Category Archives: History

Naval and maritime history section.

Google Ngram Viewer’s History of the Cold War

It turns out that the history of the Cold War is best told not in books, but in graphs about books.

Google has an obscure new feature called “Ngram Viewer,” which allows users to search for individual words, or “grams,” as they appear in over 5.2 million digitalized books stored in the Google database. Users have the option to search for words in more than a dozen languages, even discriminating between British and American English.

The search function also allows users to modify particular words to do things such as determine when certain forms of words fell into and out of popularity (such as when “tackle” was used as a noun instead of a verb). By adding wildcards or modifiers, users can search for things as diverse as the popularity of slacks versus dress pants to which Internet operating system was most prominent.

Ngram Viewer searches from books written from over 600 years ago to the present day. The x-axis represents years in chronological order; the y-axis represents the percentage of books that a particular word or phrase appears in during that given year.

In a search of books between 1840 and 2008 in the English language, entering the terms “communism” and “capitalism” reveals a telling graph. At first glance, these data plots appear to create two insignificant lines. But combined with our knowledge of 21st century events, it becomes a surprisingly accurate graphical depiction of one of the defining struggles of modern times.Ngram

Communism first appears to overtake capitalism in 1947, where the red and blue lines intersect. This point coincides precisely with the announcement of the Truman Doctrine, signaling the beginning of the “containment” strategy that would consume much of the next four decades.

Communism appears to reach its apex on the graph in 1963 during the Kennedy administration, just two years after construction began on the Berlin Wall. Also of significance during this time was the introduction of a hotline between Moscow and Washington, enabling direct communication between the two Cold War powers for the first time. After the president’s assassination, communism begins a fatal free-fall from which it will never recover. In 1964, Leonid Brezhnev succeeds Nikita Khrushchev as Chairman of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Capitalism finally appears to regain the upper hand against communism in 1971, around the time of the death of Khrushchev. Significant during this time is President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, the first time an American president had visited the communist nation.

Finally, in the early 1990s, the area between the two curves is the greatest, signaling the vanquishing of the Soviet Union. After the Malta Summit between Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev and President George HW Bush in December 1989, perhaps the most symbolic sign of the fall of the Soviet Union was the opening of a McDonald’s in the heart of Moscow on January 31, 1990.

While compiling a graph of words found in books of a particular language and attempting to ascribe some geopolitical significance to them may constitute a form of lingual bias, the uncanny similarity between the types of books written during the Cold War and the actual events therein is remarkable. Google’s Ngram Viewer is an important tool for analyzing society and discovering who we really are as a people.

Can one book predict the fate of the world? Perhaps not. But can millions of authors from around the world over the course of dozens of years accurately portray the consciousness of a people? Deus ex machina.

What is a Corvette? And What Next?

By Chuck Hill

Classification of surface warships as cruisers, destroyers, frigates, or corvettes, has become like pornography. There are no generally accepted definitions, but “I know it when I see it”–except that everyone sees it a little differently.

Since this is “Corvette Week” what are we really talking about?

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My Combat Fleets of the World, 16th Edition, which I have used here extensively for reference, defines Corvettes as, “Surface Combatants of less than 1,500 tons but more than 1,000 full load displacement–essentially, fourth rate surface combatants.”  But goes on to note that “…the designation as used here essentially refers to smaller frigates and does not correspond to the European concept of corvettes as any warship larger than a patrol craft but smaller than a frigate.” I feel to confine the definition within a 500 ton range is too restrictive. In fact it would have excluded the Castle class corvettes of WWII as too large, and other corvettes as too small.

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Royal Navy Photograph of Castle class corvette HMS Denbigh Castle (K696)

Pre-WWII

During the age of sail, corvettes were originally warships typically smaller than a frigate, but larger than a sloop, usually with guns on a single deck. Some ships continued to be called corvettes as steam was introduced, but in the Royal Navy, in 1877, corvettes along with sloops and frigates were subsumed under the new designation “cruisers.” Corvettes, as a type, essentially disappeared from the English naval lexicon until 1939. The term was kept alive in some navies (including the French, German, and Italian) as a rank that translated corvette-captain, a rank generally equal to Lieutenant Commander.

