Captain William Bainbridge, exchanging broadsides with the British Frigate Java off Brazil early in the action. (Wikimedia Commons)

Integrated Force Structure Week Concludes on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

Last week CIMSEC featured articles submitted in response to our Call for Articles on integrated force structure assessment. Authors shared their thoughts on how to adjust force structure assessment to become more flexible, where to make cuts and divest in order to resource new priorities, and how to craft new force employment concepts to complement recent warfighting concepts. We thank these authors for their contributions. 

Incorporating Uncertainty into the Integrated Force Structure Assessment” by Jack McKechnie

“While force structure assessments (FSA) can mitigate uncertainty through a variety of techniques, significant risk remains. A candid discussion of uncertainty and how we can adjust as unexpected conditions evolve would boost the value of the FSA, and set the stage for how measures could be instituted to ensure the FSA remains resilient and adaptive.”

Sacred Cows For What? Considering Force Structure Cuts to Marine Infantry” by Walker D. Mills

“EABO is the right path forward for the Marine Corps, and senior leaders need to continue to push the concept forward by investing and divesting in the right places, including the infantry. Because of its size and relative lack of contribution to EABO, the Ground Combat Element and Marine infantry are the right places to start divesting to make room for the future.”

The Next Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: Building a Stand-In Naval Force” by Lt. Col. Roy Draa, USMC

“The Naval Services must develop and train a naval expeditionary force that is tailored to support stand-in forces within the adversary’s weapons engagement zone. A near-term approach doesn’t necessarily entail a departure from the three-ship Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and associated Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). But new force packages that are better aligned with future missions and force structure will make for a more preferable interim solution.”

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: SOUTH CHINA SEA (Oct. 12, 2019) An MV-22 Osprey with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, lands aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck)

The Next Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: Building a Stand-In Naval Force

Integrated Force Structure Week

By Lt. Col. Roy Draa, USMC

For almost two decades the United States Marine Corps has focused on a counterinsurgency fight through almost exclusively ground-based combat. While the Marine Corps has always met the demands of the nation, recent history has presented a challenge to its character as a naval service that requires a reinvigorated relationship with the U.S. Navy. The Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC) and the Chief of Naval Operations have signaled to the Naval Service that force design will be conducted along complementary, parallel, and coordinated paths toward transforming into future naval expeditionary and fleet forces.1

The Marine Corps, as a service, must be prepared to operate inside actively contested maritime and littoral spaces in support of fleet operations or wherever its role as the nation’s naval expeditionary force-in-readiness takes it. In similar fashion, given its understandable reticence to risk capital ships, the Navy must be comfortable with and capable of operating with regional partners and projecting power within a given adversary’s weapons engagement zone (WEZ) in a command and control degraded/denied environment. As stated in the Commandant’s Planning Guidance (CPG), these “Stand-in” forces must be, “designed to generate technically disruptive, tactical stand-in engagements that confront aggressor naval forces with an array of low signature, affordable and risk-worthy platforms and payloads.”2 In his planning guidance, the CMC further states, “I will continue to advocate for the continued forward deployment of our forces globally to compete against the malign activities of China, Russia, Iran, and their proxies – with a prioritized focus on China’s One Belt One Road initiative and Chinese malign activities in the East and South China Seas. This is not intended to be a defense of the status quo as our forces currently forward deployed lack the requisite capabilities to deter our adversaries and persist in a contested space to facilitate sea denial.”3

Additionally, the CMC has identified investment in large unmanned surface vessels, extra-large sub-surface vessels, and Expeditionary Advanced Bases (EABs) as critical in countering the local numerical superiority of adversaries in great power competition. While significant exercises and experimentation has been conducted by the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) to address peer threats in the high arctic and western Pacific, it must be understood that the Naval Service does not at present have the capabilities required to execute Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) as envisioned. The Naval Service must take immediate steps to strengthen its forward posture in the littorals through stand-in forces.

The Naval Services must develop and train a naval expeditionary force that is tailored to support stand-in forces within the adversary’s weapons engagement zone. A near-term approach doesn’t necessarily entail a departure from the three-ship Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and associated Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). But new force packages that are better aligned with future missions and force structure will make for a more preferable interim solution. One solution is a set of stand-in force constructs that are complementary to current formations and fleet tactics – the Littoral Combat Team (LCT), the Littoral Combat Group (LCG), and Littoral Strike Squadron (LSS).

The Littoral Combat Team

A naval expeditionary unit for stand-in forces would be comprised of multiple maneuver elements: embarked troops and their associated support, combatant vessels, and small craft. This is not intended as fully meeting the CMC and CNO’s desired end state with respect to LOCE or EABO. Rather, it is a bridging solution as the Naval Service endeavors to move toward a modern fleet.

It must be understood that the Littoral Combat Team (LCT) is an integral part of this concept as a bridge to future EABO. The LCT consists of Marine and naval forces deployed to key maritime terrain throughout partnered nations’ Economic Exclusion Zones (EEZ). These LCTs are essentially inshore weapons platforms and Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARP). The LCTs perform the missions of Theater Security Cooperation (TSC), deterrence, and ultimately, disruption of adversary freedom of access to key maritime terrain. They are comprised of task-organized Marine forces, including electronic warfare, unmanned aviation systems, engineers and construction battalions, and missile batteries, to name a few.

Supported by host nation forces, the LCT would also lower the fleet’s signature, distribute its networked combat power, and reduce the requirement for L-class shipping. They must be virtually self-sufficient, leveraging a small, but diversified logistics element capable of contracting and advanced manufacturing, drawing upon pre-positioned stockpiles of all classes of supply and operating autonomous logistics resupply platforms. In their dual role as FARPs, LCTs extend the range and sortie generation of fleet rotary wing and unmanned aviation assets and their ability to penetrate an adversary’s weapons engagement zone.

