Full Spectrum Anti-Theater Missile Warfare

The following article is part of our cross-posting partnership with Information Dissemination’s Jon Solomon. It is republished here with the author’s permission. You can read it in its original form here.

By Jon Solomon

My recent post on how to counter Chinese anti-shipping capabilities between the First and Second Island Chains was heavily influenced by CAPT William Toti’s seminal article in last June’s Naval Institute Proceedings on the need to tackle anti-submarine warfare from a theater-wide, threat-tailored, combined arms campaign construct. If you haven’t read his article (which is outside the paywall), do so. It is a foundational work.

Toti observes that the dramatic sensor advantages that allowed the U.S. Navy to thoroughly dominate Soviet submarines throughout much of the Cold War no longer hold. Our ability to detect and attack an approaching adversary submarine before it can shoot first is uncertain at best. Yet, as Toti points out, “real ASW is not about detecting the submarine, it’s not about killing the submarine, it’s about defeating the submarine.”[i] The ability to win a close-in “knife fight” against a submarine, while important, represents just one of many opportunities to prevent the submarine from executing an effective attack. The submarine in wartime must, after all, have a safe haven in port for resupply, must break out of port, must transit through marginal seas or the open ocean to its patrol station, must be cued into patrol stations or intercept positions from which it would have the greatest opportunity for encountering prey, must detect and correctly classify a target (or receive targeting-quality cues from external surveillance and reconnaissance assets), must approach the target to weapons release range, and must land a blow with its weapon salvo. Most conceivable adversaries of the U.S. have the added geographical challenge of pushing their submarines through chokepoints such as straits in order to access the open ocean or return to port from patrol. Toti observes that there are exploitable vulnerabilities in each of these steps that can deny the submarine a chance to attack effectively and perhaps even lead to the submarine’s own destruction. Toti also notes that if a potential adversary’s leaders became convinced that the U.S. would be able to defang any submarine offensive, they might opt not to employ their submarines—or go to war—in the first place.

In rereading Toti’s article the other week, it occurred to me that there are remarkable parallels between what he suggests could be done to wage a wartime theater anti-submarine campaign and what could be done to wage a campaign to defeat an adversary’s wartime use of theater-range conventionally-armed ballistic and cruise missiles. His recounting of the Navy’s “full-spectrum ASW” doctrine provides an excellent model for tying together a combined arms “full-spectrum anti-theater missile campaign” concept along the lines of what Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work dubbed “raid breaker” earlier this year.[ii]

Just as ASW doesn’t depend entirely on destroying the submarine, theater missile defense doesn’t depend entirely on destroying the inbound theater missile. With this in mind, we see that each of Toti’s “ten threads of full-spectrum ASW” has an anti-theater missile analogue:

Full Spectrum ASW Full Spectrum Anti-Theater Missile Warfare
Defeat submarines in port Suppress missile-armed mobile platforms’ basing and logistical support infrastructure
Defeat the submarines’ shore-based command and control capability Defeat the systems-of-systems that missile-armed mobile platforms rely upon to attack effectively
Defeat submarines near port, in denied areas Defeat missile-armed mobile platforms as they break out of bases/garrisons towards their firing positions
Defeat submarines in choke points Defeat missile-armed air and naval platforms in choke points
Defeat submarines in open ocean Defeat missile-armed mobile platforms in their patrol or firing areas
Draw enemy submarines into ASW “kill boxes,” to a time and place of our choosing Induce missile-armed mobile platforms to fire at false targets and perhaps expose themselves to attack
Mask our forces from submarine detection or classification Mask our forces from the adversary’s local reconnaissance and targeting efforts
Defeat the submarine in close battle Defeat missile-armed air and naval platforms in close battle
Defeat the incoming torpedo Defeat the inbound missile
Create conditions where an adversary chooses not to employ submarines Create conditions where an adversary chooses not to employ theater missiles

Let’s go through the anti-theater missile “threads” in turn. As we proceed, note that I implicitly discard the option of engaging in war-opening preemptive attacks against an adversary’s theater missile forces. With the exception of certain types of electronic or cyber operations, I work under the assumption that most of the below types of attacks would only be authorized by a U.S. President after a war has already started. 

Suppress Missile-Armed Mobile Platforms’ Basing and Logistical Support Infrastructure

Theater missile-firing platforms include aircraft, submarines, naval surface combatants, and Transporter Erector Launchers (TEL). All of these platforms require logistical support including rearmament, refueling (with the exception of SSNs, of course), replenishment of stores, corrective maintenance, and damage repair. In war, the bases in which they normally reside, receive servicing, and operate from can be attacked (assuming authorization from political leadership, which I’ll discuss in more detail below).

Nevertheless, not all of these platforms need to always return to a permanently-fixed base for all forms of servicing. For example, many missile-firing platforms can operate from and be serviced to some extent in austere locations such as seaports, airports, “satellite” airbases or ad hoc airstrips, or relocatable logistical depots. Some missile-firing platforms can have fuel, stores, repair parts, and even certain types of munitions brought to them in the field: replenishment ships can resupply surface combatants and sometimes submarines at sea, trucks or transport aircraft can resupply strike aircraft at austere airbases/airstrips, and trucks can resupply TEL units. All of these means for logistical support in the “field” can be directly attacked given sufficient intelligence, surveillance, or reconnaissance to know when and where to strike. Moreover, the depots and other fixed infrastructure that logistics forces inevitably pull from can also be identified and attacked. There’s an important caveat, though: the heavy wartime demands on U.S. strike-capable platforms and the finite size of their guided munitions inventories suggests that (politically authorized) targeting lists would have to be prioritized based on a particular logistical asset’s or site’s importance in the adversary’s combat logistics chain, plus the operational and tactical difficulties/risks in attacking that target. 

This leads to a key point: an intelligent adversary could employ many forms of deception and concealment to heavily complicate U.S. and allied targeting efforts against a logistical asset/site or the missile-armed platforms it was servicing. Nevertheless, many forms of concealment would require that the adversary reduce its missile forces’ operational tempos somewhat in order to reduce the risk of detection, classification, and attack. This might relieve some pressure on friendly air and missile defenses by suppressing the frequency and sizes of missile raids on the margins; this can have a significant effect on a given defense’s probability of annihilating a raid. In turn, this suppression might provide friendly forces increased temporary localized margins of operational freedom in a theater—not to mention possibly alleviate some margin of pressure on allied populations and their governments (and by extension on U.S political leaders).

Attacking an adversary’s theater missile forces’ bases along with much of their supporting logistical infrastructure would require strikes against the adversary’s home soil. U.S. political leaders would undoubtedly weigh the escalatory risks of such strikes against the consequences of allowing the adversary to enjoy operational sanctuary for its missile forces. Some critics suggest these escalatory risks would—and should—bar the U.S. from ever attacking a nuclear-armed adversary’s soil. Such critiques however do not recognize the high probability that if the adversary valued certain political objectives highly enough to opt for major war, those objectives would force him to commit the escalatory precedent of conventionally striking a treaty ally’s territory—and perhaps also sovereign U.S. territories—first. This is of immense strategic significance. For one thing, an adversary’s conventional first strike against U.S. or allied territories would almost certainly ignite the popular passions of the victims’ citizens.  The pressure on a U.S. President to retaliate in scope if not in kind would be intense. For another, the adversary’s first strike would allow the U.S. and its ally to invoke unassailable legal as well as moral justification for retaliation. These factors would not offset the nuclear risks of non-nuclear retaliation, but it should be noted that there is an enormous difference between selectively striking conventional forces that might carry theater nuclear weapons and striking distinct nuclear forces. In many cases, the bases and logistical infrastructure supporting conventional forces are distinct from those used by nuclear forces. For example, China’s theater nuclear forces (in the form of its DF-21 medium-range ballistic missile force) are distinct (and often geographically segregated) from its conventionally-armed short-range ballistic missile and long-range cruise missile forces.

None of this is meant to minimize questions of escalation risk facing a U.S. President, but they most certainly do not present a “checkmating” barrier that prevents operations to deny the adversary’s theater missile forces sanctuary. It bears observing that potential adversaries wouldn’t be investing heavily in integrated territorial air defenses, base hardening, and deception and concealment technologies to protect their conventional theater missile forces if they didn’t accept the reality that those forces might be attacked in war.[iii]

Defeat the Systems-of-Systems that Missile-Armed Mobile Platforms Rely Upon to Attack Effectively

I’ve previously written about these kinds of operations at length. Suffice to say, an adversary must be able to either provide correct targeting-quality tactical pictures to its firing units or be able to cue those “shooters” into positions from which they can use their own sensors to build local targeting pictures. The U.S. and its allies can use deception and concealment to prevent the adversary from being able to effectively attack protected mobile forces. This can also be done to some extent for fixed bases and military or civil infrastructure, as deception and concealment can be used to make unimportant sites look important and vice versa. Deception and concealment might additionally be used to induce the adversary to waste precious weapons (and expose firing platforms) in attacks against false or low-value targets. The U.S. might additionally attack the adversary’s surveillance and reconnaissance assets, precision navigation and time systems that allow the construction of an accurate situational picture, command and control sites where firing decisions are made, and data relay pathways that form the “backbone” of the entire apparatus. These attacks can be physical, but in many cases it might be more effective as well as carry less escalation risk to use electronic or (as technically plausible) cyber attacks. Nor do these attacks need to have permanent effects (though that would certainly be the ideal), as friendly forces could greatly capitalize on even temporary localized degradation of the adversary’s surveillance-reconnaissance-targeting infrastructure.