World War II

Corvettes as a type reemerged just prior to WWII. As it became clear that U-boats would be a major threat, Britain saw the need for an escort vessel that could be built quickly and in large numbers, in yards that had not been considered capable of building warships. Just before WWII, they ordered the first of 267 “Flower Class” corvettes that were built in the UK and Canada. They modified the design for a whale catcher named Southern Pride, enlarging it to 205 feet overall and a displacement of 1245 to 1390 tons. They were terrible warships, weakly armed, cramped, uncomfortable, and slow. Single screw, reciprocating steam propulsion gave them a maximum speed of only 16.5 knots, a knot slower than a typical (Type VII) surfaced U-boat. They were originally intended only for coastal operations, but because of their long range, they were thrown into the Battle of the Atlantic, where they were by far the most numerous transatlantic convoy escorts for the critical early years, taking slow merchant convoys across the mid-Atlantic air gap, while the Home Fleet’s more capable, but shorter legged, fleet destroyers were generally held back to escort the battle fleet or met convoys only as they approached the British Isles.

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Flower Class Corvette HMS Polyanthus, Source =www.oldships.org.uk, Author =Leidseplein Date =1943-09-

Reportedly Winston Churchill had a hand it designating this new class “corvettes,” probably in an attempt to make them appear more glamorous than the term “patrol vessels” which had been applied to similar vessels previously. Two years after the re-introduction of the term “corvette,” the term “frigate” was also resurrected to describe another war emergency escort program, this one more complex and more capable but still using reciprocating steam propulsion. Larger commercial yards converted to making frigates (301 to 307 ft, 1920 to 2420 ton), but smaller yards continued to make corvettes of the improved Castle class (252 ft, 1590 to 1630 tons), while naval yards continued to produce small numbers of sloops like the Black Swan class that were the true premier ASW escorts of the Royal Navy.

Australia also built corvettes, 60 ships of the similar but even smaller, slower Bathurst Class (186 ft). Initially they were classified as minesweepers, but found more employment as escorts, so were more frequently referred to as corvettes.

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Bathurst-class corvette, HMAS Fremantle, State Library of Victoria

Japan, Germany, and Italy all made similar escort ships, but only the numerous Italian  Gabbiano class (193 foot, 728 tons, with combined diesel or electric propulsion no less),  were actually referred to as corvettes.

All of the WWII corvettes were primarily ASW escorts, but their were a number of classes of vessels, many built prior to the war, that share DNA with today’s missile armed corvettes. These were small, fast, torpedo armed vessels that resembled destroyers, but most had a standard displacement of 1000 tons or less. Usually they were referred to as “torpedo boats.”  Japan built twelve, The Germans built 48 (the last 15 were large enough to have been considered destroyers in other navies). The French Navy completed twelve. The Italians completed 69 (some of which were closer to frigates or destroyer escorts). The Italian Spica class (269 ft, 885 to 1,030 ton, 34 knots) may serve as an example.

spica class
Italian Spica Class torpedo boat

Generally, the war emergency programs had one thing in common. They were not the ships these navies would have chosen to build in peacetime. In wartime priorities change; planning horizons contract. Producibility may trump quality. They were all compromised in some fashion–in their speed, survivability, weapons, or economy of operation. Corvettes filled a need for large numbers of escorts, but after the war, most were quickly discarded.

The MCM Connection

The Flower Class Corvettes were originally also equipped to sweep mines. As noted the Australian Bathurst Class began life as minesweepers. While the US built no “corvettes” during the war, the minesweepers of the Raven (220 foot/1040 tons), Auk (221 foot/1,250 tons), and Admirable ((180 foot) classes frequently functioned in this role. In fact, with minor modification Admirable class ships were redesignated PCEs (Patrol Craft, Escort). All these minesweepers were built with sonar. By the end of the war, most were equipped with hedgehogs, depth charge projectors (K-guns) and dual depth charge racks, having enjoyed priority for ASW equipment second only to destroyer escorts.

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Former Auk class minesweeper still serving in the Philippine Navy as Corvette BRP Rizal (PS-74), US Government photo, 050822-N-6264C-145 Sulu Sea (Aug. 22, 2005)

Post WWII

Since the end of WWII corvettes have generally fallen into two categories, with some designs attempting to incorporate elements both types. They tend to be either:
—Small, fast, missile armed vessels optimized for ASuW, like Sweden’s Visby Class (40 knots, 239 ft, 650 tons) usually expected to operate in groups, either with others of their kind or acting as flagships for even smaller missile boats, or
—Smaller versions of frigates with moderate speed optimized for patrol and presence in peacetime and escort during wartime like the Damen designed SIGMAs or  India’s Kamorta Class (25 knots, 358 foot oa, 3100 tons).

File:K33 HMS Haernosand Karlskrona Marindagen2008.jpg
Visby class Corvette, HMS Härnösand.
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SIGMA class corvette.

Largest Operators of Corvettes

The largest operator of corvettes is Russia with approximately 53 (3 Buyan, 1 Buyan M, 7 Parchim II, 23 Grisha V, 4 Grisha III, 2 Dergach Project 1239, 13 Nanuchka) (80 if you count the 27 Tarantuls that fall slightly below the 500 ton threshold I have assumed).
India, China, South Korea, Indonesia, and Italy also maintain large numbers of corvettes.