The Littoral Combat Group

Given the fiscal constraints of building the additional amphibious ships required to support the creation of multiple ARGs in the Pacific, a Littoral Combat Group (LCG) may provide a similar capability. A heavy variant of an LCG could be comprised of an L-Class ship and an Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB) Montford Point-class ship, supported by a composite Littoral Strike Squadron comprised of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). These ships would embark the aforementioned littoral combat teams and their associated equipment sets. Augmenting these ships as UAS launch/recovery platforms could be Cyclone Class patrol craft and Small Water Plane Area Twin Hull (SWATH) vessels (-i.e. FSF-1), and support vessels/small craft, such as Navajo-class salvage ships, Mark VI patrol boats and Landing Craft, Utility (LCU) to aid in mobility/counter-mobility.

Heavy variant of a littoral task group

The purpose of these ships would be to distribute warfighting capabilities throughout the stand-in force’s area of operations, with their lighter drafts permitting in-shore mobility. Lighter options for LCGs would drop the L-Class vessels, relying on an ESB, four LCS (performing various composite warfare functions) and multiple smaller support/ inshore vessels (FSF/SWATH, T-ATS, LCU x2, Mark VI x4). The LCGs would, in turn, be supported by the ARG and carrier groups operating from outside the adversary’s WEZ. Survivability of these vessels within the WEZ is dependent upon coordinated efforts between the stand-in forces warfare commanders.

The Littoral Strike Squadron

Current organizational tables for the Navy are heavily reliant upon the capital ships of the Expeditionary Strike Groups and Carrier Strike Groups to provide for the defense of the Amphibious Task Force and fleet, as well as strike missions in support of fleet action. The much-maligned LCS may be an answer to the rational hesitancy to risk cruisers within an adversary’s WEZ. While all naval vessels and small craft must be armed for close-in defense, (not to mention some limited offensive capability) they will still require surface and subsurface combatants to act in the role of picket ships. This Littoral Strike Squadron could be optimized with an embarked Marine Air Defense Integration System (MADIS), MAGTF Unmanned Expeditionary (MUX) UAS, and Extended Range Active Missile (ERAM) or Mine Warfare (MW) modules.

The LCS fits the role of power projection and LCG defense without the cost and risk that comes with building and employment of guided missile cruisers and destroyers. Common Unmanned Surface Vessels (CUSV), the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV), and Orca Unmanned Undersea Vessels (UUV), coupled with the MQ-8B Fire Scout would support LCS MW and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) missions, respectively. By operating with a diversity of unmanned platforms and electronic warfare systems, this force “erodes an adversary’s advantage by complicating their surveillance and targeting.”4

Light variant of a littoral task group

A cursory glance at the U.S. Navy’s list of ships and small craft reveals a shortfall in capacity and capability to support the formation of stand-in naval forces. Investment in a Heavy LCG is not insignificant, requiring multiple ship types. Given the Navy’s shipbuilding program focus on carriers, DDGs, and SSNs, building toward these new force packages is not a likely course of action. Light LCGs, relying on ESBs, LCSs, and smaller support vessels and craft would undoubtedly be a more economical bridging option. Additionally, employment of the U.S. Coast Guard’s (USCG) Long Range Interceptor (LRI) 11 and Legend-class Cutter WMSL-758 in RIMPAC and PACIFIC BLITZ exercises demonstrated those platforms’ and crews’ relevance in littoral operations. The LRI-11 and WMSL-758 should be considered for future acquisition by the U.S. Navy and (more importantly) as a USCG detachment within the LCG, given the utility of the vessel’s hull form and the capability the USCG brings with respect to TSC, maritime policing, and low-intensity conflict.

A final question that confronts the Naval Service is who should invest and man small craft and connectors in support of stand-in naval forces. Traditionally, with the exception of the now-deactivated Marine Small Craft Companies and 31st MEU’s boat company, the Marine Corps has deferred to the Navy in the programming for and operation of small craft. Given the reliance of the LCTs on small craft for logistics and maneuver, the Naval Service would do well to revisit this situation to determine where efficiencies are to be gained (i.e. Royal Dutch Marine crews’ manning of surface connectors).


The Navy has been in this existential fight before in these very same seas.  “Tin Can Sailors” have disrupted a more powerful fleet due to the training and leadership of its crews, as well as the enemy’s uncertainty as to what sort of naval force they were facing. The LCG, with that in mind, is a purpose-built Tin Can Navy; an interim solution until such time as a more operationally effective fleet is fiscally possible. It gives the Fleet a forward presence in times of peace and leading up to conflict; the ability to be present and to compete within a contested maritime environment

As with any well-intentioned concept, additional discussion must be fostered to address the potentially costly training and sustainment of new force packages and force structure. Furthermore, significant analysis remains to wargame potential PRC operational and strategic reactions to coalition efforts, lest we overlook requirements to address likely adversary responses to this force design and employment concept.

Lt. Col. Roy Draa is a career infantry officer with 19 years of active duty service in the United States Marine Corps. He is currently stationed at Quantico Marine Corps Base with Training and Education Command (TECOM). He is a charter member of the TECOM Warfighting Society, the Commanding General’s working group that explores and evaluates future warfare concepts, applications in maneuver warfare and mission command in improving professional military education. These are presented in a personal capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government.


[1]  Joint Memorandum: Integrated Naval Force Structure Assessment, 6 Sep 19

[2]  38th Commandant’s Planning Guidance, 17 Jul 19

[3] ibid.

[4] Surface Force Strategy: Return to Sea Control, 2018.

Featured Image: Marines aboard an amphibious assault vehicle exit the well deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class RJ Stratchko/Released)

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.