This “thread” would not prevent an adversary from using its conventionally-armed theater missiles in terror bombardment campaign against an American ally’s cities. Even so, history suggests such a campaign would be far more likely to further ignite the ally’s popular passions and deepen its resolve to prevail—and retaliate—than it would to coerce the ally into submission. In other words, it would be a strategically self-defeating move by the adversary.

Defeat Missile-Armed Mobile Platforms as They Break out of Bases/Garrisons Towards Their Firing Positions

As Toti observes, this “thread” would largely occur within “denied” areas such as the adversary’s own soil, any friendly or neutral territories occupied by the adversary’s forces, the airspace above or adjacent to these territories, or the waterspace adjoining these territories. This would accordingly complicate offensive anti-air, anti-submarine, anti-surface combatant, and anti-TEL operations. Nevertheless, friendly submarines could lurk offshore to intercept the adversary’s submarines and surface combatants. Offensive sweeps by theater-range fighters might be used when and where feasible to attack the adversary’s outbound aircraft. Standoff strike aircraft cued by penetrating scouts might be used to attack the adversary’s surface combatants. If adequate air superiority is present, maritime patrol aircraft might be used to search for and attack adversary submarines. Special forces might be used to cue attacks using penetrating aircraft or long-range guided munitions against TELs (though if the First Gulf War is any indication, probably without a great deal of success). Destroying missile-firing platforms would of course be ideal, but the real goal of this “thread” would be to make breakout more time-consuming and resource-intensive than it might otherwise be for the adversary. This might result in further suppression of his operational tempo. It might also prevent him from seizing or maintaining the operational initiative.

Defeat Missile-Armed Air and Naval Platforms in Choke Points

I covered this with respect to aircraft and submarines last week; the threats facing an adversary’s surface combatants would be even steeper. This forms part of the argument for deploying land-based anti-ship missiles alongside straits. Land-based surveillance assets bordering a strait can also cue anti-ship strikes by friendly aircraft operating from more distant bases. Similarly, these surveillance assets can provide other friendly forces with tactically-actionable indications and warning of a strike aircraft raid transiting through a choke point towards its targets or back to its airbases. Lastly, defensive minefields could be laid as geographically practical to complicate transits by the adversary’s surface combatants or submarines.

Defeat Missile-Armed Mobile Platforms in Their Patrol or Firing Areas

I also covered this with respect to aircraft and submarines last week. In the absence of persistent tactical air cover, an adversary’s surface combatants would not be able to hold out for long against U.S or allied anti-ship onslaughts.

TELs present the hardest target to engage in the adversary’s firing areas, bar none. They not only can hide within the broad expanse (and defense-in-depth) of the adversary’s territory, but can also blend into their surroundings on par with the quietest submarines at sea. They can shift quickly and frequently between prepared firing positions, or can hunker down heavily camouflaged for protracted periods. There is no existing or technically-plausible weapon system that could offer a high kill probability against TEL units that were smartly employing deception and concealment. Nor is there an existing or technically-plausible strike aircraft that could persistently perform TEL hunts deep within a capable adversary’s airspace unless the adversary’s territorial air defenses had been comprehensively rolled back. This does not mean that TEL hunting, if the tactical environment allows it, would be fruitless. The situation-dependent use of U.S. aircraft to hunt TELs using cheap weapons with low kill probabilities would still put TEL units on the defensive, which in turn might contribute to suppressing TEL firing rates and salvo sizes.

The most effective means of defeating ground-launched missile forces is to physically occupy the territory they are operating within. This is a principle that has been proven time and time again, from the allies’ Second World War efforts to defeat the German V-1 and V-2 bombardment campaign, to the Israelis’ efforts to break up Hezbollah and Hamas rocket bombardment campaigns over the past decade. It’s also the most costly in treasure and blood, as it requires the use of sizable ground forces. This is plausible and probably necessary if the adversary is operating TELs on the overrun soil of a U.S. ally; liberation of the ally’s territory would normally be a U.S. war objective in any case. It may also be plausible, albeit possibly far more costly, if a relatively small adversary country is operating TELs on its own soil. It is not plausible at all, whether militarily or politically, against TELs operated on the soil of a regional or great power. However, if a regional or great power is operating TELs relatively close to its border or coastal areas, and especially if those areas are somewhat geographically isolated, it might be plausible to dispatch special forces on brief raids aimed at destroying them directly, flushing them for attack by other friendly forces, or temporarily suppressing them by inducing them to go into hiding. Expeditionary forces might also be used to raid a regional power’s TELs in these kinds of areas; this would not be possible politically or militarily against a great power.

Induce Missile-Armed Mobile Platforms to Fire at False Targets and Perhaps Expose Themselves to Attack

I’ve written about this one extensively in the past as well. Every theater missile wasted is one less in the adversary’s finite inventory, with concomitant impacts on his campaign plans. This is especially true if a wasted missile cannot be readily replaced off the production line during wartime.

Similarly, an adversary platform or grouping that is seduced into attacking false targets will be incapable of attacking valid targets elsewhere at the same time. U.S. and allied forces can obviously exploit this operationally. At maximum, a submarine, surface combatant, or aircraft that shoots a theater missile gives away its general presence and sometimes even its approximate position. False targets might thus be used to set up reactive intercepts against the attackers, or perhaps even to lure them into prepared ambushes. It isn’t a stretch to imagine the kinds of enduring (and exploitable) psychological effects that might be imposed upon previously-overconfident adversary crews that wasted ordnance against decoys—or managed to survive an ambush.

Mask our Forces From the Adversary’s Local Reconnaissance and Targeting Efforts

This is another “thread” I’ve covered previously elsewhere. It is just as crucial to the use of false target tactics in the previous “thread” as it is to defending actual U.S. and allied forces from attack. The adversary must not be allowed to properly classify, let alone detect if at all practical, actual U.S. and allied forces until it is too late to matter. Toti hits the nail on the head in his piece when he notes “…it is about increasing the fog of war by making the real targets look like anything but a real target” and that it “must be a continuous process.”[iv]

Defeat Missile-Armed Air and Naval Platforms in Close Battle

This is self-explanatory: destroy them or induce them to retreat before they can shoot at friendly forces. This demands either long-range weaponry that can be fired from the “inner zone” against the adversary’s inbound missile-armed platforms or the placement of persistent outer layer defenses in the adversary’s path. The latter is almost always preferable as the adversary can easily field strike missiles that outrange any weapon the defender might fire from the inner zone.

As its title makes clear, this “thread” is not applicable to TELs.

Defeat the Inbound Missile

This is also self-explanatory. Missile defense sensors, kinetic weapons, and electronic warfare systems all factor here. So does damage recoverability (e.g. use of redundant systems, rapid repair of damaged runways, hardening of a base’s critical infrastructure, shipboard damage control, etc). No single measure offers a panacea: some combination of active and passive measures is necessary to maximize defensive effectiveness.

A subtle variation of this “thread” involves the dispersal of forces not just to enhance their survivability, but also to force the adversary into an inventory management dilemma. The adversary could concentrate strikes over a specific period of time against a small number of force dispersal sites in order to overwhelm the missile defense systems protecting those sites, but that would leave the U.S. and allied forces positioned in other dispersal sites free to operate. The adversary could alternatively strike the maximum number of dispersal sites possible within a specific time period, but that would result in relatively few missiles attacking any single site—and thereby greatly simplify the jobs of each site’s missile defense systems. Also recall that theater missiles are not easily produced, especially in war. This means every missile fired would reduce the number available to the adversary for the duration of the conflict. As such, the adversary would probably have some threshold limit to the number of missiles he’d be willing to use in a concentrated or “spread” attack. U.S. and allied forces could adapt to capitalize on whichever attack type the adversary selected, and by doing so defeat the adversary’s theater missiles at the operational level of war. 

Create Conditions Where an Adversary Chooses not to Employ Theater Missiles

Full-spectrum anti-theater missile warfare signifies denying the adversary conventional escalation dominance in a crisis or war. The cumulative effect of convincing an opportunistic potential adversary that each of its “threads” are combat-credible—and that U.S. political leaders would be willing to deny the potential adversary’s forces operational sanctuary on their own soil if the adversary struck first—will generally be successful conventional deterrence.

The ideal state of deterrence would obviously be prevention of war outright, and Cold War-era theories regarding how this can be achieved between two competing nuclear-armed powers remain applicable. But even if a conventional war did erupt, the credibility of full-spectrum anti-theater missile warfare might help induce an adversary with modest political objectives to keep the conflict limited to a brief localized clash along a land border or at sea involving only the shortest-range missiles in both sides’ inventories. While tragic and hardly desirable, it would still be vastly preferable to a ruinous general war.

Jon Solomon is a Senior Systems and Technology Analyst at Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. in Alexandria, VA. He can be reached at jfsolo107@gmail.com. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity on his own initiative. They do not reflect the official positions of Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. and to the author’s knowledge do not reflect the policies or positions of the U.S. Department of Defense, any U.S. armed service, or any other U.S. Government agency. These views have not been coordinated with, and are not offered in the interest of, Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. or any of its customers.


[i] CAPT William J. Toti, USN (Retired). “The Hunt for Full-Spectrum ASW.” Naval Institute Proceedings 140, No. 6, June 2014, 39.