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Chinese Type 056 corvette 583 Ganzhou.

Corvettes in the USN

While the US Navy has never built corvettes for its own use, the type is not without precedence in the US.

In the early days of WWII, when the US navy was desperately short of escorts, 18 Flower class corvettes were transferred to the USN. Eight of those were manned by USCG crews.

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Coast Guard manned Flower Class Corvette USS Intensity (PG-93), mid-1943. Former HMCS Fennel (K194).

In the 50s the Navy was interested in experimenting with types that might be built hurriedly in an emergency. The result was the four ships of the Claude Jones class (DE-1033-1036) built by Avondale between 1956 and 1959. At 312 feet long and 2000 tons, they were essentially the same size as the preceding Dealey Class, but they were  simplified, diesel powered, slower, and more lightly armed. These ships were really a update of the corvette concept of a cheap simple escorts that lent itself to rapid construction. (Similarly about the same time the British were building 14 HMS Blackwood Class  (Type 14) that were “2nd Rate Frigates” of 1536 tons, powered by a single shaft steam turbine plant with no gun larger then 40mm.)

USS Claude Jones (DE-1033)
USS Claude Jones (DE-1033)

In the late 1960s the US built four corvettes, given US hull numbers PF-103 to PF-106, that were immediately turned over to the Iranian Navy. They became the Bayandor Class (275 feet long, 1,135 tons).

In the early ’70s, two additional PF-103 class ships (PF-107 and 108), built to a modified design, were delivered to Thailand’s Navy. These were the Tapi Class.

Between 1977 and 1983 Tacoma Boat built a class of four CODOG powered “PCG” for Saudi Arabia, the Badr class, 245 feet, 1,038 tons, 30 knots.

Between 1983 and 1987 Tacoma Boat built two diesel powered “PFMMs” for the Thai Navy Ratanakosin class 252 foot, 960 tons, 26 knots.

Between 1989 and 1995 Northrop Grumman Litton built three CODOG Corvettes for the Israeli Navy, the Sa’ar 5 class, (281 foot, 1,275 tons, 33 knots).

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American built Sa’ar 5 missile corvettes. Photo via Flickr.

Between 2008 and 2013, VT Halter Marine has been building a class of four missile corvettes for the Egyptian Navy, the  Ambassador MkIII class (205 feet, 700 tons, 41 knots). The first has already been delivered.

An undated photo of the ENS S. Ezzat, an Egyptian Fast Missile Craft. VT Halter Marine Photo
An undated photo of the ENS S. Ezzat, an Egyptian Fast Missile Craft. VT Halter Marine Photo.

While the Littoral Combat Ships are not normally considered corvettes, on June 10, 2013, Rear Admiral John F. Kirby, the Chief of Information for the Navy called them Corvettes. Without a mission module or aviation detachment, they are really more like OPVs. But when the Mine Warfare module is mounted they become MCM vessels. When an ASW or ASuW module is mounted, they start to look like corvettes.

The Claude Jones class ships were transferred to the Indonesian Navy and continued in service there until 2006. Of the six PF-103 class ships, two Iranian ships were lost in combat with Iraq, but the remaining four are still in service with the Iranian and Thai Navies and have been updated. The Badr class and the  Ratanakosin class are still in service with their respective navies, and the Sa’ar Vs are still the most advanced surface ships in the Israeli Navy. All but the two Thai Navy Ratanakosin class (PF-107 and 108) have been equipped to launch anti-ship cruise missiles.

The Coast Guard Connection

During WWII Coast Guard Cutters were frequently used as ASW escorts, some quite successfully, filling corvette and frigate roles. After the war, new construction frequently included provision for ASW systems either as built or as planned upgrades in the case of a major conflict.

The 16 Reliance class Medium Endurance Cutters (210 feet, 1,050 tons, 18 knots) delivered 1964 to 1969, were built with provision for adding sonar, hedge hogs, and torpedo tubes. They were originally to have been designated PCs. a designation shared with the sub chasers of WWII.

The 12 Hamilton Class High Endurance cutters (378 feet, 3,050 tons, 29 knots) completed 1967 to 1972, were built with ASW systems installed and their systems were upgraded and provision for harpoon installed 1989 to 1992. As built, they were not the equal of contemporary Destroyer Escorts with their AN/SQS-26 sonars, but were comparable to those built only a few years before. An argument can be made that these ships, as built and later modified, could be considered, if not frigates, at least corvettes.

