There is a special challenge in reviewing the fourteenth book in an iconic, best-selling series. The point of a book review is to advise potential readers if they should invest their time and money toward reading the work in question. For true fans of author David Weber, who have thirstily imbibed the first thirteen installments of the Honor Harrington saga, nothing offered in this essay could possibly deter them from immediately engaging with this long-awaited tome.
For those who are not yet smitten by the charms of the science fiction milieu known as the Honorverse, book fourteen, while highly entertaining in its own right, is best experienced as a follow-on to the earlier books in the story. The task of this review is then two-fold; to entice those who have yet to experience David Weber’s art to begin a literary journey that will eventually culminate in the reading of this outstanding book, while at the same time whetting the appetite of the experienced Honorphile before he or she feasts upon Uncompromising Honor.
A Classic and Engrossing Universe
David Weber’s Honorverse consists of fourteen books in the main Honor Harrington series, the four books of the Saganami Island series, the three books of the Crown of Slaves series, and various other short story anthologies, prequels, and novellas. The first book of the Honor Harrington series, On Basilisk Station, introduces the reader to Commander Honor Harrington who serves in the Royal Manticoran Navy during tumultuous times.
The books of the Honor Harrington series explore roughly 22 years of the military, political, and social history of Manticore, its allies, and its adversaries, while following the career of a remarkable woman as she rises through the ranks from command of a light cruiser to service at the highest levels of military and political leadership. The two main companion series explore concurrent events in other parts of the galaxy and provide context and backstory for characters that will eventually impact the main series. While the side series are worthy reading in their own right, they are best experienced as background material to the main storyline.
Several factors combine to make Weber’s books both enjoyable as fiction and profound as works of art. Weber works hard to provide a self-sustaining and consistent universe. As an example, any science fiction has to overcome the problem of the impossibility, as our current understanding of physics dictates, of travelling in excess of the speed of light. David Weber handles this in a well thought-out explanation of “new science” that imposes both capabilities and important limitations on the occupants of his universe. All the fictional technology in the Honorverse is self-consistent and does not allow for easy fixes to wish away problems for either the protagonist or antagonist. Manticore’s technology is superior but not magical, and inventive opponents often craft effective counters.
The wide range of political and social systems extant on the worlds with which Manticore must interact allows Weber to explore many different facets of the human condition. 1900 years after human beings first left Earth in an attempt to colonize habitable planets around the galaxy, a wide variety of social and political structures have arisen on the worlds that humanity now occupies. The Star Kingdom of Manticore is a constitutional monarchy that calls three habitable planets in a binary star system home and maintains a range of alliances with foreign star systems. We discover a planet where the Christian religion ennobles and sustains its population, and another where religious fanaticism has created a planet-wide, Christian version of ISIS. Some democracies produce wise government, responsive to the needs of its citizens and others produce entrenched bureaucracies which exploit their people. Others take the form of imperialist welfare states, forced to conquer for the sake of propping up a broken system while using authoritarian means to stifle dissent. These political entities find themselves entangled in vicious wars and subversion as great power competition makes its way into the space age on a galactic scale.
Battles are described in vivid, suspenseful detail. Usually portrayed through the eyes of multiple participants, Weber’s strong writing places the reader on the bridge and in the reactor plant of powerful warships as the crews fight to accomplish their missions and fulfill their duty. A well-crafted formula of naval capability and tactics elegantly combines the sudden destruction of missile warfare with close-range fires reminiscent of the age of sail. Ships often employ signature control, electronic warfare, and drones to gain the upper hand through crafty means. Through this well-formulated vision of space combat Weber thrusts his characters into a wide range of operational encounters and tactical dilemmas that test their ability to command and adapt.
Weber takes the time to create rich backgrounds for multiple characters. The good guys are never entirely perfect and the bad guys are rarely all bad. Weber is also willing to have key characters die along the way and when an important battle is done, readers often feel as if they have lost friends in action. Weber’s characters often have to remain resilient in the face of tremendous loss, lead battered and demoralized crews, and cope with the unsatisfactory taste of bittersweet victory.
War, Deceit, and Honor
Uncompromising Honor picks up at the end of the Second Battle of Manticore and tells the story of what Honorverse fans will likely come to refer to as the Solarian War. The book covers the nine months between July and March in the 1922nd and 1923rd year after humanity began stellar colonization. The Solarian League Navy, unable to defeat Manticore and the rest of its alliance in a battle between the heaviest ships of the wall, embarks upon a campaign of economic warfare against Marticore’s trading partners. Manticore’s response is to cripple the Solarian economy by taking possession of all known galactic wormhole junctions used by merchant ships to reduce their transit times. By seizing control of the geographic chokepoints of galactic commerce Manticore aims to starve the Solarian League of its ability to maintain the industrial production that supports it economy.
These opposing strategies set up the first great battle of Uncompromising Honor, the Battle of Ajay Hyper Bridge. The Solarians, armed with a large fleet of 50 battlecruisers and additional lighter units, need to pass their task force through the Ajay wormhole in order to conduct their assigned system raids. Manticore must hold the wormhole so its supply ships can sustain their deployed forces. The Solarians have numbers on their side and Manticore has superior technology. 78 pages of white-knuckled suspense tell the tale of this key battle in the Solarian War.
The second major battle scene in Uncompromising Honor is the Battle of Hypatia. Hypatia is a star nation that is in the midst of voting to leave the Solarian League. A small task group of Manticoran cruisers and destroyers is in Hypatian space awaiting the results of the plebiscite. Should Hypatia vote to become independent of the Solarian League, the Manticoran ships are ready to deliver the Star Kingdom’s new ambassador to this potential key ally. However, the Solarian League Navy shows up with several dozen battlecruisers with orders to prevent Hypatian secession, even to the point of committing war crimes to achieve their mission.
The choices presented to the Manticoran commander harken back to the solemn “Last View” ceremony at Manticore’s naval academy. Graduating midshipmen are presented with the history of the academy’s namesake, Commodore Edward Saganami, and his final battle against Silesian pirates. In both the Last View and the Battle of Hypatia, Weber masterfully explores the difficult moral obligations of a commander to both his mission and his people. The question of when should a commander risk devastating losses to the forces under his command in order to accomplish a critical mission is on display as both sides grapple to do their duty as they understand it.
Between and after the battles, Weber continues to develop the political and economic storyline of the galaxy. The shadowy Mesan Alignment continues to execute its plan and influence star nations in ways seen and unseen. Characters on Earth, Manticore, Haven, and in the Talbott and Maya Sectors all struggle. Some struggle for power and wealth, some struggle for understanding, and a few noble souls struggle to do the right thing. There are triumphs and tragedies along the way spread out over much of the inhabited galaxy. In the end these struggles and machinations lead to climatic conflicts in the Beowulf system, and finally in the home system of Earth itself.
Despite, or perhaps because of all the military and political action in Uncompromising Honor, it is the human touches that make this book so gripping. We are treated to the planet Grayson’s favorite girl next door (assuming you live next door to a Steadholder’s palace), Lieutenant Abigail Hearns of the Grayson Space Navy, as she goes on her first date with a handsome young man with a questionable background from the Seraphim system in one of Manticore’s more upscale dining establishments. This is also the first of the mainline Honor Harrington books where multiple treecats play important roles and the reader is treated with extensive treecat dialog and monologue. Treecats are the native sentient species of one of the Manticore system’s habitable planets. The close relationship of Honor to her small, furry, cute, and at times lethal, treecat friend Nimitz plays an important role in the plotline of the series. In this book, multiple human characters have important treecat relationships. By the end of Uncompromising Honor, we understand that treecats are not only sentient, but that they bring a unique perspective on understanding humanity in a way that only a non-human species that can experience human feeling could provide.