[ii] I define “theater missile” to include short and medium range ballistic and cruise missiles that can strike targets on land or at sea.

[iii] This point is made abundantly clear in Elbridge Colby. “Don’t Sweat Air Sea Battle.” The National Interest online, 13 July 2013, accessed 5/24/15, http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/dont-sweat-airsea-battle-8804?page=show

[iv] Toti, 43.

Featured Image: ARABIAN GULF (March 20, 2011) Mineman Seaman Charles Bryan watches for contacts on the SPA 256 radar while on watch in the Combat Directive Center aboard the mine countermeasures ship USS Ardent (MCM 12).  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Lewis Hunsaker/Released)

Themistocles: The Father of Naval Warfare

By David Van Dyk

“My boy, you will be nothing insignificant, but definitely something great, either for good or evil.” – School teacher of Themistocles

Since he was only a child, he knew he had always wanted the respect and recognition of his fellow citizens. He hungered for it, dreamt of it, and prepared for it. While all the other kids would play and laugh, he would study and write, spending countless hours practicing speeches in his home. His parents were of no special heritage, and royalty did not flow through his blood. In its place, determination coursed through his veins. Themistocles, an Athenian, knew he was meant for something great. History would show that Themistocles, when he became archon, encouraged a naval policy in Athens, and helped drive off the Persian Empire and secure a place of strength and resolve for Athens in the world. Ancient scholars and historians, like that of Plutarch and Herodotus, have documented his life, allowing a glimpse into the magnificence of his achievements. Modern day scholars have shed even more light, suggesting that it was Themistocles himself who saved the future of western civilization. Themistocles, the commander of the Athenian fleet, should be bestowed the title of the Father of Naval Warfare due to his understanding of the Persian Empire, the importance of naval supremacy, and his involvement in the political process.

If we are to understand the rise of Themistocles, then we must first understand the impacts of the Ionian Revolt. R.J. Lenardon, in The Saga of Themistocles, says the Ionian Revolt “was to have momentous consequences for all of Hellenes, not least the Athenians and Themistocles, during the first quarter of the fifth century.”1 How this revolt would shape both Athens and Persia would set the stage for the incredible life of the aspiring, but young, Themistocles.

In the year of 499 B.C., the Hellenes of Asia Minor realized they had experienced enough. The Ionians grew restless of the oppression of the Persian Empire, and decided to fight back. For over 30 years, the superpower of the world, Persia, had subjugated the Greek cities of Asia Minor under numerous tyrannies, forcing the Greeks to build the cities of Persia and further the dominion of their empire. Under the rule of King Darius, he “undertook a thorough and systematic political and financial reorganization of the Persian Empire.”2 With these sweeping changes now taking effect, Darius thought it a no better time than to expand the land and influence of the Persian Empire. Under his guidance, the Persians blazed their way through Europe, “campaigning successfully against the Thracians and even securing the allegiance of Macedonia.”While these accomplishments were impressive, the rising discontent of the Ionians against Persia grew. After failing to convince the Spartans to join their cause against Darius, the Ionians looked toward, as Herodotus says, “the next most powerful state” after Sparta, that of Athens.4

Herodotus writes, “After the Athenians had been won over, they voted to dispatch twenty ships to help the Ionians and appointed Melanthion, a man of the city who was distinguished in every respect, as commander over them.”5 Herodotus goes on to write in a flare of foreboding that “these ships would turn out to be the beginning of evils for … the barbarians.”6 After the allied contingent of the rebellion sailed to Sardis and burned the Persian city to the ground, the Athenians, due to heavy losses, withdrew from the fighting, and “they refused to help the Ionaians any further.”7 Yet their actions, with the help of the Ionians, would send Darius into a rage against the Athenians. Herodotus recounts a chilling tale:

“When it was reported to Darius that Sardis had been taken and burnt by the Athenians and Ionians and that Aristagoras the Milesian had been leader of the conspiracy for the making of this plan, he at first, it is said, took no account of the Ionians since he was sure that they would not go unpunished for their rebellion. Darius did, however, ask who the Athenians were, and after receiving the answer, he called for his bow. This he took and, placing an arrow on it, and shot it into the sky, praying as he sent it aloft, ‘O Zeus, grant me vengeance on the Athenians.’ Then he ordered one of his servants to say to him three times whenever dinner was set before him, ‘Master, remember the Athenians.’” 8

With the Athenian fleet now out of the picture, the Ionian Revolt began to wane. The final Persian push came at Miletus, where the Persian army and navy decided to disregard the more minor cities. Attacking the source of the rebellion, the Persians overtook the Ionians at Miletus and brought them under subjugation once again. The Ionian Revolt virtually ended, and the Persian Empire set about re-conquering the rest of the rebellious cities. This revolt had two major effects: The Persian Empire grew vastly in military power, and the wrath of Darius was now directed toward the Athenians. After all, how could he forget when he was reminded of their actions every time he sat down for dinner?

The Rise of Themistocles

After the successful defeat of the Ionian Revolt in 494 BC, Darius began his march toward Athens. Herodotus’ first mention of Themistocles comes on the heels of the advance of the Persian Empire on all of Hellas after its crushing defeat at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. Around 480 BC, after attempting to discern a prophecy from an Oracle, the people of Athens were disturbed as to its cryptic meaning, fearing the gods had predicted their end. “But among the Athenians was a certain man who had just recently come into the highest prominence; his name was Themistocles, and he was called the son of Neokles.”9 Themistocles convinced his fellow Athenians that the Oracle, in summary, was urging them to meet the Persians at sea. According to several ancient sources, the Oracle had spoken of “wooden walls,” and Themistocles used this interpretation to his advantage in his advising of a naval policy.

However,  around 483 BC when Athens was receiving large revenues from lucrative silver mines, Themistocles spoke to the government urging them to spend the increased revenue on their naval fleet. For a long time, Athens was at war with Aegina, who had sided with the Persian Empire in providing them “earth and water.”10 Themistocles saw Aegina as the perfect pretext to build up the Athenian fleet, knowing full well that Athens would need this fleet to face the coming onslaught of the Persian Empire. Plutarch, in his biography of Themistocles in Lives, recounts this tale as well:

“And so, in the first place, whereas the Athenians were wont to divide up among themselves the revenue coming from the silver mines at Laureium, [Themistocles], and he alone, dared to come before the people with a motion that this division be given up, and that with these moneys triremes be constructed for the war against Aegina. This was the fiercest war then troubling Hellas, and the islanders controlled the sea, owing to the number of their ships.”11

Plutarch, in the text above, points out one of the earliest examples of Themistocles’ lobbying for a powerful navy. Calum M. Carmichael, in Historical Methods, makes note of the importance of the Athenian navy as a whole from the years of 480 – 322 BC:

“Of all the public services, the naval [public office] … was arguably the most important. It directly served the strategic and commercial interests of the state: the duties centered on the command and maintenance of the trireme warship for a year. It involved a large outlay: maintaining a single ship could require expenditure in excess of one talent, whereas other liturgies required half as much or less. And, more than any other public service, the naval liturgy was an object of reform throughout the democratic period.”12

As a result of Themistocles’ lobbying, Athens devoted their increased revenues to the building up of the Athenian navy, thus establishing themselves as a powerhouse among the Greek city-states. However, his policies were not met with unanimous praise. Plutarch makes note of it, saying, “…he made [Athenian warriors], instead of ‘steadfast hoplites’ – to quote Plato’s words, sea-tossed mariners, and brought down upon himself this accusation: ‘Themistocles robbed his fellow-citizens of spear and shield, and degraded the people of Athens to the rowing-pad and the oar.’”13

Themistocles was adamant in the construction of a large Athenian fleet, built up mainly of the Trireme class, pictured above. (Creative Commons)
Themistocles was adamant in the construction of a large Athenian fleet, built mainly of the Triremes, pictured above. (Creative Commons)

Yet Themistocles continued with his naval buildup. As he spoke to the Athenians concerning the Oracle’s cryptic message, he convinced them that rather than run and hide from the coming enemy, their salvation would come from the sea. Having just recently built up their naval power through the increased revenues from the silver mines, Themistocles capitalized on the moment, understanding that it was through naval power and not ground forces that would drive back the Persian Empire. Yet to fully grasp the sharp intellect of Themistocles as a naval advocate, we need to go back in time to 493 BC, when Themistocles found himself as archon of Athens, a perfect time to begin his march to the ocean.