USCGC Mellon after upgrades including Harpoon, CIWS, and support for LAMPS

The thirteen Bear class cutters (270 feet, 1,780 tons, 19.5 knots) completed 1983 to 1990, were built without ASW systems, but had provision for adding a towed array and supporting a LAMPS I helicopter. If these systems had been provided, then the ships might have also been considered corvettes.

The Coast Guard’s National Security Cutters, of the Bertholf class (eight ships planned, 418 ft/4,500 tons) have no installed ASW systems or ASCMs, but they do have excellent aviation support facilities and the ship has been marketed as the basis for a frigate program. Aside from Exocets carried by the French ships, they are in most respects more capable warships than the Floreal “light surveillance frigates” (307 ft/2950 tons) and similar to the French Lafayette Class frigates (410 ft/3,600 tons) which also currently have no sonar.

USCGC Waesche by Yerba Buena Island.
USCGC Waesche by Yerba Buena Island. U.S. Coast Guard photo ID: 100228-G-2129M-004.
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French Floréal-class frigate
The Coast Guard is in the process of procuring a new class to replace its Medium Endurance Cutters. The resulting ship is likely to be similar to the Floreal class (90 to 100 meters in length and 2500 to 3500 tons) but faster and will share sensors and some weapons with the Bertholf class and the Littoral Combat Ships. Addition of ASW or ASCM systems would result in ships many would classify as light frigates or corvettes.

Bottom Line–What is a Corvette?

Corvettes slot under frigates but above patrol boats or missile boats as a classification of surface combatants. To me, this means that they are the smallest or perhaps least capable ocean-going warships. This is a bit of a stretch for Corvettes like the Visby, but in fact the Swedes have deployed even smaller warships to the Indian Ocean for counter piracy operations. That sets the low end of the the displacement range at about 500 tons, but when we look for an upper limit, it seems a moving target, with no similar performance based limit.

The US and Britain already build destroyers the size of WWII cruisers. Germany and in the near future Britain will build frigates over 6,000 tons full load. Japan’s Coast Guard has OPVs displacing 9,350 tons full load.  If we tripled the displacement of WWII corvettes as we have done with WWII Frigates and Destroyers, Corvettes could displace almost 5,000 tons, so I don’t think displacement is a reliable determinant.

Strict naval vessel construction standards don’t necessarily distinguish a corvette from an OPV either. They were not applied to the original “Flower” class, and they don’t apply to the Damen designed Sigma class, built or building for Indonesia, Morocco, and Vietnam, or to the French Lafayette class (also operated by Taiwan, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia) and Floreal class (also operated by the Moroccan Navy) which are rated as frigates but which it might be argued are actually corvettes.

The only metric that doesn’t seem to have changed much over the last 70 years is crew size. Corvettes generally have crews of 120 or less, frigates from 120 to perhaps a bit over 200, while destroyer crews begin slightly under 200 and go up to about 350, and cruiser crews are larger still. The DDG1000s will apparently have a frigate sized crew, but their final crew may be larger than currently planned. OPV crews tend to be corvette sized or smaller.

Just as the difference between Spruance Class Destroyers and Ticonderoga Class cruisers was mission and associated equipment, not displacement, the differentiation between the various types of warships and between Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) and corvettes may simply comes down to their missions and equipment. OPVs include a wide range of ships, but the common thread, generally accepted, is that they have no ASW weapons, no heavy anti-ship cruise missiles, and only a self-defense AAW capability. Adding an ASW capability and/or cruise missiles would convert an OPV into a corvette. Perhaps they would not make very good warships, but then the original Corvettes weren’t very good warships either, but they served a vital role. Conversely an old frigate or corvette, stripped of all its weapons except a medium caliber gun and heavy machine guns would become an OPV, even if it nominally retained its frigate or corvette designation as in the case of Portugal’s Joao Coutinho and Baptista de Andrade class or some of Italy’s Minerva class.

If we had no history, and we could start ship designations on “a clean sheet of paper” we might define ships types based on their missions and equipment, saying destroyers are vessels designed with robust capacity to perform well in all three major surface combatant warfare areas, AAW, ASuW, and ASW. Frigates are designed to perform well in only two missions areas  (with possibly modest self defense capability in the third). Corvettes would be single mission specialists with only modest capability in the other two missions (if at all). OPVs would be vessels equipped for missions that did not require robust capabilities in any of these three mission areas. All four types might be called generically “cruisers” which would bring that designation back to its original meaning, a vessel smaller than a ship of the line that can operate independently.