A Tale Continues…
While Uncompromising Honor does allow for a satisfying conclusion, there is clearly more left to tell and many questions remain tantalizingly unanswered. While David Weber’s fans will greatly enjoy Uncompromising Honor they will be left with the same gripping emotional state at the end of this book as with the others, eagerly awaiting the next installment of this magnificent series.
Captain Mark Vandroff is a 1989 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. His 28 years of commissioned service include duty as both a Surface Warfare and Engineering Duty Officer. He was formerly the Major Program Manager for the DDG 51 program and is currently the Commanding Officer of Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock. The views expressed in this article are the author’s personal views and do not reflect the official position of the Department of Defense or Department of the Navy.
Featured Image: Adaptation of the cover of the Honor Harrington’s novel Honor Among Enemies by Genkkis via DeviantArt
“…changes in tactics have to overcome the inertia of a conservative class; but it is a great evil. It can be remedied only by a candid recognition of each change, by careful study of the powers and limitations of the new ship or weapon, and by a consequent adaptation of the method of using it to the qualities it possesses, which will constitute its tactics. History shows that it is vain to hope that military men generally will be at the pains to do this, but that the one who does will go into battle with a great advantage—a lesson in itself of no mean value.” –Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783
Tactics are fighting techniques, and how to effectively employ the tools of war to win battles. Arguably the Navy’s largest obstacles to tactical innovation come from its lack of essential tools such as anti-ship missiles as well as the nature of its recent operations and training.
It should be fair to say that training and tactics are not developed for tools that are not equipped, and a history of scripted exercising means refined training and tactics have yet to come for much of what the Navy already has. The character of a power projection focus has divided the warfare communities of the Navy and fostered operating norms that directly inhibit the development of a network-centric warfighting doctrine.
The only U.S. military warfare community that has any history of devoting serious thought to sinking warships at more than 100 miles away using missiles is the carrier aviation community. They were the only ones with the required tools and doctrinal mandate. For everyone else the Navy violated one of the most fundamental maxims of naval warfare – to fire effectively first – by not providing serious offensive firepower to so much force structure that could have readily fielded it.1
The surface fleet is a prime example of the tactical deprivation that can come through lack of anti-ship weapons and the offensive roles they enable. Even with Harpoon and the first introduction of the anti-ship Tomahawk in the 1980s the surface Navy’s defensive focus in fleet combat remained consistent since WWII. For decades throughout the Cold War the surface fleet’s high-end warfighting proficiencies focused on anti-submarine warfare and protecting capital ships from aerial threats such as missiles. The job of sinking surface ships then mostly fell to submarines and carrier aviation. The tactical execution of the surface fleet’s primary anti-air mission became increasingly automated, a trend best exemplified by Aegis. However, a defensive, reactive, and highly automated mission focus makes for a poor foundation for learning how to fire effectively first.
The Navy’s firepower is about to experience a serious transformation in only a few short years. Comparing firepower through a strike mile metric (warhead weight [pounds/1,000] × range in nautical miles × number of payloads equipped) reveals that putting LRASM into 15 percent of the surface fleet’s launch cells will increase its anti-ship firepower almost twentyfold over what it has today with Harpoon.2 New anti-ship missiles will cause the submarine community and heavy bomber force to also experience historic transformations in offensive firepower.
The widespread introduction of these new weapons will present the U.S. Navy with one of the most important force development missions in its history. This dramatic increase in offensive firepower across such a broad swath of untapped force structure will put the Navy on the cusp of a sweeping revolution in tactics unlike anything seen since the birth of the aircraft carrier a century ago. How the Navy configures itself to unlock this opportunity could decide its success in a future war at sea. The Navy needs tacticians now more than ever.
Doctrine in Networked Warfighting
“I am here to encourage and support a new type of officer, one who is naturally inclined to operational experimentation and innovation. I foresee officers who view doctrine as a dynamic adaptive process rather than a refuge for the uninformed.”–Vice Admiral Arthur K. Cebrowski
Doctrine is a common vision of warfighting, and an understanding of how to skillfully employ tactics and procedure. Naval Doctrine Publication 1, Naval Warfare, offers insight into the nature of doctrine, where “It is not a set of concrete rules, but a basis of common understanding throughout the chain of command…Doctrine is the underlying philosophy that guides our use of tactics and weapons systems to achieve a common objective….Our training and education are based on doctrine.”3 Doctrine does not culminate in a publication but in the refined intuition of the warfighter.
Doctrine aims to produce both a strong sense of independent decision-making at the unit level as well as the ability to connect as a member of a team. Net-centric warfighting is especially dependent on doctrine because of how networked capability has affected individual and group relationships. Net-centric operations are based on networked connections between many actors, yet units face the risk of losing those links. Units can be forcibly cut off from one another through electronic attack, and often need to impose silence on themselves for the sake of tactics and survivability. Connected units can call on all other sorts of actors to provide capability and information. Networked warfighting can leave one completely in the dark on the one hand and connected to a multitude on the other. Net-centric doctrine can then focus on developing common understanding for those two major types of relationships and situations.
Being effective while cut off requires an independent sense of what to do without outside help. Refined doctrine will allow a unit under emissions control to handle itself in the dark and remain faithful to commander’s intent while also knowing when it makes sense to break silence.
With doctrine a connected unit will have a common understanding with the many actors it can leverage through networked relationships. Being connected to a multitude of other actors requires having some sense of what their thought process is like, and what sorts of conditions affect their ability to contribute to the fight.
The many relationships of a networked force can easily result in congested information pathways and communications overload. This means more emissions, greater lag times, and more people requesting information or calling for help. An issue is the scale of naval warfare given how sensing and weapons can go for hundreds of miles. The area of interest for an individual warship can cover tens of thousands of square miles which promises a significant amount of overlap with many others.
Refined doctrine is absolutely necessary to streamline networked relationships and deconflict actors. Many units will be connected to the broader network, but they must resist the urge to leverage the network for every problem within their immediate area of responsibility. Command by negation and the initiative of the subordinate for a networked force could easily devolve into chaos if taken to its fullest extent. Doctrine will provide that key degree of discretion that helps a frontline unit know when its immediate situation is important enough to tap the network and call for attention from the greater force. Doctrine aims to distill what is of importance, and will help keep communications brief because networked units will have a good sense of one another’s thinking without having to ask for it.
Commander’s intent is supposed to be succinct, but the less doctrine there is the more the higher-echelon commanders can find themselves micromanaging their subordinates. The degree of refinement for doctrine can then be directly measured by how little a commander needs to convey to subordinates to successfully fulfill their intent. In his seminal “The Role of Doctrine in Naval Warfare,” published in 1915, Lieutenant Commander Dudley Knox used the example of how doctrinal development was able to shrink an operations order from 1200 words to 44 words for a 20-ship, six-hour night maneuver.4 How many words would it take that many warships to do the same thing today?
The present culture of a command and control system heavy on reporting requirements has given the Navy an unwieldy doctrine of information overload.5 This excessive reporting culture is built in part on a level of openness and ease of communication that comes with operating in the uncontested environments of the power projection era. Being micromanaged from higher headquarters feels like the norm in today’s U.S. Navy, and where a risk-averse culture is prone to micromanaging at the expense of trust-building. But doctrine can only work to condense complex operations into simple instructions if there is a high degree of trust.