Lenardan, in Saga of Themistocles, says, “Dionysius of Halicarnassus tells us that Themistocles was archon at Athens in 493 BC, and the chronographic tradition recorded by Eusebius lends particular support to the assumption encouraged by other evidence that it was as archon in that very year that he began the fortifications of the Piraeus.”14 Themistocles was familiar with the advantage of the Piraeus. This natural harbor provided three ports that had far more strategic value than the smaller Bay of Phalerum that the Athenians were using at the time. Tom Holland, in Persian Fire, says this of Themistocles’ genius:

“Drawing up his manifesto, he began to argue for the urgent down-grading of the existing docks and their replacement by a new port at Piraeus, the rocky headland that lay just beyond Phalerum beach. The shoreline there afforded not one but three natural harbors, enough for any fleet, and readily fortifiable. True, it lay two miles further from the city than Phalerum, but Themistocles argued passionately that this was a small price to pay for the immense advantages that a new harbor at Piraeus would afford: a safe port for the Athenians’ ever-expanding merchant fleet; a trading hub to rival Corinth and Aegina and immunity from Aeginetan privateers.”15

Themistocles understood that trading the convenience of Phalerum for the strategic position of Piraeus was well worth the trade-off. Whether Themistocles began this project during his archonship, or if he started it later, possibly around 483 or 479 BC, is debated among modern-day scholars. Cornelius Nepos, a Roman historian who lived from 110 BC to 25 BC, says this of Themistocles’ involvement with the building of the port at Piraeus: “Themistocles was great in the war [at Salamis], and was not less distinguished in peace; for as the Athenians used the harbor of Phalerum, which was neither large nor convenient, the triple port of the Piraeeus [sic] was constructed by his advice, and enclosed with walls, so that it equaled the city in magnificence, and excelled it in utility.”16 Nepos dates the building up of Piraeus after the Battle at Salamis in 480 BC, and makes no mention of it being started during the time of Themistocles’ archonship. Plutarch also writes “After [he built the walls of Athens] he equipped the Piraeus, because he had noticed the favorable shape of its harbors, and wished to attach the whole city to the sea; thus in a certain manner counteracting the policies of the ancient Athenian kings.” 17

However, there is no reason not to suggest that Themistocles initiated the building of the Piraeus while he was archon. Having desired to build up the naval prestige of Athens as soon as he could, he very well could have looked to the promising port during his early days in office. The National Hellenic Research Foundation appears to solidify this belief: “Thus, within only one year, Athens and the northern part of Acropolis received new fortifications, which incorporated the older building’s pieces and offerings, even tombstones, while beginning the completion of the fortification of the Piraeus port, already launched by Themistocles himself as the 493 BC ruler.”18 The building of the Piraeus port allowed the Athenians a superior advantage in their conquest to become masters of the sea. By encouraging the Athenians to move their current harbor to a more secure one, Themistocles once again proved his intellect in understanding the multiple facets of naval power. He had built up a strong fleet through the use of increased revenue from the state, and moved the focus of their sea power to a safer, more strategic area.

Map depicting Piraeus fortifications. Themistocles thought it prudent to move Athen's main port from Phalerum to Piraeus. This shift would allow Athens three natural harbors, all effectively sheltered from storm and invader.
Map depicting Piraeus fortifications. Themistocles thought it prudent to move Athen’s main port from Phalerum to Piraeus. This shift would allow Athens three natural harbors, all effectively sheltered from storm and invader. (Creative Commons)

What may be more impressive than anything else was his foresight. During the time after the Battle of Marathon, many believed that the Persians were defeated and would not come back. Lenardon makes mention of this: “Most of the Athenians believed that the defeat of the Persians at Marathon meant the end of the war; but Themistocles realized it was only the beginning of greater struggles.”19 Themistocles understood that after the death of Darius, Xerxes would seek vengeance, and it would come swifter and stronger than the last battle at Marathon. Themistocles had his fleet, and the construction of the Piraeus port was nearing completion. Now, he would test the resolve and courage of his fellow allies in battle at Salamis.

At the Battle of Salamis, we encounter first-hand the intellect and courage of Themistocles, now the commander of the Greek allied fleet. His exploits here are perhaps what has made him become the legend he is today.

Manipulating the Enemy

When the Greek allied fleet converged at Salamis, it was the largest contingent to have assembled. Thucydides accounts for the navies present:

“For after these there were no navies of any account in Hellas till the expedition of Xerxes; AeginaAthens, and others may have possessed a few vessels, but they were principally fifty-oars. It was quite at the end of this period that the war with Aegina and the prospect of the barbarian invasion enabled Themistocles to persuade the Athenians to build the fleet with which they fought at Salamis; and even these vessels had not complete decks. The navies, then, of the Hellenes during the period we have traversed were what I have described. All their insignificance did not prevent their being an element of the greatest power to those who cultivated them, alike in revenue and in dominion.”20

Yet the admirals that were also in command of the Greek allied fleet were nervous and unsure. They believed that rather than fight the Persian fleet at Salamis where the Persian army was gathering, they would turn and sail toward the Isthmus at Peloponnese, and defend the city-state of Sparta from there. But Themistocles understood that the only way to defeat the Persian navy was to use their vast numbers against them. The straits and narrow passages at Salamis would force the Persian navy to thin their numbers in order to pass through the waters. From this vantage point, the Greek allied fleet could inflict serious damages on the Persians. Knowing this, Themistocles sent a messenger in secret to the Persian commanders. Herodotus narrates the story, writing that the messenger, acting as a defector, informed the Persian commanders that the Greek fleet was in disarray and unsure of themselves. Encouraging the Persians that now was the time to strike, he “made a quick departure” from the Persian navy.21 

The Persian generals, eager to crush the Greek allied fleet and sail through to Athens and then Sparta, chomped on the bait, hoisted the sails, and sliced through the waters to Salamis. Themistocles was then alerted by a scout that the Persian navy was upon them, and the Greek allied fleet would need to make their stand at Salamis. Themistocles’ plan had worked. The fate of Athens, and the future of Greece, would rest at Salamis.

A Fitting Father Figure

Because of the cunning and intellect of Themistocles, the Greek allied fleet won a decisive victory at Salamis. The Persian navy found an organized and battle-ready Greek fleet, and the narrow passages of Salamis proved too narrow for the great numbers of Persian ships. The Greeks drove back the advance of the Persian Empire once again, reminding Xerxes of an earlier time, when his father, Darius, was defeated at Marathon.   

Herodotus recounts, “Thus it was concerning them. But the majority of [Xerxes’] ships at Salamis were sunk, some destroyed by the Athenians, some by the Aeginetans. Since the Hellenes fought in an orderly fashion by line, but the barbarians were no longer in position and did nothing with forethought, it was likely to turn out as it did.”22

Xerxes’ final push came with the culmination of the land battle at Plataea and the naval battle at Mycale around 479 BC. There, the Greeks destroyed the advances of the Persian forces, and Xerxes retreated back into his homeland.

The Battle of Salamis was crucial in deciding the direction of the Greco-Persian Wars. Above, Wilhelm von Kaulbach's romantic painting of the Battle of Salamis. (Creative Commons)
Wilhelm von Kaulbach’s romantic painting of the Battle of Salamis. The Battle of Salamis was crucial in deciding the direction of the Greco-Persian Wars. (Creative Commons)

Modern day scholars, like that of Victor Davis Hanson, an internationally recognized military historian, have credited the battle at Salamis as “one of the most significant battles in human history.”23 Thucydides, in his landmark work of History of the Peloponnesian War, has this to say of Themistocles:

“Themistocles was a man who exhibited the most indubitable signs of genius; indeed, in this particular [war], he has a claim on our admiration quite extraordinary and unparalleled. By his own native capacity, alike unformed and unsupplemented by study, he was at once the best judge in those sudden crises which admit of little or of no deliberation, and the best prophet of the future, even to its most distant possibilities.”24

In earning such praise and admiration from his peers, Themistocles was made a legend. His knowledge and wisdom in naval warfare gave Athens the upper hand against the Persian Empire and, as scholars have argued, saved the future of western civilization. Should the Persian Empire have sacked Athens and Sparta, it would have immediately halted the advance of the Greek city-states. From there, Xerxes would have swept into Europe. But, “among the Athenians was a certain man who had just recently come into the highest prominence; his name was Themistocles.” It would only be fitting then that Thucydides, the Father of Scientific History, would write of the exploits and glories of Themistocles, as this author proposes, the Father of Naval Warfare.

David Van Dyk is a graduate of Liberty University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Communications Studies and a member of the Lambda Pi Eta honor society. He is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Policy with a focus in International Affairs at the Helms School of Government. He can be reached at dvandyk@liberty.edu.


1.  Robert J. Lenardon, The Saga Of Themistocles, London: Thames and Hudson, 1978.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Robert B. Strassler, The Landmark Herodotus: the Histories, New York: Anchor Books, 2009.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Lives: Themistocles And Camillus, Aristides and Cato Major, Cimon and Lucullus, 1 Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1914.

12. Calum M. Carmichael, “Managing Munificence,”Historical Methods 42, no. 3: 83, 2009.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Cornelius Neps, Cornelius Nepos: Lives Of Eminent Commanders, The Tertullian Project, 1886. 

17. Ibid.

18. “The Walls Of Athens” National Hellenic Research Foundation, October 27, 2009, http://www.eie.gr/archaeologia/gr/02_deltia/fortification_walls.aspx.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. Victor Davis Hanson, Carnage And Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power, New York: Doubleday, 2001.

24. The Peloponnesian War, London, J. M. Dent: New York, E. P. Dutton, 1910.

Featured Image: Statue of Themistocles in Piraeus, Greece. (Vassilis Triantafyllidis – www.LemnosExplorer.com)

China’s Expanding Ability to Conduct Conventional Missile Strikes on Guam

The following article is adapted from a report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review CommissionRead the original report here.

By Jordan Wilson

Observers of China’s September 2015 military parade witnessed the surprise introduction of a new road-mobile intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), the DF-26, reported to feature nuclear, conventional, and antiship variants and a range of 3,000–4,000 kilometers (km) (1,800–2,500 miles [mi])1—greater than any of China’s current systems except the ICBMs in its nuclear arsenal. This range would cover U.S. military installations on Guam, roughly 3,000 km (1,800 mi) from the Chinese mainland, prompting some analysts and netizens to refer to the missile as the “Guam Express” or “Guam Killer” (derived from the term “carrier killer” used to refer to China’s shorter-range DF-21D antiship ballistic missile).2 Combined with improved air- and sea-launched cruise missiles and modernizing support systems, the DF-26 would allow China to bring a greater diversity and quality of assets to bear against Guam in a contingency than ever before.