The Future of Corvettes

WWII corvettes were small ships packed with crew and weapons.They were small because there was an urgent need for many ships that could not be met by the shipyards that normally built warships. They were a way of making the small commercial yards serve the war effort. If we are ever engaged in a prolonged conflict against a near peer adversary we may again resort to a similar expedience. If so, the resulting corvette is more likely to be based on a petroleum industry offshore support vessel rather than a whaling or fishing vessel.

But when ships are built in peace time, for a 20 to 40 year life, other factors beside construction cost start to dominate. In the West, crew costs weigh heavily, while increasing hull size appears less important, provided we do not load up the larger hull with additional systems which will in turn drive up crew costs. Larger hulls are more seaworthy, allow greater endurance, and may be made quieter. They may even be more economical to operate and maintain because of easier access.

Some European Countries that formally operated a number of Corvettes seem to have abandoned the type in favor of ships with more range and better seakeeping including The Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway. Denmark has instead produced frigates and a novel class of ships, the Absalon Class “support ships,” (450 ft/6,600 tons) that include a relatively large hull of modest speed, with a relatively small crew of about 100, and a large reconfigurable spaces–an open one topside midships where missile systems can be placed and a “garage” area under the flight deck that can accommodate vehicles and containerized loads. These ships are perhaps too large to be considered corvettes, but they are not nearly so well armed as the frigates of the similarly sized Iver Huitfeldt-class. They do have characteristics I would expect to see on future corvettes, a relatively commodious hull (because “steel is cheap and air is free”), a relatively small crew (because that is the most expensive component over the life-cycle of the ship), and reconfigurable spaces and weapon systems, that allow the ships to be adapted to different missions (because that is allow us to hedge our bets regarding what capabilities will be needed, while allowing that minimal crew over most of the life of the ship).

Because Corvettes are always compromised, they are likely to be controversial. Many will not agree with the compromises accepted. That is certainly true of the new American Corvette, the Littoral Combat ship.

In some respects the LCSs may be the prototype of the future corvette, in that it is not particularly small, but they were made cheap to operate with a minimal crew, and they are single mission ships, but with the advantage that the mission can be changed over time, although not as quickly as once advertised. Other aspects of the ship were perhaps not as well thought out, but they will serve a purpose, and perhaps the next generation LCS  or convertible corvette will better meet our needs.

Chuck retired from the Coast Guard after 22 years service. Assignments included four ships, Rescue Coordination Center New Orleans, CG HQ, Fleet Training Group San Diego, Naval War College, and Maritime Defense Zone Pacific/Pacific Area Ops/Readiness/Plans. Along the way he became the first Coast Guard officer to complete the Tactical Action Officer (TAO) course and also completed the Naval Control of Shipping course. He has had a life-long interest in naval ships and history. Chuck normally writes for his blog, Chuck Hill’s CG blog.  

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The Rise of the Social-State

As the clock struck midnight on December 31, 2000, at the start of a new millennium, there were approximately 360 million unique internet users. Just 1/1000th of the populations in the Middle East and Africa had access to the internet. Facebook was still but a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye.

Thirteen years later, this has changed dramatically. At nearly 2.5 billion people, the internet is used by more than 1/3 of the world’s population. More than 15% of Africans now have access to the internet – the majority of them getting it through mobile data via cell phones – while a whopping 40% of Middle Easterners are now online. That represents a growth of over 3000% (that’s three thousand) in just over a decade.

At the same time, social media use has risen exponentially. If all the Facebook users in the world were assembled into one place, they would make up the third-largest country on Earth with over 1.1 billion citizens (behind only China and India). While not nearly as numerous, there are over 500 million users of 140-character Twitter, with over 10% of those people in a single country:  China.

A Different World

You forgot the "@" before Mubarak.
You forgot the “@” before Mubarak.

People are no longer left to rely on the state-sponsored dictation of events, or even a few media outlets reporting what they’ve seen. With Twitter, first-hand accounts and pictures can be passed quickly; with Facebook, users can share and collaborate on growing trends; on YouTube, we can see with our own eyes exactly what is happening in Syria, Egypt, or on the streets outside Washington, DC.

The most enduring reality of the past decade has been the rise of the global individual. In 2006, Time‘s “Person of the Year” was the individual (“You,” to be specific). In response to old, slow, unresponsive regimes in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and a host of other countries, leaders were either deposed in a violent way or forced to make significant concessions antithetical to the totalitarian norm.

Global individualism has led to a prioritization of individuals and ideologues over the traditional concept of “nation.” When you can “like” the Syrian Free Army on Facebook or “follow” al-Shabaab on Twitter from the comfort of your own home, it doesn’t matter that you live in the land known as “Pakistan” or “Egypt” or even “the United States of America.” Individuals across the globe are organizing themselves more now by ideas and preferences than by borders or nationality.