Consider the challenge of command and control for a distributed force in both an offensive and defensive context, and how doctrine could shape the nature of trust. The speed of aircraft and incoming missiles compared to the range of defensive weapons means a distributed fleet will rarely be able to mass defensive firepower from across the force in a timely way. Commanders of dispersed units will likely need to have the authority to independently prosecute their local air defense missions with great initiative in order to avoid defeat in detail.
When it comes to anti-ship firepower the relatively slow speed of warships can provide much more opportunity to network effects. If a fleet commander discovers a concentration of hostile ships he or she can use networking to generate the firepower overmatch needed to overwhelm their defenses. A fleet commander could launch and collect anti-ship firepower from a variety of platforms across the distributed fleet using engage-on-remote networking. In-flight retargeting could then be used to better concentrate salvos, ensure their accuracy, and create multi-axial angles of attack. Doctrine that seeks to make this concentration of firepower possible for a distributed force would have to take some authority away from individual units when it comes to using their anti-ship missiles. The doctrine of a distributed fleet is therefore likely to keep the release authority for anti-ship weapons at a higher level of command than defensive anti-air weapons because of key differences in the feasibility of timing and concentration.
However, even with networking, tactics should be humble in their design. The expansive nature of networked capability can produce a strong urge to develop elaborate tactics that operate on more assumptions and dependencies, such as on close coordination and timing. But tactics and operations that are too complex could easily fall apart when put to the test. The nature of low-risk scripted exercising can cause tactics and concepts of operation to suffer from this runaway complexity. Capable opposition forces are absolutely indispensable for forcing humility on the developmental process and for identifying what is reasonably simple to execute. Resilience through simplicity is an ultimate goal of doctrine.
The Navy is itself a joint force involving aviation, surface fleet, and submarine communities. But power projection missions and training have divided the Navy’s communities from one another, and where these missions allowed units to act more independently. While effective independent execution is a primary goal of doctrine the nature of low-end missions meant that independent execution was not often directed toward a common operational goal. Carrier aviation could be focused on air-to-ground strikes, surface warships could be patrolling or conducting security cooperation, and submarines could be executing ISR missions. Low-end operations and training events often require little in the way of harmonized tactics or doctrine across communities, unlike net-centric concepts.
The Navy’s current system of training and operating can hardly allow the individual communities to say they are familiar with the full breadth of capability of even their own platforms, let alone those of other communities. Every community’s training has been heavily shaped by the power projection era at the expense of high-end skills and inter-community relations.6 U.S. naval officers Fred Pyle, Mark Cochran, and Rob McFall wrote of the poor connection between the surface fleet and aviation communities with respect to anti-surface warfare in “Lessons Learned from Maritime Combat”:
“Although Navy tactical literature frequently speaks to the use of air power in SUW, there doesn’t appear to be any formal training provided to the surface warfare community…Much like the SWO community, aviators are deploying without a basic understanding of surface-combatant capabilities or missions. Generally, aviators don’t know the differences in capability between cruisers and destroyers, or the variants of the standard missile used to augment the fleet air defense mission that they train for so often…The naval aviation community states that AOMSW (air operations in maritime surface warfare) is a primary mission set—yet only minimal training is conducted in flight school and in the fleet. The majority of squadron sorties are focused on air-to-air intercepts and air-to-ground weapons…The Navy as a whole has very limited access to sea-based opposition forces (emphasis added), and the tactical aviation community is afforded only limited integration opportunities with the surface Navy…With the number of other demands in the schedule and limited underway steaming days, DDGs cannot easily go to sea for daily integrated training missions with the air wing…AOMSW is by default a distant third priority behind air-to-air employment and strike warfare.”7
This points to a significant issue within the Navy’s workup cycle. The amount of time a strike group actually trains as a strike group before deploying is a very small minority compared to how much time individual ships and squadrons train at the unit level.8 If the Navy is to heal the divide between its communities and better prepare for the high-end fight then integrated training needs to take on a far greater share of time within the workup cycle’s training phase compared to individual training.
It is hard to imagine the Navy’s warfare communities would work well to network their capabilities together if they have a poor understanding of one another’s tactics and doctrine. Unprecedented cross-community understanding is necessary if a networked doctrine is to come alive. But the great divide between the Navy’s communities will stand as a tall obstacle to any net-centric vision.
Sea Control Tactics in the Age of Missile Warfare
“As a matter of tactics I think that going out after the Japanese and knocking their carriers out would have been much better and more satisfactory than waiting for them to attack us…” –Admiral Raymond Spruance9
Many of the possibilities of combat can be dictated by relationships between time, distance, and concentration. Fundamental characteristics such as weapons range, flight profiles, and magazine capacity outline tactical options for the application of force. War at sea is especially attrition based where tactical outcomes can quickly turn based on how firepower overmatch plays out between offense and defense. Knowing how certain platform attributes and tactics influence the nature of attrition is central to designing favorable tradeoffs. By focusing on how to best optimize critical factors such as endurance, survivability, and firepower overmatch one can begin to see a framework of tactics and operations.
While there is some merit to the current construct of focusing ships on air defense and using aircraft to sink ships at range the nature of modern war at sea may preference different roles. The Navy’s scripted style of training may also suggest that tactical risk is not well-understood despite the fact that naval combat in the missile age is a staggeringly vicious form of warfare.
Any warship must account for the immutable obstacle posed by the curvature of the Earth’s surface. Radar, being a line-of-sight system, can see things further away the higher they are. But the horizon as the limit of direct sight creates a large space beneath it that cannot be sensed by a ship’s radar (unless enhanced by certain environmental conditions). This effect is known as the radar horizon. The distance from the average warship’s radar and the horizon is barely under 20 miles.10
For decades anti-ship missiles have had the ability to execute low-altitude flight profiles, often described as sea-skimming flight, to take advantage of the radar horizon for the sake of greater effectiveness. By paying a price in fuel, range, and endurance, low-flying aircraft and missiles can exploit this space to lower detectability, increase survivability, and earn the element of surprise.
It is remarkable that the words “firing from a position of minimum uncertainty and maximum probability of success” could ever be used to describe training for modern naval warfare when just 20 miles away from a ship lies a long, near-invisible space missiles can exploit to achieve surprise.11 No matter how powerful a warship is it can be forced to wait until those final moments before it can bring most of its defensive firepower to bear. The curvature of the Earth itself is one of the deadliest things to a warship.
Once a sea-skimming missile salvo breaks over the horizon it will only be tens of seconds away from impact. Defensive firepower will be reactively fired soon after an attacking salvo crosses the horizon. But by the time that first wave of defensive firepower clashes with supersonic anti-ship missiles they can already be a third of the way to their target ship.12 And anti-ship missiles can still be lethal even when they are shot down within those final miles.
As defensive firepower is brought to bear powerful missiles will be detonating against each other at thousands of miles per hour not far from the ship. Exploding missile shrapnel will spray out, often in the direction of the ship, easily shredding radar arrays and degrading the ship’s ability to defend itself. Many sensors cannot be effectively armored without diminishing their performance. The close-in weapon systems and electronic warfare suites that are critical to a ship’s last line of defense could also be easily shredded by missile shrapnel. Weapons mounted on the deck such as Harpoon missiles and torpedoes may also pose risks. This shrapnel factor is already recognized in test and evaluation where supersonic test missiles are intercepted at a minimum offset of several miles away from test platforms to help avoid flying missile debris.13This may be one reason why it is unrealistic to think a warship can sustain high kill ratios against missiles in the close-in engagement zone. Because of this exploding shrapnel factor ships should be concerned about how many nearby missile shootdowns they can withstand.