China’s reason for developing capabilities to hold locations in the Pacific at risk can be traced to the domestic political interests of its leaders. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) perceives that its legitimacy in the eyes of China’s citizens is based, in part, on its ability to demonstrate that it is capable of strengthening the nation3 and safeguarding China’s territorial interests and claims.4 Yet the CCP leadership believes the United States’ presence in the Asia Pacific—intended to back the U.S. commitment to defending key interests and upholding global norms in the Asia Pacific, such as the security of allies and partners, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and freedom of navigation5—could interfere with its ability to defend these interests and claims if a regional crisis were to arise.6 This concern has prompted Beijing to develop conventional missile capabilities to target U.S. military facilities in the Asia Pacific in general, and Guam in particular, in order to expand China’s options and improve its capacity to deter or deny U.S. intervention during such a crisis. Guam is referenced in many Chinese academic and military writings as a highly important feature in the purported U.S. “containment” strategy,7 with analysts noting its strategic position,8 and its role as an “anchor” of U.S. forces in the region9 and of the “second island chain”* in particular.10 China has been able to reach Guam with nuclear weapons for decades. It could theoretically employ conventional gravity bombs, naval gunfire, and torpedoes as well, but the same air and naval platforms that would deliver these are now equipped with significantly more advanced cruise missiles. This article thus focuses on the more relevant concerns posed by missiles below the nuclear threshold.

First and Second Island Chains Showing Guam. The precise boundaries of the island chains vary among Chinese sources, and have never been officially defined by China’s government. Andrew S. Erickson and Joel Wuthnow, “Barriers, Springboards and Benchmarks: China Conceptualizes the Pacific ‘Island Chains,’” China Quarterly, January 21, 2016, 3, 7-9, 17. http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0305741016000011. (U.S. Department of Defense)

Multiplying Forces Capable of Striking Guam

Several new conventional platforms and weapons systems developed by China in recent years have increased its ability to hold U.S. forces stationed on Guam at risk in a potential conflict:

Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missiles: The DF-26 is China’s first conventionally-armed IRBM and first conventionally-armed ballistic missile capable of reaching Guam. Its inclusion in the September 2015 parade indicates it has likely been deployed as an operational weapon,11 although only a few have likely been installed thus far. The missile also reportedly has serious accuracy limitations:12 a 2015 report by IHS Jane’s assesses its current circular error probable (CEP)** at intermediate range to be 150–450 meters,13 while China’s DF-15B short-range ballistic missile, for example, is reported to have a CEP of 5–10 meters as a precision guided weapon.14 Practically, this means that many more launches would be required to achieve the same degree of confidence in inflicting damage, pending the improvement of the sensor systems on the missile and the space-based systems providing pre- and post-strike intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and position, navigation, and timing data.

Antiship Ballistic Missiles (ASBMs): The DF-26 ASBM version is, like the DF-21D, unproven against a moving target at sea15 but likely to undergo further development.

Air-Launched Land Attack Cruise Missiles (LACMs): China’s newest and most capable bomber, the H-6K, when equipped with up to six recently-developed air-launched CJ-20 LACMs, gives China the ability to conduct precision airstrikes and potentially reach Guam with air-launched weapons for the first time.16 However, these antiquated bombers*** would have a high probability of being detected and intercepted by U.S. aircraft and anti-aircraft systems.17 Such an attack would also outdistance the range of any Chinese escort fighters, according to a 2015 RAND Corporation study,18 and China’s air refueling fleet is still too small to support large-scale, long-distance air combat.19

Air-Launched Antiship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs): The PLA Navy’s H-6 bombers, including its H-6Ks, can carry up to four of China’s new long-range, supersonic YJ-12 ASCMs,20 but would have the same limitations in employing these weapons.

Sea-Launched Land Attack Cruise Missiles: The PLA Navy currently does not have the ability to strike land targets, but China has likely begun to develop a sea-based LACM capability over the last few years.21 The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has stated that this capability may involve China’s forthcoming Type 095 nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) or new LUYANG-III guided missile destroyer (DDG).22

Sea-Launched Antiship Cruise Missiles: PLA Navy platforms equipped with ASCMs, particularly the new YJ-18, could complicate U.S. naval operations near its Guam facilities, provided the PLA Navy vessels were able to get into position without being detected. China’s quietest submarines, however, are diesel-electric and relatively slow in comparison to other types (see comparison in figure below).

The Expanding Range of China's Conventional Missiles. Full list of sources available here.
The Expanding Range of China’s Conventional Missiles. Click to enlarge. (U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission)

China’s new conventional regional strike weapons, as well as ongoing qualitative improvements to its naval operations and C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) systems, provide Beijing with the ability to hold U.S. forces and installations on Guam at greater risk than in the past, despite remaining challenges and gaps that indicate the level of risk is still low. Overall, the efficiency/vulnerability tradeoff between China’s air and naval forces probably factors into why China pursued a third option by developing DF-26 ballistic missiles. Beijing is working to advance its regional strike capabilities across the board, however, indicating concerns will be posed by ground-, air-, and sea-launched types going forward. To evaluate China’s ability to strike Guam in the future, the areas that should be monitored most closely are increased deployments of DF-26 missiles and qualitative improvements to China’s precision strike capabilities, bomber fleet, in-air refueling capability, and submarine quieting technology. 

Implications for the United States

Guam is growing in importance to U.S. strategic interests and any potential warfighting operations in the Asia Pacific, even as China’s ability to strike the island is increasing. The island is home to two U.S. military facilities, Apra Naval Base and Andersen Air Force Base, and hosts a total of about 6,000 military personnel23 (with 5,000 more projected to be moved from Okinawa by 202024), as well as four nuclear attack submarines;25 three Global Hawk UAVs;26 continuous rotations of B1, B-2, and B-52 bombers;27 temporary fighter rotations;28 the largest U.S. weaponry storage in the Pacific;29 and a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile battery.30 It is also crucial to U.S. preparations for responding to crises, providing valuable basing capacity31 and a location to which the United States can pull back assets from within China’s precision strike range, if needed.

China’s conventional missile force modernization could complicate the United States’ response in a contingency in which Beijing sought to deny or delay a U.S. intervention. An assessment by the RAND Corporation, for example, estimates that with 50 (hypothetically more accurate) IRBMs, “China could keep Andersen AFB closed to large aircraft for more than eight days (assuming missile reliability of 75 percent and eight-hour repair times), even if the PLA is denied battle damage assessment … With 100 IRBMs, the PLA could make a full sweep of all unsheltered aircraft parking areas and then use the rest of its inventory to keep Andersen shut to large aircraft for 11 days.”32 Of additional concern, China’s leaders could also be more willing to resort to military force in an existing crisis if they believed they could successfully hold Guam at risk, diminishing the United States’ ability to deter escalation, although it is difficult to determine the extent to which better operational capabilities might influence strategic thinking in Beijing.

U.S. experts and analysts have proposed several options that could help mitigate these concerns:

Hardening Facilities on Guam: Investing in improved protection for U.S. assets on Guam could increase the costliness and uncertainty of conventional ballistic and cruise missile strikes against these facilities, and thereby work to disincentivize a first strike and increase regional stability, as noted by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission in its 2015 Report to Congress.33 However, this approach is complicated by the likely high costs of such investments,34 and the potential for China to counter them with an even further buildup of its missile arsenal.

Dispersing U.S. Regional Military Facilities: A greater dispersion of U.S. military facilities throughout the Asia Pacific, or access to an increased number of alternate regional ports and airfields, would multiply the number of targets against which China might employ missile strikes and complicate its ability to disrupt U.S. operations in a contingency, particularly through a first strike.35 This approach does face high financial costs, the possibility that China might respond with further missile deployments, and potential difficulties in obtaining approval and financial support from host countries.36 It also runs counter to efforts to reduce long-term dependence on foreign bases. The United States has nonetheless been able to take steps towards this objective, recently securing access to facilities in the Philippines and entering discussions regarding access to airfields in Australia.37

Investments in New Missile Defense Capabilities: Continued U.S. investments in “next-generation” missile defense initiatives such as directed energy and rail gun technologies, as recommended in the Commission’s 2015 Report to Congress,38 could yield better options for defending U.S. bases and platforms from China’s conventional ballistic and cruise missiles. While current missile defense systems such as THAAD—already stationed on Guam—and PAC-3 (the upgraded Patriot missile system) may help to an extent, they are intended to stop North Korean missiles and would likely not completely protect against an attack from China.39