This notion is not new in religious lore. In Islam, the organization of Muslims everywhere is known as the “Caliphate.” Before it was a UN-recognized state, Israel was the name of the global community of Jewish people. Today, we might call all fans of the Dallas Cowboys a “Facebook group” and all the internet subscribers of Muqtada al-Sadr his “Twitter followers.” In the 21st century, the diaspora is connected via wi-fi.

The Decline of Nationalism

At a recent gathering of more than 150 American citizens with at least some level of college education, I asked the assembled crowd to identify the corporate logos of Starbucks, Shell, AT&T, McDonald’s, and Fed Ex. 100% of the crowd was able to correctly identify at least 4 of the logos, while around 90% were able to identify all 5.

Immediately afterward, I asked the same 150 people to identify the national flags of Syria, Egypt, Somalia, Libya, and Chad. Approximately 80% could identify 1 flag, 60% could identify 2 flags, 33% could identify 3 flags, 10% could identify 4 flags, and only 1 person (an African studies major in college) could identify all 5 flags.

In an effort to drive the point home, I flashed the flags of five U.S. states: New York, Alabama, Delaware, Indiana, and Massachusetts. If you can believe it, the percentages were actually worse; not a single person was able to correctly identify all five state flags (to be honest, if I hadn’t researched for the event, I doubt I would have been able to guess more than three or four either).

This erudite experiment, though anecdotal and far from scientific, points to a larger global trend:  the decline of nationalism, and the rise of global individualism.

The Ideological Basis of Armies

In light of the recent revolutions that comprised “the Arab Spring,” one must ask:  how are armies fielded? In our textbooks, we are taught that armies are the property of nation-states, who field them in defense of their borders or broader national interests.

But isn’t the original concept of the nation-state simply an ideal? At its basic level, an army is stood by people coming together to protect themselves from harm by a common enemy. It follows, then, that the armies of the 21st century will follow this natural law—that they are fielded to defend ideals—and with that comes a monumental shift in the global political paradigm: the rise of the social-state.

This is not a new idea. In his book Jihad Joe, J.M. Berger estimates that more than 1,400 American citizens have taken part in some form of militant jihad over the past 30 years. As our communication and connectivity brings us closer, our money and internet history drive our future more than the votes we drop in the ballot box.

Yet simple connectivity cannot supplant real action from Internet users. In “Tweeting Toward Freedom,” the Wilson Quarterly noted that, “More than a million people have joined a Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition, but few among them have taken any additional action to help those in Sudan.” The most effective ideologues in this century will be those who can turn words on a computer screen into reliable action from their followers.

The Social State

In a Small Wars Journal article, Richard Lindsey wrote, “There comes a point in any insurgency where it must move beyond the reach of social media, and tangible gains must be made on the ground – positions occupied, personalities deposed, systems replaced, logistics realized, and governments overthrown.” Yet if insurgents and individuals can defend themselves from governments while operating within that government’s borders, they have already made “tangible gains…on the ground.” The positions, personalities, systems, logistics, and governance are provided through wireless or ether connections and supported via the “social compact”—namely, some form of user agreement.

If I can get access to the internet, I can pledge to a cause, fund that cause, and become indoctrinated to that cause. We might call this process “assimilation.” My physical location is only important insomuch as I can carry out actions for that cause in my specific locale or travel to a nearby location to do the same. The “social-states” created by this reality are the future of the world, where citizens are arranged by borders of thought, ideology, and preference.

On its face, this may seem like a unique solution to so many conflicts throughout the world. However, the “borders” created by such a reality are much more fluid, volatile, and confusing, and they will drive our concept of conflict. In the book Warrior Politics, visionary author Robert Kaplan surmises that “the spread of information in the coming decades will lead not just to new social compacts, but to new divisions as people discover new and complex issues over which to disagree.”

Rather than access to weapons and land, the ability to control the electromagnetic spectrum and access to the internet will define future battlefields as the “strategic high ground.” Cyber strike and defense will be the most critical mission sets as friend and foe alike use this medium to achieve not only kinetic effects against their enemies–including CBRNE—but important non-kinetic effects as well, especially those encompassed in the concept of Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD).

Without respect for nation-state political borders, these effects will be felt indiscriminately by both supporters and opponents of the cause. Therefore, those who can develop the ability to discriminate their effects will find the most success and support.

The Tough Sell

A new global paradigm isn’t limited to the shores of Africa or the Middle East; it can be seen here in America. The government shutdown is a case study in the inability of governments to respond to large-scale discord in a way that maintains credibility – and in this century, credibility and confidence is currency. Those who cannot control the 24/7 opinion and social media reality will quickly cede their control to the growing social-state underneath.