SM-6 anti-air missile intercepts a relatively small, 600lb AQM-37C test missile. Note the shrapnel. (Source: U.S. Missile Defense Agency Multi-Mission Warfare Flight Test Events)
The range advantage anti-ship missiles often enjoy over defensive firepower gives the offense a better ability to fire effectively first in the age of missile warfare. This also makes it more difficult to deal with launch platforms before they fire their payloads, otherwise known as the more preferable tactic of dealing with archers before arrows. This offensive range advantage can also convert into greater lethality and survivability for the missile salvo by allowing for more sea-skimming flight. The more a launch platform can get inside the range of its anti-ship missile, the more a payload can maximize its time flying at sea-skimming altitude to stay below the radar horizon of defending warships. Some anti-ship missiles like Harpoon sustain a sea-skimming flight path throughout their flights, but many missiles in the hands of competitors have more flexible flight profile options.14 The range advantage anti-ship firepower often has over defensive firepower therefore increases the probability of ships being forced to face sea-skimming missiles in the lethal close-in engagement zone.
The deadliness of confronting sea-skimming salvos just after they break over the horizon adds urgency to early detection and to targeting platforms before they fire their missiles. It also makes it necessary to have the capability and tactics to defeat sea-skimming missile salvos long before they break over the radar horizon of defending warships.
This makes aviation indispensable to missile defense when many anti-ship weapons intentionally fly below the radar horizon of warships in spaces only aircraft can see from above. A certain amount of airpower would have to be kept on hand just to deal with sea-skimming missiles that have the potential to travel beneath the radar horizons of defending warships. For the sake of fleet defense air wings must be very proficient at shooting down sea-skimming missile salvos, including weapons capable of flying supersonic speeds. This will also require a refined doctrinal relationship between the aviation and surface fleet communities to coordinate the air defense mission, a relationship the abovementioned authors suggest barely exists.
Only now are warships able to shoot below the radar horizon limitation using revolutionary capabilities like NIFC-CA, but this requires networked dependencies on other platforms like aircraft. NIFC-CA could prove to be a very burdensome kill chain to manage with Captain Jim Kilby describing it as “operational rocket science” and that it requires “a level of coordination we’ve never had to execute before.”15 Using aircraft to shoot missiles below the radar horizon of ships may be a much simpler kill chain to manage compared to NIFC-CA. The Navy also has probably yet to develop refined tactics and training for NIFC-CA given how new and sophisticated it is. However, using aircraft to cue shipborne firepower in any case could help keep warships relevant to the fight even with shredded radar arrays.
Defensively using the air wing to focus on defeating missile salvos may prove extremely favorable, especially from an attrition standpoint. Aircraft should be able to conduct this mission with some altitude and thus retain greater endurance. They could also likely be more proximate to the carrier rather than be asked to strike ships far forward which also converts into extra endurance. They would be able to maximize their anti-air loadout which is thousands of pounds lighter than a full anti-ship loadout, earning still more endurance.16
A squadron of F-18s fully equipped with anti-air weapons can carry over 100 anti-air missiles which is comparable to the anti-air firepower of a large surface warship. Through speed and altitude aircraft will also have far more time and opportunity to shoot down sea-skimming missiles compared to warships. Perhaps best of all, anti-ship missiles, at least for now, can pose no threat to aircraft. The cost exchange should be distinctly one sided.
The tactical characteristics of the air wing’s anti-ship mission are quite the opposite in many respects, yet this is what the carrier-centric U.S. Navy has long committed itself to.
Besides endurance, one of the greatest limiting factors of airpower is its resilience. Losing only a few aircraft per sortie could leave a carrier with a fraction of its strength after a hard day of high-end combat. Losing only four percent of aircraft per mission will result in losing 70 aircraft out of 100 over the course of 30 missions.17
Just like missiles, anti-ship aircraft will likely have to fly at sea-skimming altitudes to earn surprise and preserve survivability, but pay a severe price in range, endurance, and fuel. However, unlike aircraft, missiles are only interested in making a one-way trip. Anti-ship aircraft may also have to strike far forward of the fleet which also incurs a greater price in fuel and endurance. Low-altitude flight and closing with enemy ships can also lead to more restricted emissions.
Aircraft have to be concentrated in order to deliver large enough salvos to overwhelm the powerful anti-air defenses of modern warships. A large surface warship can carry dozens of anti-air missiles and feature many layers of defensive capability in the form of electronic warfare, close-in weapon systems, and decoys. Attacking a surface action group of a few modern destroyers could take a squadron of aircraft to field enough firepower to overwhelm shipboard defenses. This anti-ship squadron may also have to be further augmented with more aircraft dedicated to jamming, refueling, and scouting roles. A single attack on a surface action group of several large surface warships could plausibly tie up a quarter of a carrier’s strike fighters, leaving gaps in coverage elsewhere.
Using carrier aircraft to prosecute the anti-surface mission with a short-ranged anti-ship weapon such as Harpoon makes it easier for modern warships to shoot down archers instead of arrows. The shorter the range of the air-launched anti-ship missile the less attacking aircraft can disperse from one another to mass firepower effectively. This in turn dictates the extent of possible concentration and bears an effect on survivability if more aircraft find themselves within the envelope of defensive fire.
For now, the Navy’s current carrier-based anti-ship tactic could easily turn into sending concentrated groups of aircraft into the teeth of modern shipborne air defense while bleeding fuel at low altitudes and across great distances. Survivability could be substantially improved with the air-launched version of LRASM that has better range than many anti-air weapons, but it will not do as much to ease concerns over endurance and fuel. The tactic of using carrier aircraft to sink modern warships with the short-ranged Harpoon is far less favorable with respect to survivability, endurance, and attrition compared to having the air wing focus on defeating anti-ship missiles in a defensive role.
Putting long-range anti-ship missiles on warships allows the logic of attacking archers in the form of ships to extend to most of the fleet beyond the carrier. Shifting more missile defense responsibility to the air wing frees up more shipboard launch cells for anti-ship fires and other payloads of interest. Ships can provide a solid and steady wall of firepower compared to the more transient presence of aviation. The transient presence of aviation for the anti-ship mission may at first suggest a more favorably discrete operating posture for the carrier. However, the need to maintain a screen of airpower to intercept scouts and bombers for the outer air battle would still bind the disposition of aircraft to a degree.
With respect to attrition anti-ship firepower can see a far greater proportion of its missiles wasted away against defenses compared to anti-air firepower focused on shooting down missiles. This can necessitate follow-on attacks on ships. Even though ships may discharge a large portion of their anti-ship firepower in a salvo they could readily leverage their deep magazines to launch another attack rather than be forced to wait for another anti-ship squadron to make a fresh attempt. This key distinction is where the staying power of warships can prove superior to the transience of airpower with respect to sustaining attacks on well-defended ships.
A closer team between warships and aviation along the lines of these roles can be more favorable with respect to information management. Aircraft can better manage the risks of emitting through speed and maneuver, and air defense is an especially emissions-intensive fight. A ship can preserve emissions if it has aircraft to support local awareness. By conducting air defense for forward units aircraft would also be well-poised to cue offensive fires from ships, conduct in-flight retargeting as needed, and perform battle damage assessment.