Revisiting the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty: China’s missile force modernization has contributed to a U.S. policy debate regarding the United States’ participation in the INF Treaty, particularly given Russia’s recent violations of its Treaty obligations.40 Signed by the United States and Soviet Union in 1987, the INF Treaty required “destruction of both parties’ ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 and 3,418 miles), along with their launchers and associated support structures and support equipment,” altogether eliminating 846 U.S. and 1,846 Soviet missiles. Although titled a “Nuclear Forces” treaty, INF’s prohibition of conventional systems is the substance of the current debate, as China’s buildup of conventional intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles has been a driving force behind concerns regarding the Treaty in recent years.41 As China has engaged in a relatively low-cost buildup of land-based theater-range conventional missiles, including the DF-26, the United States has been prevented under the Treaty from doing so. As policymakers weigh the costs and benefits of continued U.S. participation, three potential actions would allow the United States to carefully explore these questions while remaining in full compliance with the Treaty: reports examining the potential benefits and costs of incorporating ground-launched short-, medium-, and intermediate-range conventional cruise and ballistic missile systems into the United States’ Asia Pacific defensive force structure;42 research and development activities for conventional INF-accountable cruise and ballistic missiles, in preparation for possible changes;43 and discussions with allies regarding whether they would be open to hosting such systems,44 investing in INF-accountable missiles themselves,45 or joining in advocating for a broadened Treaty at the multilateral or global level.46

Maintaining Superiority in Regional Strike Capabilities: The United States could invest in maintaining its ability to strike an adversary’s launchers and support networks as part of its deterrence posture in the Asia Pacific, aiming to prevent conflicts from beginning and to protect U.S. regional assets should one begin.47 Some experts have specifically noted the high number of LACMs carried by some U.S. attack submarines48 and the potential for U.S. procurement programs such as the Long Range Strike Bomber and Virginia payload module (which increases the missile capacity of the Virginia-class SSN) to provide a higher volume of firepower at a more affordable rate than ground-launched missile forces.49 Policymakers could continuously monitor the performance and sustainability of these and other aspects of the U.S. regional force posture to ensure the United States maintains its military edge.


Beijing’s assessment of Guam’s role in the United States’ regional force posture has made it a focal point of developments in China’s conventional regional strike capabilities, although limitations to these systems render the current risk to U.S. forces on Guam in a potential conflict relatively low. At present, the new DF-26 IRBM headlines China’s expanding capabilities, although it likely will remain extremely inaccurate until China successfully extends its precision strike complex. China could also employ surface- and submarine-launched ASCM attacks, should the platforms be able to move into range undetected; while air-launched ASCM and LACM attacks could reach Guam more quickly, but with a high risk of the bombers being detected and intercepted by U.S. aircraft and anti-aircraft systems. The DF-26 ASBM is still unproven, and China has yet to develop a sea-launched LACM capability. China will likely continue to invest in developing these systems, however, even as Guam’s importance to U.S. strategic interests in the Asia Pacific continues to grow. Options such as hardening facilities on Guam, further dispersing U.S. regional military facilities, continuing investments in “next-generation” missile defense capabilities, revisiting the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) Treaty, and maintaining superiority in regional strike capabilities offer potential avenues for addressing these key security concerns.

Jordan Wilson is a Policy Analyst at the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, focusing on U.S.-China security and foreign policy issues.

Featured Image: The Los Angeles-class submarine USS Topeka (SSN 754) arrives at its new homeport of U.S. Naval Base Guam in May 2015. Courtesy of Navaltoday.com.


* The first island chain refers to a line of islands running through the Kurile Islands, Japan and the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, the Philippines, Borneo, and Natuna Besar. The second island chain is farther east, running through the Kurile Islands, Japan, the Bonin Islands, the Mariana Islands, and the Caroline Islands. Bernard D. Cole, The Great Wall at Sea: China’s Navy in the Twenty-First Century, Naval Institute Press, 2010, 174-176.

** CEP is defined as the radius of a circle, centered about the intended point of impact, whose boundary is expected to include the landing points of 50 percent of the rounds. Oleg Yakimenko, “Statistical Analysis of Touchdown Error for Self-Guided Aerial Payload Delivery Systems,” (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Aerodynamic Decelerator Systems Conference, Daytona Beach, FL, March 26, 2013), 1.

*** The H-6 design, on which future versions have been based, is a licensed copy of the ex-Soviet Tu-16 “Badger” medium jet bomber, first flown in 1952. U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, The PLA Navy: New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century, April 2015, 18; Encyclopedia Britannica, “Tu-16.” http://www.britannica.com/technology/Tu-16.


1. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Chapter 2, Section 3, “China’s Offensive Missile Forces,” in 2015 Annual Report to Congress, November 2015, 372; Andrew S. Erickson, “Showtime: China Reveals Two ‘Carrier-Killer’ Missiles,” National Interest, September 3, 2015; and Richard D. Fisher, Jr., “DF–26 IRBM May Have ASM Variant, China Reveals at Military Parade,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, September 2, 2015.

2. Wang Changqin and Fang Guangming “PRC Military Sciences Academy Explains Need for Developing the DF-26 Anti-Ship Missile,” China Youth Daily (Chinese edition), November 30, 2015; Andrew S. Erickson, “Showtime: China Reveals Two ‘Carrier-Killer’ Missiles,” National Interest, September 3, 2015. http://nationalinterest.org/feature/showtime-china-reveals-two-carrier-killer-missiles-13769; Wendell Minnick, “China’s Parade Puts U.S. Navy on Notice,” Defense News, September 3, 2015. http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/naval/2015/09/03/chinas-parade-puts-us-navy-notice/71632918/; Charles Clover, “China Unveils ‘Guam Express’ Advanced Anti-Ship Missile,” Financial Times, September 5, 2015. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/8847ddd0-5225-11e5-8642-453585f2cfcd.html#axzz3uKTMR2rn; and Franz-Stefan Gady, “Revealed: China for the First Time Publicly Displays ‘Guam Killer’ Missile,” National Interest, August 31, 2015. http://thediplomat.com/2015/08/revealed-china-for-the-first-time-publicly-displays-guam-killer-missile/.

3. Robert Lawrence Kuhn, “Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream,” New York Times, June 4, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/05/opinion/global/xi-jinpings-chinese-dream.html?_r=0.

4. Alastair Iain Johnston, “The Evolution of Interstate Security Crisis Management Theory and Practice in China,” Naval War College Review 69:1 (2016), 40; Edward Wong, “Security Law Suggests a Broadening of China’s ‘Core Interests,’” New York Times, July 2, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/03/world/asia/security-law-suggests-a-broadening-of-chinas-core-interests.html; Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, Defense Ministry’s Regular Press Conference on Nov 26, November 26, 2015; and Caitlin Campbell et al., “China’s ‘Core Interests’ and the East China Sea,” U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, May 10, 2013, 1-5. http://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Research/China’s%20Core%20Interests%20and%20the%20East%20China%20Sea.pdf.

5. White House Office of the Press Secretary, Fact Sheet: Advancing the Rebalance to Asia and the Pacific, November 15, 2015. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/11/16/fact-sheet-advancing-rebalance-asia-and-pacific; Andrew S. Erickson and Justin D. Mikolay, “Guam and American Security in the Pacific,” in Andrew S. Erickson and Carnes Lord, eds., Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific, Naval Institute Press, 2014, 17, 25; and Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell, China’s Search for Security, Columbia University Press, 2012, 357.

6. Alastair Iain Johnston, “The Evolution of Interstate Security Crisis Management Theory and Practice in China,” Naval War College Review 69.1, 2016, 34; Harry J. Kazianis, “America’s Air-Sea Battle Concept: An Attempt to Weaken China’s A2/AD Strategy,” China Policy Institute, 2014, 1-2. http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/cpi/documents/policy-papers/cpi-policy-paper-2014-no-4-kazianis.pdf; Lu Zhengtao, “PRC Article Urges PLA to Boost Air-Sea Force Building for Breaking U.S. ‘Island Chain’ Strategy,” China Youth Daily (Chinese edition), November 19, 2013; Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes, Red Star over the Pacific: China’s Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy, Naval Institute Press, 2010, 20; and Bi Lei, “Sending an Additional Aircraft Carrier and Stationing Massive Forces: The U.S. Military’s Adjustment of Its Strategic Disposition in the Asia-Pacific Region,” People’s Daily (Chinese edition), August 13, 2004.

7. Song Shu, “Is the DF-26 a ‘Guam Killer?’” Naval Warships (Chinese), December 1, 2014; Li Jie, “U.S. Quickens Construction of ‘Bridgeheads’ of the Second Island Chain,” Global Times (Chinese edition), September 30, 2013; Lin Limin, “A Review of the International Strategic Situation in 2012,” Contemporary International Relations (Chinese), December 2012; Zhang Ming, “Security Governance of the ‘Global Commons’ and China’s Choice,” Contemporary International Relations (Chinese), May 2012; Liu Qing, “New Changes in U.S. Asia-Pacific Strategic Deployment,” Contemporary International Relations (Chinese), May 20, 2011; Liu Ming, “Obama Administration’s Adjustment of East Asia Policy and Its Impact on China,” Contemporary International Relations (Chinese), February 20, 2011; Modern Navy (Chinese), The Island Chains, China’s Navy, October 1, 2007; and Lu Baosheng and Guo Hongjun, “Guam: A Strategic Stronghold on the West Pacific,” China Military Online, June 16, 2003.

8. Qiu Yongzheng, “Second U.S. Aircraft Carrier Likely To Be Deployed to East Asia,” Youth Reference (Chinese), July 21, 2004.

9. Run Jiaqi, “Experts Say China’s Military Power Has Forced the United States to Fall Back from the First Island Chain,” People’s Daily (Chinese edition), October 8, 2014.