Therefore, it will be in the best interests of major nations like the USA, China, Germany, United Kingdom, and France, among others, to counter these tendencies and find a way to “sell” the nation-state in a 21st century marked by individual power. More than Nazism, fascism, or communism, the synergistic effects of non-state actors, insurgents, and individuals through social media and collaboration will be the greatest existential threat to freedom as we know it—the kind of freedom nation-states enjoy—that the world has ever witnessed.

In his New York Times piece “The End of the Nation-State?” Parag Khanna reminds us that “[t]his isn’t to say that states have disappeared, or will. But they are becoming just one form of governance among many.” In an age where information and products consume our daily routines, nation-states are faced with a very tough sell, indeed. There are many questions that partisans, policy makers, and populations must answer: Is the nation-state worth fighting for, or is the social-state a better alternative? Are the two mutually exclusive? Is the paradigm shift inevitable?

We will shape the answers to these questions over the coming decades. In the meantime, the only certainty seems to be that we will be uncertain.

LT Roger L. Misso is a Naval Flight Officer (NFO) in the E-2C Hawkeye, recent MAWTS-1 WTI graduate, and former director of the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference (NAFAC). The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Battle of Litani River: Maritime Challenges in the Levant

Figure 1As the Syrian conflict drags on well into its third year, military planners continue weighing the differing contingency options and courses of action.  How do Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Israel protect themselves from a pre-emptive strike from the Baathist regime?  Is Russia providing advanced weaponry to the regime?  Will one or some of the various terrorist groups residing within Syria gain control of chemical weapons?  What exactly is the Russian navy doing in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea?  Who is the “opposition”?

The difficult limited choices (boots on the ground, non-fly zone, etc.) and the projection of future scenarios must be a heavy burden for military leadership that claim areas of responsibility for operations in Syria and around the Levant region.  Yet, the common military (and political) dialogue fails to discuss a very real sequel to any military campaign in Syria – What will happen in Lebanon? 

This “Switzerland of the Middle East” is a dynamic and aggravated area, susceptible to flare up and strife. Does it matter?  To the Israelis: of course it does, just look at the recent history of operations in Lebanon.  To the US: they have been involved in Lebanon (continually) since the early 1980s.  The recognized border between Lebanon and Israel is a memorial to the frozen conflict of which is just pending Hizbollah and/or Syria’s next move.

In June 1941, the Allies conducted a Syria-Lebanon campaign (known as Operation Exporter) of which little is written. British, Palestinians, Jordanians, Indians, Australians, and the “Free French” conducted an invasion of Vichy-controlled Syria and Lebanon, ultimately resulting in a victory, with the Free French General Catroux being placed in charge of Syria-Lebanon.  Shortly after, Catroux named both Syria and Lebanon free nations. Lebanon declared its independence in November 1943 with Syria claiming independence two months later.

In this campaign, Australian commandos as part of the British Layforce – an ad hoc assortment of special forces – conducted an amphibious raid into Lebanon through the southern Litani River area in an effort to seize key nodes (bridges and high terrain) in advance of the main force, driving north from Palestine towards Beirut.  The amphibious force was to coordinate with the 21st Brigade’s attack on the Litani River position, through an amphibious assault from sea near the mouth of the river. They were to secure the north and south banks of the river and prevent an enemy demolition of the Qasmiye bridge, allowing the 21st brigade to advance towards Beirut.  The landing force met unforeseen challenges posed both from their adversary as well as their own command and control.  These likewise hold lessons for naval planners contemplating operations in the region today.  

Limited Intelligence

The overall campaign commander, Field Marshal Henry Wilson, was unable to detail the force structure up to 10 days prior to the assault.  There were limited amount of intel handbooks to provide information on Lebanese and Syrian roads, towns, people, and enemy forces. The allied forces only had broad maps (1:200,000) of the area of operations and no prior intelligence on beach landing sites.  In response to this intel gap, action officers conducted a reconnaissance trip to Haifa to inquire on weather.  Finding that the landing area had heavy surf at 300yds from the beach, and given the dates of the pending assault, a landing was not assessed as favorable.

While the information available to naval planners has grown in the last 70 years, given ISR limitations and a robust Syrian air-defense posture, limited actionable intelligence will most likely still present a challenge.  Despite a recent Non-combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) of Lebanon, the increased conflict in Syria and multi-national interest in the region pose a much more complicated environment and larger quantity of unknowns.