Anti-ship missile fire from submarines can be an especially powerful tactic, though it may be more dependent on outside cueing. Unlike most other platforms undersea forces can easily bypass defensive screens of ships and aircraft to get in close. Putting anti-ship missiles on submarines would also significantly enhance platform survivability. Submarines would be able to fire from a distance that far outstrips torpedo range which would make their attacks much more difficult to attribute. If a ship comes under sea-skimming missile fire it may not know which sort of platform launched the attack, but if a ship finds itself under torpedo fire then it could easily reckon a submarine is close by. From a defensive perspective the threat of missile submarines unleashing sea-skimming salvos from unexpected directions and at close range could tie down more airpower for missile defense across a broad space.
A considerable amount of the fleet’s ability to manage the fight would be centered around the E-2 aircraft whose powerful radars and communications make it the Navy’s “carrier-based tactical battle management, airborne early warning, command and control aircraft.”18 A carrier fields very few of these critical command and control aircraft, usually close to half a dozen.19 Despite the fact endurance is one of the most important attributes that governs the operations of airpower the crucial E-2 command and control aircraft will finally be getting an aerial refueling capability in 2020.20 This upgrade comes over 50 years after the aircraft was introduced and despite the fact in-flight refueling was already commonplace in the aviation-centric U.S. Navy since the Vietnam War. Israel purchased the E-2 aircraft from the U.S. during the Cold War and installed an in-flight refueling capability at some point in their service lives. Now after decommissioning these aircraft an E-2 Hawkeye capable of in-flight refueling rests at the Israeli Air Force Museum.
“Sound strategy depends on a knowledge of all forces and their tactics sufficient to estimate the probabilities of winning. Thus…it will not do to study strategy and offer strategic plans without first studying in detail the forces and tactics on which those plans depend. Strategy and tactics are related like the huntsman and his dog. The hunter is master, but he won’t catch foxes if he has bought and trained a birddog.” –Capt. Wayne P. Hughes Jr., (ret.), Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat
The Navy is looking to move to a more distributed warfighting construct, otherwise known as distributed lethality or distributed maritime operations.21 A major tactical and operational advantage distributed warfighting hopes to achieve is diluting the firepower and sensing of the adversary across a larger space. With respect to great power adversaries that enjoy steep land-based advantages for sea control these constructs are based in part on the hope that distribution will hurt opposing anti-access/area-denial forces more than they will hurt expeditionary forces. Like so much else in the U.S. Navy these distributed warfighting constructs hope to achieve greater effectiveness in part through affecting efficiency. The tactics suggested above are certainly guilty of this to an extent. While affecting the timely concentration of effects is a fundamental principle of warfighting, especially in attrition-centered naval combat, these distributed warfighting constructs are fundamentally incomplete without more specific techniques at the tactical level.
The tactics suggested above envision a closer relationship between carrier aviation and warships where they leverage one another’s platform advantages. It argues that the deep capacity of surface warships is better put to use for the offensive anti-ship mission, and that aviation’s speed and maneuverability is better focused on defending against missiles. This is the opposite logic of what the Navy has long subscribed to.
But the tactical analysis above is still very rudimentary. It does not attempt to account for things like electronic warfare, cyber effects, and space-based capabilities where each can be very critical in its own right. So much decisive space in a future war at sea could lie within circuits, algorithms, and computer code. These tactical ideas may be nothing more than mere speculation, and perhaps some variable that was left unaccounted for could make it all fall apart. But one couldn’t know until they tried.
The question remains as to what are the tactical deficiencies of a carrier-centric Navy that chose to starve the vast majority of its force structure of the ability to sink ships at range, and instead chose to focus perishable aviation on one of its most difficult missions. Aircraft would already be split between conducting major scouting functions, maintaining an outer screen to intercept enemy scouts and bombers, and guarding against sea-skimming threats. Concentrating airpower to sink ships at range would add enormous strain to the air wing.
The force structure of competitors is far more wholesomely armed with anti-ship weapons, but the carrier-centric U.S. Navy chose to confront these threats with offensive missile firepower coming from a sole, central source. This echoes a now familiar theme. By forcing the air wing to take on so many kinds of missions – scouting, counterscouting, outer air battle, defeating sea-skimming threats, and attacking ships – the U.S. Navy inflicted distributed lethality against itself.
9. This quote from Spruance is followed by the qualifier: “but we were at the start of a very important and large amphibious operation and we could not afford to gamble and place it in jeopardy” and was made in reference to the Battle of the Philippine Sea and defending the Saipan invasion force. However, even in its unqualified form, the quote still suffices to make a key point “as a matter of tactics.”
Caveat: Over the Horizon-Backscatter radars are not limited by the horizon by reflecting radar energy off of the ionosphere. These radars are land-based, and while they can detect contacts of interest at a great distance the fidelity is much more poor compared to line-of-sight radar systems. To see operating principles of various radars and sensors see: Jonathan F. Solomon, “Defending the Fleet from China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile: Naval Deception’s Roles in Sea-Based Missile Defense,” Thesis Defense submitted to Faculty of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of Georgetown University, April 15, 2011. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.454.8264&rep=rep1&type=pdf
12. This figure is based rough calculations using supersonic missile speed, defensive missiles featuring a speed of around Mach 3 such as Standard Missile, and to discern the point they would first meet once the former crosses over the horizon. A key advantage attacking missiles will likely have is coming over the horizon at maximum speed and where defensive missiles would have to accelerate to full speed once they are reactively launched.
Excerpt: “Use of manned ships for operational testing with threat representative ASCM surrogates in the close-in, self‑defense battlespace is not possible due to Navy safety restrictions because targets and debris from intercepts pose an unacceptable risk to personnel at ranges where some engagements will take place.”
Excerpt: “In addition to stand-off ranges (on the order of 1.5 to 5 nautical miles for subsonic and supersonic surrogates, respectively), safety restrictions require that ASCM targets not be flown directly at a manned ship, but at some cross-range offset, which unacceptably degrades the operational realism of the test.”
14. For variable flight profiles of anti-ship missiles see:
“Specifically, the CNO was updated on NWDC’s development of the Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) Concept, a central, overarching operational concept, that will weave together the principles of integration, distribution and maneuver to maximize the effectiveness of the fleet Maritime Operations Centers to synchronize all-domain effects.
“DMO will describe the fleet-centric warfighting capabilities necessary to gain and maintain sea-control through the employment of combat power that may be distributed over vast distances, multiple domains, and a wide array of platforms,” explained Mark Coffman, DMO concept writing team lead, “The concept’s action plan will drive the development of these new capabilities so that fleet commanders will be able to distribute but still maneuver the fleet across an entire theater of operations as an integrated weapon system.”
Featured Image: ARABIAN GULF (Dec. 6, 2017) – The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) transits the Arabian Gulf. Theodore Roosevelt and its carrier strike group are deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anthony J. Rivera/Released)
Recently, Captain Michael Junge published an interesting book on why and under what circumstances the U.S. Navy relieves commanding officers. His book, Crimes of Command, begins in 1945 and proceeds through numerous historical case studies up to the modern era. I think many people – not only those in the surface warfare community – but commanders, leaders, and sailors in other communities will find our exchange interesting.
Nelson: Would you briefly describe what the book is about and why you wanted to write it?
Junge: In short, it’s about why the Navy removes commanding officers from command – the incidents that lead to removal, the individuals removed, and what the Navy does about the incident and the individual. But instead of a look at just one or two contemporary cases, I went back to 1945 and looked across seven decades to see what was the same and what changed.
Nelson: In the book, when referring to the process of relieving commanding officers, you talk about words like “accountability,” “culpability,” and “responsibility.” These words, you say, matter when talking about why commanding officers are relieved. Why do they matter and how do they differ?