10. Andrew S. Erickson and Joel Wuthnow, “Barriers, Springboards and Benchmarks: China Conceptualizes the Pacific ‘Island Chains,’” China Quarterly, January 21, 2016, 9. http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0305741016000011; Li Jie, “U.S. Quickens Construction of ‘Bridgeheads’ of the Second Island Chain,” Global Times (Chinese edition), September 30, 2013; Liu Bin, “The ‘Roadmap’ of the Asia-Pacific Military Bases of the U.S. Military,” People’s Daily (Chinese edition) April 23, 2012; and Modern Navy (Chinese), The Island Chains, China’s Navy, October 1, 2007.

11. Andrew S. Erickson, “Showtime: China Reveals Two ‘Carrier-Killer’ Missiles,” National Interest, September 3, 2015.

12. IHS, Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems: Offensive Weapons, China, DF-26, September 11, 2015, 2.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid, 4.

15. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, written testimony of Dennis Gormley, April 22, 2015; and Ronald O’Rourke, “China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, June 1, 2015, 6–7.

16. U.S. Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2015, April 2015, 12, 36, 40; U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Military Modernization and Implications for the United States, written testimony of Lee Fuell, January 30, 2014; and U.S. House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Hearing on Nuclear Weapons Modernization in Russia and China: Understanding Impacts to the United States, written testimony of Richard D. Fisher, Jr., October 14, 2011.

17. Ian Easton, “China’s Evolving Reconnaissance Strike Capabilities: Implications for the U.S.-Japan Alliance,” Project 2049 Institute, February 2014, 26. http://www2.jiia.or.jp/pdf/fellow_report/140219_JIIA-Project2049_Ian_Easton_report.pdf.

18. Eric Heginbotham et al., “The U.S.-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power 1996-2017,” RAND Corporation, 2015, 63. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR300/RR392/RAND_RR392.pdf.

19. Michael Pilger, “First Modern Tanker Observed at Chinese Airbase,” U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, November 18, 2014, 1. http://origin.www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Research/StaffBulletin_First%20Modern%20Tanker%20Observed%20at%20Chinese%20Airbase_0.pdf.

20. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Chapter 2, Section 3, “China’s Offensive Missile Forces,” in 2015 Annual Report to Congress, November 2015, 357, 373.

21. U.S. Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2014, May 2014, 36. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on PLA Modernization and its Implications for the United States, written testimony of Jesse Karotkin, January 10, 2014; Craig Murray, Andrew Berglund, and Kimberly Hsu, “China Naval Modernization and Implications for the United States,” U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, August 26, 2013. http://origin.www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Research/Backgrounder_China’s%20Naval%20Modernization%20and%20Implications%20for%20the%20United%20States.pdf.

22. U.S. Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2014, May 2014, 36; U.S. Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2013, May 2013, 6-7.

23. Shirley A. Kan, “Guam: U.S. Defense Deployments,” Congressional Research Service, November 26, 2014, 2, 3. https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RS22570.pdf.

24. Gidget Fuentes, “Navy Signs off on Plan to Move 5,000 Marines to Guam,” Military Times, September 5, 2015. http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/story/military/2015/09/05/navy-signs-off-plan-move-5000-marines-guam/71657614/.

25. Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs, “Second Submarine Tender to Be Homeported in Guam,” December 23, 2015. http://www.csp.navy.mil/Media/News-Articles/Display-News/Article/637958/second-submarine-tender-to-be-homeported-in-guam; Dean Cheng, “China’s Bomber Flight into the Central Pacific: Wake-Up Call for the United States,” War on the Rocks, December 23, 2015. http://warontherocks.com/2015/12/chinas-bomber-flight-into-the-central-pacific-wake-up-call-for-the-united-states/.

26. Shirley A. Kan, “Guam: U.S. Defense Deployments,” Congressional Research Service, November 26, 2014, 2, 3. https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RS22570.pdf.

27. Eric Heginbotham et al., “The U.S.-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power 1996-2017,” RAND Corporation, 2015, 41. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR300/RR392/RAND_RR392.pdf; Andrew S. Erickson and Justin D. Mikolay, “Guam and American Security in the Pacific,” in Andrew S. Erickson and Carnes Lord, eds., Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific, Naval Institute Press, 2014, 20.

28. Oriana Pawlyk, “12 Air Force F-16s to Deploy to Guam,” Military Times, January 8, 2016. http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/2016/01/08/12-air-force-f-16s-deploy-guam/78501546/; Shirley A. Kan, “Guam: U.S. Defense Deployments,” Congressional Research Service, November 26, 2014, 3. https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RS22570.pdf.

29. Andrew S. Erickson and Justin D. Mikolay, “Guam and American Security in the Pacific,” in Andrew S. Erickson and Carnes Lord, eds., Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific, Naval Institute Press, 2014, 17.

30. Wyatt Olson, “Guam Anti-Missile Unit’s Main Focus Is North Korean Threat,” Stars and Stripes, January 10, 2016. http://www.stripes.com/news/guam-anti-missile-unit-s-main-focus-is-north-korean-threat-1.388070; Jen Judson, “Lockheed Secures $528 Million U.S. Army Contract for More THAAD Interceptors,” Defense News, January 4, 2016. http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/2016/01/04/lockheed-secures-528-million-contract-for-more-thaad-interceptors/78274842/; Cheryl Pellerin, “Work: Guam Is Strategic Hub to Asia-Pacific Rebalance,” U.S. Department of Defense News, August 19, 2014. http://www.defense.gov/News-Article-View/Article/603091/work-guam-is-strategic-hub-to-asia-pacific-rebalance; and Shirley A. Kan, “Guam: U.S. Defense Deployments,” Congressional Research Service, November 26, 2014, 3. https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RS22570.pdf.

31. Eric Heginbotham et al., “The U.S.-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power 1996-2017,” RAND Corporation, 2015, 78-79. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR300/RR392/RAND_RR392.pdf.

32. Ibid, 64-65.

33. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Chapter 2, Section 3, “China’s Offensive Missile Forces,” in 2015 Annual Report to Congress, November 2015, 566.

34. Marcus Weisgerber, “Pentagon Debates Policy to Strengthen, Disperse Bases,” Defense News, April 13, 2014. http://archive.defensenews.com/article/20140413/DEFREG02/304130017/.

35. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, written testimony of Toshi Yoshihara, April 1, 2015; Marcus Weisgerber, “Pentagon Debates Policy to Strengthen, Disperse Bases,” Defense News, April 13, 2014. http://archive.defensenews.com/article/20140413/DEFREG02/304130017/; Andrew S. Erickson and Justin D. Mikolay, “Guam and American Security in the Pacific,” in Andrew S. Erickson and Carnes Lord, eds., Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific, Naval Institute Press, 2014, 25, 31.

36. Shirley A. Kan, “Guam: U.S. Defense Deployments,” Congressional Research Service, November 26, 2014, 11. https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RS22570.pdf; David J. Berteau et al., “U.S. Force Posture Strategy in the Asia-Pacific Region: An Independent Assessment,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 2012, 19. http://csis.org/files/publication/120814_FINAL_PACOM_optimized.pdf.

37. Armando J. Heredia, “Analysis: New U.S.-Philippine Basing Deal Heavy on Air Power, Light on Naval Support,” USNI News, March 22, 2016. https://news.usni.org/2016/03/22/analysis-new-u-s-philippine-basing-deal-heavy-on-air-power-light-on-naval-support; Rob Taylor, “U.S. Air Force Seeks to Enlarge Australian Footprint,” Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2016. http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-air-force-seeks-to-enlarge-australian-footprint-1457431803; Manuel Mogato, “Philippines Offers Eight Bases to U.S. Under New Military Deal,” Reuters, January 13, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-philippines-usa-bases-idUSKCN0UR17K20160113.

38. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Chapter 2, Section 3, “China’s Offensive Missile Forces,” in 2015 Annual Report to Congress, November 2015, 566.

39. Andrew S. Erickson and Justin D. Mikolay, “Guam and American Security in the Pacific,” in Andrew S. Erickson and Carnes Lord, eds., Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific, Naval Institute Press, 2014, 22.

40. Senate Armed Services Committee, Hearing on Worldwide Threats, statement for the record of Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, February 9, 2016, 7. http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Clapper_02-09-16.pdf; U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Chapter 2, Section 3, “China’s Offensive Missile Forces,” in 2015 Annual Report to Congress, November 2015, 370.

41. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Chapter 2, Section 3, “China’s Offensive Missile Forces,” in 2015 Annual Report to Congress, November 2015, 370.

42. Ibid, 566.

43. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, oral testimony of Elbridge Colby, April 1, 2015; U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, oral testimony of Robert Haddick, April 1, 2015.

44. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, written testimony of Evan Montgomery, April 1, 2015.

45. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, oral testimony of Toshi Yoshihara, April 1, 2015; U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, oral testimony of Evan Montgomery, April 1, 2015.

46. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, oral testimony of Mark Stokes, April 1, 2015.

47. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Chapter 2, Section 3, “China’s Offensive Missile Forces,” in 2015 Annual Report to Congress, November 2015, 368-369.

48. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, oral testimony of Dennis Gormley, April 1, 2015.

49. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, oral testimony of Robert Haddick, April 1, 2015.