Conflicting Command Relationships

The senior officer of the amphibious force, consisting of the landing ship HMS Glengyle and destroyers HMS Hotspur, HMS Iris, and HMS Coventry, serving as escorts, delegated responsibility of landing boats to the commanding officer of the amphibious ship CAPT Petrie, RN.  Upon conversing with the other ship captains (who all recommended against a landing) CAPT Petrie decided to recover the boats and return to Port Said.  This decision was not concurred by Col Pedder, the Amphibious Landing Force commander, who argued that the risk was worth taking to maintain surprise (moonlight had showed their presence), but the decision was made to reverse course nonetheless.  The ships returned to Port Said on the afternoon of 09 June, and after a brief meeting decided to get underway and attempt the landing again – early the next morning.  The force returned at 0300 to the same spot (four miles west of the coast) and launched the operation under a full moon in calm weather. Various landing parties came under immediate fire upon arriving at the beach and many felt that the previous night’s loitering tipped off the enemy to their intentions.  Additionally, when the main force (X) arrived south of the Litani River they observed that the enemy had already demolished the Qasmiye bridge.

While the decision to delay the landing had been delegated to CAPT Petrie, he also had a responsibility to report to his senior officer that landing force commander did not concur with the decision.  Communication limitations may have hindered such a correspondence, but this hotly contested command relationship is another reminder of the inherent risks that are always involved in amphibious operations.

 

HMS Glengyle
                                                                                                     HMS Glengyle

Naval history books are filled with command and control mistakes during amphibious operations and Allied forces in World War II learned hard lessons in their gradual development of effective amphibious task force/landing force relationships.  Given the uniqueness of the Levant region and the Eastern Mediterranean there are multiple commands who may be involved.  Recent western-coalition amphibious exercises (i.e. Bold Alligator) found persistent errors in command relationships and no common understanding of an appropriate chain of command.  U.S. European Command (EUCOM), U.S. Central Command, and NATO all have operational area boundaries that meet in the Levant Region. Given the complexity of the area and environment, unless lessons of the past are understood, accepted, and acted upon the same issues may continue to haunt future amphibious operations in an around the Litani.

Faulty Navigation Skills

Two of the three landing parties (X and Z) had difficulties finding the correct landing site, resulting in the main effort (X party) landing one mile south of the intended objective and south of the Litani River, whereas the supporting effort (Z party) landed on the unintended side of the enemy forces.  This is not the first early morning amphibious operation (see Gallipoli) in which the leading guide used an incorrect navigational aid (small house vice a bridge).  Despite advances in GPS technology, the lack of updated environmental information and infrequent operations in this area should cause amphibious force planners to expect a comparable level of complexity. 

Six minutes after landing, a battery of field guns including 75mm guns, 81mm mortars and heavy machine guns opened fire on X party’s beach.  This may be viewed as irrelevant in light of today’s advanced equipment, but a friendly reminder that the 11 Scottish Commando’s arrival on the hillcrest overlooking the Litani river met with immediate friendly artillery fire should strike note of caution in maritime planners. 

Lack of Air Support and Coastal Shore Bombardment

Vichy French recon planes made repeated flights over the landing forces, while their destroyers moved down the Lebanese coast, firing into landing parties positions.  Despite ineffective shore bombardment on Z party, the X party sustained direct hits on troops and artillery with no effective friendly ship counter-fire.  It is unfathomable to think that two enemy French destroyers were able to freely maneuver on the coast, disrupting landing force operations, while three allied destroyers and one cruiser were assigned as escorts. 

This scenario easily translates to today’s operations and high-priority Ballistic Missile Defense platforms.  In the Anti-Access / Area Denial (A2AD) environment (easily framed in the Eastern Mediterranean) planners should be asking more than just strategic imperatives and instead  should be asking commanders for operational priorities.  Who is the main effort?  Who is supporting?  In response to the Syrian conflict, will a Lebanon amphibious operation ever be the top priority or will naval forces be asked to conduct multi-functional missions that overlap C2 relationships, confuse capabilities and responsibilities, and fail to achieve mission success?

From a Naval perspective the Levant region is ripe with challenges: small maneuver space in the Eastern Mediterranean, only 3 choke-point entries (Gibraltar, Suez, Bosphorus), and a concave coastline that presents decreased distance from coastal-defense cruise missiles and coastal batteries, as well as, various territorial water space considerations.  The amateur maritime planner may quickly consider these challenges as important for the status quo mission of maritime strike and ballistic missile defense, but with a bit more time invested a planner would quickly surmise that the Levant’s maritime domain is much more of a challenge for potential amphibious operations.

References:  McHarg, Ian “Litani River.” United Kingdom, 2011. www.litaniriver.com

@NavalPlanner is an experienced strategic and operational military planner. He strives to share his perspective on operational art and planning with fellow maritime enthusiasts on his blog.