Junge: The common usage blends all three into one – accountability. We see this with the press reports on last summer’s collisions – the Navy’s actions are referred to as “accountability actions.” Most people, I think, read that line as “punitive actions” mostly because that’s what they are. But accountability isn’t about punishment – it’s about being accountable, which is to give an accounting of what happened, to explain one’s actions and thoughts and decisions. The investigations themselves are an accountability action. The investigations are supposed to determine who was responsible for the problem, what happened, who was at fault, and then determine if within that responsibility and fault there is also culpability.
Culpability is about blame – accountability is not, even if we use it as such. In investigations, when you mix culpability, blame, and accountability together end up being about finding fault and levying punishment instead of finding out what happened. That keeps us from learning from the incident and preventing future occurrences. We’ve completely lost that last part over the past few decades if we even had it to begin with. Every collision I looked at, for example, had four or five things that were the same – over seven decades.
Nelson: Later in the book, you say that as virtues, honor, courage, and commitment are not enough. How should we reexamine those virtues? Isn’t this always the challenge – the challenge of the pithy motto vs. the substantive truth, that’s what I was getting at. And it’s not that there is some truth to the motto or slogan, but rarely are they sufficient alone – yes?
Junge:Honor, courage, and commitment make for a great slogan, but will only be inculcated in the force when our leaders routinely say them and live by them. I wrote a piece for USNI Proceedings in 2013 that commented on how naval leaders rarely used those words. That hasn’t changed. If they are used it’s in prepared text and often used as a cudgel. Leaders need to exemplify virtues – we learn from their example – and if they don’t use the words we don’t really know if they believe in them. But they are a great start, and they are ours – both Navy and Marine Corps.
What I meant in the book is that honor, courage, and commitment aren’t enough for an exploration of virtues in general. For the Navy, they are an acceptable starting point. For individual officers, or for the Naval profession, we need to think deeper and far more introspectively. My latest project is looking at the naval profession and a professional ethic. My personal belief is that we don’t need, or want, an ethical code. Or if we have one it needs to be like the Pirate Code – more as guidelines than rules. There’s science behind this which is beyond our scope here, but rules make for bad virtues and worse ethics. Rules tend to remove thought and press for compliance. At one level that’s great, but compliance tends to weed out initiative and combat leaders need initiative.
Nelson: So, after studying the historical data and specific events from 1945 to 2015, what did you conclude? Why are there more commanding officers relieved today than there were fifty years ago?
Junge: Even after all the research and the writing, this is a tough one for me to encapsulate. In my dissertation defense, I made a joke at the end that the reason we remove more officers now is complicated. And it is. Every removal is a little different from the others. That makes linking details difficult. But, when you lift back a little and take a really long view, I could find some trends. Not only do we remove more commanders today, we do it for more reasons, and we have almost completely ended any sort of recovery for officers removed from command.
Without giving too much away, because I do want people to read the actual book, today’s removals come down to a couple of things – press, damage (material or emotional) to the Navy, and the commander’s chain of command. If the chain of command relationship is poor, the press gets a story, and there is some level of damage to the Navy (metal bent, people hurt, or image tarnished) then the commander is likely to go. But it’s not a direct line. Sometimes the information comes out later – we saw this with USS Shiloh last year and in one of the cases I covered, the helicopter crash in USS William P Lawrence. Neither commander was removed from command, but both careers were halted after the investigations were done and the administrative side of the Navy took over. If those incidents happened in the 1950s or 1960s, both commanding officers would have unquestionably moved forward with their careers. Whether that would be good or bad depends entirely on what those officers might have done with the knowledge gained from the investigations that challenged their leadership and individual character but we won’t know anymore. Maybe we should.
Nelson: When you started this book and after looking at the data, did anything surprise you? Did you go in with particular opinions or develop a theory that the data disproved or clarified?
Junge: When I started this I was pretty sure there were differences. One of the reasons I pulled all the data together was because in 2004 the Navy Inspector General issued a report that said, in essence, that a one percent removal rate was normal. If one percent was normal in 2004, when we had fewer than 300 ships, then we should have heard something about removing COs when we had 1000, or 3000, ships. But, we didn’t. So that there was a change wasn’t surprising.
I started off thinking that Tailhook was a major inflection point. I intended a whole chapter on the incident and investigation. In the end, the data didn’t support it – the inflection had already happened and Tailhook, especially its aftermath, was indicative of the change. I’m not minimizing the impact Tailhook had on Navy culture – we are still dealing with echoes twenty-five years later – but for the trend of removing commanders, it wasn’t a watershed. Likewise, I thought the late 1960s to early 1970s might be an inflection point – we had a rough couple years with major collisions, attacks, fires, Vietnam – but the data showed it wasn’t the turning point I expected.
It wasn’t until I plotted the information out that I saw the inflection of the early 1980s. When I saw the changes in the graph I had to go back to the research to sort out why. It was both frustrating and encouraging. It showed me I wasn’t trying to force data to fit a pre-selected answer, but it also meant leaving a lot of research behind.
Nelson: You go into some detail in your book about court-martials. Historically, why does the navy rarely take commanding officers to court martial?
Junge: The simple reason is that the Navy has a difficult time provingcriminal acts by commanding officers. It’s not a new problem. When officers are taught to think for themselves and have sets and reps thinking critically, then when on a jury they are likely to take the evidence and make their own minds up. And that conclusion may run counter to what Navy leadership wants. Getting courts-martial into that real true arbiter of guilt and innocence was a major win for the post-World War II military. But, since leaders can’t control courts-martial anymore we now see this major abuse of administrative investigations, which runs counter to our ownregulations on how we are supposed to handle investigations of major incidents and accidents.
Nelson: In fact, you threw in an anecdote in your book about Nimitz issuing letters of reprimand to the jury members on Eliot Loughlin’s court-martial. This was fascinating. What happened in that case?
Junge: In April 1945, Lieutenant Commander Charles Elliot Loughlin sank a ship without visually identifying it. The ship turned out to be a protected aid transport with 2,000 civilians aboard. Nimitz removed Loughlin from command and ordered his court-martial. The court found Loughlin guilty but only sentenced him to Secretarial Letter of Admonition. Nimitz was reportedly furious and issued letters of reprimand to the members of the court. In just answering this question I realize I never dug deep into what happened to those members – I might need to do that.
Anyway, that was a rare case of Nimitz being angry. And in retrospect, I wonder if he was angry, or if he was protecting the court from the CNO Admiral King. There’s a story I’ve been percolating on in how Nimitz and King had differing ideas of responsibility and culpability. King was a hardliner – King could be seen as the archetype for modern culpability and punishment. There were some exceptions but he was pretty binary – screw up, get relieved. Nimitz was the opposite. Halsey put Nimitz into multipletoughspots where Halsey probably should have been removed from command – but Nimitz knew Halsey and erred on the side of that knowledge rather than get caught up in an arbitrary standard. That’s why I think those letters were out of character. But I have to temper that with the very real knowledge that Loughlin committed a war crime, was pretty blasé about it, blamed others, very likely put American prisoners of war in more danger than they already were, and might have endangered the war termination effort. Those conclusions run counter to the modern mythology around Loughlin, but are in keeping with the actual historical record.
Nelson: And if I recall, there was an XO that chose court martial rather than NJP ten or so years ago after a sailor on the ship was killed during a small boat operation. The XO was exonerated and cleared from any wrongdoing by the jury. Fleet Forces ended up putting a statement out how he disagreed with the verdict.