Featured Image: USS Topeka at Polaris Point, Guam in 2012. (U.S. Navy)

Initiative of the Subordinate: Dudley Knox and the Modern U.S. Navy

Kohnen, David. 21st Century Knox: Influence, Sea Power, and History for the Modern Era. Naval Institute Press, 2016 176pp. $24.95


By Dale Rielage

A century ago, Dudley Knox was one of the U.S. Navy’s up-and-coming leaders. His operational resume included combat experience in the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, and the Philippines insurrection. In a generation that learned its trade from Mahan, Knox achieved intellectual distinction as an observer of naval command and control. Between the First and Second World Wars, Knox developed into one of the nation’s foremost practitioners of naval history, a respected commentator on maritime issues, and advisor to political and naval leaders. Through his professional associations, writings, and commentary, his influence reached to the battles of the Second World War and beyond.

It is precisely to rescue naval thinkers like Knox from obscurity that the Naval Institute Press began the “21st Century Foundations” series. In 21st Century Knox, David Kohnen has selected key writings spanning Knox’s more than fifty year career and combined them with a thoughtful introduction and commentary that places these writings in contemporary context. The result is a handy collection of short articles that speak both to the U.S. Navy’s history and to the challenges it faces today.  

Knox came of age in a nation that was finding its place among the world’s great powers. The U.S. Navy was growing rapidly in capability, capacity and stature. While the new battleships that comprised the Great White Fleet were the most public face of President Theodore Roosevelt’s Big Stick, Knox himself preferred service on torpedo boats and destroyers, whose small size and independent operations offered maximum opportunity for initiative and responsibility. These smaller units also offered junior officers a glimpse of the challenges of coordinating multiple units in coordinated action – a challenge that was preoccupying Royal Navy leaders on the far side of the Atlantic.

Within the British Royal Navy, the tug-of-war between centralizing command and control and decentralizing authority had been playing out for more than a century. During the nineteenth century, the highly decentralized command style of Nelson had given way to a more centralized style, enabled by increasingly sophisticated means for signaling between units. Andrew Gordon, in his seminal study of the issue, noted how the trend towards centralization limited Royal Navy success at Jutland.

The U.S. Navy’s rapid growth in the 1880s and 1890s made command and control issues secondary to more fundamental issues of fleet proficiency and organization. Thanks to reform efforts spearheaded by Admiral William S. Sims, the U.S. Navy had significantly modernized its gunnery training – the foundation of applying combat power at sea at the time. However, this focus on the tools of tactical excellence had not yet expanded to a sophisticated system for managing large fleet actions.

A 1934 Portrait of then Captain Knox. (Wikimedia commons)

It was the interplay between initiative and command that prompted Knox to produce his first significant writings. In 1913, then-Lieutenant Commander Knox placed in the U.S. Naval Institute annual essay contest with the article “Trained Initiative and Unity of Action.” It is no surprise that Knox, having experienced independent command as a junior officer, would instinctively support the decentralization of command. As a relatively junior officer, he dared to critique the current attitude in the service – a service which had enjoyed overwhelming victory and acclaim in its first modern combat experience against the Spanish Navy just fifteen years prior. “It is hardly necessary to enter into a description of our present system of command…it has never stood the supreme test of a large fleet action against a formidable enemy; and it is safe to say that even our greatest triumphs were accomplished in spite of glaring faults which most of us will candidly admit.” Knox then offered a detailed inventory of the impact of excessive control from above in both peace and war. Perhaps more perceptively, he asserted that detailed oversight invites unhealthy critique of seniors by juniors, where a delegated leadership style requires subordinates to own the actions of the team. Knox concluded his essay by asserting that the “initiative of the subordinate” should be the governing principle in U.S. naval doctrine and leadership.

It is important to note that Knox did not base his advocacy of decentralized control on the limitations of command and control mechanisms. In his mind, no improvement in the mechanics of command and control could meet the requirement for speed of action in the face of an adaptive enemy.  As he wrote, “neither signals, radio-messages, nor instructions, written or verbal, can suffice…to produce the unity of effort – the concert of action – demanded by modern conditions in a large fleet.”

Knox followed his 1913 success by winning the Naval Institute Prize in 1915 with an examination of “The Role of Doctrine in Naval Warfare.” An examination of history convinced Knox not only that speed was critical in exploiting opportunity, but that command and control systems inherently degrade in combat. Well articulated and understood doctrine offers the first defense against this challenge, Knox asserted, by ensuring that subordinate commanders approach operations with the same basic assumptions. This doctrine should, in Knox’s mind, clarify for the force to what extent they should act offensively or defensively, as well as what actions should be carried out by the “primary force” (i.e. the entire fleet, with a focus on battleships) or the “secondary force” (i.e. mines, submarines, and small combatants). Knox emphasized that the development of doctrine should be a broad, collaborative process within the Navy in order to ensure buy-in from different communities and continuity of approach and investment across the tenure of different leaders.

Reading these two pieces, many readers will be impressed that they could be written today. Indeed, with minor updating in style and references, they could be published as commentary on today’s U.S. Navy. It is encouraging for today’s innovators that Knox did have profound influence on the culture and conduct of the U.S. Navy, albeit indirectly. Knox built a network of shipmates who were also interested in innovative ideas. Many of his friends, such as Ernest King, Earl “Pete” Ellis, Harold Stark, and Bill Halsey, would rise to positions of influence over the years. Knox’s work was also heavily influenced by his studies at the U.S. Naval War College, where he enjoyed the encouragement of Admiral Sims. Sims – himself the subject of another volume in the 21st Century Foundations series – and who offered an example of a passionate innovator who as a Lieutenant had written a letter to the President trying to drive improvements in U.S. Navy gunnery.

After Sims departed the War College for operational command in the Atlantic, he pulled Knox and a number of other promising young officers onto his staff. Shortly after, with the U.S. on the verge of entering the First World War, Knox was hand-selected to join Sims’ staff in London, placing him at the heart of the U.S. Navy’s first experience in modern coalition warfare. There, Knox was instrumental in tying U.S. Naval Forces in Europe into the Royal Navy’s extraordinary intelligence network. While an informal arrangement, it laid the groundwork for the “very special relationship” between U.S. and British naval intelligence during World War II.

By the 1920s, Knox’s philosophy of command and control had slowly moved from counter-culture to accepted doctrine. Knox’s articles became standard reading at the Naval War College and influenced the famous student wargames which contemplated naval war against Japan. Almost every senior navy leader in World War II attended the War College during this era was influenced by these games. In his outstanding history of naval command and control, Michael Palmer observes that the U.S. Navy would be exceptional in enshrining decentralized command and control and aggressive exercise of initiative in its doctrine. For example, Palmer notes that the U.S. Navy’s 1924 war instructions specified that “when attacked by an enemy, American ships were to turn towards the threat, and not away from it as had Jellicoe, in conformity with his own doctrine, at Jutland.”1 

The summit of Knox’s indirect influence on his navy was reached on the eve of World War II. In his CINCLANT Serial 053 of January 21, 1941, Knox’s shipmate, Admiral Ernest King, instructed the entire Fleet that “initiative of the subordinate” was the “essential element of command.” King noted that he had “been concerned for many years over the increasing tendency…to issue orders and instructions in which their subordinates are told “how” as well as “what” to do to such an extent and in such detail that the ‘Custom of the Service’ has virtually become the antithesis of that essential element of command.” The Navy was close to war, King wrote, and the force was often “reluctant (afraid) to act because they are accustomed to detailed orders and instructions.” If this tendency was not reversed, asserted CNO King, “we shall be in a sorry case” when war arrives. Reversing this tendency required strong leadership, but ultimately the U.S. Navy’s victories in World War II were in no small part due to a culture of finding the right commanders and allowing them latitude to conduct combat operations with a deliberate economy of detailed higher headquarters direction.2

As Knox grew more senior and moved into retirement, his professional focus shifted to history and naval commentary. It is fair to say that today Knox is mainly remembered for his efforts to establish naval history as a discipline and to motivate the U.S. Navy to preserve its own history. That reputation, however, obscures Knox’s ongoing influence during his “historical” period. During the interwar years, a close relationship existed between naval intelligence, naval history and planning; and Knox was a regular if unofficial advisor of naval decision makers through the end of World War II.

Dudley Knox Library, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California. (Wikimedia commons)
The Dudley Knox Library at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. (Wikimedia commons)

If there is a weakness in this book, it is that Dave Kohnen sometimes comes across as a historian admiring another historian. Knox was a practitioner, a status that made him acutely interested in the impact of this analysis. Nonetheless, in making Dudley Knox readily accessible to the current generation of naval professionals, Kohnen and the Naval Institute Press have done a significant service. With the Chief of Naval Operations calling for the U.S. Navy officer corps to read, write, and fight, Knox offers an example of how an officer with ideas and the willingness to challenge the status quo can have a profound influence on the U.S. Navy. CIMSEC is one place for that writing to find a voice today – and 21st Century Knox is a great place to start reading.

Captain Dale Rielage serves as Director for Intelligence and Information Operations for U.S. Pacific Fleet. He has served as 3rd Fleet N2, 7th Fleet Deputy N2, Senior Intelligence Officer for China at the Office of Naval Intelligence and Director of the Navy Asia Pacific Advisory Group. His opinions do not represent those of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, or Department of the Navy.

1. Michael Palmer, Command at Sea: Naval Command and Control since the Sixteenth Century, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007, p. 255.

2. The full text of King’s memo is found in The Administration of the Navy Department in World War II, Washington, DC: Naval History Division, 1959, as appendix 1.

Featured Image: USS BB 30 “Florida” – April 1919.

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.