Junge:USS San Antonio – LCDR Sean Kearns. Sean remains one of my heroes for forcing the system to do what it says it will do. I firmly believe that Admiral Harvey stepped well outside his professional role and made his persecution of Sean a personal matter when he issued some messages and letters after the acquittal. I know among many SWOs that Harvey’s actions after the verdict really altered their opinions of him. Sean’s case is also major reason I am in favor of the Navy ending the “vessel exception” which precludes anyone assigned to a sea-going command from refusing non-judicial punishment and demanding a court-martial. Too many Navy leaders abuse this option. I know of a story where an officer was flown from his homeport to Newport, RI for non-judicial punishment, and another where an officer was flown from Guam to Norfolk for NJP. There are more cases where officers were removed from command, but kept assigned to sea duty so that they could not refuse NJP. That this even happens completely belies the intent behind the vessel exception.
Nelson: You also talk in some detail about Admiral Rickover and the culture he fostered and how that culture affected command. Overall, how did he affect command culture?
Junge: This was my biggest surprise. If you’d talked to me before I started and asked about Rickover I’d have easily said he had nothing to do with the changes. Wow –that was wrong. I’m not sure how I could ever think that someone who served almost 30 years as a flag officer, hand selected each and every nuclear-trained officer, and personally inspected each and every nuclear ship for decades didn’t influence Navy culture. Rickover ends up with the better part of a chapter in a story I didn’t think he was even part of. But, the culture we have today is, I think, not the one he intended. Maybe.
Rickover was, and remains, an individual who brings up conflicted memories and has a conflicted legacy. Like many controversial figures, the stories about him often eclipse the reality behind them. I’ll paraphrase a student who spoke of my colleague, Milan Vego, and his writings – you have to read about Rickover because if you just reject him completely, that’s wrong – and if you just accept him at face value, that’s wrong – you have to read and think and read some more, then come to your own conclusion. I can tell you that in the professional ethic piece I am working on, I expect Rickover’s legacy to play an important part.
Nelson: If I recall, I believe you self-published this book. How was that process? Would you recommend it for other writers? What did you learn when going through this process for publication?
Junge: The process, for me, was pretty simple. Getting to the process was very difficult. We know the adage of judging a book by its cover – well there’s also a stigma of judging a book by its publisher.
Actually getting a book published through an established publisher, the conventional process, takes well over a year and is full of norms and conventions that, from the outside, seem unusual. In the same way that we wonder “how did that movie get made?” when you go through the process of publishing, you start to wonder “how did that book get published?” I have a long time friend who is a two-time New York Times bestselling author who gave me some great advice on the conventional route. Just getting the basics can take up to an hour of discussion.
I tried the conventional route but after sending dozens of emails to book agents and getting only a few responses back, all negative, I checked with a shoremate who self-published his own fiction and decided to take that route partly out of impatience, frustration, and curiosity. I’m just good enough at all the skills you need to self-publish that it worked out to be pretty easy, with one exception – publicity. I’m not good at self-promotion so even asking friends to read the book and write reviews was a challenge.
Anyway, whether I recommend the self-publication process – it depends entirely on your own goals and desires. I wanted my book read – that was my core focus. To do that I could have just posted a PDF and moved on. But, I also wanted to make a few dollars in the process – and people who pay for a book are a little more likely to read it. This book grew out of my doctoral dissertation and I have a friend who is doing the same thing – but his goals were different. His core goals are different – he’s a full-on academic and needs the credibility of an academic publishing house for his curriculum vitae. We both defended around the same time – his book comes out sometime next year. I’m happy to spend more time talking about what I learned in the process, but the best advice I can give is for authors to figure out their objectives first. That is probably the most important thing. Everything else can fall into place after that.
Nelson: I ask this question in many of my interviews, particularly of naval officers – if you had ten minutes with the CNO, and if he hadn’t read your book, what would you tell him about Crimes of Command? What would you recommend he do to change the culture if change was necessary?
Junge: I really thought about punting on this one and running the note our Staff Judge Advocate has been running about Article 88 and Article 89 of the UCMJ (contemptuous words and disrespect toward senior commissioned officers). If I had ten minutes with CNO I doubt I would get 60 seconds of speaking time. My conclusions run completely counter to Navy lore about accountability and 10 minutes isn’t enough time to change anyone’s mind. But, as I thought about it I think I would say this: “CNO, we have really got to follow our own instructions. If an instruction says ‘do this’ then we need to do it, or change the instruction. We can’t have flag officers making personal decisions about this rule or that based on short-term ideas and feelings. If the situation doesn’t fit the rule, either follow the rule with pure intent or change the rule. But we can’t just ignore it. That’s an example that leads us, as a profession, down bad roads.” I would hope that question would then lead to a conversation of leadership by example that would include everything from Boards of Inquiry to travel claims to General Military Training.
Nelson: Sir, thanks for taking the time.
Michael Junge is an active duty Navy Captain with degrees from the United States Naval Academy, United States Naval War College, the George Washington University, and Salve Regina University. He served afloat in USS MOOSBRUGGER (DD 980), USS UNDERWOOD (FFG 36), USS WASP (LHD 1), USS THE SULLIVANS (DDG 68) and was the 14th Commanding Officer of USS WHIDBEY ISLAND (LSD 41). Ashore he served with Navy Recruiting; Assault Craft Unit FOUR; Deputy Commandant for Programs and Resources, Headquarters, Marine Corps; Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Communication Networks (N6); and with the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He has written extensively with articles appearing in the United States Naval Institute Proceedings magazine, US Naval War College’s Luce.nt, and online at Information Dissemination, War on the Rocks, Defense One, and CIMSEC. The comments and opinions here are his own.
Christopher Nelson is an intelligence officer in the United States Navy. He is a regular contributor to CIMSEC and is a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School in Newport, Rhode Island. The questions and views here are his own.
Featured Image: (FORT BELVOIR, Va. (May 04, 2017) Hundreds of service members at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital gathered before daybreak and celebrated their unique service cultures and bonds as one of the only two joint military medical facilities in the U.S. during a spring formation and uniform transition ceremony May 4, 2017. (Department of Defense photos by Reese Brown)
By Lieutenant Commander (G) Roshan Kulatunga, Sri Lankan Navy
The geostrategic and geopolitical importance of the Indian Ocean Region has been understood by many great maritime historians. During the Cold War the United States was the preeminent maritime power and the USSR the preeminent land power. Lack of maritime capability eventually became a losing point for the USSR where the U.S. dominated the global commons. Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan stated the importance of sea power by highlighting six elements of geography (access to sea routes), physical conformation (ports), extent of territory, population, character of the people, and character of government. Mahan’s maritime concepts were so influential in the field of maritime studies that most of the contemporary maritime security architectures are designed around these concepts.
The 21st century Indian Ocean receives attention from state and non-state actors. According to Robert Kaplan “The Indian Ocean unified the oceans and it connects the world from Africa to far East.” Mariners use sea lanes for transportation, and today the Indian Ocean holds some of the most important sea lines of communication in the world. There are regional and extra-regional states operating in the IO. Extra regional countries such as the U.S., China, Japan, and Russia are keen to have some presence in the IO. They are interested in projecting sea power beyond their locale to garner economic and political sustainability in the world arena, and where the IO is a major arena of competition.
The Concept of Sea Power
Establishing preeminent sea power is a key geopolitical strategy successfully implemented by great maritime empires such as England. The famous professor for international relations, Barry Buzan, names five sectors of security that are namely military, political, economic, societal, and environmental. Maritime security lies over all these five sectors of security. Maritime historians such as Admiral Mahan, Julian Corbett, and modern maritime experts such as Robert Kaplan and U.S. Navy Admiral Michael Mullen are well-recognized persons who often talk about the value of maritime power. Admiral Mullen points out that “Where the old maritime strategy focused on sea control, the new one must recognize that the economic tide of all nations rises not when the sea are controlled by one, but rather when they are made safe and free for all.”
Sea power is a larger concept than the field of maritime warfare. Humanity uses the sea for many reasons and these reasons are well-connected to each other. As historian Geoff Till puts it, the “Sea can be used as a resource, medium of transportation, medium of information and medium of dominion.” In history great civilizations founded primarily on maritime power were termed “thalassocracies,” which literally translates to “sea power.” Establishing sea power is directly helpful to strengthening a variety of national policies as it is the collective effect of the military and civil maritime capabilities of a country. Therefore, regional and extra-regional users in the IO are interested in projecting their sea power via both civil and military maritime capabilities.
Geostrategic and Geopolitical Significance of the Indian Ocean
Geopolitics has been defined as a struggle for power and national power can be evaluated in part by showing the interrelationships between geostrategic positioning, the relative economic and technological capabilities of states, international public opinion, international law and morality, international government and diplomacy, and the regional and global balance of power. Geo-strategy is required to deal with geopolitical problems and is the sum of the efforts to influence and act through these factors. With developing economies and growing energy requirements, users in the IO are struggling for power and this behavior influences the stability of the IO.
This is the container age of maritime trade. Bulk cargos are transported through chokepoints in the IO and through main ports such as Gawdar, Chabahar, Hambanthota, Colombo, Mumbai, and Chittagong. These major ports have given significance to IO nations and made them maritime influencers in their own right. There are also nearby flashpoints that can cause spillover effects in the IO with existing situations in Yemen, Somalia, and Iran. Therefore, security in this region is very important for the global economy and must be secured from Middle East turbulence. The countries in the IO are mostly in the developing stage and handling the third largest ocean in the world becomes a huge challenge for them. Therefore, extra-regional countries pay close attention to this region in an effort to influence stability.
Extra-Regional Powers in the Indian Ocean Region
There are 35 Littoral States and 12 landlocked countries, and altogether 47 counties in the Indian Ocean Rim (RIM). Apart from that, many extra regional countries such as China, U.S., Japan, and Russia are dependent on the IO and working to expand their influence. China is interested in the Maritime Silk Route (MSR), and according to Kaplan, China is expanding vertically while India expands horizontally in their maritime power projection. The U.S. sphere of interest is spreading from the Western Pacific to greater maritime Asia in the 21st century, and recently renamed its Pacific Command to Indo-Pacific Command in recognition of the growing importance of the IO. However, there are not any notable maritime power rivalries from within IO nations themselves. Countries are well aware of security in chokepoints, sea lanes, and strategic waterways. Trade security is the major substantial security factor in their developing economies. Therefore, countries are reluctant to disturb in good order at sea.
India, the U.S., and China are main power blocks in IO and they are with the intention of extending their maritime power in pursuit of their national interest. When looking into the balance of power in IO, China seeks maritime expansionism through the South China Sea to IO. The U.S. is more allied with India in present day context than earlier times. Presidents Barack Obama in the past and Trump at present have had good maritime diplomacy with India. According to Morgenthau alliances are a necessary function of the balance of power, when nations competing with each other have three choices in order to maintain and improve their relative power positions. They can increase their own power, they can add to their own power through the power of other nations, or they can withhold the power of the other partner nations of the adversary. Small states like Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Seychelles have to be considerate of their alliances with great powers as they are players in a larger competition.
When linking this setup into the IO, China and the U.S. are competing with each other and India is also competing with China. China has its own issues with the South China Sea and the security dilemma in Malacca Strait especially affects her. Therefore, aligning with Myanmar and Bangladesh is important to China to transport energy if any rivalry worsens. Further, they have notable interests in the ports of Habmanthota, Gwadar, and Chabahar. The U.S. on the other hand has common interests with India. India has its own maritime strategy involving relationships with the smaller states like Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The recent past visit of two Chinese submarines to port Colombo was heavily criticized by Indians as a challenge to maritime security. The evolving nature of IO alliances could be further strengthened by the construction of oil pipelines for refueling and oil transportation in deep sea ports by India and China in Chabahar in Iran and Gawadr in Pakistan, respectively.
The Chabahar and Gwadar ports are strategically important to both India and China for their maritime expansion. India along with Japan introduced the Growth Corridor, which links Africa to Asia and Far East. Sri Lanka, for example, is situated along both the SLOCs for the Growth Corridor and One Belt One Road. Therefore, smaller littoral state like Sri Lanka have to open up trade to many parties to receive the benefits from competing trade routes and economic projects.
Maritime Security Threats and Challenges in the Indian Ocean Region
Threats and challenges to the IO maritime domain can be divided into two major areas of traditional and non-traditional security threats. Both littoral and extra-regional states have to play a vital role to prevent the maritime domain from threats and challenges.
Interstate conflicts are rarely found in this region. With the economic expansionism, countries cannot neglect the threats of piracy, illegal fishing, maritime terrorism, maritime pollution, irregular migration by sea, illegal narcotic drugs, and small arms trafficking by sea. These threats may have traditional implications for extra-regional maritime users. As an example, small numbers of Somalian pirates are able to create a perception of threat to the entire maritime trade in the IO. Countries had to utilize their resources to counter this threat in a sustained and multilateral fashion. They had to have interdependencies to face this issue without considering individual rivalries.
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is another important issue. IUU fishing can also add economic power to actors that also perpetuate maritime terrorism, human trafficking, and illegal migration at sea. Countries like Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Myanmar are highly notable victim countries for human smuggling. Sri Lanka is considered a major source country on this issue. Suitable Maritime Domain Awareness mechanisms would be the possible solution to mitigate these threats in the IO. Diplomatic and multilateral solutions are the most viable action on this issue and again counties have to use conference diplomacy to peacefully engage in these types of challenges.
The IO is the third largest ocean in the world and for the balance of power extra-regional actors always wish to display their presence in this region. Therefore, geo-strategic and geo-political competitions in this region are inevitable. Regional and extra regional countries are much more concerned with China’s maritime expansionism in particular. China is especially interested in becoming a modern maritime civilization. This is evidenced by its constructions of harbors in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Myanmar. This has generated vulnerability to their balance of power and traditional regional relationships. Due to the economic advantages they littoral are reluctant to create any rivalries. However, their own game of survival is inevitable.
Security is an important factor for a nation state. To be survivable in the international arena nation states have to concern themselves with energy and trade security. Therefore, the nation state has to give much more concern for their maritime security in a world whose globalization is being fed by the world’s oceans. IO strategic waterways have taken special attention in maritime trade. Oil trade is flowing from the Middle East to Asia and elsewhere via these IO chokepoints and sea routes. Their protection is the responsibility of all.
Lieutenant Commander Roshan Kulatunga is presently performing duties in the Sri Lanka Navy. He is a specialist in Gunnery, from INS Droanacharya, India. He earned a Diploma in Diplomacy and World Affairs at Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute, Sri Lanka. He also holds a degree in BNS (Bachelor in Naval Studies) University of Kalaniya Sri Lanka, MSc in Security & Strategic Studies, MSc in Defence and Strategic Studies in Kotelawala Defence University (KDU), Sri Lanka. His research interest includes, Maritime Domain Awareness in the Indian Ocean Region
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Featured Image: North and South Malosmadulu Atolls in the Maldives. Image taken by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) onboard NASA’s Terra satellite. Source: ASTER gallery. Courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry/Japan Space Systems and the U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.